Sardines (Inside No. 9) Information

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Inside No. 9 episode
Inside No 9, Sardines poster.jpg
Episode poster, designed by Graham Humphreys [1]
Episode no.Series 1
Episode 1
Directed by David Kerr
Written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
Produced by Adam Tandy
Featured music Christian Henson
Original air date5 February 2014 (2014-02-05)
Running time30 minutes
Guest appearances
Episode chronology
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" A Quiet Night In"

"Sardines" is the first episode of the first series of the British black comedy anthology series Inside No. 9. Written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, it premiered on BBC Two and BBC Two HD on 5 February 2014. In the episode, a group of adults play sardines at an engagement party. Rebecca, the bride-to-be, finds a boring man named Ian in a wardrobe; he introduces himself as a colleague of Jeremy, Rebecca's fiancé. The pair are subsequently joined by family, friends and colleagues of Rebecca and Jeremy. As more people enter the room and step into the wardrobe, secrets shared by some of the characters are revealed, with various allusions to incestuous relationships, child sexual abuse, and adultery. The humour is both dark and British, with references to past unhappiness and polite but awkward interactions.

The story takes place entirely in the bedroom of a country house, with much of the filming taking place inside the wardrobe. Pemberton and Shearsmith wrote the episode with the intention of evoking a feeling of claustrophobia in viewers. In addition to the writers, the episode starred Katherine Parkinson, Tim Key, Luke Pasqualino, Ophelia Lovibond, Anne Reid, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Anna Chancellor, Marc Wootton, Ben Willbond and Timothy West. The cast and writing were praised by television critics, and the episode was chosen as pick of the day in a number of publications. On its first showing, "Sardines" was watched by 1.1 million viewers, which was 5.6% of the audience.

Development and production

Steve Pemberton
Reece Shearsmith
Steve Pemberton (left, 2019) and Reece Shearsmith (right, 2021) co-wrote and starred in "Sardines"

The comedy writers and actors Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, who had previously worked together on The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, took inspiration for Inside No. 9 from "David and Maureen", the fourth episode of the first series of Psychoville, which was in turn inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. "David and Maureen" took place entirely in a single room, and it was filmed in only two shots. [2] The writers were keen to explore other stories in this bottle episode or TV play format, and Inside No. 9 allowed them to do this. [3] At the same time, the concept of Inside No. 9 was a "reaction" to Psychoville, with Shearsmith saying that "We'd been so involved with labyrinthine over-arcing, we thought it would be nice to do six different stories with a complete new house of people each week. That's appealing, because as a viewer you might not like this story, but you've got a different one next week." [4]

The format of the series also pays homage to Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. [5] Pemberton and Shearsmith returned to writing more macabre stories, according to the latter, as they "always feel slightly unfulfilled if [they] write something that's purely comedic, it just feels too frivolous and light". [6] During the filming of "Sardines", Shearsmith professed excitement to be working on Inside No. 9, saying that "being in the middle of filming a third series of Psychoville would be utterly depressing". [4] Pemberton and Shearsmith aimed for a simpler experience than Psychoville, describing "Sardines" by saying the episode is "just about some good actors in a wardrobe with a good story". [4] As each episode of Inside No. 9 features new characters, the writers were able to attract actors who might have been unwilling to commit to an entire series. [2] In addition to Pemberton and Shearsmith, "Sardines" starred Katherine Parkinson, Tim Key, Luke Pasqualino, Ophelia Lovibond, Anne Reid, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Anna Chancellor, Marc Wootton, Ben Willbond, and Timothy West. [7] West had previously starred in Tales of the Unexpected, [8] and Shearsmith said that, due to this prior appearance, "it was a great nod" to have West in the episode. [9] "Sardines" has more characters than any other episode of the first series of Inside No. 9, and these characters were written before casting took place. Pemberton recalls the fun he had in selecting a cast for the episode, aiming to bring together a very varied group of actors who would work well as a group. [3]

Pemberton described the concept of "Sardines" as "a simple idea", and he was happy that the pair did not "have to worry about the consequences of it", due to the format of the series. [10] The writers were inspired by a large wardrobe in their workspace. They had already written several other episodes for the series, and confinement was a recurring theme; the possibility of putting characters into a wardrobe gave them the opportunity to develop the theme to a more extreme level. The story was not initially about the game of sardines. [11] Pemberton said that the writers "talked about various ideas of why [the characters] were in a wardrobe", but that the pair "were certainly not working out [their] Freudian psychobabble". [12] A list of characters was written before the script, and the script included the introduction of a new character every three pages. [6]

