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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 April, 2004, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Lifting the lid on Little Britain
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Little Britain has become Britain's best-loved sketch comedy since The Fast Show - and was named best comedy programme at this year's Baftas.

In its first series it has gone from cult cool - thanks to those digitally-converted viewers catching it on BBC Three - to the kind of quotable success that comedy classics are made of.

Andy and Lou
Andy and Lou are two of the most iconic characters

In the space of eight episodes it introduced a strange, twilight Britain made up of half-hearted transvestites, na´ve carers, lazy romantic novelists, and children's show presenters turned bitter staffers at DIY warehouses.

It has made stars of Matt Lucas - who appeared as overgrown baby George Dawes on BBC Two quiz Shooting Stars - and David Walliams, previously seen on the comedy-drama Attachments and spoof show Rock Profiles, alongside Lucas.

Little Britain began as a show on BBC Radio 4, with Walliams and Lucas playing a range of characters from an alternative Britain peopled, it seemed, by an ever-increasing cast of misfits.

The show had classic sketches such as the builders going through plans with a wicked witch for her gingerbread house, the bizarre teacher at the Kelsey Grammar School for boys, and the verbal diarrhoea of work-shy schoolgirl Vicky Pollard.

It was a show that borrowed as much from the dark modern tradition of comedies such as The League of Gentlemen as the traditional sketch format of recurring characters.

The links between these unsavoury characters was a barrage of even more surreal links of made-up facts, voiced in the fruity baritone of former Doctor Who Tom Baker.

LITTLE BRITAIN CATCHPHRASES
Vicky Pollard
"Yeah but no but yeah but" - Vicki
"It's so hard being the only gay in the village" - Daffyd
"I want that one" - Andy
"I'm a lady. I do ladies' things" - Emily Howard
"Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune" - Miniature Dennis Waterman

Two series of the show were broadcast on Radio 4, and fans included Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, who urged the pair to make a TV version.

A pilot for the first series was shown on the opening night on BBC Three last year, with a series soon following.

The programme soon became a cult hit - and finally made stars of Lucas and Walliams after nearly a decade honing their comedy talent.

The catchphrases of their grotesque characters - from deranged Scottish hoteliers to council lads falling in love with their friend's nans - soon echoed round offices, pubs and schools.

'Very funny'

As the digital audience mushroomed with the rise in sales of Freeview boxes, Little Britain became one of the BBC's worst-kept digital secrets, before making its terrestrial debut on BBC Two late last year.

It has earned its instant classic status, says Daily Mirror TV editor Nicola Methven.

"I think the reason it's become so popular is simple; it's very funny," she told BBC News Online. "It's because David Walliams and Matt Lucas work together so well.

"There's also lots of repetition of catchphrases, and the Tom Baker voiceovers are so good."

She said the show's clutch of repetitive catchphrases - a similar trick to The Fast Show's - was "inclusive".

David Walliams and Matt Lucas
The pair previously worked together on Rock Profiles

"If you look at the Harry Enfield show, it has dated quite a bit, and The Fast Show had run for a long time. My favourite character is Andy - I just love the way he says 'yeah I know', all the time."

With a second series already in development - and its catchphrases part of the comedy landscape, Little Britain may be a force to be reckoned with itself in years to come.


SEE ALSO:
Gervais leads battle for Baftas
23 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
BBC digital TV is 'coming of age'
15 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Matt Lucas's comic extremes
30 Jan 02  |  Entertainment


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