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  1. #1
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    I'm adding this excerpt from another topic as a separate post since it raises interesting topics of discussion -- perhaps.



    We just saw Passport to Pimlico. We found it humorous but we did not have the same very positive reaction we had to Kind Hearts and Coronets -- another British comedy of the same year, 1949, I think. Perhaps, Passport had too many characters and too many political activities going on to be very engaging. Kind Hearts had focused characterization and a streamlined plot. Yes, there were 8 relative characters to be murdered -- but they were all played by one (great) actor. Both movies seemed quintessential British to us (but what do we know). What I mean is that both movies start with a single wild premise ( What if you were only a few relatives away from a royal title? vs. What if your town could become an independent country?) and delelop that premise to extreme and absurd lengths. Is that typical of British houmor? I see it in Monty Pyton (What if Brian were a messiah?, etc.)

    Thanks for any insights.

    P.S. Are there many US Americans on this listserve? All of what I read is from Brits. I wish more Americans were exposed to these great Brit movies and your insights.

    P.P.S. We recently saw Mister Tom on Masterpiece Theatre. What can I say but wonderful. The acting was superb at every level. Rich yet subtle characterization seems to be the hallmark of British drama. We're ordering more Masterpiece videos too -- one can't go wrong even if one picks at random. Tom

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Hello Tom, I feel it's only one part of British humour. To go far back would be to go to Shakespeare and earlier but perhaps it would be best if we started at the music halls, then there were silent films interrupted by WW1 (for both UK and USA)

    after came the talkies in the mid 20s as well as the beginning of the BBC radio broadcasts. So up into WW2 it could be said we shared a common growth through music hall, cinema and radio. Am not sure but I would suggest that the humour such as slapstick, monologue, pathos would be similar.



    For me it would be after the war the British comedy developed an individual style. Britain's economy and cities were damaged, its people wanted change which they achieved by voting in a Labour government with a landslide majority and though they created the welfare state this post war period must have been very hard with rationing not completely finishing till the mid fifties and people not getting enough benefit to keep them out of poverty. Compare this with America who post war economy was in better condition than any other country. It would be against this background that British film and humour grew.



    The British needed to be entertained, to have a period in their working week where they could escape into laughter. Thankfully we had the BBC and not accountants to make us laugh. Entertainers who had learnt their trade for many years now had open mike. Radio would be their voice and for others their training ground. All homes had a radio, young and old alike would be able to use their imagination to add to what they listened to.



    The film industry was for most part based in the south of the country around the capital, unlike America we didn't have a west coast, east coast or mid America to dilute our talent, it was centred in a small area and into this area was a mix of both European and British professional talent. There was no 'right thinking' individual, no McCarthyism(1950-late 50's) to frighten or censure them, no pressure groups.

    The English eccentric came before the medium and not after. He was already here, he wasn't created.



    In 1951 BBC radio gave us the Goon Show; Michael Bentine;Peter Sellers; Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. All were WW2 veterans with Milligan suffering shell shock and Bentine taking part in the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The show ran until 1960.



    During this time on television we also had Arthur Haynes, Tony Hancock, Eric Sykes, Frankie Howerd. These were either comedy sketch shows or half hour situation comedy and a learning curve for innovation and the future.



    In the cinema was Ealing film studios, the Rank Organisation. Producers Betty Box, The Boulting Brothers, Sidney Gilliat and Lewis Gilbert. All of these give a taste of British life. To go to the cinema then was an affordable night out, a walk or short bus ride away. There you could watch the 'B' feature followed by Pathe news, then the main film. Few people had televisions and certainly not colour. What they saw also was a fine ensemble of actors, no 'celebrities' men and women who in my opinion wanted to be good at what they did. They had come through the war I doubt if they gave a damn about being famous.



