Sketch show Sorry, I've Got No Head launched on CBBC in 2008. Across three series, it delivered a constant stream of memorable funny sketches to young viewers. Notably, as there was no 'dumbing down' of any of the humour, the show quickly became a favourite with adult audiences too.
With the three series now added to BBC iPlayer for people to re-enjoy (or discover for the first time), we thought it'd be a great time to catch up with some of the cast and writers, to look back on how special the show was. With the help of the format's creator, Jeremy Salsby, we got in touch with many of those involved in the series.
Below is the thoughts of stars William Andrews, David Armand, James Bachman, Marcus Brigstocke, Fergus Craig, Anna Crilly, Justin Edwards, Mel Giedroyc and Nick Mohammed, plus writers Toby Davies and Sarah Morgan, and producer guru Jeremy Salsby himself.
Read on to hear their memories of filming the show, and their answer as to whether they'd be up for being involved in a reunion episode.
Sorry, I've Got No Head is back on BBC iPlayer... isn't that great news?
Marcus: Yes. This important show will make sense of the turmoil we've faced this year. There is huge wisdom in SIGNH.
David: I think it might just be the news that single-handedly redeems 2020.
Nick: It's wonderful news. If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it's that SIGNH should come back, ten years on!
James: It is almost as good as the news from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZenica, yes. I'm glad I'll be able to show it to my daughters properly now, rather than in low-quality YouTube chunks. When it was made, they didn't exist (my daughters, not the YouTubes). Now the eldest one is about to be nine! (My eldest daughter, not the eldest YouTube.)
Toby: If anything can end the pandemic it's the return of Sorry, I've Got No Head. I think we can all agree on that. It has a 91% success rate.
Justin: It is the highlight of 2020 and will overshadow all other news events of the year.
William: It's superb news. I used to get a discount from a cafe near me for being "that guy from Horrible Histories". It'll be good to reassert my place in the hierarchy.
Mel: It's always been one of my absolute favourite shows to work on. So I'm genuinely properly chuffed about this. I love the idea of a new generation discovering it.
Jeremy: It's one of my favourite shows on my CV and it has been way too long. I had become aware that the series was a bit of a cult hit amongst students, as they were probably the target age when it first aired. I was sent some Tik Tok videos by my eldest daughter featuring 'a thousand pounds' and discovered an army of fans curating their own tribute content on social media. I then, in my usual way, made a nuisance of myself with the BBC nagging for it to be put on iPlayer. I'm extremely hopeful it will get support amongst both the older viewers who loved it the first time and finds a new audience too.
James: Interesting fact: Sorry, I've Got No Head was kind of a compromise title, agreed on because no one could agree. I think for a while it might have been called Duck Butter. My suggestion was Bum Gun. The title sequence would have been a load of cannons firing bums into the air. Didn't catch on.
What do you remember from your time making the show?
William: Shredding documents and dodging the press. We had a code of honour that I still live by!
Toby: Making SIGNH was an incredibly fun time. I was with the show almost from the very beginning. From making the 10 minute taster tape around the production company offices and the producer's house - with Marcus and James - and I think a cameo from Julia Bradbury (I might be making that up) - to the three series of the real thing, it really felt like something special. We had real freedom to come up with these stupid characters (as long as they were repeatable). At the time sketch shows were huge, and I'd been writing on lots of them - but this one felt like it was ours.
David: I remember laughing most of the time. It was like being back at primary school. We got told off a lot.
Justin: Lots of laughing, a lot of wigs and beards.
Anna: I remember a lot of corpsing and being told off, it was always Nick Mohammed that started it, always. He'd get this look in his eye and you knew you weren't going to be able to complete a scene and you'd be in trouble which undoubtedly makes you more hysterical. One scene we had to cheat using the camera, so we didn't have to look each other in the eye - which gave the impression that both of us were boss-eyed. Good fun.
Nick: It was one of my first jobs and honestly a delight through and through. Plus it was clear right from the off that everyone involved wanted to make a brilliant comedy first and foremost (as opposed to simply a brilliant CBBC show).
