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Until last year’s turn of events I’d never really binged on box-sets, but after being forced to modify my lifestyle somewhat, that’s exactly what happened. One of the first I tuned into was Friday Night Dinner, and one of the standouts was Paul Ritter.
For me, at the time, it was a case of ‘Paul who?’, which is a shame as the sad passing of this highly-rated actor came all too soon after he got the recognition he deserved, belying his towering talent.
One good reason for this was that Ritter carved himself a memorable stage career. Tony and Olivier nominations – for Coram Boy and The Norman Conquests respectively – were the crowning glory. Fresh out of university, he headed for Germany and the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, a theatre in Hamburg, and it was here where he built upon his am-dram days in A-Level Theatre Studies.
It wasn’t really until Friday Night Dinner that his screen performances received the same kind of reverance. Having said that, most would agree that roles in Quantum of Solace and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince make for a pretty impressive CV. However, all screen careers must start at the more humble end of the scale, and for Ritter this came with an appearance in The Bill in 1992, back in the days when the now-defunct cop show was made up of short, stand-alone episodes.
But of course, it’s as disfuntional father Martin Goodman that Ritter will be fondly remembered. Although some would also argue that Friday Night Dinner would also never have been quite the same without Mark Heap as kooky neighbour Jim, his was a supporting character, whereas Ritter’s laughable patriarch was the glue of the main cast. Over in the states, they’ve had several attempts at remaking the sitcom, so far without success – big shoes to fill, undoubtedly.
Like Only Fools and Horses before it, Friday Night Dinner‘s appeal lies in its inherent Britishness and a type of humour that appeals to just about all age groups. A special ten-year anniversary documentary, to be screened later this year, will now be rewritten and also act as a tribute to its main man.
‘Great’ is no exaggeration. It took him a while to get to the forefront of the nation’s hearts and minds, but once he did, Paul Ritter occupied a special place. The floods of tributes are further proof of how brightly, if somewhat briefly, his star burned.
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