Follow TV Tropes


Series / Mind Your Language

Go To
National Stereotypes, the group photo.note 

Mind Your Language was a politically incorrect Brit Com that ran for four series, three on London Weekend Television between 1977 and 1979 and one on Granada in 1986. The show was about a hapless class of students learning English as a foreign language. It has been much criticized for its xenophobic outlook and heavy use of ethnic stereotypes, but at the time it was appreciated that the show gave actors of colour a bigger presence on TV. Hilariously, it was outsourced abroad to great acclaim. To this day it is still re-run on Comedy Central in India and elsewhere.

In the first episode, Jeremy Brown (Barry Evans) is hired as a teacher of English as a foreign language at a college of adult education run by strict principal Miss Courtney (Zara Nutley). Other college employees include Cockney caretaker Sid (Tommy Godfrey), and gossip-loving tea lady Gladys (Iris Sadler). The other episodes focus on Jeremy's hit-and-miss attempts to help his internationally diverse class of students navigate the mazes of the English language and British culture.

In the first and third series, Jeremy has ten students, five from Europe and five from Asia. The European students include macho Italian chef Giovanni Cupello (George Camiller), who becomes the students' designated leader and spokesman; nymphomaniac French au pair Danielle Favre (Françoise Pascal), who regularly flirts with Jeremy (who is too embarrassed to reciprocate); humourless German au pair Anna Schmidt (Jacki Harding), who tries to take the class seriously; Spanish bartender Juan Cervantes (Ricardo Montez), who sports hilarious '70s sideburns and initially speaks very little English; and Greek shipping company employee Maximillian Papandrious (Kevork Malikyan), whose rivalry with Giovanni turns to friendship in later episodes. The Asian students include Indian housewife Jameela Ranjha (Jamila Massey), who is among the few students to make real progress in her English skills; Indian Sikh Ranjeet Singh (Albert Moses), who works for the London Underground; sporadically employed Pakistani Muslim Ali Nadim (Dino Shafeek), who constantly fights with Ranjeet; Chinese embassy secretary Chung Su-Lee (Pik-Sen Lim), a fanatical Communist; and Japanese electronics executive Taro Nagazumi (Robert Lee). The second series sees the addition of two more students: nymphomaniac Swedish au pair Ingrid Svenson (Anna Bergmannote ), who competes with Danielle for Jeremy's affection, and Hungarian Zoltán Szabó (Gabor Vernon), who has a strange tendency to burst into song.

Despite drawing audiences of 18 million, the series had its plug pulled by then-LWT Director of Programmes Michael Grade in 1979 in response to complaints about the use of ethnic stereotypes, but it was revived in 1986 for a fourth series of 13 episodes. The characters of Jeremy, Miss Courtney, Giovanni, Anna, Juan, and Ranjeet all returned, as did Ingrid after having been absent for the third series. New characters included Max's sister Maria Papandrious (Jenny Lee Wright), French student Michelle Dumas (Marie-Elise Grepne), Indian student Farrukh Azzam (Raj Patel), Chinese student Fu Wong Chang (Vincent Wong), tea lady Rita (Sue Bond), and caretaker Henshawe (Harry Littlewood).

The series was adapted in many countries, including (unsuccessfully) in the US as What a Country, starring Yakov Smirnoff.

Any resemblance between this and Leo Rosten's phenomenally popular "Mr. K*A*P*L*A*N" short storiesnote  is purely coincidental.

