Follow TV Tropes


Series / dinnerladies

Go To

A two-series Work Com set in a Mancunian factory canteen. Written by, and indeed starring, Victoria Wood, and features a number of her regular collaborators.

The plot follows Brenda "Bren" Furlong (Wood) in an otherwise ordinary canteen job, flanked by four colleagues, the older best friends Dolly and Jean - one uptight and prudish, the other... less so, as well as the younger Twinkle (brassy, loud, ladetteish) and Anita (quiet, ditzy), all presided over by their boss, Tony, and supported by a cast of peripheral factory workers - HR manager Philippa, planning manager Jane and caretaker Stan. Oh, and Bren's Cloudcuckoolander mum, Petula.

The comedy predominantly comes from the interactions between the cast rather than wacky hijinks, Take Thats, visual gags or blatant vulgarity- to the point that, with the exception of two small scenes involving a hospital and a Game Show, the entire 16-episode production only used one set.

Despite the humour shown (which, being a Victoria Wood programme, can often take a turn for the slightly bizarre) most of the characters have darker moments to contend with both on-camera and in their backstories, and the whole story is awash with the Grim Up North "ordinary people getting on" themes that exist across all of Wood's work. This generally sees the programme described in listings as "Bittersweet".

Came twenty-eighth in Britains Best Sitcom.

dinnerladies contains examples of these tropes:

