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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: From a caveman to a debagged MP, these ghosts are dead funny

Ghosts

Rating:

Not Going Out

Rating:

Good sitcoms can win their laughs in two ways. One is to hone their punchlines to a rapier point, then slide them home with precision.

The other is to heap sight gags, one-liners, double-takes and wordplay into a wheelbarrow and unload it on the audience in a comedy barrage. This is what Ghosts (BBC1) does.

Not every gag’s a great one. Some are corny. One or two are laboured. But the sheer cumulative effect is overwhelming, a landslide of puns and slapstick that comes so fast you can’t possibly catch it all in a single viewing.

In Ghosts, ex-midwife Charlotte Ritchie inherits a country house from a distant aunt, suffers a near-fatal accident, and awakens from a coma to discover she can see dead people . . . who are invisible to everyone else

In Ghosts, ex-midwife Charlotte Ritchie inherits a country house from a distant aunt, suffers a near-fatal accident, and awakens from a coma to discover she can see dead people . . . who are invisible to everyone else

And should a joke fail to make you laugh, don’t worry — the team will return to it with variations, repeatedly whacking you over the funny bone till you succumb.

If you were a fan of Horrible Histories, the long-running children’s BBC show that won a clutch of BAFTAs, you’ll recognise the faces in this six-part series, set in a heavily haunted English mansion. 

Part of the fun is that, as we meet the ghosts, we’re invited to guess how each met his or her ghastly end.

Jim Howick is a scoutmaster with an arrow through his neck. Martha Howe-Douglas re-enacts her own murder every night, falling with a shriek from a bedroom window, and Katy Wix is Mary the Witch, still smouldering after she was burned at the stake.

Not every gag’s a great one. Some are corny. One or two are laboured. But the sheer cumulative effect is overwhelming, a landslide of puns and slapstick that comes so fast you can’t possibly catch it all in a single viewing

Not every gag’s a great one. Some are corny. One or two are laboured. But the sheer cumulative effect is overwhelming, a landslide of puns and slapstick that comes so fast you can’t possibly catch it all in a single viewing

But it’s harder to guess what happened to Simon Farnaby, an MP who died without his trousers on. 

And what about Mathew Baynton’s pretentious poet or Ben Wilibond’s no-nonsense Army officer? 

Best of all is Robin the caveman (Laurence Rickard), who can barely say more than ‘ook’ and ‘ugh’ . . . though strangely he does seem to know technical terms for interior design such as architrave’.

The plot is largely lifted from their Sky1 hit, the blissfully funny fantasy Yonderland. 

In that show, a bored housewife (Martha H-D) discovered a magic portal in her kitchen to a parallel universe that was invisible to everyone else.

In Ghosts, ex-midwife Charlotte Ritchie inherits a country house from a distant aunt, suffers a near-fatal accident, and awakens from a coma to discover she can see dead people . . . who are invisible to everyone else.

Anyone who grew up with the marvellous children’s sitcom of the Seventies, Rentaghost, will be pleased that this comedy echoes its best traditions — especially the rule that all ghosts are petty, sulky and short-fused, generally behaving like toddlers.

Speaking of which, Lee Mack returned with a fresh run of Not Going Out (BBC1), easily the funniest bickering match on TV. Husbands, wives, friends and in-laws are permanently at each other’s throats.

Mack’s comedy is very much of the first type, the meticulous build-up to a perfectly worded pay-off. 

The lines have been polished till they glow in the dark: for instance, asked whether he wanted to make a parachute jump at 10,000ft, he retorted: ‘I’d rather jump out of a birthday cake at Wormwood Scrubs dressed as Marilyn Monroe.’

That’s a beautifully crafted joke — surreal, concise and no ruder than the imagination of the audience. Mack delivered it with expertly weighted timing.

Lee Mack returned with a fresh run of Not Going Out (BBC1), easily the funniest bickering match on TV. Husbands, wives, friends and in-laws are permanently at each other’s throats [File photo]

Lee Mack returned with a fresh run of Not Going Out (BBC1), easily the funniest bickering match on TV. Husbands, wives, friends and in-laws are permanently at each other’s throats [File photo]

Because every bit of humour meshes like the cogs in a Swiss watch, this sitcom can lack the element of shock. 

We sense each joke coming. There are no utterly unexpected bellylaughs, such as the moment in Ghosts when we realised the cellar was crammed full of bubonic plague victims with nothing to do but watch the pilot light in the boiler.

But surprises don’t matter, when the comedy is so well constructed. A minor masterclass.

Fresh feet of the week: Dawn French and Richard Ayoade treated their weary toes to a fish pedicure in a Greek lake on Travel Man (C4), before being fitted for bespoke sandals in Athens. 

Who says Brits abroad always keep their socks on?

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