At The Recordings

On occasion we’ve been lucky enough to see various sitcoms, panel shows and radio series being recorded, and what follows are reviews of them.

Thank God You’re Here

Which Was: An improvised game show, based on the Australian original tv series, where a guest is placed in to a scene where everyone else is following a script (roughly, at least) but they have no idea what’s going on and have to improvise. This was the first episode in the series.
When: Over ten years ago, on January 10th 2008.
Where: The London Studios, Waterloo.
Starring: Paul Merton, Ben Miller, John Thomson, Hamish Blake and Fern Britton.

Actual Recording: Was probably one of the weakest things I’ve ever seen. If I was to be kind it could be said it was okay for ITV, but given those involved it was a massive disappointment. Surprisingly Paul Merton was one of the weakest links, though that could partially be because I expected so much from him. I was really looking forward to seeing him improvise again for the first time since the Whose Line days, but he squandered a scenario (where a secret agent returns to headquarters after a deadly mission) that most would probably have a lot of fun with, and his attempts at humour were all rather weak. Problematically every time he tried to ramble on whimsically the cast cut him dead, leaving the whole sketch rather mirthless.

Ben Miller was okay but nothing special in a bland Star Trek-esque sketch, and Fern Britton, best known for annoying people on daytime tv, realised the only way she was going to get laughs was by swearing. So swear she did. But this didn’t endear her to me, and stopped being funny after the second bout of bad language. And I’m normally a big fan of swearing, so it surprises me to type that. Hamish Blake, an Australian comic / radio dj was the best of the bunch but had the easiest scenario to play around with (a car mechanic is confronted by his various wives), whilst The Fast Show’s John Thomson went down quite badly, even though I liked some of his sketch the rest of the audience didn’t seem to and any laughter that you hear on the aired version is the result of the production team editing it in. Along with this, quite a few times the warm up man needed to get the audience to cheer after each sketch, otherwise there would have been a deathly silence at the end of them.

Random Notes:

In the original Australian series Tom Gleisner would comment on each sketch, and often mock those who did badly. Paul Merton took his role in the UK version, but only ever said complementary things, even when it was clear that a sketch had gone poorly.

This turned out to be a bit of a flop for ITV, with 2.9 millions being it’s highest rating despite airing on a Saturday night, and during an era when viewing figures were expected to be double that at the very least, and so unsurprisingly it didn’t get a second series.

Episode 2 can be found on youtube, along with clips from other episodes, but the only footage I can find from the episode reviewed above is 20 seconds of Fern Britton being a nun.

Bryan Cranston featured in an American version of the show which can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ19KnbMKp4

Alex Finch.

Red Dwarf

Which Is: The famous sci-fi comedy series which originated on BBC2 but now airs on Dave. We were at the recording for episode 4 of Season 11, Officer Rimmer.
When: Almost three years ago, on the 4th December, 2015.
Where: Pinewood Studios
Starring: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn, Danny John-Jules
Studio Staff Rating: Very friendly and helpful, and as I was using a crutch at the time it was arranged that I was transported to the studio via one of those little golf buggy type things, which is why we managed to get seats in the centre, very close to the set. The warm-up man, Ray Peacock (now known by his real name of Ian Boldsworth after apparently one day realising just how dodgy his pseudonym sounded) was on great form too, and kept things going during the many, many breaks in filming.

Actual Recording: I thought this was one of the strongest episodes in a long old time, and wasn’t reliant on catchphrases or any kind of lazy fan service. It had a nice plot that I haven’t seen them do before (at least on this scale), where the crew discovered a bio-printer, which led to Rimmer making an enormous amount of copies of himself. I had low expectations going in as I’d mixed feelings about series 10, but came out really pleasantly surprised. It had the feel of the early series (S3 and S4 particularly) being largely ship based and centring around the main four characters. And whilst there was a creature that tried to kill them at one point, that only took place at the very end of the episode.

The whole thing took a bloody long time to record though, we arrived at 5pm to make sure we made it in to the recording (as like most recordings they over issue tickets due to inevitable no shows, and this did lead to some people being turned away), we were seated by about 6pm but it didn’t start 7pm, and then went on till 10pm, which according to a member of studio staff was the earliest finish time yet. And there was a lot of prerecorded material so who knows what time we’d have been let out if it had all been studio based. There were a huge amount of screw up’s too but the reactions from the rest of the cast made it all part of the fun, though if you weren’t a fan of the show then I could see why you might struggle with how long it took, and I was definitely glad when it finally ended. Oddly on the dvd release there are only five minutes of ‘Smeg-Ups’, which feels lazy as they could have easily included a good hour from the episode we saw alone.

As mentioned above the warm up man was Ray Peacock, who did a fine job, with one running joke about an audience member wanting to lick Craig Charles having a great pay-off. Though it wasn’t me who got to lick Craig, sadly. And thanks to Peacock some audience members have a piece of popcorn that was used in the opening scene, which he encouraged people to sell on ebay. Though only one person did, and it only sold for 99p in the end, which is why I didn’t list mine. Most of the cast also came out to interact with the audience at various points, which helped the time pass a little. Peacock did comment several times about what a great audience we were compared to last weeks (something which is a bit of a cliche in television recordings and something I’ve heard from many a warm up man) but apparently it turned out to be true as he’s discussed elsewhere how low key the reaction was from previous audiences and how disappointed he was that they reacted in such a way.

The only downside to being in the audience is the size of the sets, and the amount of cameras used, which meant we couldn’t see the actors some of the time, and hardly anyone could see the scenes set in the Starbug. We were in the front row though and maybe those higher up had a better vantage point. Also certain scenes hadn’t been completed at the time, or the effects were unfinished, which was certainly true of the final scene where the monstrous Rimmer creature attempted to kill the rest of the crew.

