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Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988-91)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988-91)
BBC, 13/10/1988-7/11/1991
18x30 min episodes in 3 series
Producer/DirectorMarcus Mortimer
WritersAndrew Marshall
 David Renwick
 Alexei Sayle
 David Stafford
 Huw Thomas

Cast: Alexei Sayle, Angus Deayton, Tony Millan, Owen Brenman, Felicity Montagu, Jan Ravens, Harriet Thorpe, Arabella Weir, Mark Williams

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Surreal sketches and aggressively satirical monologues delivered in typically in-your-face style.

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Although Alexei Sayle had been widely recognised as one of the most important figures in the alternative comedy revolution of the early 1980s, making regular appearances on The Young Ones (BBC, 1982/84), adult TISWAS knock-off OTT (Central, 1982) and as part of The Comic Strip Presents... team (Channel 4, 1982-), it wasn't until the BBC commissioned Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988-91) that he had a television series based entirely around his own distinctive personality and worldview.

Despite Sayle's credentials as both a comedic and political revolutionary (he became a Maoist in his teens as it was the only way of moving to the left of his Communist parents), much of the series would have seemed reassuringly familiar to fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74) and Spike Milligan's Q (BBC, tx. 1969-80), consisting as they did of whimsically absurd sketches.

In these, social workers are blamed for their failure to prevent great historical outrages, a self defence class teaches how to disarm vicious skinheads with pointed Wildean quips, while a national emergency is created as Britain's film critics go on strike and the Army has to take over from the BBC's Barry Norman. Although hardly groundbreaking, the quality (and laughter) threshold was distinctly higher than average, and many of the performers went on to achieve stardom in their own right, notably Angus Deayton (Have I Got News For You, BBC, 1990-2002) and Arabella Weir and Mark Williams (The Fast Show, BBC, 1994-2000).

But what gave Alexei Sayle's Stuff a genuinely satirical edge were the links between the sketches, in which self-styled "fat bastard" Sayle, wearing a suit at least one size too small, would ride around on a moped while making cutting observations about contemporary political and social issues from a distinctly left-wing perspective. Although these were substantially toned down from the raw, foul-mouthed aggression of his live shows and late-night TV appearances, they were nonetheless near-the-knuckle enough to give the programme an edge of danger and unpredictability that the BBC hadn't consciously courted since The Young Ones, which also prominently featured Sayle.

Alexei Sayle's Stuff ran for three series before being replaced by the all-but-identical All New Alexei Sayle Show (BBC, 1994-5) and Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round (BBC, 1998), where Sayle's talent-spotting skills gave writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted, Channel 4, 1995-98) and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, 2004) some of their earliest credits.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Social services (2:27)
2. Mysterious ways (2:43)
3. Under the dryer (2:10)
4. Let's nick him (2:05)
Complete episode (30:11)
Title sequence (1:27)
Renwick, David (1951-)
Sayle, Alexei (1952-)
Alternative Comedy
TV Satire