Thursday 30 April 2015


Genre: Childrens
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 20/02/1991 - 27/03/1991

The fairground is one of those magical landscapes that a child's brain can barely comprehend the majesty of.

With the bright lights, the booming music, the thrills and, of course, the sweets, the fair is custom built to appeal to every sensory desire of a child.

A parent, meanwhile, looks at the pools of vomit, holds onto their wallet tightly and prays to God that their child doesn't fall in with 'the fair lads'.

However, even the most pessimistic adult, can't deny that the fair acts as an escapist fantasy even if it's just for the briefest of moments on the waltzers before they vomit up their £4 hotdog.

And in Dodgem we find a father and child retreating into this fantasy world to escape the rigours of life.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Britpop Now

Genre: Music
Channel: BBC2

Transmission: 16/08/1995

Ah, Britpop! Now there was a musical movement that the whole country could get behind!

With a confident, chirpy spring in its step it celebrated British life and took its cue from a rich legacy of British bands stretching from The Kinks to Wire to The Smiths.

Sure, it was jingoistic and never really consumed the world like we thought it would, but at the time it seemed anything was possible. Especially if you had a retro tracksuit top and hung about in The Good Mixer.

At the height of Britpop, in August 1995, the two biggest bands in the country - Oasis and Blur - went head to head in the battle of Britpop for the number 1 single. Blur prevailed with Country House outselling Roll With It, but you may have forgotten that week also saw the cream of the Britpop bands convening for Britpop Now.

Saturday 18 April 2015

20 Things to Do Before You're 30

Genre: Comedy drama
Channel: Channel 4

Transmission: 06/02/2003 - 27/03/2003

Hitting the ripe old age of 30 is a depressing landmark for pretty much anyone who's ever enjoyed themselves.

It's viewed as the end of your youth and time to knuckle down and really get to grips with being an adult.

Suddenly, you realise you probably should have spent less time in the pub and less time speculating what went on in the Rainbow house when the cameras stopped rolling. Instead, you could have been building a career, searching for love and securing that mortgage.

Jesus! That sounds depressing as hell!

You know what, there's nothing wrong with mucking about in your 20s! That's what they were invented for - the dress rehearsals for becoming an adult, so be silly and bugger things up rotten!

If you are in a rush, though, perhaps you could draw up a list of 20 Things to Do Before You're 30.

The Dreaded Landmark

Four friends, all working in the aspirational world of market research, have decided that their 20s are running out fast and they haven't achieved enough. Together they're each going to draw up a list of objectives that they have to tick off before they hit the big 3-0.

Conrad (Mathew Horne) is a lowly market researcher, neurotic about his position as a single gay male in a world where he can't find love or face up to adult life.

He lives with his co-worker (and best friend) Shona (Amanda Abbington) who strives to break free from her single life at an age when her peers are settling down and starting families. Recently, she's started dating the softly spoken, but handsome Glen (James Murray).

Together, Conra and Shona have to deal with Dominic (Chris Polick), a laddish, market researcher who takes great delight from being in a relationship with his girlfriend Katie. He also lives with his mother who waits on him hand and foot. His confidence with women is also incredibly misplaced.

Finally, we have Zoe (Georgie Mackenzie), who manages Conrad, Shona and Dominic. She's currently going through divorce proceedings and wondering if life can offer her anything at all.

Their ticksheet contains such bold tasks as turning a member of the same sex, sacking someone and putting up a shelf amongst other plots.

Researching the Researchers

20 Things to Do Before You're 30 aired in early 2003 on Channel 4 and took up a late Thursday night slot. It ran for a total of 8 episodes which were roughly 25 minutes long.

It bears a striking resemblance to Teachers and it's not a surprise that it was produced by the same company, Tiger Aspect, and was created by Jane Fallon -who also produced Teachers. Both Mathew Horne and Amanda Abbington would also star in Teachers.

A number of writers contributed scripts to the series with Charlie Martin, Stephen Leslie, Rachel Pope and Jack Lothian all getting writing credits.

The series has never had a commercial release and neither is it available on 4OD. The whole series, however, has popped up on YouTube.

Ticking Off

Curious British Telly watched 20 Things to Do Before You're 30 way back in the early 00s and vividly remembered three things about it:
  1. Matthew Horne was in it.
  2. The critics hated it.
  3. We were texting a girl about it one night, so she tuned in and commented that the acting was horrendous.
And you know what?

