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My Fantasy DVD:
The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon

My Fantasy DVD is an occasional feature of Noise to Signal in which our writers spotlight a program or film that has not been released on DVD. They then indulge themselves shamelessly by piling on fantastic—but usually realistic—special features, in an attempt to frustrate themselves further. The DVD described below does not exist. Unfortunately.

When one thinks of Steve Coogan, one thinks of Alan Partridge. And that’s nothing for Coogan to be ashamed of—Partridge is a brilliant and consistently hilarious creation. (Anyone who tries to cite I’m Alan Partridge series two as a counter-example can, with my blessing, step directly into oncoming traffic.) He’s also the most pliant of Coogan’s characters; Partridge does it all. He can man a sports desk, narrate footage, interview celebrities, sing a few medlies, host a radio show, emcee corporate events, present videos, write an autobiography or just spend an afternoon dismantling his hotel room’s trouser press. And all the while, he’s the same Alan Partridge. It’s difficult to imagine a comic setting that couldn’t be adapted to suit Alan’s presence.

Tony Ferrino

Which is why—apart from an obvious but not always copped-to fondness for the character—we encounter Alan Partridge more frequently than any of Steve Coogan’s other characters.

Great news for Partridge fans, but mildly frustrating for those more well-rounded in their Coogan fandom. He’s done a lot more, after all, with many different characters. Some of that stuff (a bit—but not nearly all—of the Paul/Pauline Calf material, Coogan’s Run, and the aptly-named Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible) is readily available on DVD. But a few other experiments seem to have disappeared forever.

Among these, sadly, is The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon, which premiered on the first day of 1997, received a fast VHS release, and was never referred to again under penalty of torture.

The Show:
The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon is not one of Coogan’s most fondly-remembered endeavors. And, for that reason, a lot of people who have never seen it won’t be disappointed by its lack of availability. After all, if anyone wants to see sub-par Coogan they can pick up Dr. Terrible, or rent The Parole Officer. Do we really need more forgettable material on DVD?

Well, folks, the thing is…it’s only forgettable because the disappearance of the character (and the utter lack of repeats) seems to have rendered it intentionally forgotten.

A big shame, because the show—while flawed—has more than enough in the way of comedy, music and all-around genuine entertainment to warrant a popular reappraisal. In March of 2007, UKTV G2 aired the special as part of its Coogan Weekend. For me its rarity and surprising quality made it the easy highlight of the programming block.

Tony Ferrino

While Ferrino may seem pretty lightweight compared to Coogan’s better-realized characters, he is still interesting enough that you can’t really, in good conscience, write him off as a complete misfire.

The show itself is structured as a musical performance special intended to introduce Tony Ferrino—a sensation in his native Portugal—to the English audience. As such, a few comic necessities are built into the program: funny songs, historical footage and mangled English. And, yeah, some of the “unintentional” sex puns are pretty cheap, but by no means do they constitute the heart of the program. They serve, instead, as easy laughs to fill the time between greater moments. They have their place, structurally speaking, and since it’s a Coogan production, you can be sure that every mis-speaking serves to heighten the awkwardness between Tony and his celebrity guests.

Part of the reason viewers didn’t respond as well to The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon is probably because—in spite of some heightening tension and promises of interesting backstory—it didn’t really go anywhere, plotwise. Which, I feel, is okay; it’s designed to be Tony’s special, after all—he’s not on any kind of quest or seeking anything out. He’s there to sing his songs. And he sings them. And he does it all within the confines of a big, slick, obviously edited program. (Tony will often finish a song before a fade, only for the program to fade back in on Tony, again, applauding his own performance from a different part of the set.)

But the lack of development or climax over the course of the special still seems out of place for a Coogan production. We get a big song to end the show, but not a big character moment or punchline. Even Knowing Me, Knowing You (or, even more appropriately, its Christmas special) managed development and increasing tension in a format that, strictly, did not call for it. And, yeah, Tony didn’t have as much time to shine, but neither did Gareth Cheeseman or Ernest Moss from Coogan’s Run. There are certain expectations that the audience has for a Steve Coogan program. The fact that The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon didn’t fulfill them isn’t a failure on its part, but it goes a long way toward explaining why some viewers might have been disappointed.