Tropes used included:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: Max invokes this trope in "Come Back, All is Forgiven"; when Anna says the male students should be studying English instead of playing cards while Jeremy is out of the room, Max stands up and performs a fascist salute while yelling, "Sieg heil!"
  • All Men Are Perverts: Combined with All Women Are Lustful; when Mr Brown's away from class, his students, male and female alike, will either be messing around or reading something racy. With the exception of Jamila, who'll probably be reading something about knitting, and Anna, who seems to be the only student to take the class seriously.
  • Animated Credits Opening: The opening credits feature cartoon versions of Jeremy, Miss Courtney, and the students. Jeremy writes the series title on the chalkboard, but is distracted by the arrival of Danielle, who causes various levels of distraction or disapproval (split down gender lines) in the other students as she walks past - until everyone notices a scowling Miss Courtney standing in the doorway. (In the second series, it is Ingrid who distracts the other students after pushing Danielle aside.)
  • Babysitting Episode: One episode has Danielle bringing a baby to class - not her baby, but the child of the family for whom she works as an au pair, who are overseas for a while. Hilarity Ensues as usual when Courtney mistakes the baby for Danielle's.
  • Balloonacy: In one episode, Jeremy and his students go on a fundraising campaign. Jeremy and Jamila sell balloons in Hyde Park, until Jamila gives her balloons to Jeremy while she gives change to a customer. As Jeremy already has his hands full, he floats comically off the ground.
  • Berserk Button: Miss Courtney's reaction when addressed as "Mrs".
  • Birthday Episode: "Come Back, All is Forgiven" begins on Jeremy's birthday; Gladys saw his birthdate on his personnel file and wishes him a happy birthday, claiming not to have told anyone else. Inevitably, she has told the students, who greet Jeremy with a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" and each give him a present: a salami from Giovanni, an apfelstrudel from Anna, eau de toilette from Danielle, a cowbell from Jameela (inspired by the sacred status of cows in India), a copy of Thoughts of Chairman Mao from Su-Lee, a voucher for a secondhand shop in Camden from Ali, and pens from Max, Ranjeet, Taro, and Juan. Miss Courtney - who flatly announces that she doesn't believe birthdays are worth celebrating anyway - gives him a rather less welcome present: the non-renewal of his trial employment (to which Jeremy reacts by quitting on the spot and giving Miss Courtney the cowbell, telling her that in India, she'd be sacred).
  • Brawn Hilda: Anna has no problem beating the shit out of anyone who annoys her.
  • The Bus Came Back: Ingrid, the Swedish student who debuts in season 2, absent in 3, and makes a comeback in 4 alongside a few new characters. In contrast, Zoltan the Hungarian student who debuts in the same episode as Ingrid doesn't have any appearances outside season 2.
  • Catchphrase: Most of the characters had at least one, usually a Malapropism of some sort.
    • Ali was fond of using the very British phrases "Oh blimey!" and "Jolly good!" in his bid to assimilate into English culture.
    • Juan, whose English was among the more fragmentary in the class, would say "¿Por favor?" (Spanish for "Please?") whenever he had trouble understanding Mr. Brown. Zoltán had the similar "Bocsánat?" (Hungarian for "Pardon?") whenever he ran into a communication barrier.
    • Giovanni's favourite term of agreement was "Okey-cokey" (confusing "Okey-dokey" with the hokey cokey dance (hokey pokey in the USA)).
    • Ranjeet's preferred phrase when Mr. Brown corrected his mistakes was "A thousand apologies."
    • Call the school's headmistress "Mrs.", and she would acidly insist, "MISS Courtney!"
  • Character Development: All of them, but the most prominent would be Jameela, who at start of the show took 3 episodes for her to speak good evening, and became very proficient in speaking the language in the 3rd season.
  • Chick Magnet: Many females, both staff and students, finds the young shy Mr Brown very attractive and indearing. Even Miss Courtney on a few occasions.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A lot.
    Mr Brown: After William the Conqueror came his son, William the Red-
    Ali: Oh blimey! You are having a communist king?!
    Su-Lee: (open mouthed grin and waving a Chinese flag enthusiastically)
    Mr Brown: What? Oh no, he was called "the Red" on account of his red hair.
    Su-Lee: (sullenly stops waving and sits down)
  • Courtroom Episode: "Guilty or Not Guilty", where the entire class ends up in court due to various mischief and offenses, mostly caused by their mediocre command of the English language. Mr. Brown gets to be their mediator and attorney, with Ms. Courtney as the judge.
  • Culture Equals Costume: An episode has the class dressing in their local costumes for a musical performance. Most of them get stereotypical outfits, like the Greek Maximilian wearing peplos, the Japanese Taro in a kimono-esque gear and the Pakistani Ali showing up in a turban and Arabic-looking outfit, but to everyone's bewilderment, the Chinese Su-Li wears a Chinese Red Guard uniform instead of a qipao.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr Brown had his moments.
    Mr Brown: (seeing Giovanni dressed up in typical Mafia getup, look of disgust) Are you representing Italy or the Mafia?
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: During the school's talent night, Jeremy (dressed in a Union Jack coat) leads the students (dressed in the stereotypical costumes of their various home countries), as "Jeremy Brown and his United Nations", in a chorus of the series' theme tune.
