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Fast Show, The (1994-2000)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Fast Show, The (1994-2000)
BBC2, 27/1/1994-28/12/2000
22 x 30 min in 3 series, plus 5 specials, colour
DirectorsArch Dyson
 John Birkin
 Mark Mylod
 Sid Roberson
WritersPaul Whitehouse
 Charlie Higson

Cast: Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Mark Williams, John Thomson, Simon Day, Arabella Weir, Caroline Aherne

Show full cast and credits

Comedy sketch show featuring such characters as Ted & Ralph, Unlucky Alf, Swiss Toni, Rowley Birkin QC, Monkfish and many more.

Show full synopsis

The Fast Show hit British screens on 27 September 1994, and its rapid-fire approach quickly made other sketch shows seem slow and clumsy.

Creators Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson met at the University of East Anglia, and began their comedy careers as writers for friend Harry Enfield, and later Vic Reeves. Whitehouse became well-known to audiences as Enfield's co-star - notably as one half of ageing DJs Smashie and Nicey. Higson preferred to remain behind the scenes, although he enjoyed some success in the early 1980s in indie band The Higsons.

The show was often dismissed - even by its creators - as merely 'catchphrase comedy'. It certainly was that, and much of the pleasure of its sketches came from the repetition of favourite phrases. Fast Show lines like "Suit you, sir", "Does my bum look big in this?", "You ain't seen me, right?" and "I'll get me coat" soon turned up in everyday conversations anywhere from school playgrounds to sixth-form common rooms, and from factory floors to boardrooms.

But perhaps The Fast Show's greatest achievement was the way in which, despite the need for quick laughs (a target the show rarely failed to meet), its best characters developed over weeks and years. While some were, quite deliberately, paper-thin caricatures, others were exceptionally well-rounded.

Rowley Birkin (Whitehouse), was a pickled old ex-QC, endlessly mumbling incoherent yarns about his days as an adventurer in exotic foreign parts, and always ending in the line, "I'm afraid I was very, very drunk". But underneath his superficially happy reminiscences were glimpses of a profound sadness. Most touching of all were the awkward, stumbling attempts of country squire Ralph (Higson) to woo his embarrassed Irish farm labourer Ted (Whitehouse). In a Christmas special in 1988, the two even got a whole show to themselves.

Whitehouse and Higson had able support from an awesomely versatile team of co-stars, who also contributed to the writing. The mainstays were Arabella Weir, John Thomson (later of Cold Feet (ITV, 1998-), Caroline Aherne (who became a star in her own right as creator of The Mrs Merton Show (BBC, 1995-97) and The Royle Family (BBC, 1989-2000), Mark Williams and Simon Day. The team called it a day in December 2000, with a three-part Last Fast Show Ever.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Rowley Birkin QC (1:09)
2. Extra special (0:57)
3. Indecisive Dave (1:51)
4. Ted and Ralph (2:07)
5. ...Which was nice (0:10)
Complete episode (29:14)
Production stills
Big Train (1998-2002)
Aherne, Caroline (1963-)
Linehan, Graham (1968-)
Mathews, Arthur (1959-)
Whitehouse, Paul (1958-)