Shiny Shelf

Little Britain

By Eddie Robson on 09 February 2003

I would’ve given you my full assessment of the opening night of the BBC’s new channel, but I’ve only been able to watch the first couple of hours (simultaneously aired on BBC2) on account of the lacklustre manner in which digital television has been introduced in this country. It seems ridiculous that, with these new license-funded channels being launched and half the BBC programmes I want to watch being shunted onto them, that non-subscription receivers and TVs with digital receivers are only just coming onto the market, but there you go.

Anyway, ‘Little Britain’ is generally acknowledged to be by far the best thing airing in BBC3’s first week, and on this evidence I’ll be surprised if there’s anything better. It’s the pilot of Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ new sketch show: the pair previously collaborated on the superb ‘Rock Profiles’ and this is even better. It will inevitably draw comparisons with ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (there is a connection: Walliams made three sketches with the League’s Mark Gatiss for BBC2’s ‘Doctor Who’ theme night in 1999) and ‘The Fast Show’, but it’s far from being a re-tread of those. It’s heavily character-based and, whilst you could describe it as surreal, I’d say it was just joyfully silly. By no means does it aspire to make any sense whatsoever. Highlights include the only gay man in a small Welsh village and the man who walks into a shop asking for a ‘pirate memory game’ (when he finds that the only one in stock isn’t quite what he’s looking for, he says, ‘I’ll just wait then’ and stands, impassive, presumably forever).

There’s a lot of talent on display in this pilot: Graham Linehan of ‘Father Ted’ fame directs, Anthony Head (‘Buffy’) and Peter Serafinowicz (‘Look Around You’) make appearances, and the whole is loosely tied together with characteristically mad narration from Tom Baker (the ‘Who’ connection popping up again). However, it’s very much Lucas and Walliams in the limelight: Lucas’ comic talent is familiar from years as George Dawes on ‘Shooting Stars’, whilst Walliams is simply a marvellous actor (he was superb playing it straight in ‘Attachments’). This is undoubtedly the vehicle that will propel them into the A-list of British comic talent: shame there won’t be any more of it for a while, as the full series won’t air until autumn, apparently.

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By Eddie Robson

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