There were quite a few differences to the finished edit, and disappointingly the opening scene where Cat and Lister watched tv and ate popcorn was cut almost completely, which frustrated as that was the scene that reminded us of “Classic Dwarf” the most, as it wasn’t plot related and just saw the two characters interact and try to amuse each other. Also missing was a conversation between Dave and Rimmer about how Rimmer hadn’t really achieved anything in life, and an extension to the scene about Lister selling his genome where it was revealed that it had been used to produce sex workers named ‘Dirty Dave’.

Random Notes:

Doug Naylor came out before the recording began and implored people not to spoil the episode by saying anything about it online, at least until it aired. Then the cast were brought out one by one to rapturous applause, which is something I haven’t seen done at a recording before.

I was fortunate enough to meet Chris Barrie at a small sci-fi convention earlier on in 2015 and he was very sweet and polite. Though this led us to notice that the BBC wig department deserve plaudits for creating such a realistic hair piece for him to wear during filming.

Reviews of the episode and general online feedback suggests that we saw the best episode of the series being recorded, and it seemed to be really well liked by nearly all who saw it.

Alex Finch.

Vic and Bob’s House of Fools

Which Is: Vic and Bob’s House of Fools was a sitcom which first aired on BBC2 in 2014, and sadly only ran for two series in total.
When: 2013.
Where: The now sadly no longer with us BBC Tv Centre in Wood Green.
Starring: Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Matt Berry, Morgana Robinson, Dan Renton Skinner, Daniel Simonsen.
Studio Staff Rating: Fine, from what I can remember.

Actual Recording: I was lucky enough to be at the filming of the pilot episode in 2013, which slightly differed from the episode which aired, so for prosperity’s sake I thought I’d post about it here so that you have some idea of what made the final cut and what didn’t, and the tone and feel of that first episode. Without going in to too much tedious technical detail, it was filmed as a standard studio sitcom, with the set divided in to three parts – Vic and Bob’s living room, the neighbour’s living room, and then her bedroom. Several camera’s often block the audience’s view of events, but if so you could still view the show through various monitors.

The episode began with Vic casually messing around with a gauntlet, before getting it stuck in a large photo of Bob graduating from University on the wall. Bob’s furious about this and wants Vic to move out (something he’s wanted for a while now), but Vic begs him to be allowed to stay. Matt Berry arrives (doing his standard Lothario thing) and promises to set Bob up on a blind date, and Bob decides to have her over to the flat so that they can watch Conan The Barbarian together (“it’s on one of those channels pretty far down…but not as far as the Welsh channels”). Bob wants Vic out of the flat by 2.30pm, which Vic promises to do, but inevitably everything starts to go wrong from the get go, with Vic accidentally destroying the tv with the aforementioned gauntlet.

This leads to the main part of the plot which centres around Bob trying to find a way to replace the tv. He makes Vic go next door to neighbour Morgana, and ask to borrow her tv, but she attempts to seduce him instead Announcing she has to leave in 10 minutes (“But we could do 10 sexings during that time”) Vic’s not interested in the slightest, and when he asks if he can borrow her tv, she refuses to let him.

With Vic returning to the flat empty handed, Matt Berry promises to replace the tv, but instead he brings over a microwave (thinking it’s a tv that can also cook food) – and soon destroys it. Bob goes up to chat to his son briefly who wants nothing to do with him and only mocks him (there’s also a gag where after knocking on his son’s door, we hear the sounds of chains being unlocked, the door being unbolted, etc for about 20 seconds).

Vic’s Brother Bosh than arrives (there’s a terrible Black and Decker tools related joke about his name), he’s fresh out of prison and needs somewhere to stay for the night. Bob’s reluctant, but he promises he’s only going to stay for one night. There’s then much stress about how Bob’s going to watch Conan with his date, only for Bosh to suggest cutting a hole in the wall and watching it via Morgana’s tv. They need the remote though, and whilst Vic manages to climb through the hole okay, he gets stuck on the way back.

Morgana is seen returning, so Bob dresses up as a Gasman and stops her from entering her flat. She goes to Bob’s, with Vic still stuck in the hole, but with fake legs sitting on a table (a scene explaining that was definitely missing here). Morgana drinks some of Vics home made wine (supposedly a fresh Chardonnay, but red in colour) and passes out, whilst Bob devises a plan to free Vic from the hole – by getting hold of Vic’s testicles, stretching them across the room (by about four foot) and pinging them back. It’s quite a grotesquely funny scene, and an effective one at that which leads to Vic flying through the hole and back in to Bob’s flat.

The episode ends with Vic, Berry and Bosh performing their own terrible version of Conan The Barbarian in bizarre costumes, whilst Bob sits on the couch with his date. Then they all sing a song and have a dance, as Bob’s son looks on through the stair banisters, showing obvious dismay.

Ultimately what we have here is an incredibly fun and daft show. Vic and Bob were clearly enjoying the filming (which hasn’t been the case with certain actors at other tv recordings I’ve attended) and the rest of the cast bounced off of each other effectively. It’s not a show you’ll ever think of or dissect in detail, and isn’t as wondrously bizarre as their previous narrative based comedy, Catterick, and definitely a far more mainstream attempt at the genre. Yet this is still Vic and Bob we’re talking about here, so it’s also bloody funny throughout.

Random Notes:

Whenever a character enters for the first time they sing a song about themselves, bar Daniel Simonsen.

There’s a few cutaways that are animated in a beautifully odd Grim Tales-esque way.

