Yesterday, we posted the first half of our retrospective on the origins of The Boosh. You can read Part One again here.
The story concludes below, with the rest of our in-depth look at some of the people behind On The Hour and The Day Today who went on to become instrumental in the development of Booshdom.
One final member of that original On The Hour team would prove instrumental in creating not only the opportunity for The Boosh to reach a mainstream audience, but would become arguably the most important figure in 90s comedy, and one whose rapid career trajectory into Hollywood stardom and tabloid attention threatens, like many since, to overshadow his enormous impact on several generations of comics since. His name, of course, is Steve Coogan.
Born in the North Manchester town of Middleton, the working class drama graduate had a natural gift for impressions from an early age, and soon landed a job on satirical puppet show Spitting Image before teaming up with Chris Morris and company for On The Hour. Whilst his contributions to the series were varied, the overarching legacy of Coogan’s work on this, and it’s follow up The Day Today is that of sports commentator Alan Partridge – a selfish, moronic, waste of a man who genuinely believes he is a gift to broadcasting. The character developed over the years, gaining his own chat-show, Knowing Me, Knowing You on radio and television, then a sitcom which documented his fall from grace, I’m Alan Partridge. Rumours of a movie adaptation continue to crop up on a frequent basis, whilst Coogan has recently breathed new life into the character online, and with his new ‘autobiography’.
Concurrent with the early days of Partridge, a pair of comic creations were taking shape in Coogan’s mind, in the form of Paul & Pauline Calf. The former is a gobby, unemployed waste of space, whose ideal of safe sex is to “put yer fag out” and to “move yer cans where they won’t get knocked over.” The latter is, for want of a better term, a slag. Together, in pitch perfect video diaries, and blistering live performances, the duo remain arguably Coogan’s finest hour, even more so than the slightly over-exposed Partridge. Coogan went on to create an entire world of characters that resided in the fictional town of Ottle in which the Calf siblings reside [here’s a useless bit of TVO trivia for you: Pauline occasionally mentioned the local John Menzies, which in Coogan’s hometown became another, still existing retail chain which remains the least enjoyable place your editor and writer of this article has ever worked. Really small world, eh?].
Airing in 1995, and like The Day Today, featuring material from Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews, Coogan’s Run featured Paul & Pauline and five other new creations from Ottle and it’s smaller neighbour, Little Ottle. Featuring the charms of handyman Ernest Moss and nightclub singer Mike Crystal, alongside socially awkward Tim Fleck, arrogant salesman Gareth Cheeseman and the psychopathic brothers Stewart & Guy Crump [the former possibly named after Stewart Lee, after his dispute with co-writer/co-star Patrick Marber, perhaps?], the series built on Coogan’s reputation which his live tours cemented.
Coogan was supported by friend and regular collaborator John Thompson on his first nationwide tour, who then went on to become an integral part of smash-hit sketch series The Fast Show – which in turn, gave our very own Tony Way his big break. For his second tour, he turned to two virtually unknown new support artists: one was a young man by the name of Simon Pegg, at the time best known for his own stand-up material, and the extremely cult comedy series Asylum for the satellite broadcaster Paramount Comedy. Alongside Red Dwarf star Norman Lovett, and Pegg’s regular collaborator Jessica Stevenson, Asylum also featured a young Julian Barratt in the role of tortured artist Victor Monro. A few years later, when Pegg & Stevenson were all set to make seminal sitcom Spaced for Channel 4, they created a similar character called Brian Topp, for Julian to play – though his commitments to Arctic Boosh prevented his involvement, and the part went to Mark Heap instead, thus averting the destruction of Booshkind.
The second support performer was at the time known for her improvisational work with the future creator of Gavin And Stacey, Ruth Jones, and another name associated with that series and whom has become a firm ally of Coogan’s: Rob Brydon. Her name was Julia Davis, and her work on Coogan’s tour coincided with a role in Linehan & Matthews’ Big Train (alongside Simon Pegg), and led to her appearances in I’m Alan Partridge and later work with Chris Morris as we discussed earlier.
By this point, Coogan’s success was assured, and even when a few projects stalled (check out his criminally underrated Latino singer pastiche Tony Ferrino, who even got to duet with Bjork), his name was now associated with quality, ground breaking comedy. Alongside his writing partner Henry Normal, this reputation was further cemented by the birth of Baby Cow Productions (named after Paul Calf’s description of his surname to a troupe of animal-monikered hippies in Coogan’s Run), which the pair founded in 1999 and began in earnest with the likes of Marion & Geoff (featuring Brydon) and Human Remains (starring Brydon & Davis).
Shortly after discovering The Boosh, Coogan decided he would make them famous, and brought them to the attention of BBC3, who commissioned a pilot from Baby Cow which, as we all know, led to three series, two sell out live tours, and the whole cult of Booshdom that continues to grow and develop in new and unexpected ways to this day. Coogan’s own career moved towards Hollywood, but his occasional returns to British shores have not been without sprinkles of the artists we regularly feature.
As well as Baby Cow making Nighty Night and Lizzie And Sarah for Davis, they also made AD/BC: A Rock Opera for Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry back in 2004. Meanwhile, Coogan’s own sitcom Saxondale features the likes of Berry, James Bachman and Tom Meeten, and his 2008 live tour co-starred Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, no less. Truly, a real Grandparent of Onion Land.
Finally, then, we turn to the oft mentioned Graham Linehan, whose name has been sprinkled liberally throughout this article already. Let us not forget that alongside his work on The Day Today and Big Train, the legendary co-writer of Father Ted went on to help create the incredible Black Books with Dylan Moran, which in its time featured guest appearances from Alice Lowe & Tony Way, alongside Blunder/Fast Show/Bellamy’s People star Rhys Thomas (husband to Lucy Montgomery!), The Actor Kevin Eldon (who pops up just about everywhere, thankfully!) and many, many more. Even Noel Fielding’s art dealer, Tania Wade, silently cropped up in an episode!
Now we’ve dealt with Linehan’s work previously throughout this article, but following Black Books, Linehan appeared as a hospital porter in several episodes of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and went on, of course, to create, write and direct every episode of The IT Crowd, which is sadly coming to an end in the new year.
To think that one small bunch of writers and performers were able not only to inspire and influence a whole new generation of writers and performers is almost too mind-boggling a concept to get your head around, until you start to realise that this is, perhaps, the way it has always been. However, that Coogan, Linehan, Morris, Lee et all not only actively worked with, and in most cases continue to work with the generation of comics that followed them is a testament not only to their legacy as writers and performers, but as human beings as well. The team who created On The Hour all those years ago have been responsible for so much incredible work over the past two decades: alongside contemporaries such as Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse, Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer, they acted as a sparking point for a whole new offshoot of alternative comedy which continues to spiral off into new avenues to this day.
Ten years after the Boosh hit the airwaves, with talk of theatrical films in the pipeline, albums in the works, and both the Boosh and the various other artists they worked with on a regular basis also making the leap onto bigger and better platforms, one can’t help but wonder what they themselves will have inspired in the next generation of funny men and funny women who will be making us laugh ten years down the line. Whilst there may be no more Boosh planned for the television at present, and both The IT Crowd and How Not To Live Your Life are set to wind down in the coming months, the likes of This Is Jinsey and Mongrels demonstrate that the impact of what came before, and point to an exciting future ahead. At The Velvet Onion, we really can’t wait to see what comes next.