The Fast Show

The Fast Show

Title Card for the current Web Series of The Fast Show

Title Card for the Fosters Funny[1] series of The Fast Show.
Created by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson
Starring Paul Whitehouse
Charlie Higson
Arabella Weir
John Thomson
Caroline Aherne (1994–97, 2011)
Simon Day
Mark Williams (1994–2000)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 40
Running time 30 minutes
6-8 minutes approx (Web Series)
Original network BBC Two (1994-1997, 2000, 2014) (2011)
Picture format 4:3 (1994–1997)
16:9 (2000, 2011–12, 14)
Audio format Stereo
Original release 27 September 1994 – 29 December 1997
26–28 December 2000 (Reunion Special)
10 November 2011 - 3 April 2012 (Web Series)
23–26 May 2014 (BBC 2 50th Birthday Special)

The Fast Show, known as Brilliant in the US, is a BBC comedy sketch show programme that ran from 1994 to 1997, with specials in 2000 and 2014. It was one of the most popular sketch shows of the 1990s in the UK. The show's central performers were Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Simon Day, Mark Williams, John Thomson, Arabella Weir and Caroline Aherne. Other significant cast members included Paul Shearer, Rhys Thomas, Jeff Harding, Maria McErlane, Eryl Maynard, Colin McFarlane and Donna Ewin.

It was loosely structured and relied on character sketches, recurring running gags, and many catchphrases. Its fast-paced "blackout" style set it apart from traditional sketch series because of the number and relative brevity of its sketches; a typical half-hour TV sketch comedy of the period might have consisted of nine or ten major items, with contrived situations and extended setups, whereas the premiere episode of The Fast Show featured twenty-seven sketches in thirty minutes,[2] with some items lasting less than ten seconds and none running longer than three minutes. Its innovative style and presentation influenced many later series such as Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show.

The show was released on VHS, DVD and audio CD. Some of its characters, Ron Manager, Ted and Ralph, Swiss Toni and Billy Bleach have had their own spin-off programmes. It also produced two national tours, the first in 1998, with the cast of the BBC surrealist comedy quiz show Shooting Stars, and the second, their Farewell Tour, in 2002.

Charlie Higson announced on 5 September 2011 that The Fast Show would return for a new online only series starting 14 November.[3] The premiere date was changed later to 10 November.[4] The series was later shown as two thirty-minute parts rather than the original eleven short episodes as part of a 50th birthday celebration for BBC2, the channel on which The Fast Show originally aired.

Style and content

The Fast Show was the brainchild of Paul Whitehouse and friend and writing partner, Charlie Higson; Higson had previously enjoyed some success in the UK as a musician in the band The Higsons. After meeting through a mutual friend, comedian Harry Enfield invited Whitehouse to write for him. Whitehouse in turn asked Higson to help him out.

In the early 1990s Higson and Whitehouse worked extensively with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, writing for and performing in the series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer (both of which Higson produced). These series also featured numerous appearances by future Fast Show cast members Caroline Aherne, Simon Day, Mark Williams and Rhys Thomas. Higson made many appearances in minor roles, while Williams and Whitehouse had recurring roles (with Vic and Bob) in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, parodying the members of rock group Slade in the "Slade in Residence" and "Slade on Holiday" sketches.

Inspired by a press preview tape of Enfield's show, compiled by producer friend Geoffrey Perkins and consisting of fast-cut highlights of Enfield's sketches, the pair began stockpiling material and developing the idea of a rapid-fire 'MTV generation'-format based wholly on quick cuts and soundbites/catchphrases. After unsuccessfully trying to sell the series to ITV through an independent production company, Higson and Whitehouse approached the new controller of BBC2, Michael Jackson: Fortunately, he was then looking for new shows to replace several high-profile series that had been recently lost to BBC1, and their show was picked up.[2]

Whitehouse and Higson, as co-producers and main writers, then assembled the original team of writers and performers, which included David Cummings, Mark Williams, Caroline Aherne, Paul Shearer, Simon Day, Arabella Weir, John Thomson, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (of Father Ted fame), Dave Gorman, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer and Craig Cash (who went on to write and perform with Aherne in The Royle Family). Musical director Philip Pope was also an established comedy actor with extensive experience in TV and radio comedy, and had previously appeared in series such as Who Dares Wins and KYTV; he also enjoyed success as a comedy recording artist as part of The HeeBeeGeebees, the Bee Gees parody group.