I should probably reel back my enthusiasm, slightly, lest anyone get the feeling that I think this program is flawless. It definitely is not. Many of the jokes fall flat (Tony’s weeping mother appearing on stage is a good idea, but seemed kind of limp and pointless in the execution, and if you don’t think penis-shaped jewelry boxes are funny then you’re better off napping during the Kim Wilde segment) and most of the potential for Tony’s characterization goes unrealized. There are some tantalizing fragments tossed out during the program, but, at the end of the day, Tony basically comes across as a not-half-bad singer who doesn’t seem to realize what’s funny about his own songs. Does that make for a bad character? Heck no. But neither does it seem nearly as rich as Partridge, or the Calfs, or even Duncan Thickett. The lack of any sort of plot at all (no, Tony’s flirtation with a member of the female set dressing doesn’t count) also means the show ends with a strong feeling of irrelevance.

Tony Ferrino

But…that about does it for the complaints. Coogan may not be at the very top of his game, but he’s high enough. And this is more the gaggy, laugh-a-second audience pleaser that we remember from Knowing Me, Knowing You than the understated meditative social critic of Saxondale. The songs vary in comic value, but they are all extremely well orchestrated and performed. Coogan’s got some pipes—and don’t let a travel tavern rendition of Close to You tell you otherwise. He’s not likely to blow any non-fans away, but his vocal performance is without question surprisingly pleasant.

To say something more about the music here: Steve Brown (you may remember him as Glen Ponder) did a brilliant job scoring these tunes. He knows (as I wish more people knew) that a truly great comic song doesn’t “sound” funny. The humor is always greater, and more rewarding, if you play it straight. And so there are a lot of very pretty passages in Tony’s music…from a melodic standpoint. It’s only when you pick up on his (possibly unintentional) puns and suggestions that the humor is revealed.

In other words, the joke isn’t that Tony is a purveyor of bad music…the joke is more that he’s famous in Portugal because the music is good and they can’t understand what he’s saying. In front of an English audience, however, Tony stands naked. He can’t hide behind how good he sounds…we judge him for his lyrics, which, on the whole, are ludicrous.

Sometimes it seems that Tony is unaware of the comedy. His absurd musical adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect example, and I really doubt he’d find anything funny about his show-closing What is Life? But other times, Tony wants to make us laugh. He’s an entertainer, after all. And so he writes something like Fishing For Girls, with such an antiquated style of back-and-forth comedy (I’m sure Fozzie Bear would find it hilarious) and sexual punning that it becomes a great exercise in anti-humor.

At least two songs were cut out of the repeat that I saw (further making me hunger for a DVD release) so I can’t say for sure, but Fishing For Girls is probably the best of the batch. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it makes the best use of any of Tony’s celebrity guests. In this case it’s Gary Wilmot, who throws himself into the “comedy” routine and punctuates all of his jokes with a delightfully self-conscious mug for the camera. (Also, I’m pretty sure Gary rescues Tony on the chorus here…Tony seems a little flat on the final “In a river called love!” whereas Gary slams it out of the park every time.)

His other guests include Kim Wilde, who does a damn fine job of performing Short-Term Affair with the straight face that it requires, and Mick Hucknall, who doesn’t really do much (and seems to break “character” on camera by laughing at Tony’s puns when nobody else did) other than contribute to a good (if humorless) rendition of Tom Jones’ Help Yourself.

The entire special is an interesting—if not groundbreaking—entry in Steve Coogan’s comic history, and I personally feel that a reappraisal of the show is not only due, but thoroughly deserved. It’s a bit light-weight, but so what? Who would be averse to an evening with Coogan’s best foray into musical comedy? Especially if you could add some additional value to the mix…in the form of special features…

Special Features:

Tony Ferrino

Commentary (both straight and in character)
Alright, so it might not be easy to get Coogan behind a microphone for commentary, but it does happen. And who knows? He might actually desire to do something like this for a character like Tony. He could come to the character’s defense…or maybe he could spend an hour apologizing. He’s aware that Tony, to put it bluntly, flopped. Coogan’s not an unintelligent guy and I’m sure he’d have interesting things to say about why the character didn’t take off the way some of his others have.

And as long as we’ve rented the commentary booth, why not hear what Tony Ferrino himself has to say? Granted, in-character commentaries are a very mixed bag. They worked phenomenally for This is Spinal Tap and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but they worked less well for…erm…I’m Alan Partridge.

Still, with some preparation and a special guest or two (what’s Wilmot up to, anyway?) there’s no reason a few words from Tony—filling us in on why he hasn’t been seen in England for past decade or so—wouldn’t be great.