    In 1960 there came Beyond the Fringe which was a joint Cambridge Footlights and Oxford Revue show with Peter Cooke, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. This was the start of the satire and it wasn't afraid to hit at the establishment. At the same time in 1961 the magazine Private Eye was launched with satire and scurrilious gossip as its flag. A year later "That Was The Week That Was" began on BBC created by ex Oxbridge Ned Sherrin it was a mix of actors such as Roy Kinnear, Kenneth Cope, comedians Lance Percival, Willie Rushton(founder of Private Eye) and journalists David Frost and Bernard Levin and its target was again the establishment. An important note here is to look at all the writers behind these shows who were learning their trade and the influence that The Goons had on them through radio.



    That Tony takes us up to 1963 or so, but I will finish now and begin again tomorrow with Monty Python, writing teams et al. These are only my thoughts, right or wrong, there are people on here more informed and some older who have memories of the years I've mentioned. My info I've got from the BBC Radio website, the Library of Congress; IMDb and the excellent Wickipedia. If you have a look under Ealing Film Studio there are a list of films which would make you salivate with joy.. One thing though I notice your supplier is 'Masterpiece Video' by its very title I presume you are only seeing the best of British, we did produce some disappointments.



    regards



    Freddy

  3. #3
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    It was most kind of you, Freddy, to respond with such a thoughtful, cogent, informative and intellectually polished mini-history. With your permission, I'll print it out for a couple of friends who are into American film history. They'll revel in the comparisons. I'd like to re-read it periodically also, as I see more British comedy. What you say seems right-on to me in terms of what I know about WWII and post-WWII history. I do see British comedy as multi-dimensional, deep and sophisticated -- as I do British drama. I do not mean to suggest only one trend in comedy; however, because so many Americans of my Baby-Boomer age group love Monty Python, it is a category of British comedy that's hard to ignore here. You've given me significant insight into the roots of this and other forms of comic expression. Thank you! Tom

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Tom, thanks for those kind words, please feel free to print. here,a touch late is part two: Looking at it I have seemed to go off on a tangent so please read it as not an answer to your question but simply an observation. Writing comedy is the hardest thing to do and these people have my total admiration.







    If there was a lull in political satire between the end of That Was The Week That Was(1962) and the beginning of the new inventiveness of Monty Python's Flying Circus(1969) it was more than filled by comedy writers who had learnt their craft at the coal face of television and radio.



    Eric Sykes a prolific radio writer/producer added his skills to television with his own show,as well as acting and collaborating with others such as Spike Milligan and Tony Hancock.

    Galton and Simpson who had been writing for radio (Hancock's Half hour) transferred it to television also creating Steptoe and Son(1962-74) and Johnny Speight's Alf Garnett, the politically and racially insensitive bigot and 'head of the household' in Till Death Us Do Part(65-75) certainly kept a high standard of comedy/social satire.



    In the cinema the Director Gerald Thomas had begun the successful 'Carry On' series with Carry on Sargeant in 1958 and for the next 20 years gave us 30 'Carry On' films. The 'Carry On' team of actors, like the sexual innuendo and double entendres of the script were constant throughout. A comic lightness of touch could also be seen in the sixties films used as a vehicle for pop stars

    such as Cliff Richard; The Beatles; Billy Fury and others. In the 1970s some 'comedy' films took the Carry On theme further and slapstick/nudity was the main selling point. ie Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Needless to say Gerald Thomas's films have outlasted far better than those.



    It could be said that when when Monty Python appeared British Comedy in the 70s had two strands, the non-Oxbridge(to the best of my knowledge) comedy writers such as;



    Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais . . . The Likely Lads

    Roy Clarke . . . Last Of The Summer Wine. Open All Hours

    David Croft and Jimmy Perry . . . . .Dad's Army

    Jeremy Lloyd . . . . Are You Being Served

    John Esmonde and Bob Larbey . . . . The Good Life

    Eric Chappell . . . Rising Damp

    David Nobbs . . . . The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin

    John Smith . . . .Only Fools and Horses





    These writers and many more not mentioned dealt with situation comedy, some with eccentric situations ie 'The Good Life' where Tom and Barbara give up the rat race to become self sufficient in their suburban home or with eccentric characters such as 'Last Of Summer Wine' Very few had anything political/social to say, they simply gave us fine fine comedy. A social satire would be Reggie Perrin, a man who fakes his own suicide and then well I don't want to spoil it for you. Also

    commercial television was divided into regions such as Yorkshire; Thames; Granada(north west) and each had production teams which gave us their own particular style and humour. These writer throughout the decades have contributed mightily to film and television.



