Sketching Britain

_Bellamy’s People_ is the television incarnation of Sony Award winning spoof radio show _Down the Line_, which follows comedies such as _That Mitchell and Webb Look_ in making the transition from Radio 4 to BBC 2. _Down the Line_, broadcast from 2006 – 2009, was hosted by the fictional Gary Bellamy (played by actor Rhys Thomas), and was the work of _The Fast Show _creators Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. The show was a convincing lampoon of populist radio phone-in shows: some listeners even failed to realise it was satirical and complained to the BBC.

The television version, which debuted on January 21st, is a “mockumentary” in which Bellamy travels around the country meeting the callers to his radio programme face-to-face, and parodies broadcasts such as _Martin Clunes: Islands of Britain_, where Clunes (in the words of ITV) “listens to the fascinating stories of what life is like away from the mainland from the people who live there”. Whitehouse and Higson, who met at university and have been friends for over 30 years, return to television as a team for the first time in a decade, since The Fast Show’s farewell mini-series in 2000. _Bellamy’s People_ maintains a similar style to its older relative, whose fans will be familiar with the interspersed short scenes and brisk pace from which the sketch show earned its name.

Parallels between the shows continue to some extent with the characters, as Whitehouse’s portrayal of bumbling, posh, hysterical, old drunk rock impresario Ian Craig-Oldman closely resembles bumbling, posh, hysterical, old drunk Rowley Birkin QC from _The Fast Show_; however, he does play a range of brilliant and original characters. One of the most notable is morbidly obese Graham Downes, a rampant consumer of Sugar Puffs, whose pathetic existence evokes pity as well as amusement and provides the show with a dimension beyond catchphrase humour. Higson (TFS’s Swiss Toni) also demonstrates his impressive acting abilities, playing an array of interesting Britons. Highlights include elderly gentleman Humphrey Milner, and all-round good bloke Chris “Nibbsy” Nibbs.

The portrayal of Britain’s cultural diversity is where the show unwaveringly excels. Felix Dexter, a supporting cast member and co-writer of _The Fast Show_, shines as a leading actor in _Bellamy’s People_. Whether in the guise of entrepreneur, Early D, Hotel Management student, Julius Olufemwe or well-bred architect, Aubrey Duboisson, Dexter is superbly entertaining. Self-appointed Asian “community leader” Mr Khan, who would prefer “strictly no dancing” to _Strictly Come Dancing_, is played by the equally versatile Adil Ray. Ray, who ought to have a thorough understanding of Britain’s Asian culture as a co-presenter of BBC Two series _Desi DNA_, also portrays MC Raa, a Muslim musician hailing from Birmingham.

Less engaging are Rosie Cavaliero (Green Wing) and Lucy Montgomery (The IT Crowd), who combine as the mildly amusing “Bellamy’s Babes”, members of the Gary Bellamy fan club. Furthermore, the duo’s collaboration as the feuding sisters, Lady Patience Combe and Lady Grace Combe, is particularly tiresome and pointless. The aristocratic and aged siblings, who live together, have contrasting ideologies: Patience is a proud communist, while Grace is a staunch National Socialist, but this setting does not seem to serve much purpose other than to allow the show to plaster a room in swastikas, hammers and sickles for supposed comic effect. It isn’t offensive but neither is it funny. However, this is a minor dip in quality from an otherwise outstanding assortment of characters.

You may be thinking that a BBC television adaptation of a Radio 4 comedy exploring the people of Britain has been done before with _Little Britain_. Both shows feature characters which are caricatures of British stereotypes, both shows have repetitive and slapstick elements and both shows use catchphrase humour (although to greatly varying degrees). However, _Bellamy’s People_ is not truly a sketch show and its characters have far more depth and complexity than _Little Britain’s_.

Whitehouse and Higson capture an expansive variety of people, cultures and subject matters, and their satirical slant on modern British documentaries even extends to a spoof, “Making of Bellamy’s People”, which is available on the Red Button after the main show. _Bellamy’s People_ breathes fresh life into a previously stagnant area of comedy , so make sure you don’t miss the last two shows, broadcast on Thursdays at 10pm on BBC Two. Before then, catch up on all of the previous episodes which are available on BBC’s iPlayer.


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