This realisation dawned on me earlier in the week on hearing the awful news that the actor Paul Ritter had died of a brain tumour at the age of 54.
Ritter is hardly a household name. He is not an Arthur Lowe, a John Cleese or a Joanna Lumley, the kind of actor who you immediately associate with an iconic comedy: a Dad’s Army, a Fawlty Towers or an Absolutely Fabulous.
And yet his role as the eccentric dad in Friday Night Dinner deserves to be ranked alongside Captain Mainwaring, Basil Fawlty and Patsy Stone in the Britcom hall of fame.
He will make a posthumous appearance in the pre-recorded, tenth anniversary tribute to FND – a behind-the-scenes documentary which will air on Channel 4 later this year. I am sure it will be a fitting tribute to one of the funniest characters ever to have graced the small screen.
But I also hope the 90-minute special will not trigger calls for another series. This would be as unthinkable as Dad’s Army without Lowe, Fawlty Towers without Cleese and Ab Fab without Lumley.
Since it arrived, without any fanfare, in February 2011, I have been a great fan of the programme. Robert Popper’s inspired creation is a wonderful ensemble piece, with its affable-but-peculiar characters all contributing to the hilarity.
The Goodmans are a typically loving, dysfunctional family. The two brothers Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) and Adam (Simon Bird) return to their Jewish household for the weekly Sabbath meal every Friday night. Chaos, often of a slapstick variety, inevitably ensues.
Both Rosenthal and Bird are excellent as the bickering siblings. They wind each other up, exchange coarse insults and, despite being grown-ups, revert to their immature, childhood personas once back in the family home.
Tamsin Greig is tremendous as the feisty, put-upon, eye-rolling matriarch. And Mark Heap is downright wacky as the nosy neighbour Jim.
But it is Ritter who has consistently caught the eye, week in week out, series after series, for the past decade.
He has often stolen the show as the ketchup-drinking, shirt-removing, cringe-provoking Martin Goodman, annoying his family members with his unfunny jokes and strange obsessions: whether it be drying fish in the cupboard under the stairs, making a “rake-broom-device-thingy” to retrieve a plastic bag from a tree or hiding a chunk of Camembert in the toilet.
Apparently, the Channel 4 90-minute retrospective will look at why Friday Night Dinner was so popular with viewers. It has run for six series and 37 episodes.
The last season set a new record for the channel, seeing an average of four million people tuning in each week, its first instalment becoming All 4’s most-watched episode of comedy ever.
There are a number of reasons for the huge success, for the cult-like following, for all the acclaim, both commercial and critical. Its gentle comedy touched so many hearts. Its surreal plotting allowed us to escape into an absurdist universe, at once familiar and extraordinary. The witty writing was on a par with the best of Britcom.
Most of all, it is the oddball nature of the show’s humble, ordinary characters: Martin, Jackie, Jonny, Adam and Jim. The Famous Five.
There was an understandable outpouring of grief when the sad news of Ritter’s death became public knowledge.
Thousands of fans of the show reminisced on social media about their favourite Martin moments. He was the show’s beating heart; the idiosyncratic patriarch who turned social embarrassment into an art form.
As Grieg, who played his on-screen wife, put it in a beautifully-written tribute: “The world is a less brilliant place without Paul in it.”
Ritter was an amazingly versatile actor, superb in so many dramatic roles, appearing in Harry Potter and
the Half Blood Prince, Vera, Quantum of Solace and Chernobyl.
But he soared to great heights in the world of comedy – which is now a much less funny place without Friday Night Dinner’s oddest of oddballs.