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28 October 2014

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The Russ Abbot Show

Russ Abbot as Basildon Bond

We all have a time when we are gods, even if it's just in our heads. But once Russ Abbot was a giant, and unstoppable, at least on Saturday night.

Russ Abbot was a fixture for much of the 1980s. Formats such as Russ Abbot's Madhouse were primetime gold which had Saturday audiences compulsively pressing their remotes for Abbot.

His characters were not completely original, and his voices and impersonations were not absolutely first-rate.

Russ Abbot as Batman

But Abbot's characters had... well, character; they had energy and enthusiasm and commitment, and not an atom of cynicism.

Abbot was one of the generation of old-style entertainers that made it big in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Most of these performers justifiably are now consigned to an embarrassed part of our cultural history; Abbot was, and remains, a cut above.

The Russ Abbot show ran from 1986-90 and contained sketches drawn from his previous outings as well as new material.

Bella Emberg and Russ Abbot

Perhaps his most famous creations were CU Jimmy, a virtually unintelligibly Scottish psychopath who would gibber at the audience, punctuating his rants with his catchphrase (also his name).

This was one of the hits of the playground of the mid-1980s, where young boys would entertain each other with their impressions and occasional attempts to headbutt each other.

Other key characters were the smooth but entirely dim secret agent Basildon Bond and the repellent crooner Julio Doubleglazias.

Russ Abbot

What they lacked in originality, these characters made up in verve and power. Russ Abbot's Madhouse had been aptly named - and the new series was just as nuts.

Weekly, his massively corpulent opera singer Fatman would destroy sets; composer Mozart would smash up pianos. Slapstick masked smart gags, and this combination was what made Abbot so distinctive.

After five series, however, the BBC scented the cynical 1990s and realized that knockabout had had its day. Abbot was a dinosaur, and Auntie deemed his corniness unfunny.

Russ Abbot

Abbot was corny. But what is Little Britain, if not corniness in another guise, with a smart voiceover? What the BBC meant was that Abbot was a symbol of corniness, and for that, he paid with his primetime flagship. A little development could have made him better and different - whereas being ousted from the Beeb simply propelled his old format back to ITV.

In later life, Abbott has received new kudos.  He featured regularly in TV To Go in the long-running sketch No Country for Old Men; like many 'classic' stars he has been seen in straight stage shows, and in the mid-1990s also acted in the poignant drama September Song.

But the Russ Abbot show, though replicated on ITV, never reached the heights of its 1986 heyday, nor of Russ Abbot's Madhouse.

Corniness would return, but smarter and sharper, and though the old-style entertainers would also return in the shape of performers like Peter Kay, Russ Abbot was not to be their champion again.

Cast

Russ Abbot
performer
Les Dennis
performer
Bella Emberg
performer
Tom Bright
performer
Maggie Moone
performer
Suzy Aitchison
performer
Gordon Kennedy
performer
Paul Shearer
performer
Sherrie Hewson
performer

Crew

Colin Bostock-Smith
writer
Mark Burton
writer
Gary Clapperton
writer
Barry Cryer
writer
Craig Ferguson
writer
James Hendrie
writer
David Hurst
writer
Richard Kates
writer
Paul Minett
writer
Brian Leveson
writer
Bill Naylor
writer
Peter Robinson
writer
Peter Vincent
writer
Neil Shand
writer
Dick Vosburgh
writer
Terry Corrigan
writer
John Bishop
director
Peter Laskie
director
Tudor Davies
director
John Bishop
producer
Tudor Davies
producer

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