Series: A Bit of Fry and Laurie

A Bit of Fry and Laurie, commonly known as ABOFAL or "Boffle", is a British television series starring former Cambridge Footlights members Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, broadcast on both BBC2 and also BBC1 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 BBC2 between 1989 and 1992, and were well-received. The fourth series was shown on BBC1 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.

Currently, Fry and Laurie have started working together again on an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost. Both have also recently stated that they are definitely considering making a fifth series. But both are, however, also reluctant to commit to any specific promises.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All-Natural Snake Oil: "Nature's own barbiturates and heroin"
  • 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. The contestant ends up losing for saying "...knowledge on the game" ("on the game" is a British slang term for prostitution.)
  • Author Filibuster
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: The politician and Tony from "Tony of Plymouth" are wearing modern clothing over Renaissance garb, as they reveal when they confront each other on stage.
  • 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: 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: "Immaculate, 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.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke:
    • The "Hedge Sketch" seems to be a very basic scene at a store, but consists of them continuously getting their lines in the wrong order, or speaking the lines of the wrong character, which leads to them starting all over from the start several times. In the end, they both can't remember the final punchline.
    • There is a similar one in which Laurie keeps interrupting the whole time to turn to the camera and tell the audience that this is his favorite gag, and it will be hilarious when they get to the punchline.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "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."
    • "I wouldn't suck it."
  • Chewbacca Defense: A deliberately ridiculous example in the sketch "Judge Not". It starts:
    Lawyer: So, Miss Talliot, you expect the court to believe that on the evening of the fourteenth of November last year, the very year, I would remind the court, on which the crime that my client is accused of committing took place, you just happened to be walking in the park?
    Witness: That is correct.
    Lawyer: That is what?
    Witness: Correct.
    Lawyer: Oh it's correct, is it? I see. I wonder, Miss Talliot, whether you were aware that the American novelist Gertrude Stein was a self-confessed Lesbian?
    • ...And only gets more absurd from there.
    • Best part? She turns out to be his mother!
  • The Chosen One: Parodied in "A Word, Timothy".
  • Cluster Bollocks-Bomb: "Oh, double balls and bollocks!"
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Oh so many, but perhaps the most notable example is Mr. Dalliard's Friend.
    "I opened my television last night only to find that nice gentleman with the legs advancing the prediction that it might be rather 'good evening' today, but looking out through the window that the previous owners thoughtfully installed for the purpose, I find that it has, as you athletically observed, turned out to be rather 'hello'."
  • Compensating for Something - one character whose genitals have been removed is offered a doberman, a combat jacket, and a rusty white van, for the dual purpose of restoring his manhood and...
    Doctor(Laurie): Oh don't worry, that's the beauty of the system. When people see you wearing a combat jacket and driving round in a white van with Killer,the piss will be taken out of you constantly.
  • 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 every time 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.
  • Driver of a Black Cab:
    • One of the stock characters in the Vox Pops, played by Stephen Fry with a mustache.
    • Cab drivers being friendly, polite and helpful is a symptom of Rupert Murdoch's absence from the world in the It's a Wonderful Plot sketch.
  • 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.
  • Eagleland: 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.
    • A lot of the time it's accidental though. A good example of this is in the racing driver sketch. Near the end you can see Stephen's eyes widen in shock, before he folds his arms and looks away.
  • 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?
  • Felony Misdemeanor: "I've written a savage, angry song about jars that get separated from their lids."
  • 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 fewer than two paragraphs.
  • 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.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Parodied.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Parodied.
  • Hurricane of Puns
