Goodnight John Boy



Frank Cottrell Boyce celebrates one of the great TV families - 'The Waltons'.

'Goodnight, John Boy,' became one of the most common catchphrases of the 1970s, born as it was from one of that decade's most popular TV programmes, 'The Waltons'. Set in rural Virginia during the Depression, the show offered something very different from the typical television of the time, which was chiefly made up of urban shows like 'Kojak', 'The Mod Squad' and 'Starsky and Hutch'. Not only was the setting different but so was the set of characters - poor, blue collar people who were broadly speaking happy with their lives - anathema to many commissioning editors.

In 'Goodnight, John Boy', Frank Cottrell Boyce - himself father of seven children and a successful TV writer - tries to find out precisely why it was such an unlikely TV recipe which proved quite so irresistible to many millions of viewers, and challenges the commonly held view that it was simple nostalgia that played to a Conservative moral agenda.

When George Bush Sr. argued that America needed a lot more families like the Waltons and fewer like the Simpsons, he failed to recognise that the show and the family were deeply rooted in the values of FDR's New Deal. Indeed members of the cast such as Will Geer (Grandpa) and Ralph Waite (Pa Walton) were themselves very active on the political left, with Geer blacklisted as a gay communist and Waite refusing to take part in a photo shoot with President Nixon.

Boyce speaks to a number of the cast members (including those who played Pa Walton, John Boy, and Elizabeth) as well as Earl Hamner, who wrote the books upon which the series was based.