Little Britain

Starring: Matt Lucas, David Walliams and Tom Baker
BBC Radio Collection
RRP 12.99
ISBN 0 563 52340 9
Available now

Britain, Britain, Britain, also known as Great Britain. But what makes it so great? The Britons, that's what: the people of Britain. People like Daffyd Thomas, supposedly the only gay in his village, rubbish transvestite Emily Howard, inarticulate West Country delinquent Vicky Pollard, and out of work actor Dennis Waterman...

Like Dead Ringers, Little Britain has made a successful transition from radio to television, aided by the resonant tones of Tom Baker. But whereas the Dead Ringers Doctor is merely an impressive impersonation by Jon Culshaw, Little Britain boasts the real deal with its idiosyncratic narrator. Much of what Baker says could be deeply offensive, were it not for the sheer insanity of his sentence structures and tone of voice. He is the glue that binds this brilliant series of diverse sketches together.

Sci-fi fans will find further pleasure in the naming of two characters, a games inventor and the boss of Waddingtons, after Doctor Who actors Matthew Waterhouse (David Walliams) and Mark Strickson (Matt Lucas), and the prospect of Dennis Waterman (Walliams) being offered a role in a Star Wars film.

Waterman is one of my favourite characters. He is an entirely inoffensive creation, since Walliams makes no attempt to mimic the actor's real voice, but instead imagines him as a performer with an obsession for not only starring in productions but also writing the theme tune (pronounced "toon") and singing the theme tune. I also love the cryptic Scottish chef Ray McCooney (Walliams), who finds it impossible to give a straight answer to even the simplest of enquiries. Another favourite is the gay Daffyd Thomas (Lucas) who, despite his declared opinions about the prejudices of others, is actually the most uptight person in his village regarding his sexuality. Then there's the unscrupulous hypnotist Kenny Craig (Lucas), whose schemes always deservedly come unstuck, and Mr Grant (Walliams), a teacher dating one of his pupils. But yes, but no, but yes, but no, but there's also teenager Vicky Pollard (Lucas), but I wouldn't know about that, 'cause I wasn't even there, so shut up!

Oh, what the heck - all the characters are great!

Fans of the subsequent TV show will notice the absence of Andy and Lou ("Yeah, I know"), though you can see the genesis of these characters in Alan the alleged amnesiac (Walliams), who is actually just plain idle, and the voice of a not particularly scary ghost (Walliams). Several other characters and sketches are unique to the radio series, including the self-sacrificing Mrs O'Mara (Lucas) and the Britannia Cat Club sketch.

It is almost impossible to put The League of Gentlemen out of mind while listening to the eccentric range of voices in Little Britain. Marjorie Dawes (Lucas), the bullying group leader of a slimming club, is uncomfortably similar in concept to Steve Pemberton's horrid job club officer, Pauline. St John's ambulance woman April May (Walliams) sounds a lot like the old ladies from The League's charity shop, but then men have been putting on squeaky voices and pretending to be women since the development of pantomime. There are also elements of Alan Partridge in the embittered kids' TV dropout Des Kaye and has-been sportsman Denver Mills (both Walliams).

However, my only real criticisms of this double CD have more to do with its presentation than the material it presents. The track listing isn't entirely accurate. There are three extra tracks than are listed on the sleeve, so by the end of each CD you will find that the track description is at odds with what you are listening to. And why has the BBC only released highlights of the two radio series? Little Britain is funny enough to justify being issued in its full, unadulterated glory.

Richard McGinlay

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