There was a definite sense that there were a few scenes that needed to be pre-recorded which hadn’t yet been filmed, but no one mentioned if this was true or not.

At one point they enter the kitchen, though the doorway is clogged up with Vic’s rubbish, and Bob has to use a trampoline to jump through a gap at the top.

Bob: “I’m supposed to be going on a hot date and my house is filled with unwelcome men, one of which is having a shhhhiiiiit in the kitchen!”

Vic and Bob do their trademark banter thing throughout, with Bob calling Vic “Mr Dirty Feathers” and talking about escaping floating sausage dinners in one scene.

Vic swallows a marrow whole at one point, though alas we didn’t get to see it, as it was prerecorded and then sped up.

Alex Finch.

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Years and years ago I ran another website and myself and my good friend Chris Denton reviewed shows we were in the audience for, and the following is a selection of these.

MOCK THE WEEK
Which Is: BBC2’s new panel based news satire show. If Have I Got News For You and Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a bastard love child, this would be it. Which maybe won’t come as too much of a surprise when you learn that it was created and produced by Whose Line creators Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson
When: Thursday 9th June, 7.15pm, broadcast at 10pm on Sunday 12th June.
Where: BBC TV Centre, White City.
Starring: Dara O’Brien, Rory Bremner, Hugh Dennis, Frankie Boyle, Mark Steel, Jo Brand, Andy Parsons.
Studio Staff Rating: Very friendly and helpful. The warm-up man, Andy, was actually a fairly decent comedian too, something rarely witnessed at live recordings.

Actual Recording: Lasted an Audience Participation record of two hours and thirty minutes. Of this, the last twenty minutes were retakes (more on which later), but a good two hours was spent just recording material for the show. Which means that roughly ninety minutes of material is cut from the final broadcast – making a night out to see the show definitely worth it. Mock The Week’s easily one of the best of these type of shows too, at times achingly funny, I can’t remember laughing so much during a recording (or any other evening for that matter) in a long long time. It’s hard to guess at what will be cut, bar the occasional weak line, though certain material will no doubt be edited out for legal reasons (a McNugget comment especially), and some for taste reasons – in the improvised round “Worst thing to start a party political broadcast with”, Frankie Boyle chipped in with “My N***ers, My Bitches”. Which I can’t imagine the BBC ever allowing to be screened, but in context made the audience roar with laughter. One other presumably cut line took place in the “Worst thing to say to the Queen” section, as we can’t imagine “So how exactly did you kill Princess Diana?” making it past the censors either.

There were two takes of the “Bombshell phone call round”, one featuring John Prescott and Tony Blair, and centring around the idea of Prescott having an electric car, whilst the second saw Blair and Bush discuss Cherie Blair. We imagine the latter will be used, as it worked far better than the first did. The only other obvious cut was an entire round based around Question Time, where Frankie Boyle and Andy Parsons sat in the audience and asked the rest of the panel their opinion on various topical issues. Both Jo Brand and Mark Steel apologised for their general awfulness in that round (with Steel at the end comically begging for the round be cut), and when Patterson asked the audience at the end which rounds they liked, only this one was greeted with boos and jeers. Questionably the panel was just tired by the end of a long evening, and trust me, you didn’t miss anything.

Before the recording began, Mock The Week’s producer Dan Patterson chatted with the audience, and joked about how many of us might not recognise some of the comedians, but that this was a good thing as the younger comic’s are more hungry for laughs than the older, lazier brigade. Or words to that effect. And he was mostly right too, with the aforementioned Frankie Boyle really being the star of the show. Or recording at least, as we’ve yet to see the final broadcast version of the night’s events. Dara O’Brien was also particularly strong, though much of his material is scripted, and a lot of the time his role is to keep the show moving forward, rather than to provide humour. Mark Steel had a 70 / 30 hit rate in his favour, but at least jokily apologised or made up excuses when laughs failed to materialise. Andy Parson’s also impressed, but I’m disappointed to report that Jo Brand seemed a little on auto-pilot. I’m a big fan of her stand up material, but here she mostly resorted to jokes about her size / appetite / sexual allure, of the kind seen too many times before. Hugh Dennis was fairly decent most of the time, occasionally shining, but I’m struggling to forgive him right now for using one joke which I heard him tell in The Mary Whitehouse Experience well over a decade ago.

And finally then there’s Mr Bremner. An award winning high brow comic for over twenty years now, I’ve got to confess to not being his biggest fan exactly, but last week on the show he’d surprised, coming across as quick witted and not just on the ball, but about twenty of them. Tonight he seemed to be very self-deprecating, and very aware of the fact that he was probably getting the least amount of laughs. He’s definitely a perfectionist (re-taking one “improvised” routine on Live 8 three times in total, and it would have been four if he’d not fucked up almost immediately and then given up). He seemed to warm up as the show went on, and I’ve certainly more respect for him than I’d previously had, but it has to be said that his hit rate was the lowest of all of the comedians.

Despite this, the show flowed extraordinarily well, with an incredibly high amount of great jokes, some tear-inducingly superb lines, and it was a genuine pleasure to see the show being recorded. The only real downside to one of the best recordings I’ve attended was the fact that so much needed to be re-recorded at the end, largely Dara’s links, though a fair few individual lines needed to be said again too. It took over twenty minutes, and even the panel were getting fed up by the end, with Boyle jokingly calling Dan Patterson a wanker and Hugh Dennis calling for a taxi. But hey, no one forces you to stick around, and Andy the warm up man did his best to keep the audience entertained during this.

Misc: Mock The Week’s filmed with seven, yes, seven camera’s, including one on a huge crane which annoyingly obscures the audience’s view at times. Why they need quite so many is inexplicable, I’ve certainly never seen that many ever before.

