Great Australian Comedy Mysteries of the 20th Century #1: Shaun Micallef on Comic Relief 1999

Big comedy fans like myself usually have a list of Holy Grails; bits of footage we’d like to see and facts we’d like to confirm. Finding that footage or getting to the bottom of a particular story can become an obsession. I myself have spent countless hours trying to find out more about one particularly intriguing piece of footage involving a well known comedian – even going so far as to cajole my other half into searching through an entire year of newspapers in order to find out more about it – but I’ll tell you about that some other time.

Back in 2006 a person on a forum I frequented asked whether it was true that Shaun Micallef had appeared on Comic Relief in 1999. Comic Relief, if you don’t know, is a biannual telethon/spectacular which airs on the BBC and involves as many comedy and entertainment stars as can be herded into BBC Television Centre on the night. There’s music, pre-recorded specials of popular programmes and live sketches, and viewers are encouraged to call in and pledge money to support Comic Relief projects in the UK and overseas. This year more than £57million was raised on the night.

In order to confirm whether Micallef had appeared on the show in 1999 or not, I went straight to the BBC’s INFAX database, which lists, among others things, who appeared in what programme. INFAX was then available online as an experimental prototype, and was being hammered by TV enthusiasts. Whether it will become publicly available again I don’t know, but my fingers are crossed.

Anyway, I typed in Micallef’s name but found he was not listed. Then I typed in Comic Relief 1999, but did not spot Micallef in the cast list. I concluded that Shaun Micallef had not been in the show – it seemed pretty unlikely anyway – and totally forgot about it.

But Viv, the UK’s number one Shaun Micallef fan, got in touch the other day and reminded me of it. This footage is Viv’s Holy Grail: she remembers seeing – it’s what got her into Shaun Micallef – and she even had it on tape at one point, but lent it to someone years ago, and they never returned it. Since then she’s been trying to track down the footage and has asked countless comedy fans if they have it, to no avail.

Viv says that Micallef was not live in the studio (which would explain why he’s not listed on INFAX), but that the sketch was existing footage that was played on the night. The Micallef Programme started to air on the Paramount Comedy Channel (a UK satellite channel) a few weeks later, so it’s likely it is something from that show which Paramount supplied to the BBC to play on Comic Relief.

The sketch itself was an audience participation segment, involving Melbourne and a map, which didn’t quite go to plan, concluding with Micallef having a stand-up argument with an audience member (played, Viv thinks, by Wayne Hope). Viv remembers that the Comic Relief studio audience didn’t laugh much at the sketch and appeared not to get the joke. She suggests that Jonathan Ross’ introduction, which was along the lines of: “We know you’re all looking forward to Alan Partridge… [audience start cheering, thinking he’s about to come on] …but in the meantime here’s the Australian version, Shaun Micallef…”, can’t have helped matters.

But what is most intriguing about the sketch is that it doesn’t appear to have aired anywhere else. Was this footage from a Micallef Programme pilot, which somehow made it to the UK? Was the sketch specifically filmed for Comic Relief? Was it some kind of promo footage, filmed to sell the show overseas? Or had it been shot for series one or two, but never made the final edit? Either way, the footage is not on any of the three Micallef Programme DVDs, and absolutely no one seems to remember it.

The other problem with tracking down the footage is that none of the various UK comedy fans I know (all prolific recorders of this kind of thing) have the footage, although one was able to tell me that Alan Partridge came on at exactly 9pm, meaning this sketch would have gone to air before then.

So, here’s the first of many appeals for footage I’ll be making on this blog (because if you can’t use your blog to put a dent in your Holy Grails list, what’s the point of having one?): Did you record any of Comic Relief 1999? If so, please check the tape and get in touch. Viv (and I) will be eternally grateful.

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