Little Britain

Tuesday, September 23, 2003 by

At last! BBC3 finally presents its miniscule audience with a programme that’s worth watching. Although clearly produced with one eye on the terrestrial broadcast that will undoubtedly follow, Little Britain‘s debut on BBC3 has raised the quality of the channel’s rotten comedy output significantly (which, let’s face it wasn’t very hard to do).

Combining a series of wickedly funny sketches observing life in modern Britain with Tom Baker’s sublime narration (“What is them, who do they and why?”) the series is a triumph for BBC3 and will most likely go on to enjoy as high a profile as, for example, The League of Gentlemen. Matt Lucas and David Walliams write the entire show and play all of the main characters, be they men, women or children (although, it has to be said that the hairy 6″2′ Walliams cuts a somewhat bizarre image as a woman – a fact which is cleverly played on in the Emily Howard sequences).

Episode two is a marked improvement on the already excellent episode one and featured some magic new characters. Best of all was the hilarious scene in the Chinese restaurant featuring the married couple Clive and Liz, who was apparently Molly Sugden’s bridesmaid. Along with the long-suffering Clive, we are never allowed to forget this fact as Liz takes every single opportunity to remind us. Surely it can only be a matter of time before Mrs Slocombe herself makes a guest appearance in one of these sketches?

The other standout characters are Lou and Andy. Wheelchair-bound Andy too visits the above-mentioned Chinese restaurant, but wants to go dressed in his Smurf outfit. Andy displays no emotion whatsoever on any occasion, but clearly enjoys having endlessly taking advantage of his helper’s tireless good nature. And then there’s Dame Sally Markham, a Barbara Cartland spoof whose days are spent lying back, eating truffles while dictating her latest romantic masterpiece to her secretary (“Chapter One – The End”).

There appears to be a running theme of institutions in the show: one character is the master from Kelsey Grammar School (Flange) who tells his pupils to be silent during an exam, only to start playing the saxophone, do the hoovering and setting off fireworks; we visit the Steven Spielberg residential home for psychiatric patients, such as the clearly barking Anne; the St God’s Hospital in Shireshire where David Soul and Bay City Roller Les McKeown pay a visit to a sick little girl purely to satisfy her obsessive fannish parents; and we meet a retired police officer who is now a driving instructor who stops his own pupils for motoring offences.

Slightly more disturbing viewing are the Gary and Jason sketches. Jason is madly in love with Gary’s nan, and while this idea makes for funny viewing, it feels a little uncomfortable to watch Jason removing the spilt gravy or performing his “Heimlich manoeuvre” on an old lady in an overly sexual fashion. It doesn’t bear thinking about where this particular sketch will ultimately end up by the end of the series …

The scene featuring Anthony Head’s Prime Minister being “protected” by the obsessed civil servant Sebastian was culled from the pilot show, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent episode. In Little Britain Lucas and Walliams have a vehicle with which they can finally break free from their more usual roles as stooges for Vic and Bob. It is a better, much funnier programme than the last major comedy sketch show from the BBC, The Fast Show, with less repetition and hopefully it will go on to enjoy just as much popularity as that overrated vehicle did. Lucas and Walliams’ Rock Profiles for the now-defunct UK Play was pretty good (and was just as acute in its observation of people), but it somehow never seemed to capture the imagination in the way that Little Britain does – probably due to erratic scheduling and endless repeats. The input of The League of Gentleman‘s Mark Gatiss as script editor and League director Steve Bendelack imbues the series with the some of the darker and more warped elements present in that series, although thankfully they never overshadow the purely funny bits.

Terrific stuff! “Goodbyyyeeeeeee!”


Comments are closed.