Russia buys the right to have a laugh at Moscow's David Brentski

Shaun Walker
Monday 28 July 2008 00:00

Russia has become the latest country to buy the rights to produce a version of the cult British comedy The Office, in a sign that where comedy is concerned today, Slough is not so far from Siberia. The Russian version will initially feature 24 half-hour episodes, to be aired on the Kremlin-backed First Channel.

The Slough office of Wernham Hogg paper company, headed by Ricky Gervais's obnoxious creation David Brent, hit British screens in 2001 and rapidly became a hit. The BBC announced that the production company Red Square would make 24 episodes of the Russian version, likely to be called Ofis, with the concept remaining the same but scope for changing characters and plotlines to cater to regional specifics.

So far, no details of the cast or location of the Russian version have been released. "We are obviously very eager to hear about the cast members, including who will be the David Brentski of Russia," said Ben Donald, the Russia sales chief for BBC Worldwide.

The Russian version "probably won't air till next year", wrote Gervais on his blog, and confirmed that the hunt was on for his Russian alter-ego. "We are looking for a middle-aged, slightly overweight unknown actor with a funny face. Do you think that could work? Good."

It's not the first time that a popular British series has been adapted for the Russian market. Later this year, Name of Russia will be broadcast, which will explore 12 historical personalities, and ask the audience to select the greatest Russian figure. The series is based on the BBC's Great Britons, which was won by Winston Churchill, and is already causing controversy as Joseph Stalin has received a huge amount of support and at one stage was leading the preliminary voting.

Where comedy is concerned, Nasha Russia (Our Russia) has put a Slavic twist on Little Britain, and includes familiar characters in a new guise, such as Ivan Dulin, the "only gay in the factory". There are also new characters, such as Ravshan and Dzhamshud, illegal immigrants from Central Asia, where the recurring gag is their stupidity and poor Russian language skills.

It's likely that sweeping changes will also need to be made to turn The Office to Ofis and make the satire of office life in a capitalist society relevant to viewers in a country that just two decades ago was living under Communism.

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