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Ted and Ralph are fictional characters created by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, played by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson in the BBC comedy sketch show The Fast Show. They featured in all three series of the show, and are arguably amongst the most recognised of the show's characters.
Lord Ralph Mayhew is an impoverished aristocrat in his early 30s who lives in his family mansion on an expansive country estate. He has never married or had children and is secretly in love with Ted his Irish estate worker. Ralph is painfully shy and reserved, occasionally hinted to have previously suffered from mental illness. Ralph's parents were cold and uncaring, so it can be assumed that his affection for Ted was due to his idolising him as a father figure. The juxtaposition of Ralph's over-friendliness and Ted's embarrassed silence forms the basis for the humour in the sketches. Other characters, when seen, particularly Ted's fellow estate workers, seem aware of Ralph's sexuality and are uncomfortable in his presence, or make blatantly homophobic double-entendres, which Ralph always misses. Ralph was inspired by a documentary about film director John Boorman where he struggled to converse with his Irish gamekeeper.
Ted had worked for Lord Mayhew's late mother and father before Ralph inherited the estate. Ted is wiser than he seems and occasionally profound: Ralph sees through Ted's social status and takes his opinion very seriously. Ted's affection for Ralph, although usually well-hidden, is obvious. He never joins in making fun of him with his mates and on one occasion defends him when a friend makes a joke that refers to Ralph's feelings for him. Ted seems to want to protect Ralph's innocence, not letting his friends shoot Ralph's deer because he "likes to see them wandering about". Ted's wife Esther, often referred to as "Mrs. Ted", dies at the end of the third series. Ted's relationship with her seemed more familiar and comfortable than passionate, although he is affected badly by her death. Ted tries to maintain his sober and collected attitude when he and Ralph return to the estate after his wife's funeral but, in a rare moment of raw emotion, collapses with grief into Ralph's arms.
Concept and creation
Linehan and Mathews pitched Ted and Ralph to Whitehouse in a pub by reading out the early sketch where Ralph invites Ted to a Tina Turner concert. Whitehouse responded by standing and performing Ted's part, adopting an Irish accent in imitation of Linehan (and despite the latter's protestations).
The sketches often follow a familiar pattern: Ted is working on the estate, Ralph approaches him nervously and tries to strike up a conversation, culminating in a request for Ted to spend time with him ("Are you interested in French cinema, at all, Ted?") and Ted gently turning him down usually citing a problem with "the drainage in the lower field".
Ralph is extremely nervous around Ted, with the two never making eye contact. Ralph often rambles on in monologues of unconnected topics. As the show progresses the two appear to develop a closer relationship, occasionally going fishing together and sharing more personal conversations.
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Ted and Ralph were the first characters to have their own spin-off show in the form of a made-for-television Christmas special in December 1998, in which Ted tries to save Ralph from an arranged marriage which he is desperate to avoid. It is the first time, it appears, that we start to see Ted realising that he may be in love with Ralph. He is deeply hurt and jealous when Ralph starts to spend less time with him and obsessively observes Ralph's relationship with his new love, Wendy, who simply wants to get her hands on the estate. Despite Ralph's rejection, however, Ted still passionately defends him, bitterly accusing Wendy: "You've beguiled a kind, gentle, innocent, albeit slightly foolish man. You've taken away his hopes, his dreams, his past. Not to mention the lower field." At the end of the film, however, Wendy redeems herself, leaving before signing the documents that would turn the estate over to her and her brother. It appears that she also has realised how Ted and Ralph feel about each other, saying to Ted, "This house belongs to him. And to you." and "I didn't know it would be like this. I didn't know he was ...", presumably hinting at Ralph's sexuality. Gripping Ted's hands, while looking meaningfully into his eyes, she says, "He doesn't know what he wants Ted, but it isn't me." Paul Whitehouse also gives Rowley Birkin a cameo in the film. As this is a prequel, Ted's now-deceased wife Esther, played by Kathy Burke, also appears on screen for the first and only time.
Reviews were mixed.
Interviewed by Richard Madeley on 14 February 2016, for his BBC Radio 2 show, Higson recalled his time in the Fast Show and explained that, because he had so few lines in the Ted and Ralph sketches, Whitehouse was always quite bored. Higson's favourites included the drinking game sketch where Ralph has to deliver the news to Ted that his wife has died, by saying: "Tomato - Ted - aubergine - your - potato - wife's - turnip - dead." The sketch proved to be "a nightmare to film", and the script was so difficult to follow that the director eventually had to film the sketch one vegetable word at a time.
- Charlie Higson - Fast Show Night 11 September 1999
- "Mustard Interview: Graham Linehan". Mustard. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
- James Rampton (4 October 1998). "On Air: Television film critic - suits you, sir". The Independent. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
- Morgan, Kathleen (28 December 1998). "LAST NIGHT; Fast Show pair moved too slowly to be funny". Daily Record.
- 11:00 (14 February 2016). "BBC Radio 2 - Madeley on Sunday, Andy Bell and Charlie Higson". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 15 February 2016.