Inside No 9, series 6 episode 4 review: Adrian Dunbar was an absolute hoot

Adrian Dunbar, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Donna Preston, Pauline McLynn and Bhavna Limbachia - BBC
Adrian Dunbar, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Donna Preston, Pauline McLynn and Bhavna Limbachia - BBC

Famous actors sending themselves up on screen is nothing new – Ricky Gervais spun a whole show out of it with Extras – but Adrian Dunbar’s turn in this week’s Inside No 9 (BBC Two) is a particularly fine example of the genre. The timing couldn’t have been better, with him still preserved in our television memory as Superintendent Ted Hastings. Dunbar always seems like a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and here he was an absolute hoot as an actor taking himself as seriously as possible.

In he swept, radiating charisma. He was playing a detective in a police drama. Reece Shearsmith was James, a star-struck bit-part actor thrilled to be in Dunbar’s orbit. “I love you in Line of Duty as well, another policeman,” James gushed, comparing the two roles. The temperature in the room fell by several degrees. “Yes, but I’m playing him totally differently to Ted. It’s not the same performance at all,” said Dunbar, appalled.

Experience tells me that artistes can behave like this. I once elicited a similar response after attempting to compliment Liza Minnelli backstage at the Royal Variety Performance, and still shudder at the memory.

Inside No 9 was clearly inspired by Tales of the Unexpected, but this episode, Hurry Up and Wait, had strong echoes of The League of Gentlemen (the series on which Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, creators of this show, cut their teeth). The action took place in a static caravan that had been commandeered as a “green room” for the cast of a true-life crime drama about the abduction of a baby boy. The owners of the caravan were in situ – Pemberton as the father, Father Ted’s Pauline McLynn as the mother, and Donna Preston as their supremely weird daughter – and all could have been transplanted from Royston Vasey.

When not being ignored by the show’s runner (Bhavna Limbachia), James was becoming convinced that the creepy family had been involved in the baby’s disappearance. Was this going to end with him triumphantly cracking the case? Of course not. It ended with another twist which, to be honest, wasn’t that great. No matter. The episode was worth it for Dunbar’s performance alone.