  • IKEA Erotica: A fourth-series sketch has Stephen narrating an "improve your lovemaking" cassette. First off, it's Stephen Fry at his mildest, and the lovers take the instructions really literally and robotically.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The "Tahitian" cooking show, where Fry's Julia Child Expy advises the best way to prepare ears, fingers, Welsh toes, and footballers' testicles.
  • 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.")
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: A media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) gets this treatment. It turns out that if he had never lived, the world would be a much better place where everyone would live in peace and harmony without the influence of his violent media. This makes him decide to turn his life around—because the peaceful world is ripe to be exploited by manipulative media. At this point, his guardian angel, realizing that he is a lost cause that who will never improve, pushes him off the bridge. And calls him a twat.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Tony of Plymouth, who heckles politicians for bleeding the poor people of England while disguised under a lightweight traveling hat. Of course, he freely admits that you could just write your MP.
  • Love at First Sight: British officer Major Eric Donaldson falls immediately for his interrogator Friedrich von Stoltz. He calls him beautiful and his gorgeous darling with the deepest bluest eyes, and his accent is dreamy...
  • Literal-Minded: Often, and often combined with the puns.
    Critic Hugh: Just wasn't your cup of tea.
    Critic Stephen: No, no. [points] That's my cup of tea.
  • Luke Nounverber:
  • 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!
    Laurie: TOMATO.
    Fry: Tommy-toe! Tommy-t—
    Laurie: Don't say it again!
  • No Fourth Wall: Fry and Laurie will sometimes break character during sketches to comment on them or apply to the audience. Sometimes the sketch is interrupted by someone in the audience, like the man (played by Benjamin Whitrow) who claims that they've plagiarized his sketches.
  • 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.
    Hugh: Violently.
    Stephen: Very violently.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Played with in the Michael Jackson sketch. Although he is a skilled mimic, Stephen Fry decided to play "Michael Jackson" in his own accent...and indeed his own clothes with not a single attempt at impersonation...with hilarious results.
  • Our Slogan Is Terrible: "Tidyman's Carpets: The deep shag that really satisfies."
  • 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.
  • Oxbridge
  • Parody
  • Painful Rhyme: invoked The entire joke behind Hugh's song Mystery.
  • 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."
  • Precious Puppies: Puppy Appeal
  • 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)' Hugh notably reprised this when he hosted Saturday Night Live.
  • Punchline: Frequently avoided. Sometimes Fry or Laurie will end the sketch by complaining that it's gone on too long or killed the joke.
  • Running Gag: The woman who left her iron on.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: One of the best. See an example.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    • In a tribute to Hugh (whom he has just Mercy Killed), Stephen says that Hugh Laurie's real name was Hugh Laurie, though he was more commonly known by his stage name, Hugh Laurie.
    • "You leave the boy out of this; he's just a boy!"
  • 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.
    • Also parodied in one of the "Mr. Dalliard" sketches where the secret code phrase is "Good morning." This ends in embarrassment.
  • 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: The show with the two TV critics has them sprawling further and further down in their chairs, speaking in whining nasal voices and increasingly pretentious language to criticize the previous sketch. By the end they've slid onto the floor and are complaining about that, as well as themselves. (Also an Author Tract, since Fry and Laurie aren't fond of caustic critics.)
  • Surreal Humor: Part of the humor are the bizarre, not quite right words or elements that have little to do with the actual sketch. E.g., a man eating cornflkes with a knife and fork, or Tony of Plymouth decrying a politician for lining his bathroom with venison and other fine delicacies.
  • 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, Eagleland, yuppie culture, critics, psychics, Top Gear, and Noel Edmonds!
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: invoked The awful dog owner in the vet sketch is disgustingly twee in all his speech patterns (he's the tommy-toe guy). When Hugh's character tries to shut up his inane prattle by saying he's there to have his cat put down due to liver cancer, Stephen only takes a beat before baby-talking to the cat about cancie-wancie. No wonder his dog is there to have him put down.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Parodied with the Gelliant Gutfright sketches. "It couldn't happen... or could it? Or could it? Perhaps it couldn't. ...or could it?"
  • 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 Funny Moment 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").

Alternative Title(s):

A Bit Of Fry And Laurie