Dossa and Joe: articles

Royle Family star to shoot Australian series

Australia could be about to get its own Royle Family.

A star of the BBC's The Royle Family is reportedly to recreate the comedy sitcom in Australia, using actors including Michael Caton, of the Australian movie The Castle.

Caroline Aherne, who played Denise Royle in the British series screened on ABC, fled to Australia this year to escape the pressures of fame and after suffering bouts of depression.

According to London's Times newspaper, BBC producers travelled to Sydney to try to persuade Aherne, 37, to change her mind over threats never to work in television again.

Aherne agreed to direct and write a sitcom about an Australian family, which will be made in Sydney for the BBC.

Dossa and Joe, a six-part series, will have an Australian cast also including former Neighbours actress Anne Charleston.

Aherne's greatest challenge will be to translate the Royle Family's distinctive language into Australian dialect, The Times said.

Aherne is now said to have found happiness in Australia, moving into a home overlooking Sydney Harbour with a new partner.

Wednesday 19 September 19, 2001

Caroline Aherne back in TV as Australian show's writer

The writer and actor Caroline Aherne has completed her first work for British television since she left for Australia in the wake of constant intrusions into her private life.

Aherne, creator of the award winning Royle Family comedy series, said she would never perform on television again after her battles with drink and her problematic relationships were exposed in the tabloid press. But during the past year away from Britain, she found inspiration for a new series that will be shown on BBC2 later this spring.

Dossa and Joe is the story of an Australian couple who have been married for 40 years, but who realise once Joe retires from his factory work that they barely know each other. After a life of contentment, they spiral into depression and mutual resentment.

While Aherne balks at the suggestion that her series is an "Australian Royle Family", excerpts screened to journalists yesterday reveal similarities in its gentle, well observed comedy.

Jane Root, controller of BBC2, said: "Caroline isn't a gag-a-minute writer. It has a subtlety and nuance of everyday life and relationships. Some of it is very poignant. It's about those relationships that go on for a long time, with people trying to work out how to communicate with each other."

Ms Root said Aherne had left Britain to get away from the media pressure. "She wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, director and producer rather than have people writing about her personal life all the time."

Aherne co-wrote the series with Peter Herbert, but does not appear in it. Instead, it stars Anne Charleston, best known in Britain for playing Madge in the Australian soap Neighbours, and Michael Caton, who appeared in a cult movie, The Castle. The series is made by the Australian division of Granada TV, which made the Royle Family.

Elsewhere in BBC2's spring and summer season, announced yesterday, Albert Finney plays Winston Churchill in Churchill: the Gathering Storm, a dramatisation of the war leader's earlier years in the political wilderness. Ronnie Barker takes his first television role for 14 years in the series, as Churchill's butler Inches, and Vanessa Redgrave plays Clementine Churchill.

Barker said yesterday that he had decided to come out of retirement, after promising never to work in television again, because the script was so good.

The series, which also stars Derek Jacobi, Jim Broadbent and Celia Imrie, is a co-production with the HBO network and will be screened in the US.

Factual programmes include a documentary about Wagner presented by the former Tory leadership candidate Michael Portillo. The producer, Michael Waldman, said yesterday that Mr Portillo was "uninhibited" in his description of the the Ring Cycle's influence on him and other political figures.

There is a replication of the controversial Stanford University experiment, The Experiment, in which 15 volunteers were divided into prisoners and guards, and their behaviour monitored by psychologists. There is also a series about the Metropolitan police's investigations into paedophiles.

Matt Wells, media correspondent
March 21, 2002
The Guardian

Right Royle, but it's Oz

An Australian-based sitcom starring Michael Caton and Anne Charleston is to be one of the BBC's flagship programs for the spring season in Britain.

It is the first work for British television from writer and actor Caroline Aherne, who vowed never to work in TV again when she left Britain to live in Australia a year ago.

Aherne, creator of the hugely successful The Royle Family, migrated to get away from British press exposure of her private life and battle with alcohol.

While living in Sydney, however, she rediscovered her inspiration and co-wrote the sitcom with Peter Herbert.

Dossa and Joe, with Charleston and Caton in the title roles, is the story of an Australian couple who have been married for 40 years but only realise after Joe's retirement as a factory worker that they barely know each other.

The show follows their fall from contentment into depression and mutual resentment.

While it has many similarities to The Royle Family, Aherne baulked at suggestions it was an Australian version of the show.