  • Discriminate and Switch: In the second episode, "An Inspector Calls", when Miss Courtney meets the local Inspector for the Board of Education and realize the guy's a Black Brit.
    Courtney: They told me they'd be sending an inspector around. But I really didn't expect...
    Inspector: [interrupting]... he would be black?
    Courtney: He'd be so young!
  • Doorstop Baby: Jeremy reveals in the Series 1 episode "How's Your Father?" that he was left on the doorstep of an orphanage on Jeremy Street as a baby, and grew up never knowing who his parents were.
  • Epic Fail: Turns out that in Season 2, all of Mr Brown's students managed to fail the Lower Cambridge Certificate exam, as they enter the classroom one by one in an inadvertent Humiliation Conga for their teacher. At first, Zoltán is in the room on his own, and when Anna and Ranjeet arrive, Jeremy thinks they have stopped by to visit - until they explain they failed their exam and have to re-take the class. Still, Jeremy notes, two failures out of ten isn't bad - then he has to change it to four out of ten when Jameela and Taro arrive, then five when Juan arrives. Ingrid's arrival briefly interrupts the embarrassment, but Ali's arrival resumes it, and then Giovanni, Max, and Danielle all arrive together... and just as Jeremy is berating his returning students for nine out of ten of them failing their exam, Su-Lee arrives late to make it an imperfect ten out of ten.
  • Everything's Sexier in French: Danielle.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Ms Courtney has this reaction in the first episode when she finds out the new language teacher, Mr Brown, is a man. She also has this reaction in another episode upon meeting the Nigerian inspector, not because of his race, but because of how young he is for a man of his profession.
  • Fanservice: Danielle and later Ingrid.
  • Final Season Casting: Many characters left before the fourth series (among other things, Dino Shafeek (Ali) died of a heart attack in 1984), leaving Giovanni, Juan, Anna, and Ranjeet as the only survivors of the original class (though Ingrid was brought back from season two).
  • Flanderization
  • Funny Foreigner: Though mostly portrayed sympathetically.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages
  • Germanic Depressives: Anna is very rarely seen smiling, in contrast to the more outgoing Danielle, Su-Lee, and Ingrid.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Invoked and discussed - in an Establishing Character Moment, Anna delivers all the information Mr Brown needs to know for the register in as little time as she can manage, but it turns out the Germans have national rivals for efficiency...
    Mr Brown: [taking register] And you?
    Anna: Anna Schmidt. German. Au pair.
    Mr Brown: [writing] Ah! The usual German efficiency.
    Anna: [proudly] Germans are always efficient.
    Taro: [raises hand] Not-to so. [stands up, bows] Japanese much more efficient-oh.
    Anna: Nein, Germans are ze best!
    Taro: Japanese make-a much better television and-oh... [indicates the case around his neck] camelas! [he and Anna begin arguing]
  • Got Me Doing It: Jeremy frequently inadvertently begins using the foreign students' Verbal Tics during conversations with them and has to quickly correct himself. Sometimes this involves their pronunciation (R/L confusion with Su-Lee, ending words with "-o" with Taro, "v" for "w" with Anna, "s" for "th" with Danielle, etc.), sometimes their grammar and syntax (which, as beginning foreign language students often do, the students often assume is the same in English as it is in their native languages). For example, when he meets Ingrid for the first time in "All Present if Not Correct", this trope collides with Distracted by the Sexy:
    Ingrid: God afton!note 
    Jeremy: Good evening.
    Ingrid: I here come to English learn.
    Jeremy: "I come here to learn English."
    Ingrid: [taking Jeremy's arm] We together sit?
    Jeremy: No, we can't do that.
    Ingrid: [taking off her jacket, thus emphasising her chest] Well what is matter, there is wrong something with me?
    Jeremy: [his eyes straying to her chest] No, there's wrong nothing with you! [shrugs off his mistake]
    Ingrid: [cosying up to Jeremy] I very much like you.
    Jeremy: Yes, well, I am your teacher.
    Ingrid: [gasps] Teacher? You're too young to be teacher!
    Jeremy: Thank you. [points to her T-shirt] Is that your name?
    Ingrid: Ja. [indicating the name written across her chest] Ingrid Svenson.
    Jeremy: [writing in his register] Ingrid Svenson. I take it you're, er, Svedi- [grimaces and shakes his head] Swedish?
  • High-Class Glass: In the Courtroom Episode, the assistant judge next to Ms. Courtney wears a monocle over his right eye. As part of a Freeze-Frame Bonus, there's a split-second where the monocle falls off when Courtney tells the assistant "her prejudice certainly won't be in their favour".
  • Hilarity Ensues: Several episodes centered around the characters' brushes with the law through misunderstandings of English. In one case, the entire class managed to get themselves arrested separately while trying to complete assignments from Jeremy (Giovanni and Danielle interrupted a live television broadcast, Su-Lee and Taro got in a heated argument with an orator at Speaker's Corner, etc.).
  • Japanese Ranguage: Subverted, it was Su-Lee (Chinese) who struggled to differentiate between R and L sounds. Taro instead added "-oh" to the end of every word that would otherwise end with a consonant.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: One episode involved Anna fearing that she would have to go back to Germany after her visa expires, leading to this trope when Jeremy misunderstands her statement that she is "in trouble".
