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Booze-free Rab's lost his sparkle

Rab C Nesbitt, the Glasgow street philosopher and alcoholic in denial who first appeared in the late 80s, is back. The filthy headband under the tousled grey hair is still there. So is the crumpled, torn suit worn over the trademark grubby string vest.

Rab's long-suffering wife Mary (Elaine C Smith) is still around and so his is his best pal, Jamesie Cotter (Tony Roper), sporting the same hairstyle, though greyer now, and the same ancient check jacket.

So nothing has changed? Well, not entirely true. Rab is off the booze and his eldest son Gash (played by a different, less convincing actor than before) is off the drugs. Writer Ian Pattinson's scripts were always keen to tackle darker subjects than those of the average sitcom, albeit sometimes in a hilariously surreal way.

Yet maybe, with working-class Glasgow's widespread drink and drug abuse problems still raging, having an alcoholic comic hero is now a bit too beyond the pale for these politically correct times.

Rab himself, a great creation, has been pretty much untouched by the PC world. The opening episode saw him and Mary trying to persuade Gash to leave the psychiatric ward to which he'd been sectioned and return home.

Gash was reluctant: "It's too big out there, it would drive me nuts." "You're already nuts," says Rab. "It's a win-win!"

Pattinson was always good on dialogue, provided you could penetrate the thickly layered accents (I'm lucky; I'm fluent in Glaswegian, due to having an army of relations in Govan), although last night the zingers were scattered more thinly than they used to be.

Maybe it's because comedy has moved on a bit, or because viewers have moved on a bit, but the sparkle seems to have gone out of Rab C Nesbitt. It was always a wordy programme yet some scenes dragged on for ever, often to little discernible point.

Another reunion, and a far funnier one, came with Bellamy's People, which features most of the writing and performing talent from The Fast Show, including Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Simon Day and Felix Dexter.

This is a spin-off from Down the Line, a spoof phone-in show on BBC Radio 4 hosted by "award-winning broadcaster" Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas), a dim, self-loving Alan Partridge type. The joke-within-a-joke is that Bellamy has made the leap to TV and is now driving around Britain, interviewing the oddballs who phoned his show.

Among them are a pampered, bedridden obese man; a pair of dotty, aristocratic old sisters with extreme political views; a sexist builder whose head is stuck in the 1970s, and -- best of all so far -- Felix Dexter's preposterous Early D, a self-appointed 'Love Lion'. Hilariously well-observed.

TOMORROW: Pat will be getting knocked out by Ambreen: The Girl Boxer (C4) and nodding sagely at Arena: Brian Eno (BBC4)


Rab C Nesbitt **

Bellamy's Britain ****