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.]