Monday, April 28, 2008

Fabulous Absolutely

It’s fair to say that, however good the writing, sketch shows can be horribly hit or miss affairs. Of late I’ve found the more recent shows a lot more miss, but that may be because I prefer actual jokes to grotesques spewing out dull and repetitive catchphrases.

Still, to be fair it doesn’t mean that everything preceding them formed a veritable golden age. For the most part Monty Python’s Flying Circus leaves me unmoved, that I do know. On the other hand the surviving BBC routines – of which there are far too few – featuring Pete and Dud are stone cold classics that still crack me up.

Over the years there have probably been all manner of shows that briefly lit up the schedules before burning out. With a paper and pencil and enough time I suspect everyone could come up with a decent list of their own.

Probably top of my list, even above Spike Milligan’s hysterical and quite odd free-form Q series, would be Channel 4’s Absolutely, which ran from 1989 to 1993, broadcast late on Wednesday nights, and hasn’t been repeated since as far as I know. Rather than being purely comical, quite a lot of the characters created by the sextet of performers that included Morwenna Banks, Jack Docherty and Gordon Kennedy – who now plays Little John in the BBC’s rather rubbish Robin Hood – were actually either disturbed or very disturbing.

If you saw Channel 4’s recent adaptation of Sarah Williams’ Poppy Shakespeare, most of the Absolutely creations should be seated in the room alongside Anna Maxwell Martin’s N. There would certainly be a chair reserved for Moray Hunter’s marvellously, hellishly annoying Calum Gilhooley, a complete gonk, forever wearing his blue anorak and clutching a plastic bag, as he tediously over described everything.

Even more disturbing was John Sparkes’ characters, Bert Bastard and Frank Hovis. The former was a dishevelled geriatric to whom life was perennially unkind, while the latter doled out particularly foul tales of being caught short from the sort of disgusting toilet cubicle Renton disappeared into in Trainspotting.

Less revolting was Banks’ Little Girl, sitting on her wooden school desk and ultimately declaring that her nonsensical childish stream of consciousness was “true!” Even less harmless were the haplessly deluded councillors of Stoneybridge, forever trying to find ways to promote their drab little Scottish town.

Of course there’s always the danger that the monster that is memory is making these sketches and characters out to be far better than they were. There’s the danger that they aren’t the comedy gems that I remember.

Next week I can find out when Fremantle release Absolutely: Everything!, an eight-disc box set of all 28 episodes, together with a healthy selection of extras put together by the cast. Hopefully I’m not wrong.


At 11:36 am, Blogger Phill Barron said...

Until recently I still had one episode on video and it didn't disappoint.

I've been waiting for this box set for a fair while.

At 1:01 pm, Blogger Lucy said...



Oh, bugger."

Classic. Aaah, thought I was "too young" again, hey GD?

And actually I didn't like Monty P either. Except that one and of course, "Would you like a meeeent? It's WAFFFFFFFER THEEEEEEEN!" And other random ones here and there. So actually, some of it.

At 2:07 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Well, I was too young for Python when it was originally transmitted. I may have managed to catch some episodes from the final year in 1974, or not, although I think I spent most of that year worrying about my Latin homework.

The first time I heard the Liberty Bell might actually have been on vinyl either around that time or later. It may be that I’ve seen or heard the sketches so many times now that any response to them is simply baffled.

Each generation, I suppose, champions a few particular sitcoms/sketch shows. Maybe through reciting the material gives school kids/students a chance to bond with bods they wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.

When I was at school there was Fawlty Towers and the beginnings of Not the Nine O’Clock News, then The Young Ones during Sixth Form and Foundation year. Oddly, Absolutely appeared some years after I had run screaming from The Esteemed School of Art, which means there probably wasn’t anybody to regularly share the experience with.

The only reason I can think of why the show made such an impression and has stayed with me all this time is that the first year the show was broadcast I was working at a design and advertising consultancy; then travelling in America and working at a documentary-making production company the next year; and after that, back in animation.

Would that explain why I so readily connected with the show’s varied selection of emotionally damaged characters?

At 5:47 pm, Blogger Clair said...

I love Absolutely, and wonder why the peformers didn't go on to take over the world. Jack Docherty must have been right pissed-off to have his chat show gig nicked by Graham Norton, and my comedy heroine, Morwenna Banks, always seems to play second fiddle when she ought to be the lead.

At 12:04 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

It is bizarre that they didn't go on to far bigger and better things.

Docherty really shouldn't have taken that holiday, should he?

The only one who carried on with a national TV presence seems to be Kennedy who switched over to drama with Red Cap and Robin Hood.

Rather than the nasty midget that is Keith Allen playing The Sheriff of Nottingham, it should have been John Sparkes as Frank Hovis in the role. That would have got me watching.

At 9:46 am, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

How did this pass me by...? Was I asleep for four years...? Possibly. Hmmm, eight discs is a big leap into the unknown... But, maybe.....


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