‘Under weaknesses, you’ve put eczema’: Ewen MacIntosh’s funniest Office moments

Ewen Macintosh as 'Big' Keith Bishop in The Office
Ewen Macintosh as 'Big' Keith Bishop in The Office - Liam Daniel
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To what extent do you believe that Big Keith is the unlikely hero of The Office? A) Not at all B) to some extent C) very much so, or d) don’t know. The answer can only be very much so. Keith – a background character turned cult celebrity in his own right – was played by Ewen MacIntosh, who has died aged 50.

Big Keith was a larger-than-life presence in the Wernham Hogg, but he’s as real and relatable as anyone on the Slough branch payroll. While Martin Freeman’s Tim is the point-of-view character of The Office, Keith was its apathetic everyman – an employee with an open, unshakeable disdain for his 9-5 job. Not all superheroes wear capes, as they say. This one wore an XXXL shirt – or Ali G fancy dress.

The character is forever remembered for a trilogy of Scotch egg-chomping scenes, but it’s Keith’s staff appraisal – from the second episode of the second series – that sum up Keith’s lackadaisical genius. He is a man doing the absolute bare minimum in all facets of his accounts job. Going through the appraisal with Ricky Gervais’s David Brent, Keith can barely muster up the energy to change his facial expression – he only moves muscles to chew gum with acute disinterest – and gives the appraisal the kind of attention that most employees would agree it deserves: zero.

“Under weaknesses,” says Brent. “You’ve put eczema.”

Ewen MacIntosh as Big Keith in The Office
Ewen MacIntosh as Big Keith in The Office

MacIntosh was among several unknown actors who played background roles. “He was just sat there, typing away,” said Stephen Merchant in a making of documentary. “Then you give him a few lines and you realise he’s got this whole character that he’s created.”

MacIntosh recalled a scene in the opening episode in which Brent introduces a work experience boy to the accounts team, calling them “mental”. MacIntosh’s expressionless look back cracked up Gervais. “Ricky liked what I was doing with the line I was given early on, so they started giving me more to do,” he told me in 2021.

“We still don’t know whether that was his best naturalistic acting and we just found it funny and he thought, right, I’ll keep quiet, or whether he knew exactly what he was doing,” Gervais said on the documentary. “I’d like to think he knew how funny it was.”

Big Keith is an undeniable scene stealer. He’s just funny, whether he’s just nodding, saying his own name – literally one word: “Keith” – or slowly eating a pub lunch. “Good?” asks Brent as Keith polishes off a pie and chips. “It was alright,” he replies, deploying his usual lack of enthusiasm.

There was more to Big Keith than being laconic. He was also a self-professed ladies’ man, a would-be musician, and the go-to DJ for office parties. We have to credit Keith for spinning Yazoo’s Only You just as Tim and Dawn kiss.

MacIntosh further endeared himself to fans of The Office a series of well-known outtakes: struggling to get through the original Scotch egg-eating scene with Martin Freeman without laughing (“I got through a lot of Scotch eggs,” he later said) and corpsing his way through the eczema gag in the appraisal scene with Gervais.

It was an occupational hazard for staff of Wernham Hogg. “The amount of time Ricky would put in to make someone corpse in a scene,” MacIntosh told me. “The intricacy of the absolutely filthy drawings he would do in his notebook – so he could surreptitiously show it to you and make you laugh before they shouted action.”

MacIntosh knew about working in an office environment. Even when they filmed the second series, he had a day job – managing a market research call centre. There was a “trickle down”, he later said. As The Office grew in popularity, people would come in and recognise him. “That guy who’s training us… he looks familiar.”

Following The Office, MacIntosh appeared in numerous TV shows and films. Comedy-wise he had roles in Little Britain and Miranda. He also played a Big Keith-like version of himself in Gervais and Merchant’s Life’s Too Short, and had a role in Gervais’s After Life. He made appearances in low-rent horror flicks too, including K-Shop – a kebab-based slasher – and the Christmas horror, Nightmare on 34th Street, as well as the 2018 football comedy, The Bromley Boys.

