Absolutely Presents Frank Hovis in Filth
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
When Frank Hovis (aka John Sparkes) appeared in 'Absolutely' on Channel 4, The Sunday Times described him as 'gross, disgusting, and very very funny'. That was in 1992. Now it's 2005.
Telling friends I was off to see one of the stars of the Absolutely TV series elicited either a, ‘Wow is he here?’, or ‘What on earth’s Absolutely?’
For those not in the know, Absolutely was one of the best sketch series Britain has ever produced, and almost certainly the best Scotland has. Although that memory is hard to validate, because the show has barely been repeated since it went out in 1989 – which is a travesty.
John Sparkes was responsible for some of the more memorable grotesques from the show, including the very Welsh Siadwell and this one, Frank Hovis, a disgusting club comic whose demeanour was as filthy as his act.
Staggering onto the stage in the obligatory frilly shirt, heavily soiled suit and simultaneously sloshing his pints around and he snorts back the phlegm, Hovis’s character hasn’t changed one iota in the 15 years since he last took to an Edinburgh stage.
Neither has much of the material, either. In part, it’s almost an affectionate rip-off of the old chicken-in-a-basket comics. Ssome of the gags he peddles – you know, the sort that are so formulaic that whenever a doctor’s mentioned, he always has both good news and bad news to impart - are surely still doing the rounds somewhere today. Some of these are great and inventive, some of them are truly awful.
But the signature routines go beyond this, and indeed any marker of good taste. They’re unflinchingly vile tales of scatology so explicit you can only wince. Every bodily discharge is here: incontinence, sick and others I don’t even want to mention.
The sheer audacity involved in plumbing such murky depths is what’s funny, if you’ve got the strong constitution to stomach it. But as if to make it all better, the depraved routines are punctuated with upbeat songs – you see where Vic Reeves might have got his club singer idea from – and even what looks like might be a ventriloquist routine, but turns out to be a giant furry penis with which he intimidates women.
It’s very much a greatest hits package. Fans of old will remember most, if not all, of the ikky material, and it’s uncertain if he’ll win any new ones. And the show only comes in at about 40 minutes, whatever the programme may promise, although perhaps that’s because Sparkes rightly realised any longer and he would outstay his welcome.
But for such an unpleasant act, it’s strangely nice to see him back. A reminder that the Fringe doesn’t always have to be about finding the next big thing, it can also be about seeing those you may have missed first time around.