The Royle Family

IT was the evening of Thursday September 3 1998. The venue: A screening theatre within earshot of London’s thundering Westway.

I was there to see a brand new BBC2 show, described by channel controller Mark Thompson as “a brave departure from traditional sitcom formats”.

This was the very first press screening of The Royle Family, held in the same week Caroline Aherne had confessed all about her champagne and pills suicide drama that July.

In the wake of the revelations, there was a certain amount of tension in the preview theatre as the cast and media took their seats.

But a smile appeared on Caroline’s face as co-star Ricky Tomlinson broke the ice with a joke about the drink problem which almost killed her.

Pointing toward the Wythenshawe-raised writer and performer, he said: “They wouldn’t serve me at the bar. They didn’t believe she was 18.”

Mark Thompson is now the director general of the BBC but, thankfully, Manchester’s favourite family hasn’t strayed far from the sofa.

You can read about their long-awaited return to BBC1 later this month – after a six year absence – in last Saturday’s MEN TV feature.

“We wanted to do something that was as real as possible,” Caroline said back on that night eight years ago. “There’s council estates like that all over the country.”

A few days later in the MEN, I described The Royle Family as “a brilliantly observed slice of real life” in “what just might be Aherne’s finest work to date”.

Addiction is, of course, no joking matter. In the same article, I also wrote that Caroline looked happy and healthy sipping fruit juice, “But behind the smiles, everyone knows there’s still a long road ahead.”

Caroline is giving no interviews ahead of the 2006 return of the Royles. And there’s absolutely no reason why she should.

It’s simply great to have her back.