Harry Hill’s ode to British comedy lacks history – and laughs

Britain’s Greatest Obsessions (Sky History) felt as if it had been devised by a bunch of weary TV executives at the end of a very long week. 

“Let’s have a show about things British people like. Any ideas? Pubs? The Second World War? Talking about the weather? Yep, that’ll do fine.” 

“Oh, and we’ll need a bunch of people to talk about this stuff. Just throw some names in. Lorraine Kelly, Chris Packham, Suggs…” 

Harry Hill presented the first episode of this second series, which was about comedy. Hill is an engaging presence and very funny and he kept the show motoring along. He met various people, from a Punch and Judy man to Bonnie Langford and a professor at the Centre of Comedy Studies Research at Brunel University (who knew such a thing existed). He chatted to German comedian Henning Wehn, who attempted to explain the difference in the two nations’ approaches to humour: “In Germany, we laugh once the work is done rather than instead of doing any work.” 

It started off fine but all got a bit earnest, and Hill undermined his own premise by saying that Americans could be just as good with a punchline as the Brits. He was onto something, though, with the idea that the British put a greater value than other nations on having a sense of humour. 

US comedian Reginald D Hunter said there was something in the British psyche that means we like laughing at ourselves – it’s to do with keeping spirits up. Hang on, what’s a US comedian (albeit a long-time UK resident) doing in this series? It was just another sign that this show doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be. It’s on Sky History, but doesn’t deal in too much history. The presenters sit in a room to chat about the topic of the week, in a sort of cross between a book club and the old Channel 4 discussion programme After Dark. 

A comedian retold the story of Tommy Cooper routinely slipping something into a taxi driver’s pocket with the words, “Have a drink on me,” only for the cabbie to discover it was a teabag. A beautiful joke, but it was relayed in a deeply unfunny way.

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