March 22 2002
The Age

Dossa and Joe's Royle allegiance

Dossa and Joe is a quiet observational comedy with little plot and with characters sitting on a sofa but creator Caroline Aherne does not want you to compare it to her identical-sounding hit The Royle Family.

She even rigs a scene in the opening episode of this where Joe talks about the British Monarchy and gets to say her previous show's title and catchphrase: "Royal family? My a***."

In this case, though, the sofa that Dossa, played by Anne Charleston, and her husband Joe, played by Michael Caton, sit on belongs to a marriage guidance counsellor.

For there is a touch more plot to this series and it turns on how Dossa and Joe have been happily married for 40 years yet now, when he has retired and they are seeing more of each other, their marriage is in trouble.

Caroline Aherne does not stray too far from The Royle Family

Very funnily, Joe does not see it at all: "It's Dossa's problem," he tells the counsellor, "You just carry on, love, and cure Dossa - anything I can do to help, fine."

The show was filmed in Sydney last October and November - it is not an Australian sitcom imported by BBC Two, it was produced for the UK and has yet to be screened in Australia - and Aherne does everything but star in it.

Wildly varying

The format she has created is that the pair's short scenes in therapy are interspersed with Joe's voiceover thoughts - curiously not Dossa's, though she does speak more than he does in the sessions - and scenes of them both with family and friends.

The therapy scenes are extremely good but some of the other material varies wildly and also amplifies one failing that The Royle Family began to exhibit in its last series.

Specifically, a lot of time is spent in reference humour: characters quoting ads, films, Homer Simpson and so on.

Sometimes it is eye-opening as the characters do it badly and the scenes reveal a lot about what they are and what they think about.

Joe is sophisticated compared to some of his friends

But at other times it becomes tiresome and even risky: the character who quotes Homer Simpson does it well and all you feel is that, yes, he's right, Homer is funny, what has that got to do with this show?

Where the technique blossoms, though, is where Aherne uses it after having a character describe themselves, such as when Joe claims to be into sophisticated humour.

You cannot help but grin at that because by that point, we have seen what he is like. On the back of that gag, Aherne gives us an example of him trying badly to repeat the joke he has seen on a television commercial.


Best of all, he is frustrated in his story by interruptions from his poker friends who are so stupid that suddenly you realise Joe actually is more sophisticated than them.

Gem moments like these are quite plentiful, they are just spread evenly over the episode and, like The Royle Family, it makes you smile more than it makes you laugh.

With the marriage problem story impetus, it is as if Caroline Aherne has been watching Marion & Geoff and has tried to get some of that show's pain into her humour.

That is not a bad thing and it adds strength to the comedy, a desire to see what happens next to this couple that The Royle Family never managed.

But for a woman who so publicly announced she was leaving The Royle Family behind her, Caroline Aherne has not gone very far.

The first episode of Dossa and Joe is on Wednesday 15 May, 2200 - 2230, BBC Two.

By William Gallagher
BBC News Online

Madge and me

She stole the show as Neighbours' snappy matriarch, and now she plays a downtrodden wife in Caroline Aherne's poignant new comedy. Emma Brockes finds out which one's closer to the real Anne Charleston

'Go on, take my picture," says Anne Charleston, aggressively daubing on lipstick. She stabs at her eyelids with a make-up brush. In big circular sweeps she powders her cheekbones, and tilts her chin in the light of the hotel window. Her mouth twitches into a sardonic smile. "Take my picture, for what it's worth."

Charleston, 59, is the star of the new Caroline Aherne comedy Dossa and Joe, but to many people in this country she is instantly and exclusively remembered as Madge Ramsay. For 11 years, Madge was the snappy matriarch of the Aussie soap Neighbours (she became Madge Bishop, you'll recall, after marrying Harold, who then fell off a cliff, was swept out to sea and returned to the show after a five-year absence with total memory loss).

In its heyday in the late 1980s, 18 million Britons watched Neighbours. Most of them were teenagers lured by the glamour of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, but it was Madge who stole the show: flirting and battling and presenting a formidable account of middle-aged womanhood. Charleston was perfectly cast. A product of the 60s, she projects a haughty self-determination; her blue eyes flash and blaze. When the producers of Neighbours rewrote her character, turning Madge into a wimp, Charleston went bananas.

"They tried to turn her into Mrs Mangel!" she cries indignantly. (Mrs Mangel: the moaning old biddy at number 30, long gone now.) "And I said, 'I'm not having this. The woman is not a bitch.' When that didn't work I said, 'Look here, you haven't got a handle on this character.' And then they decided to turn her into a victim . And then I didn't want to play any more. This was a character who I had gone to no end of trouble to build up as a feisty, strong lady, and I did not like to see her dismantled."