His appearance in a 2009 music video for Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas – alongside D-listers and tabloid favourites – suggests the kind of celebrity space he occupied post-Office: frolicking in fake snow with Lizzie Cundy, Lionel Blair, Gail Porter, and Mike Read.

But as Big Keith from The Office, MacIntosh had a sort-of cult status too. He made appearances as a DJ and host for corporate and private events, and – unsurprisingly – he was a particular favourite with students and youngsters who talk in Brent-isms. MacIntosh toured the country and hosted Office quiz nights. He wrote the quiz questions himself. “The teams that always won were groups of lads who spent their days quoting The Office,” he said. “As soon as you asked a question about a scene, they could start running through that scene from beginning to end. They spent all day talking to each other like Brent.”

He laughed off being called Keith by mistake and recorded video messages for Office fans. At the peak, he was sending 30 video messages per week. “People always want a message from Keith, never from me,” he told Vice in 2021. “He’s still getting me work, which is quite amazing when you think about it.”

The video messages were advertised by an image of him as Keith – dressed as Ali G and holding a scotch egg. MacIntosh was happy to lean into the Big Keith persona. “I’m happy really,” he told me. “It’s great. As an actor, I’m extremely lucky to be remembered for anything.”

Big Keith’s five funniest moments

1. The Scotch Egg

Keith’s most iconic moment is more than a gag about a big man scoffing a savoury egg snack. Describing his life beyond Wernham Hogg – watching repeats of Peak Practice – Keith paints a bleak picture.

“Boring isn’t it, just staying and watching Peak Practice with your life,” he says. “Not for me, I like it.”

Tim’s night was a bit more exciting. “Yeah just stayed in and had a big w---,” he tells Keith. Cue comedy’s greatest ever scotch egg-eating double-take.

2. The Appraisal

Given the multiple choice of his appraisal form of “not at all, to some extent, very much so, don’t know”, Keith opts for “don’t know” every single time. Brent, frustrated and actually trying to do his job for once, reels off the choices to Keith for the umpteenth time and almost cracks. “If ‘don’t know’ wasn’t there, what would you put?” Keith stares back, face blank and chewing. “Do you remember what the question was?” asks Brent. “Nah,” admits Keith.

3. Fatty Fatty Toad Boy

David Brent is less up for a laugh than usual when he hears that the Swindon lot are calling him Mr Toad behind his back. Brent turns to Keith to try and deflect the name calling.

“If we’re handing out insults for being fat, let’s have a go at him,” says Brent about Keith. “Look at him! And he’s got glasses… Why don’t we call him ‘fatty fatty toad boy.’”

The real laugh is Keith’s deadpan non-response – leaning against the filing cabinet, chewing, so lethargic he can’t be bothered to even flinch.

4. The Wet T-Shirt Competition

Planning the Christmas party with Tim and Gareth, Keith’s main suggestion is to invite girls. “Not the girls that work here,” he says. “Pretty girls.” Though he insists on no prostitutes. “It shouldn’t cost you anything.”

Dropping water down the back of workplace sexism complaints, Keith also suggests a wet t-shirt competition. Tim argues that you can’t have a wet T-shirt competition at the office Christmas party. But Keith disagrees. “You can,” he says. “Just need a bucket and a T-shirt.”

Ewen Macintosh, aka Big Keith, DJing at the Wernham Hogg Christmas Party
Ewen Macintosh, aka Big Keith, DJing at the Wernham Hogg Christmas Party - Jack Barnes

5. Romantic Advice

In the final scotch egg scene, Keith gives Tim advice on how to woo Dawn. Keith is, it seems, not only an unlikely hero of The Office but something of a Casanova too. He explains to Tim: men get turned on by what they see, women get turned on by what they hear. “I always make sure the woman hears the right thing,” Keith says. “I very tenderly explain to them that I will guarantee them at least one orgasm.” To which he bites into the scotch egg with a hint of orgasmic pleasure himself.

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