Your next box set: Monkey Dust

A dark and depraved comic look at broken Britain first aired on BBC3 in 2003

A man is window-shopping for a new tie. Children are playing games in the street. A sparrow is singing triumphantly in the trees. But don't be fooled by this sunny snapshot of suburbia – as, in a skip of the soundtrack, the idyll becomes a nightmare. A crow swoops down to snatch the chirping bird. The sweet-looking children swap skipping ropes for switch-blades. And the be-suited window-shopper shoots up in a rat-infested side street, using his newly purchased tie as a tourniquet.

In the course of three series, Monkey Dust, an animated sketch series that aired on BBC3 from 2003 to 2005, presented us with a gloriously dystopian vision of broken Britain, tackling subjects ranging from suicide to bestiality, via kids making Vin Diesel fight a bear. In short, it contained whatever the depraved minds of co-creators Harry Thompson and Shaun Pye could come up with in-between.

It's a world populated by a cabal of grotesquely comic characters whose gloom-laden existence is played in hilariously shocking vignettes.

There's Ivan Dobsky, the Meat Safe Murderer convicted of strangling a typist with women's underwear; frequently exonerated, he joyfully bounces out of prison on a space-hopper only to find himself ill-suited to life outside. There's the Paedofinder General, who leads a witch-hunt for potential sex offenders by the powers vested in him by "tabloid-reading imbeciles" and "mawkish ITV documentaries presented by Martin Bashir". And then there's by far my favourite character, Clive Pringle, a middle-aged automaton whose attempts to explain his lateness and absences to his wife eventually give way to tragi-comic admissions of sexual degradation – such as the time he used the plot of Humpty Dumpty to try to explain a lost weekend he had actually spent volunteering as "the anal gimp of a German businessman". In another episode, his cover story – for an absence that saw him forced to fellate a monkey after losing a bet – was an A-Team plot.

When Thompson died in 2005, an episode of Have I Got News For You closed with the words: "In memory of Harry Thompson, the first producer of Have I Got News For You (1960 - 2005)." In all, three series were made; seasons two and three have yet to make it on to DVD although half a dozen or so episodes have graced iTunes.

Inevitably, given that nine years have passed since the show originally aired, some of the material looks dated. But for the most part, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at how ominously prescient Monkey Dust's observations have proved.


Daniel Bettridge

The GuardianTramp

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