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TV Review: Inside No. 9 - Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

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Following the farcical powerhouse that was 'Zanzibar', this week's episode of Inside No. 9 takes a change of pace, with a surprisingly sombre tale. 

Not unlike Series 2's 'The 12 Days of Christine', 'Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room' marks a slight departure from what we're used to with this series, with its earnest portrayal of two former comedy partners reuniting. 

Formerly known as variety comedy duo Cheese and Crackers, Len (Pemberton) and Tommy (Shearsmith) haven't performed on stage in thirty years. Reunited in an empty church hall, the two start delving into the past, dredging up their old routines (as well as old tensions) for a comeback performance.

As they go through their routines (noting how dated and/or inappropriate they are in the process), one particular place seems to bubble to the fore of their snippy arguments: Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room at the Glasgow Pavilion. Although Len blames Tommy for killing the double act in their prime, Tommy has a different view - tearfully revealing that even though he loved performing, he gave it up to save his partner - an alcoholic who couldn't cope even with what little fame they did manage to achieve. 

The twist in the tale is that there is no comeback performance at all. Tommy's visit to the church hall is a reflective, lonely one; ahead of his memorial speech for Len, who has recently died. Their figurative reunion therefore takes on more resonance, as it becomes clear that it is Tommy's way of dealing with his grief for his troubled partner.

The episode ends on a poignant note, as Tommy receives a posthumous postcard from Len, complete with the £25 he owed for Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room and he has one last sing-a-long with the ghost of his friend. 

Although there are a few funny moments - such as when Operation Yewtree intercedes one of their routines or the slapstick elements of their Brown Bottles sketch - this tale isn't as funny as others have been, but it tells an earnest story that is only made more sincere by the performances put in by Shearsmith and Pemberton.

Their natural chemistry lent well to the fictionalised comedy duo and Shearsmith's tearful monologue was one of the most affecting moments of the entire episode. Their sweet song-and-dance number at the end, peppered with purposely bad jokes, was also pleasing to watch.

There have certainly been funnier episodes, but this poignant tale still holds up, with sincere performances and a slow-building, emotional narrative at its centre. 

Inside No. 9 airs at 10pm on Tuesdays on BBC Two.

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