Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeThat Reminds MeThat Reminds Me: Some more comic gems you might have missed

That Reminds Me: Some more comic gems you might have missed


This is Part Two of a series which began here. 

A GERIATRIC ward in an NHS hospital is, one might think, an unpromising setting for comedy. Yet Getting On, in three series between 2009 and 2012, provided giggles aplenty, interspersed with moments which could be incredibly poignant.

It was written by Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, who appear as the three main characters nurse Kim Wilde, ward sister Denise ‘Den’ Flixter and consultant Dr Pippa Moore.

Before her stand-up career, Brand was a psychiatric nurse, as was her husband Bernie Bourke. She drew heavily on their NHS experiences in creating Getting On, which started with a three-parter followed by two series of six programmes.

Now of course Jo Brand is not everybody’s cup of tea and her leftie opinions delivered in a bored monotone tend to grate on my ears. However her performance as Kim, who actually cares about her patients and their families, is entirely believable and compelling. She struggles with form-filling, political correctness and the other bugbears of the modern NHS.

The monster of the piece is the dreadful ‘tough but fair’ Dr Moore. Obsessed with herself and totally lacking in ‘people skills’, she rides roughshod over the feelings of staff, medical students and patients alike. As part of a heavily funded research project, she collects samples of human faeces.  

Joanna Scanlon, who found fame as press secretary Terri Coverley in The Thick of It, is again in fine form as Den, separated from her fraudster husband and looking desperately for love. She thinks she has found it in sculptured-bearded matron Hilary Loftus, played by Ricky Grover, although he turns out to be a confirmed bachelor.

Peter Capaldi, also late of The Thick of It, plays the dashing consultant Peter Healey and produced the first two series.

Here is a classic scene after Kim is told to get rid of a turd left on a chair on the ward. She flushes it away only to be confronted by Dr Moore, who wanted it for her stool collection. Yes, it’s toilet humour, and the schoolboy in me still chuckles at it.

The critics were ecstatic about Getting On, with Jane Graham in the Guardian writing that it ‘has moments of real pathos, all of which arise very naturally and are heroically underplayed. There is just a heartbeat’s pause when a translator tells the irritated staff that a babbling foreign patient is saying “I want to die, please kill me.” And few things on TV recently have made me dwell more mournfully on the injustice of passing time than the scene in last week’s episode when the nurses Googled one of their frail, ghostly octogenarians and found photos of her as a luminous beauty queen in her 20s.’

Awards came thick and fast for the BBC Four production but for some reason (surely not political correctness?) a fourth series was not commissioned. Shame. You can buy it as a DVD box set or try that streaming-type-thingy.

We stay in a hospital setting for my next choice, Green Wing, but it could hardly be more different from the bleakness of Getting On. A continuation of the sketch show Smack The Pony, it was described by creator Victoria Pile as ‘a sketch-meets-comedy-drama-meets-soap’.

The plot examines the tangled personal relationships of the staff at East Hampton Hospital, a surreal collection of misfits and grotesques. There is a certain gimmickiness to the production, with the film being slowed down and speeded up, which caused my missus to take firmly against it, leaving me to watch alone.

By far the best parts of the show, for me, feature the stuttering, pedantic, useless radiologist Alan Statham, played by Mark Heap. He is (desperately and hopelessly) in love with Joanna Clore, the head of human resources. She thinks he is pathetic but allows him occasional furtive sex because she enjoys her power over him, while craving more spontaneity and danger. Here are some of their best scenes.

Familiar faces in the cast include Tamsin Greig as surgical registrar Caroline Todd, and the now ubiquitous Olivia Colman as office worker Kim Alabaster, a mother of four trapped in a loveless marriage. I have to say she is very good in this. And a particular favourite is Michelle Gomez as Sue White, the Scottish staff liaison officer. Here’s a scene where she sits on her desk painting her toenails then orders a watching doctor to blow them dry.

 Here are some other favourite moments.

And here is a scene in the ladies’ where Joanna and Sue compete in the sluttiness stakes. Phew!

Green Wing lasted for two series plus a 90-minute special between 2004 and 2007. You can watch it free on the Channel 4 website here or tool around t’internet for cheap DVDs.

My final selection for today is Look Around You. This is a wicked parody of scientific TV programmes and was shown on BBC2 between 2002 and 2005. The first series comprised nine episodes, usually eight minutes long, the second series six 30-minute programmes. It was described by Simpsons creator Matt Groening as ‘one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen’. Praise indeed.

Look Around You was created and written by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. The first series began with a double-length episode, Calcium, which was the original pilot show and features the clock marked TELEVISION FOR SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES which takes an interminable minute to tick round to where the programme starts. According to this edition, calcium is made by grinding discarded teeth in enormous milling machines.

Subsequent titles are Maths, Water, Germs, Ghosts, Sulphur, Music, Iron and The Brain. The scientists shown seldom speak but merely point a pencil at the subject, even when it is a bunch of pencils. The overall look and colour is devilishly tailored to look like 1980s schools TV.

Series Two targets more sophisticated science programmes such as Tomorrow’s World and the team is joined by who else but Olivia Colman, playing presenter Pam Bachelor.  

Episode One, again set in the 1980s, parodies Top of the Pops and is called Music 2000, including a song contest involving tunes expected to typify that far-off year. Guest stars include Harry Enfield as the Ghost of Tchaikovsky and Sanjeev Kohli as Synthesiser Patel. 

Look Around You is available on BBC iPlayer and on two separate DVDs.

That’s all for now but I’ll be back soon with more esoteric comedy gems.

Old jokes’ home

We live in an uncaring society. I was in the park the other day watching an old man feed the birds, and after a while I thought: ‘I wonder how long he’s been dead?’

A PS from PG

She had a beaky nose, tight thin lips, and her eye could have been used for splitting logs in the teak forests of Borneo.

PG Wodehouse: Much Obliged, Jeeves

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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