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This early version was decidedly darker, revolving around Bernard's, and later Manny's, decision to commit suicide.It featured Manny (surname Zimmerman in reference to Bob Dylan) and the Fran character as Valerie, a philosophy lecturer.The show features several actors from Spaced, while in one episode Manny is heard speaking to Twist Morgan, a character from Spaced.

The series revolves around the lives of Bernard, Manny and Fran.

A central theme is Bernard's odd position as a moody and spiteful shopkeeper who has a loathing of the outside world and all the people who inhabit it, except his oldest friend, Fran, who initially ran a trendy bric-a-brac shop, Nifty Gifty, next-door to the shop.

Black Books ran for a total of 18 half-hour episodes, broadcast over three series of six episodes each.

Series 1 premiered on 29 September 2000 and ran until 3 November 2000, series 2 from 1 March 2002 to 5 April 2002 and series 3 from 11 March 2004 to 15 April 2004.

Bernard displays little enthusiasm or interest in retail (or, indeed, anything outside drinking, smoking and reading) and actively avoids having to interact with anyone, even inside his shop, as he has a personal dislike of his customers, treating his bookshop more like a personal library.