Culture roundup 2012

Posted on December 6th, 2012 in At the cinema, Culture | 1 Comment »

Here’s quick run-down of some recent productions I’ve seen. Be warned, as these reviews are quite late in the day, I’ve been generous in my provision of spoilers…

Five Go To Rehab

To complete my reviews of Comic Strip films, I sat down to watch Five Go To Rehab with some trepidation. The first Comic Strip film, Five Go Mad In Dorset, is as good as anything the team is capable of but the sequel, Five Go Mad On Mescalin, produced just a year later, managed to tarnish the memory of the original, rather than add anything significant to the corpus. With the sole exception of Four Men In A Car, everything from Red Rose of Courage has ranged from disappointing (The Hunt for Tony Blair) to ghastly (Wild Turkey) but the idea of the Famous Five reunited in late-middle-age is a very good one, so I was prepared to enjoy this production for satellite station Gold.

Performances, in general, were great. All four leads look a little chunkier, a little puffier than before, but French and Saunders are as great as ever, Richardson essays a fine line in pop-eyed dementia and Edmondson, given the lion’s share of the plot to shoulder, does a truly excellent job (although his character has been subject to even further revisions since Mescalin when he already bore little resemblance to the person in Dorset).

The execution, as ever, was the problem. The script seems very uncertain about where the comedy lies, alternately presenting fake adventures with real ones, and lazily making not one but two of the main characters secret alcoholics, holed up at the same bizarre rest home. While it’s a pleasure to see Robbie Coltrane reprise his role, mere nostalgia isn’t enough to sustain the running time when the plot is as ropey as this. The appearance of Daniel Peacock at the end re-energises the story considerably and the betrayal of his own children is a great ending, but leaving the Rik Mayall / Felix Dexter storyline dangling is lazy and pointless. Another minor misfire, although not without its incidental pleasures.


One of the most eagerly-anticipated films of recent years, with a delicious high-concept premise fleshed out by two wonderful stars. Bruce Willis is Joseph Gordon-Levitt from the future and they’re trying to kill each other. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Sadly, the end result is a somewhat of a mixed bag. I don’t object to Rian Johnson’s cheerfully inconsistent view of time-travel, especially when it produces scenes as heart-stoppingly gruesome and astonishing as Frank Brennan’s horrible demise. Time travel never makes sense anyway, so complaining that it doesn’t make sense in any specific way is slightly pointless, even if a movie is flagrantly breaking its own rules. What’s less forgiveable is the way the movie abandons its delicious premise about half-way through for another movie entirely, one which is rather less interesting and lumbers the plot with double mumbo-jumbo, albeit blessed with two lovely performances from Emily Blunt and six-year-old Pierce Gagnon, who is nothing short of miraculous.

What’s even harder to forgive is the gigantic plot-hole which sits at the heart of this film and which seems to have been rather unremarked upon. As Gordon-Levitt’s character explains via voice-over “Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by the largest criminal organizations. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future. I’m told. Tagging techniques, whatnot. So when these future criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in our present, called loopers.” Okay fine, so characters like our hero Joe get instructions to lie in wait for a victim to be zapped back in time, bound and gagged with payment in silver strapped to them, and when they appear, blast them with a shotgun, take the body to a furnace and stash the silver for themselves.

When one of these assassins (“Loopers”) is retired, the future mob sends the old version of them back in time (“closing the loop”). They get extra payment in gold and can retire from this brutal life. That’s one niggle right there – why should not the killing of one’s future self be the first assassination? Why does it have to be the last? But anyway, in one of the film’s most elegant narrative sequences, we see Young Joe fail to execute Old Joe who appears unbound and so escapes. We then apparently flash back to the same scene again, this time watching Young Joe blast Old Joe away when he appears, correctly trussed-up. In a long montage sequence we watch Young Joe celebrate his retirement, get bored, grow old, fall in love, and become Old Joe who eventually has a run-in with the mob who come for him, guns blazing, slaying his wife who is caught in the crossfire. Joe is taken to the warehouse where the time-travel machine is housed, and it becomes his only means of escape and thus, when he arrives in front of Young Joe, he is untied and ready to outwit his younger self. The whole of Old Joe’s motivation from this point on is to prevent his future – the future in which his beloved wife is killed by the mob – from occurring.

But it seems almost inevitable that if you stick clever criminals in a time-machine and send them back twenty-five years that they will find a way of fucking-up whatever you have planned for them. If it is “impossible to dispose of a body” as we are told, then a far better plan would be to shoot unwanted persons through the head and then send the dead body back in time for disposal. Bursting in to Old Joe’s place, firing weapons with lethal force, demonstrates that actually the mob is perfectly happy to kill people in the future. They just prefer to send living bodies back in time, because – well because it makes for a better movie apparently.

Anyway, there’s a lot to enjoy here, but movies that want to play with science fiction concepts like this need to be a bit more careful to deal with these kinds of inconsistencies. I’m not saying it’s Prometheus bad – just a bit sloppy.


In the hope of getting a jump on my Best Picture Nominees programme for 2013, I went to see Argo, the third film directed by Ben Affleck. Having greatly admired Gone Baby Gone and thoroughly enjoyed The Town, it was with very high hopes that I went to see this, and despite paying a premium to sit virtually around the corner from the television-sized screen, in the very back row of the smallest auditorium at my local Odeon (ugh!), Argo made me smile a lot. Just like The King’s Speech, it’s perfect Oscar fodder. Not a great film, perhaps, but a very, very good one, expertly balancing humour, suspense and character notes; blending a real-life story with a bit of Hollywood sparkle; and tackling big themes without confronting any deeply-held beliefs.

To its credit, the screenplay fearlessly plays fast-and-loose with the truth when it makes for a better film. The two major scenes on which the structure of the movie rests – one of the hostages declaring that the plan will never work, and that same hostage playing his role to the hilt when they are detained at the airport – are complete fiction. So are the most exciting and suspenseful scenes – the “location scout” in the bazaar, the last-minute scramble for tickets and the final runway chase. And for that matter so is the most entertaining character – Alan Arkin’s hard-bitten Hollywood producer.

