Keeping Up Appearances (of a Good Night’s Sleep)

I haven’t been about on the blog the past few weeks because I’ve been charging head on into my final year of undergraduate study. (Today marks the beginning of my fourth week.) I describe my time as going to school, working on schoolwork, and recovering from school and schoolwork.

At the exact moment, I find myself awake in the middle of the night after about four hours’ sleep. At one time, this would have panicked me, as I struggle with a circadian-rhythm disorder. But then, several months back, I learnt of the discovery of first sleep and second sleep. It appears that, when humans live apart from electricity, it is quite natural for them to awake for about an hour in the middle of the night. When we who live high-tech do the same, it is a matter of the body seeking to return to what is more natural. So now I’ve learnt not to panic, and to spend the hour relaxing.

And at this exact moment, I am relaxing in much the same way as I have been unwinding from studies lately: by watching British panel shows and sitcoms. I am at present working my way through Keeping Up Appearances, one of my all-time favorites. The show, in its pitch-perfect performances and skewering of class consciousness, truly is one of the greats of British television.

What do you watch late at night? Photo by Kevin Simpson via Flickr.

I realized tonight another part of its genius. The main character, Hyacinth Bucket (which she insists upon pronouncing “bouquet”) is a punctilious, obsessive social climber who makes all around her miserable in her attempts to show herself of a higher class than that to which she belongs. It would have been so tempting to leave the character at that, and if the writers had done so, the show would have fallen completely flat. But the writers wisely gave her one redeeming characteristic: Her sisters look up to her, and routinely call upon her to come to the rescue when things go awry in her lives, and in her love and devotion, she comes through–however reluctantly, and with hilarious results.

Patricia Routledge‘s character has an American parallel in Archie Bunker. The main character of All in the Family was ten times as prejudiced as Hyacinth, yet the writers gave actor Carroll O’Connor moments of great pathos and tenderness. And Archie’s views evolve, if ever so slowly.

Both of these hallmarks of television point out that three-dimensional, realistic characters are key to even the most over-the-top comedies. If a character is wonderful, give him some awful trait. If a holy terror, give him a redeeming quality. Every writer should bear this in mind.


About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 14 September, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love hyacinth too… interesting about the sleep… it should help a lot of people to know this…

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