Absolutely Everything, All 4 Series [DVD]
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The legenary Absolutely finally makes its debut on DVD after Absolutely Productions finally re-aquired the rights to all 4 series of Absolutely. Written by and starring Moray Hunter, Morwenna Banks, Jack Docherty, Peter Baikie, Gordon Kennedy & John Sparkes, the late 80s early 90s sketch show has been described as 'one of Channel 4's best-kept secrets'
This box set finally collects together all four seasons - a total of 28 episodes - a huge 15 Hours and 52 minutes of material!
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And what wonderful strandss they are, bearing comparison to the Fast Show: a cavalcade of wonderful recurring characters and situations: Don and George, Callum Gilhooley, The unbelievably bellicose nationalist poet & playwright McGlashan, Bert the old man, The Nice Family, Denzil and Gwynedd (my personal fave), Morwenna Banks' little girl ("It's true, it's true, it is!"), the foul and yet brilliantly lavatorial Frank Hovis and of course the majesty of the Stoneybridge Town council, with its Stony Bridge. There is just an embarrassment of riches on offer here with a gratifyingly high hit rate, with so much more comic invention than we see so often now.
And when they say Everything they mean it. Many episodes have audio and video commentaries from the team and an extra disc contains a set of background items and discussions about character origins and so forth. The transfer quality is, at times, only adequate, though that might have something to do with the quality of the original source tapes. It's sad that better care hadn't been taken with them.
Another slight annoyance is the lack of either chaptering or subtitles on episodes. It might also have been nice to have some kind of printed material with it too, but for the price one can hardly carp too much.
Sketch comedy is, at the moment, in something of a low period with very few shows of the type prospering. The last was Little Britain, which has creatively run out of steam somewhat. Oh, how Channel 4 must wish for something now that could fill Absolutely's slot with the audiences it had, and with half the wit and invention. I am still, to this day, astounded that many more people don't remember and celebrate it in the same way as the aforementioned (and also wonderful) Fast Show.
In spite of gripes about transfer quality, the fact that this is priced so reasonably makes this series a total steal and an absolutely (ho, ho) essential purpose if you like quality comedy of any sort.
Some of the Sparkes characters reappear in Barry Welsh is Coming which is also worth a look.
I was involved with the company that was originally negotiating with Channel 4 four years ago to get the series released on DVD. Rather than release all the episodes as they are doing now, we were planning to do a "best of" to dip the toes of interest and follow-up with the complete episodes if the groundswell warranted it. As a precursor to this, Channel 4 converted some of the 1" masters for us to view to select the material that we wanted and I was given the task of picking suitable sketches from Season 2. It was good but not as good as I remembered it and when the shortlist for the 'best of' was drawn up, over half of the content was from the third series. Unfortunately for us, Channel 4 procrastinated for a further two years with changes of personnel and direction. When they became worried that the distributors of the original compilation, The Vido, still had rights over series 1 to 3, we dropped out. Good to see that it is finally going to get a release from the production company that actually made it.
When viewing Absolutely as it ran on TV nearly twenty years ago, I had a gang of people round watching it and we used to memorise the words, especially to Denzyl/Gwynedd sketches and Frank Hovis monologues. Most of them stuck with me, something which disconcerted John Sparkes at Edinburgh a few years back when, whilst he was reprising Frank Hovis in Filth!, I was mouthing the words to "Taxi" idly before I caught his eye and realised what I was doing. Not sure if he was annoyed or pleased but I stopped anyway.
There were only ten people in the audience that night and that kind of exemplifies that despite being a great piece of television, Absolutely somehow missed the real mainstream in its day. Hopefully the DVD release will give an audience size that the programme deserves.
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