Marcus: ... Very VERY uncomfortable costumes. The Startled Vikings were a slow agony. The Dung Beetles were even worse. Other than that, I remember laughing. Laughing and laughing and laughing with Mel, James and Nick especially. Deer Club left us helpless.
Jeremy: From the very first readthrough, after the first joke landed - I think it was a jumpy Viking sketch and everyone screamed - we never stopped laughing. Anyone who has sat through a readthrough will appreciate you know nothing about comedy until you hear people laugh at something you've written / produced / performed and everyone did, it was a huge relief. So just the sheer joy of being with super talented, funny people making me laugh all day long. Television is generally quite hierarchical and a collaborative approach rarely works, but this did. I was paid to make the decisions but when you're working with the very best sketch writers and performers it becomes so much easier. But walking on set every day as executive producer and being bollocked by the 1st AD [director] for laughing too loudly is a memory I hold very dear.
Mel: I remember a lot of laughing from early break of day to dusk. Like silly amounts of laughing. Sometimes exhausting amounts of laughing. Annoying amounts of laughing. Particularly for the crew who were just trying to get on with stuff. I remember the costume rails being filled with circus amounts of outfits - you'd be a mouse in full mousey furry costume, whiskers, teeth, everything, lying in a giant trap for one sketch in the morning... then you'd be a boy scout in the afternoon for something else. It was real playtime.
Fergus: Being kids' TV, it didn't have a massive budget so I think we shot about ten sketches a day, which is a lot! It gave the whole thing a kind of frenzy which was fun... except on the day I came in with food poisoning and had about two pages of dialogue in every sketch.
James: The budget and time meant getting everything in two takes, or one, if it was the end of the day. Even when you were ill, you still had to film. (They wouldn't allow that these days.) You can tell I've got a cold if you listen carefully to Prudith and Jasmine trying to buy a "mobicular telephone". But the speed of it meant we had no time to question our choices. Instinct was king! And luckily everyone in the cast is just naturally, instinctively funny.
Sarah: SIGNH was one of my very first TV writing gigs. I had just got an agent, and they asked if I would submit some sketch ideas for Series 2. I'd loved the first series, and was incredibly nervous, and keen to impress. I just did a search through my old Word docs, and found all the hundreds of sketch ideas I submitted. They were all so rubbish and awful I had to lie down on the floor, moaning, and making this noise - "gnnnnnnnnnnnr". Horrible. (Actually one was alright, it was called "Gorilla Eggs" and I'll sell you the punchline for a pound.) Anyway they let me send in more ideas and it was just a joy to be part of.
Which character was your favourite to play?
David: The museum of imagination sketches. We used to film them all in a single day and I remember by about 4pm each time Will and I would have completely lost our minds. I think you can clearly see the madness and desperation in our eyes.
Marcus: Jasmine or Prudith (I don't think we ever knew for sure who was who).
Nick: Gosh, I think it would have to be the stooge in all of those £1000 sketches! I lost count of how many of those there were, but I would often come away crying with laughter. Marcus and James would also improvise the odd line to keep me on my toes, which never helped! I'd so love to do another of those if it was ever possible to get us all back together again.
Justin: Archie the fisherman in the North Barrassay school sketches. Very funny scripts, surprisingly comfortable trousers.
Anna: The teacher in the outer Hebrides with only one pupil was good fun. Particularly watching James having to tear about working up a sweat playing a ten year-old at 7am, when I knew he was hungover. A lot of us were hungover a lot.
Mel: The standout for me was playing Emily Forest, sister to Monty, played by Marcus. We are a musical theatre-obsessed pair who, what we lack in talent, we make up for in sheer enthusiasm... plus dazzling array of 80s lounge-wear. Think Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard in Waiting For Guffman. Every time you see Emily and Monty, they are auditioning for yet another show that's going to propel them into the heights of showbiz. Every single time they fail, but undaunted and dogged, they pick themselves up for the next audition....I truly love Emily and Monty Forest. I miss them.
