Where did it come from? And, more importantly, what made it so good? Here’s our theory.
In the best comedy tradition, Fast Show creators Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse have known each other since university (University of East Anglia, fact fans). Less traditionally, they didn’t spend their formative performing years in student reviews like most comedians - Paul quit university after a year, while Charlie spent his free time in bands, culminating in the godlike (well, eponymous, at least) Higsons.
Paul, Charlie and friend-of-a-friend from university, Harry Enfield, all ended up on the same estate in London's glamorous Hackney. While Paul and Charlie made a living as decorators, Harry was roaming the comedy circuit with a character-based act. In the evenings they'd get together in a pub and try to make each other laugh.
Harry was asked to do his 'Stavros' character on Saturday Night Live and he brought Charlie and Paul with him as writers. And thus was born the partnership which eventually created The Fast Show. Charlie and Paul went on to work on Vic Reeves' Big Night Out and Harry Enfield's own series.
The Fast Show
The producer of Harry Enfield's show cut together a selection of highlights from the new series to show at a press launch. When Paul and Charlie saw it they thought it worked better than the show itself. The Fast Show was based on this model - get the character on, get them to say something funny, get them off.
Why's that important?
The Fast Show came up with a new format for sketch shows in a genre where things had been very samey for a long time. If you look at pre-Fast Show sketch shows now, you'll often be surprised how slowly and laboriously they move. The Fast Show injected a bit of life back into sketch-based comedy, and for that we thank it.
Why do we love it?
Because Charlie and Paul got together some of the best comedy actors around. One of the reasons The Fast Show worked so well was the quality of the acting. Paul particularly shone as an amazingly versatile comedy actor - seemingly ageless, and effortlessly creating some of the best-loved characters in the show. Johnny Depp called him 'the greatest actor of all time'. You can't get much better than that.
Because you never have a chance to get fed up with the sketches. If one doesn't work, you're on to the next one before you know it.
Because they stopped before we'd had enough. Three series and the three-part last ever (…?) left us still wanting more.
Because, damn them, they came up with more catchphrases per square inch of programme than probably anyone else ever.