Update: Mock The Week is pretty weak nowadays but we swear it was great at the beginning. Honest.

ARMANDO IANNUCCI’S CHARM OFFENSIVE
Which Is: A new panel based comedy show on Radio 4.
When: Recorded at 8pm on May 10th, broadcast on May 11th.
Where: Drill Hall in London, which is just off of Tottenham Court Road.
Starring: Armando Iannucci, and three guests, who this week were Phil Jupitus, Clive Anderson and John Oliver.

Actual Recording: Took about 90 minutes, for what we presumed would be edited down to an hour long show, though in fact it’s only a 30 minute programme. AICO bares quite a resemblance to C4’s new comedy panel based show FAQ U, in that four comedians talk about topical events, and to a lesser extent Have I Got News For You. Iannucci’s obviously aware of this, describing the show as a drop-in centre for homeless comedians who don’t have a topical comedy panel based show to go to till Friday. There’s no actual scoring, though a starfish is used to rate how funny the guests are. On that subject, I was initially dismayed to see Phil Jupitus at the recording, whenever I’ve seen him live he’s disappointed, and he’s never exactly hilarious on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. He was on form tonight though, providing some of the best gags, unlike Clive Anderson, who sadly disappointed. He was okay at times, but surprisingly unfunny at others. John Oliver was the best of all three guests, consistently funny, and he revealed himself to be someone worth looking out for in the future.

The subject’s covered in this recording were The Election – Politician’s Standing Down and Postal voting, How Long Tony Blair will remain in power according to Gordon Brown, Jeremy Paxman interviewing George Galloway, Michael Jackson’s trial, The Jazzing Up of Religion on Tv, and the Pope and his Nazi past, and Prince Harry. Oddly enough a lot of the political satire was weak material, obvious and just not that funny, though all of the guests were a lot better when covering the other subjects. An enormous amount of material was cut from the final broadcast, the best being a reference to Jimmy Saville during the section on Michael Jackson’s trial, and a comment about how it’d be great if Prince Harry went to Deepcut barracks(!)

Annoyingly for a show which feature’s Armando’s name in the title, Iannucci takes a bit of a back seat in the programme, allowing the guests to use up much of the airtime. Which is frustrating as Iannucci was very very funny when he did contribute to the show, and was the main reason we booked tickets for it. Hopefully this will change in future episodes. Interestingly, when the credits were read out at the end of the recording we were surprised to hear five writer’s credited, none of which included the panel. It’s difficult to guess how much of it was scripted though.

Overall it was a fairly decent show, which worked a lot better when edited down to an thirty minutes, but we’d recommend listening to the show first before booking tickets to see it.

Misc: Only a couple of lines needed to be rerecorded, the main one centring around Phil Jupitus’ use of the word knobbing, which apparently isn’t a word Radio 4 like. Before recording began the show’s producer asked the audience whether they’d learnt about the show through the BBC’s website, or through the Time Out advert. Surprisingly no one had seen the Time Out advert, leading the producer to comment “That’s a waste of Eight Hundred and Ninety Five pounds, plus VAT, then.”

THAT WAS THEN THIS IS NOW
Which is: A new comedy show on Radio 2.
When: Recorded at 8pm on 28th September 2004. To be broadcast on Saturday 2nd October at 1pm.
Where: The University of London, which is just off of Tottenham Court Road.
Starring: Richard Herring, Emma Kennedy, Danny Robins, Dan Tetsell, Christian Reilly.

Actual Recording: The show’s based around the idea of looking back at what happened in the current week throughout the years, but it’s basically an excuse for a mix of stand up and sketches and the odd bit of improvisation. Herring’s pretty charismatic, and funny even without the presence of longtime partner Stewart Lee, and fans of his will recognise various ongoing jokes such as his taking the piss out of people from Somerset and general ineptness with women. Despite having strongly disliked her for years, (mainly because of those bastard annoying Heat ads, admittedly) Emma Kennedy was mostly funny, and there wasn’t really a weak member among the cast, though Danny Robin’s penchant for talking in an annoying Jason Freeman-esque voice at times grated. But not that much. Christian Reilly and his band were on hand to insert some fairly amusing jingles throughout, a couple were on the average side, but most worked well. Considering the fact that this goes out in the middle of the day, it managed to be nicely twisted at times, there were jokes about cutting a girls legs off, and various sexual innuendo’s, etc, but all carried off with some charm. It’s far from being ground breaking radio comedy, but it’s enjoyable, funny and well worth tuning in for.

Misc: The best thing about witnessing a radio programme being recorded is that if someone screws up a line, they only have to re-record that one moment. Thus you don’t have to sit there watching a scene over and over again, nor fake laughter each and every time.

TIME GENTLEMEN PLEASE
Which Is: A sitcom based around Al Murray’s character The Pub Landlord, to be shown on Sky One.
Starring: Al Murray, Phil Daniels, Julia Sawalha, Jason Freeman, Rebecca Front
Where: The London Studio’s, South Bank
Studio Staff Rating: Good. Polite and friendly. However, warm up man Geoff Stephenson was terrible, relying on asking the audience lots of questions that fell very flat, and telling jokes straight out of Working Men Clubs. Half way through he realised he was dying on his feet, repeatedly mentioned the fact, and this encouraged a fair few hecklers who were much funnier than him.

Actual Shooting: Lasted about an hour and a half, and was very funny. This was the fourth episode to be shot, but will be the second to be screened, and revolved around Al Murray’s character, The Pub Landlord, being forced to hold a gay theme night in his pub, The Snug. Only two sets were used, the pub itself and Murray’s bedroom, but it looked like a lot of money had been spent on the show. Al Murray was extremely funny, and the supporting cast held things together admirably too. Special mention should go to Phil Danels (putting in his best performance in a long while as a sexually desperate regular) and Julia Sawalha, as Murray’s new barmaid, doing a convincing Australian accent.

