Often, the biggest laughs in sitcoms come from the oldest characters: think Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses, Nana in The Royle Family and Father Jack in Father Ted. So, when Waiting for God appeared on our screens in 1990 as a sitcom that revolved entirely around the lives of residents in a retirement home, we knew we were going to be in for plenty of laughs.
Waiting for God ran from 1990 to 1994, with its five series repeated frequently over the years (you’ll still find it on channels like Gold and Drama from time to time). It was such a success that it made its way over to New Zealand and the US, and it was even transformed into a theatre play in both 2013 and 2017.
The sitcom was set just outside Bournemouth in the fictional Bayview Retirement Home: a stuffy place where manager Harvey Bains focuses mainly on keeping the home profitable, while making sure that residents remain as passive as possible to make himself look good to Bayview’s directors.
“Passive” though isn’t a word that can be applied to the two stars of the show: retired photojournalist Diana Trent and former accountant Tom Ballard. Diana is a cynical, angry woman who resents being stuck at Bayview and she vents her frustrations by taunting staff and attempting to subvert the strict regime. Cheering her on is Tom, an eccentric retired accountant who’s far cheerier than Diana and fakes mild dementia to make his life more interesting. Throughout the five series, he’s always by Diana’s side, helping in her schemes to make life at Bayview more tolerable.
Throughout every series, much of the humour comes from one common theme: the enjoyment of watching the elderly residents of Bayview behave in ways that we simply don’t expect. As well as Diana and Tom’s plotting, scheming and trouble-making, we’re treated to some amazing performances from other characters too. Another notable resident, Basil Makepeace is an elderly gentleman who loves his reputation as Bayview’s sex symbol. We’re regularly treated to his efforts to seduce not only the home’s elderly female residents but even those 60 years younger than himself – with hilarious results!
It’s a show that came about at a time when much of the television scheduling catered for a younger audience and when the older generations were often seen as the butt end of the joke. Waiting for God treated us to a series where older people were shown to be funny, formidable and fierce, creating huge amounts of scandal and proving that old age doesn’t necessarily mean uneventful days and a life of boredom.
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