“Everybody loves to laugh don’t we? We all love to laugh,” Mrs Merton said to a young Steve Coogan on the iconic talk show sofa. Like Jim Royle, Barbs and the plethora of other television characters she dreamt up, Caroline Aherne was always well placed to preach. But her sad passing has left a huge gap when we’re all most in need of a giggle.
Laughing has always been a big part of working class communities, but it’s not a part you see much of today. Portrayed as yobs, benefit scroungers and scorned upon for its ‘chavviness’ the working class has become demonised across all media formats, and there’s very little left to separate the light from the shade in an age when more people than ever feel isolated by their socio-economic status.
The British Social Attitudes survey recently revealed that the class divide is alive and well in Britain as austerity takes its toll and economic instability sharpens our belief that it is difficult to move from one class to another. That’s not to say the working class has never had it so bad, but it has seldom had so few tools to counter adversity.
The recent vote to leave the European Union is evidence of that. The mantra of fear and loathing left working people resentful of immigrants when their anger would have been better directed at a government that has failed to deliver an actionable response to failing economies. “These people have seen their communities dismantled and destroyed by Margaret Thatcher’s Year Zero economic policies and subsequently forced to accept unsustainable wages, zero-hours contracts and the absence of anything resembling a long-term economic plan to aid their recovery”, Kevin McKenna said, and he is painfully bang on the money.
What is most worrying, I feel, is that working class humour seems to be diminishing at the same time as deep-seated resentment is rising. Ralf Little, who starred alongside Aherne in The Royle Family, says there is now a “noticeable gap” of actors and writers from working-class backgrounds in the wake of her death.
Speaking to The Guardian he said: “Caroline was a leading light in showing that working-class people can be on TV, being ourselves. That you can be a working-class kid, living out your life, and that can be interesting and funny and dramatic and entertaining.”
As we mourn the death of a comic icon we should take a note of the good work she did in putting a positive spin on a frequently demonised part of British society. Working class humour has never been as important, but as uncertainty rises and becomes channelled into irrational responses, I get the feel that no one is laughing.