Fergus: I used to love playing odd characters who just showed up and said a couple of quick funny lines. I have very little memory of what happened in it but I do remember having a lot of fun in a blueberry sketch with Anna and Mel. There was also one where for some reason I played a butcher called Simon Cowell.
Toby: I wrote an awful lot of SIGNH, and now and again I got to be in it too. You'll see me in all the jumpy Viking sketches, and all the auditionees sketches, and popping up in a few others.
Sarah: I loved writing the Hot or Not Girls. Fun fact: when I wrote those sketches, I'm pretty sure it was me that suggested the characters were played by the male cast. Imagine grown men playing school girls! Hahahaha! You must remember, it was a different time, back then in *checks paperwork* 2009.
Then someone sensible realised two of the best comic performers in Britain - Anna Crilly and Mel Giedroyc - were not only in the cast, but 'women', and should probably play the characters for the third series. Oh, god, they were so great. There's one when they're talking about The X Factor, when Anna suddenly drops into a perfect Cheryl Cole impression, and Mel is forcing her mouth really wide open to apply lipgloss but also trying not laugh. Brilliant.
I had a rummage and found my original pitch for the sketch. I'm glad we realised in 2009 the kids didn't really say 'cool'.
The cast (men and women) are a gang of really cool girls sitting on a wall by a bus stop - their leader, Heidi, dictates to the gang what is cool and what is not cool. ("Frosty brown lip-glosses are cool... Smelly rubbers that smell like bananas are cool... crocheted hair bands are... NO LONGER COOL") They follow her to the letter - when she accidentally chucks her Frappucino over herself, they do the same. When she chokes on a crisp, they do the same. And so on.
James: Any character where I didn't have to wear a wig or a stick-on beard - I find them so maddeningly itchy, which is ironic given how much hair I have on my head and my face in normal life now - or loads of complicated makeup. (Actually, the one time I did have to, for Bert and Alf, the old men who loved Beyoncé, I had a lovely time in the make-up chair starting at 4am to be ready in time to shoot at 8am, during which I fell asleep and woke up to find myself old and bald, like Rip van Winkle, and then someone offered me scrambled egg.) The Vikings, for example, was a bloody nightmare. Glue all over your face, fake hair poking into your skin, and then sat in thick woollen Viking clothes under boiling hot lights, in a fake wooden hut in a tiny, sweltering studio. I tell you, a lot of those Viking screams were genuine panic, no acting required. Oh wait, you wanted my favourite, didn't you? All the other ones.
Jeremy: I loved them all - like a family. I felt the pain of birth for all, but I think the characters I loved watching the most were the ones that surprised me from page to performance. Seeing what Dave and Will did with The Museum of The Imagination; Anna, Mel and Fergus in the Blueberry Woman sketches; Mel, Will, Justin and James in North Barrasay; Marcus, James and Nick in Thousand Pounds; Marek Larwood's unique invention with his quickies - all just wonderful.
Which sketch made you personally laugh the most?
Fergus: I always thought the sketches with James in a one-pupil school with Anna as the teacher were brilliant. Wish I was in them.
Toby: There were lots - the German Exchange student in Barrasay was amazing. 'A thousand pounds' (any of those really). What I really want to list are loads of my own, but in some ways I think that would come across as vain. And also right. Actually - I will proffer one of mine - Anna's Blueberry woman, when her sister (Mel) is visiting. That makes me piss.
Sarah: I laugh at my naivety of pitching a sketch about a family of dung beetles, which was a really stupid one-line idea that dung beetles, in secret, prefer to eat nice foods like Banoffi pie. Rather than dung. That was it, that was the sketch. It hadn't occurred to me that even with comedy gold like that, once you've built the costumes, and the set, you're going to have to record a few more sketches to justify the budget. So Jeremy the producer got me to expand the idea to a show-within-the-show. The beloved sitcom we all know today as, Schitt's Cree ... I mean At Home With The Dung Beetles.
