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The Fast Show

The Fast Show, known as Brilliant in the US, was a BBC comedy sketch show programme that ran for three series from 1994 to 1997 with a special Last Fast Show Ever in 2000. The show's central performers were Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Simon Day, Mark Williams, John Thomson, Arabella Weir and Caroline Aherne (1994–1997). Other significant cast members included Paul Shearer, Felix Dexter, Rhys Thomas, Jeff Harding and Donna Ewin.

The show produced two national tours, the first in 1998 with the cast of the BBC spoof quiz show Shooting Stars and the second being their 'Farewell Tour' in 2002. The Fast Show was loosely structured and relied on character comedy, long-running gags, and many catchphrases, which influenced shows such as The Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain.

It was one of the most popular sketch shows of the 1990s and had a long-lasting impact upon British popular culture. The show has been released on video, DVD and audio CD. Some of its characters, Ron Manager, Ted and Ralph, Swiss Toni and Billy Bleach have had their own spin-off programmes.

Style and content

The series was the brain child of Paul Whitehouse and his writing partner and friend, Charlie Higson. They wanted to break away from Harry Enfield and Chums, a show in which they had appeared in and written for. After viewing a quick press preview tape of Enfield's show, compiled by producer friend Geoffrey Perkins, the pair began to develop the idea of a rapid-fire 'MTV generation' format based wholly on quick cuts and soundbites/catchphrases. In this they were clearly indebted to Fast Forward, that had appeared five years earlier in Australia. After LWT passed on the early scripts, they returned to the BBC.

The Fast Show was a working title disliked by both Whitehouse and Higson that went unchanged through production and eventually remained as the final title.

The first series introduced the characters Ted and Ralph, 'Unlucky' Alf, Ron Manager, The Suit You Tailors, Arthur Atkinson, Bob Fleming and many others, who, despite their sketchy and gritty beginnings, became 'cult characters' cherished all around the world.

Amongst the writers of the show were: the major cast (who appeared as the characters they had written) and contemporary comedy writers such as Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (best remembered for the sitcom Father Ted starring Dermot Morgan), Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer and Craig Cash (of The Royle Family).

Perhaps the success of The Fast Show was due to the public being able to associate the characters as caricatures of people from day-to-day life and their suitable catchphrases.

Some of the most popular characters in the show appeared to be those who were often present but never had any 'official' name, being tightly written to give their catchphrase/punchline and end the sketch. Prime examples include "Does Anyone Fancy a Pint?" played by Whitehouse, "You Ain't Seen Me, Right!" and "I'll Get My Coat", played by Williams, and "Ha!" an elderly woman played by Weir.

Other long-standing running jokes in the programme included: "Cheesy Peas" in various different forms, shapes and flavours, in satirical adverts presented by a twangy, Northern lad (Paul Whitehouse) who claims, "They're good for your teas!" The fascination with Jesus Christ was another popular group of sketches where various characters would end the sketch with the exclamation "He died for all our sins, didn't he?" or something similar, and most controversially, "We're from the Isle of Man", featuring a stereotype of weird, surreal, townfolk in a setting portrayed as an abjectly impoverished and desolate cultural wasteland.

Many of the characters were parodies of well-known personalities: indeed, Louis Balfour (of the Jazz Club) is very much like Bob Harris of The Old Grey Whistle Test, Ron Manager appears to most closely resemble football pundit Trevor Brooking — although the parodic intent of the character is broader, and portrays how often football pundits have little to say of any real substance, and will sometimes waffle. While Ron may resemble Trevor Brooking, he was said by Paul Whitehouse to be based on ex-Luton Town & Fulham manager Alec Stock Arthur Atkinson is a parody of Arthur Askey, and Lord Ralph Mayhew is said to be based on film director John Boorman.

The show ended in 2000, with a three-part "Last Ever" show, after three series and a Christmas special.

The theme tune was "Release Me" a song which became a hit for pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck, originally represented in the opening credits by Whitehouse in the guise of abnormally transfiguring singer Kenny Valentine. In the several series that followed, the tune only appeared in the closing credits.

