Radio Memories – The Boosh.

The Boosh (BBC London Live, 2001)

Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are a comedy double-act who have done some rather unusual things both together and individually since the mid-90s. I had barely heard of them before the first series of The Mighty Boosh launched in 2004, but I did really enjoy this, and I had never really seen anything else like it on TV before, so I was pleased to discover that they had also done a radio series.

This was before the TV version, and once again, this is a series that has gone on to be repeated several times on BBC7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra. The Boosh (seemingly they had not become “Mighty” by this point) brought us the rather bizarre adventures of various creative characters, which was all mixed in with music and just plain weird moments, as they continued to establish their really rather surreal style.

The idea was rather similar to the first TV series, as Vince and Howard struggled to work in a zoo that didn’t seem to have too many animals, not that the particularly liked them anyway. Indeed most of the episodes were reworked for the first series of the TV version, and their attempts to bring some of these ideas to life and match the imagination was rather bold.

A lot of listeners must’ve found all of this rather baffling, but it seems that everyone making this was having a laugh. Also featuring in the cast were Rich Fulcher and Richard Ayoade, who went on to appear in the TV version, and Lee Mack was among those helping out too. The show also won an award for innovative comedy writing, and not funkiest hairstyle as I would’ve originally guessed.

There were six episodes of The Boosh in one series, and I did enjoy this as much as the TV version, it was like discovering a bonus series of their adventures that had been there all along. After the third and final TV series ended, Noel and Julian took The Mighty Boosh on tour. Some of these shows have been released on DVD, and I’ll review those soon too.

The Comedy Vault – special bonus edition!

When I was watching the sitcom The Mighty Boosh again recently, I remembered that there was a reference to Bethnal Green in an episode. Now this is the part of London that I live in, and I always find it surprising to hear a reference on the TV. I started to think about how many other comedy shows feature a reference. I don’t know why it seems to turn up so frequently, clearly it must be a big cultural reference point. I thought of six comedy shows that reference Bethnal Green, so here they are, although if anyone out there does know of any others, you are welcome to tell me.

Big Train. This was the odd BBC2 sketch show from the makers of Father Ted. There is a sketch in the second series that is a parody of detective drama shows, where Mark Heap’s character says “Bethnal Green”. Well to hear one of my favourite comic actors say that right in front of everyone, I was very pleased. Fame at last! vlcsnap-01181

The Mighty Boosh. There is a reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom when Vince (played by Noel Fielding) is trying to track down where someone is by using his Celeb Radar. Also around this time, when the show was popular on TV, there were suddenly a lot of people walking around here who seemingly wanted to be Noel, how great. vlcsnap-01150

Goodnight Sweetheart. I’m fairly sure that there is at least one reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom, and that’s because the area where Gary Sparrow time travels to is supposed to be around here, you even see him walk past a branded bin in the first episode. One person pointed out recently that Gary was supposed to live in Cricklewood, and the only reason he ever came here was when he was a TV repair man trying to find an address. So to continue his double life he would have to travel from Cricklewood to here every time to access the portal, which is rather a journey in itself, but you’re not supposed to notice that… vlcsnap-01183

Saturday Live. This pioneering 80s comedy show featured some of the earliest TV appearances by Harry Enfield, and his kebab shop owner character Stavros, who would become very popular with viewers, was always talking about “the Bethnal Green Road”, which is good innit. vlcsnap-01185

Only Fools And Horses. This sitcom needs no introduction, and in the 1989 episode “Chain Gang” none other than Del Boy says “Bethnal Green” near the end of the episode. Isn’t that lovely jubbly. And that isn’t the only sitcom created by John Sullivan to feature a reference… vlcsnap-01186

Sitting Pretty. This was a sitcom that launched on BBC1 in 1992 which was written by John Sullivan. Because his other sitcoms had been so popular with viewers, this show was simply sold as “this can’t fail!”. The main character in the show was Annie, a woman who had been successful in the 60s who had now fallen on hard times, and her character was described by Radio Times as “the Jackie Onassis of Bethnal Green”. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, Annie does say “Bethnal Green”, and also her catchphrase “phenomenal”, which they really thought would catch on, but didn’t. Although Sitting Pretty ran for two series, it wasn’t a big hit with viewers, there has been no DVD release, and it is now considered the low point of Sullivan’s career. Also, because of the Bethnal Green connections, I remember seeing Diane Bull (who played Annie) once when she was chosen to turn on the Christmas lights here one year (I don’t remember what year, either 1992 or 1993 as they were the only years that the show was on BBC1), now that really was phenomenal. vlcsnap-01180

BONUS! Now to go on to pop music. I am aware of at least two pop stars who were born in Bethnal Green who have had UK Number One hit singles, who are Helen Shapiro and Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame. Also, I’m not aware of any UK hit singles featuring Bethnal Green in the lyrics, but again if you know better, you can let me know. And I know I keep going on about this, but I just want to emphasise this again because I still find it unbelievable.