Sarah: I genuinely can't watch those sketches because I'm so embarrassed about how awful they must have been for the cast to film, the costumes look absolutely brutal. There was one sketch where a baby dung beetle vomits - presumably vomit that was also dung, because of the diet of dung beetles - directly into the faces of the other family members. Mostly Mel. The baby was a puppet. I don't know what the vomit was. Apparently it was cold. I wrote that. Me. To entertain children. I honestly don't really know how any of that was allowed to happen.
Mel: I was mum, Marcus was dad and Anna and Will played our kids. I think we were living in a pile of poo. We were in extraordinarily uncomfortable but brilliant dung beetle costumes for hours and hours on end and I remember crying with laughter so much that the poor make-up team had to keep reapplying a very intricate web-effect on to our faces. We got into some terrible competitive punning I seem to remember, and just spent hours and hours making each other laugh until we were weak. Uncomfortable costumery usually goes either way - massive moaning or total hysteria.
Jeremy: For me, for sheer laughter, one of the blueberry woman sketches featuring Anna, Mel and Fergus and written by Toby where Anna's TV chef character farts every time she says 'Blueberry' and her hair blows up. (Don't pull on the logic). Anna, Fergus and Mel held a look which was just brilliant. It's a fart joke but was elevated to a thing of beauty. And I remember sitting in the edit with editor Mark Williams and director Ian Curtis laughing for about 45 mins whilst choosing the best fart sound from the fart sound board. I was paid for that.
James: Hands down the funniest ones to film were Prudith & Jasmine, the ladies who repeatedly shout "a thousand pounds?!" at Nick. First: no wig or beard - tick. I have very versatile hair. It's on my CV, next to "strong swimmer (if allowed arm bands)". Marcus and I relished every moment of those sketches, screeching extra bits we'd made up on the spot, crying with laughter at Nick's reasonable put-upon face. I was basically doing an impression of my mother. Not sure about Marcus. Perhaps he was doing an impression of my mother too. (I almost didn't get to be in those actually - Prudith was originally supposed to be Justin, who'd written them based on conversations he'd had with his actual mother about how much an answer-machine cost, and I think he filmed one with Marcus that pops up somewhere in the first series, but then his schedule changed because he was too busy being a policeman in a film or something and Jeremy came to me and asked me if I could take over. More work?, I thought, for no extra money?! Pretty glad I didn't say 'no'.)
James: The funniest to watch? Anything Marek did. He's a genius. Mel's turn as the weird German teacher in the North Barrasay exchange episode is an incredible piece of comic performing that I've rarely seen bettered (alright, I was in that). Anna's Blueberry Woman. Because farts are funny. And her face is funny when she's farting. And I would always sneak onto set if I could to see Dave Armand and Will film those weird and wonderful Mr Tomothy Faraway and Mr Elevensies sketches, which tell you more about the mind of their writer Toby than any reasonable person needs to know.
Sarah: I think Deer Club and the North Barrissay school sketches have a genuinely powerful message of acceptance and love and make me quite emotional when I watch them. That's not the same as laughing though, is it. Alright, the bee.
David: The North Barrasay school with one pupil sketches are amazing. There's one in particular which I think might be the high water mark of human achievement in comedy (I wasn't in it).
Marcus: Deer Club vs The Muntjacks or 'A Thousand Pounds'.
Nick: Muntjacs. Everyone was wearing false teeth and antlers. My false teeth kept on falling out. I couldn't say any of the lines. There isn't a single shot of that sketch where I'm not crying with laughter, it was impossible to edit around it!
Justin: Deer Club. Way over the heads of children I think.
Anna: Deer Club was fantastically odd and one of my favourite memories, we spent actual days galloping around the woods with antlers on for a few days, good times.
Do you miss working with the others?
David: Remind me who they were?
Justin: I still see most of them quite regularly and have worked with a lot them since. It's a small, incestuous world.
Anna: Lots of us have stayed in touch. I married one! Will and I have a little boy now who we named 'Sorry Head' after the show. Mel remains a great friend and she and I have worked together since, which is always a treat. I've worked with Nick and Fergus too and Justin makes me look after his children so we still all still see each other.