Mathew Horne is in it.

The critics did hate it.

The acting... isn't quite so bad.

First things first, let's take a gander at the concept. Yeah, you know, it's not half bad. A group of 20 somethings trying to grasp at life before their youth slips away. Plenty of people can identify with that.

We spent a lot of our 20s talking crap in an office, so we can really engage with the joys that it brings. Truth be told, we're still doing it in our 30s, but that's by the by.

Curiously, for a show from this era, there's actually a few nicely composed shots making use of the surroundings to create framed, long shorts more commonly found in TV these days. Many times, though, the direction feels a little static and this contributes to a lifeless tone at some points.

And what about the acting?

Mathew Horne is, well, he's Mathew Horne here. And very similar in nature to the character he would portray in Teachers. It's an easy watch and his curious little facial expressions always embue his characters with plenty of personality.

What about Amanda Abbington? She's forthright and plucky with great comic timing here. Like Mathew Horne she certainly hasn't done too bad for herself in the acting stakes since.

Chris Polick is the first weak point and a genuine candidate for bad acting. He just can't inject much personality into Dominic and his monotonous delivery grates.

James Murray - who's given limited screen time - is fairly nondescript as well. His delivery is just plain irritating and it's hard to believe he's the same actor who gave such an amazing performance in Cucumber recently.

And Georgia Mackenzie also fails to sparkle. She's not really given much to work with, though, which brings us on to the characters.

They're badly formed and we found ourselves struggling to connect with them. There's little genuine heart on show and the come across as shallow, self obsessed individuals. Frankly, we couldn't care if their lives are in disarray.

Conrad and Shona perhaps have the most characterisation, but even then it's lacking in the basic human emotions. All their frustrations come from a lack of success and expectation that they deserve all that life has to offer.

The character of Dominic is perhaps the most interesting character and the one that is the biggest disappointment. He's ready made to be shot through with pathos due to his boorish front being countered with being a mummy's boy. Instead he's just labeled as an FHM caricature. Imagine Jay from The Inbetweeners but with no bullying dad.

And Zoe, well, we're not even sure why she's in it. She adds very little to the proceedings and all we learn about her is that she has some half baked divorce going on in the background.

Who can we blame? We'll blame the writers as it's their job to create a universe and characters that we want to invest some emotional attachment in. The lack or any deep plots also hinder proceedings and the series starts to feel repetitive as episodes all segue into one.

For a comedy drama, the length of the episodes is rather short, but this is somewhat of a blessing in disguise here. With a lack of any real jeopardy on hand then a 45 minute episode would have felt painfully stretched.

The final episode, however, does begin to deliver in areas previously lacking and was probably the most enjoyable of the lot. Our favourite scene, incidentally, is in this episode and simply sees Conrad and Shona observing an exceptionally tall man walk down a corridor.

Was It Worth It?

20 Things to Do Before You're 30 really struggles to deliver anything that makes it stand out. It's, perhaps, in the shadow of Teachers far too much and quite why Tiger Aspect decided this was needed at the same time is anyone's guess.

And it doesn't truly reflect the lives of 20 somethings. Sure, there's love and sex, but that's about it. A little more depth to the characters could have made it a more honest portrayal that a whole demographic could have latched onto. This Life, it ain't.

Saying that, there's something in there that we find marginally likeable, but it only really leaped out at us in the final episode. Was there room for another series? Perhaps, but the whole concept would have started wearing thin by then. What would they call it? Another 20 Things to Do Before You're 30?

As it is, we'll label this as a curio due to Mathew Horne's early appearance and its relative obscurity.

Saturday 11 April 2015

The Moon Over Soho

Genre: Drama
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 18/08/1985

Soho is an intriguing little corner of London. It's perhaps best known for its sleaze, but alongside the neon signs there are plenty of other little industries plugging away. There's the bustling market of Berwick Street, the gay heartbeat of Old Compton Street and the seemingly endless types of cuisine available on every street.

The media, of course, have long had a presence in Soho. Post production companies litter the streets, pop stars hole up in expensive apartments and, according to the BBC, a struggling film magazine tried to make ends meet in 1985 in The Moon over Soho.

