50 Greatest Comedy Sketches, Channel 4

by | Apr 3, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say of you liked it

A wonderful showcase of the best sketches which have mirthfully written more lines on the faces of successive generations than a naughty schoolboy has been forced to scribble in his text book.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Pandering piously to the contemporary caprices of the 21st century, this fragmented folly of fluctuating flatulence demonstrated perfectly why, barely a month before the country elects either Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee, democracy isn’t a flawless concept.

What was good about it?

• Smashey and Nicey’s exile to Radio Quiet and their wonderful inanity (“Tuesday! One of the best between Monday and Wednesday-type days!”).

• Most of the talking heads were nominees themselves (eg John Cleese, Michael Palin, David Walliams, Steve Punt, Matt Lucas and Graham Linehan) which meant, for the first time in recorded history, Paul Ross was denied the chance to air his opinions on something he knows little about.

• John Cleese considering the sketches with a deadpan humour, at odds with many of the gushing tributes. On the Pythons’ Manic Barber/Lumberjack Song he mused: “Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote it in about 20 minutes,” before sneering, “I would’ve guessed 10.” And also complaining about the Ministry of Silly Walks, which he found harder to perform the older he got.

• Tom Baker’s commentary: “If you can remember the 60s you are very dull or one of these bastards,” as the Daleks appeared on the screen.

• The Day Today sketches have retained all their humour from the fledging Alan Partridge, falling apart as he interviews a jockey while she gets changed, to the brilliantly droll documentary about the swimming pool (“In 1977, no one died. In 1978, no one died. In 1979, no one died. In 1980, someone died.”)

• It was good to see little gems from otherwise ignored shows like Stoneybridge’s Olympic bid from Absolutely and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince stalking jockeys for prey in the African savannah from Big Train.

• Harry Enfield’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner sketches, especially those that mocked pre-war attitudes to the role of women in society. (“Over-education for the woman leads to ugliness, premature aging and beard growth! Women, know your place!”).

• The Two Ronnies’ Mastermind piece in which Ronnie Corbett answers the question before last proving that comedians don’t need to resort to bad taste to create marvellously witty sketches.

• Reeves and Mortimer’s Masterchef where a deathly wan gas-balloon headed Loyd Grossman (Reeves) floated across the studio to taste the meals of the contestants.

• The way in which some contributors weren’t too polite to say they loathed other shows (as long as it was Bo’Selecta). Graham Linehan remarked: “I hate Bo’Selecta”, while Arabella Weir called it “trash”.

• Discovering that Little Britain’s Dafydd was partly honed through using Brian Dowling’s bitchiness when Josh arrived in the house ensuring he was no longer “the only gay in Big Brother”.

• How a great proportion of the characters in the sketches are almost complete doppelgangers of real people such as The League of Gentlemen’s Papa Lazarou, the Suit You tailors and Smashey and Nicey.

• The snippets from Brass Eye with Dr Fox claiming: “There’s no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact.” And Good Aids/Bad Aids where the Kilroy-esque host of a discussion show loses all sympathy for an Aids sufferer after discovering he contracted it through unprotected sex rather than a blood transfusion.

What was bad about it?

• Tony Blackburn claiming he only adopted the caustic mannerisms of Smashey and Nicey after he’d seen the sketches, which is rather like Rik Waller claiming he was Skinny Simon of Shrewsbury before appearing on Fit Club.

• Noddy Holder bemoaning the pathetic students who still follow him around supermarkets to see if he buys Cup-A-Soups like his decade old Reeves and Mortimer caricature.

• Some sketches had decayed in humour more than others; the pandas insulting Japanese tourists in Who Dares Wins being one of the worst.

• The descent many of the comedians have made from being arch-anarchists to staid figures of the establishment such as David Frost and Tony Robinson.

• As the sketches were only shown in a disjointed form much of the humour was lost; this was felt most keenly with Pete and Dud who relied on a steady crescendo of momentum.

• Many of the sketches seemed to be selected for being memorable rather than funny (or perhaps because they are so memorable they have lost their hilarity through over-familiarity) such as Spitting Image’s Margaret Thatcher and her vegetable cabinet, Monty Python’s Dead Parrott sketch and Going For An English from Goodness Gracious Me.

• The pallid effort to signify Absolutely’s apparently parochial audience (ie everywhere but London) by soundtracking them with the Proclaimers’ sickeningly Scottish 500 Miles.

• Ian Hislop’s partisan views that the middle classes were responsible for the transformation of British comedy in the 1960s from mundane music hall to biting satire – another of those despicable myths from that oh-so-glorious era of human existence.

• The chart-topping sketch with Little Britain’s Andy diving into the swimming pool and Vicky Pollard at the swimming baths (No 4) are both very funny sketches, but only did so well because they are the flavour of the month. In much the same way as if this poll had been held four years ago, the Ted and Ralph drinking game would have been top instead of number nine. Still, it’s nowhere near as bad as the worst instance of this kind of thing which was when New Kids on the Block won Best Single of the 80s for The Right Stuff.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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