But none of this matters when the attention to detail is so great and the forward momentum of the plot is maintained so effortlessly. Chris Terrio’s screenplay is brilliantly written and Affleck’s evocation of the period is breathtaking. And Argo probably has the best supporting cast of the year, with John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Richard Kind, Philip Baker Hall, Bob Gunton, Titus Welliver and any number of other familiar faces joining Affleck in his astonishingly accurate recreation of 1979-80. Marvellous entertainment and an amazing true (or at least true-ish) story of courage and ingenuity, it hardly puts a foot wrong, provided you aren’t expecting a super-accurate history lesson.


This week comes news that Skyfall is the most successful film ever at the UK box office, scooping up in ten weeks what it took second-place contender Avatar eleven months to haul in, and without Avatar’s stereoscopic tax (such movies are not 3D). And a well-deserved achievement it is too. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have accomplished a minor miracle here. Unceremoniously junking Quantum of Solace’s tediously unresolved storyline, the new movie brazenly reinvents Bond, whom we last saw as a febrile and undisciplined rookie, now as weather-beaten and rueful veteran. I adore Kim Newman’s theory which is that between Quantum and this film, all the other 007 adventures have befallen the Daniel Craig Bond. So, having left Dominic Greene to die in the desert, this man has faced Dr No in Jamaica, battled Oddjob in Fort Knox, married and lost Tracey Vincenzo, blown up Hugo Drax’s secret space station, sledded on Kara Milovy’s cello case, been betrayed by Alec Trevelyan and been held prisoner by General Moon in North Korea (inter-alia).

In the amazing pre-credits sequence – just possibly the best-ever – Bond pursues his quarry on foot, by car, on a motorcycle, and eventually on a train, before a badly-aimed bullet from Naomi Harris’s younger agent’s gun sends him plummeting into one of the best title sequences the series has ever produced. From a twenty-first century perspective, many of Maurice Binder’s once-innovative sequences look repetitive and clumsy, with awkward post-production camera moves reducing the gyrating figures to cardboard cut-outs. Daniel Kleinman’s revolutionary GoldenEye titles added a third dimension thanks to modern CGI technology, and gave us a virtual camera able to slide smoothly past surreal vistas with genuine depth. The three subsequent sequences failed to live up to the splendour of his first, but the flat graphic style of the Casino Royale sequence was exactly what was required – utterly different from any previous incarnation, and yet recognisably a continuation of what had gone before. That’s what long-running series like the Bonds need to be, and that’s Skyfall all over – the titles included. Returning to the fold having missed Quantum, here Kleinman’s CGI camera pushes forward, forward, forward, through a landscape with more depth than ever before. It’s a remarkable piece of work.

Returning to the fold, Bond is tested and found wanting, but M nevertheless sends him out on the trail of Raoul Silva who has blown up MI6. Together with the immensely striking Bérénice Marlohe, he tracks Silva down with apparent ease, but must sacrifice his latest girlfriend to do so. The execution of the apparently leading Bond girl within about 20 minutes is another shocking development, another radical departure from established practice, although I have to criticise Sam Mendes or Barbara Broccoli or the BBFC or someone for squeamishness here. Forced into playing a murderous game of William Tell with a bound Sevrine and a shot-glass, Bond shoots and misses, following which Silva wins the game by simply shooting her through the head – but the photographing of this shocking development is so coy that it’s easy to mistake this kill-shot for another poor aim by the marksman and a flinch from the target. A shame, as this moment should have been heart-in-the-mouth stuff. It’s not unusual for James Bond films to begin with a “sacrificial lamb” Bond girl (Jill Masterson, Aki, Rosie Carver, Andrea Anders, Corinne Dufour, Paris Carver, Solange, Strawberry Fields, etc etc) but it’s unprecedented for the leading Bond girl to be executed half-way through the movie, never to be replaced.

No more so than in his interrogation scene, Javier Bardem has tremendous fun with this camply disturbing character, and the revolting jaw prosthesis which he wears. His Lawrence of Arabia style entrance, walking slowly towards camera in a single shot, is also worthy of note – possibly Mendes’ reposte to the frantic cutting of Quantum which helped make that film such an unsatisfactory experience. From here, Silva’s plan becomes increasingly unlikely, but criticising the movie for this I rather think this misses the point. The best Bond films, with the possible exception of From Russia With Love, aren’t spy thrillers at all, they are colossal absurd fantasy adventures. The trick is in balancing the insane on-screen action with enough ballast so it doesn’t just become laughable. Daniel Craig adjusting his cuffs as he lands on the back of that train is perfect. Blofeld evading capture by dragging up (Diamonds Are Forever) is harder to take seriously, and Bond pretending to be Tarzan (Octopussy) is so stupid as to be insulting. Silva trying to kill Bond by chucking an entire tube train at him is hard to take, sure, but the execution is so faultless and the idea so extraordinary, I’m perfectly happy to watch it in delighted slack-jawed amazement – it seems rather dull trying to wonder just what it would take to plan, time and pull-off such an outré method of execution. You might as well complain that the idea of a “licence to kill” isn’t entirely credible.

From here, the film boldly veers off into completely uncharted territory. There’s no particular reason why not, but Bond has never really presented a siege situation before. In film after film, Bond has stormed the villain’s lair at the end, whether solo (GoldenEye, Quantum of Solace) with modest back-up (For Your Eyes Only, Tomorrow Never Dies) or at the head of massive army (You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker) but never before has he holed-up in a safe house, set traps and waited for the villain to come to him. This splendidly suspenseful sequence both delivers the necessary excitement and catharsis and exemplifies the film’s theme – sometimes the old ways are the best. But the cost is ghastly – Judi Dench’s redoubtable M has paid the ultimate price.

