The Greatest Red Nose Day sketches – Part 1

From the first ever Red Nose Day in 1988 to the most recent in 2017, for almost thirty years now, comedians have been doing something funny for money! Join me for part one of a look through the Red Nose Day archives.

Spider-plant Man – Red Nose Day 2005

Although we don’t actually know who wrote Spider-plant Man (as is often the way with these fundraiser sketches), we do know that the original idea came about when some of the Blackadder gang thought about reviving the show. One idea that they came up with was ‘Batadder‘ , a superhero parody-type incarnation of Blackadder, complete with Baldrick as a Robin style side kick, that idea eventually became this sketch.

Rowan Atkinson stars as Spider-Plant Man, and there’s a twist because Jim Broadbent stars alongside him as a Batman who has fallen on hard times. There’s even a surprise Blackadder reunion at the end.

Mamma Mia –  Red Nose Day 2007

One mainstay of Comic Relief is a TV or movie parody by French and Saunders. This one starred an army of celebrities: Miranda Hart (as the dim-witted director, who struggled to advise the cast on how to transition into a song – ‘just say anything’) Matt Lucas (as a clueless choreographer – ‘point at Demis Roussos’), Joanna Lumley and Mel and Sue, alongside Phillip Glenister, Alan Carr and… a swede as the potential candidates for the father of Sophie.

Mamma Mia was ripe for parodying, and with the sequel out recently, it’s a good one to revisit. There were some classic lines …’Chicken Tikka tell me what’s wrong?’ Although in my opinion the line: ‘None of these characters bare any resemblance to anyone living… or dead.’ was probably the best and most accurate!

Armstrong & Miller meet Mitchell & Webb – Red Nose Day 2009

You could call That Mitchell & Webb Look Vs The Armstrong & Miller Show the Blur Vs Oasis of sketch show nerds. However, there was never any actual feuding between these double acts! This was amusingly parodied in one of the sketches in which Alexander Armstrong cheerfully thanks Mitchell and Webb for the collaboration, before sending the message ‘kill them!’ after they’d gone.

Mitchell & Webb had actually originally been Armstrong and Miller’s writers back in the late nineties, and Ben Miller recently reunited with David Mitchell to guest star in Upstart Crow.

Here, it’s enjoyable to see them team up and gatecrash each other’s signature sketches:

Here’s a Mitchell and Webb bonus from 2007 Celebrity Numberwang Live:

Little Britain With Stephen Hawking –  Red Nose Day 2015

Although some people think Little Britain has lost its relevance these days, few could deny the impressive feat of getting Stephen Hawking to agree to being pushed around by David Walliams in his role as Lou in place of Andy. Stephen Hawking was no stranger to making cameos in comedy shows – sadly this was one of his last before his death in 2018, but what a great one it was!

Here’s another Little Britain Red Nose Day classic: When David Walliams’s Dennis Waterman met the real Dennis Waterman:


Lauren meets David Tennant and Nan plays Deal or No Deal  – Red Nose Day 2007

Catherine Tate is another comedian who has a huge back catalogue of Red Nose Day classics. (Including the Tony Blair sketch, remember that one?)

Lauren meeting David Tennant is one that sticks in most people’s minds. He comes in as Lauren’s supply English teacher, but Lauren is determined he’s 945-year-old time lord. Another Catherine Tate classic came when Nan met Noel Edmonds to play Deal or no Deal. It all ends just as you’d imagine – ‘Deal or no Deal? What a load of old s**t!’.

Peter Kay’s Novelty Singles:

You could almost define Peter Kay’s career with his contributions to Red Nose Day. Of the many, the simplistic ‘Amarillo‘ cover (which wasn’t even technically a cover) became iconic spending seven weeks at number 1 with 1.28 million copies sold in 2005. These days it’s become unfortunately dated by the appearance of Jimmy Savile. But, the ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)‘ duet between his Phoenix Nights’s character, Brian Potter and Little Britain’s Andy in 2005 (which also went to number 1) became almost as iconic. It was then followed up a few years later, with Peter Kay duetting with Susan Boyle on ‘I Know Him So Well’:

The Wrong Good Friday – Red Nose Day 1997

So short, so effortlessly brilliant, and now considered a Red Nose Day Classic! In 1997 Bob Hoskins starred in… ‘The Wrong Good Friday’!

