The death of Richard Briers marks the end of an era – the 70s golden age of TV comedy.
We’ve since had many great shows, from Ab Fab to The Office, from Father Ted to Miranda, but they don’t have the love – or audiences – that a classic like The Good Life enjoyed.
Partly it’s because in the 70s we all sat in front of the same television in the same room with no remote to fiddle with.
But it’s also because the shows of the time were family shows.
There was something for ?everybody to enjoy. Kids and adults could laugh at The Goodies’ surreal slapstick.
Older people with long memories enjoyed Dad’s Army.?
Harassed office workers as well as students could relate to the ?existential comedy of The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin.
And if you didn’t find Mrs ?Slocombe’s pussy hilarious in Are You Being Served? you were either dead or Mary Whitehouse – the clean-up campaigner who watched more TV than anyone and enjoyed none of it.
Although she probably did like The Good Life, which broke later BBC rules by being hugely popular without being specifically aimed at “the working classes”.
It had its cake and ate it because it was firmly middle-class but, in having snooty Margo and her long-suffering husband Jerry, still managed to mock the class system.
And despite its cosy suburban setting, having the world of self-sufficiency and ?ecological ?correctness as its subject made The Good Life oddly up to date.
More importantly, thanks to its two leads, the affable Briers and his slightly daft wife played by Felicity Kendal, the show was more good-natured than a laughing policeman inside a bouncy castle.
It wasn’t alone – there was a sea of family friendly comedy.
Michael Crawford was the Miranda of his day as he slipped, tumbled and roller-skated into disaster after disaster as Frank Spencer in the highly visual Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em.
Terry And June offered a take on suburban life which suggested boredom, ?frustration and middle-age were something to look forward to.
Man About The House – an ITV sitcom when it wasn’t a contradiction in terms – was the comedy equivalent of the sexual revolution as a man who shared a house with two women (but never had it off with either).
It wasn’t all good-natured. Rising Damp, the other great ITV sitcom of the time, starred Leonard Rossiter as a miserable, racist old lech who the nation loved.
Steptoe And Son made comedy out of the depressing lives of father and son rag and bone men, who loathed each other but couldn’t live without each other.
Just like Steptoe, the most 70s sitcom of them all had its roots in the 60s.
Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? with its melancholy theme tune and odd-couple heroes – upwardly mobile Bob and ?downwardly immobile Terry – is the sitcom fan’s sitcom.
The football results episode, in which Bob and Terry try and hide from the final score and Terry reveals his dislike of everyone in the world, including himself, might be the peak of all British comedy.
These shows were great because they were always smart, always fast-paced and always, always funny.
They were also churned out at a rate that now seems ?incredible.
Never mind your 12 episodes of The Office, there are hundreds of episodes of Dad’s Army.
They were filmed on wobbly sets in front of ?audiences who laughed their heads off, and nobody ever seemed to do a retake.
Actors fluffed lines and cracked up laughing in a way that wasn’t seen again until Mrs Brown’s Boys made a big thing of it.
With the exception of John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers, there was no pointless dead sense of perfectionism; and the shows are all the better for it, crammed with energy and life.
And they were given room and time to develop.
Shows weren’t cancelled just because the first series wasn’t a hit (or because some blogger or sarcastic tweeter said it was rubbish before the first episode was over).
When ITV decided to drop Men Behaving Badly after the first series, the BBC stepped in, saw its potential and turned it into a long-running hit.
Then shows were given a chance. But those days are gone and when the 70s ended, those shows ended.
The loud, jolly ensemble comedy with millions of viewers all but vanished. Only Fools And Horses stands out in the 80s.
It was both old-fashioned in its likeable comedy values and of its time – Del Boy’s failure to become a yuppie satirised the Thatcher years.
The 80s saw a new kind of comedy based on stand-up and the shows that grew out of the alternative scene like The Young Ones were anarchic and not really for families.
There was also an influx of great US comedies like Roseanne and Cheers.
But most of it was shown only on the new Channel 4 – an early example of how the great British TV ?audience was being divided up.
In the 90s, there were more great shows, mostly on minority channels.
Seinfeld, a huge hit in the US, went out late on BBC Two here.
Father Ted, the funniest sitcom of the era, managed three series on Channel 4.
And as the 21st century arrived, so did digital TV, with a whole forest of increasingly tiny channels.
A 70s viewer transported to 2013 would hardly be able to read his TV guide, let alone plan a night’s viewing.
These days sitcoms and the way we watch them are very different.
We don’t sit down together in front of one television set. We view alone on computers or tablets.?
We record whole series to watch later or buy box sets.
We don’t like each other’s shows – The ?Inbetweeners isn’t aimed at Miranda fans, while if you like Misfits you ?probably won’t enjoy Outnumbered.
And not everything funny is a sitcom. Would you define Being Human as a sitcom, or A Touch Of Cloth?
It’s a different world nowadays.
But if you rent a DVD or go back to a classic 70s sitcom you’ll find The Good Life can still be had somewhere.
David Quantick has written for shows including Harry Hill’s TV Burp and The Thick Of It. His new comedy Snodgrass is on Sky Arts on April 25.