    Those who had been in Cambridge Footlights or Oxford Revue.



    Beyond the Fringe;

    That Was The Week That Was(TW3)

    Monty Python(69-74)

    The Goodies(70-81)

    Not The Nine O'clock News(79-82)



    because of their youth and background they brought innovative comedy and sketch to television.Looking at the Oxbridge writers it is interesting to note that some of them branched out to do other things when their series had finished. ie. Palin to travel; Frost to interviewing; Miller directing,Terry Jones to factual writing. Comedy was not the sole outlet for their creativity.



    It was when Mrs. Thatcher came to power in 1979 that the political appetite of TW3 was whetted again in the form of alternative comedy. This was mainly stand up, anti-establishment, though their stance was only temporary as they began to grow and comedians such as Ben Elton, Paul Merton, Alexie Sayle went on to do other projects. It was in my opinion 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes Prime Minister' by

    Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn which produced the wonderful satire on the Civil Service and political system (80-87) for the eighties.





    That's about it for me Tom, there were comedy dramas such as 'Minder', John Mortimer's 'Rumpole of the Bailey' (a fine example of English eccentricity). Even heavyweight British drama such as the 'Sweeney' had moments of humour to lighten the load. Often in soaps a character would be created as a foil simply to bring humour and pathos to the series.I have stopped at the end of the eighties mainly because the likes of Minder and Fools and Horses continued into that decade and after that nothing I can remember of significance, but as some will

    agree the eighties was a wonderful decade and not only for comedy. One writer who stands out for me is Alan Plater, if you can try to get The Beiderbeck series or The Barchester Chronicles. E.F.Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' will not disappoint.

    Am not too sure whether I have really answered your question but it's been fun.



    This has just been dipping my toe in the water. I have left things out either by accident or design, but those mentioned can easily be looked up at IMDb and you will see their talents stretch and connect. The sources I have used are the same as before.





    Freddy

  5. #5
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jonathan Woss@Sep 9 2005, 01:27 AM

    [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/clapping.gif[/img] [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/clapping.gif[/img] [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/clapping.gif[/img]

    Very good Freddy

    <div align="right">[post=]Quoted post[/post]</div>



    Seconded, very good Freddy.



    JW, was the security guards thing you were thinking of Nightingales starring Robert Lindsay, David Threlfall & James Ellis ? That was written by Paul Makin and was really way "out there".



    I really liked it, it was surreal TV at its best.



    For those that haven't seen it, my summary on the IMDb says:

    Three disparate characters are nightwatchmen in an office block somewhere in Britain. Their night life is surreal to say the least. Anything can happen from a friendly werewolf performing open heart surgery on one of them to an allegorical Mary who turns up pregnant at their door on Christmas Eve.



    Steve

  6. #6
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    Originally posted by Freddy@Sep 9 2005, 12:53 AM

    I have stopped at the end of the eighties mainly because the likes of Minder and Fools and Horses continued into that decade and after that nothing I can remember of significance.<div align="right">Quoted post</div>



    Au contraire, I'd argue that the past fifteen years wipes the floor with the 1980s when it comes to almost every type of comedy. Sitcom in particular was fading fast by the late 1980s, but the following years saw the debuts of (I'm listing everything in alphabetical order to eliminate bias) Absolutely Fabulous, Black Books, dinnerladies, Father Ted, I'm Alan Partridge, Marion and Geoff, Men Behaving Badly, The Office, One Foot in the Grave, Phoenix Nights, Rab C Nesbitt, The Royle Family, Spaced and The Vicar of Dibley. All those were hugely successful as well as critically acclaimed - so I'll throw in a few lesser-known personal faves too: Green Wing, Human Remains, Roger Roger, Trevor's World of Sport and the jaw-droppingly black Nighty Night.



