Mrs Brown’s Boys is one of Britain’s most popular TV shows, but also one of its most divisive. Now data from YouGov Profiles provides a look at the difference between the sitcom’s admirers and detractors
Just over two weeks ago, the Mrs Brown’s Boys festive special was once again the most watched programme on Christmas Day, attracting 6.8 million viewers (a third of the television-watching public).
The show is tremendously popular with the public – it has been in the top three most-watched Christmas Day programmes since 2013 – but is the subject of near-universal derision among TV critics, with The Independent calling it “the worst comedy ever made”.
To some, attitudes toward the show serve as a social indicator: Labour MP Stella Creasy used the show to highlight the growing rift between the public and the Westminster elite – a divide perhaps best demonstrated by Times columnist Hugo Rifkind’s declaration that he could not be friends with anyone who enjoys the show.
So who are Mrs Brown’s lovers and haters, and what sets the two groups apart? To find out, YouGov has used our Profiles tool to compare 7,189 people who like the show against 5,928 who dislike it.
Class is the key demographic difference between fans and critics of Mrs Brown’s Boys. In fact, out of the more than 240,000 variables in the YouGov Profiles database, social class is the third strongest indicator of whether someone would like or dislike the show.*
Working class Brits (i.e. those who come under the C2DE social demographic) make up 52% of those who like the programme, but just 33% of those who dislike it. Disliking the show is far more of a middle class pursuit, with fully two thirds (67%) of people who don't like it coming from the ABC1 social demographic.
A similar story plays out when it comes to gender. While there is no gender divide among Mrs Brown’s fans (51% are female, 49% are men), there is a 16 point gender gap among her detractors, with 58% being men and 42% women.
Those who like the show also tend to be older than detractors. Seven in ten fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys (70%) are aged 45 or above, against to 61% of those who dislike the programme. They also tend to be less well-educated, with four in ten (41%) fans not holding any education qualifications above GCSE-level, compared to 23% of those who dislike the show, while one in three detractors (33%) are educated to degree level, against just 14% of fans.
Politics and political issues
The key political divide between those who like and dislike Mrs Brown’s Boys comes over Brexit. Among those who voted in the referendum, fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys backed leaving the EU by 62% to 38%, while Remain holds a 53% to 47% lead among those who dislike the show.
The political differences are less stark among those who voted in the 2015 and 2017 general elections, although this will be in part because they are split over more options. At both elections fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys were statistically more likely to have backed UKIP and the nationalist parties (and Labour in 2015), while those who dislike the show were more likely to opt for the Greens and Lib Dems (and the Conservatives in 2015).
Away from the ballot box, the political issues that Mrs Brown’s fans are most likely to find more pressing than the show's detractors are immigration (which they are more likely to say needs much tighter restrictions), criminal justice (which they believe is much too soft) and prisons (that they believe need to focus more on punishment).
By contrast, more commonly cited top political issues for those who dislike the show are climate change (which they more strongly believe exists), green energy priority (that needs higher priority) and abortion restrictions (which they strongly oppose).
From a list of 17 political statements, Mrs Brown’s fans are comparatively most likely to agree with “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, “I get really patriotic around international sports events” and “I am proud to be British”. The only statement those who dislike the show were more likely to believe was that “there are moral limits to free markets”.
Mrs Brown’s fans are big TV viewers. They spend longer watching TV each week than those who dislike the show, and watching TV is their third most liked activity (at 23%).
Compared to those who dislike the show, Mrs Brown’s fans are more likely to enjoy Benidorm and recently revived ‘90s sitcom Birds of a Feather, along with Britain’s Got Talent and soaps Emmerdale and Coronation Street.
By contrast, topping the list of shows Mrs Brown’s critics like more than her fans are Black Mirror, University Challenge, Only Connect, Peep Show, and Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe.
Mrs Brown’s fans are also much more likely to use television as their main source of news – in fact, more than half (52%) say “I rely on TV to keep me informed” (compared to 35% of those who dislike the show). They are also slightly more likely to learn about current affairs from printed newspapers but less likely to do so from social media or news websites.
With fans more likely to read print newspapers, it is worth pointing out at this juncture that the type of newspaper people read most often is one of the two indicators of whether a person likes or dislikes Mrs Brown's Boys that is stronger than social class.
The most commonly read newspaper type among fans of the show are the Red Tops, at 50% compared to 24% for those who dislike the show. By contrast, 21% of Mrs Brown's critics are most likely to read broadsheets, a rate three times higher than her fans (7%). Both groups are equally likely to say that Blue Tops – i.e. the Express and Daily Mail – are the newspaper type they read most, at 16%.
The second of the two factors that are a greater indicator than class of whether a person would like or dislike Mrs Brown's Boys is how they answered the question: "Which of the following would you rather have named after you: a mountain, a theory or a grandchild?". Fans of the show are more likely to say grandchild (56%, vs 35%), while those who dislike the show are more likely to say scientific theory by 43% to 24% (the mountain was chosen by 20-22%).
Indeed, the data consistently shows that fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys are more family-oriented (although this will be in part because they are more likely to have children and grandchildren).
Those who like Mrs Brown's Boys are much more likely to agree with the statement “family over everything” (71%, vs 51%), and are more likely to say their family is a source of motivation for them (47%, vs 40%). They are more likely to find joy in spending time with their family and parenting, while those who dislike the show are more likely to derive pleasure from creating something, going on an adventure or accomplishing a challenge.
Fans of the sitcom are more likely to have their heart rule their head, while critics are the opposite. People who like the show are more likely to see themselves as homely, bighearted and loving (but also forgetful, dizzy and nervy), whereas critics are more likely to describe themselves as clever, ethical and geeky (but also nerdy, dull and misanthropic).
Finally, given that Mrs Brown’s Boys is a comedy show (despite the protestations of the more unkind TV critics), we examined how sense of humour differs between those who like and dislike the programme.
Detractors are more likely to say they find “observations on news and current affairs” and “wordplay” funny, while fans of the show are more likely to say that “toilet humour” and “impressions” make them laugh.
*This excludes a small number of variables intrinsically related to the Mrs Brown’s Boys TV show: liking Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, liking All Round to Mrs Brown's, and liking Brendan O’Carrol, the actor who plays Mrs Brown.