It’s not until the credits begin rolling that I really took on board what had been wrought in the closing moments of Skyfall. This most revisionist of Bonds, as much a reboot as Casino Royale in its own way, has been quietly rebuilding the old Bond before our very eyes. Not just the little nods to previous movies (Bond’s escape on the backs of some reptiles, Q’s caustic reference to exploding pens, Bond telling Eve to stop touching her ear, probably others), but the mythos of Connery, Moore and Dalton movies is being reassmbled. As the screen fades to black, we are back to a patrician and avuncular M with complete if sometimes testy faith in agent 007, whose office hides behind a leather-panelled door, guarded by a spunky Moneypenny and whose payroll includes an enthusiastic gadget man, designated Q – a line-up we haven’t seen since 1989. Welcome home 007. I can hardly wait for your next mission.

The Hunt for Tony Blair vs Holy Flying Circus

Posted on October 23rd, 2011 in Culture | No Comments »

Recent days in television have brought us two resurrections of once-feted comedy group, one recreated by new actors, courtesy of a script from The Thick Of It scribe Tony Roche, the other with many of the old team reassembled for another jog around the track.

Taking The Comic Strip’s The Hunt for Tony Blair first, it can certainly be said that this is better by far than the almost entirely uninteresting Sex, Actually. It also runs true to that strand’s usual form, in tone, structure and approach. The team that satirised the miners strike in 1988 (three years after it ended), The Professionals in 1984 (three years after it ended) and The Fly in 1988 (two years after the film was released) now tackles the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair four years after he left office.

Structurally, the film resembles several other Comic Strip efforts including War (the second-ever), South Atlantic Raiders and Spaghetti Hoops, being essentially a series of sketches, related only by the fact that the same protagonist turns up to each situation in turn. Here that protagonist is Comic Strip newcomer Stephen Mangan whose wide-eyed optimism suits Blair nicely, and the recurrent trope of Blair’s blithe optimism and ruthless rationalisation is probably the film’s best joke. “It’s never pleasant strangling an old man with his own tie,” muses Blair in a voice-over, “but what’s done is done and we move on.”

However, the secondary focus of the satire is all over the place. Lurching from decade-to-decade the piece spoofs The Thirty Nine Steps, The Fugitive, Sunset Boulevard and others, never really skewering any of them. From the steady aim and clear focus of Five Go Mad In Dorset, we are now dangerously close to Scary Movie territory. It’s when Blair turns up at Mrs Thatcher’s mansion (with Jennifer Saunders reprising the role with far less wit than in GLC) that things completely fall apart as tone, taste and even basic plotting are jettisoned in pursuit of cheap laughs.

Elsewhere, Robbie Coltrane and Nigel Planer prove once again that they are the best actors in the team, but are never given anything funny to say. Rik Mayall is reduced to face-pulling and falling over. Harry Enfield is very funny but only on screen for sixty seconds and Richardson himself is embarrassingly poor as George Bush. Technical standards have slipped too with several shots overexposed, ruining the film noir look and several mismatched shots just stuck together hopefully when surely a cut-away could have been found somewhere.

Overall, this feels laboured, plodding and rather uninspired. Holy Flying Circus at least had energy, taking the smart decision to tell the story of the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian by focusing on a manageably short period of time – the few months between the film’s American release and Cleese and Palin’s appearance on TV opposite Malcom Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark. Whereas the Comic Strip film shows a shaky hand, falteringly guessing at what effect these various choices might have on an audience, Tony Roche’s script has a very clear intent – to play fast-and-loose with time, space, reality and truth (to the ire of many of the real Pythons).

This is only partially successful. Some of the tropes are fun, like the same actor playing both Terry Jones and Mrs Michael Palin. Others just seem pointless, like Darren Boyd apologising to camera for basing his portrayal of John Cleese mainly on Fawlty Towers or Jason Thorpe’s ludicrously manic TV director Alan Dick screaming absurd insanities in the manner of Matt Berry in The IT Crowd. The trio of Christian protestors lead by Mark Heap get a bit too much screentime for my liking, and their rejection of the Bishop is too pat to be convincing. Far more telling, I think, is the story oft-told by the Pythons but omitted here, that back in the green room after the show was over, a genuinely angry Michael Palin was staggered to see Muggeridge and the Bishop genially passing around drinks and congratulating all concerned with having pulled off such a lovely piece of television.

Hats off to some of the other cast members though, including a spookily accurate Michael Palin from Charles Edwards, a hilarious Malcolm Muggeridge from Michael Cochrane and a brilliantly sappy Tim Rice from Tom “PC Andy” Price. A worthily experimental telling of a fascinating moment in English comedy history, told with brio but with enormous self-indulgence, and that probably only needed an hour to be just as effective.

“The Comic Strip Presents…” episode guide part four

Posted on September 4th, 2010 in Culture | No Comments »

Part three is here


NOTE: The last full series to date

7.1 Detectives On The Edge Of A Nervous Breakdown 22 Apr 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson. Directed by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson
Featuring Allen, Richardson
Plus: Gary Beadle, Jim Broadbent, Jim Carter, Phil Cornwell, Sara Crowe, Jimmy Fagg, Richard Vernon
When the Gourmet Detective is killed in a seventies-style slaying, nineties detective Spanker must work with not only mid-seventies Bullshitters Bonehead and Foyle, but also Shouting George from the Weeney and early seventies dandy Jason Bentley of Department Z.
A sort of winking, leering, Life on Mars from the early nineties, the parody of long-forgotten Jimmy Nail vehicle Spender is piss-weak, and Cornwell is as poor as ever, but the presence of Jim Broadbent, brilliantly taking-off John Thaw, elevates the antics of Bonehead and Foyle and the extra targets for satire adds much-needed variety, compared to the original Bullshitters outing. However, in his distracting second role, Richardson promises much but delivers very little as Jason King/Bentley. Oh for Nigel Planer or Rik Mayall in this part. It’s tempting, but probably over-generous to see the incongruous song-and-dance routines as spoofing Dennis Potter, but it’s more likely that Jimmy Nail’s pop career was what Allen and Richardson had in mind, assuming it was anything more than pure indulgence.

