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Bremner, Rory (1961-)

Actor, Writer, Presenter

Main image of Bremner, Rory (1961-)

Acutely aware of the mantra 'adapt or die', Rory Bremner habitually avoids the superficial. A supernaturally good mimic, his initial charm as a gentle parodist of Eighties celebrity has gradually been usurped by a political conscience.

Typically for an impressionist, he got the performing bug at an early age, growing up in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. At King's College, London, he appeared in numerous drama productions, infiltrated the cabaret circuit and performed to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival. BBC Radio producer Jennie Campbell, an early supporter, first engaged him on the satirical sketch show Week Ending (R4, 1970-98), although his knowledge of foreign languages had already found him radio work abroad. However, Week Ending was a natural home and there he met John Langdon, an industrious writer who became the right hand man on all his future projects.

1985 was a boom year, comprising a whirlwind tour of established shows. Chief amongst these was an appearance as The Commentators on Top of the Pops, performing his novelty hit 'N-n-nineteen Not Out'. It was a version of Paul Hardcastle's Vietnam song rewritten for cricket commentators, all expertly evoked by Bremner.

Now - Something Else (BBC2, 1986-7) was Bremner's first series for television. His trademark stand-up sets were established here, co-written with Langdon and performed in front of a studio audience. They bookended a vibrant mix of sketches, generally written and performed by the supporting cast. The series won Special Mention by the Montreux jury in 1987.

Rory Bremner's eponymous BBC2 series (1988-1992) saw a gradual shift in emphasis from light entertainment targets. This was partly due to the influence of script consultant John Wells, a veteran of the Sixties satire boom. Bremner had had growing fears about his place in the comic firmament. "I thought, 'Help. The next step is a gameshow.'" To avoid this, he began actively encouraging political content. The likes of John Bird, a new supporting player of Wells' generation, taught him "how to have a voice behind the voices." The real Rory Bremner seeped into his stand-up, offering opinion amidst the usual virtuoso parade. Completing the face-lift, his final two series with the BBC saw the introduction of Bird's long-term partner John Fortune, another seasoned satirist.

The trio moved to Channel 4, debuting with a 1993 New Year special. A series, Rory Bremner - Who Else..?, followed in the autumn and continued for five years. By adopting a journalistic approach, and employing Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell to sketch the original title sequence, early editions made deliberate nods to That Was The Week That Was (BBC, 1962-3). In its promotion, Bremner roundly criticised 'soundbite satire' - Have I Got News For You (BBC2, 1990- ), Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-96) - for reducing topical comedy to personal jibes. His bold opposition to triviality has borne fruit, with Bremner, Bird & Fortune (C4, 1999- ) continuing the weighty work in peak-time.

Amongst his contemporaries, Bremner holds a unique position. Most new performers toil for years before stardom beckons, yet in his case it was virtually overnight. Mike Yarwood's fading after Margaret Thatcher's 1979 election win acted as a cautionary tale for Bremner, who recognised the need to be one step ahead, and so the provision of a space to develop his political voice was vital. Undoubtedly a survivor, what continues to mark Bremner out from Alistair McGowan and the Dead Ringers team is his ability to do far more than simply "get the spectacles right."

Ian Greaves

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Thumbnail image of Bremner, Bird and Fortune (1999-)Bremner, Bird and Fortune (1999-)

Impressions and sharp satire from Rory Bremner and the Two Johns

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