Big Train

Big Train is a surreal British television comedy sketch show created by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, writers of the sitcom Father Ted. The first series was broadcast on BBC Two in 1998, while the second, in which Linehan was not involved, aired in 2002.

Big Train
Created byGraham Linehan
Arthur Mathews
StarringSimon Pegg
Mark Heap
Kevin Eldon
Amelia Bullmore (series 1)
Julia Davis (series 1)
Rebecca Front (series 2)
Tracy-Ann Oberman (series 2)
Catherine Tate (series 2)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series2
No. of episodes12
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Talkback
DistributorFremantle Media
Original networkBBC Two
Picture format4:3 (576i) (series 1)
16:9 (576i) (series 2)
Audio formatStereo
Original release9 November 1998 (1998-11-09) 
11 February 2002 (2002-02-11)


Following in the tradition of Monty Python, the comedy of Big Train is based on the subversion of ordinary situations by the surreal or macabre. For example, one scene features a bad-mannered man casually stabbed to death by his embarrassed wife at a dinner party. In a recurring sketch from the first series, an animated staring contest is accompanied by commentary from BBC football commentator Barry Davies and comedy actor and impressionist Phil Cornwell. The Stare-out Championship was based on a self-published comic book by Paul Hatcher and was animated by Chris Shepherd.

Despite running for two series, Big Train attracted only a limited audience. Even so, the first series was voted "Best 'Broken Comedy' Show" at the prestigious British Comedy Awards in 1999. Both series were released on DVD on 25 October 2004.

Its stars included the actor Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, and Simon Pegg in both series one and two, with Julia Davis and Amelia Bullmore in the first series (Nick Frost also appeared in two episodes), and Rebecca Front, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Catherine Tate in the second series. All its lead actors have starred in a variety of other comedy shows including I'm Alan Partridge, Look Around You, Spaced, Smack the Pony, Brass Eye and Green Wing. Catherine Tate went on to get her own show on the BBC, The Catherine Tate Show. The first series was directed by Graham Linehan and other series contributors included David Mitchell.

The pilot episode was directed by Chris Morris but was never broadcast in full. Some sketches from the pilot are scattered through the series. Apart from Pegg, all of the first season regular cast members subsequently starred in Morris' sketch comedy Jam (2000).

The title of the show is derived from the song run during the credits, "Big Train", which was recorded by Max Greger and his Orchestra. The writers were fond enough of the song to name the show after it. The song has since been adopted for a commercial for Virgin Trains.

Both series were shot entirely on location (series one on 35mm film and series two on DigiBeta) and later shown to a live audience so that a laugh track could be recorded.


The first series included a series of animated sketches written and drawn by Paul Hatcher and animated by Chris Shepherd, with composition and additional animation by Rhodri Cooper and Jeff Goldner of Animation Post. "The World Stare-out Championship Final" was originally a self-published comic that Hatcher created in 1996 which Graham Linehan spotted in a comic shop in London and then contacted Hatcher with a view to using it as animated sequences in a proposed sketch show commissioned by the BBC. The animation satirised televised sporting events coverage and its over-excited commentary, inspired by events such as the World Chess Championship, boxing and the football World Cup. The sketches are set during the World Stare-out Championship Finals, a staring match which is described as a global event broadcast all over the world.

The television sketches concerned the 43rd World Stare-out Championship Finals. All of the events were commentated upon by John (voiced by real life commentator Barry Davies) and David Joyce (impressionist Phil Cornwell). Each episode followed a different match, the last one being the grand final between the Italian Alessandro Kampagnola and the previous champion, the Polish Sigmund “Siggy” Spatsky, with Siggy emerging as the victor. Often the stories told by the commentators echoed those of real sporting events, such as performance-enhancing drugs, streakers, and a tale about the trophy based on the theft of the World Cup in 1966.

After the success of the Stare-outs, Hatcher created two follow-up books, The World Stare-out Championship Final and Chang Jin-Ming's Guide to Refereeing Stare-out under the name of Chang Jin-Ming.

Transmission details

Big Train originally aired on BBC Two on Monday nights during the following periods:

  • Series one (6 episodes): 9 November – 14 December 1998
  • Series two (6 episodes): 7 January – 11 February 2002


Big Train has been well received by critics. The Independent called the show "divine".[1] Reviewing the DVD, The Guardian wrote: "Like most sketch shows, Big Train is not without its misses, but as a breeding ground for comedy talent and a forefather to such modern-day hits as Little Britain and That Mitchell and Webb Look, it remains a gem, boasting some of the finest performances Pegg, Davis and the rest have ever delivered",[2] whilst another author of the same publication called it "one of the most original and most consistently funny sketch shows in years".[3]

DVD release

The Complete Series 1 and 2 has been released in the US and the UK.


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