7.2 Space Virgins From Planet Sex 29 Apr 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichan, Miranda Richardson, Sara Stockbridge
When a gang of alien women come to Earth in search of sperm, it’s down to secret agent James Blonde to foil their plans.
Absolutely ghastly. Despite the welcome presence of more than two-or-three of the key performers for the first time in ages, this is possibly the Comic Strip nadir. Undergraduate James Bond spoof mixed with pre-adolescent misogynistic sci-fi sex fantasy with yet more of Allen and Richardson’s by-now tiresome obsession with nineties new-man-ism. Significantly less fun than either the Bond films or the Roger Corman schlock it’s spoofing and featuring some of the dodgiest Welsh accents you’ll ever hear. The impoverished production values and awful music don’t help either. Avoid.

7.3 Queen Of The Wild Frontier 6 May 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Richardson, Sayle
Plus: Julie T Wallace, Josie Lawrence, Jack Docherty, Gary Beadle, Lynsey Baxter
Two escaped criminals are given shelter by a couple of farming sisters, starved of male company.
Julie T Wallace is pleasingly bonkers in the lead role, but Josie Lawrence finds nothing to do as her foil. It probably doesn’t help that the parts were almost certainly written with French and Saunders in mind. Jack Docherty fits in nicely in a part which might have gone to Edmondson or Allen ten years earlier, leaving Richardson and Sayle in bit-parts. Overall, this is solid, but rather unremarkable. The wild boys of British comedy are now reduced to telling only vaguely quirky bucolic love stories. Fine while it’s on, but hardly the point. Looks nice though.

7.4 Gregory – Diary Of A Nut Case 13 May 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (40 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Allen, Edmondson, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Doon Mackichan, Hugh Quarshie, Sara Stockbridge, Simon McBurney, Phil Cornwell, Steve O’Donnell, Kate Robbins
Would-be serial killer Gregory Dawson documents his feeble exploits as a video diary. We also see clips from the movie which inspired him.
The Silence of the Lambs spoof is clumsy and obvious – and ironically, easily bettered by the French and Saunders take-off the same year (directed by Bob Spiers who helmed many of the early Comic Strip movies). The best joke is Keith Allen’s heavy Welsh accent as the Lecter-alike Genghis, but even this is spoiled by another pointless song-and-dance routine. The video diary segments are far better, with an excellent central performance from Edmondson – who shot to fame as violently anarchistic punk Vyvyan and yet is so often at his most effective in Comic Strip films as anxious losers. The social satire is, again, fairly toothless, but the actual “Diary of a Nutcase” story is very effective.
NOTE: This would be the last Richardson/Richens script until the 1998 revival.

7.5 Demonella 20 May 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Paul Bartel & Barry Dennen. Directed by Paul Bartel
Featuring: Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Miriam Margolyes, Sue Holland, Miranda Richardson, Paul Bartel
A struggling music producer is offered a guaranteed hit record by a slinky Satan, and all she wants in return is his mother’s recipe for chicken soup.
This, the only Comic Strip film not written or directed by any of the core team, sees Paul Bartel from the turkey turkey in the director’s chair. As film-maker he has no sense of time, place or pacing and as writer he and co-author Barry Dennen seem determined to lower the dramatic stakes at every turn, but they have no good jokes to put in the place of dramatic tension, nothing original to say and nothing new to add to the already vastly overfamiliar Faust story.

7.6 Jealousy 27 May 1993, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Robbie Coltrane & Morag Fullarton. Directed by Robbie Coltrane
Featuring: Allen, Coltrane, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Peter Capaldi, Steven O’Donnell, Miranda Richardson, Kathy Burke, Gary Beadle
A jealous husband will go to any lengths to discover what his wife is really up to.
Another neophyte writing and directing effort and many of the same flaws as Demonella. A laboriously clichéd plot which can’t find a focus, rarely approaches any sense of credibility or normality and which functions largely by contrivance and coincidence. Even the usually excellent Peter Capaldi is reduced to furious mugging at the end. A soggy end to a maddeningly uneven but often brilliant run.

NOTE: In 1998, the team reunited for a one-off special. This was followed by two more over the next seven years.

S.1 Four Men In A Car 12 Apr 1998, C4 Sun 9.30pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Four obnoxious salesman make a complete hash of a trip to Swindon for a conference.
A bracing return to form after a five year break. The plot is simple and clear, the characters are great and the jokes keep coming, although Richardson and Richens appeared to have borrowed a little of Bottom’s appetite for bodily fluids and horrific injury. Richardson himself, in a disastrous wig, is given the least to do, but Mayall, Edmondson and Planer seize their parts with tremendous vigour. French and Saunders seem stuck in at the end rather at random, and they only just get away with the “magic fairy” ending, but this is better by far than anything since Red Nose of Courage.

S.2 Four Men In A Plane 4 Jan 2000, C4 Tue 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Edmondson, Mayall, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Sean Hughes
The same four odious salesman fly to Africa and then charter a plane for a feasibility conference.
A slight stumble after the excellence of the previous film, but many of the same strengths are present – a simple plot, strong characters (although Richardson has entirely revised his and is in an even worse wig), and an arresting situation. Architects of their own destruction, if you can bear the company of these horrible men, you will enjoy watching them suffer. It’s a complete boys’ game though, female characters exist only to be slavered over by the men. Remember when the Comic Strip was standing up against sexist comedians?

