There’s not many British comedy pilots that I’ll be covering in this series if only for the very frustrating reason that they’re hard to get hold of as they haven’t been screened or put online. But Biffovision is one of the very best out of all I’ve seen no matter where they were made, and if it had been commissioned I think we’d be discussing it to this day with comparisons made to Vic and Bob and Limmy. It’s without a doubt it’s own beast though, and often even odder than the work of those two comedy greats.
It was written by Paul Rose and Tim Moore, who were previously best known for writing the bizarrely surreal games magazine Digitiser on Channel Four’s Teletext pages (which is soon to get it’s own online show we’re rather excited to hear). Since then Rose has written Pudsey: The Movie (though if you read this article on his site you’ll discover why it wasn’t the movie he’d hoped it be) and the CBBC sitcoms Dani’s House and Dani’s Castle, whilst Tim Moore has gone on to be a famous travel writer and responsible for several hit books, but it’s a real shame they’ve gone there separate ways judging by this.
Biffovision was treated horrendously by the BBC, originally airing at 3.15am on 26th March 2007 on BBC3 somewhat bizarrely, almost as if the channel was quietly ashamed of it despite the fact that a) It’s bloody good and b) at the time BBC3 produced very little of value at all. It was later repeated at midnight, but still, that’s all rather poor really. Like a cross between Peter Serafinowicz’s Look Around You and the MTV show Wonder Showzen it’s a parody of Saturday morning magazine kids shows from the 70s and 80s, with Noel Edmond’s Swap Shop being largely responsible for the visual element.
Starring James Lance, Ingrid Oliver, Simon Greenall and Daniel Lawrence Taylor, Lance is the lead in it, playing Mr Hugo, the main presenter of the show, whilst Ingrid Oliver is co-host Peggy Pigstrap and almost bald puppet BW (voiced by Greenall) is on hand to help things along. Or screw them up, depending on the situation. From the get go Rose and Moore make it clear that we’re in unusual territory as it opens with Lance reading a fan letter about a boy who couldn’t stop dancing to the theme tune, and a phone call from Hugo’s mother which suggests she then commits suicide. Both are deeply funny moments, but it only gets better from here on in.
The first of two animated segments follows with a Scooby Doo parody entitled Scranton-k, which comes complete with dodgy puns and a hero who is a nude man with a boot for his head who seems to be in a lot of pain. Just like the cartoons of my childhood, then, except ten times more distressing. He delivers a letter which says “Welcome to the haunted hotel, where even the toast is a ghost and your daddy is in the toast” which Mr Biffo fans might notice is a phrase that was recently re-purposed in his fantastic Mr Biffo’s Found Footage videos series (which we covered here), and though here the context is very different on both occasions it’s a laugh out loud moment, as is the part where the two human friends are murdered and Scranton-k licks their ashes.
It manages to ground the weirdness effectively with no one really reacting to it, or the opposite applies and we see the audience cheering it on at various points, which makes it all the more comical. Full on oddity can be a bit too much sometimes and dilutes the effect, but given the down to earth nature of Lance and Oliver the show avoids making such a mistake. Like when Doctor Derek Doctors (Simon Greenall, again) is reviewing three music videos (all of which are short bursts of disturbing sounds and unsettling images) he angrily dismisses one and the crowd boo him, so he murders a child, but rather than screaming and panic breaking out Mr Hugo just removes him from the set and everything then returns to normal.
Further madness involves a sketch where a teacher turns out to have broccoli for hands, Ingrid Oliver introducing her snack belt with huge lumps of meat hanging off of it, whilst a tortoise is sawn in half and pickled and Simon Greenall pops up as Santa Claus, though he looks more like the kind of magician who is eventually arrested for kidnapping children and selling them on the black market. Lance gets to double up as a robot version of himself, spewing ice cream, sprinkles and chocolate sauce all over the place, and there’s another animated short, The Storytellers Castle, which has a beautiful pay off and led to the biggest laugh out loud moment of the episode, and this was one which was filled with many of them.
Other highlights include a poorly made puppet called Mr Safety (leading to Mr Hugo drily commenting “Oh you got to be joking”) with a very funny “You will never die” song ending the sketch. There’s also a lollipop man who is literally a lollipop and is licked to death by kids (which naturally is adored by the audience), the revelation that babies are made in a factory and are actually fish with a child’s head stuck on top of them, and an ending which sees the puppet BC cause absolute chaos.
It’s packed with memorable dialogue, with James Lance’s “Imagine making people do whatever you said without even threatening to be sick on them” being my favourite of the episode, though it’s nearly matched by Professor Day of Doctors saying he can’t buy a record as “I live in a run down area and all the record shops are burnt out”, and the lyric in a Bowie-esque song “The future is sterile and so are you” comes a close third. I could be here all day quoting further examples but I’m lazy so I shan’t, and anyway, after typing out so much praise for the show if you don’t go and immediately watch it then, well, I don’t know, but you won’t be on my Christmas card list, that’s for certain.
James Lance is superb in the lead role, mostly charming but occasionally dismissive of the dodgier elements of the show, Ingrid Oliver is equally as strong though sadly doesn’t get quite as much to do, Daniel Lawrence Taylor provides sterling support and Simon Greenall is as good as here as he is in everything else he appears in. There’s not a weak link amongst them and the script is incredibly strong too, I’ve no doubt that Paul Rose and Tim Moore could have created a great deal of inspired lunacy if given a full series, and it’s ridiculously depressing that it was treated so terribly by the BBC and so we never got to see it.