"Sardines" was written so that a feeling of claustrophobia would develop as the story progressed; Pemberton said that "our first consideration was, 'Can we get 12 people in a wardrobe?' So when we did the script read-through, the designer bought a wardrobe off eBay and we checked whether we could all get in it and shut the door". [6] Writers for Broadcast described seeing the assortment of actors "crammed inside an imposing wardrobe" during filming as "an arresting spectacle". [4] The story is filmed from within a single bedroom, with much of it taking place inside the wardrobe. [13] [14] Filming presented a particular challenge, as the aim was to give the impression that the viewer was in the wardrobe with the characters, and not to "cheat" by giving the impression that the viewer was outside the wardrobe looking in. The episode was filmed with two wardrobes; one complete one, and one "faked" one. [11] The complete prop was used to film the characters entering the wardrobe, while the other was in a different room for close-up shots from "within" the wardrobe. For the director David Kerr, the difficulty was sustaining the illusion that everything was happening in a single place, ideally without viewers even realising that there was a technical challenge involved. [15] The episode was filmed mostly in sequence, meaning more actors arrived as the filming continued, reflecting the fact that more characters arrive as the episode progresses. [11] Kerr aimed for a particularly "immersive" filming style on the episode, with extensive use of wide angle shots. He aimed to avoid "leading" the audience with regard to the more important characters by "not giving [them] coverage" earlier in the episode. [15]


External video
video icon " Boo"
Carl finds Rebecca and Ian in the wardrobe
video icon " Someone make a noise..."
Mark and Liz share a moment, unaware that Rebecca, Carl, Stuart, Geraldine and Ian are watching from the wardrobe

Rebecca and Jeremy host their engagement party at her family's stately home. The guests play sardines, a variation of hide-and-seek in which one person hides and the other players join them in their hiding place once found. Rebecca finds a boring man called Ian in a bedroom wardrobe. As they wait for more people to arrive, Ian mistakenly calls her "Rachel". A young man, Lee, enters the room but does not find the pair, though they are later found and joined by Rebecca's prudish brother, Carl, and then Carl's flamboyant partner, Stuart. Jeremy's ex-girlfriend Rachel finds and joins them. Ian mentions that Jeremy frequently talks about "you", but it is unclear whether he is talking to Rebecca or Rachel. To Rebecca's annoyance, Stuart, Rachel and Ian leave the wardrobe for a break. Stuart enters the en suite where Geraldine (Rebecca and Carl's former nanny) is on the toilet. In the wardrobe, Carl and Rebecca talk; he is uncomfortable, and, when she asks why, he tells her to "look where we are".

Ian, Rachel, and Geraldine join Rebecca and Carl. Geraldine says that the room is normally locked, but Rebecca rebukes her. Stuart rejoins the group after using the toilet. As the group talk, Mark (Jeremy's boss) and his wife, Liz, enter the bedroom, unaware of the people in the wardrobe. The pair talk candidly before beginning foreplay on the bed. Geraldine shouts to alert them, and the wardrobe occupants pretend they did not hear Mark and Liz's conversation. Mark and Liz reluctantly enter the wardrobe. As the doors close, Rachel's boyfriend Lee re-enters the room, but as the wardrobe has become more cramped, Stuart and Lee hide under the bed, while Ian moves to the en suite. Stuart and Carl argue, and it is revealed that Carl has a fear of intimacy. When "Stinky" John enters the room, the others claim there is no room in their hiding places, so he hides behind a curtain. Jeremy enters and tells Rebecca he is going to pick up another guest from the train station, but as he turns to leave he mistakenly calls her "Rachel". Andrew, Rebecca and Carl's father, enters and becomes annoyed when he sees people hiding in different places. He takes charge, forcing Jeremy, Stuart, Lee, and Stinky John into the wardrobe, then follows them in.

Everyone becomes uncomfortable, not least because of John's odour. Geraldine passes around mints as Andrew tells Mark that he no longer has contact with Dicky Lawrence, a potential business contact of Mark's. Andrew sings the "sardine song", but Carl angrily stops him. Andrew and Geraldine reminisce about a scout jamboree held in the house many years ago, but Geraldine remembers that a boy named Phillip Harrison, nicknamed "Little Pip", accused Andrew of "horrible things", and that the police were involved. Carl says Andrew paid Pip's family to move away, and Andrew counters by claiming he did nothing to Pip and was only teaching him how to wash himself. Carl implies that he and John were not as lucky as Pip, and John says he can smell carbolic soap. There is silence, and Stuart points out no one else is looking for them, but they realise Ian has not yet returned. Jeremy says Ian is the person he was going to pick up from the station, but when Mark claims Ian is already at the party, Jeremy reveals the person Mark is referring to is not Ian. Outside, "Ian" locks the wardrobe and sprays it with lighter fluid while singing the sardine song. Carl realises "Ian" is Phillip, and the episode ends with Phillip leaning against the wardrobe, a lighter in his hand.


