Big Train is a surreal British television comedy sketch show created by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, writers of the successful sitcom Father Ted. It was first broadcast in 1998 with a second series, in which Linehan was not involved, shown in 2002.
Following in the tradition of Monty Python
, the comedy of Big Train
is based on the subversion of ordinary situations by the surreal or macabre. For example, one scene
features a bad-mannered man casually stabbed to death by his embarrassed wife at a dinner party
. The series is probably most famous for a recurring sketch from the first series, a stare-out
competition accompanied by commentary from BBC football
commentator Barry Davies
and Phil Cornwell
. The stare-out competition was based on a comic book
by Paul Hatcher
and was animated by Chris Shepherd
Despite running for two series, Big Train attracted only a limited audience. Even so, the first series was voted "Best 'Broken Comedy' Show" at the prestigious British Comedy Awards in 1999. Both series were released on DVD on 25 October 2004.
Its stars included Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, and Simon Pegg in both series one and two, with Julia Davis, and Amelia Bullmore in the first series, and Rebecca Front, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Catherine Tate in the second series. All its lead actors have starred in a variety of other comedy shows including I'm Alan Partridge, Look Around You, Spaced, Smack the Pony and Brass Eye. Catherine Tate went on to get her own show on the BBC, The Catherine Tate Show. The first series was directed by Graham Linehan and other series contributors included David Mitchell.
The pilot episode was directed by Chris Morris but was never broadcast in full. Some sketches from the pilot are scattered through the series.
Although a sketch about a train being pushed by a giant appeared in the first series, the actual title of the show is derived from the song run during the credits, of which the writers were fond enough to name the show after it. The song "Big Train" was recorded by Max Greger and his Orchestra. This has since been adopted for a commercial by Virgin Trains.
Both series were shot entirely on location (series one on 35mm film and series two on DigiBeta) and later shown to a live audience so that a laugh track could be recorded.
- Some hypnotherapists fail to cure a person of their smoking habit, and in desperation bring in The Evil Hypnotist (Eldon), a sinister-looking man wearing black top hat and cape. He asks, good-naturedly, "You do know I'm an evil hypnotist?", and then treats the person by sending them into a trance like sleep. When the person wakes up and proves to have been cured, he cackles "It worked, it worked, mwahahahahaha!!", and his colleagues thank him for his help, which he accepts mildly.
- A behind-the-scenes look at the life of an intergalactic tyrant modelled on Ming the Merciless, as he spends his morning watching TV, hoovering his house and listening to his answering machine. At one point, one of his minions comes to the door informing him that a rebel prince has just been captured. The tyrant tells him to "throw him into the pit of ice" before carrying on with his hoovering.
- Two monks dupe another monk into thinking one of them has been killed. When the duped monk is theorizing in full flow ("Death stalks these relics...etc") the "dead" monk in the background and the other monk burst out laughing, revealing their practical joke. The duped monk reacts with surprise, embarrassment and very mild annoyance. This was repeated in the second series, when two scientists dupe a co-worker into thinking they haven't found a cure for a lethal virus. Just as he starts to go into full-blown melodramatics ("May God have mercy on our souls, we have created a bastard chimera...") one of the joking scientists says "It has worked, really!" Again, the duped man is amused but embarrassed, but this time visibly relieved.
- Jesus is the manager of an office who has a heated argument with Satan, one of his workers, over his irresponsibility, his constant practical joking and bad attitude. Jesus eventually decides that he'll have to give Satan the sack, but insists he will "write him a reference, but obviously it isn't going to be a glowing report."
- In order to save their company from a buyout, one of the employees tries to distract a manager by dressing up in a paper bra and panties and doing a dance.
- The Beatles' producer George Martin, despite getting kidnapped by extremists, imprisoned and held hostage, never stops waxing lyrical about working with the Beatles. This eventually drives his fellow prisoner to try and throttle him.
- An English tourist in France asks a local for directions in English. In perfect English, the local replies that he can't actually speak English. Another man comes along and, also in perfect English, confesses to not being able to speak a word of the language. She tries to speak to them in German, only for them to confess, in German, to being unable to speak German.
- A new office manager introduces himself to his workforce. He is friendly and easygoing, but tells them he has a morbid fear of spoons. The meeting is about to continue when another unaware worker walks in with a spoon he'd just used to stir his tea. The office manager then jumps out of the nearby window to his death.
- A man being stalked by a tin man
- A manager informs his outraged staff that "wanking" is to be banned from their office, as it is becoming a problem.
- A recurring series of sketches places musical icons from the 1970's and 1980's in bizarre situations. For example:
Big Train originally aired on BBC2 on Monday nights during the following periods:
The Complete Series 1 and 2 has been released in the US and the UK.