The show could have been offensive, but wasn’t due to the quality of writing (the show is co-written by Richard Herring and Murray himself), and dealt well with the admittedly thorny subject of homophobia. The first scene (about five minutes long) needed to be reshot completely, but after that only certain sections of scenes, and in some cases just one line, needed reshoots, and the time went extremely quickly.
Misc: Al Murray was extremely friendly, performing about ten minutes of stand up before shooting commenced, and coming up with great lines every time something went wrong or Julia Sawalha burst in to laughter (which happened a fair few times). His bathroom decorator, Dave, was in the audience too, which led to a fair few laughs too.

Update: This series unfortunately had far too many episodes written in too short a time, but there are some which are decent enough.

THAT MITCHELL AND WEBB LOOK
Which Is: A new sketch show for BBC2.
When: January 11th, 2006.
Where: The Drill Hall in London, which is just off of Tottenham Court Road.
Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Olivia Coleman of Peep Show fame, plus also James Bachman and Mark Evans.

Actual Recording: Wasn’t a recording at all. We attended a preview night where the cast performed for about 90 minutes without the aid of sets, and only a few props. This was a good thing however, as it allowed them to rattle through about three episodes worth of material during the evening, and there was no waiting around whilst they filmed retakes, or changed sets, etc. From what we saw, That Mitchell and Webb Look seems to be a fairly conventional sketch show, with most of the sketches involving only Mitchell and Webb, though sometimes a few other actors. Olivia Coleman, best known as Sophie from Peep Show (and those irritating Kev – Bev car insurance ads) did little during proceedings, which surprised considering how well known she is these days.

Some of the sketches seemed to be one offs, whilst others recurred a few times during the evening. As to the quality of the sketches, it was generally pretty high, though there were the odd one or two which didn’t go down that well with the audience, and hopefully won’t be seen in the finished series. Our favourites were the two SS officers, one of whom is beginning to fear that they may be on the wrong side (commenting on the skulls on the uniform, and by using a flip chart comparing their current situation to how things work out in films, that it was unlikely that they’d come out of the war on the winning side) and Mitchell’s voice over for a football ad was fantastic stuff, with references to how it’s all pointless as the ongoing battles between teams will go on forever. Also worth mentioning is a sketch with Mitchell and Webb as two party organisers, who are complaining about the twattiness of the actions of one of their guests, James Bond, which was great, and also a bizarre and obviously pointless tv game show called Numberwang, where contestants seemed to win just by guessing a number.

A What Not To Wear parody featuring Mitchell dressed in a Burka amused, though wasn’t laugh out loud material until they broke out of character to discuss the possible racist implications of the sketch. Okay, this may not sound that wonderful, and definitely owes a debt to A Bit of Fry and Laurie, but whilst the duo aren’t quite as great as Hugh and Steven once were, we can hardly complain, because, well, who is these days? That they’re attempting something mostly different wins acclaim from us.

The return of posh waiters in restaurants, Mitchell’s visit to his chiropractor (allowing Webb to do a fantastically silly voice), with the appearance of his real chiropractor half way through, and two snooker commentators making remarks about how one of the players is a homicidal lunatic and would kill his opponent after the match amused, were generally fairly funny, though not the duo’s strongest material, but there wasn’t really a bad sketch all night long. And you can’t really say that about many sketch shows, can you.

Whilst That Mitchell and Webb Look isn’t going to take comedy in to new, unexplored regions, or be as ridiculously successful as The Fast Show once was, it is solid, strong, and very funny stuff, and if not essential tv, certainly very worthy of your time.

Misc: According to a reliable source, most of the material was taken from That Mitchell & Webb Sound, the duo’s Radio 4 show, though some of it was partially rewritten.

ROBERT NEWMAN’S A HISTORY OF OIL
Which Is: A recording of Neman’s recent stand up show for More4, the new digital channel from Channel 4.
When: 19th November 2005.
Where: Hoxton Hall, Hoxton.
Starring: Rob Newman.

Actual Recording: This has to be the most disjointed tv recording we’ve ever been too. It began with Newman performing a song, and then his ramshackle band performing two instrumental tracks, before Newman went off stage and then came back and began the show a-proper. 40 odd minutes later there was an interval, and when we came back he shot two minor segments (for what use we’re not sure), and then got an audience member to read the script whilst he rode a bike which powered a small Victorian style street lamp (the idea being that the show should be carbon-free, and eco-friendly in general, though this obviously wasn’t the case when it came to powering other lights / the cameras, etc!). He then performed the second half of the show, but it ended on a whimper rather than a bang, and felt a bit odd.

Now the above might suggest this is going to be a critical review of Newman’s latest stand up show, but despite the technical delays and rather odd set up, it’s far from it. Whilst perhaps not being as laugh out loud funny as some comedians of his ilk, like Mark Steele and Mark Thomas for example, Newman’s put together an astonishing show. If a little misleading. For it’s not exactly a history of oil, but a history of Governments obsession with the fossil fuel. It began with Newman explaining how World War One was actually the first invasion of Iraq, and not to do with the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand (Nobody’s that popular he joked), and went on to detail the 1970 agreement that all oil sales have to be carried out in US dollars, which explains the strength of their economy, and world dominance in the field. The second part of the show went in to how long we’ve left before fossil fuels run out, what will happen afterwards, the idiocy of present Governments who just don’t seem to care, and what, if anything, can be done.

