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A Bit of Fry and Laurie, commonly known as ABOFAL or "Boffle," was a British television series starring former Cambridge Footlights members Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, broadcast on both BBC 2 and also BBC 1 between 1989 and 1995. It ran for four series, and totalled 26 episodes, including a 35 minute pilot episode in 1987. Both Fry and Laurie have expressed interest in working together again, but this has not yet taken place, due to both men's busy schedules (the former with various projects, the latter with House).
The programme was a sketch show cast in a rather eccentric and at times high-brow mould. Elaborate wordplay and innuendo formed the cornerstone of its material; some sketches deliberately threatened to cross the line into vulgarity, but would always finish just before reaching that point.
It was a progressive show, playing with the audience's expectations. For example, it frequently broke the fourth wall; characters would revert into their real-life actors mid-sketch, or the camera would often pan off set into the studio. In addition, the show was punctuated with non-sequitur vox-pops in a similar style to those of Monty Python's Flying Circus, often making irrelevant statements, heavily based on wordplay. Laurie was also seen playing piano and a wide variety of other instruments, and singing comical numbers.
The first three series were broadcast on BBC 2 between 1989 and 1992, and were well-received. The fourth series was shown on BBC 1 in early 1995. It had been recorded whilst Stephen Fry was simultaneously preparing for his West End debut (in Simon Gray's Cell Mates), and a combination of the extra workload and poor reviews for his stage performance led to Fry having a nervous breakdown and fleeing to Belgium. The series met with mixed reviews and the show was not renewed.
- All-Natural Snake Oil: "Nature's own barbiturates and heroin"
- "It's a simple arsenous monoxid nicotinal preparation taken bronchially as an infumation."
- "But it can't be natural, can it?" "Perfectly natural leaf!" "Yes, but setting fire to it and inhaling it?" "Well, it's more natural than Baked Alaska or nylon socks?"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the gameshow sketch "Don't Be Dirty", players must carefully describe adult, risque topics, yet the final round's categories are rimming, genital torture and sports presenter David Vine.
- Author Filibuster
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: "I dislike the word brothel, Mr. Jowett. I prefer to use the word brothels. Yes, this is a brothels".
- Brick Joke: And how. Paul Eddington makes a cameo and is asked how he would rate his own comic timing. He pauses, frowns, responds "Good question, I'll have to think about that," and leaves. Several sketches later, he interrupts the very last line of the show to respond: "Impeccable, I'd say." Roll credits.
- British Royal Guards: The opening of the second season sees Fry and Laurie playing with a guard. The guard charges Laurie when he gets too close.
- Butt Monkey: Hugh gets punched, hit with a cricket bat, or otherwise beaten up with shocking regularity.
- It's even worse, as Hugh explained in a later interview that Stephen Fry had never been very good at "acting" hitting people, and so when the script called for him to hit Hugh, he would... well... actually hit him.
- Catch Phrase: "Please, Mr. Music, will you play?"; "Soupy twist"; "m'colleague"
- "...if you'll pardon the pun." "What pun?" "Oh, wasn't there one? I'm sorry."
- The Chosen One: Parodied in "A Word, Timothy".
- Cluster Bollocks Bomb: "Oh, double balls and bollocks!"
- Compensating for Something - one character whose genitals have been removed is offered a doberman.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment
- Crazy Prepared: One sketch features Hugh Laurie (in drag) running a greetings card with a range of highly specific messages even down to Stephen Fry's request for a joint birthday and get-well card (as his wife is liable to jealous spasms everytime his daughter has a birthday). Sadly, the name on the card is wrong, but fortunately Laurie stocks a sympathy card especially for people who can't get the card they want.
- Crosscast Role
- Department of Redundancy Department: During this sketch that involves a speech on education and discipline:
Basically, the simple purpose of education must be to teach children, young people, to not, I repeat not, break into my car. There will be other aspects to education, I'm sure. But the most fundamental principle of decent, civilized behavior, is: Don't. Break into. My car.
- Double Entendre: Or just smut
- Drop the Cow: a method used a few times was for the characters to segue into Who Writes This Crap?, for example accusing each other of having no idea how to properly end the sketch.
- Eagle Land: The "Kickin' Ass" song, and American army general; "Get your ass in here!"
