Advertisement

Here's something you don't see often on the BBC – comedy that actually makes you laugh

Here’s something you don’t see often on the BBC these days: a light-as-a-feather comedy film. Murder on the Blackpool Express (BBC Two) was a simple delight. Imagine Channel 4’s Coach Trip crossed with an Agatha Christie story, and Johnny Vegas in the driver’s seat. Even the idea of it is funny.

Vegas was the coach driver for Draper’s Literary Tours, in which an actorly murder mystery author named David Van De Clane (Griff Rhys Jones) took fans around the locations featured in his novels. These misfit fans included Nigel Havers playing – who would have guessed it? – a suave charmer, Nina Wadia as a harridan in a wheelchair, and Una Stubbs as one half of a Thelma and Louise-style duo.

When passengers began being bumped off in ever more inventive ways, with the murders mirroring Van De Clane’s plots, we had the makings of a classic whodunit. The killer lurked in the bushes, wearing one of Draper’s complimentary pac-a-macs. Sian Gibson played Gemma, the peppy host of the tour and boss of the coach company, and her warm relationship with Vegas’s character brought to mind her pairing with Peter Kay in Car Share.

In fact, Kay could have effortlessly slotted into the coach driver role, but Vegas was perfect here – more heartfelt and less frenzied than some of his other TV appearances. As with her Car Share character, Gibson tried her best to be positive despite the circumstances: “My murder mystery tour is that good, we have actual murders on it!”

It is always fun to watch a cast enjoying themselves, and everyone here seemed to be having a ball. The script, from Jason Cook (who started out on the BBC show Miranda), was one to relish, with a very British, very Northern brand of humour. The best lines went to Stubbs, Sheila Reid and Susie Blake as the three older ladies. “I wish I’d known I’d be spied on, I’d have put in my good teeth.” “I’m agoraphobic and claustrophobic, so I’m not really settled.” “Walking that with my bunions? It’s a suicide mission.”

If the story felt familiar, that’s because it was commissioned for Gold and broadcast in 2017 – when it became the channel’s highest-rated show of all time. Its sequels, Death on the Tyne and Dial M for Middlesbrough, will air on BBC Two next week and the week after. Here’s a thought: perhaps the BBC could commission more of this kind of fun, crowd-pleasing comedy?