Now this all sounds incredibly serious, and it can’t be argued that much of the subject matter is, yet Newman managed with ease to inject humour in to it, whilst he may not have the gag rate of some comedians, the strength of the material is unquestionably great, he’s clearly researched it in enormous detail, at times mentioning some of the books the material comes from, which really should be on everyone’s reading list (The Party’s Over by Richard Heinberg being the only one we can remember right now). Newman’s a superb performer too, rattling off enormous amounts of information with consummate ease, and lurching from one accent to another with the speed of someone who’s spent their entire life doing so! The only real disappointment was the ending, which had Newman leading up to what we must do to stop civilisation from falling apart, but then not actually saying what that was. This was far from the finished product though, Newman mentioned various parts which were presumably going to be filmed at a later date, including the response after he faxed the script to various people, and also sketches which were going to be inserted in to the show, one of which was due to be filmed after the performance ended, which only those seated downstairs were to take part in.

This was an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, and surprisingly depressing comedy show, and one which will remain in your thoughts long afterwards. The finished product should be even more impressive, and we can’t wait to see it, and so should you. And afterwards you’ll no doubt start thinking about what needs to be done before chaos reigns.

Misc: The audience were asked to dress in Victorian garb, and those who did got to sit downstairs at the venue, whilst most others were upstairs. Why they wanted us dressed in such a way we just don’t know, presumably the finished recording will make sense of this; The show was going to be recorded in front of another audience later on that evening, though we don’t know why that is either. We’re pretty useless this time around, eh?!

Alex Finch

BELIEVE NOTHING
Which is: Rik Mayall’s new sitcom. A follow-up to The New Statesman.
When: Recorded at 7:15pm on 27th June 2002. To be broadcast later in the year.
Where: Teddington Studios (Home of Thames Television), Teddington. Ten minutes from BR station.
Starring: Rik Mayall, Michael Maloney, Emily Bruni (series), Kenneth Cranham, Mike McShane, Melvyn Bragg (episode).
Studio Staff Rating: Not bad, except the warm-up man, who was not very funny. His name was Ray Turner, and his obsession with repeatedly referring to the Forest of Dean just because some members of the audience came from there was truly terrible. Some jokes would have helped him, but he didn’t seem to know any. The floor manager was more entertaining.
Actual Shooting: A very protracted business, as the episode structure was pretty complex and the actors didn’t seem that well rehearsed. Rik Mayall, particularly, kept fluffing his lines and needed his longer speeches written up on Brando-style display cards. I hope this is not related to his quad-bike accident of a few years ago. Having said that, Mayall, was wonderfully entertaining throughout, a consummate showman. This series is based on the idea that he plays a top academic called Adonis Cnut (pronounced “Canute”), and this episode was the last in the series. Maloney portrays his faithful Butler, Albumen. The casting of such a distinguished actor in an ITV sitcom role is rather strange, but his talent is such that he comes across really well anyway. Shame about the silly voice, but forgivable as he can deliver a joke. Bruni also does strange thinks with her vocal chords, unless I’m mistaken and her speech really is that plummy in real life. Still, she’s better than not bad as the love interest, so is equally forgiven. Kenneth Cranham is a complete genius and lit up his scenes, despite a two-dimensional part as a policeman with a passing resemblance to Inspector Morse. McShane and Bragg do their respective things no better nor worse than normal.

The script, By Marks and Gran didn’t really deserve so much talent, as it was mildly amusing at best. Their early episodes of New Statesman were okay, but they then went on to create that watermark of televisual awfulness, Birds of a Feather, and Believe Nothing by no means restores all that lost credibility. At one point, Mayall said “Marks and Gran are in tonight. The bastards! And I mean that.” I rather hope that he did.

At the end of the proceedings we were shown a couple of scenes from other episodes that were so out of context as to make very little sense. It was well gone ten o’clock by this time, and everyone was keen to get off home. Except Rik’s legion of female admirers, who swarmed up to him afterwards, obviously.

Misc: Teddington is a really cool place. The Studios are right next to a fine riverside pub called The Anglers. There are lots of other nice-looking eating and drinking places there too.

Chris Denton.

GROWNUPS
Which Is: A new sitcom from the writer of Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps, Susan Nickson, which’ll be shown on BBC3. But carry on reading, I know it sounds unlikely, but this was an okay sitcom. Not great. But actually fairly watchable. Which came as an enormous surprise to me too.
When: 2nd September, 2005.
Where: The BBC Televsion Centre, White City, London.
Starring: Sheridan Smith (Janet in Two Pints), Rob Rouse (The Friday Night Project), O.T. Fagbenle (As If), Steven Meo (Roger Roger), Fiona Wass (The Royal).
Warm Up Man Rating: 8/10. Andy Collins was tonight’s host, and rather than rely on tired stand up material like most warm up men, he got the audience involved in various games, where (tiny) cash prizes could be won, and forced the audience to dance badly as well. It sounds awful, I know, but despite vague embarrassment, it was a lot of fun, and considering the amount of breaks in filming, greatly needed.

Actual Recording: As you might’ve guessed, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Grownup’s being recorded. Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps is one of my least favourite sitcoms ever, full of predictable and painful scenarios with characters so annoying and tedious that if they existed in real life I’d have to track them down, and couldn’t promise we’d both emerge alive from such an incident. It’s not exactly an innovative concept either, being yet another flatshare comedy. Michelle and her brother Mike share a flat, she dates self-obsessed hospital porter Dean, whilst friends Grant and Claire provide suitably wacky comic relief. Michelle works in a gym as a nutritionist, they frequent a bar, but that’s about all their lives consist of. At least in this particular thirty minute episode. It’s one of those sitcoms that doesn’t feel real in the slightest too, full of characters who only ever exist in sitcom land. Mike’s a dj who’s afraid of the dark and Natasha Kaplinski, Grant’s a wacky solicitor with plans to keep his head cryogenically frozen atop of Michelle’s tv, and Claire’s a mad type who gets drunk on two shots of Pernod and will fuck anyone, even tramps and taxi drivers.