Rising Moon

The action opens with a shot of Rupert Street as a packed market heaves with a busy crowd. In the background, the bright lights of the Raymond Revue Bar illuminate the scene. Red lit signs offer the promise of girls and, against this vibrant scene, Joseph Leroy Patterson (Larrington Walker) cuts his way through to the office of Cherubim Books.

Cherubim Books is owned by the enigmatic Max von Konigsberg (Leonard Rossiter) who affects a German accent whenever necessary. He feels, you see, that a foreign accent is the only way to get ahead.

Now, Cherubim Books is a curious little company. Its pride and joy is the film magazine 'Silver Screen', but it also owns the rights to 'Progressive Origami' and 'Farming for Fun', both of which have never seen a single issue published. Oh, and the office is based in a basement flat next door to a 'topless live show' on Old Compton Street.

It's certainly a seedy little location and the slipperiness of the adjoining live show appears to have seeped into Max's veins. You see, times are tough for Silver Screen. Sales are falling rapidly, the bank manager is desperate to make an appointment with Max and the magazine's editor has just upped and left for The Times.

Joseph, who handles subscriptions (a fairly light job), is the only member of staff left, but even he's having doubts about continuing given Max's fragile state. Max, however, remains resolute that the companies problems can be deflected by calling in favours and handing out freebies such as a trip to Japan.

Then, all of a sudden, Sally Spencer (Lesley Manville) turns up on the doorstep of Cherubim Books after the editors job being advertised in The Times. Max can't quite get his head round this as he hasn't placed an ad. However, Sally manages to impress him by discussing the work of his beloved Fritz Lang, so Max hires her immediately.

Are things suddenly starting to look up for old Max?

Well, no. Sally Spencer is less an angel in disguise and more a poisoned chalice. Old Max hasn't been entirely kind to filmmakers over the years and he's made a few enemies. It's no surprise really given the critical nature of being a critic, but well, we suppose creative types have delicate egos.

In particular is the ego of Geoffrey Hargreaves (Ken Campbell) whose whole career appears to have been rubbished by Max over the years. Geoffrey is desperate for revenge and has been tipped off by Max's ex-editor that something rather scandalous lies in the trunk behind Max's desk.

A fiendish plan is hatched by Geoffrey to get Sally on the inside and finally expose Max's dark secrets to the News of the World.

Meanwhile, Max is desperately trying to scrape enough money together to bankroll Silver Screen. He's even resorted to sending himself threatening letters to win the sympathy of his rich and intellectual mother, Frieda King (Mary Morris).

What exactly is in the trunk and, as well as battling a deranged Geoffrey Hargreaves, will Max manage to keep Silver Screen going?

Hitting the Press

The Moon over Soho was part of the BBCs 'Summer Season' of one off plays that aired in 1985 and written by Peter Ansorge who would later go on to help found Film on Four. The play was directed by Stuart Burge who had a long career adapting plays for film and television.

The music - a gentle combination of piano and horns - is provided by one of Curious British Telly's favourite composers, Ilona Sekacz.

Leonard Rossiter died in 1984, so it's difficult to tell if The Moon over Soho was meant to be broadcast as part of the 'Summer Season'. The play was recorded around Christmas 1983, so it seems a long time to hold onto it if that is indeed the case.

It was, in fact, the very final screen appearance for Leonard Rossiter, but despite this marking it out as a curio of British television it has never been repeated or released on DVD.

Under the Moon

Rising Damp is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of our favourite sitcoms of all time, so we were rather intrigued when we heard about The Moon over Soho.

Considering how well respected he was, we found it bizarre that Rossiter's final TV appearance garnered little more than a few tiny mentions online. And there's certainly no footage besides a solitary screenshot presumably from a press piece.

We had to investigate this slice of retro TV, so got straight on the blower to the BFI Archive and booked in to watch the play.

The opening shot is a thing of true beauty. That's the real Soho there. The sleaze and deceptiveness of the strip clubs and peep shows hint beautifully at the deception which is awaiting Max.

Nowadays, you'll find that Soho is a very different place. Sure there's still some sleaze there, but Westminster Council and wealthy landowners appear to be driving this out. Soon it'll be just another corner of West London with little identity.

This opening shot, then, acts as a wonderful little time capsule, but how about the acting unfolding against this sleazy backdrop?

