The Quiet Hero Of British Comedy

In April 2010, Noel Fielding was amongst the attendees at a BAFTA event celebrating the work of make-up artist Christine Cant.  Velveteerrs were on hand to document proceedings…

Noel and Christine 'do Twilight'. © Rachel Emms

More used to stumbling around subterranean comedy clubs for our Booshy fix, we politely “Ooohed” and “Aaahed” at the novel hushed glamour of BAFTA HQ. Christine Cant is known to many as the make-up designer on The Mighty Boosh, but until yesterday we hadn’t fully appreciated the extent of her involvement in the cream of British comedy, not the significance of her role on the shows. Christine has provided make-up design for many of the seminal comedy shows of the past 2 decades, including Father Ted, Brass Eye, Alan Partridge, Spaced, French & Saunders, Jam, The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh. She’s also responsible for Poirot’s cheeky Belgian tache, but we won’t hold that against her.

On stage, Christine is diminutive, pretty and immaculately made-up, rocking killer red lippy and white blond hair. Her soft Scottish brogue belies a steely passion for the job she does. To her left sits the chameleon-like Jennifer Saunders, uncannily capable of fully inhabiting the characters she plays, made up as Joan Collins. To Christine’s left sits Noel Fielding, brilliantly bizarre in full Spirit of Jazz make-up and hair…plus jeans and a tshirt, a kind of Spirit of Jazz on his day off. The mutual respect and affection between Christine and the other two is clear to see. Heck, it’s already a great evening before anyone opens their mouth!

Spirit of Jazz goes casual... © Rachel Emms

What sets Christine apart is the combination of her vivid, yet sensitive connection with the visual world, her empathy with the people she works with, and her quietly rock n roll attitude to her craft: artistry, common sense, and fun in equal measures. It’s an approach that elicits a fierce loyalty from the actors with whom Christine works; Noel asserting that they would change the Boosh shooting schedule to fit around her availability, so important is her contribution to the show. Many of the Boosh’s best-loved characters are the result of a true collaboration between Christine and Noel in particular. They talked of working late into the night, drawing pictures, comparing ideas and sketching onto Polaroids to find the places they needed to go with new characters. Half a day’s filming was discarded when Noel felt the prosthetically-laden fish face of Old Gregg just didn’t feel right. Free of ego, Christine worked with him to arrive at the Old Gregg we know and love – simply by painting directly onto his face. “Broad brush strokes” is often her mantra!

Christine is equally at home creating outlandish ghoulish characters as she is delicately and sensitively redirecting reality.Christine’s work on Lizzie & Sarah enabled Jessica Hynes and Julia Davis to portray characters aged between 18 and 56 years old. And both had to be credible on HD! It was fascinating to hear how Christine had created the exaggerated features of the Hitcher on one hand (laughing at how Series 1 Hitcher required a full day in make-up while his more recent incarnation was basically a paint job….and no one noticed any difference!), and on the other hand had subtly reduced Noel’s on stage appearance by 10 years to play Vince. So convincing is her work that Noel claimed people are often surprised at how old he looks when they meet him in real life. Apparently even the editor of the Mighty Boosh was shocked to see that Noel wasn’t 23 years old when he finally saw him out of make up!

The anecdotes were fascinating and colourful, and it felt a privilege to hear them. From Christine’s lunch time naps on her camp bed, to her vodka smoothies, her arguments with technical crew when the lighting wasn’t right, and the time she super-glued Noel’s eyes shut by gluing coins to his eyelids: it all sounded like a blast! Christine also talked about how she created quick ‘pull on’ versions of the characters for the Boosh live show – and it was refreshing to see how easygoing she was to was towards slightly cackhanded instant versions of her fantastical creations!

In all, a fabulously insightful event. Christine came across as a rare talent and a warm, passionate friend to the people she works with. Genuinely one of the unsung heroes of the best of British comedy.

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