But despite all of the above, Grownups is fairly fun stuff. Comedy purists will probably despise it as strongly as they do Two Pints, but here the writing is stronger, there’s a nicely odd surreal tone to some moments, and most importantly it’s not as painfully laddish as Two Pints sadly is. Sheridan Smith’s only ever going to be a sitcom actress, she’s all forced reaction shots and silly voices, but she fits this style of sitcom perfectly, and makes for a decent female lead. And I’m not saying that just because I’ve a relatively middling crush on her. Possibly. Formerly CTW’s Public Enemy No.1 – Rob Rouse of The Friday Night Project – was almost her male equivalent, idiotic yet prone to the occasional moment of amusement, but he’s likeable for the first time here, and he gets bonus points for interacting with the audience from time to time. The rest of the cast were on fine form as well, and perhaps that’s what raises this above the level of Two Pints. As well as the fact that thankfully it doesn’t have Will Mellor in the cast.

Plot wise this episode revolved around Michelle accidentally telling new boyfriend Dean that she loved him, before realising that she didn’t. He’s persuaded by Mike to tell Michelle he loves her, before they both decide they don’t love each other. Meanwhile, Mike tries to get over his fear of the dark, Claire’s giving out bad advice, and Grant plans to be cryogenically frozen. Damnit, I’ve managed to persuade you it’s shite again, haven’t I? And from the above description it does sound awful, I know. And who knows, maybe it will be, perhaps we saw the one vaguely enjoyable episode of the six being filmed, despite everything I’m not convinced that this is actually going to be worth your while tuning in to. But on the strength of this one episode alone, if you’re bored when it’s screened, then we do recommend checking it out. Though I’ve a feeling I might regret writing that one day.

Misc: The audience could only see two sets (the flat and the bar), whilst a third, the Gym, was behind these. Getting a good view of what was being filmed in the main two sets was difficult too, due to the amount of cameras and mic operators on cranes, and was as you might imagine, pretty annoying; Nearly every scene required two takes, with a fair few pick up’s needed within these takes too, and it quickly became fairly frustrating. Rob Rouse was the king of the fuck ups, thought at least had the decency to joke about with the audience, whilst Sheridan came a not very close at all second.

BLUNDER
Which Is: A sketch show for Channel Four. This was the filming of the pilot, and on the strength of it, a whole series may or may not be commissioned.
When: Friday 12th August, 2005.
Where: The London Television Studios, Waterloo.
Starring: Rhys Thomas (Swiss Toni, Nathan Barley), David Mitchell (Peep Show, FAQ U), Simon Farnaby (Zeppotron, whatever that is), Tony Way (Swiss Toni, he’s the big guy who looks like an even more stupid version of Eastenders’ Ricky), Tom Meten (The Mighty Boosh apparently, though I didn’t regognise him from it), and Nina Conti (Black Books, though again I can’t remember her being in it).
Studio Staff Rating: Great, friendly, etc. The warm-up man was appalling though. The few jokes he did have came straight from the Seventies, and they weren’t funny then. Most of the time (which was quite considerable due to the amount of breaks in filming) he just chatted randomly, asking people what they were watching on tv at the moment, and other such dull questions. The audience rarely responded, and by the end it was all getting a bit embarrassing. And annoying.

Actual Recording: This was the most unusual recording that I’ve ever attended. A mix of pre-recorded segments and studio based sketches, with the odd monologue, Blunder’s certainly a far from normal sketch show. Directed by Joe Cornish (of The Adam and Joe Show fame), who came out and chatted to the audience at the beginning briefly, whether audience’s will take to it’s strange mix of comedy styles is open to question. But we hope they do. As with nearly all sketch shows, some of the material and characters were a little hit and miss, but most were pretty darn funny.

The characters in Blunder include: Frank, a man who farts or urinates at the wrong time and place, each time in front of a shocked David Mitchell before over dramatic music plays; A pissed off tv viewer who gets so enraged by the crap on tv that he goes to Channel Four’s offices to complain; The Peat Bog Man who’s dug up after three and a half thousand years but then just sits around watching dvds; A stripper in a two pence peep show; and a woman so bored that she brevilles her breasts / gives head to a vacuum cleaner. There were also five sketches which were all but monologues, featuring a talking horse, a talking rabbit (both played by Simon Farnaby), Mr Malibu, a rakish, decadent and oh so horny gentleman (Rhys Thomas), The Baron, a ridiculously geeky but OTT goth (“I skull fuck skulls! I am the Baron!”) and Dr Pinnafore, a slightly schizophrenic Open University style trendy teacher (Tom Meten). Some of these didn’t quite work, and went on for far too long, though I’ve got to admit to being fond of both The Baron and Mr Malibu.

Okay, reading this you’ll probably think it all sounds pretty bizarre, and perhaps a tad weak, but it’s strength is not conceptually but in the dialogue and the acting, both of which are largely superb. As mentioned, some segments aren’t that great – I’ve got to admit to not being overfond of Dr Pinnafore or the horny rabbit, but most made me laugh out loud a fair few times, and what more from comedy can you ask for that that? Mitchell and Thomas’ roles were easily the finest on the night, with Thomas surprising with the diversity of his comedic talents. I’ve never had that much time for him in the past, but definitely have now. Mitchell was also superb, though not many of his characters were much of a stretch from his Peep Show character Mark, but as the material was so strong it seems churlish to complain.

