Friday, 24 October 2008

Harry Hill Starts

A glamorous brunette relaxes in her office chair and reaches for the hem of her skirt. Slowly she lifts the hem up her thigh to reveal, the top of her suspender, her naked flesh and… a piano keyboard grafted onto her ludicrously elongated thigh.

It's Saturday night on ITV but what decade is it and what programme are we watching? Is it the 1970’s and Morecambe and Wise? Nope, its 2008 and the first of the new series of Harry Hill’s TV Burp is back on the telly.

The thing is, I’m not actually watching it on Saturday early evening as an antidote to Strictly Come Dancing. I’m watching the late night narrative repeat on Monday. You can schedule this programme pretty much wherever you like and it doesn't seem out of place.

Hill and his production team are exploiting a formula as old as TV itself. The first TV clip show was introduced about two minutes after John Logie Baird invented the Television. Clip shows enjoy the merit of being cheap and of high quality thanks to all the hard work done by the makers of the shows that the clips are from. All that needs be done to finish things off is the links between the clips. So far, so hum-drum. That was until Hill came along and decided to use the format as a vehicle for his own brand of comedy mania.

The result is, not only a show as funny as Have I Got News For You but a lot more accessible. The comedy is cheeky but only in the Carry On sense. It's not political so is unlikely to rub people up the wrong way. There is no underlying message or agenda. It is the classic example of not sacrificing a good gag in order to make a point.

For the uninitiated it is difficult, perhaps, to understand how Hill’s surreal style of comedy could work in such a conservative format. However, the show’s real genius is how he merges the links into the clips by momentarily duping the audience into thinking they are still watching the clip only to find Hill wandering in to play Alison King’s (the aforementioned glamorous bruntte) leg like a piano, for example - albeit with strategically placed body doubles.

The hijinks don’t end there. Frequently, the actors or personalities will appear in Harry’s world (specifically his studio) or turn up in other show’s 'clips' or take part in an extended gag. Few, who saw it, will ever forget the cataract sequence:

There are set-pieces like this that are too numerous to mention and lose a lot in translation, frankly. You’d have to see them. Which brings us to another reason why this programme is so special. Once they’ve been transmitted, you most likely won’t get the chance to see them again. It takes a bit of doing to get the licences to broadcast all these clips from other TV shows from other networks. The possibility of these episodes being screened beyond the same week narrative repeats are remote and it’s hard to imagine the series being collected as a box set for the same reason.

That’s what makes the programme so precious, the fact that if you miss it, you’ve really missed it. This is a rarity in today’s on-demand/multi-channel TV landscape and make the TV Burp even more special.

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