Major characters

The show featured many characters. Many of the smaller and less significant are listed at Fast Show characters. Some of the more prominent are:

  • 'Unlucky' Alf, the lonely old pensioner for whom nothing ever goes right. His hook is his resigned "Oh bugger!" as something terrible happens. He often predicts a bad event that is quite obvious, only to find something else occurs as he tries to avoid the first problem. (Paul Whitehouse, all series)
  • Anyone fancy a pint? A man (Whitehouse) who is featured in increasingly boring or bizarre situations, such as a dinner party where a woman is talking about how she was abandoned as a child and crying about everyone letting her down. Whitehouse then interrupts at the most insensitive moment asking "anyone fancy a pint?", before he and most of the men in the room leave.
  • Archie the pub bore. Talks to people in the pub, and when they mention their profession, no matter what it is and however unlikely , he always claims to have had the same profession ("I used to be a single mother myself"), saying that it is the 'hardest game in the world. Thirty years, man and boy!' He has an obsession with Frank Sinatra, almost invariably steering the conversation towards the singer, before mentioning how he and his friend Stan fared on a recent fishing trip. (Whitehouse, series 3)
  • Arthur Atkinson, parody of 1940s music hall entertainers such as Max Miller and Arthur Askey, played by Paul Whitehouse, introduced by Tommy Cockles (Simon Day), himself a parody of presenters of TV history, especially Denis Norden (Whitehouse, all series)
  • Billy Bleach, tousle-mopped, interfering pub know-it-all who gets it all wrong, usually ending up with others losing money (This character starred in his own series, Grass which was shown on BBC Three, later shown on BBC Two.) (Day, all series)
  • Bob Fleming, the ageing incompetent host of Country Matters, who has an extremely bad cough (Higson, all series)
  • Brilliant Kid, a parody of British children's TV presenters who walks through a series of peculiar backgrounds describing various innocuous, everyday things as 'brilliant!' (Whitehouse, all series)
  • Carl Hooper, Australian presenter of That's Amazing, a spoof of pop-science shows. Normally the person on his show was trying to pass-off an everyday animal or object as something magical. The one occasion where a guest had a truly amazing story to tell was unbroadcastable due to the guest's inability to refrain from swearing excitedly while relating the tale (Day, all series)
  • Chanel 9, a mock Mediterranean television channel with low production values based on a combination of cultural clichés and made-up languages (mostly pseudo Spanish, Greek, and Egyptian, with the odd, random French, Italian and even English sounding words thrown in for humorous effect). (Various, all series)
  • Chris the Crafty Cockney, claims to be an incurable kleptomaniac ("I'll nick anything, me"). He is left alone with something valuable and invariably steals it. Because of how up-front he is of his thieving nature, other people tend to believe he's joking. (Whitehouse, series 2–3)
  • Colin Hunt, unfunny and irritating office joker whose name gives an indication of his personality (Higson, series 2–3)
  • Competitive Dad, who is overcritical and demanding of his kids, and always has to get one up on them. (Day, series 2–3)
  • Dave Angel, Eco-Warrior, who is into saving the planet (his somewhat dubious methodology invariably undermined by his wife's behaviour), Mike Oldfield records, and swinging. A parody of a late-night magazine programme presented by Mike Reid. "Moonlight Shadow" by Mike Oldfield is used as the theme tune to sketches featuring the character (Day, series 3)
  • Deaf Stuntman, a TV and film stuntman who, because of his hearing problems, always mishears his instructions and proceeds to carry them out wrongly before anyone can stop him, much to the despair of the film crew. (Thomson)
  • Professor Denzil Dexter of the University of Southern California and his various bizarre scientific experiments, long-haired and highly laid-back (Thomson, series 1–2)
  • The 13th Duke of Wybourne, posh, rumpled dinner-jacketed, lecherous cigar smoker, reminisces about finding himself in wholly unsuitable places considering his 'reputation' (Whitehouse, series 3)
