Nathan Barley

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Nathan Barley
Nathan Barley.jpg
Genre Surreal comedy, Alternative comedy
Format Sitcom
Created by Chris Morris,
Charlie Brooker
Starring Julian Barratt,
Nicholas Burns,
Claire Keelan
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 6
Running time 26 minutes
Original channel Channel 4
Original run 11 February 2005 – 18 March 2005

Nathan Barley is a Channel 4 sitcom written by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris, starring Nicholas Burns, Julian Barratt and Claire Keelan. The series of six weekly episodes began broadcasting on 11 February 2005 on Channel 4. Described by his creator as a "meaningless strutting cadaver-in-waiting", the character originated on Brooker's TVGoHome – a website parodying television listings – as the focus of a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Cunt.


Nathan Barley played by Nicholas Burns is a webmaster, guerrilla filmmaker, screenwriter, DJ and in his own words, a "self-facilitating media node". He is convinced he is the epitome of urban cool, and therefore secretly terrified he might not be, which is why he reads Sugar Ape magazine, his bible of cool. Sugar Ape has been described as a spoof of Dazed & Confused[1] and Vice,[2] although Brooker has stated that "the SugarApe "Vice" issue from Ep5 wasn't an assault on Vice magazine — I think it just (understandably) ended up looking that way".[3]

The website consists of stupid pranks caught on camera, photos of him with attractive women and famous figures (some of them digitally edited to insert himself), and photos of him standing on street corners in major cities around the world.

The humour derives from the rapid rise of both the Internet and digital television, and the assumption by publishers and broadcasters that almost any such work is worthy of attention. Barley and his peers are often hired ahead of actual journalists and talented writers trying to make intelligent points, such as the earnest documentary film maker Claire Ashcroft, and her brother Dan Ashcroft, a jaded, opinionated and apathetic hack who, having written an article for Sugar Ape entitled "The Rise of the Idiots", is appalled to find that "the idiots" in question – Nathan and his contemporaries – have adopted him as their spiritual leader, failing to see that they are the very people he was criticising.


The series features two other central characters, siblings Dan (Julian Barratt) and Claire Ashcroft. Dan dislikes everything Nathan Barley stands for, while Claire seeks to highlight the plight of the inner city's homeless and drug-dependent. Ironically, while Dan sees a clear distinction between himself and the "idiots", he's frequently forced to compromise his own ethics in order to earn a living, and seems to be fighting the dawning realisation that he may actually be the very thing he despises. At the same time, Claire, who clearly wants to see herself as socially responsible and philanthropic, is doggedly determined to further her own career.

Other recurring characters include the staff at Dan Ashcroft's magazine, Sugar Ape: asinine chief editor Jonatton Yeah? (Charlie Condou), Ned Smanks (Richard Ayoade) and Rufus Onslatt (Spencer Brown), a pair of gormless graphic designers, who are fans of Nathan and his work and are friends with him, and receptionist Sasha (Nina Sosanya). Barley has an inoffensive, shy young assistant called Pingu (Ben Whishaw). The eccentric and ludicrous Doug Rocket, founder member of The Veryphonics, and played by comedian David Hoyle (a spoof of Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics), also appears in several episodes. He has a poster that claims he did music for a musical starring Dannii Minogue and Ross Kemp. He talks about various surreal things such as having nervous breakdowns but opting to ignore them and making a concept album called A4 Sounds about the various sizes of paper.

Dan Ashcroft's flatmate is a DJ called "Jones", who appears blissfully unaware of the antisocial cacophony he creates. Jones is played by Noel Fielding, Barratt's partner in comic duo The Mighty Boosh. Jones often plays extremely loud and insane music and occasionally shouts over the top, for example, during the late evening, as Claire arrives, Jones is playing ear-splitting music with loud beeps and sound effects whilst shouting "It's time to go to sleep!" Confusingly, Dan is actually sleeping on the sofa next to him. There is also a minor character called 15Peter20 (Iddo Goldberg), a contemporary photographer who stages an exhibition called 'Piss Bliss', consisting only of photographs of celebrities urinating, claiming that "when you urinate, you're actually a lot more relaxed than when you sleep", saying that he is capturing them at a time when they experience vulnerability and offering visitors to the exhibition a drink of what he called 'Bucks Fiss'. Ned, Rufus and Jonatton are big fans of his portfolio and discuss it at a Sugarape meeting. An American artist called Dajve Bikinus (Celia Meiras) who appears in the pilot and later in the series. In the series, Barley sees her in a club and catches her attention. He is due to meet Dajve when he has an unfortunate 'geek pie' hairstyle, involving a half-shaven head with the hair filled with paint and paint tin lids. The style was inadvertently invented by Dan, who lay in some paint and then had to leave halfway through a haircut, later meeting Barley and claiming that it was an actual style called a 'geek pie'. After realising the 'geek pie' wasn't a real style, Barley doesn't want Dajve to see it and so he buys a handbag which he wears on his head to conceal it. This is later complained about when Nathan and Dajve are watching a film and the people behind can't see.


In the pilot of the show, characters are different from those in the actual series. The character of Claire already knows Nathan and Pingu instead of meeting them in the first episode of the series. The character of Dan is decidedly darker and gets one up on Nathan and the idiots more often. Ned Smanks and Rufus Onslatt do not appear in the pilot, but Spencer Brown does play a minor character in the art gallery scene. Jonattan Yeah? makes a brief appearance and is largely the same. The pilot was never transmitted, but was included as an extra on the DVD. Story elements and some scenes shot for the pilot became used in the fifth episode of the series, where the familiarity between the characters, and Dan Ashcroft's darker nature, make greater sense in context.


The series was promoted across the UK with billboards of Barley ostensibly advertising a fictitious mobile telephone, the Wasp T12 Speechtool ("it's well weapon"). This device was advertised as being exceptionally loud, with several hugely annoying ringtones, a giant key for the number 5 (allegedly the most commonly used digit), a powerful projector, a business card printer and miniature turntables for scratching MP3s. Barley's website,, served as an official site for the television series.

The DVD of the series was released in October 2005, featuring all six episodes, a number of extras (including the pilot), and a booklet written by Nathan featuring his artwork. The artwork in question is largely a parody of prolific graffiti artist Banksy by Shynola.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In search of the real Nathan Barley - Media, News". London: The Independent. 2005-02-17. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  2. ^ Armstrong, Stephen (2008-05-12). "From hero to zero | Media". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  3. ^ "The Creators of Nathan Barley". Flak Magazine. 2008-01-02. 

External links[edit]