Well, Leonard Rossiter, bloody hell! He's probably never been better than he is here. There's not much comedy in the script for him to take on, but instead we see the more nuanced, dramatic side of him. He delivers furtive glances, world weary stares and panics uncontrollably as he's taken hostage by a crazy Geoffrey Hargreaves.

And, yes, Ken Campbell as Geoffrey Hargreaves is terrifyingly fantastic as well. He's completely loopy, but we don't truly realise this until he's lurking in Cherubim Books wearing a fake mask to insanely taunt Max.

The rest of the cast are fine. Really, there's no problem with them. They don't sparkle, but neither do they drag proceedings down. Although, we have to be honest, we're not sure what Joseph's character adds to the story. He could easily have been dispensed with.

That's perhaps the problem with The Moon over Soho. The writing is good, but not fantastic.

There are great scenes such as the contrast of Frieda explaining to Sally about her husband's terror of being imprisoned in a concentration camp, whilst Max is being terrorised in the basement of Cherubim Books.

Also, Max trying to convince his mother he's on the receiving end of violent, anti-semitic hate mail is entertaining. Especially when Max realises she won't be bailing him out as, first and foremost, she wants to get to the bottom of whoever's bullying her precious son.

These excellent pieces of script, however, are held back by a lot of questions.

Why exactly are The News of the World so desperate to smear Max? He hardly seems like a big fish who would be worthy of their attention.

And (spoiler here) Silver Screen was started by Max, right, to promote an up and coming film beauty, but that didn't work out. That's fine, we get that. And then she ends up working as a prostitute in a Soho brothel. Again, we get that and it's nicely tragic, but how the hell does she end up bankrolling Silver Screen until her death? She doesn't exactly have the back story of 'one with money'.

Then there's Sally's 'betrayal' of Geoffrey by switching sides to protect Max. It all seems rather sudden. We know he bought her flowers, but we felt the play could have benefited with a more natural bond developing to make this switch of allegiances more believable.

Forgotten Gem?

You know, we found that The Moon over Soho was just about good enough to be considered a forgotten gem. Rossiter's performance is quite outstanding and really lifts the piece. If you've ever enjoyed a performance by the great man then you'll love this. He still had more than enough to offer British TV on this showing.

The sleazy, untrustworthy underbelly of Soho runs nicely through the veins of the piece and the director has really captured this along with the rest of the cast's acting. Ken Campbell puts in the best performance we've ever seen from him and he perfectly captures an unhinged mind on the edge.

However, we did find the script a little lacking and the resolution is far too clean cut and sudden to really wow us. It could have been a much stronger piece in more talented hands, but as it is it hardly ranks as classic TV.

It's a fine sign off, though, for Leonard Rossiter's legacy, so we would love to see a release of it.


The Listener - Volume 114 no 2922 pg 32 - 33 by Paul Kerr

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Jackson Pace: The Great Years

Genre: Children's / Comedy
Channel: ITV

Transmission: 11/10/1990 - 15/11/1990

What kid didn't want to be an explorer after watching the Indiana Jones films? It looked a great life packed full of adventure, drama, heroism and plenty of wisecracks.Truth be told, it's probably less glamourous and the biggest drama you'll encounter is catching malaria. Still, it beats working the 9 - 5 grind.

Anyway, Indiana Jones was a huge deal by the end of the 1980s, so it's no surprise a spoof of the genre was attempted by ITV in the guise of Jackson Pace: The Great Years.

Adventure Awaits

Jackson Pace (Keith Allen) is the adventuring dynamo who's handy with his fists, loves the glint of a precious treasure and refuses to give up on anything. Like all the great heroes he's even got a catchphrase of "There's gold to be gained!".

Along with his sidekick Roger Whibley (Daniel Peacock), Pace has captured the parchment of Kinard and is very excited about this particular find. You see, the parchment of Kinard is a very important document as it details the whereabouts of three sacred keystones. If all three keystones are found then the bearer will then be able to unlock the mighty gates of the hidden temple in the land of Ja Ja Bar.

Through these gates lie a great treasure, but no one knows exactly what it is. However, everyone wants it. Yes, it won't be plain sailing for Pace and Whibley as a variety of friends and foes will be popping up along the way to hinder them in various ways.

The main antagonist is Princess Layme (Cory Pulman), an Egyptian princess in the mould of Cleopatra who bathes in asses milk and sees the treasure of Kinard as her birthright.