  • Ed Winchester, an American reporter. He beams at the camera and says "Hi! I'm Ed Winchester!" in a very upbeat voice, before the camera cuts to another scene. (Jeff Harding).
  • Gideon Soames, white-haired, posh-talking architecture and history professor. (Day series 2-3)
  • I'll Get Me Coat, a socially challenged Brummie, who is unable to maintain a conversation with appropriate answers, and therefore disgraces himself with a faux pas before using the punchline and leaving (Williams, all series)
  • Insecure Woman, who appears in a variety of different locations, sometimes bizarrely exclaiming, "Does my bum look big in this?" (Weir, all series)
  • Jesse a verbally challenged country bumpkin who exclaims his strange diets, fashion tastes and experiments, usually in the form of "This week, I 'ave been mostly..." (Williams, series 2–3)
  • John Actor, who plays Inspector Monkfish, the tough uncompromising cop who often exclaims to the nearest woman, "Put your knickers on and get me a cup of tea!" (Day, series 2–3). Loosely based on the BBC series Dangerfield. Sometime between the end of series 3 and the last episode John Actor died.
  • Johnny Nice Painter, who is painting a scene and describing all the colours. Whenever he mentions the colour 'black', however, he becomes more and more depressed eventually going somewhat insane and shouting wildly about the despair of mankind (Higson, series 3)
  • Ken and Kenneth, the camp "Suit you!" tailors who bombard potential customers with sexually explicit innuendo about their private life, (Whitehouse and Williams, all series)
  • Louis Balfour, pretentious and ultra laid-back presenter of Jazz Club (a parody of The Old Grey Whistle Test), based on a blend of Bob Harris and Roger Moore. Seemingly having done his 'research', he introduces his guests by comparing them to avant garde jazz musicians or describing their style/technique by using complex musical phraseology. These guests usually turn out to be utterly talentless 'experimentalists', much to his bemusement. (Thomson, series 2–3).
  • No Offence, a rude, orange-faced South African department store cosmetics saleswoman who has no qualms about informing women of their physical imperfections, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she looks like a dried-out old orange herself. (Weir, series 3)
  • "Our" Janine Carr, teenage mum with a unique world outlook. She refuses to reveal who the father of her baby is because "it's not fair to grass on your headmaster" (Aherne, series 1–2)
  • The Offroaders, Simon and Lindsey, despite their unusually high confidence and esteem, are useless at their profession ("sorted!", "gripped!"). (Higson and Whitehouse, all series)
  • Patrick Nice, a man who recounts various fantastical and special experiences (discovering the original copy of the Bible, finding out he is a direct descendant of Kubla Khan, etc.), followed by his catchphrase, "Which was nice." (Williams, series 2–3)
  • Ron Manager, nonsense-talking football pundit. Doesn't actually know very much about football, based on Ex Luton Town Manager, Alex Stock. (Whitehouse, all series)
  • Rowley Birkin QC, a retired barrister, tells mostly unintelligible stories at the fireside. Occasionally, his speech becomes coherent for a short while, containing strange phrases such as "The whole thing was made completely out of matchsticks" or "Snake! Snake!". Almost always ends his stories with "I'm afraid I was very, very drunk!" (Whitehouse, series 2–3). The character is reprised as a working barrister in the spin-off feature Ted and Ralph. Whitehouse revealed on the UK chatshow Parkinson that the idea for the character came from someone he met in Iceland.
  • Roy & Renée, endless chattering from Renée and her verbally-challenged and submissive husband Roy, who is expected to meekly agree with everything she says. (Thompson and Aherne, series 1–2)
  • Swiss Toni, a car salesman who compares everything to seducing and making love to a beautiful woman, usually in the presence of his bemused trainee. (Higson, series 3)
  • Ted & Ralph - country squire Lord Ralph Mayhew attempts to strike-up an intimate relationship with his introverted Irish estate worker Ted, by way of subtle romantic/erotic subtexts in his conversations with him (Whitehouse and Higson, all series). This was also the title of a one-off, hour-long spin-off feature, reprising the characters, with cameos from a few other characters as well.

