EDIT NEWS: Absolutely
First published March 2000
Channel 4's stupendously under-appreciated masterpiece (1989-93) written by and starring Jack Docherty, Moray Hunter, Morwenna Banks, John Sparkes, Pete Baikie and Gordon Kennedy. Most episodes rival (and, in many cases, excel) the 'landmark' comedy shows of the past. Unfortunately, however, many viewers joined the series during its final, substandard series, resulting in the programme being slated across the board. Such is the way. The team themselves fail to see what was so fantastic about it, but then most of them are asleep.

The second series (22/08/90-10/10/90) had originally consisted of eight programmes, each occupying a 45-minute slot (approximately 37 minutes of material). However, for the repeats in the spring of 1991, these episodes were re-edited into six half-hour editions, designed to fit into a 35-minute slot: these were billed in listings magazines (although not on-screen) as 'The Very Bits Of Absolutely'. This marked the team's dissatisfaction with the elongated links and whimsical format which had characterised their early work, and prepared the viewer for the snappier, altogether more conventional third series which followed a few months later. The re-edits (which did not contain any Series 1 material) essentially involved welding two original shows into one, the frequent running jokes and themes making a more wide-reaching selection difficult.

The sketches themselves were also edited with great precision, often to the detriment of their premise: for example, a sketch where a bunch of sweaty businessmen discuss a series of ridiculously-long lawyers' names after a game of squash was cut heavily, removing the ad nauseam nature of the idea. The original 'McGlashan' sketch, in which a rabid Scotsman (Jack Docherty) insists that the Scots invented everything, was trimmed in the same way, and again lost some of its impact. Other cuts were slightly sinister (McGlashan's use of the phrase 'He's here, he's there, he's every fucking where...', which was arguably still shocking in 1990, was conveniently absent, perhaps to avoid giving Channel 4 another chance to censor the line), while elsewhere the team took the opportunity to correct fluffs: Docherty's line in the 'Amnesty' sketch where, as Peter Wells, he says 'Brazil doesn't need our money - it's coffee, carnivals and football...marvellous way of life' had been initially obscured by Morwenna Banks missing her cue and coming in too early ('Okay, he hasn't got any shoes but it never did Pele any harm'). For the re-edits, 'marvellous way of life' was cut, as was the 'Pele' line itself.

[NOTE: There were clearly few opportunities for re-takes during the early episodes: in Series 1 in particular, all minor fluffs have been left intact.]

In an NME interview to publicise the fourth series (issue dated 23 January 1993), Jack Docherty talked about a first series Absolutely sketch which he recalled being censored: it concerned a sleazy businessman (John Sparkes) who had collected the Queen's shit and sold it to tourists. 'We only cut out the bit where you actually saw the shit,' he explained. However, the sketch in question does feature said (worryingly realistic-looking) Royal turds.

The Absolutely team now cringe at any mention of a sketch sending up people from Inverness, which died on the night of performance. Gordon Kennedy remembers little about the item, except that one of the Invernesians in question had a funny walk. This is the only major out-take the team will admit to.

At the time of writing, two 75-minute video-compilations ofAbsolutely are available: 'The Vido' [sic] and 'Number 2', both of which feature material from the first three series ('Number 2' was in fact released after the transmission of Series 4, suggesting that the two volumes were compiled at the same time). They are both poor selections, for various reasons. There is very little material from the first series ('The Vido' only contains one such item - the original 'Nice Family' sketch, which closed the first episode), and there seems to be a general abundance of revisionist-editing: most of the 'weird' stuff is absent in favour of punchy, crowd-pleasing items from the later episodes. The 'God, I'd love to do that' ending from a wedding video spoof has been unforgivably cut, despite being one of Docherty's best performances. The sketch in which Morwenna Banks' 'Billy' pointed at a newsagent (Gordon Kennedy)'s sweets and exhaustively asked 'How much is that?' still contained Kennedy's opening line 'Get the gun', despite the fact that it made no sense without the 'Suspicious Bank Clerk' sketch which had originally preceded it.

[NOTE (1): Both videos credited the original crews for 'Series I and II'. The fact that 'Series III' was not mentioned is puzzling, and suggests that the first series had been disowned to such an extent that the team refused to believe it existed!]

[NOTE (2): Series 1 allegedly once went missing from the Absolutely offices. It is not known whether this was the entire series or just one episode, nor whether it was the mastertape or a VHS viewing-copy, but it may have some connection to (a) the lack of first-series material on the tapes, and (b) the slightly inferior quality of the 'Nice Family' sketch on the first volume.]

The first series of Absolutely hardly got broadcast at all in Wales until someone at S4C (the Welsh militant faction of C4) realised that the show featured the Welshman John Sparkes (not to mention a parody of their soap opera Pobol Y Cwm ('DIY With Denzil')). This obviously influenced them to take an interest in promoting the show (a privilege they certainly didn't afford other C4 programming, either delaying broadcast or dropping stuff from the schedules entirely). The unedited second series was therefore broadcast on S4C in its entirety while C4 were transmitting the 'Very Bits Of…' compilations. S4C also prepared their own trailers in which they took it upon themselves to stick new subtitles over clips from 'DIY With Denzil', correcting the slight grammatical mistakes! The fact that the inclusion of Welsh subtitles (in an English language programme) was an obvious dig at Welsh pedantry obviously escaped them.

[NOTE: Despite his Welsh origins, John Sparkes doesn't actually speak the language and the sketch was apparently translated for the subtitles by the father of Big Train producer (and erstwhile Bobo Girl) Sioned William. S4C will have noted that, although the Welsh translation is correct, there are spelling errors which suggest that the captions were deciphered from Mr Wiliam's handwriting.]

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