S.3 Sex, Actually 2005, 28 Dec 2005, C4 9pm (45 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Mayall, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Robert Bathurst, Phil Cornwell, Rebecca Front, Tamer Hassan, Doon Mackichan, Sheridan Smith, Steve O’Donnell
In a typical suburban house, a meet-the-new-neighbours party threatens to reveal dark secrets.
Boring and confusing entry in the series. A quite unnecessary addition and with a completely nonsensical final reel. Mayall is in good form and Robert Bathurst is also a nice edition, but little things like story, jokes and motivation seem to have eluded Richardson this time around.

“The Comic Strip Presents…” episode guide, part three

Posted on August 24th, 2010 in Culture | 1 Comment »

Part two is here.


NOTE: The move to the BBC also sees Richardson and Richens back in complete control, with Richardson firmly in the director’s chair also.

With many of the regular team developing their own careers, the ensemble cast is widened to include Gary Beadle, Sara Crowe, Doon Mackichan, Tim McInnerny, Phil Cornwell and Steve O’Donnell, and the series is now prestigious enough to attract guest stars such as Miranda Richardson, Kate Bush and even Antony Sher.

5.1 South Atlantic Raiders – Part 1 1 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
5.2 South Atlantic Raiders – Part 2: Argie Bargie! 8 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
With: Kathy Burke, Lenny Henry, Ron Tarr, Lemmy
A love affair over the radio requires a bank robbery, a prison break, a plane hijack, and an invasion of the Falkland Islands before “Happily Ever After”.
Utterly typical of Richardson and Richens with all their faults and all their failings. On the one hand the story is original, arresting, makes sense and features strong characters and situations most of the time. There are some dreadful lapses however (the redundant and clichéd prison sequence) and the mix of drama and comedy is sometimes uneasy. With the comedy elements pushing the story toward absurdity, it is hard to take the drama as seriously as it seems to want. The series as a whole feels re-energised and refocused however.
NOTE: One of Richardson’s least favourites, and he cut around 5 minutes for the DVD release, to the ire of some fans.

5.3 GLC: The Carnage Continues 15 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Leslie Philips, Gary Beadle, Ron Tarr
In Hollywood’s version, GLC leader Ken Livingstone (Charles Bronson) needs all the help he can get to defeat the evil Ice Maiden (Bridget Nielson).
Abbreviated re-run of “The Strike” with redundant premiere sequence to set it up but no other behind-the-scenes story. Some bright gags and a compact running time help keep the sense of gnawing familiarity at bay. Coltrane is marvelous, as ever.

5.4 Oxford 22 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Lenny Henry, Ronald Allen, Leslie Philips, Graham Crowden
An paranoid American comedy movie star and a ball-busting American student cross paths at Oxford University.
Odd splicing-together of ideas which never really gels. Often looks great, but the dearth of jokes is a huge problem and Henry is awful.

5.5 Spaghetti Hoops 1 Mar 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Tim McInnerny, Steve O’Donnell, Nosher Powell
In Italy, a crooked banker embezzles millions and then attempts to escape, pursued by two amateur hitmen in the pay of the Freemasons.
Cleverly combines atmospheric black-and-white photography with cheeky gags about the lack of foreign location filming. Planer and Sayle in particular are in fine form, but the nervous hitman stuff and the Freemason jokes fall flat and feel second-hand. The near total disregard for basic cause-and-effect plotting doesn’t help either.

5.6 Les Dogs 8 Mar 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Edmonson, Peacock, Richardson, Sayle
Plus: Gary Beadle, Kate Bush(!), Tim McInnerny, Steve O’Donnell, Miranda Richardson, Julie T Wallace
In an England run by an eco-dictator who bans cars and television, a wedding degenerates into all-out war, although many attendees seemingly take this all in their stride, including the gatecrasher seducing the bride through a series of fantasy sequences.
Disjointed and willfully nonsensical even by Comic Strip standards, this thoroughly bizarre entry does kind of work, if you’re in the mood for it. Richardson’s cool tone, as both director and de facto protagonist, anchors the piece, allows the character sketches to work in their own right, and skillfully balances the reality of the carnage with the seen-it-all-before reactions from most of the characters. Look! It’s Kate Bush.

F.3 The Pope Must Die Feature Film 1991 (88 min)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Coltrane, Edmondson, Richardson
Plus: Alex Rocco, Annette Crosbie, William Hootkins, Paul Bartel
NOTE: Again, really only a Comic Strip Film if you accept the premise that everything Peter Richardson directs is a Comic Strip Film. As he directs little else (except Stella Street) and always casts from the same pool of people, it’s not an entirely untenable premise, but the film evaded the Channel 4 DVD box set in any event and I haven’t seen it either.


The sixth “series” was, again, a number of one-off specials broadcast during 1992.

6.1 Red Nose Of Courage 9 Apr 1992, BBC2 Thu 10.30pm (50 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Phil Cornwell, Mark Caven, Sue Lloyd Allen, Doon Mackichan, Nosher Powell
With echoes of The Shop Around The Corner, opposition leader Glenys Kinnock has no idea that the shy Coco The Clown with whom she is striking up a passionate affair is actually Prime Minister John Major.
While any number of hack newspaper cartoonists made limp fun of the fact that new Prime Minister John Major had supposedly run away from the circus to become an accountant, it took The Comic Strip to portray him as leading an insane double-life of politician by day and clown by night, and to create a genuinely tender love story into the bargain. Edmondson and French as Major and Kinnock are outstanding, and only Major’s preachily climactic speech and a slightly uneasy Sayle spoil this excellent entry which for once easily sustains its length. Also, something has happened to the budget or the film stock as this looks far glossier, more expensive and more cinematic than any of the preceding films.
NOTES: Second of only two appearances in the BBC episodes by Rik Mayall, who was busy on ITV’s The New Statesman for much of this period. Transmitted on the night of the general election at which John Major was unexpectedly returned to power. This entry runs 50 minutes. No later Comic Strip film was longer. The days of hour-plus entries are thankfully behind us.