Introducing Tony Ferrino: Who and Why? A Quest (plus commentary)
The absence of this feature would be just plain inexcusable. It appeared, after all, on the VHS release of Phenomenon. Sadly, I’ve never seen it. It’s a short program (transmitted a few days after the original broadcast of Phenomenon if I have my facts straight) featuring Tony being interviewed by Ross Woollard…played by the always brilliant Peter Baynham. (Oddly enough, Baynham played a similar role in Alan Partridge’s Anglian Lives, under the name Ray Woollard. IMDB might have wrong information, but if not, it’s an interesting comic choice to name the characters so similarly, and to put them in similar roles, without them actually being the same person.) I’ve heard both that Introducing is far better and far worse than Phenomenon, but I’d like to judge for myself. And if you do manage to snag Coogan for feature commentary, can’t his good buddy Peter join him in the booth to horse around for this feature, too?

retrospective documentary
This does not exist. Yet. But stringing together some interviews with Coogan (preferably from both 1997 and present day) about Tony and his reception would be fascinating. Approach a few others involved as well. Film them separately, as time and budget permits, and edit them all together into a nice retrospective featurette plotting the rise and fall of a comic creation. Maybe some of Tony’s celebrity guests could chime in as well, to give us their perspectives.

behind the scenes featurette
How much unbroadcast footage exists? Flubs and outtakes? Footage of Coogan slipping out of character to convey something to the audience or the rest of the cast? Pretty much anything that exists (which, I admit, might be very little or nothing at all) would be valuable for establishing the context of this program about which so little is known. (Not even my handy-dandy internet can find much on Ferrino. Which is why you’re looking at ugly, low-quality promotional images rather than purdy li’l screen grabs.)

Steve Brown musical featurette
The man appears (briefly and silently) at the end of this special, but his presence is felt throughout the entire project. Steve Brown was the main composer for Tony’s songs, and because he also worked with Coogan on various other projects in the same capacity (live tours, some of the Paul/Pauline Calf stuff, Knowing Me, Knowing You) I’m sure he’d have lots of interesting things to say about his method, the projects, and working with Coogan. Sit Steve Brown in front of a camera (or better yet, a piano) and just let the man talk. Similar features about Howard Goodall and Joby Talbot have been great…and I have no doubt that Steve Brown could provide an easy 15 minutes (at least) of fascinating material.

in-character chat show appearances
According to Off the Telly: “Coogan went on practically every chat show on television, but - oh no! - in character. Of course, the interview in character is almost always guaranteed to make even the funniest comedy characters seem unfunny and awkward, but as this was the first sight we’d had of Ferrino, it certainly didn’t help matters.” Were the appearances funny? Who knows…I can’t find any of them. But “practically every chat show on television?” Surely somebody somewhere has a few tapes at least. Historically speaking, these would be damn valuable extras.

Short-Term Affair with Bjork
A Comic Relief performance between Tony and Bjork, complete with some awkward banter beforehand. I have to admit that the Kim Wilde version in the main program is much better, but this one is still good, and worth having on the set. The main problem is that a singer like Bjork—intentionally mumbly with awkward inflections—is not meant to be singing comedy songs that rely on getting gags across to a live audience. But she does a good enough job, and it’s enjoyable. Worth including if only for the sake of comparison.

Coogan Night bump(s)
UKTVG2 aired some excellent, specially-filmed bookends to their programing on Coogan Night, featuring the man himself introducing (and commenting upon) the shows. One of these features Steve passively defending the character by mentioning to an obviously-disinterested child that Tony Ferrino was well-received on stage…but the critics didn’t bother to take that into account. It’d be nice to have this bump…short though it is. Oh, and feel free to include as many more bumps from the night as you wish. I won’t complain.

live footage from previous comedy tours
So Tony was better-received on stage, huh? Prove it! The live release The Man Who Thinks He’s It features some live Ferrino, but you don’t need to use footage from that very performance. And, hey, even if you did…that performance is edited! It breaks off abruptly as a song begins. Dig up some complete footage of Ferrino and pile it on. Also, being as the live performances included songs that were not featured in the special (I know of Lap-Dancing Lady and the hilarious audience-member-humiliation of Ordinary Girl) it’d really help to round out Tony’s short career.

clean versions of the songs
They were prerecorded, as the occasional poor lip-synch betrays. Give us a jukebox in which we can listen to these songs, laughter free…and maybe even rip them for our own non-DVD enjoyment. And while we’re at it, why not the audio from that long out of print album Coogan released as Tony Ferrino? Or the two songs from his Bigamy at Christmas single? Think about how wonderful this DVD set could be if some real effort were invested. In addition to releasing one of Coogan’s underappreciated specials, you’d also be assembling a sort of Tony Ferrino time capsule.

It was a good show. It deserves—and we deserve—a great fantasy DVD.

