S And M (Channel 4, 1991)
When the improvised comedy panel game Whose Line Is It Anyway came to Channel 4 in the late-80s, it quickly became a big success and made stars of many of its participants, so unsurprisingly the opportunity was taken to give them various spin-off series where they could show off their talents even more. Among these were Josie Lawrence and Paul Merton.
Also making an impact were Tony Slattery and Mike McShane, and it was decided to keep them together and do a new show as a double-act. First of all, there was some humour from their appearance and personalities. The American McShane was about twice the size of Slattery and also much more loud, but this odd combination would prove a worthy watch.
I don’t actually remember watching S And M (now there’s a title that makes it difficult to search for online) at the time as it was shown rather past my bedtime, but I finally saw some editions that my sister recorded on an old tape. As with Whose Line Is It Anyway, all of the dialogue was improvised. It seems that the original plan was to do a scripted comedy sketch show, but then they decided that it would be more fun if they made it all up as they went along. It emphasised at the beginning “everything in this show has been improvised”. Yes alright, we believe you!
Very simply, the premise of the sketch was set up, and then it was up to Tony and Mike to take it in whatever direction they wanted in front of the studio audience. There was also a rather sparse set design, and no props either, instead they used their imagination. One of the most popular recurring sketches was when Tony and Mike pretended to be two peas in a pod, which went off in some rather unusual areas.
I also remember being particularly amused by a sketch that was supposed to be set on a spaceship where Tony said “open airlock 3” all the time in an attempt to insert a science-fiction feel. There were also scenarios such as being a detective, in a restaurant, in a barbers, and so on. It was clear that Tony and Mike were very quick-witted and got lots of laughs, and it did seem to have something of an A Bit Of Fry And Laurie-vibe to it. And as it was the early-90s, they both wore horrible shirts in every sketch too.
Although there were plenty of good moments, there were only seven editions in one series on S And M, and as far I’m aware there’s been no repeat run or DVD release in more recent years, although McShane also starred in Channel 4 sitcom The Big One, and of course we would go on to see a lot more of Slattery who would make many more TV appearances throughout the 90s.