The Cockfields, episode 1 review: a well-observed, gently addictive gem

Diane Morgan and Sue Johnston star in the new comedy - UKTV
Diane Morgan and Sue Johnston star in the new comedy - UKTV

Few social obligations are more fraught with dread and jeopardy than taking a new partner home to meet your parents. Will they like or loathe each other? Will your family’s weird ways scare off your love interest? Will your mother proudly produce an album of embarrassing baby photos? Will you promptly regress into a petulant teenager? Probably, yes.

This was the premise of new three-part sitcom The Cockfields (GOLD) - a gentle gem with plenty of charm and the potential for a full series.

Hirsute comedian Joe Wilkinson, who co-wrote with longtime collaborator David Earl, starred as affable everyman Simon Cockfields, who ferried his girlfriend Donna (Diane Morgan of Motherland and Philomena Cunk fame) over to the Isle of Wight to meet his oddball family for his 40th birthday celebrations.

The likeable couple stayed with his doting mother Sue (the reliably superb Sue Johnston), her controlling husband Ray (Bobby Ball), geeky stepbrother David (Ben Rufus Green) and incontinent border terrier Peanut.

In-law comedies are a well-worn sub-genre, but this one didn’t mine the obvious gags. Instead it opted for acute observation and cringe-inducing, as the well-meaning but overbearing hosts obsessed about mealtimes, bedtimes, getting-up times and whether Donna was “too hot” (temperature-wise, not attractiveness).

Joe Wilkinson as Simon
Joe Wilkinson as Simon

Whenever there was a silence, Sue tried to fill it with food or drink. She was forever offering sausage rolls, slices of gala pie, quiche, mini-Magnums or glasses of Shloer.

Much mirth came from how dad “Raymondo” was set in his small-minded ways. He bullied his hapless son, spouted casual bigotry and became embroiled in petty feuds. He was disproportionately fixated on route-planning and car cleanliness, as many males of a certain age tend to become.

Ray’s relationship with Simon was understandably strained and, over the course of their long weekend together, set to erupt into one almighty row.

Light relief came from David’s celebrity obsession (Clare Balding, Alan Titchmarsh and Anne Hegerty from The Chase). There were excellent gags about iPad passwords, toenail-cutting and why the family kept a bread knife by the downstairs loo.

Also popping up to complicate matters were Simon’s suave father Larry (Nigel Havers), clearly in the throes of a midlife crisis, and his pretentious younger girlfriend Melissa (Sarah Parish), who was enjoyably ghastly.

The Isle of Wight scenery of chalk cliffs and rolling fields looked ravishing. Performances were winningly naturalistic - it was especially lovely to see Morgan playing against spiky type - while proceedings bounced along to a jaunty Belle & Sebastian soundtrack.

Bobby Ball as Ray and Sue Johnston as Sue
Bobby Ball as Ray and Sue Johnston as Sue

Mainly, though, this was a loving portrayal of one extended family - their quirks, their short-hand, their unique mixture of love and teeth-gnashing, toe-curling frustration. Simon’s acute embarrassment about his folks’ eccentricities was undercut with flashes of tenderness.

As the three-parter progresses, expect some genuinely affecting revelations. My eyes moistened at least twice. This was warm domestic comedy that wore its cleverness lightly, in the vein of Mum or The Royle Family (in which Johnston also played the kindly matriarch).

The gently addictive series is scheduled across three consecutive evenings and the episodes could easily be binge-watched, together forming a Mike Leigh-esque play. Just don’t ask what that bread knife is for.