Trivia

  • A great favourite of Johnny Depp who appeared in a sketch with the "Suit You" tailors ("An American Gentleman") in The Last Fast Show Ever, screened in three parts over Christmas 2000. In a deleted scene on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" DVD, Depp uses the "I'll get me coat" catchphrase. Depp uses another catchphrase within the movie when he is telling the two guards a story while trying to steal the ship. Elizabeth Turner has just fallen off the ledge and we see a shot of Depp's character telling the two guards a presumable story and the scene switches just in time to hear Jack Sparrow say "...And then they made me their chief" as Elizabeth hits the water in the background.
  • Aherne appeared in the first three series but not the final episode of series three nor The Last Fast Show Ever, presumably because of her commitment to the BBC sitcom The Royle Family.
  • When the programme was shown on BBC America it was renamed 'Brilliant' to avoid confusion with an American programme of the same name.
  • Simon Day claimed to have based the character of Competitive Dad on a man he once saw at a public swimming pool, who challenged his two young children to a race and then swam away at top speed, leaving them struggling at the other end.
  • Amy Winehouse made an appearance as an extra in one of the Competitive Dad sketches, as a character in a school play.
  • Arabella Weir later turned Insecure Woman into Jackie Payne, heroine of her novel Does My Bum Look Big In This?
  • Fast Show catchphrases are referenced in at least two episodes of the BBC TV children's show, Tweenies. In one episode, after Jake has told Fizz a joke that falls embarrassingly flat, he sheepishly says "I'll get my coat." In another episode, as the Tweenies are singing a song, Milo speaks an aside to camera à la Louis Balfour: "Good enough for jazz - NICE!"
  • Many Fast Show characters have appeared in adverts: Ken and Kenneth, Jesse, Chanel 9 and The Unpronounceables advertised the beer Holsten Pils; Rowley Birkin QC advertised British Gas; Brilliant Kid advertised Milk and a character probably based on Dave Angel played by Day advertises Powergen. Ken and Kenneth have also been used in an advert for "The Link."
  • Phrase "Thirty years, man and boy" was taken from the undertaker in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
  • An American journalist called Ed Winchester was part of NBC's team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. BBC reporter Jon Inverdale got him to say 'Hi, I'm Ed Winchester' during rowing coverage on 11th August.

Filming locations

Unusually for a sketch show, a significant proportion of The Fast Show was shot externally. During the early series much of this filming was done around the Tees Valley & Yorkshire Dales in the North-East of England. Locations include:

  • Darlington - 'The Running Family' were shown around various locations in the town centre, including The Cornmill Centre Darlington was the childhood home of Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) whose longterm comedy partner Bob Mortimer was one of the writers.
  • Richmond - The market place in Ted & Ralph's trip to the shops
  • Railway Street in Langley Park is used in 'Unlucky' Alf's scenes
  • Keld, North Yorkshire - The campsite used in a Dave Angel scene
  • Aske Hall - Background in early Ted & Ralph scenes
  • Scotch Corner - Garage used in Swiss Toni's early scenes
  • Hartlepool - One Unlucky Alf scene saw him sat in the empty Rink End Stand of Hartlepool United's ground, Victoria Park.
  • Middlesbrough - docks used in 'hard of hearing stuntman' scenes, scene on Transporter Bridge
  • Newcastle upon Tyne - including the 'Shore Leave' sketch, the scene where Chris the Crafty Cockney steals the woman's suitcases (shot in Newcastle Central station), and some of the Sir Geoffrey Norman MP sketches, such as the one where he is pulled over by a policeman for speeding and the one where he refuses to pay the taxi driver after getting out of the car (shot outside the main entrance to Newcastle Central station)
  • Ashington, Northumberland - at least one scene involving Unlucky Alf was filmed on Station Road, Ashington.
  • The Spanish City, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear - a number of scenes involving Brilliant Kid
  • Iceland Many scenes in the third season were filmed in Iceland. Scenes with Brilliant Kid and Billy Bleach were shot with volcanic landscapes, waterfalls and hot springs in the background.

Where are the cast now?

