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Tube Talk Gold: 'The Fast Show'

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Since the 1960s and 1970s, we Brits have been pretty darn great at sketch comedy. From the brilliance and silliness of Monty Python, to the downright classics from The Two Ronnies, A Bit of Fry and Laurie or Not the Nine O'Clock News.

But with the 1990s, came a different style of humour. Almost an alternative to the alternative comedy of the 1980s. The king of this new breed was no doubt The Fast Show and its cast of hundreds of colourful characters.

The Fast Show - Ted and Ralph
The Fast Show: Swiss Toni


So, put on your best Ed Winchester voice, try not to mention the word 'black' and find out why watching The Fast Show was a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. Brilliant!

The Fast Show: Originally broadcast from 1994 to 2000, online specials in 2011

The Fast Show was a programme that seemed to come and go in a flash in the mid-1990s. But, over the course of three series and a three-part farewell special, it helped create hundreds of quotable moments in many pub discussions over the past decade or so.

Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson had previously worked together on shows for Vic & Bob and Harry Enfield in the early 1990s, and became inspired after watching a speedily-edited highlights reel of Enfield's sketches, and began developing an idea for a quick-paced show based on fast cuts and catchphrases.

The pair soon joined forces with a unique group of writers to come up with the huge amount of scenes and characters that would fill half an hour each episode. These included Reeves, Mortimer, Del Amitri member David Cummings, The Royle Family's Craig Cash, Father Ted's Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews and Philip Pope of Radio Active.

The reunited 'Fast Show' cast

© PA Images / Matt Crossick

Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson share a joke

© PA Images / Matt Crossick



Other writers would also turn into on-screen talent, and world later become some of the most instantly recognisable characters in British comedy. Higson and Whitehouse were joined by Simon Day, Mark Williams, Caroline Aherne, Paul Shearer, Arabella Weir and John Thomson to create a truly talented group of stars.

The show worked well as it had a large group of characters and situations, most of which had catchphrases or running gags. Sometimes, the use of too many famous lines can become repetitive and lose its comedy. Somehow though, The Fast Show never suffered from this issue.

Even though you knew Unlucky Alf was going to say "bugger" or a long drawn out incredible discovery would be met with "... which was nice", this was all part of the show's charm. It was all down to the set up of its repeated jokes or phrases. It is still difficult not to laugh when Dave Angel walks down the road to Mike Oldfield's 'Moonlight Shadow', despite it happening in almost every episode.



The show was also very clever in chucking in a running gag when you weren't expecting it. Either Whitehouse would ask "does anyone fancy a pint?", Billy Bleach would inform somebody that "someone's sitting there, mate" or Mark Williams would "get [his] coat" in scenarios which looked as if they were heading somewhere completely different.



Among the show's running characters and sketches include That's Amazing host Carl Hooper having to deal with terrible guests, Channel 9's broadcast from Spain with its nonsensical mentions of Chris Waddle, Jesse's obscure diet regimes ("This week I have been mostly eating taramasalata"), Johnny Nice Painter fighting crazy childhood demons involving pies and clams when hearing the word 'black', Jazz Club's Bob Harris-style line-up of "niiiiice" bands, and Competitive Dad's terrible treatment of his sons ("That's 26 of The Queen's runs").



In fact, each running gag deserves its own paragraph, but sadly we'd be here for a long while. Other honourable mentions go to coughing Bob Fleming, the 'Brilliant' kid, Chris the Crafty Cockney, office joker Colin Hunt, Professor Denzil Dexter, the 13th duke of Wybourne ("Me? Here? With My Reputation?"), Ken and Kenneth ("Suits you, sir"), Simon and Lindsey the offroaders ("Gripped! Sorted!"), the rambling hiker getting terrorised by a man with owl warnings and smooth talking Swiss Toni. And there's still loads more after that.



Then there were the just outright silly and weird but memorable bits. Personal favourites include several people suddenly having a quiet orgasm ("I'm terribly sorry, I've just cum"), the family running late for something or another with the dad shouting "QUICK!", or Jack Pott and Tom Bowler.



The Fast Show caught the imagination of the public as it took on the style of possibly the greatest ever sketch show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, but gave it an updated 1990s twist. While previous sketch shows would probably only have a handful of scenes, The Fast Show would often have up to 30 or so segments in one episode, even in the credits.

It also didn't follow any set structure, as it didn't need any. Some sketches would last a few minutes, others may only be on screen for five seconds, but both could be equally as funny.

The show was also genuinely all killer and no filler. There were hardly any sketches that were not funny, or felt boring or tired. Recent similar sketch shows suffer from the 'hit and miss' problem, whereby some scenes are downright hilarious, while others fall flat and it's hard to even raise a smile. The Fast Show is a constant laugh ride from start to finish. Even the long-winded scenes with the "very, very drunk" Rowley Birkin QC or Archie and his "hardest game in the world" stories provided a giggle.

It's also hard to think of another sketch show that, at times, had genuinely moving moments. Ted and Ralph in particular shared scenes in which the young lord harboured strong romantic feelings for his Irish worker. While it was already a hilarious story in itself, with its erotic undertones and Ralph's attempts to find a way to ask Ted out, it later almost became a classic modern love story.

One of their most lovely scenes was when the two sat by the fire at Christmas, with Ralph trying his best to let Ted know what he means to him, and Ted finally manages to break a smile.



There was even a surprisingly moving clip with veteran football pundit Ron Manager, who describes the beautiful game in his own rambling unique way. You're expecting a silly punchline any second, but when none arrives, you realise it was just a genuinely pleasant explanation of why he loves the game, and could easily have been used for a TV advert.



The Fast Show came to an end with its 'Last Show Ever' three-parter in 2000, including several of its characters seemingly getting killed off, and even fanboy Johnny Depp making an appearance. There have been spin-offs since including a one-off Ted and Ralph show, and the Swiss Toni and Grass sitcoms.

But thankfully, last year it returned for an online series of specials through Foster's. While it was a shame that Mark Williams was not involved, the rest of the gang were there, and it proved a decent success. Highlights included Monkfish making his mark on a crappy BBC ripoff of Downton Abbey, Ralph punching the air when Ted accepts his invite to see Elton John and Louis Balfour placing on a nicotine patch in the Jazz Club due to the smoking ban since the last series.



The new sketches proved that they could still be relevant and brought forward to the modern day, and showed that the team's writing was still top notch and hadn't become dated, which has been the case with other returning shows or films in recent times. John Thomson and Simon Day have said that they are hoping it will return in some form.

The Fast Show has been hugely influential on British comedy shows that have followed. Among them include Matt Lucas and David Walliams's Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show and the criminally underrated Man Stroke Woman.

While there haven't been any official plans for any new Fast Show episodes, online or on TV, there would definitely be a big and loyal audience for it, should it return with everybody on board.

For now though, let's enjoy one more clip of what made this show grrrreat.

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