Writer, actor and comedian Gordon Kennedy’s rise to fame reads like the synopsis of a feel good action comedy: a group of Edinburgh school boys have a dream of one day entertaining the nation with comedy sketches which they write in their bedrooms and through a series of events, their dreams come true. This is exactly what happened when Gordon teamed up with lifelong friends; Moray Hunter, Jack Docherty, Peter Banks and Pete Baikie to create a comedy quintet who made their debut at the Edinburgh festival in 1980 under the name The Bodgers. This act proved successful for five consecutive festivals until they were introduced to fellow Celts Morwenna Banks and John Sparks as the team expanded. This lead to the radio sketch show Bodgers, Banks and Sparkes in 1986 which saw all members of what would become Absolutely unite for the very first time. Soon after, the original members decided to create their own production company Absolutely Productions which still survives today and provides content for major radio broadcasters including BBC Radio 4.
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Together this comedy group would go on to write and star in the cult anarchic Channel Four series Absolutely which rebelled against the satirical comedy landscape of the time. In the age of Alternative Comedy which thrived on a political agenda, Absolutely took an anarchic, irreverent view of the world which had its roots firmly set in the Goon and Python tradition. Sketches such as Stoneybridge Town Council, the Little Girl, Denzil and Gwynedd, Calum Gilhooley and Frank Hovis captured listeners imaginations and offered something completely different to the fast paced satirical arena of the time. First broadcast on Channel Four in May 1989, Absolutely ran for four series over four years until 1993 giving birth to comedy powerhouses such as Morwenna Banks.
Content with being a jobbing writer and comedian, in early 1994 Gordon received a mysterious phone call from the BBC inviting him for a highly confidential meeting at TV Centre. Intrigued by the secretive manner of the offer, Gordon agreed and assumed it would be a part in a forthcoming drama series or something similar. When he arrived, he was promptly introduced to the TV presenter Anthea Turner as he got increasingly baffled as to what this offer could be. Eventually it became evident that the BBC had secured the rights to broadcast the brand new National Lottery from Camelot and they were looking to assemble a presenting team to front the live Saturday night extravaganza including the draw. Yet as a mere television actor, Gordon was still perplexed as to what he was doing there until a TV executive told him that they had a desire for him to present the show alongside Anthea Turner. His initial response was to fold into fits of laughter before declining it three times. Yet the BBC were persistent and eventually it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.
For six months Gordon and Anthea took the three Lottery machines around the country as they reached over 22 million viewers on a Saturday night and introduced the biggest stars to perform as people waited to see if they had become millionaires. Astrologer Mystic Meg was always on hand as she attempted to predict the winners of the draw and Carol Vorderman regularly used mathematics to help her work out the identity the identity of the lucky winner. All of these elements together with the all important draw normally took place in a fifteen minute programme and so timing was key. For a presenter on this type of show, your job is extremely easy because there’s always a team around you ensuring that everything goes smoothly and all you have to do is say the right words at the right time. This formula proved successful and was a contributing factor in the National Lottery regularity featuring in the week’s top five watched television shows. Over twenty years on, Gordon remains very proud to have contributed to this important slice of TV history.
By accident Gordon Kennedy was now one of the most popular broadcasters in Britain and it was only a matter of time before another presenting role came calling. This came when he teamed up with Cheryl Baker for the Sunday morning series The Eleventh Hour which was broadcast live from BBC Television Centre and surrounded different hobbies and pastimes. With a production crew made up of many individuals who were alien to the art of live television, The Eleventh Hour rewrote the rule book by ignoring basic production principles such as the title it takes a presenter to walk between items. This frequently meant that Gordon was forced to run from one side of the studio to another within seconds to maintain camera continuity. This rustic feel set the series apart from other entertainment programmes of the day and being under the umbrella of the educational department meant that the show fulfilled all aspects of the BBC trinity to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. So for two years Gordon presided over the most wacky stunts and activities although even today he still remains unsure as to what the series was actually about.
After live broadcasting, Gordon returned to the relatively safe ground of acting in 2003 or the military based BBC1 drama Red Cap alongside Eastenders star Tamzin Outhwaitte. Cast as Sgt. Bruce Hornsby who was tasked with investigating the mysterious disappearance of stolen duty free alcohol from a paratrooper’s lover in the first episode, Gordon finally had a recurring acting role in a mainstream television drama. Red Cap for two series on BBC1 and gave early cameos to young actors who would go on to play a dominant role in the growth of TV drama including Chris O’Dowd, Joanne Froggatt and Nigel Harman. The series came to its climax in 2004 after just thirteen episodes and Gordon was left seeking yet another venture.
Just three years later, he was cast in another BBC1 drama which was definitely poles apart from the military world of Red Cap. The BBC wanted to update the story of Robin Hood and make it relevant for a post millennium audience. Gordon was cast as Littlejohn, the merriest of Robin’s Merry Men who was ever loyal to the protagonist throughout the series. Created as a mid-Saturday evening drama to cater for the late teenage demographic, Robin Hood joined an elite list of similar popular dramas to occupy this time slot including Merlin, Atlantis and the juggernaut which is Doctor Who. These shows were originally designed to run back to back Throughout the year and fulfill this forgotten demographic and give teenagers something that was carefully crafted for them. The series was cancelled by the BBC after series three following complications with the shooting locations together with the departure of multiple characters, including lead actor.
In 2012 the BBC approached the original cast of Absolutely to reform for a one-off radio special reviving and celebrating their classic sketches. Astonishingly almost all the original cast agreed and reunited for the first time in almost two decades. Whilst rehearsing, they got an overwhelming urge to update the sketches to see what the characters were up to twenty years later. This resulted in Stoneybridge Town Council bemoaning the fact that London was chosen to host the Olympic Games in favour of their sleepy town.They soon realised that this content would be far too much for just a short special and began to ponder whether a new series could work. Absolutely returned to BBC Radio 4 in September 2015 to rave reviews by the radio firmament with a follow up series in 2017. The new series starts this Sunday 7th July 7:15pm on Radio 4.
Now into his fourth decade Gordon Kennedy remains as in demand as ever and shows no signs of slowing down. Soon to be starring in the period drama Harlots alongside Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton surrounding 18th century prostitution, Gordon is always up for a challenge and his extensive body of work illustrates this. It was a great pleasure to meet and interview the great Gordon Kennedy and wish him all the very best for the rest of his remarkable career.