Posts Tagged ‘British Comedy’




Two Series – Channel 4 (UK)


Robert Lindsay / David Threlfall / James Ellis / Ian Sears / Edward Burnham / Written by Paul Makin / Soundtrack by – Clever Music / Edited by David Holloway / Produced by Laurie Greenwood / Directed by Tony Dow


Nightingales hit late night screens as part of Channel 4’s alternative comedy experiments at the tail end of the 1980’s. To be honest most people didn’t even know it was there, and next to no one seems to remember it.. maybe the odd ‘Nobody here but us chickens’ may ring a bell. Which is a shame really, because there was some lovely material in there written by Paul Makin (who went on to write Goodnight Sweetheart strangely enough), and some splendid oddball performances from Robert Lindsay & David Threlfall especially.

It’s the sort of concept that would baffle the hell out of any US Tv executive, but is the meat and potatoes of British comedy : ‘Three nightwatchmen pound the beat during a nightshift.’ That’s it. Oh, they argue alot and discuss the futility of existence. Any other characters? Well..one or two visit from time to time, but they generally end up dead. Do we see them at home or on their way into work? No, just in the one room really..and a corridor or two on occasion.

In a sense Carter (Lindsay) and Bell (Threlfall) are the two bickering kids, kept in line by the gentle -though at times deadly- guldance of the Sarge (Ellis). James Ellis is best known for his iconic role as Bert Lynch in Z Cars, and the Sarge is indeed a parody of the friendly old-school Bobby – the one element of organised society in an otherwise fractured reality. Something to fight against. A fight that gives some semblance of meaning to existance.


‘Button up your jacket son..we must have some sort of order here.’


Nightingales’ late-night air time infused the show with a wee’ small hours atmosphere which mirrored and intensified the bleak isolation of it’s characters. From the opening titles bathed in the washed out milky neon of a concrete night scape (an opening not disimilar to that used later in Ricky Gervais’ Office) played out to the hauntingly sad ‘Nightingale in Berkley Square’, we felt an empathy with Robert Lindsay and his motley crew of nightwatchmen slowly driving themselves and eachother insane. This is of course back when Lindsay was better known as one of the dangerous set of actors famous more for the likes of Citizen Smith & GBH rather than for the lighter sit-com work (My Family..clocking in at a scary 82 episodes so far..shudder) for which he is now associated. Actually, we could see his character here as an older, demoralised incarnation of Citizen Smith, bitterly entering the souless 90’s. Familiar echoes of Tony Hancock & Harold Steptoe once more.. the angry young man struggling with growing older.




‘How could you say that. What could you possibly teach me. What do you know about art? Literature? Architecture? The classical line of the Greeks? Father figure? Five minutes in the New York Metroploitan Museum of modern arts and you’d be bored out of your tiny, little mind. Father figure?! Do me a favoure for chrissake!’





Carter: I used to be a student once. I loved bein’ a student. Best time of my life it was. I used to have loads of books..and sometimes someone would have a party, it was brilliant.

Swan: What did you study?

Carter: Look at this..look at it..do you know what this is? Corporate art. It’s tax deductable, honest..what’s wrong with a nice Anaglypta, that’s what I wanna know? Do you know how much the bloke who made this would charge for it? It’s like that other bloke..that blonde poof. He pisses off to California, does loads of paintings of blokes showing their arses climbing out of swimming pools and people fall over themselves to buy the things..and I bet there are painters just as good as ‘im. Blokes who can’t sell their stuff. Blokes who have to do all sorts of crap jobs just to make ends meet. It makes yer sick doesn’t it? It makes yer wanna throw up doesn’t it? Makes you wanna throw up all over their tax deductable Wilton shagpile..Christ!

Swan: What did you study?

Carter: What?

Swan: When you were a student, what did you study?

Carter: I forget.





Carter: Right, ‘ere we are. What’s your name?

Swan: Erik.

Collectively: ERIK?! ERIK?!