With the treasure of Kinard she hopes to raise the funds to construct an opulent palace. She is surrounded at all times by her snivelling assistant Lord Layta (Paul B Davies) and the blind mystic Lord Taggon (Hugh Paddick). For the first few episodes they're also joined by the sarcastic chap The Head (Arthur Smith) - yes he's literally a head in the sand.

Desperate to win Layme's affections is the weedy and bespectacled Prince Filo (Gian Sammarco) who promises to bring back the treasure of Kinard as well as put an end to Pace for good. And that's not the end of Pace's problems.

A shady American by the name of Commander Daken (Nic D'Avirro) is also hot on the trail of Pace. He's the traditional 'man in black', but unlike Will Smith he has a robotic hand a la the Terminator. Help is, however, on hand for Pace in the form of reporter Ryveeta Tusk (Josie Lawrence) who stows away on Pace's plane to get an exclusive story on his quest.

Together, the various factions will encounter the lost tribe of Popapa, swing through the jungle with Tarzan, nearly become Barry the Yeti's dinner and be forced to endure the hideous culinary delights of the Fat Lady.

On the Trail

Jackson Pace was an idea hatched between Keith Allen and Daniel Peacock with the latter writing all the scripts for the series. Alistair Clark directed the show and this followed his previous stints on children's TV with Grange Hill, Children's Ward and No. 73.

As well as devising, writing and appearing in Jackson Pace, Daniel Peacock also found time to provide the music for the series, so his passion for the show is pretty evident.

6 episodes aired on ITV as part of the CITV schedule in Autumn 1990. As far as we are aware there were never any repeats and certainly no commercial releases. In fact, there's no footage online apart from, curiously, the show's theme tune which can be heard here.

There's Gold to be Gained!

Jackson Pace! Jackson BLOODY Pace! Where the hell have you been for the last 25 years?! We watched Jackson Pace way back when in 1990 and we loved it. We absolutely adored it.

In fact, there was a point where we told our Mum that we were planning to write a letter to the Jackson Pace actor to invite him round for a cup of tea. Our Mother wasn't too keen on the idea, so that idea was sadly nixed.

However, despite this obsession with the show, it was one of those old TV shows we couldn't remember the name of. All we could remember was an explorer type chap with long brown hair and a catchphrase about gold - was it "We're going for gold!"? Oh no, that was that 90s quiz show...

It had been driving us mad for 25 years. No one else remembered it and no matter how many times we Googled "Indiana Jones spoof children's show" we found absolutely nothing online. We even spent an hour in the British Library painstakingly going through all the 1989 and 1990 Radio Times in the hope of finding a mention of it. We thought it was on BBC1, you see, so it was a rather fruitless hunt!

Then, thank the Lord, somebody by the name of Thomas emailed us about our blog. In amongst the chat he asked if we ever remembered this spoof Indiana Jones kids show from 1990 called Jackson Pace. Our jaw dropped. This had to be it! It had to be!

We looked online and found a few tiny snippets of information, but something was troubling us. It appeared that the Jackson Pace character was played by Keith Allen. We remembered Pace being a dashing hero with tumbling locks of brown hair. Not Keith Allen.

Maybe our memory was just shot. It happens from time to time.

There couldn't have been two similar shows around the same time, so we booked up at the BFI Archive to investigate 3 episodes across the series. We reckoned it would make a for a pretty good 100th blog - yep, you're reading blog number 100 of Curious British Telly!

First things first, yes, it's Keith Allen and, you know what, he actually looks quite handsome here with a full head of hair. Now, we're not saying there's anything wrong with Keith Allen per se, but if he came up to us on the street and asked us if we fancied a bit of how's your father, we'd probably decline and ask him, instead, if we could have his mate Alex James' phone number.

With a full head of hair, though, he's pretty dashing and it's no surprise that he popped out the beauty that is Lily. Anyway, homoerotic fantasies aside, the next thing that struck us was Pace's catchphrase. Finally! We knew what the hell it was: "There's gold to be gained!". It's not an amazing catchphrase, but it's a recurring motif and helps push the action along.

Ah yes and what of 'the action' that's imperative for TV to wrestle the rampant attention of a child? Well get this: Jackson Pace is packed full of action. There are no long soliloquies about man's right to exist and seek out hidden treasures. No, there's just punch after punch after manic chases all around the globe.