Join me next time for part two! If you enjoyed these sketches then please donate to Comic Relief:

Part 2:

This article also appears on Super Ink Arts


30 Facts and Speculations About The Fair Youth and the Dark Lady

30 Facts and Speculations on the Possible Subjects of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, 126 seem to have been written to The Fair Youth, the remaining 28 to The Dark Lady. None appears to have been dedicated to his wife Anne, and the actual identities of the people concerned are unknown but much speculation surrounds the mysteries. As a result, names have surfaced and the most likely candidates are Lord Southampton (Henry Wriothesley) and Emilia Lanier.

earl south


12 Facts on Lord Southampton (Henry Wriothesley)

  1. Henry Wriothesley was born on 6th October 1573 at Cowdray House in Sussex.
  2. He was the only son of the 2nd Earl of Southampton, also Henry Wriothesley, and Mary Browne, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montague, Anthony Browne.
  3. He had two older sisters: Jane who died before his birth and Mary born around 1567.
  4. On his father’s death in 1581 he inherited the title, becoming the 3rd Earl of Southampton, and liked to be known as Harry Southampton.
  5. In October 1585, aged 12, Lord Southampton became a student at St John’s College, Cambridge from where he graduated with an MA in 1589, having been admitted to the Gray’s Inn legal society on 29th February 1588.
  6. In Henry’s young years, his father had suspected his mother of infidelity and turned his son against her and women in general. It is thought that for this reason Henry’s interest in women was late in developing.
  7. At the age of 21 he was betrothed to Mary Vere but this arrangement did not appeal to Henry and he refused to marry her.
  8. In February 1598, facing financial difficulties and having fallen out of favour with Queen Elizabeth, Henry travelled to France with Robert Cecil, returning in April of that year.
  9. In August 1598, at the age of 24, Henry secretly married his pregnant mistress Elizabeth Vernon and they went on to have at least four children.
  10. Henry travelled in Europe, promoting home and overseas industry and trading. His name appeared in the 1605 panel of The New World Tapestry.
  11. He was also very interested in the arts and had many works dedicated to him. These include two poems by William Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”, which has an introduction addressed to Lord Southampton beginning “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end…”. In addition there are Shakespeare’s 126 Fair Youth sonnets, dedicated to “Mr. W.H.”, though Will never revealed the name of the person to whom they were written.
  12. Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, died on 10th November 1624 in the Dutch Republic, and the title of 4th Earl of Southampton passed to his younger son Thomas whose elder brother James had predeceased their father by five days.


Footnote: Although the dedication of the Fair Youth sonnets is to “Mr. W.H.”, there is a train of thought that Henry Wriothesley’s initials were reversed intentionally. There is also speculation that Shakespeare dedicated his Fair Youth sonnets to his son, Hamnet, who died aged 11 in 1586, or to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, as the First Folio was dedicated to him, though none of the sonnets appeared in this. There are many other candidates – could there have been private dedications to more than one subject?


A portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, at the age of 21.

Believed to be a portrait of Emilia Lanier by Nicholas Hilliard, painted in 1593.


18 Facts and Speculations on Emilia Lanier

  1. Emilia Lanier was born in January 1569, probably in Bishopsgate, London.
  2. Her birth name was Aemilia Bassano and she was baptised on 27th January 1569 at St Botolph’s Church, London.
  3. Her father was Venetian-born Baptista Bassano, her mother Margret Johnson. Emilia is presumed to have been illegitimate.
  4. She had two brothers, Lewes and Phillip, as well as a half-sister, Angela.
  5. Her father, like his five older brothers, was a celebrated Elizabethan court musician and Emilia is believed to have been an accomplished musician herself – the reference to a woman playing “the virginals” (forerunner to the piano) in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 128 has led to speculation that Emilia was The Dark Lady.
  6. Her father died in April 1576 when she was seven and in his will he left Emilia £100 for her to inherit either at the age of 21 or at the time of her wedding, if this took place sooner.
  7. Following her father’s death she went to live with Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent, and was given a good education, which included the study of Latin.
  8. It is not known how long Emilia spent with the Countess of Kent but she later lived with Margaret Clifford, the Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford.
  9. When Emilia was 18 her mother died and soon after this she entered into a relationship with a man 45 years her senior – Henry Carey, 1st Baron of Hunsdon, a courtier and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I.
  10. In 1592, aged 23, Emilia became pregnant with Carey’s child. His reaction to this was to pay her off with a sum of money (amount unknown).
  11. She was then married to her cousin Alfonso Lanier, one of Queen Elizabeth’s musicians, at St Botolph’s Church on 18th October 1592.
  12. In 1593 she gave birth to a boy, Henry, presumed to have been named after his father. Little is known of her son but he did survive into adulthood and is thought to have had children.
  13. In 1598 Emilia’s daughter Odillya was born but survived only 10 months.
  14. It seems Emilia was happier as Carey’s mistress than as Lanier’s wife, but their marriage survived till his death in 1613.
  15. In 1611 Emilia published a volume of poetry, “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” (translation: “Hail, God, King of the Jews”), dedicated entirely to women. Although Emilia was baptised in a Christian church, it seems likely her father’s family was Jewish.
  16. Emilia is regarded as the first woman to declare herself a poet, and among very few females of the time to publish poetry.
  17. After her husband’s death, Emilia opened a school, renting a house from Edward Smith for this purpose. However, following disagreements over the cost of the rent, she was twice arrested, gaining her a reputation which deterred parents from having their children educated by her, and the school closed, probably in 1619.
  18. Emilia died in 1645 at the age of 76 and was buried on 3rd April in East London’s Clerkenwell.


