The Hunt For Tony Blair And The 5 Best Comic Strip Episodes

The Comic Strip returns at 9pm on Channel 4 this evening with a stellar cast including Robbie Coltrane and Nigel Planer, but can it live up to these five classic episodes that changed the format of British Comedy?
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In the near 30 years since the Comic Strip made their first film, many of the stars, writers and directors have gone on to become household names, some have made genuinely great TV and one or two have gone on to be that bloke, y’know, he was in that thing with the wotsit – him.

The Comic Strip was formed around a core cast of alternative comics including Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Robbie Coltrane, Peter Richardson, Alexie Sayle, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer and Keith Allen (with the occasional involvement of everyone from Leslie Philips to Kate Bush). Over the years, and increasingly sporadically, this loose affiliation of talents has made around 40 TV shows, specials and films. Some of the shows were great and still stand up today, some were only passable and are showing their age and some were utterly awful, but, if nothing else, everything the Comic Strip ever made was experimental and intriguing.

With a new show (The Hunt for Tony Blair) airing tonight, here’s an introduction to the best of the team’s earlier work.

Bad News Tour

‘I could play Stairway To Heaven when I was 12, Jimmy Page didn’t actually write until till he was 22. I think that says quite a lot.’ The words of Vim Fuego, singer and lead guitarist with dodgy heavy metal group Bad News during this fake documentary which follows the band to a gig in Grantham. Vim (Ade Edmondson) and band mates Spider (Peter Richardson), Den (Nigel Planer) and Colin (Rik Mayall) are awkwardly accurate deluded rock n roll archetypes and the Comic Strippers involved wrote and played the songs themselves. Sounds a bit too much like Spinal Tap? It was made the year before, so you can’t say they copied.

Mr Jolly Lives Next Door

Basically Mayall and Edmondson doing their Bottom/ Dangerous Brothers shtick but with Peter Cook chucked in as a Tom Jones loving psycho killer. It stands out for being genuinely, down-at-heel funny and it’s lent a noticeable air of class by the presence of occasional Comic Strip collaborator (and proper A list movie director) Stephen Frears and a spectacularly game performance by Nicholas Parsons.

It’s the ever-magnificent Jim Broadbent who totally steals the show as ‘Shouting George’, a no-nonsense ’10-Guv-a-day’ yelling, Regan-type who out-Gene Hunts Gene Hunt with ease.

The Strike

Hollywood takes on Arthur Scargill’s finest year and, when Alexie Sayle’s naive screenwriter Paul sells his gritty, accurate script about the Miners’ strike to Robbie Coltrane’s fuck-the-facts movie mogul, he  turns it into a syrupy love story. The Strike moves cleverly between the making of the film and the film itself as Peter Richardson’s Al Pacino makes increasingly insane script demands as he builds his remarkable Arthur Scargill performance and Jennifer Saunders plays Meryl Streep playing Mrs Scargill.

The idea of Al Pacino playing Arthur Scargill might have seemed a ridiculous one in 1988, but the notion of Meryl Streep playing Thatcher would have been equally unlikely. With The Iron Lady opening in the New Year maybe someone should phone Al and get him to start growing a comb-over.

The Yob

The best thing Keith Allen’s ever done – which is more of a recommendation than it sounds. Using the body swap concept of The Fly, The Yob sees Allen’s pretentious, coke-sniffing, money-obsessed pop promo producer Patrick slowly become a racist, homophobic, boorish football hooligan. Surprisingly he’s more endearing after the change. It’s a bit too 80’s, the UB40 cameo is bit too rubbish and it takes a while to get going but once it does Allen makes an unsurprisingly convincing twat.

Detectives on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Many years before Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, the Comic Strip parodied all of the most memorable 70’s, 80’s and 90’s cop shows in a single half hour show. This superior sequel to the earlier The Bullshitters finds the Professionals, the Sweeney and Spender all thrown together to find out who killed a Keith Floyd-style Gourmet Detective. Keith Allen plays both the Floyd-alike and ‘Bonehead’ opposite Peter Richardson’s ‘Foyle’, who also plays Jason King clone Jason Bentley; Phil Cornwell plays philosophical, lamenting Geordie ‘Spanker’; but it’s the ever-magnificent Jim Broadbent who totally steals the show as ‘Shouting George’, a no-nonsense ’10-Guv-a-day’ yelling, Regan-type who out-Gene Hunts Gene Hunt with ease.

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