Timothy West (pictured in 2010) starred as Andrew, father of Rebecca, having previously starred in Tales of the Unexpected. [8] Shearsmith said that, due to this prior appearance, "it was a great nod" to have West in the episode. [9]
The cast of "Sardines", in order of the characters' first appearances.
Actor Role Notes
Katherine Parkinson Rebecca The bride-to-be; she is keen that everyone play the game and enjoy it
Tim Key Ian Apparently a boring man who works with Jeremy and Mark
Luke Pasqualino Lee Rachel's current boyfriend; at the age of 21 years, he is younger than the other characters
Steve Pemberton Carl Rebecca's prudish older brother
Reece Shearsmith Stuart Carl's flamboyant partner
Ophelia Lovibond Rachel Jeremy's ex-girlfriend; the pair still communicate frequently using BlackBerry Messenger
Anne Reid Geraldine Andrew's housekeeper and former nanny to Rebecca and Carl; though invited to serve drinks, she understands herself a guest
Julian Rhind-Tutt Mark Jeremy and Ian's boss; he is keen to talk to Andrew about Dickie Lawrence, a possible business contact
Anna Chancellor Elizabeth Mark's partner; she has no desire to be at the party and lies about her babysitter being ill
Marc Wootton "Stinky" John A childhood friend of Rebecca and Carl; some event caused him to stop washing
Ben Willbond Jeremy The groom-to-be
Timothy West Andrew Rebecca and Carl's father


It's like the backroom of Cinderella's at Wakefield. Has anyone got any poppers or lube? [note 1]

Shearsmith's Stuart, [2] whose lines include the episode's most overt jokes [13]

We're not going down that road, Geraldine; it's a party, remember?

Rebecca rebukes Geraldine. Allusions to past unhappiness occur frequently in Shearsmith and Pemberton's work. [16]

The episode is, in effect, a one-scene, one-act, play. [8] [14] Writing in The Times, Andrew Billen observed that Aristotle "ruled that plays should take place over a single day in a single place", while "Sardines" takes place "over half an hour in a single wardrobe". [17] The use of the wardrobe is reminiscent of Beckettian absurd theatre, [2] and presented particular cinematographic challenges. [18] For Ryan Lambie, writing for the entertainment website Den of Geek, the single-camera setup and Kerr's direction gave the episode "the tense look of an early Hitchcock film, all low angles and illuminating shafts of light". [19]

The characters bring their respective agendas, relationships, and backstories into the wardrobe. [20] The various interconnected plotlines are seeded towards the start of the episode, and more is gradually revealed before they are resolved. [13] [21] "Sardines" starts as comedic, before becoming darker; [21] as more characters arrive, their relatively cordial interactions become more unpleasant. [14] The increasingly claustrophobic environment serves to heighten the tension. [13]

The comedy is black, [13] with the most overt humour coming from Stuart, a flamboyant character played by Shearsmith. [13] The humour is also extremely British. Tropes of Britishness identified by the critic David Upton include the dated clothing and the awkward interaction between Rebecca and Ian at the start of the episode. Despite not knowing each other, they converse courteously, which "smacks of more refined days"; [18] the conversation is a "portrayal of social awkwardness". [9] With the introduction of the noticeably younger Lee, there is a clash of customs, illustrating the differing norms of the respective generations. [18] This "1940s aesthetic" and the fact the story took place in a single location tied the episode to "a golden age of plays on British television". [19] The broadcaster and writer Mark Radcliffe felt that the script "could be a really arresting stage play". [9]

As is typical of Shearsmith and Pemberton's work, [20] "Sardines" addresses dark topics. [2] Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Paul Kendall identified some of Shearsmith and Pemberton's "regular tropes" utilised in the episode; namely "a bunch of misfits, uncomfortable silences and allusions to dark crimes in the distant past". [16] Billen felt that the treatment of dark issues was reminiscent of the work of Alan Ayckbourn. [17] Particular themes addressed in the episode include murder, incestuous relationships, child sexual abuse, vengeance and adultery. [2] [20] As the episode progresses, secrets related to these themes are revealed to be the explanation for apparently innocuous tendencies, such as Carl's dislike for the sardine song and John's aversion to soap. [22]