Nick: We're all still in touch. And I've worked with Anna a fair bit since then. But yes, it was a proper comedy family, which doesn't come round often.
Mel: It was literally the best bunch of people to hang out with. It's always been lovely to hang out with pals from the show or meet up again on other jobs. I wish we could go on a big SIGNH tour bus and travel round doing live shows, actually. We'd need a whole bus just for costumes and props though. It'd be a logistical nightmare. Let's not do it.
Toby: I have carried on working with lots of them. James now lives in LA, but we speak and write together regularly. I just did another show with Mel. I have since done lots of radio with Marcus, and Justin and I are always nearly collaborating. I also still work a lot with Jeremy, whose baby the whole thing was.
James: Everyone in it was not just funny, but fun. I've just remembered a sketch that Arnold Widdowson and I wrote about a restaurant where the waiter would only write down "sausages" on his order pad, whatever you ordered. I was the waiter, and Mel was one half of the couple ordering, and every single time I said "sausages" under my breath while scribbling, she would lose it. More and more and more each time. The best time. Nick was an amazing corpser. Once he had to be in a lift - can't for the life of me remember why - with Mel standing outside, and the doors had to open, and ever single time they opened and he saw Mel, he'd already be crying uncontrollable hysterical tears of laughter. The fact we were running late with the filming schedule made it even worse. He felt so bad about it but he just couldn't stop. It's one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen. I love all those moments, and I miss having them with these brilliant people.
Sarah: I've been lucky enough to work with loads of the cast on other things. I was a story producer on Nick's brilliant sitcom Intelligence. I've co-written three series of a Radio 4 sitcom - The Wilsons Save The World - with Marcus "Tony Dung Beetle" Brigstocke. On Horrible Histories I wrote a meta Great British Bake Off parody sketch for Mel "Barbara Dung Beetle" Geidroyc. I'm still good friends with a lot of the writers and cast, even Anna and Will who were also in the dung beetles sketches and I also indirectly covered in fake vomit/shit.
James: Honestly? [I miss] every single one. It was a fucking treat to be in a sketch with any of them. The thrill of it was walking onto set every day and seeing what the other actors had decided they were going to do with those straightforward 'jokes on a page', and it was always something none of the rest of us could.
Marcus: Such incredibly funny people.
Jeremy: I've been lucky enough to work with some of them since on various projects but, alongside the writers, they remain a very special, hugely talented group of people.
Fergus: Those kind of jobs where you're a big gang getting through long days and making each other laugh are amazing. I miss working with all of them except one particular member who was evil.
William: We had a code, not a friendship. They know what they did, I know what they did, they know what I did, we / I know what we did. Live by the sword, die in a mysterious accident, not that we did anything.
SIGNH helped usher in a new era of quality comedy shows on CBBC. Did you feel at the time you were creating a different/special show?
Jeremy: I was head of development at SO Television at the time, and I pitched the idea to my boss Graham Stuart who got it straight away and backed it from the start. I was aware I was trying to do something new but it felt like a fresh and a strong pitch and I was making a proper effort to distinguish it from 'traditional children's comedy'. For a start I wanted it to be a comedy sketch show. Comedy is the genre, not 'children'. And the brief I gave everyone was very simple and I hope liberating; write what you think is funny, not what you think kids will find funny. And we ended up with a fantastically inventive and fresh range of characters and ideas which Melissa Hardinge, Damian Kavanagh and Anne Gilchrist at the BBC allowed us to make. As long as we didn't swear they were happy. And I hope we've helped in a small way to encourage comedy writers and performers to realise children's television is a rich and rewarding arena in which to ply your trade.
Justin: It was the first time the sketch format had been properly explored for kids, and it didn't patronise them, I like to think it hadn't been done before...
Fergus: I'm not sure I was aware of what the children's TV landscape was before us, so it's hard to say. I didn't really feel like we were making a kids' show, which says something in of itself.
Mel: I never really felt that we were making a show for kids. I just felt that we were making a really funny sketch show. Kids are very sophisticated when it comes to comedy and they know when they're being patronised. They totally get surreal. They get it all. We just didn't have swearing in SIGNH.
