Inside No. 9: Series 4, Episode 2 – Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room
Picture Shows: Len Shelby (STEVE PEMBERTON), Tommy Drake (REECE SHEARSMITH). Image Credit: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian.

A collection of props from a wicker basket No. 9 provide this rather sad tale about an old comedy double act.

After the big cast of last week’s episode, Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room is almost a two-hander from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, with the exception of a final appearance from Sian Gibson in a key hole right at the end of the episode providing the final twist in the story.

The duo star as Tommy Drake and Len Shelby, formerly known as Cheese and Crackers, a forgotten variety act who had one TV series in the 1980s when variety was dying out and who haven’t spoken to each other in about 30 years. However, they have been reunited by Len’s daughter Leanne (Gibson) for one last show.

While Tommy has moved on, now having a successful computing business and employing people take down clips of the old act from YouTube, Len still longs for a proper return to the stage. However, with their material having dated due to a mixture of political correctness, Operation Yewtree or sometimes just being rubbish, they struggle to get on. Plus there is the matter of the £25 Len still owes Tommy for what happened in Bernie Clifton’s dressing room, although Len can’t remember what it was.

This episode is a rather moving one, as we delve into the history of the relationship and why it broke up. We see signs that Len was an alcoholic and how his life fell into decline after the act ended, before we ultimately learn what happened in both the dressing room and the consequences of it.

Despite this there are still plenty of comic moments too, including some from their old act. Their “10 Brown Bottles” sketch is broad slapstick delight. There is also a guilty part of me that quite liked their first sketch, even if it did involve lots of non-PC comic accents. Yes, it’s dodgy, but sometimes you can’t help yourself.

It’s hard to compare this to Zanzibar given that they are both such different styles. Part of me likes the drama and storytelling more in this episode, but the former is a very different beast. Maybe it is just best to enjoy them both as separate entities, and given that Inside No. 9 is an anthology, that is probably what you should do.

Inside No. 9 is on BBC Two at 22.00 on Tuesdays.