Despite a torrid summer and on-going recession, this year the nation’s spirits have never been higher, with the Diamond Jubilee, medal successes of Team GB and inspirational Paralympics awakening a somewhat lost sense of patriotism and national pride amongst us Brits. But while many of us have celebrated by strapping on a mask of Prince William and drinking flat lager at a rain-drenched street party, comedian Dom Joly has created his own homage to all the upside down Union Jack flags, Fool Britannia.
With Jeremy Beadle unfortunately no longer alive and the BBC’s Just for Laughs having departed in 2007, there’s arguably been room in the Saturday evening schedule for a family-friendly ‘public-gets-punk’d’ hidden-camera show for some time. However, based on Saturday’s outing from the Trigger Happy TV star, fans of this genre will probably agree that it hasn’t been worth the five-year wait.
To its credit, Fool Britannia will probably do more for the British tourist industry than Coast has managed to do in seven series, with Doly’s new show traveling across the UK from Liverpool to Land’s End, taking pop-shots at Blighty’s stiff-upper lip culture. But while it’s nice to sit back and revel in the glorious sights our country has to offer, most viewers will have tuned in for the gags, yet sadly this is where the show disappoints.
In one particular scene for example, a woman looking for Pizza Hut enquires at a pop-up tourist information kiosk, only to be told by Joly’s Asian advisor that she would have to punch numbers into a giant phone to find out.
As Joly speaks to her in his mocking ‘call-centre English’ accent, the lack of reaction from the set-up woman and her willingness to go along with such an absurd situation made for staid viewing, seemingly only making the final cut to make the show seem more ‘British’.
The issue was not with the show’s tried and tested format, which still has the potential to be funny, and The Revolution will be Televised, with its array of jaw-droppingly brave and exhaustingly researched skits involving hidden cameras, proves very much that this genre still has legs. Granted, this show’s post-watershed time-slot on BBC Three, a channel famous for pushing the envelope, means it can certainly stretch the boundaries further than Fool Britainia. But that doesn’t excuse the shortcomings of Joly’s latest offering.
Characters were either recycled from previous outings or nabbed from other shows, as shown by health and safety officer Ian Yard, which seemed to me a spitting image of Come Fly With Me’s immigration officer Ian Foot. The jokes were simple and immature in the worst sense, and I do wonder who would laugh at Joly parking a New York City billboard in front of a man on a bench at Land’s End.
In my view the best thing about this show was undoubtedly its title, a clever(ish) pun that may make a five-year-old chuckle. But with sketches including children being frisked by over-zealous party bouncers, perhaps it might be more appropriate to replace ‘Fool’ with ‘Cruel’. Maybe Joly should have bought a mask of Prince William after all.