Barking (Channel 4, 1998)
25 actors… 135 sketches… 58 locations. These were the statistics for Barking, a late-night Channel 4 comedy sketch show. I don’t remember this show from first time round, but there were a few reasons why I was interested in seeing it. Firstly, Barking was written by and starred a lot of up-and-coming comedy talent who have since gone on to much bigger things.
The cast included such now famous names as Mackenzie Crook, David Walliams, Catherine Tate, Dave “Come Dine With Me” Lamb, world-champion Queen fan Rhys Thomas, Marcus Brigstocke and Peter Kay. It could be argued that because of some of the cast’s further success Barking only ended up being released on DVD as a cash-in (a cash-in DVD featuring Peter Kay? surely not) although it could be argued that it’s extra cheeky as Kay actually only appears in one of the six editions.
There were some regular characters that appeared in Barking. These included Crook as a rude school teacher, Walliams playing a royal family fan (and the acting style that he would go on to use in Little Britain already seems to be well developed here), Brigstocke as a crazed airline pilot, and a couple who seemed to be somewhat obsessed with their model town what they have made.
Like with most sketch shows the content of Barking is rather wide-ranging, with some ideas working better than others, and it could be argued that the cast is a little too large for it to all fit together rather neatly, but getting new talent on TV is something that should be encouraged and it’s a shame that Channel 4 don’t seem interested in developing sketch shows any more, but although they probably have long since forgotten it a lot of comic talent got to where they are today partly because of Barking.
But the main reason that I really wanted to see Barking for myself is because one of the sketches was sampled on a song that I really like. “I Don’t Smoke” by DJ Dee Kline was a dance song which peaked at Number 11 on the UK Singles Chart in May 2000. It samples the dialogue of a sketch with Marcus Brigstocke playing the airline pilot which goes “Do you smoke, Paul?” “No I don’t.” “Me neither. I don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t smoke cigars, I don’t smoke a pipe… I don’t smoke the reefer!“.
In more recent years Brigstocke spoke in an interview about the sample and said that he was “delighted and mortified at the same time”. (Also interestingly, “I Don’t Smoke” was performed on Top Of The Pops, but it was only shown on the late-night repeat because of the lyrical content.) To finally see this sketch in its original context was terrific and the song is arguably the biggest legacy for Barking as Brigstocke unexpectedly became a pop star and part of the pioneering UK Garage scene that was huge at the time. Now how many other comedy shows can boast such an influence.