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Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Auf Wiedersehen Pet , was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and ran on ITV between 1983 and 1986, before being revived by the BBC for a couple of series in the early 00s. The first series (which I’ll refer to in this post) followed the fortunes of Wayne, Dennis, Oz, Bomber, Barry, Neville and Moxey, a group of construction workers who flee the dole queues of 80s Britain to work on a building project near Dussledorf in Germany.

The series is a structured along the conventional lines of British comedy-drama, with each episode carrying forward self-contained narratives, alongside wider linkages which develop storylines across its 13-piece arc. With its use of unemployment as central theme, comparisons with the critically lauded Boys from the Blackstuff are obvious. However, Alan Bleasdale’s, innovative approach, and ruthless socio-political agenda, define his work against the light-hearted nature of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Yet it is unfair to suggest that Clement and La Frenais’ response to Thatcher’s Britain can be dismissed as a low-brow Blackstuff.

Many of the issues that the series raised are still relevant today. Notwithstanding its portrait of a nation in economic crisis, the idea of the foreign worker is central to many of its dramatic scenarios. Oz, the source of much of the programme’s comedy, is a fairly typical representation of a beer-swilling, sexist and racist British working-class stereotype. He repeatedly refers to the war, and emphasises a distorted view of his own national identity which mocks the German nation that houses him. However, his (and, to a degree, the British viewer’s) prejudices are undermined frequently in a number of ways as the series develops. In the final episode, when a change in the German tax law (brought about by worsening economic conditions) forces the group to decide whether to stay on and pay income tax (like the indigenous workers), or return to Britain, Neville interrupts a racist rant by Oz to ask him to empathise with the position of Germans who are unable to find work in their own county. This kind of parallelism is echoed earlier in the series where a homesick Neville is invited into the family home of a similarly aged German co-worker: their social similarities, rather than cultural differences are underlined. Moreover, when Neville is wrongly accused of rape, the whole site incorporating Germans, Turkish, and British club together to bail him out. This consistently communicated motif subtly underscores the positive remnants of an increasingly fragmented European working-class, particularly resonant in a period of economic decline in Britain.

The theme of working-class solidarity also finds manifestation within the principal set of characters. The group are drawn from across Britain, (London, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, and Birmingham) and see past regional stereotypes to form familial bonds which replicate the ones left behind in Britain. Many of the episodes draw their emotional core from the manner in which the ensemble communes to help one of its number, such as the episodes when Bomber’s daughter runs away from home, or when Dennis turns to drink to absorb his marital difficulties. Auf Wiedersehen Pet can be recognised within a wide tradition of male-ensemble dramas, which, while conforming to relatively conventional narrative structures, chip away at the innate conservatism of their form by ignoring the propensity to focus on individual(s), and derive emotional significance from the common ties of a group. 

By David Forrest


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