  • Paul Whitehouse has appeared in two successful sitcoms since the end of the show, voiced a character in the film Corpse Bride and appeared in the third Harry Potter film (although his role was cut). He also appeared in the BBC sketch show Ruddy Hell! It's Harry and Paul, starring alongside Harry Enfield once again.
  • Charlie Higson has continued to work as an award-winning author (having written a series of "Young Bond" spy novels), starred in the Fast Show spin-off sitcom Swiss Toni, and remains enthusiastic about the show's success.
  • Caroline Aherne has been reclusive. She quit the show after the third series, to move on to The Royle Family. She suffered with alcoholism in 2002 but returned to television comedy in October 2006, co-writing and starring in a one-off special episode of The Royle Family
  • Arabella Weir continues to appear on the show Grumpy Old Women. She has also written two novels.
  • Simon Day appears in Powergen adverts as a decidedly Dave Angel, Eco-Warrior-like character. He has also appeared in Fast Show spin-offs Grass (featuring Billy Bleach) and Swiss Toni. He has recently appeared with Paul Whitehouse in the comedy show Ruddy Hell! It's Harry and Paul.
  • John Thomson continues to appear on British television, including major roles in Blackpool and Cold Feet. He stated in October 2005 that he longed for a Fast Show movie.
  • Mark Williams is associated with his role of Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films. He continues to act and write his own material and has presented a documentary series titled Mark Williams' Big Bangs on the history of explosives, a follow-on to previous series Mark Williams on the Rails, and Industrial Revelations.

Down the Line

In 2006, Higson and Whitehouse produced and starred in Down the Line, a spoof phone-in show for BBC Radio 4. The show also featured many of the regular Fast Show cast, including Simon Day, Arabella Weir, Rhys Thomas and Felix Dexter. A second and a third series of Down the Line was broadcast in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

The future

Speaking on the BBC show Something for the Weekend on September 9, 2007, Higson said that a DVD box set collecting all the shows was being prepared and that a reunion of some sort to help promote it was being considered. This took place at The Dominion Theatre in London on Sunday 4th November, and was a collection of some new sketches, videos of cast favourites and performances of classic sketches (including the return of Ed Winchester). An announcement was made on stage by Charlie Higson that the cast had signed with the BBC for a new series of 'The Fast Show', but this was an elaborate set-up for a sketch featuring Unlucky Alf; the claim was withdrawn at the end of the evening by Higson. In addition he and Whitehouse were working on a film script which would feature the Fast Show team, but wouldn't have any of the characters from the show.

DVDs

Numerous Fast Show DVDs are available including :

  • The Fast Show : Series 1 (includes cast interviews with Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Arabella Weir and Mark Williams)
  • The Fast Show : Series 2
  • The Fast Show : Series 3 and 1996 Christmas Special
  • The Fast Show : The Last Fast Show Ever, Part One
  • The Fast Show Farewell Tour (Live)
  • A 7 DVD box set, The Ultimate Fast Show Collection, was released in the UK on November 5, 2007 compiling all their material.

You Ain't Seen These, Right!

You Ain't Seen These, Right! was a one-off programme featuring various sketches which were filmed but did not make it onto the final show. Some of these were:

  • An ensemble series of sketches made by the whole male team, as members of a golf club, in which Charlie Higson's character was dating a beautiful young woman. The rest of the team are initially dismissive of him as a sad old man, but cannot help gawping over her, until Paul Whitehouse's character blurts out to her similarly young and attractive friend "Can I come on your tits?"
  • A chain-smoking car driver played by Mark Williams who rants about anything and everything through his wound-down window. A study of road rage. "Shoe shop?! Shoe Shop?!"
  • A mediaeval king played by Simon Day, who 'loves being king' because he gets to boss everyone about.
  • A middle aged man, played by John Thomson, who always finds an excuse to leave the room as soon as the conversation gets round to "women's things."
  • A Paul Whitehouse character who responds to almost every question, accusation and situation with the phrase "Sorry, but i was up all night, shagging."

These sketches are included in the UK edition of the boxed VHS videotape set of Series 3.

References

External links

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