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I have a real infatuation with the Channel 4 series Teachers, and when recently using Mr Rarr's LOVEFiLM account to rewatch the whole thing all over again (again) I reflected that the first three series are definitely the funniest, due to the chemistry of the cast. This is not at all further enhanced by my self-confessed crush on Adrian Bower, who played the tall, hopeless but quite adorable PE teacher Brian.
So I found myself on IMDB wondering where the cast had got to. Where had my eye candy of choice for those years got to? And for that matter, the actor who played the self-serving, sex-obsessed Kurt, or the brilliantly sarcastic Susan? Between them, plus Andrew Lincoln as the hopeless central character Simon, they had a brilliant chemistry of humour which was bordering on the send-up but still believable enough in a comic "drama" series. Unfortunately after the departure of these characters the show was basically on its way out although one last effort was put out - a shadow of its former self even if it was capable of getting its own laughs.
And how often do good comic groups get back together on new projects these days? Not that often. So you can imagine my intrigue when I saw that Adrian Bower had not only landed himself a bit of TV airtime relatively recently, but the cast list included Navin Chowdhry (Kurt) and Raquel Cassidy (Susan). And as if that wasn't enough to make me want to scream, the castlist was headed by John Hannah, who is pretty high on my list of brilliantly funny English actors - someone with the depth and talent to act seriously but the light hearted charm to also be the man who most of us women fell in love with during Sliding Doors. And as if THAT wasn't enough, it was written by Charlie Brooker. And as if THAT wasn't enough, it appeared to be a send up of my favourite genre - dark and intense murder dramas.
And to make things even better, it was available on DVD. Guess how long my willpower lasted out?
***A TOUCH OF CLOTH***
Okay so we know already that we have a great writer, a great cast, a spoof, and a combined talent pool that should be able to pull off a spoof without making it just wall-to-wall silliness. Was it any good though?
First off, the background. This DVD has the 90 minute first offering of A Touch Of Cloth. I didn't see this when it came out but I believe it was aired in episodes, and I do know that a second series has been commissioned. It was produced for Sky with Channel 4 production in the mix, which might be where the link came from that caught up Bower et al in the cast.
Hannah plays DI Jack Cloth, opposite Suranne Jones of former soapland fame. Bower is DC Des Hairihan, Chowdhry is DC Asap Qureshi. Cassidy shows up later in a small role, whilst you'll-know-him-when-you-see-him English actor Julian Rhind-Tutt plays ACC Tom Boss.
Is something altogether different, although the name of the show is a reference to it - which gives you some indication of the type of humour you're about to be treated to. It is also a reference of course to A Touch Of Frost, so you also know exactly what style of show this is going to rip to bits. Frost, Luther, Waking The Dead, all the serious ones with dark lighting and slow turns-to-camera in the title sequence - your time is up.
Brooker was part of the team that bought us such delights as The 11 O'Clock Show and Brass Eye, and to my mind has a great comic ability. It might not be to everyone's liking, but my personal take on humour is a mix of the deeply sarcastic and the hopelessly silly, so it sits pretty well with his work.
***PUT THAT TORCH ON SILENT***
Jack Cloth is not in a good way. Very quickly we are shown by the medium of very efficient and effective send up that his wife is dead, he's a copper, he's not happy about it, and he's drinking a lot. Then a new case starts.
Meanwhile, there's trouble on the Rundowne Estate.
An old man has been found hacked to death with a sword. We don't meet the killer but we do see a dark figure in a darkened room, sharpening a sword and reading a sword enthusiast magazine. And listening to Maniac FM.
Anne Oldman is the DC who storms into Cloth's house and drags him into the case. Soon her own personal situation is elaborated upon as her involvement with the case starts to take over her life.
Meanwhile Cloth also has his boss to worry about - Tom Boss wants Cloth hung out to dry.
Soon the body count starts to mount up. A celebrity chef falls victim to our killer, but what links the crimes?
***NEVER BEEN FOUND DEAD BEFORE, SO THIS OUT OF CHARACTER***
And so it begins. A murder mystery send up which is actually pretty effective as a basic murder mystery show on its own, but with daftness, sarcasm and stupidity at every turn. The jokes are both in the script and in the props and sets, a thoroughly done send up of the genre.
Stereotypes? Sent up. Walking purposefully down corridors? Sent up. Chavs? Sent up. Relationships? Sent up. Autopsy rooms? Sent up. Graphic murders? Sent up. Silly names? Check. Cliched scripts? Sorted. The shot when people are striding towards camera and more characters swoop in from the side and join the conversation? Hit bang on the head. Hi tech sleuthery? Poked fun right at, square in the eye.
***GUV, I THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO SEE THIS***
Some might find it overly silly but I loved this. I was in hysterics, but unlike similar efforts of the art of send up, like Scary Movie, this does actually have a plot of sorts. The cast is fantastic and I can only imagine the hilarity of trying to film it with a straight face. The humour is a fantastic blend of the scripted and the visual, the silly and the sly, the send up and the sarcastic.
Mr Rarr was obviously sceptical when I gleefully revealed that the DVD had arrived, but he was laughing out loud throughout also and is, like me, keenly looking forward to the next series. The humour is not dissimilar to that of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, although maybe a little sillier in places.
Hannah is frankly perfect as the spoof of the haunted, rough detective. Jones, for all I wasn't much of a fan in her soap years, plays her part with a pretty impressive deadpan panache. Bower is a great send up as Hairihan, the gruff sidekick, and nobody does the "quick barrage of information whilst walking into a crime scene" speech like Chowdhry. The cast all play their parts fantastically and with great comic timing.
In short I just love this and if you like daft humour or send ups then I suspect there's a pretty damn strong chance you will as well. Clearly it has some following as it is still fairly pricey - mine came from eBay for shy of £8, and it's £9.77 from Amazon at the time of writing.
Is it worth it? Yes. If you want to spend 90 minutes having a bloody good laugh then yes, it is. If laughter is good for you then this did for me a lot more than spending the same money in Holland & Barrett ever will. I was in fits at times, and at significant risk of spitting wine across the room at another visual pun seconds later. And if you get a shuffle on, you can see this before the second offering starts in late August on Sky One. I thoroughly recommend that you do.