- America. America. America, America, America, America. Americaaaa-aa-AAA-aAa. America, America, America, America. The States. The States. The States, the States... the States. America. AMERICAAAA... (thud)
- Enforced Method Acting: According to Hugh in a later interview, Stephen Fry had never been able to convincingly fake hitting someone. So when the script called for him to hit Hugh - which happened quite often - he would actually hit him. So that wincing and those cries of pain you hear from Hugh in this show are mostly real.
- Precious Puppies: Puppy Appeal
- Excuse Question: Parodied.
Who was the first man to run the four-minute mile? Was it: A) the Battle of Crecy; B) Moonraker, or C) the athlete and fast record-breaking fast miler Sir Roger "Four-Minute" Bannister, the famous runner?
- Fake American: Hugh Laurie plays an American country singer in one sketch.
- Fingerless Gloves: The "light-metal" rocker "The Bishop" wears just one, with his pontifical vestments.
- Flair Bartending: See notes under Gargle Blaster.
- Flynning: In the Tony of Plymouth sketch.
- Gargle Blaster: In seasons 3 and 4, the show would end with a cocktail being picked and chosen. These started at the season with the relatively reasonable, such as the Whiskey Thunder, involving whiskey, angostura bitters, lemon juice, a pint of oh-so-fresh dairy cream, two olives, and a peanut. They would then range up to the increasingly absurd, such as the mug of Horlicks (Think broadly similar to hot chocolate, and notably nonalcoholic) all the way up the the finale, which cannot be described in less than two paragraphs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F_gYLLK-Yo
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The premise of a Game Show called "Don't Be Dirty!", the show that shows that you don't have to be dirty. Basically, it involves contestants trying to talk about potentially risque subjects (or if not risque, involving the possibility of double entendres, such as "Preservation of Hardwoods") without "being dirty".
- The Ghost: Mr. Dalliard, and Valerie from the Tony & Control sketches. Marjorie is almost The Ghost, but does make one appearance.
- Having a Gay Old Time: Parodied.
- Hilarious Outtakes: Parodied.
- Hurricane of Puns
- Incredibly Lame Pun
Peter: Something I've always wondered, John... how the boy ended up living with Marjorie after the divorce.
John: The court ruled that I was violent and unstable, an unfit father.
Peter: Well, that's a damn joke, John! If they could have seen how you've parented this company!
John: Yeah, well, Marjorie told them a story about how one night I'd been working late, I came home, and I... I sensed in Marjorie's eyes and voice a sneering, a mocking. I don't know, I suppose I must have flipped... I emptied a bowl of trifle all over her.
Peter: So, she got custardy?
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Parodied in the sketch featuring "Mister (drops an object onto a tabletop). It's as it sounds." (Turns out, it's spelled NIPPL-hyphen-E, but he's very offended when referred to as "Mr. Nipple.")
- Luke Nounverber: "Peter Comeinmyear"
- Lest we forget: "Ted Cunterblast"
- Meaningless Meaningful Words: The "Young Conservatives" sketch. "I thought at one point he was going to say something which made sense..." "Yes, he just avoided it."
- Mixed Metaphor: Hugh's chat-show-host character in the "beauty of language" sketch has trouble keeping up with Stephen's progress from metaphor to metaphor: "Hello! We're talking about language... we're talking about things ringing false in our ears... we're talking about chickens, we're talking about eggs... we've moved on to chess... ner-night."
- There's also where Stephen says "A unique child delivered of a unique mother" and Hugh looks at the camera as if he's about to say another "We're talking about..." line, then thinks better of it.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Berwhale the Avenger", which appears to be a small Leatherman knife.
- Murder Simulators: One sketch involves the conclusion that, since people are mimicking Stephen punching Hugh (by punching Hugh themselves) it would be a good idea for Stephen to give Hugh money on screen. Turns into an Overly Long Gag.
- Never Say That Again: The "annoying guy at the vet" sketch.
Fry: ...and I make myself a cheese and tommy-toe toastie.
Laurie: A what? A cheese and what?
Fry: Tommy-toe! Tommy-toe! Tommy-toe!
Fry: Tommy-toe! Tommy-t--
Laurie: Don't say it again!
- No Fourth Wall
- No Longer with Us: On learning that Charlotte Bronte is; "I can hardly say I'm surprised. Where can I get in touch with her?"
- Noodle Implements: The interviews between sketches abuse this:
[given a line to read] I can't read that, I'm a Methodist.