As ratings dropped, the Neighbours story-lines became increasingly teen-driven. Madge was marginalised and enfeebled. "I put the fact that they turned her into a victim down to misogyny. They just don't want strong women in the show any more. The teenage characters are all girly. It's no reflection on the actors. It's these producers, keeping the female characters down."

In Dossa and Joe, Charleston plays the downtrodden wife of a retired factory worker living in the western suburbs of Sydney. The first episode is less funny and more poignant than The Royle Family. To her husband, Dossa says: "I've never been so bloody unhappy - and that's swearing." To her son, she says: "Do you want a nice cup of tea? Do you want a nice kiwi fruit? Do you want a nice piece of banana cake?" Joe retreats to the shed and endlessly planes a piece of wood. "Do you know what you're going to do with it?" asks his son. "I keep hoping it will come to me," says Joe. After a decade on Neighbours, Charleston found making the new comedy a refreshing experience.

Much of the dialogue was improvised, and Charleston had to do an Irish accent. It raised the pitch of her famously growly voice and made the character more vulnerable. Aherne said she had her own mother in mind when writing it. "Dossa's very frustrated," says Charleston. "She has no aggression because she's been put down for years without realising it. Joe's a bully. Deep down he loves her very much and she loves him, but he's a shockin' bully and a misogynist. He thinks her whole way of living is totally… meaningless." Charleston used to watch the Royle Family on Australian TV when she was filming Neighbours. She approved of it because the comedy came from the characters rather than superficial one-liners; it attested to truth, and what else, asks Charleston, is acting for? She found Aherne focused, resolute and, from the look on her face, a little bit scary. "I suspect she needs a bloody good rest," she says.

Charleston's parents were a bank official and a housewife. They wanted her to go to university. She wanted to sing and dance, which her mother thought common. ("She was terrified I'd end up with ringlets and a bow in my hair.") Acting wasn't respectable, but it was a compromise they could all live with. "My father had been stopped from being a writer by his father," she says, "and he always said he was not going to stop his kids doing what they wanted to do. So, grudgingly, he let me do what I wanted to do. He was very proud when I was working and very frustrated and cranky when I wasn't. To that generation, security was everything."

Charleston begged to differ, in her work and her home life. She preferred to bring up a child alone rather than staying in a bad relationship. While her son Nick was young, she periodically thought of giving up acting for a responsible job. "But then I thought, 'What value is it going to be to him if I'm unhappy?' I think he quite enjoyed the hippy life."

Charleston spent her 20s preaching peace and love and marching against the government. She got the job on Neighbours in 1987. When the soap took off, the cast were treated like rock stars. On a promotional tour of London, their coach was surrounded by fans and rocked back and forth. Charleston was terrified. Then the records started coming out. Kylie, Jason, Craig McLachlan, Stefan Dennis and, yes, ultimately, Anne Charleston - a duet with Ian Smith, who played Harold, called An Old-Fashioned Christmas. Charleston buries her head in her hands and yelps. "Don't! That was terrible. We kind of thought, 'Oh, what a Hoot,' but then people took it seriously and it was awful." She shudders theatrically.

Younger cast members were more seriously damaged when the promise of pop stardom evaporated, Jason Donovan most conspicuously. "There were some who thought it was all going to happen for them. And they've sky-rocketed into oblivion. A show like that gets the kids at an impressionable age and treats them like stars, and they are led to believe that that's what it's all about. It's experienced actors like me saying, 'Just hang on a minute. This is not what it's all about.' They won't believe you. So I tend to shut me mouth."

The only long-term success story has been Kylie. Charleston isn't surprised. "She brought in this demo tape and gave it to the make-up boy, who played it for me, and it was the Locomotion. And I said, 'Wow, that's good.' Then the next thing you know, it's in the charts. She's got enormous stamina. She's still a nice girl. I think that's the secret of her charm. She's nice and good with the fans, and she doesn't treat people with contempt."

Now, 15 years later, Holly Valance, who plays Felicity Scully in Neighbours, has had a UK number-one hit. Charleston finds this hilarious. "The grunter!" she says. Charleston didn't know Valance could talk, let alone sing. "All I knew was, I'd come in in the morning and say, 'Hello, Holly,' and she'd go, 'Uhmghm.' But good for her. I think it's marvellous."

