Opinion: Best Sketch Ever?*

Kevin eldon

Sunday 14/4/13 Coincidence corner. NBC's Saturday Night Live in America did a punk spoof this week as a tribute to Margaret Thatcher, which included their own Grundy/Pistols parody. Not as good as Eldon of course, but they got the colour of the set pretty close. 

Sunday 7/4/13 update. Bridget Christie, who plays Siouxsie Sioux in the Amish/Pistols sketch, was away when it went out but on her return emailed me with a couple of comments on how she prepared for her role as the member of the Sex Pistols entourage destined to become a star in her own right. Christie made sure she knew the original clip inside out: "I watched it about 100 times to get it right. Also she was a bit of an idol of mine growing up so didn't want to fuck it up."

9.05am Update: A little addition from Peter "Grundy" Serafinowicz...

"I learnt the voice on the day. And the Sex Pistols terrified me as a kid! But I met Lydon last year. Delightful man."

2:24pm Update: Kevin Eldon has been in touch to shed some more light on the Sex Pistols/Amish sketch, as follows..

"Arthur (Mathews) did indeed write it. I think the only thing I changed was Arthur had the Sex Pistols Amish younger than the Grundy Amish but I thought it would be good if their ages were indistinguishable. I considered having them all speak in an American Amish accent and was going to but at the last moment dropped that idea and went back to them speaking as closely to the originals as poss. 

It was perfect team work. Al (Campbell) the director noted and reproduced it shot for shot and the designer Simon Rogers really did a terrific job re-creating the set. We tried as far as possible to mimic every movement of everyone at every second in the original interview. I notated the ad libs, the off camera comments, laughs and exhalations of cigarette smoke etc from the original and multi tracked myself doing them in the dub.

It was an exercise in loving nerdship."

There is a theory in television that if you can juggle your episodes around the third episode should be the weakest. This particularly applies to sketch shows where the material is not narrative-based. So the first episode should be the best to get people watching and get some word of mouth, the second should be good to keep people watching and the last ones should be up to scratch to help the show go out with a splash, leave nice memories and get a recommission.

So when I sat down to watch episode three of It's Kevin on BBC2 last Sunday I was braced for a mild disappointment and was slightly distracted doing other stuff as I watched it. Suddenly though, my ears pricked up when I heard a familiar northern accent say "Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Brahms.." Wasn't that the voice of Bill Grundy, the late television presenter best known for his 1976 interview with the Sex Pistols on the teatime Today programme which featured generous helpings of swearing and made punk rock front page news?

I looked at the screen and could not believe what I was seeing. It looked like a bunch of bearded Amish folk in the Thames TV studio but it sounded exactly like the Sex Pistols on December 1st 1976. It was all played absolutely straight for maximum humorous effect. Same tone, same movements, same Rotten glare at the camera. There were no jokes, they just did the original script, "Rotten" muttering an audible "shit" under his breath, "Steve Jones" shouting "You dirty fucker" and "Grundy" flirting unsuccessfully with "Siouxsie Sioux".

Closer inspection of the shot-for-shot send-up revealed that it featured an all-star cast. As well as Rotten being played by Eldon, Jones was the IT Crowd's Matt Berry, Grundy was voicemeister Peter Serafinowicz and Sioux was Bridget Christie, whose breakthrough Radio 4 series Bridget Christie Minds The Gap has just gone out. The clip has quickly gone viral, with quite a few people lusting after Christie but most acclaiming the sketch as a work of genius. It is certainly that. An instant classic. A Four Candles/Fork Handles for the Punk Rock generation that almost, but not quite, feels closer to a Turner Prize-style art project than a light entertainment sketch.

At 53 Eldon is old enough to remember the original clip. He is also a big punk fan, having been in a real new wave band as a yoof in Chatham and more recently he was in the light-hearted tribute band Beergut 100 with Bill Bailey doing punk rock covers. I wonder what younger, less culturally informed people would make of a bunch of bearded comedians resembling extras from Witness swearing at an interviewer.

Looking at chatter about the sketch on Twitter it appears to have been written by Arthur Mathews. I've made enquiries to confirm this and will get back to you on it either way, but that certainly makes sense. Mathews was a co-writer with Graham Linehan of the hugely underrated Big Train which had a bit of a thing about putting unlikely pop culture characters in unexpected contexts (they did it a bit on Father Ted too). Remember Eldon as Chairman Mao doing Roxy Music's Virginian Plain, or Kevin Rowland as Frankenstein's monster (played by, erm, Kevin Eldon) warbling Dexy's Let's Make This Precious. I think they call it cognitive dissonance.

Nothing though, is as good is this week's cultural collision which has really touched a nerve. Until this sketch I'd been enjoying It's Kevin but a tiny little bit of me had been wondering if I'd enjoy 30 minutes of old YouTube clips of Kevin Eldon's finest moments from other programmes just as much. The Amish/Pistols mash-up has got me hooked for the rest of the series and hoping there will be another series as well. Not bad for a weak third episode.

*Actually, if I'm completely honest it's probably the second best sketch ever. Vic and Bob's original Masterchef sketch slightly edges it, but only just.

Watch the Amish Sex Pistols sketch below




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