Saturday 12 September 2015

5 of the Best British Comedy Sketches You Don’t Remember

When we're not drowning our sorrows over "what we coulda been, man!" in the deepest depths of gin hell, we're more than likely to be found lamenting the death of the great British sketch show.

Yeah, we used to love them crazy little sketch guys with their bite sized three act narratives designed to give us quick comedic bursts one after the other before our attention buggered off elsewhere.

But, despite the mid 00s success of The Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain, the whole genre seems to have disappeared quicker than our dignity on a Friday night. Sure, Cardinal Burns is pretty damn hilarious and if we had our way WitTank would have their own TV show and tie in annual, but they're in a moribund minority.

When the future's bleak, though, we here at Curious British Telly retreat backwards ever more into the rich recesses of British TVs past for a little bit of cultural salvation. And, blimey, ain't there just a bucket load of comedy sketches lurking there which are bloody amazing!

Problem is that, despite what them 'comedy gurus' say, there is actually a limit to the amount of times you can watch the 'Four Candles' sketch (does anyone even know how that ends?), so we're going to take you through 5 of the hidden gems of British sketch comedy you don't hear enough about. But bloody well should.

1. Do You Speak English - Big Train

Big Train was bloody insurmountable genius and if there's higher praise available then it could only come from that bearded and robed deity known as God.

Anyway, Big Train, hailed from the minds of Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews and was a collection of sketches so surreal and absurd it often felt as though they were rewiring your internal mechanisms with some type of LSD concoction cut with a rather hefty dose of nitrous oxide.

And one of the best sketches, and perhaps less well known ones, is, in fact, the very first darling sketch of the beautiful first episode. 'Do You Speak English' is pretty much everything any right-minded individual craves when it comes to digesting the perfect sketch.

You see, Amelia Bullmore is all stranded in France and needs some directions in English, but the passers-by  that she encounters don't speak English. Except they do. Fluently. And it's this incongruous deception which defines the rigourous hilarity of a sketch packed full of absurd flourishes and great performances.


2. Lemming of the BDA - Monty Python's Flying Circus

A few years ago we got in a bit of a to do with a couple of so called British comedy fans. They'd watched a few 'Best of Monty Python' VHS' back in the 90s and were convinced that the Parrot Sketch was one of the very best British comedy sketches ever.

It's not bad, but is it really one of the best? Does anyone even know how it ends? Incidentally, these jokers we were having to endure didn't have a clue how it ended and just started waffling on about the Four Yorkshiremen sketch being another shining example of Python's genius...

Anyway, for us, we've always been delighted by one of Python's lesser known sketches and that gorgeous little beast is 'Lemming of the BDA'.

There's a joyously kaleidoscopic amount going on here with spy spoofs being juxtaposed against humdrum dentistry, plenty of ridiculous twists which get exponentially more insane whilst they still find time to tinker with the rigid constraints of what a sketch should be.

Python tried this in almost every sketch they did and it often fell flat on it's face, but here it's an amazing celebration of what they could cook up when the let their minds off their creative leashes.

3. Fry and Laurie - A Word, Timothy

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are a couple of guys you may have stumbled across over the years. These days they're elder statesmen of TV, but once upon a time they were eager pups trying to tickle our funny bones into submission with A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Best known for its vox pops and 'John and Peter' sketches, A Bit of Fry and Laurie was a cerebral creature which teased with it's impressive language and, more importantly, delighted in its utter silliness.

More importantly, it also contains one of our favourite sketches of all time in 'A Word, Timothy'. A dramatic sketch packed full of grandiose, but bizarre statements from Stephen Fry, it's a wonderfully simple sketch which examines the apathy of youth and the disappointment of being a parent. It's then signed, sealed and delivered with a punchline which well and truly yanks the rug from under your tippy toes.

It also contains the funniest use of the town name 'Saffron Walden' ever and, blimey, there've been a few pretenders to that crown.

4. Debt Collector - The League of Gentlemen

Yes, it's a bloody sketch show! Although, for years we were under the misapprehension that The League of Gentlemen was a sitcom, but now, tutored in the machinations of comedy, we can agree it's a sketch show!

The writing team behind The League of Gentlemen were perhaps one of the most sublime set of writers ever to come together and the fact that so many of their characters and catchphrases are enshrined in our hearts is testament to the fact that they created some of the best British comedy sketches.

We're not gonna bang on about Papa Lazarou or Tubbs and Edwards, though, because there's a little known sketch tucked away in the unfairly maligned series 3 involving some rather uproarious debt collectors getting up to all types of shenanigans.

Barry (Steve Pemberton) is, and believe us when we say we're not being cruel here, a fat idiot. An incredibly fat and incredibly idiotic idiot who, quite frankly gets hoisted by his own petard time and time again. He's irritating as hell, so any sympathy for him drains away after a millisecond in his company. And that's why we get such a kick out of watching him fall from grace, well, not grace, but more gluttinous stupidity.

Barry works alongside Glenn (Mark Gatiss) who's a tough, but fair debt collector and only seems mildly irritated by the natural disaster that's Barry. However, there's one fella in town who ain't quite so forgiving and that's their boss Mr Lisgoe (Reece Shearsmith) and his violently psychopathic tendencies are going to break Barry's brain with shocking consequences.

All these years on from when we first saw it, our body still twists and contorts into the most unusual positions as we erupt with laughter at the dreary representation of British life mixed in with some of the funniest violence ever witnessed on British TV.

5. Search for a New Teacher - WitTank

Here's one for the future, guys! Yes, it's the potential saviour of the whole genre we fear is slipping away in the wake of the relentless march of budget friendly panel shows and they're known as WitTank.

And why are they so good? Because they've got some unhinged minds rattling around in them there skulls and they're not afraid to say "Ah, bollocks!" to convention. And in 'Search for a New Teacher' they've created some type of Bohemian Rhapsody sketch melange.

Packed full of balls out strutting in the form of Naz Osmanoglu's headmaster there's plenty of surreal tonal changes which take in madness, tenderness and an exploration of sexual identity in the form of Jones' (Mark Cooper Jones) desperation to teach. And it all takes place under the horrified eyes of Keiran Boyd who just wants some sense and normality to visit the school in amongst the rip roaringly funny dialogue.

Watch it and cross yourselves afterwards for these lads have comedy genius oozing out of their pores and, in years to come, will pen plenty of amazing British comedy sketches.

That's our pick of the 5 best unknown British sketches, but what are yours and who are your hopes for the future? Leave a comment below and let us know, you amazing sods!


  1. Loved Big Train, series 1 especially

    1. Big Train is particularly amazing! I'd say it's tied with The Fast Show for my most favouritest of all the sketch shows!

  2. Your blog is a treasure trove of information about shows I have never heard of, like 'Big Train.' It's on You Tube and I can't wait to watch it.