Toby: I remember helping Jeremy put the list together of some of the initial names. I was working on That Mitchell And Webb Look at the time, and recruited lots of the writing talent from that pool. The brief was always 'write sketches that could be on any adult sketch show, but without swearing or nob gags', and we continued to do that throughout. Writing for SIGNH was the same as writing for TMAWL or any other show like that.
David: We didn't set out to write a kids comedy show - we were just trying to write sketches that made us laugh with the rude words taken out. It wasn't until 9 year-olds started shouting "she's a witch!" at me in Tescos that I realised we might be on to something.
Marcus: I felt a strong sense that, with sketches that couldn't ever end in sex or violence, we made something special and very funny. It's easy to enjoy something in which the people making it are enjoying themselves.
Nick: I think we all wanted to make a comedy that adults could enjoy with their children for sure. And yes, between SIGNH and the brilliant Horrible Histories team there was definitely a positioning of comedy content more towards family audiences as opposed to just children. But then I remember even when I was a child really laughing at programmes such as Marion, which definitely worked as a comedy for all ages, so it wasn't anything totally new, just maybe a new wave.
James: I think it was Jeremy's realisation that he so much of the comedy he was being forced to watch with his kids wasn't any fun for their parents, so why don't we make a show that's funny for adults too? - that was the simple but clever idea; and when you got brilliant writers like Toby (who wrote so much of it) and Justin and Dave and Chris Reddy and Marek and... and I should stop listing them because I'll forget half of who wrote what. But that seemed to give us a sort of freedom to just kind of do anything we wanted, as long as it didn't have swearing or sketches about economics, and it worked. Of course it did!
Toby: None of us had any interest in making filler comedy. We wanted to make the best possible comedy we could. The show did feel special. It will always hold a very proud spot on my CV.
James: I remember being young. I watched Monty Python and didn't get 75% of the references. I watched Cheers and M*A*S*H and had no idea who Walter Cronkite was. But it didn't matter. Jokes have a shape, and the shape is funny. Doesn't matter how old you are.
Sarah: I grew up on a diet of Muppets and The Simpsons so I always knew kids had the best telly. As a massive comedy fan I knew everyone in the cast and on the writing team at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I never felt like I was writing for kids, always for the cast.
Anna: At the time it just felt like a really instinctive, collaborative show. If something made everyone laugh in the room then it stayed in, no one worried whether it was too 'grown up'. I guess a kids' sense of humour is no different to most adults', so it became a big hit as a family show more than a kids' show. Nothing is funnier than someone falling over and farting at the same time. NOTHING.
If fans were to lobby the BBC to make more, would you be up for a reunion episode?
Jeremy: In a heartbeat.
Justin: But of course.
Nick: Absolutely. Though God help us all if we have to do another muntjac sketch!
Sarah: Only if I can write 'Gorilla Eggs'.
David: Definitely. As long as someone else has to wear the snowman costume this time.
Mel: Just tell me when and where. I'll be there.
Fergus: I would, but I'm not sure they could afford Mel's fee anymore.
Toby: How old are the original fans now? 20s? They'd probably be really good at lobbying now. Plus the BBC love that demographic. I'd definitely be up for it. I'm sure there's some other way we can frighten those Vikings.
James: I live in Los Angeles now (ooh, get me, Mr Liberal Media Elite, just got to pop into this pizza parlour to drink the blood of some babies) so the chances of just seeing the rest of the cast, let alone working with them, aren't huge. Hey, we'd probably just do it all over Zoom anyway. Like the cast of 30 Rock. Or in a theatre with no audience like The West Wing, and they can replace me with Sterling K. Brown. Maybe my bees can help.
Anna: I think it might be slightly 'lower energy' these days, but as long as they keep Volterol on tap and Radio 4 in the dressing rooms, we'd probably manage it.
William: If the call comes, we answer. The code is written (and then shredded at 3am).
All the episodes of Sorry, I've Got No Head are on BBC iPlayer