Carter: We don’t go on first name terms here! Strictly surnames if you don’t mind! This is like Eton this is..well, sort of, we don’t bunk up with eachother if you get my meaning. None of that intermacy in the shower business ‘ere. Well, I don’t know about old Ding-dong (motions to Bell), he puts on this front y’see..but I’m sure he’s familiar with the collective works of Christopher Ishlewood, am I not right Dong?

Bell: Do you want to get on the end of this? (Makes a drunken fist)

Carter: Manliness. You can’t beat it. God I love workin’ ere. There’s something so pre-raphaelite about it. Would you not agree Erik..SWAN SWAN..sorry..calling you by your Christian name, that is punishable by death that is..I mean, Jesus..

Collectively: CHRIST! CHRIST!


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3 Series – Channel 4 (UK)


Dylan Moran / Bill Bailey / Tamsin Grieg / Written & Created by Dylan Moran / Produced by Karen Beever, William Burdett-Coutts & Nira Park / Soundtrack by Jonathan Whitehead / Cinematography by Andy Hollis & John Rosenberg / Directed by Martin Dennis, Graham Lineham & Nick Wood

Dylan Moran’s brainchild Black Books is a true successor to the British comedic traditions once personified by the creations of Galton & Simpson, but subverted by the anarchic aftershocks of 80’s contemporary comedy. Hancock and Steptoe & Son collide with the surrealist yarns of Dylan Moran’s stand-up, producing beautiful drunken poetry, with touches of Withnail & I and the sardonic wit of Father Ted.

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) runs a dillapidated secondhand bookshop through a haze of booze and world loathing, of the type that all city dwellers are cozily familiar..mine’s next to Balham tube station. His only companionship as he slurs and sneers through life are in the humble and kind shape of his employee Manny (Bill Bailey) and Fran Katzenjammer (played by the extraordinary Tamsin Grieg), the owner of neighbouring tat shop ‘Nifty Gifts’. These three lost characters in search of a life, hide away from the cruel world sniping at and mistreating eachother, but fundamentally caring deeply for one another as kindred souls.





Thankfully BB only ran for three series, with the third to be honest losing some of it’s spontineity and sophistication. Two series seems to be the magic number with most British situation comedies, and with the average show clocking in at six episodes per series they are governed by a far different structure than their American cousins. Fawlty Towers and The Office both called it a day after a second series, keeping their status as classics before the show’s concept stretched too thin. The American multiple writer system allows for a greater pool of ideas, but does seem to limit the individuality of the shows, leaving the actors to stamp their personality on the material to make it distinctive. Situations & jokes in a Will & Grace script aren’t that markedly different to those in a Friends script.

Where British shows differ is in the lone responsibility of one or perhaps two writers, who (if they’re worth any salt at all) wouldn’t dream of letting anyone else take over writing their show when they decide it’s time to stop. Not that I’m meaning to run down American comedy shows, only to indicate the different ways of working. No one can after all belittle the incredible success and quality of shows like MASH, Cheers and Frasier. Horses for courses.



‘I’m a quitter. I come from a long line of quitters. It’s amazing I’m here at all.’




Manny: There’s a girl.
Bernard: A what? You know I don’t approve of you seeing other girls- people. Who is she?
Manny: Roweena, a friend of Anne’s. I met her once and was hoping to meet her again.
Bernard: Oh, I see.
Bernard: Roweena! Roweeeeena! And what am I supposed to do while you’re doing the underpants charleston with this insane, blind tart?
Manny: Why are you getting so angry?
Bernard: I can’t help being angry when I’m furious! So, before you go off to raise your bearded freak circus, what’s she like?
Manny: She’s nice.
Bernard: She’s nice, she- dont make me sick into my own scorn. What are her prospects? Does she play the viola? Does she embroider? Is she kind to the servants?



Customer: I bought this for a friend, and they didn’t want it, I was wondering if I could exchange it, preferably for the money..
Bernard: (flicking through it rapidly then stops) Aha! sand!
(collects some onto his finger)
Bernard: Manny!
[sprinkles it into Manny’s mouth]
Manny: (tasting the sand) Sardinia… South… Porto Scuzo… The little beach by the monastery.
Bernard: (to customer) Get out!
(shoves his book back into his hands)
Customer: Damn!




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