The Fast Show was a working title disliked by both Whitehouse and Higson but it went unchanged through production and eventually remained as the final title.[5]

The first series introduced many signature characters and sketches including Ted and Ralph, Unlucky Alf, the Fat Sweaty Coppers, Ron Manager, Roy and Renée, Ken and Kenneth (The Suit You Tailors), Jesse (of "Jesse's diets"), Arthur Atkinson, Bob Fleming, Brilliant Kid, Insecure Woman, Janine Carr, Denzil Dexter, Carl Hooper, Ed Winchester, the Patagonian buskers, "Jazz Club" and the popular parody "Chanel 9."

Many characters were never given any "official" name, with their sketches being written to give their catchphrase as the punchline of each sketch. Examples include "Anyone fancy a pint?" (played by Whitehouse), "You ain't seen me, right!" (a mysterious gangster-like character played by Mark Williams), "I'll get me coat" (Williams) and "Ha!," a sarcastic elderly woman played by Weir.

Other long-standing running jokes in the programme included the fictitious snack food "Cheesy Peas" in various forms, shapes and flavours, in satirical adverts presented by a twangy, Northern lad who claims, "They're great for your teas!" and has since become a reality thanks to UK TV chef Jamie Oliver.[6] The dire earnestness of the born-again Christian was parodied in another popular group of sketches where various characters responded to any comment or question by extolling the virtues of "Our Lord Jesus" and ended the sketch with the exclamation "He died for all our sins, didn't he?" or something similar; and most controversially, "We're from the Isle of Man, " featuring a stereotype of weird, surreal, townsfolk in a setting portrayed as an abjectly impoverished and desolate cultural wasteland.

Some of the characters resembled parodies of well-known personalities: for example, Louis Balfour, host of "Jazz Club" was reminiscent of Bob Harris of The Old Grey Whistle Test[5] and Ron Manager of football pundits Trevor Brooking and Graham Taylor. However, the parodic intent of this character is broader, and portrays how often football pundits have little to say of any real substance and sometimes waffle. Paul Whitehouse said that Ron Manager was based on ex-Luton Town and Fulham manager Alec Stock.[7] Arthur Atkinson is a composite of Arthur Askey and Max Miller.

The show ended in 2000, with a three-part "Last Ever" show, in the first episode of which Fast Show fan Johnny Depp had a guest-starring role as a customer of The Suit You Tailors, after three series and a Christmas special.

The theme tune was "Release Me", a song which had been a hit for pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck. In the first series it was performed over the opening credits by Whitehouse in the guise of abnormally transfiguring singer Kenny Valentine. In subsequent series, the tune only appeared in the closing credits, played on the saxophone.

List of regular characters

The show featured many characters and sketches. Some of the more prominent recurring characters/sketches are:

Unlucky" Alf, a lonely old pensioner living somewhere in Northern England for whom nothing ever goes right
"Unlucky" Alf

Recurring characters

In popular culture

In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow quotes the show, the Rowley Birkin line "... and then they made me their chief!". In a deleted scene of the movie, Sparrow also uses the Mark Williams catchphrase "I'll get me coat." Johnny Depp is a major fan of The Fast Show and an ardent admirer of Paul Whitehouse, whom he once described as "the greatest actor in the world". In 1997, Depp made a cameo appearance as the hapless customer in the 'Suit You, Sir' sketch in the Fast Show farewell special, and in a 2015 interview, he commented: "It was absolutely one of my proudest achievements. No question. It was one of my favourite things, to have been on the last Fast Show.”[10] Also Depp's 2015 movie Mortdecai features Paul Whitehouse in a minor role and has been noted for alluding to Fast Show characters.[11][12]

Filming locations

A significant proportion of The Fast Show was shot externally, unusually for a sketch show. Early on in the series much of this filming was done in and around the North East of England; County Durham, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, and also North Yorkshire. Locations included:

Also for the third series the production extended abroad to Iceland:


Series Start date End date Episodes Channel
1 27 September 1994 1 November 1994 6 BBC Two
2 16 February 1996 29 March 1996 7
3 14 November 1997 29 December 1997 8
4 (Last Fast Show Ever) 26 December 2000 28 December 2000 3
5 10 November 2011 3 April 2012 13 Fosters Funnies
BBC Two 50th Birthday Special 23 May 2014 26 May 2014 2 BBC Two

A Christmas special was televised on BBC Two on Friday 27 December 1996.