Footnote: As with The Fair Youth, there is much speculation as to the identity of Shakespeare’s 28 “Dark Lady” sonnets. Another interesting candidate is Lucy, also known as Black Luce, an African woman who worked in the South London taverns which Will may have frequented.

A Crow Christmas Carol



The above details are correct to the best of my knowledge but please let me know if you notice any inaccuracies. I am indebted to a variety of online sources for the information I have gathered for the above lists.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin


All Is True and The Expanded Upstart Crow Universe

In the last series of Upstart Crow, Will proclaimed:

‘It’s spooky how many plays I’ve written called Henry! Six so far. I’ve sort of Invented a Franchise…The Henry Universe!’.

That’s very much true of Upstart Crow itself, because, unarguably Ben Elton and Kenneth Branagh’s serious biopic about Shakespeare’s final years – All Is True, undoubtedly feels part of the expanded Upstart Crow Universe.

The story follows an older Will, who has decided to retire after his beloved Globe Theatre burnt to the ground – a real historical event. Poignantly, at the beginning of the film, we are reminded that after the fire Shakespeare never wrote another play! There’s a great cinematic shot of Will’s dramatic silhouette against a wall of fire that is particularly powerful.

Will finds that when he returns home to Stratford his family aren’t welcoming, his wife (Judi Dench) and two daughters seem distant and he is continually haunted by the ghost of his dead son, Hamnet.

This is where Upstart Crow fits in with the narrative. As we all know, the finale of series 3 packed a real punch when Shakespeare came home to the news that his son had died – Shakespeare had tragically missed Hamnet’s passing as he was too caught up in the world of celebrity, neglecting his family.

This story is the focus here, where Kenneth Branagh’s melancholy Will realises he hasn’t mourned his son at all, and sets out to make a garden in Hamnet’s memory.

Will struggles to make peace with his family and his own feelings, including his affections for ‘the fair youth’, played superbly by Ian McKellen. The scene in which Anne reminds Will of the poems he had written for the Earl of Southampton will be very familiar to Upstart Crow fans… when back in the first series Liza’s Anne berates David Mitchell’s Will about them!

This film isn’t a comedy though – apart from a few light-hearted scenes and one speech towards the end of the film to Sir Thomas Lucy (that I could actually visualise David performing) it’s a very serious theatrical and almost play-like film. You can truly feel how much the cast and crew love Shakespeare, and that comes out in the performances.

At the Upstart Crow recordings, Ben Elton would always give a bit of a talk about Shakespeare, briefly detailing his life…whilst all they way through the show he would offer snippets of information.

In one of the last scenes of the film, Shakespeare has a chat with Ben Johnson, and I could actually hear Ben Elton’s voice explaining the fates of Will’s contemporaries such as Greene, Kit and Kid.

But is ‘All’ really true? Well, just like Upstart Crow, it roots itself in truth and packs itself with all that we know of the Shakespeare’s family. So, most is actually true – but the film also adds a narrative element of mystery of which we can only speculate on. It also inserts Shakespeare’s text into the dialogue. There are quite a few fantastic readings of sonnets (between Branagh and McKellen) and an amazing speech from Titus Andronicus in one of my favourite scenes of the film.

However, the best scene in my opinion, is where Will discusses a gift of a pen knife that he bought for his son. It’s an incredible and beautifully acted scene that would surely have even the most hard-hearted person weeping in the aisles.

What’s truly remarkable is that almost certainly this film would not exist without Upstart Crow-and that is a huge testament to ‘Upstart Crow’ and the studio audience sitcom. Long may Upstart Crow and the expanded Upstart Crow Universe continue!

David’s New Book: Dishonesty Is The Second Best Policy


The Guardian/Faber will publish ‘Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy: And Other Rules to Live’ By David Mitchell on November 7th!

“This is a collection of Mitchell’s brilliant, spot-on, super funny Observer columns,” said editorial director Hassan. “No other writer is a match for the utterly dumbfounding times we live in and I hope this cheering book will wrapped up under many Christmas trees this year.”

Mitchell said: “I’m delighted to be working with the team at Guardian Faber on another attempt to set the world to rights after the last one failed so spectacularly. So I’m going to really double down on the out-of-touch hypocritical centrist whingeing, while sprinkling in a few offensive jokes for old times’ sake. If you buy one book this autumn, then this whole industry is completely unsustainable.”

There’s no word yet about a book tour but we’ll keep you posted as ever.