Before Benedict Wong Was a Movie Star, He Was Errol In the Best Comedy You've Probably Never Heard Of

By James O Malley on at

This week is a big week for comics geeks and film nerds: Marvel is dropping another blockbuster on us. Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch and despite being focused on a new character, as part of the shared Cinematic Universe, the film is surely a pre-baked hit.

And this means it is brilliant excuse to talk about the earlier work of one of the film’s stars, Benedict Wong, who plays Cumberbatch’s sidekick named, umm, Wong.

Wong (the actor) has had a good few years in Hollywood - with this major role following earlier parts in The Martian and Netflix’s mega-budget Marco Polo, amongst many others. You might also recognise him as a mysterious practitioner of “Street Countdown” from Channel 4’s IT Crowd.

But you have to go back to 2002 to see what is perhaps Wong’s most cruelly overlooked performance to date in 15 Storeys High.

A bleak sitcom with a muted palette, set in a small flat in Kennington, 15SH was co-written by and starring Sean Lock, who today is better known as one of the regulars on 8 out of 10 Cats. Lock played Vince, a lifeguard and misanthrope and Wong was Errol, his hapless lodger.

It’s hard to describe what exactly made it brilliant, but each episode would see Vince and Errol get into a variety of bleakly comic scrapes. In one episode, Vince wakes up to find that he had drunkenly stolen a plough from a pub.

In another, he becomes hooked on a Polish soft drink called Blue Rat, while Errol is hazed by his new colleagues at the fish market. In the finale of the first series, Vince finds himself locked in the stocks as a medieval punishment for accidentally killing a swan which belonged to the Queen.

But the descriptions don’t matter - the humour comes from seeing the relationship between cynical Vince and naive Errol.

What also made it brilliant was that the show would cut away to show other residents of the estate where the pair lived - which included many cameos from other big names in British comedy, including Peter Serafinowicz and Bill Bailey. Mark Lamarr, who helped co-write the second series alongside Lock and his first series collaborator Martin Trenaman cameoed as a street performer.

The show was critically acclaimed - and was even BAFTA nominated - but inexplicably the BBC preferred to pretend it didn’t exist. It first premiered on BBC Choice, the digital channel that was replaced by BBC Three, and was later repeated on BBC Two late at night on a Sunday - and even then was preempted by snooker coverage.

But the good news is that even if you’ve never heard of 15 Storeys High before reading this post, you now know that it exists. And you also know that you should track it down and watch it. Sadly, this isn’t the easiest thing to do - while it appeared briefly on Netflix a couple of years ago, it has since disappeared from all major streaming services. But DVDs are still available - and if you don’t mind legal grey areas, episodes have appeared on YouTube.

So go check it out. And when you watch Benedict Wong inevitably ascend to the Hollywood A-list, remember that it all (sort of) started in a fictional council flat in Kennington.