May 15, 2002
The Guardian

Writer gets another charmer up

DOSSA and Joe, the Caroline Aherne series set in Australia, opened on BBC TV on Wednesday night to that old cliche she would deride, mixed reviews - generally good, one bad, a couple doubtful but all ready to have another shot at it.

According to Bruce Wilson in London, there has been widespread anticipation of this series because of the supercult status of Aherne's Royle Family, now firmly entered in the all-time-great list of British situation comedies.

For those who don't know, the plot is simple enough: Joe (Michael "The Punish" Caton) is a retired bloke, Dossa (Anne Charleston) is his Irish wife. He is getting underfoot; she wants marriage counselling; he goes along and his character is best summed up when he says to the counsellor: "It's Dossa's problem. You just carry on, love, and cure Dossa. And anything I can do, fine."

It seems to be set in Sydney, but it might be anywhere in urban Australia. Joe sees no problems anywhere much since, as he says, he can still "get it up quicker than a snake charmer". Audience figures are not yet available, but the reviews are, and there seems little doubt Ms Aherne will have another success on her hands.

Veteran Peter Paterson, in The Daily Mail, who had his doubts about Royle, thought Dossa and Joe its superior.

"There's a more serious, wistful strain to the comedy," he wrote. "The underlying sadness, frustration and aching aimlessness that can come with retirement make Dossa and Joe a more rounded, more profound and humane piece of work than its predecessor."

At the other end of the scale, Robert Gore-Langton in The Daily Express hated it, saying it started "with a whimper of disappointment". The opening episode didn't work, he wrote, adding: "It is mildly chucklesome at best, at very best. Most of the time it's just deficient."

Nancy Banks-Smith in The Guardian seized on one of Ms Aherne's little jokes, when Dossa's mate Vanessa says, "Oh, I love the royal family!", and Joe turns around and snorts, "Royal family, my arse!"

May 17, 2002
Daily Telegraph

The TV program you can't turn off

An Australian-shot sitcom, Dossa and Joe, has become the world's first television junk mail after it was downloaded for the BBC onto 30,000 digital video recorders in Britain.

Tivo, a subscriber-based personal recording service, automatically switched on set-top boxes in people's homes and sent out the BBC2 program unsolicited last week.

It is believed to be the first time that Tivo's technology, which is promoted as a way viewers can gain control over what they watch, has been used as part of a marketing campaign to boost a show's ratings.

Tivo has had several hundred complaints from viewers after they received the program on Wednesday last week. One typical complainant on Tivo's community forum Web site said: "If it catches on the Tivo will become effectively useless because all the crap that the program makers push out will be forced on you."

Subscribers found it was impossible to immediately delete the show.

The British viewer lobby group the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom described the action as a breach of privacy and freedom of choice.

The sitcom, set in Sydney, stars The Castle's Michael Caton and the Neighbours stalwart Anne Charleston, and has been written for British television by Caroline Aherne, the creator of the comedy The Royle Family.

Although it has garnered good reviews, the show, now in its third week, has struggled in the ratings. The BBC is expected to use the results of last week's broadcast to discover how many additional viewers watched the show.

Two years ago it signed a deal with Tivo to explore how new personal video recorders could be used to improve the marketing of television shows.

The BBC had defended the action as an "additional service" to Tivo subscribers and part of the evolution of TV programming.

A spokesman denied it had breached viewers' privacy. "People did not have to watch the program," he said.

But some viewers where angry that an adult-themed program, although recorded at 10pm, could be watched by children by simply turning on the view recorder the next morning.

In a statement on its Web site, Tivo reassured subscribers it would always record their television programs before promotions from broadcasters. But, it added, "promos can be an alternative source of revenue for Tivo"

By Peter Fray
May 31 2002

Touch turns to bronze

WHEN British TV actress and writer Caroline Aherne touches things, they usually turn to gold.

Her comedy series The Royle Family became such a favourite in Britain that the only way she could escape the interest was by hiding out in Australia for six months.

But it appears her latest venture, Dossa and Joe which was written while in Australia last year, is more bronze than gold. According to Britain's The Guardian, the show bowed out of the BBC2 schedule at the end of last week with less than a million viewers. That's about equivalent to the audience for the SBS test pattern.

The show, starring The Castle's Michael Caton and Neighbours' Anne Charleston, was expected to be a hit.

Although it won critical plaudits at first, it failed to find viewers with a plot focusing on a middle-aged Aussie couple's ailing marriage.

Daily Telegraph
June 26, 2002