    Sketch comedy got several shots in the arm with Big Train, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, The Fast Show, Goodness Gracious Me, The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Smack the Pony and assorted Alexei Sayle-fronted series, while Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer were largely responsible for shifting the overall tone away from the politicised agitprop of the 1980s towards a return to Pythonesque "surrealism" (by which I mean plain silliness: I doubt Luis Buñuel would have recognised their stuff!). Spoof chat shows also proliferated, notably Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge (fake host, fake guests), The Mrs Merton Show and The Keith Barret Show (fake hosts, real guests) - and comedy increasingly dominated real chat shows, notably those fronted by Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross.



    There was also an upswing in satire in general and political satire in particular - the highest-profile example being Have I Got News For You, a topical news quiz recorded 24 hours before transmission, both to keep things topical and to give BBC lawyers a chance to vet it for libel. It was first shown in 1990 and is still running fifteen years later, having survived the sacking of chairman Angus Deayton. Appearances on the show can be high-risk - Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan and the late Paula Yates would readily agree with this - but it can also boost a flagging career or kick-start a relatively new one: the colourful Tory MP Boris Johnson owes it a huge amount.



    But HIGNFY seemed almost cosy besides Brass Eye, a satirical series in the true sense of the term, taking no prisoners and leaving nothing unscathed. Produced and fronted by Chris Morris, it was perhaps most notorious for its use of real celebrity talking heads who he'd somehow persuaded to utter the most abject drivel on camera (and even in the House of Commons in one memorable instance, as David Amess MP asked a Home Office minister about a nonexistent drug called "cake"). Originally aired in six episodes in 1997, the most famous edition is probably the one-off 2001 revival, which mercilessly skewered the media's laughably inconsistent and ill-informed obsession with paedophilia.



    But probably the single most influential television comedy programme of the 1990s - even though its initial ratings were relatively poor - was The Day Today, a mercilessly accurate parody of the pomposity of contemporary news programmes - so much so that it's barely dated even a decade on. It spawned a new generation of comedians, typically a decade younger than the alternative comedy crowd, leading lights including Steve Coogan, Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci (who was active more as a writer-producer than a performer, but has a strong claim to being considered the most important figure in contemporary British comedy).



    Big-screen comedy has generally been less noteworthy. Hardly any of the people responsible for the series mentioned above have made a successful transition - many haven't even tried, while of those that have, only Steve Coogan's virtuoso turn in 24 Hour Party People and the surprisingly effective zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead really stood comparison with their TV work. Most big-screen comedy has been far less inventive and innovative - while perfectly pleasant entertainment, The Full Monty didn't really deserve to be the UK's all-time box-office grosser (for a time), and the immense promise of Trainspotting (not really a comedy but with rather more laughs than many that were) was generally unfulfilled - though Peter Mullan's Orphans is an underrated gem. I also can't think of a single post-1990 comedy that comes anywhere close to the verbal glory that was Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I, for my money a strong contender for the title of funniest British film ever made (the other great 1980s comic masterpiece, Gregory's Girl, saw a very muted sequel in 1999).



    The mere fact that Richard Curtis is the largely undisputed big-screen comedy king of the last decade or so pretty much says it all - Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually have largely defined non-UK notions of "British comedy", in much the same way that Benny Hill's influence was similarly baleful in the past (and Barbara Cartland is the sole representative of English literature in a great many countries). I don't dislike Curtis' films as such - they obviously know their market and exploit it ruthlessly, and God knows the British film industry could do with more people with that degree of commercial savvy - but if you compare them with almost any one of the television programmes mentioned above you'll see what the problem is: they present a tourists'-eye view of a cosily parochial never-never land, and they don't really reflect what's happening in British comedy at all.