It's easy to see the Indiana Jones influences what with the sacred stones, Cairo nightclubs, jungle scenes, a bit of magic and a strong willed woman on his tail. There's no whips, though, and no Nazis, so coupled with all the original settings, we think it stands on its own quite well rather than just being a direct spoof.

As we said, the action goes all round the globe and there are an insane amount of sets throughout the series. And most of them are pretty convincing considering how stretched the budget must have been. The one unconvincing effect was probably the skygoblin from episode 1 which appears to have come straight out of a primary school production.

The plots are great and due to the manic action and wild imagination of Daniel Peacock there's never a dull moment. The final episode also manages to be pretty creepy and takes a big page out of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade finale. We're not surprised it managed to make such a big impression on us at the time.

And it's all helped by a fantastic cast which comprises countless members of the 1980s alternative comic scene. Our favourite, obviously, is Allen as Pace, but the other real standouts are the ever beautiful Josie Lawrence, Daniel Peacock and Arthur 'Arfur' Smith. Everyone is having fun with the scripts and it must have been a real riot on set.

Oh yeah! We almost forgot! The gags! It's ram packed full of them in a quickfire script which remains razor sharp throughout. It's almost an adult comedy at times and we're surprised what they managed to get away with.

A case in point of this racy comedy is when Pace and Whibley fall in the 'fountain of youth' in Ja Ja Bar. They immediately regress to schoolboys and start giggling about Ryveeta Tusk's "bouncing boobies" before contemplating whether or not to pull her knickers down.

There's also some jokes which allude to masturbation competitions in the school shower and Lord Layta ends up grabbing Princess Layme inappropriately in some quicksand. Did this humour do us any harm and leave us flailing round on the edges of society? No, life did that all on its own.

And it appears that the team wanted to do more Pace. There's some spoilers ahead, so please be aware. The treasure of Kinard, it turns out, is actually a spaceship that promises to take Pace and his gang into space for further adventures. Pace is well up for this and bellows "Pace in Space!", so who knows what happened to that idea.

Oh, another spoiler here, Princess Layme and her gang of co-horts are judged not worthy of the treasure of Kinard so are transported to work in a newspaper - The Dispatch - in Wapping. Prince Filo even gets turned into a parrot!

Mission Complete

So, yeah, we absolutely loved catching back up with Jackson Pace. We were so giddy with excitement after watching it that we had to head to the nearest pub for a glass of Scotch. It didn't calm us down, so we had a bag of pork scratchings and another glass of Scotch. Finally we were back on an even keel.

It's a travesty that it's not out on DVD and is so poorly remembered as it's an amazing piece of childrens TV. It's in the same league as Maid Marian and her Merry Men in terms of a television series both adults and children can enjoy. As far as we're concerned it's classic TV and deserves to be remembered much more fondly in the pantheon of British TV shows.

If anyone out there has some episodes tucked away on a dusty old VHS then please get in touch!

And if Keith Allen's reading then we still want you to come round ours for a cup of tea. We've got our own place now, so our Mum can't stop us.

Saturday 4 April 2015


Genre: Comedy
Channel: Paramount Comedy Channel

Transmission: 1996

Who wants to be locked up in asylum? Anyone? Oh, just you Uncle Lionel. Well, take Granny's frock off and we'll talk about it over a cup of cherry brandy.

No, seriously, though, would you want to be locked up in an asylum? Trapped in an unfamiliar building, surrounded by unfriendly faces and out of your head on medication. It's like an even more horrific visit to a Wetherspoons.

Just imagine, though, if you visited the asylum simply to deliver a pizza and found yourself being committed...

The Lunatics Have Taken over the Asylum

Simon Pegg (playing himself) is a North London pizza delivery man tasked with delivering a Beef Magic to the old asylum. However, when he gets there, Dr Lovett (Norman Lovett) decides to take Simon in as part of his experiment.

But what's this experiment all about?

Well, in a rather cruel and sadistic exploration of psychology, Dr Lovett has invited a number of sane people to the asylum for an indefinite period. Little did they know, though, that his plan was to reprogram their identity and study the effects. So far it's been going for 6 years.

Martha (Jessica Stevenson) was a politics graduate, but now, after a diet of nothing but daytime television she has a strange obsession with Countdown and holds many conspiracy theories close to her chest.