"Sardines" was well received by television critics. Kendall, Billen, Keith Watson, and Dan Owen (writing for The Daily Telegraph, [16] the Metro, [23] MSN [8] and The Times, [17] respectively) each gave the episode four out of five stars, while, writing for The Arts Desk, Veronica Lee gave it five out of five. [13] The episode was labelled "pick of the day" in The Times, [24] The Sunday Times, [25] The Observer [26] and the Daily Record. [27]

Tim Key (pictured in 2010) was praised for his portrayal of Ian

Reviewers responded positively to the cast. Kendall described the acting as "top notch" [16] and Owen said that all cast-members "played their roles to perfection", [8] while Jane Simon, writing for The Daily Mirror, said that "every twinge of awkwardness and discomfort is played to perfection as the mood turns darker". [28] Harry Venning, writing for The Stage, described the cast as "impressively stellar", and also commended the writers' performances. [20] The comedy critic Bruce Dessau said that the "cast alone is almost recommendation enough", [21] while another reviewer said that if "a bomb dropped on the cupboard where they were hiding, a good portion of the acting talent in this country would be wiped out." [24] Key's portrayal of Ian [2] [13] [23] and Parkinson's portrayal of Rebecca [13] [21] were particularly praised.

Journalists also lauded the script, with Kendall labelling the dialogue "perfectly pitched", [16] Dessau calling it "tightly written" and without wastage, [21] and Owen praising the way each character was "delivered into the story at the exact right moment". [8] Brad Newsome, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald (the episode having been shown in Australia on BBC First in 2015), said that the episode was "deftly written", [29] and Venning said the "lean, mean narrative didn't just twist and turn, it folded back upon itself to provide a totally unexpected, profoundly disturbing and deeply satisfying denouement". [20] On The Arts Desk, Lee praised the direction of Kerr, saying that he delivered "a pitch-perfect piece with no character overwritten or line overplayed". [13]

Dean, writing for The Independent, commended the writers' "weaving together of the morbid with the laugh-out loud", [2] and Mike Bradley, writing in The Observer, called the episode "wickedly funny"; [26] similarly, Newsome said the episode displayed "a wicked sense of humour". [29] Dessau concurred on the darkness and quality of humour. [21] Watson was more ambivalent, saying the episode offered "more of a knowing chuckle than an outright belly laugh". [23]

Watson wrote that "the chief joy [of the episode] was the stealthy way the atmospheric story was built up layer by layer". [23] In The Times, Billen described "Sardines" as "a disciplined comedy, but a little bit of discipline, as one of the League's perverts might say, never did anyone any harm". With the exception of the ending, Billen "loved it". [17] A separate review in The Times, however, praised the twist ending; "this isn't just an inspired set-up performed by a stellar cast – it builds to a macabre and horribly imagined climax". [24] Owen was ambivalent about the ending of "Sardines", saying that it "worked very well in terms of narrative, but perhaps it landed with too much softness". [8] Mark Jones, writing in The Guardian, gave a more mixed review overall, describing "Sardines" as a "slow burner, but a decent introduction to a series". [30] Newsome called the episode a "gem of an opener". [29]

Retrospective reviews rated the episode as one of Inside No. 9's best. In The Telegraph, it was listed as the seventh best episode of the first 38; the "first episode of all set the bar intimidatingly high", according to Michael Hogan. [31] Writers for Chortle said that Inside No. 9's "very first episode established [it] as something special", ranking "Sardines" as the third best episode of the programme's first 37. [32] In The Guardian, it was listed the third best episode of the first 25, [33] while in i it was listed as the ninth best of the first 24. [34]

Viewing figures

On its first showing, "Sardines" was seen by 1.1 million viewers, which was 5.6% of the British audience. This was lower than the premiere of Psychoville, but higher than the audience towards the end of the second series. "Sardines" immediately followed the first episode of the two-part Royal Cousins at War, a BBC documentary. This had stronger viewing figures, with 2 million viewers (8.6% of the audience). [35] Nonetheless, "Sardines" was more highly viewed than is typical for the slot. [36] Despite this strong start for the series, the viewing figures for Inside No. 9 later dipped; [37] the average viewing for the series was 904,000 people, or 4.9% of the audience, lower than the slot average of 970,000 (5.1% of the audience). [36]


  1. ^ The line is spoken approximately six minutes into the episode, but is misquoted in The Independent as "It's like the backroom of Cinderella's in Wakefield in here, but without any poppers or lube." [2]


