While we sit drinking our very early morning mugs of tea, and before starting our working day, my husband and I have fallen into the habit of watching one or two episodes of vintage comedies on Gold. Not only is it much more cheerful than the news, it's far less irritating than the miscellany of minor celebrity stuff that sometimes passes for news on our TV screens each morning.
Our favourite is probably The Brittas Empire, some twenty years old, and hardly dated at all. Still laugh-aloud funny, still clever, still surprisingly relevant (only just realised how much David Brent owes to Gordon Brittas) - however bizarre the situations - containing the brilliant writing, the clever direction, the fine acting and the germ of truth and pathos that all excellent comedies must possess.
Watching this morning's episode, which involved a Ruthenian juggling doppelganger, a trio of born again Christians from the church of Chattanooga, a receptionist teaching herself to play the violin, a child who lives in a cupboard and - among much else - a cycling bear, it struck me that I believed in it all. Why? Because there's an enchanting self consistency about it. Not once, watching this comic tour de force, are you ever thrown out of your willing suspension of disbelief. Nobody ever puts a foot wrong. Not only that, but although you're sometimes hiding behind a cushion with embarrassment, you find yourself sympathising with all of them - even Mr Brittas. Perhaps especially Mr Brittas who means so well, who has a 'dream', but who leaves a trail of wreckage behind him. I sometimes wonder if it all boils down to the fact that the writers who conceived of these people actually liked their creations. It's what all fine comedies seem have in common: the unique relationship between the writer and his or her characters, even the monsters, a kind of intimate knowledge which makes them absolutely real, and consequently, allows us, as fellow human beings, to identify with them. Without that, not only is there no comedy, there's nothing to engage the viewers either.