About this entry


>Also, I’m pretty sure Gary rescues Tony on the chorus here…Tony seems a little flat on the final “In a river called love!” whereas Gary slams it out of the park every time.

That’ll be the years of West End training, then. I’m guessing Gary’s there to be the real-life ‘all round entertainer’.

>what’s Wilmot up to, anyway?

He’s appearing as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at London’s Royal Festival Hall, according to He’s 54 now, which is hard to believe.

Tanya Jones's picture

By Tanya Jones
August 21, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

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>Gary’s there to be the real-life ‘all round entertainer’.

Funny guy!

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
August 21, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

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> Anyone who tries to cite I’m Alan Partridge series two as a counter-example can, with my blessing, step directly into oncoming traffic

I hated it at first, it just depressed me. Parts of it still do, actually, like much of the first two episodes which are probably the worst out of all 12 (think what you like, they fucking are and I’m right). OK episode 2 has some funny moments - ‘hello, security, I am…an arsonist with a big box of matches, please can I come in to set fire to the staff’ *gate opens* ‘unbelievable…’ but I hate the scene when they’re at the house later, it just drags, and stuff like him falling off the back of the sofa and the South African guy saying ‘cant’ isn’t that funny.

The rest of the series is great though. You’ve got to wonder whether they were doing rewrites up to the last minute or anything because it’s a bit crazy how the third and fourth episodes (‘Bravealan’ and ‘Never Say Alan Again’) are about ten times better.

By performingmonkey
August 22, 2008 @ 12:38 am

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I dimly recall that Wilde was spot-on with the song, but pretty bad with the dialogue. The rest - a few YouTube clips aside - is hazy in my memory. A DVD realise would be extremely tempting - it’s some of Coogan’s most wilfully-gaggy material, and all the more desirable for it.

Andrew's picture

By Andrew
August 22, 2008 @ 12:53 am

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Regarding the two Woolards, the DVD ‘biography’ for Ray from Anglian Lives says that he had a twin brother Ross who was killed on one of Wales’ most notorious roads, so the characters are meant to be related, but not the same person.

By dennis the doughnut boy
August 22, 2008 @ 9:28 am

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I wrote the Tony Ferrino piece on Off The Telly, which does now seem to have become the internet’s only source of Tony Ferrino information. Coogan certainly did the chat show circuit before Christmas 1996, I certainly remember him appearing on Clive Anderson and Des O’Connor, and he perhaps unwisely showed up on Live and Kicking, which Zoe Ball dined out on for many years as he said he wanted to tell her a secret and whispered in her ear the most obscene thing she’d ever heard.

Also, he was on the Royal Variety Performance in 1996 as well, I’m sure. As I said in the piece, it seemed very odd to have this big launch for a character, weeks before the show went out, because surely you need to see him in his natural environment first. I wonder if the intention was to launch Ferrino as a “real” singer first and then “out” him as Coogan, but they chickened out? The Live and Kicking appearance seems the oddest, though, because kids would have no idea who Ferrino was, would be too young to watch the show and probably wouldn’t know who Coogan was anyway.

Although I’ve still got the original show on tape, I only ever saw the Introducing follow-up once, when it was transmitted, and never recorded it. As I said in the piece, I didn’t really enjoy it much because there was just too much full-on bastardry from Ferrino. But I haven’t seen it for eleven years.

By Steve Williams
August 22, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

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I watch this occasionally as I transferred it to DVD from a recording of the original broadcast. Short Term Affair is pretty great and I’ve always liked Bigamy at Christmas. I remember it (fairly vividly) being performed on The Des O’Connor show.

Some of it is pretty ropey (the endless double entendres, a painful misunderstanding of Mick Hucknall’s name) but there are some really good moments. Best bit is obviously the Eurovision Song Contest clip (Papa Bendi performing and winning with…Papa Bendi).

I’m surprised they cut some songs in the repeat. Any ideas which?

The Introducing thing was interesting, but done better with Anglian Lives. I think I watched it again once and then taped over it. Exploring the deaths of Tony’s wives kind of over-milked the joke.

I joke of course.

> [in-character commentaries] worked less well for…erm…I’m Alan Partridge.

I kind of thought this was the point with the intentionally awkward pauses. The setup for it didn’t really work though. Spinal Tap worked because it was a documentary, as was Dark Place (kind of).

Pete's picture

By Pete
August 22, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

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>he DVD ‘biography’ for Ray from Anglian Lives says that he had a twin brother

Ooh, thanks. Good eye/memory. I’ll edit the article to reflect this.

>Also, he was on the Royal Variety Performance in 1996 as well, I’m sure.

I’ll edit the article to include this as well. Thank you!