6.2 The Crying Game 5 May 1992, BBC2 Tue 10pm (35 mins)
Written by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson. Directed by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Chris Hargreaves, Simon McBurney, Paul Moriarty, Antony Sher, Sara Stockbridge
Footballer Roy Brush is signed to a major London club and is quickly drawn into a whirlwind of lucrative promotions, personal appearances and tabloid coverage. However, his personal life hides a secret which may be his undoing.
The satire is toothless, the themes well-worn even in 1992, and it still manages to be overlong at 35 mins. On the upside, Allen’s central performance is uncharacteristically vulnerable and all the better for it, and Antony Sher’s dementedly pop-eyed tabloid editor is a bit of a treat but overall this is a very slender entry. The juxtaposition of the supposedly moving inspirational speech from the club manager with Phil Cornwell mugging away as TV pundit “Jimmy Twizzle” behind an enormous plastic chin tells you everything you need to know about how clumsy and misguided this is.

6.3 Wild Turkey 24 Dec 1992, BBC2 Thu 10pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Ruby Wax, Paul Bartel, Phil Cornwell, Mike McShane, Gary Beadle
An all-American cop brings home to his wife the last Christmas turkey he can find, which turns out not to be quite dead yet, and determined not to be cooked and eaten. It takes Sue and Jim hostage and demands Bernard Matthews (the British turkey magnate) be brought to him.
The only Comic Strip Christmas Special brings us more toothlessly clumsy satire, saying nothing that Douglas Adams hadn’t said in one-sixth the time, a dozen years earlier, in his dish-of-the-day sequence at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Many of the Comic Strip films suffer from an uneasy relationship between the narrative and the comedy. Some play the story straight and stick jokes on top, seemingly at random (Private Enterprise). Some manage to elevate the otherwise slight comedy with bravura staging and playing (A Fistful of Travellers Cheques). A precious few blend the comedy and the drama perfectly and maintain the balance throughout (Red Nose of Courage). Plenty simply don’t have enough jokes to keep the interest (The Yob). In this rare case, the glossy presentation and melodramatic acting just serves to kill what few jokes there are. And how is it that Phil Cornwell – an impressionist – can’t sustain an American accent?

“The Comic Strip Presents…” episode guide, part two

Posted on August 3rd, 2010 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Part one is here.


NOTE: “Series 3” is in fact three specials shown over a three year period, which also saw the production of two feature films. The new title sequence with a drawing of a village rather than a map makes its debut.

3.1 The Bullshitters: Roll out the Gunbarrel 3 Nov 1984, C4 Sat 11:00pm (50 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Keith Allen. Directed by Stephen Frears
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Richardson
Plus: Alan Pellay, Fiona Hendley, Al Matthews, Malcolm Hardee, Elvis Costello
In a world where TV detectives solve real cases, Bonehead and Foyle reunite to solve a kidnapping armed only with tight Y-fronts and a sack of 10ps for the phone.
Bracingly original mix of drama school satire and TV spoof, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but suffering from too many winks at camera (especially the ending). The names “Bonehead” and “Foyle” are dreary, sub-Mad Magazine placeholders and are typical of the occasional laziness which mars this entry.
NOTE: No “Comic Strip Presents” title sequence as Allen wanted to distance the film from the others in the sequence, but has all the hallmarks of one and led to a sequel (“Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown”) which is unarguably a “Comic Strip” film. It is included on the C4 DVD box set.

F.1 The Supergrass 1985 Feature film. (103 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, French, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Michael Elphick, Ronald Allen
Desperate to impress his girlfriend, Dennis boasts to his girlfriend that he is involved in a major drugs-smuggling operation. Before long, he has agreed to turn Queen’s evidence and finds himself in a hotel room with a beautiful police officer and her ex-boyfriend.
The story sustains itself admirably and the characters are well-drawn, but only Alexei Sayle’s motorcycle cop is really funny enough. Coltrane’s walk along the pier is staggering though and there are other pleasures along the way, such as the uniformly strong performances, with Saunders and Richardson in particular happily inside their comfort zones (which they aren’t always).

3.2 Consuela, or, The New Mrs Saunders 1 Jan 1986, C4 Wed 11pm (45 mins)
Written by Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders. Directed by Stephen Frears
Featuring Edmondson, French, Mayall, Richardson, Saunders,
Parody of “Rebecca” with Edmondson as the upper-class twit who prefers dogs to his new wife and French as the creepily ever-present Maid.
French’s preternatural ability to inhabit every aspect of Saunders’ life works beautifully, but it is often too close to the source to be really funny – an error which would be endlessly repeated in French and Saunders’ TV shows.

3.3 Private Enterprise 2 Jan 1986, C4 Thu 11pm (40 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson. Directed by Adrian Edmondson
Featuring Allen, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Chris Langham, Roger Sloman, Malcolm Hardee, Simon Brint, Rowland Rivron
A delivery man on parole steals a demo tape from a recording studio and makes the band a huge success without them knowing.
After the hilarious highs of “Eddie Monsoon” and “Bad News”, Edmondson’s next stint as writer (and for the first time, director) is a bit flat with no real sense of jeopardy, especially in the last five minutes.

F.2 Eat The Rich 1987 Feature film (83 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Nosher Powell, Alan Pellay, Ronald Allen
Plus appearances by Planer, Coltrane, Saunders, French, Miranda Richardson, Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman, Jools Holland
Not available on DVD, so I’m relying on my memory of watching it when it first came out, which is of a horrible muddle involving an androgynous waiter, Nosher Powell as the Home Secretary and a Solyent Green ending which was traded-on extensively in the publicity material and yet I fear is meant to be a shocking surprise.
NOTE: No “Comic Strip Presents” title sequence and its status is less clear, especially as it was not included in the DVD box set.


NOTE: Richardson and Richens take a back seat but the one film they contribute is the jewel in the crown. As other would-be writers step up to the plate, and as the budget balloons, a regrettable tendency to self-indulgence begins to engulf the series. None of the Series 4 films come in at under an hour and most struggle to sustain their length.

