Brian Pern is the prog-rock brainchild of Rhys Thomas OBE and The Fast Show‘s Simon Day, and this boxset takes in all three series – The Life of Rock, A Life in Rock and 45 Years of Prog and Roll – each of which comprised of just three episodes… not enough, but then I’d rather have three perfect episodes per series than six half-arsed ones.
I was so pleased that the second one was promoted from BBC4 to BBC2, but then, sadly, the show was relegated back to BBC4.
Simon Day mostly spoofs the life of Genesis original Peter Gabriel, with Michael Kitchen fabulous and sweary as the miserable and sardonic John, not behaving as any decent manager would, for example in the third series turning down Children In Need on his behalf, saying he ‘told them to fuck off politely’, to which Brian exclaims, “You didn’t!!!”, and John replies that he put it as “I told them – fuck off… please”.
Dialogue is fantastic in this, including in its delivery, and when Brian goes for a photoshoot, he’s told, “You need to lift your head up. I can see two of your chins.”
The first series started off accidentally mislabelling the names of the contributors whenever someone famous appeared onscreen, and it’s a joke they’ve carried on with, for example when Brian appears on Desert Island Discs, Kirsty Young is credited as Sue Lawley, the previous host of the Radio 4 show. Cameos like hers also make this a treat as she introduces him as “a rock musician, humanitarian and inventor of world music”.
Suranne Jones plays his dominating American personal assistant and, now wife, Astrid Maddox-Pern, hence being Yoko Ono to his John Lennon; and his entourage includes his dentist (since he’s had a new set of gnashers put in) and his Ocada delivery driver! And to top it off, we learn none of the old band invited to his wedding, including Pat Quid (Paul Whitehouse) and Tony Pebble (Nigel Havers).
Overall, all three Brian Pern excursions are just brilliant from start to finish. Everyone is on point and it reminds me of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa which felt like it had been edited down to perfection, so there was not a minute wasted.
And given that it looks like we’re only being treated to three series of this, it’s also got the single greatest ending to a TV show ever.
Double-bill it with Bergerac!
The programme is presented in the original broadcast widescreen ratio of 16:9 and, as you’d expect from a new TV show, there are zero defects to the picture and everything is as sharp as required. The sound is in DTS HD 2.0 (Dolby Surround), bringing the wonderful prog-rock music to life, as well as having no problems with the dialogue.
The extras are as follows and a lot of them come across like new episodes, making for some fantastic supplements:
- Highlights from the BBC online series 2008-9 (36:36): The spoofs begin early with this as Brian Pern recounts the famous people he’s worked with, including Erasure (up pops a picture of The Pet Shop Boys) and M People (and we get Play School’s eternally youthful Floella Benjamin!)
And they also want Brian for “An Audience With…” but not his own. They actually want him to be in the audience for John Barrowman’s show!!
For my money, as per the series in general, the best scenes always come from the pairing of Brian Pern together with Michael Kitchen.
It states “Quality is poor. Someone wiped originals”. Basically, it’s SD quality, with most of these taken from the online version so you have the BBC DOG in the top-left corner and, as it’s not 1080p high definition, the picture is windowboxed. Still, the quality of the comedy is there. Like the episodes, there’s only four chapters to this piece.
- Outtakes: Mistakes and silly bits (7:21): Does what it says on the tin.
- Series 1 Extras (17:20): More deleted scenes and outtakes.
- Series 2 Extras (30:14): And yet more, with the proviso about quality.
- Series 3 Extras (18:43): And same again, but it says “Picture and sound will be shit sometimes, sorry.” 🙂
- Brian Pern at the BBC (27:08): A previously-unseen episode, starting with Pern’s 1988 hit, I Wish I Told My Dad I Loved Him Before He Died – which from the title tells you this is effectively his ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics. Hearing the song just confirms this, but there’s plenty of onscreen trivia during the video, such as the fact that the gravestone in it also featured in Grange Hill at Danny Kendall’s funeral.
The rest of it features more tracks, like an episode of TOTP2, and also includes Keep Trying, Pern’s 1985 duet with Carly Swan – basically, Peter Gabriel’s duet, Don’t Give Up, with Kate Bush. Which was released in 1986; as well as Love is Modern, the track featured on the menu.
The main menu, as well as that track, features the cover image of Brian Pern with lights shining in the background in turn. Subtitles are in English, but sadly, the chaptering is very lacking with just four per episode.
Running time: 8*30 minutes, 1*40 minutes
Studio: Spirit Entertainment
Released: April 4th 2016
Chapters: 4 per episode
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Disc Format: 2*BD50
Director: Rhys Thomas
Producer: Rhys Thomas
Writers: Simon Day and Rhys Thomas
Sound: Ben Newth
Cast and contributors:
Anna Maxwell Martin
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.