- One sketch has Stephen and Hugh explaining they've cancelled a script due to complaints about excessive violence and sex, forcing them to give a vague summary:
Hugh: During the course of the sketch, Stephen hits me several times with a golf club.
Stephen: Which, ordinarily, in the course of events, wouldn't matter, but I do it very sexily. [...] And the sketch ends with us going to bed together.
Stephen: Very violently.
- Only Sane Man
- Overly Long Gag: "I was standing here, and this guy came 'round the corner..."
- Overt Rendezvous: In the unaired sketch "Spies Five", Tony and Control meet on a park bench because there's a mole in their department.
- The "Gelliant Gutfright" sketches parody The Twilight Zone and its genre, featuring Artifacts of Doom, The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday, and many subverted cliches.("Goodnight... if you can.")
- The "John and Peter" sketches parody eighties "boardroom" dramas, featuring Large Hams talking Serious Business, with copious drinking and mild language. ("Damn it three times round the carpark and back in for another DAMN!")
- The "Control and Tony" sketches parody spy dramas, with both characters acting ridiculously stilted and polite, almost childlike, about matters of national security.
- The "Tony Inchpractice" sketches, as well as several one-offs, parody talk shows.
- Nearly all of the songs parody something: Sammy Davis, Jr., Noel Coward, country, etc.
- Perfume Commercial: Parodied in the fourth-series opening credits ("Pretension, by Fry and Laurie").
- Pluralses: In the Shoe Shop sketch. "I dislike the word 'brothel', Mr. Jowett. I prefer the word 'brothels'. Yes, this is a brothels."
- Precision F-Strike: At the end of the "fusking clothprunker" sketch mentioned below.
Judge: And what did you say to that?
Hugh: I told him to mind his [beep]ing language, m'lud.
- Product Placement: Spoofed with the episode sponsored by "Tidyman's Carpets".
- Protest Song: 'All we gotta to do is ... (mumblemumble)'
- Punch Line - frequently avoided.
- Running Gag: The woman who left her iron on.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness - one of the best. See an example.
- Sketch Comedy
- Smarmy Host: Frequently mocked, including various real-life targets such as Noel Edmonds.
- Soap Within a Show: The suspiciously familiar Australian soap opera. While it starts as a standard parody of daytime soaps with bad acting, overwrought plots and confusing relationships between the Loads and Loads of Characters, it quickly evolves into something downright surreal.
- Sophisticated As Hell
- Spy Speak: Thoroughly averted in the "Tony and CONTROL" sketches, discussing matters of international espionage as if explaining them to a 3-year-old.
- Stiff Upper Lip: this is the other element of the "Tony and Control" sketches, as both characters are utterly unflappable, even when, for instance, Control announces he's actually a Soviet agent or when he falls out a window
- Straw Critic, an Author Tract, since Fry and Laurie aren't fond of caustic critics.
- Table Space: "Pass The Marmalade!" ("Arse the Parlor Maid?") sketch
- Talkative Loon - The shop assistant in the Mr Dalliard sketches (the same one who prefers the word 'Brothels')
- Take That: Take that, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Rupert Murdoch, Moral Guardians, estate agents, Eagle Land, yuppie culture, critics, psychics, Top Gear, and Noel Edmonds!
- Totally Radical: "the young and hip-trendy"
- Translation: Yes: The entire "Strom" sketch is based on variants of this joke.
- Two of Your Earth Minutes - "Twenty of your Earth pounds", yes, Mr Dalliard's friend again.
- Universal Driver's License - spoofed with the Flying a Light Aeroplane Without Having Had Any Formal Training sketch. A definite Crowning Moment of Funny too.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Ram it up your pimhole, you fusking clothprunker"
- Vox Pops: One of the classic comedy uses, several times in each episode between sketches. Featured either Fry or Laurie dressed as an easily recognizable British stereotype and saying something dirty ("Well, I'm aroused every morning by a very insistent cock"), satirical ("I was beaten as a child and it didn't do me any harm!" [slaps self]) a play on words ("So I just told him to stuff it!... but he said it had been dead too long"), or just a non-sequitur ("They've got hotter pavements, I know that").
- Wonderful Life: Rupert Murdoch gets this treatment. At the end, his guardian angel, realizing that he is a lost cause that who will never improve, pushes him off the bridge.