4.1 The Strike 20 Feb 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (75 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Ronald Allen
An earnest script-writer is horrified to see what Hollywood does to his screenplay depicting the miners’ strike.
The Comic Strip’s finest hour (and a quarter), the cross-cutting from finished movie to behind the scenes sustains brilliantly (far better than GLC), the cast all play multiple roles to perfection (Sayle again is stunning) and it’s genuinely funny all the way through. A triumph and well deserving of its acclaim and Montreux win.
NOTE: This episode won the Golden Rose and Press Award at the Montreux Festival

4.2 More Bad News 27 Feb 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (60 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson. Directed by Adrian Edmondson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
The worst heavy metal band in the world reunites at the behest of a documentary crew.
Limp rehash of Bad News redeemed by the insane Donnington sequence.

4.3 Mr Jolly Lives Next Door 5 Mar 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (60 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall & Roland Rivron. Directed by Stephen Frears
Featuring Edmondson, French, Mayall, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Peter Cook, Nicholas Parsons, Thomas Wheatley
A pair of repellent male escorts, in a crazed pursuit of money to buy alcohol, intercept an instruction addressed to their neighbour to “take out Nicholas Parsons”. Not realising that this implies a hit, they take the place of a pair of competition winners who have won a night out with the family entertainer.
Lunatic precursor to “Bottom” which features all of their usual touchstones: light entertainment figureheads, lethal dipsomania and extraordinary violence. Stephen Frears keeps the pace up, Cook is hilarious – as is Parsons as himself – and the gags keep coming. If you have ever liked Mayall and Edmondson, you’ll adore Mr Jolly, but it won’t make any new converts.

4.4 The Yob 12 Mar 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (65 mins)
Written by Keith Allen & Daniel Peacock. Directed by Ian Emes
Featuring Allen, Edmondson, Richardson
Plus Gary Olsen, Malcolm Hardee
During an experiment, a yob switches brains with a pretentious pop video director.
Slick and glossy and boasting some good performances, but the one joke doesn’t sustain and it moves at a snail’s pace. It seems to be a pure expression of Allen’s hatred for both ends of the social spectrum and is consequently thoroughly off-putting as well as being very self indulgent and largely witless.

4.5 Didn’t You Kill My Brother? 19 Mar 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (65 mins)
Written by Alexei Sayle and Pauline Melville & David Stafford. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Richardson, Sayle
Plus: Beryl Reid, Pauline Melville, Graham Crowden, Benjamin Zephaniah, Dexter Fletcher, Mmoloki Chrystie, Mark Wing-Davey
One of a pair of identical twins is released from prison, to find his gangland brother and mother waiting for him.
More self-indulgence, with Sayle constructing a pretty ropey framework for his own stand-up routines, and playing two roles himself – both fairly poorly. After his superb performance in “Strike”, this is a huge disappointment. Only Graham Crowden’s barking mad judge emerges unscathed.

4.6 Funseekers 26 Mar 1988, C4 Sat 10.50pm (60 mins)
Written by Doug Lucie & Nigel Planer. Directed by Baz Taylor
Featuring Allen, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Cathy Burke
A loser’s misadventures on an 18-30 holiday for which he is too old.
The southbound slide of the series continues with this utterly uninteresting entry, which again I couldn’t make it to the end of. Irretrievably boring after 10 minutes, I gave up after 30, fed-up of watching thinly-drawn characters annoy each other in unpleasant surroundings. What the hell is the Comic Strip doing aping “Duty Free”? Dire.

“The Comic Strip Presents…” episode guide, part one

Posted on July 19th, 2010 in Culture | 2 Comments »

The Comic Strip is the name given to one of the first “alternative” comedy clubs in the eighties, a group of actor-writer-comedians who emerged from that club, and the comedy films that they made first for Channel 4 and later for BBC2.

The Comic Strip presents is indelibly linked with Channel 4, despite their late defection to the BBC (and cinema movies). Firstly because BBC2 had The Young Ones with much of the same cast, and most famously because their first film “Five Go Mad In Dorset” was shown on Channel 4’s opening night. In fact, Comic Strip leading light Peter Richardson was initially in the frame to play Mike in The Young Ones, but legend has it, he called Paul Jackson a cunt and so was replaced.

The project was astonishingly ambitious. No format. No regular characters. A new, half-hour movie (later longer) each week, in a new genre, with a new cast (although there was a core group), most of whom also wrote, and some of whom directed, especially later on. What follows is an episode guide, in the Halliwell style, with cast lists, key credits, a brief synopsis and a critical appraisal. There is also some debate about what is and is not a Comic Strip film. A box set released a few years ago fails to be definitive, so I’ve aimed to be comprehensive.

Core performers were Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen and Daniel Peacock. Alexei Sayle initially refused to participate feeling that this would be disloyal to The Young Ones, but he has a cameo in the movie The Supergrass and appears fairly regularly from The Strike onwards. Behind the camera, Peter Richardson almost always writes with Pete Richens.

Wildly unpredictable, the best Comic Strip films are some of the best that British comedy has ever offered. The worst are ghastly, self-indulgent rubbish. This guide lovingly charts all of those (often sickeningly vertiginous) ups-and-downs.


Original title sequence with map and flashing “you are here” sign. Established TV comedy directors behind the camera. FGMID was the pilot and another five episodes were commissioned by Channel 4 when it was clear that The Young Ones was going to be a hit. Of these, one (“An Evening With Eddie Monsoon”) was pulled by Channel 4 and later resurfaced in the second series as “Eddie Monsoon – A Life”.