Now imagine that there is a famous pop group who’ve had a Number One single, say for example, Bananarama, and say that they all visited Bethnal Green one day, and the reason that they would do that was because one member of the group had a house here, say Siobhan, who was also in the awesome Shakespear’s Sister, and here was where they became friends again and decided to reform, that would be a great story, but that’s never going to happen is it… oh wait… b10

Now the fact that Sara from Bananarama said “Bethnal Green” in an interview will probably mean nothing to about 99.8% of the readership of Classic Pop magazine where this article appeared, but when I read this I was practically on the floor. But the fact that she said that her and Keren were here because they were round “Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green“, you remember Siobhan, the woman whose Shakespear’s Sister song “Stay” was at Number One in the UK for almost two months in 1992, the crazy goth woman who appears in the incredible video that I’m sure any early-90s pop music fan has never forgotten even 25 years on, you know, that woman… b9

…well, I was now in a right old state. Discovering that in more recent years she had probably been walking round here (although presumably not dressed like that), and she had a party in her kitchen with her old pop star friends practically around the corner from me simply blew my mind (there’s even a picture of them all together on Twitter and everything), I just can’t believe it really happened. I told you all the cool people live round here didn’t I, aren’t I lucky.

The Comedy Vault – The Mighty Boosh.

The Mighty Boosh (BBC3, 2003-2007)

I’m fairly sure that this is my 500th blog post, so I’m very pleased to have got this far, and I’m grateful for your interest and your support, there’s now a part of my life online from post one to 500, I have clearly watched far too much TV over the years haven’t I. To celebrate this occasion, I have decided to look back at what is one of my favourite sitcoms of the 2000s decade, The Mighty Boosh, starring the double-act Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt. Here’s how I got into the show.

First of all, I don’t remember seeing the pilot episode in 2003, I remember seeing the first series being promoted and I thought I would give it a try because I always like to discover new sitcoms, yes, even the ones on BBC3. I also didn’t realise at the time that there had been a radio version in 2001 (called The Boosh) which was on BBC London and BBC Radio 4, but I eventually heard it in a repeat run on BBC7/Radio 4 Extra. vlcsnap-01135

I also didn’t realise at the time that Fielding and Barratt had worked together since the late-90s and toured with various comedy shows. Seeing the first TV series was the first time that I had come across their work and I became a fan just because I liked the look of it, I certainly wasn’t influenced by critics from The Guardian or some such newspaper gushing over the show because The Mighty Boosh was suddenly in the latest in-thing that all the trendy people liked, I can assure you that I am just about the least trendiest person that you’ll ever meet, I just enjoy surreal comedy, and I was ready to go on a journey through time and space… vlcsnap-01149

It’s difficult to pick out some highlights from the 21 episodes, but I’ll have a go. In the first series in 2004, Vince and Howard (played by Fielding and Barratt) are working at a place called Zooniverse, a zoo which doesn’t seem to have any animals, which is run by the odd Bob Fossil. Also featuring are Naboo (played by Noel’s brother Michael), a gorilla called Bollo and Dixon Bainbridge, plus Mr Susan, Tommy Nooka, and The HitcherI still remember watching the first series, quickly going from “what on earth is this”, to becoming a big fan. My favourite moments include the episodes where some mutant animals were found at the zoo, when Vince and Howard meet a mysterious hitchhiker, and when Vince joined a terrible electro band. I’d never really seen anything like it. vlcsnap-01139

Eager for more, I was delighted when there was a second series in 2005, featuring another wave of odd characters such as Old Gregg, Tony Harrison, The Betamax Bandit, Chris de Burgh and Milky Joe. Highlights included Vince and Howard being stranded on a desert island which leads to something odd happening with coconuts, and also encountering some problems with an old lady. The moon would also often add his own comments on what was happening. vlcsnap-01142

The third and final series in 2007 was now set in a shop in London called the Nabootique. We met even more crazy characters including The Crack Fox and highlights included something strange about eels, Vince and Howard taking part in a singing competition, and a party that gets rather out of hand. And Vince says “Bethnal Green” in one episode which is always going to be a winner with me. vlcsnap-01150

Another thing about The Mighty Boosh was that several other comic actors turned up who have gone on to bigger things including Rich Fulcher, Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade. While the show was running on BBC3, they went on tour again to big acclaim and a couple of stage shows have been released on DVD. The show was also briefly on BBC2, but it didn’t catch on there, partly because it was shown in various timeslots, the success of the show is mostly down to BBC3, and it suits the word “cult” more than most sitcoms. I also remember being really pleased when the DVD was released, I really looked forward to watching the show again, and there are some great DVD extras too. vlcsnap-01148

Fielding and Barratt also did well enough with younger viewers to appear on the cover of NME several times, and there was also a book released featuring some of the best bits of the TV show. I suppose that the response by viewers to The Mighty Boosh can be best described by that old phrase “a show people either love or hate”, but I know which side I’m on. I can’t believe that it’s now almost been a decade since The Mighty Boosh left the screen, there have been rumours of a film version coming but it never happened. Although they haven’t worked together for a while now, Fielding went off and made a similarly odd sketch show on his own for E4, and Barratt has appeared in a few comedies and films. Almost 15 years on I still think the show has a unique place in British comedy.