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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 11:37 GMT
Lifting the lid on Little Britain
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News website entertainment reporter

Little Britain duo Lucas and Walliams and their wax alter egos
Madame Tussauds made waxworks of Lucas and Walliams

Little Britain has become Britain's best-loved sketch show since The Fast Show - and has won best TV comedy at the British Comedy Awards for the second year running.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams are now firmly among the British comedy elite, having taken the first Ronnie Barker writer of the year award at the ceremony.

Since the show made its debut in 2003, the show has notched up a host of awards including three Baftas.

The first episode in the third series, screened in November, was watched by 9.5m viewers, the highest audience for the show so far.

Among the new creations to join the show's ranks of quotable characters were MP Sir Norman Fry and incontinent old lady Mrs Emery.

The comics have also embarked on a lengthy sell-out live tour, which saw fans booking up for performances more than a year in advance.

High sales

In June, the DVD of the first series was announced as the biggest-selling DVD TV series during the last year, notching up more than 1.3m copies.

Its first series saw it go 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.

David Walliams as Dudley and Matt Lucas as Ting Tong
Dudley and mail-order bride Ting Tong are among the new creations

It introduced a strange, twilight Britain made up of half-hearted transvestites, nave carers, lazy romantic novelists, and children's show presenters turned bitter staffers at DIY warehouses.

It made stars of Lucas - who appeared as overgrown baby George Dawes on BBC Two quiz Shooting Stars - and Walliams, previously seen on the comedy-drama Attachments.

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
"Yeah but no but yeah but" - Vicki
"I'm the only gay in the village" - Daffyd
"I want that one" - Andy
"I'm a lady. I do ladies' things" - Emily Howard

A pilot for the first TV series was shown on the opening night on BBC Three in 2003, 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'

Little Britain made its terrestrial debut on BBC Two, later moving to BBC One.

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 said. "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".

Matt Lucas in Little Britain
Vicky Pollard is among the show's most iconic characters

"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."

Some critics were unimpressed by the most recent series.

Robert Hanks of the Independent said the "sense of novelty has long gone".

It still has many admirers including the Sun's Sara Nathan, who praised the "brilliant physical comedy", saying: "It left me feeling as if I'd eaten a ton of sweets - slightly nauseous but very, very happy."

With a Christmas special planned for 2006, it seems the sun is unlikely to set on the Little Britain empire for some time.



SEE ALSO
Little Britain takes comedy award
15 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
9.5m see new Little Britain show
18 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Little Britain on South Bank Show
30 Aug 05 |  Entertainment

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