The Fast Show (BBC2, 1994-2000)
Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson had collaborated with Harry Enfield for many years on his various great comedy sketch shows, and when they went off to do one themselves it was easily as good as anything that Enfield created and The Fast Show went on to deservedly become one of the successful comedy shows of the 1990s.
The Fast Show (so called because, well, it was a show featuring fast-paced sketches) launched on BBC2 in 1994. I actually don’t remember seeing it the first time round but when I finally saw the first series in a repeat run about a year later I became a big fan right away. As well as Whitehouse and Higson there were lots of other great comic actors taking part. There were a huge amount of ideas and characters who featured over the series, and there were lots of memorable catchphrases. Of course because there were so many everyone will have their own individual favourites. It is difficult to know where to being but among my personal favourites are Unlucky Alf who is endlessly getting into mishaps, the man who always says “anyone fancy a pint”, Arthur Atkinson the wartime comedian, the young man who thinks that everything’s “brilliant”, the strange foreign TV parody Chanel 9, and the man after creating an awkward social situation always said “I’ll get me coat”.
But there were more. There were also Ken and Kenneth the rude tailors, Louis Balfour, the easy-going host of Jazz Club, the man who said about everything in his life whether it was good or bad “which was nice”, the old-fashioned football pundit Ron Manager, the rambling elderly Rowley Birkin, car salesman Swiss Toni, Ted and Ralph, the man who would appear and say “you ain’t seen me, right?”, and pub bore Billy Bleach who often turned in up strange places and say “someone’s sitting there, mate”. There were also plenty of one-offs and the theme song was “Release Me”.
The Fast Show originally ran for three series, and when the final series ended in 1997 it had become very popular with viewers and it wasn’t the end by many means. There was also a successful stage show which toured the country. There were also many spin-offs, with Ted and Ralph being given a feature-length extended show (which was written by the creators of Father Ted), and the Swiss Toni and Billy Bleach characters also getting their own sitcoms. There was even a game show spin-off on Sky1 which was Jumpers For Goalposts featuring the Ron Manager character among the panellists.
The Fast Show has also occasionally returned to the TV, with some characters appearing in adverts, most notably for Holsten Pils. There have also been some specials including some more episodes in 2000, and there was also a theme night which featured some previously unseen sketches, and a special show looking back at the best sketches. In more recent years there have been some more sketches made for YouTube which have been repeated on TV. All the episodes have also been released on DVD.
The Fast Show is definitely one of my favourite comedies of this era, with so many terrific characters and memorable catchphrases that still linger over two decades later when most shows who try to create sketches that will connect with viewers are long forgotten. In more recent years Paul Whitehouse has gone back to working with Harry Enfield, creating a double-act who have had more success with a new bunch of characters. Fantastic!