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Following the young Endeavour Morse in his early day as an Oxford police constable working with CID, encountering Strange for the first time, and developing the notable personality traits he would latterly refine.
Comedy, most especially contemporary comedy, seems to stand more chance than anything else of dating.
I was disappointed to see highlights of this series and realise that, just twelve years on, "Stuff" has lost its bite. What was hilarious at the time now seems strangely blunted, as Alexei's self-described "alternative new-wave Marxist comedy" meets cosy BBC light entertainment with muted results.
Of course, this leftwing, "screaming at the camera" style was very amusing at time of transmission, and that's what really counts. There are still some funny moments to be had, such as Sayle rallying against Dire Straits, or talking about his half-serious suicide attempt ("I tried to slash my wrists with a tomato"). Asking such irreverent questions as would Hitler's invasion of Poland be acceptable if he did it for charity still raise a wry smile, but some of the juxtaposition a chat show where Islamic fundamentalism is discussed by three motorway café waitresses lacks punch.
Some of the surrealism is too reactionary in the more accepting 21st century, largely because Sayle's chief target the Thatcher administration is now long gone, and so holds no real relevance to today's society. Other sketches such as the fireman who suffers from Pyrophobia are sub-Python, while the use of such "safe" BBC luminaries as Angus Deayton feel comfortable and unthreatening. What was yesterday's cutting edge is today's relative mainstream. The familiar variety staple of a song per week also offsets the attempted activism, particularly as none of the songs contain the aggression that made "Ullo John, Got A New Motor?" a hit.
Perhaps it's the fault of the writers. Alexei took third billing after Andrew Marshall and David Renwick. Whereas Renwick was to later devise and write the left of centre and curiously dark One Foot In The Grave (as well as the exceptional Jonathan Creek), Marshall would become the writer of middle of the road sitcom "Dad".
Stuff finished in 1991, while a slightly watered down - yet still fundamentally the same - "All-New" show carried him through the mid nineties. Yet when Sayle returned to BBC2 after a lengthy four-year break with "Merry Go Round" it felt, apart from the superb Bobby Chariot, uninspired and lacking energy. However, seeing "Stuff" again on the re-run channels leads you to realise that Alexei's humour hadn't changed at all just that we, as an audience, had.
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