>I’m surprised they cut some songs in the repeat. Any ideas which?

Stuttering Sadie wasn’t there. And was Valley of Our Souls in the original broadcast, or was that from something else? Regardless it wasn’t in the rerun I saw.

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
August 22, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

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Probably the main reason it’s forgotten about (apart from the fact that a lot of it IS painful and not funny, and it’s unavailability) is the rewatchability factor of a show like this compared with something like I’m Alan Partridge. Having real celebs like Hucknall on is also a bad idea. It doesn’t sit well with me anyway.

Some people were fooled into thinking it was a genuine entertainment programme and Tony a real singer. My grandparents were, I know that. I knew it was Coogan so was expecting it.

By performingmonkey
August 22, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

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Incidentally, is anyone going to the live tour? I’m going in October. I can’t believe it’s 10 years since I was at the Man Who Thinks He’s It tour with my dad. My dad’s actually quite averse to strong language (unless he’s driving…) so imagine how funny that was, and I was only 15. Top quality entertainment! The programme (complete with pieces blatantly plagiarised straight from The Paul and Pauline Calf Book) still sits on my shelf.

By performingmonkey
August 22, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

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>Some people were fooled into thinking it was a genuine entertainment programme and Tony a real singer. My grandparents were, I know that. I knew it was Coogan so was expecting it.

Yeah, my mum was fooled as well, but then she wasn’t very savvy, bless her. And I can’t quite believe he was on the Royal Command Performance; that’s very amusing!

Tanya Jones's picture

By Tanya Jones
August 22, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

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>And was Valley of Our Souls in the original broadcast, or was that from something else? Regardless it wasn’t in the rerun I saw.

No, it wasn’t in the original.

>Incidentally, is anyone going to the live tour? I’m going in October.

Yeah, but not until November when he comes to London. I’m not a particularly big fan of the Calfs but some of his other “less popular” characters make me chuckle.

Pete's picture

By Pete
August 23, 2008 @ 11:31 am

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Just to confirm, he was indeed on the Royal Variety Performance, I’ve checked my RT back issues. It was billed as “Steve Coogan introduces a new character”, and with it being November 10th, that must have been his first TV appearance. I dunno how he was announced on stage.

I was convinced he was on the lottery but I can’t find any record of that. So I dunno.

By Steve Williams
August 27, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

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According to amazon this appears to be coming out in a coogan box set.

I’m off to see him in Brum tomorrow.

By Jonsmad
October 30, 2008 @ 2:03 am

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Thanks Jonsmad, I had no idea about that.…

First reaction: yay!

Second reaction: Fuck…I already own 3/5 of that collection.

Third reaction: Where’s Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral? And his live stuff? Boo!

Looks like a great start for someone who is just getting into Coogan (I could have used this years ago, without question) but it’s probably going to piss off a lot of people who just want the few unreleased discs.

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
October 30, 2008 @ 11:58 am

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Yeah, it’s a shame that Ferrino isn’t being released separately. I suppose they think that they won’t make their money back on it, but will in a boxset.

I’d mind less if they went to town with the extras on it - it’d add value to the boxset and make it worth buying even for the discs I already have - but I don’t imagine they will. Nice to have A Quest on there, but I expect that’s our lot. If there’s decent Ferrino extras on there, I’ll probably get it - otherwise I won’t bother.

John Hoare's picture

By John Hoare
October 30, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

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The thing is…okay, it’s not “complete,” as its title says it is. And I already own most of this stuff. AND there’s not likely to be much in the way of new extras.

But damn…I really, really want this.

I may end up buying it. If it includes all of the extras as the previous releases, at least, I can give those away or put them on ebay or something.

But if it’s just the episodes themselves, in order to conserve disc space, then I’m in a real pickle, as I’ll need this AND the old versions.

Effing bullshit hell. Why couldn’t this have come out like five years ago? Or, alternatively, WHY ISN’T IT FREE?

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
October 30, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

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Just found your page (I hope it is still active).
I remember very clearly the Royal Variety Performance where the host (Jimmy Tarbuck?) intoduced the ‘Portugese singing sensation Tony Ferrino’.
He came on surrounded by Las Vegas type showgirls and did a brilliant rendition of Help Yourself.
I wasn’t aware it was Steve Coogan until after the show. An excellent spoof!
The follow up programmes have eluded me for years - maybe I will track them down one day.

Great tribute site by the way!

By Jimmy Bean
July 27, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

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>Third reaction: Where’s Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral?

That’s actually on there under the video diaries, 2008 Phil.

By Ridley
October 10, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

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