There have been few TV shows to unite families in lockdown quite like Friday Night Dinner.
Series six of Robert Popper’s Jewish suburban sitcom began last month, just a few days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced countrywide isolation. It was a timely tonic for a fearful nation.
The first episode in which dad Martin (Paul Ritter) acquired a grotty caravan and sons Adam (Simon Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) got girlfriends much to the delight of mum Jackie (Tamsin Greig) was All 4’s most-watched comedy episode ever.
With 4.29 million people glued to FND in its first week, the show’s creator is understandably pleased, but distracted while schooling his children and writing a new comedy series that he can’t talk yet about. “We finished editing Friday Night Dinner two days before lockdown,” says Robert, who appeared on Jewish News’ Passover cover six years ago.
Now “Shalom Jackie” has passed into common parlance as the most used catchphrase among Jewish school children and having been granted an audience with Robert, we let them ask the questions.
He was only happy to answer…
SADIE NEWMAN, 13
Where did the idea for the series come from?
Embarrassingly, I was in the bath when I came up with it 10 years ago. I just thought a comedy based around two boys (like my brother and I) coming home for dinner and regressing into children was funny. A lot of people share that experience so I thought it was a good idea. It was also a good bath.
MADDIE NOAH, 13
How do you make it so funny when the family situation is so stereotypical?
Well I thought lots of people would identify with going home to their parents for Friday night or for Sunday lunch.
I hoped they would recognise becoming 12-year-olds again when you go home and, as for making it funny, well I spend a long time writing it and the actors are brilliant and and there is a great team behind the show working with me and making suggestions.
SAM WISE, 13
Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?
Mr Morris was a man who went out with my grandma and looked a bit like him, but he was not quite as horrible. Martin the dad is based a bit on my dad as he never wore a top and my mum has the same colour hair as Jackie.
HARRISON GOLDING, 13
Where does Jim get his clothes from?
We get his clothes for him and, in all likelihood, from the most boring clothes shop in London.
I don’t know the name, but we have a costume designer who dresses him and the brief is to put him in the most boring browny-green clothes.
LARA SITTON, 13
Do you make a full Friday night dinner and fresh challah in every episode?
We do get fresh challah and I always get told off for pinching it.
The new series has challahs made by a lady who lives in Mill Hill and it’s amazing.
Everyone nabs bits all the time. Sadly I don’t know the lady’s name, but she’s a friend of a friend of a friend.
LEO LAIFER, 10
Did you ever know a dog called Wilson?
My friend had a cat called Wilson and I thought it was the most ridiculous name for a pet so had to use it.
EDEN SOLOWAY, 13
Did you have a neighbour called Jim and how did you come up with him?
We did not have a neighbour called Jim, and our weird neighbour was not as weird as him.
I randomly thought a man who had a really nice dog but was terrified of it was a really funny thing. I hope it is.
JAMIE SWINDON, 13
Why did you kill off the dog Wilson?
Because I wanted to do something that gave everyone a shock.
And to write a sad episode.
I also wanted to give Jim a new dog.
I made sure it was funny, too, so had Jim casually saying: “I’ll get another dog next week.”
ISABELLE, 13, AND OLIVIA GOLDRING, 10
Is Milson Jewish? And will there be another series?
I think he is now. And I don’t know if there will be as it really isn’t up to me.
Would you like there to be?
ELI LAIFER, 13
What is your favourite flavour of Crimble Crumble and is Jim’s dog still buried in the garden?
Apple and blackberry. My wife makes the best and, yes, it is buried in the garden.
MADISON GRANT- GOLD, AGE 13
Are the scenarios taken from personal experiences?
The first episode we ever did about the sofa bed getting stuck on the stairs was a real experience that happened at my parents’ house and that was a nightmare.
My grandma also shouted “go to your room” at my mother, who is a grown woman in her own house.
JACK NEWMAN, NINE
Is that Jim’s dog in real life?
No it isn’t.
We have a professional animal trainer, who brings all our animals.
They trained a cat. The first Wilson we had died after series one, series two to five was a different dog and very good.
Now Milson is a Belgian Shepherd.
MASON JACOBS, EIGHT
Would you do an episode around a seder?
I don’t think I would because I think it would be very hard for non-Jewish people to understand and quite hard to make it funny. I thought about it and have tried writing one, but could never get it to work.
Why do you call it crimble crumble?
Because I thought it sounded nice.
Weirdly, Pret a Manger has a fruity bar called the same thing, but they came up with it before me.
MILLIE ASH, 13
Why do you use Bobble as pet names for Adam and Jonny and not ‘boobalah’?
Because I didn’t want to use boobalah and I like the name Bobble, as that’s what my mum used
to call me. Now I call my kids Bobble.
- Friday Night Dinner continues on Friday, 17 April, at 10pm on Channel 4