  • all lowercase letters: the title text.
  • Berserk Button: Anything, according to Stan.
    • Also, Dolly, when she thinks she has drunk coffee containing Viagra which someone had mistaken for sweetener.
  • Breathless Non Sequitur: the source of a lot of the show's jokes. Especially when Petula gets her Noodle Implements out.
  • Brick Joke: A non-comedic example. In the very first episode, Petula asks Bren to throw a mobile phone into a bin. In the very last episode, Petula reveals that the phone belonged to someone who gave her a lot of money, which then finds its way to Bren and the other staff. It isn't mentioned in any of the intervening episodes.
  • British Brevity: The show only ran for two series of six and ten episodes; the final episodes of series 2 were designed to wrap up the plot.
  • British Stuffiness: Dolly embodies this trope, frequently name-dropping The Daily Mail.
  • Catchphrase: A few.
    • Norman: "I fell off a diving board in Guernsey!"
    • Dolly: "It was in the Daily Mail!"
      • Blaming everything on "Tony Blair!", saying his name in a hilariously contemptuous manner.
    • Bren: "What's that word? Not X (Beat) Y" - where X and Y are distantly, idiomatically related words.
      • "What's that word? Not unicorns, (Beat) disenchanted!" - The link here is enchanted.
      • "What's them things like cucumbers? (Beat) Suffragettes!" - The link here is courgette.
    • Stan "My father was a Desert Rat... (unlikely wartime feat)"
    • Twinkle: "Oh, ha ha, (Comedian, occasionally another phrase like 'straight to video')", a deadpan response to someone else making fun of her.
    • Tony: (After the topic of conversation has become something too uncomfortable for him to contemplate) "... I need a fag (cigarette)."
  • Cloudcuckoolander - Anita, who is just highly ditzy, Philippa, who just gets a bit muddled up, and Petula, who is under the impression she is a friend of the rich and famous, but actually lives in a caravan behind a petrol station.
    • And let us not forget Petula's friend 'Babs from Urmston'
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Never mind your bloody coffee - get in the bloody bloody BLOODY FRIGGING CAR!"
  • Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For: Petula returns from a drunken fumble with Tony fiddling with her bra-strap and remarking 'That's the thing about shoplifting; you can never try something on.'
  • Deadpan Snarker: Twinkle.
    "Oh ha ha, straight to video."
    • Tony and Bren definitely count too.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Averted. Tony's cancer - and its treatment - becomes a major plot point.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: On the last episodes of each series, in the credits.
    • The theme tune and lyrics are written by Victoria Wood herself.
  • Downer Ending: Bren's mum dies, and the canteen is to be closed. Then they pull it out of the bag, so to speak, as Bren rescues the inheritance she accidentally threw away and shares it with her coworkers.
  • Freudian Slip: When visiting royals ask Anita about her views on wearing a uniform. "It protects your nipples."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: A few:
    • Twinkle (although she's not really a jerk on a personal level - she moans and snarks about nearly everything, is frequently late and thinks nothing of her professional appearance, but greatly values her friendship with her colleagues, particularly Bren).
    • Dolly, who is constantly judgemental towards others on every aspect from their wealth (despite how she works in a canteen herself) to their appearance, dress, heritage, race or sexuality, all handily informed by Daily Mail headlines. She does frequently show her nice side and is more misinformed than malicious.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Petula Gordino (actually Brenda Furlong), Bren's mother and, according to her, best friend and confidante of the entirety of Hollywood. She constantly takes advantage of Bren's good nature and lies as easily as breathing.
  • Maternity Crisis: Anita's character arc initially focuses on her wanting children but being extremely upset about not having them. When she eventually does become pregnant, she does not tell any of her co-workers and eventually goes into labour on New Year's Eve 1999, during riots in central Manchester. She has such a crisis over her ability to raise the child that she leaves it at the canteen for Bren to look after.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: Bren, after a fainting spell brought on by the mention of needles when the blood donor van comes to visit. The punchline to this is itself a Noodle Incident - "We thought you were pregnant." "Not unless sperm can get through a sash window."
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Almost a literal example. Each episode of S2 is set on a specific date, and the last four are set from one to thirty days into the future relative to the broadcast date.
  • Noodle Implements: Among Petula's possessions, revealed when she's rummaging in her handbag are a blanket and a large funnel sporting extremely suspect brown stains, which alongside her chronic flatulence hint strongly at an undisclosed and unexplored bowel complaint.
  • Oop North
  • Running Gag: Quite a few, often carried through an entire series (or sometimes even both).
    • Tony going out to the fire escape for a cigarette is always followed by a chorus of 'Shut the door!'
    • Tony going out for a cigarette is also a running gag itself as he nearly always does it when the conversation turns into something he doesn't want to deal with.
    • Numerous references to Jean's HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) treatment.
    • Many times, the characters attempt to name a TV show/film/musical/actor, often going through an enormous range of misnomers and non-sequiturs to do so.
    • Phillipa's confusion over the name of her job: It WAS Personnel, but now it's Human Resources.
    • Petula's namedropping of, and outlandish stories about, incredibly famous people with whom she is (obviously not) close.
    • Dolly's stories about her previous, much classier employer, the Café Bonbon.
    • Bread man Norman's endless list of things that he cannot do because he is 'agoraphobic, you know. I fell off a diving board in Guernsey.'
    • The pie man and his creepy obsession with Tony.
    • Bread woman Glenda's surgery, which is played for laughs with purposeful ambiguity about its nature.
    • Jean misreading newspapers and magazines.
      • "Put your specs on!"
  • Show Within a Show: "Totally Trivial"
  • Status Quo Is God: Played relatively straight in the first series (although nothing of significance really happens in it), but continuity hits hard in the second.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Stan attempts to deliver many of these, but his insistence on relating issues arising in a factory canteen to situations his dad (allegedly) encountered in North Africa during World War II leaves most of them more confusing than scathing. Phillipa is most often on the receiving end of these after some minor administrative error.
    • Dolly delivers one to their revolting and irritating temporary colleague Christine.
    • Bren delivers two of her own: one to Phillipa after a larger-than-usual series of admin cock-ups, and one to temporary manager Nicola Bodeaux after she causes the entire staff to walk out.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Packed full of them, in British sitcom tradition:
    • "How long do I need to have my hand on Tom's horn to get a response?!"
    • "Can you smell my Charlie?"
    • Petula speaking about parking her caravan on a petrol station forecourt: "Can I winch my legs down onto your hard-standing?"
  • Video Wills
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Dolly and Jean