  • Modern Minstrelsy: The classroom is packed with broad national stereotypes, mostly (but not exclusively) played by actors and actresses of the same ethnicity as their characters.
  • My Local: The characters were rarely seen outside of a school setting, but would often congregate in the college canteen.
  • National Stereotypes: Like you wouldn't believe. The German student is rigid and humourless, the French student is a would-be seductress (and the Swedish is of a more innocent variety), the Italian and Greek students are hot-blooded skirt-chasers, the Chinese student is a devout Maoist, the Japanese student is a tech-savvy camera salesman, the Punjabi and Pakistani students are constantly at each other's throats... and the English characters are sexually repressed and socially awkward.
  • Never Bareheaded: For two of the Asian students, Ranjeet and Ali are never seen respectively without their turban and karakul.
  • Peer as Teacher: Protagonist Mr. Brown is the class teacher in an English tuition center for foreigners and most of his students are around his age. A few, like Indian housewife Jamila, Japanese CEO Taro, and Chinese Embassy secretary Su-Lee are noticeably older than him.
  • Put on a Bus: Zoltán and Ingrid leave between the second and third series, although Ingrid returns for the fourth series.
  • Running Gag: Ali saying 'squeeze me please', Ranjeet's thousand apologies and Taro putting -oh at the end of every word.
  • Stock British Phrases: Sid speaks in nothing but these.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Season 4 had a number of these to replace the departed students from previous seasons: Farroukh for Ali, Wong Fung Chang for Su-Lee. Danielle had two Suspiciously Similar Substitutes (Michelle and Marie).
  • Tempting Fate: In the first episode, Miss Courtney checks in on Jeremy's class after he has registered his first nine students, and notes that at least she won't have to worry about any sexual tension in this class, as there is no "foreign beauty" for whose attention the male students can compete. Seconds later, Danielle enters the room, to whistles of appreciation from the male students (and some of the studio audience) and a look of disgust from Miss Courtney.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mr Brown and Danielle. It's clear that Danielle has a crush on Mr Brown and often tries to flirt with him, expressing jealousy when Ingrid shows up. Due to the show's cancellation, their relationship doesn't go anywhere beyond that.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Ali and Ranjeet's relationship eventually becomes this. While they'll occasionally throw snipes at each other, they nevertheless look out for each other as much as they do with their fellow classmates.
  • Wacky Homeroom: National stereotypes though they may be, each of the students does have a distinct personality, and though they may like Mr. Brown, that doesn't mean they'll behave themselves during his lessons (Giovanni especially is fond of acting out).
  • Who's on First?: During the episode where Jamila was caught stealing a mag from a shop (and that's not the first time she does it with anything), all the students, Mr. Brown and Miss Courtney enter the police office and this happens:
    Police officer: Good. Now let's take a few names. (addressing to Miss Courtney) You Madam, sorry, Miss.
    Miss Courtney: Courtney.
    Police officer: (writes down the name) Thank you! (addressing to Juan) You sir.
    Juan: Si.
    Police officer: What's your name?
    Juan: ¿Por favor?
    Police officer: (writes it down) How do you spell that?
    Mr. Brown: That's not his name.
    Police officer: Oh, giving me a false name, eh?
    Juan: ¿Por favor?
    Police officer: I'll come back to you, Mr. Por Favore, or whatever your name is! (points at Ali) You!
    Ali: Yes please.
    Police officer: What is your name?
    Ali: Oh no, Watt is not my name.
    Police officer: I don't wanna know what your name is not! What is your name?
    Ali: And I'm telling you it is not.
    Police officer: (points at Anna) You, what is his name?
    Anna: Nein.
    Police officer: Aha! Now we're getting somewhere. (writes down) Mr. Nine.
    Anna: That is not his name.
    Police officer: You just said it was.
    Anna: You ask me is his name is Watt and I tell you "nein". Watt is not his name but also not Nein!
    Police officer: I'm going around the bend! (points at Ranjeet) What is his name?
    Ranjeet: Absolutely not.
    Police officer: Not what?
    Ranjeet: That is correct.
    Police officer: What is your name?
    Ranjeet: Wrong again!
    Giovanni: He's not here!
    Police officer: Who's not here?!
    Max: Watt.
    Police officer: Pardon?!
    Max: Who is not here and Watt is not here neither.
    Police officer: (slams his paper holder pad onto the desk) You're all barmy! Mr. Brown... if I promise not to proceed with this report, will you do me a favour?
    Mr. Brown: Yes, what is it?
    Police officer: Get these crackpots out of here and promise to never bring them back even if they've committed murder!
  • Wimp Fight: Both Giovanni and Maxmillian get into a fight in one episode where they basically skip around each other with fists raised talking about how they're gonna hurt the other, but never once actually throw a punch. Lampshaded by Danielle.
    Danielle: Fighting?! It was more like dancing!
  • You and What Army?: Mr. Brown realises that the headmistress is about to be conned, and confronts the Con Man by himself - "what army" turns out to be all his male students standing there and looking menacing.