Mrs Brown’s Boys is no laughing matter for BBC boss

Brendan O'Carroll - who plays Mrs Brown - has been on the BBC since 2011
Brendan O'Carroll - who plays Mrs Brown - has been on the BBC since 2011 - Alan Peebles

Millions of viewers laugh along with Mrs Brown’s Boys, but it appears that the BBC’s head of comedy is not one of them.

Asked at a BBC comedy showcase event whether he finds the sitcom funny and whether he would watch it if he didn’t have to, Jon Petrie refused to answer.

Mr Petrie declined to give a response to the question during a Q&A session. The journalist who asked it said: “I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then,” to which Mr Petrie laughed.

At the time he was sharing a stage with Michelle de Swarte, a comedian and actress who is starring in a forthcoming comedy for BBC Three. De Swarte urged Mr Petrie to avoid answering the question, telling him: “This is a trap.”

The event was held at London’s Soho House to launch a new slate of comedy programmes on the BBC.

They include Smoggie Queens, a sitcom about drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community in Middlesbrough, and Amandaland, a spin-off from the hit series Motherland. It is co-written by Mr Petrie’s partner, Holly Walsh. Mr Petrie said he had recused himself from decision-making about the show.

Amandaland will air later this year on BBC One, as will Only Child, featuring Greg McHugh as a budding author who moves back in with his ageing, technophobe father, played by Rab C Nesbitt star Gregor Fisher.

David Morrissey will star in Daddy Issues, as a divorcee so hopeless that he is unable to load a washing machine or boil an egg, but who must take on more responsibility when his daughter (Aimee Lee Wood) announces that she is pregnant.

The new slate also features Ludwig, a comedy crime drama starring David Mitchell as a man whose identical twin goes missing.

Ratings for the 2023 Christmas special were down to four million from a peak of 11 million
Ratings for the 2023 Christmas special were down to four million from a peak of 11 million - BBC Studios/Elaine Livingstone

We Might Regret This explores the life of a Canadian artist and tetraplegic (Kyla Harris), including her sexual relationship with a straight-laced lawyer.

De Swarte writes and stars in Spent, a sitcom about a former catwalk model left penniless and homeless at the end of her career.

At a different point during the event, Mr Petrie acknowledged that Mrs Brown’s Boys is “still getting numbers for us”, attracting healthy ratings along with the likes of Ghosts, Motherland and Not Going Out.

He reiterated his recent call for writers to send in new sitcom ideas with “great comedy characters and a high joke rate”.

Mrs Brown’s Boys has been running since 2011, with its Christmas and new year specials becoming a staple of the BBC schedules. It hit a ratings high of 11 million in its early years, but the figure for the 2023 Christmas Day episode – including those who caught up over the next seven days – was down to four million.

The biggest BBC hit this Christmas is expected to be the return of Gavin and Stacey. Co-creators James Corden and Ruth Jones are currently working on the script. Mr Petrie said: “James and Ruth won’t let us look at it yet. They’re really keeping it under wraps and don’t want people to see it outside of their very, very tight circle.”

One of last year’s high-profile launches, Catherine Tate comedy Queen of Oz, was cancelled after one series. Mr Petrie said of it: “I’m really glad we tried it, it just didn’t quite do the job we needed it to do.”

The BBC later said that Mr Petrie had not had a chance to answer because the host had quickly moved on to the next question.

After being contacted by The Telegraph Petrie hailed Mrs Brown as “an iconic comedy character”, and said: “Mrs Brown’s Boys is a Bafta-winning comedy show and one of the BBC’s most watched comedies ever.

“It’s made me laugh many times and seeing Mrs Brown’s Boys live is an unforgettable experience – I feel very lucky that I’ve had the chance to witness it and I’m proud to have it in the BBC comedy stable.”