The Quiet Hero Of British Comedy

Yesterday evening, make-up designer extraordinaire, BAFTA-winning Christine Cant, gave a talk at about her work in TV over the past 20 years, including her work on Boosh-related shows.  Onion reporters, mogemms and BabyonFire, were there to listen and learn.

Noel and Christine 'do Twilight'. © Rachel Emms

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.

Spirit of Jazz goes casual… © Rachel Emms

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!

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!

© Baby Cow Productions

© Baby Cow Productions

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.

5 Comments on The Quiet Hero Of British Comedy

  1. Sounds like a fascinating evening. I’ve always thought her work on the Boosh was impressive, but I didn’t realize she had worked on all of those other shows. I’m even more impressed now!

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  2. Angel Of Death // April 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    Its wonderful to hear about the people behind the scenes, as they are often a critical, yet overlooked part of the whole production process. Her make up jobs are genius and without her skills, I think so much would be lost to the viewers. A very insightful article and kudos to getting the scoop, I enjoyed reading.

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  3. BabyOnFire... // April 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm // Reply

    This really is superb Mog! I hope we have many more Oniony adventures in the future! 😀 x

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  4. sparklesharked // April 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm // Reply

    I was at this! I wish I had known who the people from The Velvet Onion were though so I could meet you and say thanks. Well I suppose I can say it now- thank you for doing such a great job with this blog.

    Christine Cant was really lovely and I would highly recommend to anyone interested in television going to any of these BAFTA events, Boosh-related or not. It’s a fantastic deal at 7.50 or even better at 5 pounds for students, and you get to hear about the industry from people at the top of the field. At this particular event it also included free champagne at the reception afterwards.

    They filmed this as well so it should probably turn up at the BAFTA website sooner or later.

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  5. brainshortcake // April 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm // Reply

    I love peeks behind the scenes and this is a wonderful companion to what we see in the TV series extras. I’ve seen a lot of the shows Christine has worked on, so it’s great to hear more about her craft.

    I liked the mention of Vince’s make-up as well. It’s hard not to focus on characters like Old Gregg or the Spirit of Jazz, but I find it fascinating by how much work goes into age make-up as well, and when the job is as good as Christine’s, people don’t notice.

    Thanks for the great report!

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3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The End Of The Road For Lizzie & Sarah « The Velvet Onion
  2. Christine Cant: My Life In Make-Up « The Velvet Onion
  3. A BAFTA Cracker! « The Velvet Onion

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