  7. #7
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    I was just noticing how many of those grew out of initial series on Radio 4 like I'm Alan Partridge which came from The Day Today (Alan was their sports reporter) which came from Radio 4. Goodness Gracious Me, Little Britain and even Have I Got News For You which is a TV version of Radio 4's The News Quiz



    Steve

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    [i]Originally posted by Steve Crook[?i]@Sep 9 2005, 04:25 PM

    I was just noticing how many of those grew out of initial series on Radio 4 like I'm Alan Partridge which came from The Day Today (Alan was their sports reporter) which came from Radio 4. Goodness Gracious Me, Little Britain and even Have I Got News For You which is a TV version of Radio 4's The News Quiz<div align="right">Quoted post</div>



    Indeed - radio in general, and Radio 4 in particular, are still hugely important in terms of nurturing new comedy talent, and several leading current comedy stars first made their name on the radio (everyone from Stephen Fry to Chris Morris via Steve Coogan and the League of Gentlemen). I suppose it's because it's easier to take risks on smaller budgets.

  9. #9
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    Originally posted by Jonathan Woss@Sep 9 2005, 11:58 PM

    Great sitcoms from the days when television was great. There's nothing now that even comes close.

    <div align="right">[post=]Quoted post[/post]</div>



    I'm sorry, but this is simply not true. The "golden age" is so massively overrated (largely because we've forgotten the huge proportion of crap that came with it) that people simply haven't noticed that the last fifteen years can very comfortably stand comparison with any other television era you care to name.



    It's interesting that Freddy used the phrase "nothing of significance" earlier - personal prejudice aside, I'd argue that this has more to do with the post-1990 fragmentation of the television landscape (and, by extension, audiences for individual programmes) than any loss of quality on the part of the programmes themselves. (Though even then the claim is clearly untrue: Absolutely Fabulous, One Foot in the Grave, The Royle Family and especially The Office have had a cultural impact well beyond the confines of a half-hour sitcom, and The Day Today has more or less defined contemporary news imagery - Andrew Marr confessed that the phrase "a Day Today moment" is common currency in newsrooms if they feel their coverage has gone a tad over the top).



    Just to expand on Steve's point about the radio origins of much contemporary comedy, I'm very encouraged by the way that BBC3 is being used as a test-bed for the next generation of BBC sitcoms - which gives writers and performers a chance to try out and refine new material on tiny audiences before going wider. I doubt very much something like Nighty Night - a comedy so black that many people might question whether it deserves that label at all - would have survived the traditional commissioning route unscathed.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Thanks to you all for your reponses. Cheers for the John Sullivan correction JW, It must have been fatigue or wishful drinking. Citizen Smith and Dear John were two good uns. I remember somebody saying how in the studio canteen they were laughing out loud at a script that they had been given by a new writer. Turns out it was Citizen Smith, and as for Dear John lovely, The late Ralph Bates, Peter Denyer (Dennis from Please Sir) and the gorgeous Belinda Lang. [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/clapping.gif[/img]

    You were right Wetherby to pull me up about my comment on the nineties and beyond, it was a bit dismissive and you have mentioned a couple which stood out for me. Dinnerladies; Father Ted; Abfab . I admit we did get a bit of crap, but surely a bit of comedy/drama which doesn't come off is far far better than the unadventourous programming we have now. You also mention that the last 15 years can comfortably stand comparison with any other tv era. Perhaps this is a generation thing but 1975 - 1990 stands head and shoulders above 1990-2005. We could trade shows like a poker game I'll see your Abfab and raise you my Chance in a Million, so am not going to start.

    My hope is that soon we will get fed up of reality/celeb/involve joe public shows and get back to encouraging and nuturing talent. I wonder if in 15 years time the third era 2005-220 will have its praises sung?



    What's on the radio?

    Freddy

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