Adam (Adam Bloom) previously lived the life of a "bug eyed bank clerk", but since being locked in a room with nothing but Lenny Bruce records, truly believes he's a stand up comic. He even carries a dictaphone with him at all times to play canned laughter.

Victor (Julian Barratt) was once known as Julian, painter and decorator from Barnsley. However, Dr Lovett manipulated his persona by surrounding him by Renaissance art. The result is a pretentious wannabe artist.

Paul (Paul Morocco) is a flamenco singer forced into a vow of silence, so he can only communicate with everyday objects. His favourite form of communication involves shooting ping pong balls out of his mouth.

Herding the inmates around are security guard Nobby Shanks and the dangerously seductive, but quite psychopathic Nurse McFadden (Jessica Stevenson).

It's Simon's aim to get this cruel experiment shut down, but first he needs to avoid getting dosed up and, more importantly, escape.

Amongst the main characters there are interstitial segments where other inmates get their chance to shine and perform stand up comedy. Names appearing include Paul Tonkinson, Bill Bailey, John Moloney and David Walliams (who looks uncannily like Lou from Lou and Andy).

You Don't Have to Be Mad to Work Here, But It Helps

Asylum aired on the Paramount Comedy Channel in 1996 and consisted of 6 episodes.

It was one of the earliest collaborations between Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson and Edgar Wright who would go on to produce the seminal Spaced on Channel 4.

The show is also notable for showcasing many other upcoming stars of the UK comedy scene.

All the episodes feature a short musical segment by David Devant and his Spirit Wife who acted as the house band for the series and their track 'Ginger' was the show's theme tune.

Petitions have been raised to try and force a DVD release, but the tapes sadly remain in the vaults. The whole series, though, is available on YouTube and was apparently uploaded by a cast member.

Patient Report

Even though it was only a few days ago, we can't actually remember how we discovered this show, but we'll put it down to some divine intervention by the gods of archive television.

We're big Simon Pegg fans, so we're surprised that we hadn't heard of it. However, we weren't really sure what to expect. Early forays are always hit and miss affairs with a lack of polish.

What the hell would we make of this?!

You know what, Simon Pegg was born to play Simon Pegg and he plays that Simon Pegg character we're so familiar with perfectly here. His everyman sensibilities contrast nicely against the insanity he's surrounded by and mark him out as the hero of the piece.

The inmates are all entertaining in their own way with Victor being far and away the most rewarding with his pomposity being pricked at every opportunity. Paul, though, is rather limited due to his lack of speech, but he displays some nice physical acting, particularly in his 'spanish guitar battle' with one of the security guards.

Norman Lovett perhaps isn't given as much screen time as he deserves. He's on fantastic form here with his dry wit and it's up there with his performance as Holly in Red Dwarf.

Nobby Shanks is a decent character and richly acted, but he's given very little to do throughout the series which seems a bit of a waste. With all the talent on offer, though, it's not a surprise he was shuffled to the side.

The stand up segments are pretty cool and we enjoyed seeing all the early appearances of Bill Bailey, David Walliams and the quite terrifyingly schizophrenic monologue delivered by Paul Tonkinson. They brought to mind Alexei Sayle's segments in The Young Ones and act as a nice breather in between the more manic narratives.

All the hallmarks of Edgar Wrights direction are present and he proudly displays his influences whilst retaining an original edge. The machine gun approach of angles and scene cuts aren't as prevalent here as in his later work, so the direction, instead, manifests itself as a haunting and woozy mix which matches the series' black humour.

There's a very naturalistic sense of humour with some surreal edges sprinkled liberally throughout. It would have seemed quite refreshing at the time compared to, oh I don't know, Oh Doctor Beeching! Don't get us wrong, we loved Oh Doctor Beeching! but perhaps it was time for something a little different.

We'd have liked some more big laughs, but it's early days here for Pegg and co, so we'll let them off.

But there are, of course, some negatives.

Despite being grounded in a great concept, the plots are a little thin and too much time is given over to showcasing each star's talent. We would have loved to see a bit more of Simon getting from A to B, but this is lost in the performances.

Final Thoughts

Yeah, so, we really enjoyed Asylum. It's not perfect by any means, but as an early distillation of what Pegg and Wright were aiming for it's a fascinating insight.

If you're a fan of any decent comedy from the 00s then you'll love this too.

Would we buy the DVD? YES!