David Bowie: Extras (2006)
Of course, everyone had a cameo in Ricky Gervais’s TV industry comedy. But even in this crowded field, Bowie stole the show. After all, funny as Ross Kemp was, he wasn’t going to be able to perform a deliciously cruel song (“He’s banal and facile, he’s a fat waste of space”) mocking the sitcom’s hero. In a show about empty fame, Bowie was a reminder of what talent actually means.
Mark E Smith: Ideal (2007)
God moves in mysterious ways. And like most religious figureheads, his son can manifest him or herself in any form. If, like Johnny Vegas’s Moz, you were a grubby stoner seeking guidance, why wouldn’t Jesus take the appearance of the Fall frontman? Bathed in a heavenly glow, Smith swears lustily as he dispenses enigmatic advice.
Joe Biden: Parks and Recreation (2012)
Amusingly, Leslie Knope begins the scene containing Biden’s cameo by pondering the possibility that she might run for the presidency in 2020. She then meets the man we now know as the president-elect – and their encounter suggests that, for all Leslie’s charm, when it came to taking down Donald Trump, America made the right choice.
Ben Kingsley: The Sopranos (2006)
Kingsley is very much in Hollywood luvvie mode here, not Don “Sexy Beast” Logan mode. He’s approached to star in Christopher Moltisanti’s film Cleaver but is unimpressed by the idea. His dismissive tone leads to Christopher reverting to gangster type – as Kingsley’s fellow guest star Lauren Bacall discovers to her cost.
Kylie Minogue: Doctor Who (2007)
Created specifically for Minogue by Russell T Davies, waitress Astrid Peth was a very temporary companion for David Tennant’s Doctor in the 2007 Christmas special. Although we barely got to know Astrid, she still managed to save the world. Even then, reviews were mixed. Tough crowd.
Taylor Swift: New Girl (2013)
Part of Swift’s appeal is her quality of being simultaneously striking and deeply normal. So her brief cameo in New Girl – where she suddenly upends Cece and Shivrang’s wedding by declaring her feelings for Shivrang – worked perfectly. Her appearance provided both a startled jolt and a knowing smile.
Brian Eno: Father Ted (1998)
The “blink and you’ll miss it” quality of this cameo adds to its appeal. In the last ever episode of Father Ted, “Father Brian Eno”, as he’s introduced, is on screen for a couple of seconds. In pre-streaming days, when watching something again meant waiting for a repeat, you might even wonder if it happened at all.
Serena Williams: Law & Order – Special Victims Unit (2004)
Much as The Bill was an essential stamp in any young British actor’s passport, so it was in the US with Law & Order. The show always liked a cameo, too – but even viewers used to surprising guest appearances did a double take when tennis star Serena Williams turned up, playing a basketball player and revenge porn victim.
Brad Pitt: Friends (2001)
The premise for this cameo was that Will (Pitt) was an old school friend whose dislike of Rachel had led to him start a rumour that she was intersex. It is offensive and surprising in equal measure, but back in 2001 the main source of intrigue was the fact that Jennifer Aniston was starring opposite her real-life husband.
Graeme Souness: Boys from the Blackstuff (1982)
“You look like me. Magnum, as well.” The nightclub encounter between Bernard Hill’s tragic hero Yosser Hughes and Liverpool FC’s moustachioed hard man Graeme Souness is both funny and deeply sad. Hughes is a desperate man, robbed of agency and identity by forces beyond his control; Souness is both a point of aspiration and a focus for his anger.