  1. ^ "Sardines poster". BBC. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dean, Will (5 February 2014). "Inside No 9, TV review: A top-drawer cast puts these twisted tales in a league of their own". The Independent. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  3. ^ a b Pemberton, Steve; Shearsmith, Reece (17 March 2014). Inside Inside No. 9. Inside No. 9 Series 1 DVD. BBC.
  4. ^ a b c d "Inside No. 9, BBC2". Broadcast. 22 August 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2014. (subscription required)
  5. ^ Lawson, Mark (5 February 2014). "Inside No 9: How Shearsmith and Pemberton have revived a lost genre". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "Inside No.9 on BBC2: Hull-born master of the macabre Reece Shearsmith and partner Steve Pemberton back with tales of the unexpected". Hull Daily Mail. 4 February 2014. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  7. ^ "BBC Two – Inside No 9, Sardines". BBC. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Owen, Dan (29 January 2014). "Inside No 9: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton unnerve viewers". MSN. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d "Reece Shearsmith speaks to Mark Radcliffe". Radcliffe & Maconie. BBC Radio 6 Music. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Inside No. 9: interview with Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton". BBC. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  11. ^ a b c "Inside the wardrobe". BBC. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  12. ^ Dessau, Bruce (February 2014). "New Interview: Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton". Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lee, Veronica (6 February 2014). "Inside No 9, BBC Two". The Arts Desk. Retrieved 19 February 2014. (subscription required)
  14. ^ a b c Seale, Jack (25 January 2014). "Inside No 9 – Series 1 – 1. Sardines". Radio Times. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  15. ^ a b Kerr, David (17 March 2014). Inside Inside No. 9. Inside No. 9 Series 1 DVD. BBC.
  16. ^ a b c d e Kendall, Paul (5 February 2014). "Inside No9, BBC Two, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 February 2014. (subscription required)
  17. ^ a b c d Billen, Andrew (6 February 2014). "TV review: Inside No 9". The Times. Retrieved 6 February 2014. (subscription required)
  18. ^ a b c Upton, David (26 March 2014). "'Inside No. 9' is a bit like a box of chocolates, albeit one full of dark, bitter sweets". PopMatters. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  19. ^ a b Lambie, Ryan (6 February 2014). "Inside No. 9 episode 1 review: Sardines". Den of Geek. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d e Venning, Harry (13 February 2014). "TV review: Inside No 9; Line of Duty; The Life of Rock with Brian Pern". The Stage. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Dessau, Bruce (1 February 2014). "Review: Inside No 9: Sardines, BBC2". Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  22. ^ McMullen, Marion (10 February 2014). "Dare you peek behind the door of Inside No 9". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  23. ^ a b c d Watson, Keith (6 February 2014). "Inside No 9 matched Tales of the Unexpected for entertaining weirdness". Metro. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  24. ^ a b c "Pick of the Day; Wednesday 5; Inside No 9 BBC Two, 10pm". Saturday Review. The Times. 1 February 2014. p. 40.
  25. ^ James, Martin (2 February 2014). "Pick of the day; Wednesday 5 February; Critics' choice". Culture, The Sunday Times. p. 64.
  26. ^ a b Bradley, Mike (2 February 2014). "The New Review: Television: Wednesday 5: Picks of the Day: CHOICE: Inside No 9 BBC2, 10pm". Observer Review, The Observer. p. 44.
  27. ^ "Record TV; Room for laughter". Daily Record. 5 February 2014. p. 31.
  28. ^ Simon, Jane (5 February 2014). "Inside No.9 will be another hit for black comedy masters Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton". The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  29. ^ a b c Newsome, Brad (31 December 2014). "Inside No. 9, (premiere), BBC First, 9:30 pm". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  30. ^ Wright, Jonathan; Jones, Mark; Aroesti, Rachel (5 February 2014). "G2: TV and radio: Watch this". G2, The Guardian. p. 22.
  31. ^ Hogan, Michael (21 April 2022). "Every Inside No 9 episode ranked". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 August 2022. (subscription required)
  32. ^ "Inside No 9: Every episode ranked". Chortle. 16 June 2021. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  33. ^ Aroesti, Rachel (24 October 2018). "Inside No 9: the 10 best episodes so far". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  34. ^ Butler, Mark (7 February 2018). "Every Inside No 9 episode ranked – from 'worst' to best". i. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  35. ^ Parker, Robin (6 February 2014). "Inside No. 9 debuts with 1.1m". Broadcast. Retrieved 6 February 2014. (subscription required)
  36. ^ a b Farber, Alex (13 March 2014). "C4 space season blasts off with 1.6m". Broadcast. Retrieved 18 April 2014. (subscription required)
  37. ^ Dessau, Bruce (12 March 2014). "Preview: Inside No 9: The Harrowing, BBC2". Retrieved 18 April 2014.

External links