If you were around in the 90s then chances are you will have stumbled across an episode of 2Point4 Children, if not been glued to your TV when the show was on.
It’s rarely spoken about today but ask anyone who tuned in to each episode eager to see what latest commotion the Porter family found themselves in and they would be raving about the show.
But it’s certainly seen as an underrated programme nowadays, and creator Andrew Marshall once said: “I don’t think at the time there was any feeling about its success.”
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What was it all about?
The sitcom aired on the BBC for eight series from 1991 to 1999 with the show concluding with an aptly-titled episode, The Millennium Experience, on December 30, 1999.
The programme followed the lives of the unlucky Porter family, husband and wife Ben and Bill Porter (Gary Olsen and Belinda Lang), a caterer and a plumber, and their teenage kids, Jenny Porter (Clare Woodgate for series one and two and then Clare Buckfield), and David Porter (John Pickard).
Named 2Point4 Children after the then-average number of kids in a UK family, the .4 in the show’s title is also thought to refer to the dad Ben being partly childlike because he was so immature.
As well as the main characters, several other stars also featured from time to time, including Only Fools and Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack, who played Jake ‘The Klingon’ Klinger, and TV legend Liz Smith starred as both Bette and Aunt Belle.
While there are often repeats aired on the Gold and Drama channels, there hasn’t been a sequel since the 1999 finale as Gary tragically passed away from cancer in September 2000, less than a year after the last episode was broadcast.
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What made it a cult classic?
The show has gone down in British TV history partly because it was so different to the average family sitcom with its surreal and dark moments.
Despite the title reflecting the average UK family, the Porters were, ironically, far from that and there were several odd storylines in the show.
They killed their neighbour’s pets by accident, hacked into Bill Clinton’s email account, thought a vampire lived next door, clung onto a bookcase for a whole episode for fear a cobra was in the living room and once came across Shirley Bassey’s wardrobe collection.
One episode of the subversive show was a parody of British TV series The Prisoner, in which a former secret agent was abducted and held in a mystery coastal village where his captors attempted to find out why he quit his job.
Writer Andrew achieved this in 2Point4 Children by having The Klingon capture Ben and take him to north Wales tourist village Portmeirion.
The six Christmas special episodes were also surreal in that they concluded with the family performing musical songs.
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Another of the more unusual themes of the show at the time was that the focus was on the leading lady, Bill, rather than the leading man, so the series differed to many others in that it broke away from the stereotype that the female character was simply the wife and mother in a series.
However, it was perhaps confusing that for a strong woman she had a typically male name in Bill.
The parents’ names, Bill and Ben, were of course a nod to The Flowerpot Men, a legendary BBC TV series which started in the 1950s.
You only have to look at the ratings to see just how popular 2Point4 children was with a huge 14 million people regularly tuning in throughout the early 1990s.
Yes, there were fewer channels to watch then but in comparison to some of the TV viewing figures around today it is a huge amount.
Last year’s X Factor final was watched by just 8.4 million, nearly half of what 2Point4 Children used to get for a standard episode when it started out.
The show’s ratings eventually averaged out to between six and nine million and just over nine million tuned in to watched the sitcom’s finale.
The genius behind 2Point4 Children
A lot of the credit for the show attracting such high ratings must of course go down to its creator and writer Andrew, and he did so with an “annoyingly” small budget.
He once said: “We seemed to have a tiny budget too, compared to some other more prestigious shows, which was slightly annoying.
"We never had any funds for composed music, for example, meaning we had to use records, the copyright clearance of which now make DVD releases financially unviable. And we didn’t get paid a lot of money.”
Marshall’s former writing partner was David Renwick, the genius behind One Foot in the Grave, which is another family-friendly sitcom which featured bizarre instances occurring to a hapless couple in Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) and his long-suffering wife Margaret (Annette Crosbie).
Even Andrew has played down just how good 2Point4 Children was when describing his brainchild, admitting some episodes made him “shudder”.
He previously said: “As always, I felt the quality of the shows was variable. Some episodes still make me shudder, others seem great fun. There are myriad reasons for that, some attributable to me, some not.
"I did feel Series 6 had a great improvement in consistency and style, but as before, nobody really noticed, as they’d all long since decided what they thought about it.
"I feel overall, that it pretty much achieved its goals, albeit with the normal ups and downs of a long running series.”
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Gary Olsen’s death
While 2Point4 Children will always be remembered for making us roar with laughter, you cannot help but think of Gary’s tragically short life when you recall the sitcom.
The actor passed away in Australia in September 2000 aged just 42 after a long battle with cancer.
Paying tribute to him, BBC One controller Peter Salmon said at the time: “Gary was a lively, lovely man and an actor who brought pleasure to millions of viewers with his central role in 2Point4 Children.
"His ability to bring warmth and humour to everything he did means his loss at such an early age is even more tragic.”
Gary clearly had a great fondness for the show and was “very upset” when the programme was overlooked to be in the running for a BBC ceremony to name the “best comedy of all time”, which was won by Men Behaving Badly.
Creator Andrew once recalled: “Gary was once very upset when the BBC mounted a Best Comedy of All Time extravaganza, to which no-one from our show was invited, but seemingly everyone else was.
"I’m afraid I rather expected that, as it was somewhat par for the course. I rather suspect the management, in company with the critics, never actually saw the show, but formed their opinions from the title and perhaps a trailer or two.”
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The stars of the show still see each other now and again, apart from poor Gary, and Clare - who has gone on to appear in Dancing On Ice and once romanced Declan Donnelly - revealed in 2014 the cast had a reunion in 2011.
She told Bucks Free Press: “We had a massive reunion three years ago, obviously the people who are still with us.
"I caught up with everyone. I am still in touch with John Pickard- I did a play with him recently.
"I am in touch with Belinda Lang, who has not long played the theatre in Windsor. She saw the poster for All Creatures Great and Small and got in touch.”
Any chance of a return?
In short, no. A future special looks hugely unlikely following Gary’s sad passing.
The show has since been discontinued out of respect of the legendary star, but had he still been alive today then it’s a safe bet to predict fan pressure may well have led to a reunion of sorts.
Who knows what the Porters would’ve been up to nowadays?