Nearly all of the characters featured in two sketches, bar, thankfully, the horny rabbit, but it’s impossible to predict exactly how long the running time of the show will be, and how much will be cut, due to the amount of time between filming, which lasted about two and a half hours. This was a bit too long considering a) how uncomfortable the seating is, b) how unfunny the warm up man was, and c) the amount of breaks during filming whilst sets were hastily constructed. But if a series of Blunder is commissioned, then we’d definitely recommend catching it being recorded.

Misc: Both Martin Freeman (Tim from The Office) and Nicholas Burns (Nathan Barley from Nathan Barley) were in the audience. I was tempted to harass them at the end of the recording, but the lure of the pub on a Friday night saved them from a no doubt annoying ordeal; One of the highlights that won’t be shown was seeing Rhys Thomas forget how the Mr Malibu sketch ended, and randomly rambling on before Joe Cornish stopped him, and jokily asked him to play the role “How we had planned to.”

Update: The series was picked up by Channel Four but very very different to the pilot we saw being recorded, with director Joe Cornish absent from affairs, and to be honest it was pretty weak stuff. Which is a shame as the pilot did show a lot of promise.

SO GRAHAM NORTON
Which Is: A comedy chat show specialising in, um, how can I put this kindly, slightly kitsch guests.
When: It was shot 16th February, and Broadcast on the 18th of February 1999.
Starring: Graham Norton, Catherine Deneuve, Zandra Rhodes
Where:The London Studio’s, on the South Bank.

Actual Shooting: Lasted almost two hours, and is good fun. Few retakes, and only one small fuck up, it was just two hours of amusing chat from one of Britain’s finest. Catherine Deneuve’s interview lasted almost an hour, and was a little dull from time to time due to her misunderstanding a few of Graham’s questions, and a lot of his innuendo, but it was certainly interesting to see an ‘icon’ on the show. As you may guess, much of it will be cut for final broadcast (which I’ve yet to see, as I’m writing this the day before it’s shown).

Misc: I was phoned by a friendly young woman from the production office the day before shooting, and asked to bring in any clothing which fell under the category of ‘fashion disasters’ for a game they’d be playing on the show. Sadly a hideous black and white chequered shirt I brought along wasn’t chosen for inclusion in the show.

It’s been suggested that the people involved in the audience participation section are ‘planted’ but this isn’t true. Whilst waiting outside in the cold we were given a questionnaire to fill in with five questions. 1) Do you have a tattoo, if so why and where? 2) Have you ever made a funny/odd noise during sex? 3) Have you ever hurt yourself during sex? 4) Have you ever worn anything odd/peculiar during sex? 5) If so, what was your partner’s response to this? They went with question 3, and 5 people told stories during this section, though it’s doubtful if all five will be shown.

THE MARK THOMAS PRODUCT
Which Is?: Topical/Political Stand up.
When: Shot 17th October, Broadcast: 19th October.
Starring: Mark Thomas
Where:The Bedford Arms, Bedford.

Actual Shooting: Lasted an hour, and is excellent. No retakes, no fuck ups, just a (free) hour of excellent material from one of Britain’s finest. I could rave for hours about Mark Thomas, but I’ll be brief. Watch his show when it returns in January, and if you’re local, definitely go and see him.

Misc: Mark actually records two versions of the show, and broadcasts a mix of both.

THE HARRY HILL SHOW
Which Is: Comedy. A mix of stand up and sketches.
When: 8th October, 1999.
Starring: Harry Hill, Burt Kwouk, Al Murray.
Where: Teddington Studio’s, Teddington.

Actual Shooting: Took a fair while. Nearly every sketch needed at least one extra take, but at least Harry was entertaining when he screwed up, and told jokes during any extra time (normally variations on ‘Types of Cobblers’ , ah, I guess you had to be there). Harry’s singing voice was surprisingly weak.

Misc.:Richard Herring was spotted in the audience. Laughing an awful lot.

THIS MORNING WITH RICHARD NOT JUDY
Which Is: A Sunday early morning / afternoon Live Comedy show on BBC2
When: May ’99
Starring: Richard Lee and Stuart Herring. And the Curious Orange.
Where: Riverside Studio’s, Hammersmith, London.

Actual Shooting: Was very entertaining. As the show is live the audience (obviously) don’t have to sit through endless re-takes etc, as when they fluff their lines they have to incorporate it. Which is nice. A mix of stand up material and pre-recorded sketches, the show was good fun, and well worth the trip. Added amusement can be found from watching actors hide behind sofa’s, walls, doorways etc. during filming.

Misc.: Lee and Herring are decent chaps who chat to the audience a little before and after recording. There’s a bar at the studio too, and whilst it would normally be a bit early for us to start drinking we gave in this one time.

HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU
Which Is? The famous ‘Topical News Comedy Panel Show’
When: November 1995
Starring: The familiar Merton, Hislop and Deyton team, plus guests Bob ‘In Bed With Medinner’ Mills and Scottish MP Alexander Salmond.
Where:The London Studios, LWT, Upper Ground, London.

Actual Shooting: Lasted about an hour, and you pretty much get what you see in the final product, except a few of the less funny jokes are cut. Paul Merton is genuinely very funny and nearly everything he says makes it to the final show. Ditto Hislop. Bob Mills seemed quite comfortable, and out of all the guests, the Scottish Mp was cut the most, and for good reason.
Misc.: Chris Evans was spotted lurking by the side of the audience, presumably looking out for decent material to steal for TFI Friday.

Alex Finch.
https://twitter.com/comedytowatch

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