1.1 Five Go Mad in Dorset. 2 Nov 1982, C4 Tue 10.15pm (30 mins)
Written by Richardson and Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers.
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Ronald Allen, Nosher Powell, Ron Tarr
The famous five have a wizard time, getting foreigners, Jews and queers arrested, overhearing secret plans and consuming lashings of ginger beer.
The first and just possibly the best. The comic idea is instantly understandable, the performances are first rate, there’s just enough plot to sustain the length and the laughs keep coming. Edmondson’s feeble pleas for holiday without adventure magically combine pathos with absurdity and the punchline is superb.

1.2 War 3 Jan 1983, C4 Mon 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Richardson and Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
In 1985, a young couple try to escape war-torn England.
Sporadically amusing piece which swaps narrative drive for a series of sketches, some great (the tunnel), some not so great (the Mexican cowboys). All the cast play multiple roles (except Peacock and French in the leads) and the rapid pace at least ensures that none of the sketches outstays its welcome. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense and exposes one of Richardson and Richens’ key flaw as writers: trusting that the absurdity (often obscurity) of the central idea will carry the story through. Here it does – just about.

1.3 The Beat Generation 17 Jan 1983, C4 Mon 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Allen, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
In 1960s England, a young man desperate to impress allows – in fact encourages – a motley gang of poets and would-be anarchists to wreck his parents’ house in the name of “freedom”.
Very typical entry with excellent character sketches from all the regulars. Keeps the pace of “War” but by returning to the same characters instead of bouncing off to new ones, it creates a stronger illusion of coherence. The illusion is ultimately shattered, when it ends having found nowhere to go. Terrific sense of atmosphere and style, however, helped by impressive black and white photography and good use of music.

1.4 Bad News Tour 24 Jan 1983, C4 Mon 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson. Directed by Sandy Johnson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
A clueless fifth rate heavy metal band go on tour.
Hysterical entry, predating “Spinal Tap”, which sometimes breaks the reality for the sake of a good joke (Planer’s insistence on retakes) but when the jokes are this good, it barely matters.

1.5 Summer School 31 Jan 1983, C4 Mon 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Dawn French. Directed by Sandy Johnson
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus Lois Baxter, Gerard Ryder, Rupert Frazer, Martin Potter, Elaine Ashley
Summer school students learn to fend for themselves in a recreation of an iron age village.
First two thirds operate on a sit-com level, then it takes a more typical darker turn and the ending takes the typical subdued, unresolved route. It suffers from a dearth of good jokes (although Coltrane is good value, as ever) but does at least have the virtue of making sense all the way through.


2.1. Five Go Mad On Mescalin 2 Nov 1983, C4 Wed 10pm (40 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders
Plus Ronald Allen, Harry Towb, Kerry Shale
The Famous Five have further adventures.
Unsubtle retread of the seminal first film with many of the same jokes. The difference in approach is admirably summed up by the two titles. The first plays it straight, trusting the audience to appreciate the irony. The second makes a crassly obvious joke which we could have done without. Another niggle is the shift in characterisation between the two episodes (no more latent homosexuality from Edmondson, instead he’s seduced by a woman). There are, nonetheless, pleasures along the way, notably Kerry Shale’s turn as a revolting American brat.

2.2. Dirty Movie 7 Jan 1984, C4 Sat 10.25pm (40 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson & Rik Mayall. Directed by Sandy Johnson
Featuring Coltrane, Edmonson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
A cinema owner plots to watch a dirty movie in his own cinema, and must avoid the attentions of his wife, the postman, and a pair of inept policemen.
Prototypical “Bottom” adventures with some excellent slapstick, a typically libidinous Mayall and a real feeling for pace which other Comic Strip films sometimes lack. Edmondson’s first encounter with the man without the letterbox approaches Laurel and Hardy for agonisingly creeping chaos.

2.3. Susie 14 Jan 1984, C4 Sat 10.30pm (40 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Alan Pellay
A lascivious schoolteacher screws her way through the Comic Strip men.
Rather dull entry which suffers from a need to give everyone a bit to do. The result is that I scarcely care who lives and who dies. It could be spoofing something, but I’ve no idea what.

2.4. Fistful Of Travellers Cheques 21 Jan 1984, C4 Sat 10.30pm (45 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens & Rik Mayall. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Christopher Malcolm
A pair of British tourists with dreams of spaghetti westerns act out their fantasies while on holiday in Mexico.
A central joke that is both immediately grasped and which sustains, aided by great performances. Not only that, but the ending is fantastic!

2.5 Gino – Full Story And Pics 28 Jan 1984, C4 Sat 10.30pm (40 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Bob Spiers
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Arnold Brown, Alan Pellay.
A petty criminal on the run from the police finds that his flight, accompanied by a young typist, gets him deeper and deeper into trouble as he becomes a media cause celebre.
Thoroughly entertaining romp which neatly solves the problem of giving each of the resident cast a bit to do by having the two central characters encounter each in turn. Thoroughly entertaining and blessedly coherent.

2.6. Eddie Monsoon – A Life? 4 Feb 1984, C4 Sat 10.30pm (35 mins)
Written by Adrian Edmondson. Directed by Sandy Johnson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Tony Bilbow
Alcoholic, drug-addled TV presenter Monsoon stumbles through an interview with a TV reporter while in a rehab clinic which takes “kill or cure” painfully literally.
Salvaged from a group-written script proposed for Series One, this is another triumph, with some marvellous gags (French’s bone-snapping nurse) and (rather atypically!) a wonderful performance from Richardson as Monsoon’s agent in permanent denial.

2.7. Slags 11 Feb 1984, C4 Sat 10.35pm (40 mins)
Written by Jennifer Saunders. Directed by Sandy Johnson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Mark Arden, Lee Cornes, Steve Frost, Anthony Head, Emma Thompson
In a futuristic wasteland, gang leaders Passion and Little Sister, recently released from prison, try to reclaim their turf.
Boring, incomprehensible nonsense which I skipped over after the first five minutes. If I can bear it, I’ll watch it to the end and see if it gets any better.

Part two will follow shortly…