Related programming

At the conclusion of the third series, there was a one-off spinoff, Ted & Ralph which aired on 27 December 1998 on BBC Two. They were the first characters to have their own spinoff show outside the sketches.

In 1999, The Fast Show did a number of adverts for Holsten Pils. Ken and Kenneth, Chanel 9 news with Kolothos Apollonia and Poutremos Poutra-Poutros, a Mexican band, a Chanel 9 cooking segment with Mark Williams playing a chef, Jesse, Bob Fleming and The Unpronouncables.

In 2001, Ron Manager, Tommy and the interviewer fronted a comedy panel game show on Sky 1 called "Jumpers for Goalposts". The interviewer was the presenter while Ron Manager and Tommy were the resident team captains.

Swiss Toni did a stand-alone series in 2003 and 2004 and broadcast on BBC Three. The first three episodes of the first series were repeated on BBC One.

In 2006, Higson and Whitehouse produced and performed in Down the Line, a spoof talkback show for BBC Radio 4, hosted by Rhys Thomas, which featured many of the regular Fast Show cast, including Higson, Whitehouse, Simon Day, Arabella Weir and Felix Dexter. Further series were broadcast in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2013. A follow-on TV series, Bellamy's People, was broadcast in 2010.


Speaking on the BBC Two show Something for the Weekend on 9 September 2007, Higson mentioned the upcoming DVD boxed set release and that a reunion of some sort to help promote it was being considered. This took place at the Dominion Theatre in London on Sunday 4 November, and was a collection of some new sketches, videos of cast favourites and performances of classic sketches (including the return of Ed Winchester). Higson and Whitehouse stated they were working on a film script which would feature the Fast Show team, but wouldn't have any of the characters from the show. A new online only series was commissioned in a sponsorship deal with Foster's Lager, and aired beginning 14 November 2011; the trailer was released on 9 November on Foster's YouTube Channel.[13][14] New episodes featured the original cast with the exception of Mark Williams, who declined involvement in the project due to scheduling clashes.[15]


Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Fast Show

"You Ain't Seen These, Right!"

"You Ain't Seen These, Right!" was a one-off programme, shown during BBC 2's Fast Show Night, featuring various sketches which were filmed, predominantly from the third series, that did not make it onto the final show. Some of these were:

An extended 50 minute version of the original 30 minute special was included in the UK edition of the VHS boxed-set of Series 3, and also on the seven-disc Ultimate Fast Show DVD boxed-set.


  2. 1 2 Dewhurst, Keith (2007), "The Fast Show - A Personal View" (notes for The Ultimate Fast Show Collection DVD set, BBC)
  4. "Foster's - The Fast Show". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  5. 1 2 Comedy Connections: The Fast Show (Season 4 Episode 1, 2006, BBC TV)
  6. "Food | Recipes (UK)". Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 31 Dec 2015.
  7. "Alex Stock | Bournemouth". Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  8. liner notes to The Ultimate Fast Show Collection, (BBC, 2007)
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 "Suit You, Sir! The Inside Leg of the Fast Show" documentary (1999, BBC TV)
  10. Ashleigh Rainbird, "Johnny's Depp's favourite EVER role - his Fast Show cameo appearance", Daily Mirror, 20 January 2015
  11. Dalton, Stephen. "'Mortdecai': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  12. O'Sullivan, Charlotte. "Mortdecai - review: 'Johnny Depp has picked another flop for this misguided vanity project'". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  13. "Foster's". YouTube. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  14. "Fast Show returns in Foster's deal". 7 September 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  15. TV and Radio. "The Fast Show returns". Retrieved 12 February 2014.

External links

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