Comedy must be better than jokes about Mrs Slocombe's pussy

Mrs Slocombe (Sherrie Hewson), Miss Brahms (Niky Wardley) in the BBC update of Are You Being Served?
Mrs Slocombe (Sherrie Hewson), Miss Brahms (Niky Wardley) in the BBC update of Are You Being Served?
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It’s a funny business, comedy. Notoriously hard to get right, it’s a cliche that it’s easier to get people to cry, rather than laugh.

Which I suppose is why the BBC’s ‘Sitcom Season’ has been such a mixed bag so far. Mixing new comedy pilots with remakes and rehashes of ‘classics’ from years gone by, there have been a few hits, but more misses.

An update of Are You Being Served? (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm) should have been – like Miss Brahms – redundant. Updated only as far as 1988, it was stilted, laboured and resolutely failed to raise a laugh, relying on old gags about Mrs Slocombe’s feline friend and Miss Brahms’ bosom.

Of the three new pilots which aired this week, Our Ex-Wife (BBC2, Thursday, 10pm) was the funniest.

Filled with foul-mouthed invective and hate-filled rage, it may seem an odd sit for the com to flourish, but there were some laugh out loud lines.

Robert Webb starred as Jack, about to get married for a second time to sweet American vet Sara. The unpleasant thorn in their sides was Hilary, Jack’s ex-wife – the two couldn’t bear to be civil, which made for an interesting time when Sara invited Hilary for Sunday lunch.

One of the chief pleasures of this one was seeing Peter Egan – from stone-cold sitcom classic Ever Decreasing Circles – back on our screens.

The two remaining pilots were a little more conventional.

Home From Home (BBC2, Tuesday, 10pm) had Johnny Vegas and family buying a rundown holiday home in the Lake District and getting into a case of keeping with the Joneses with their neighbours.

Although the cast was good, it was resolutely ordinary, and Vegas’ Neil too low-key to be a classic comedy character, which is odd, given that he can be one of the biggest characters on TV.

The Coopers vs The Rest (BBC2, Tuesday, 10pm) showed more promise, although clearly owed a debt to the now-departed Outnumbered.

A mixed-race family in which all the children are adopted, it certainly has a USP, and the central storyline, in which mum Tess gatecrashed a child’s birthday party to get son Charlie more accepted, had a good twist.

All three were resolutely middle class, more likely to give a bad case of kitchen envy than aching sides, so it was interesting to see a revival of working class icon Alf Garnett in Lost Sitcoms: Till Death Us Do Part (Thursday, BBC4, 9pm).

Unfortunately, this restaging of an early episode, with The Fast Show’s Simon Day as Alf, looked and sounded like a kitchen sink drama from the 50s, and it was hard to see how the fretful, whining Garnett ever became such a comedy mainstay.