Alfresco (ITV, 1983-1984)
Having enjoyed such various comedy shows as A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, I was interested in seeing an earlier sketch show which featured Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie called Alfresco, so when it was released on DVD by Network I was very pleased. Alfresco was so-called because the majority of sketches were shot on location using the latest technology, and the cast also featured Ben Elton (who wrote the majority of the sketches), Robbie Coltrane, Siobhan Redmond and Emma Thompson, who all went on to bigger things, including winning an Oscar.
Before Alfresco launched, a three-part series called There’s Nothing To Worry About! was shown only in the Granada region in 1982 which featured almost the same cast, and this features on the DVD too. Alfresco was another show which featured only a small amount of regular characters, and there were no catchphrases as such, but a lot of ideas were tried out, such as Fry and Laurie playing the characters Alan and Bernard who enjoyed fiddling around with their fancy new video recorder.
Some sketches that I enjoyed in the first series included a parody of University Challenge which featured Fry as the host, not long after he had appeared on the show for real as a contestant, the rather bizarre Airplane!-style exchanges between Mr Butcher and Mr Baker, and a sketch where Elton played an aspiring footballer which featured a guest appearance from Elton Welsby as the host of Granadaland show Kick Off before he became ITV’s football presenter.
There was a change of format to the second series, which was set in a pretend pub, with Coltrane playing the pretend landlord, Redmond playing a pretend barmaid, and the others also taking part as various regulars. Fry and Laurie also contributed some sketches which featured zingers like “I suppose you think it’s somehow amusing to go around saying things that are funny”. Also, most sketches were introduced as if they were an individual panel in a comic strip, now where have I seen that idea before? I did enjoy Fry and Laurie’s contributions to Alfresco, and in the decade or so that they performed comedy together, from Jeeves And Wooster to Alliance And Leicester, they were a class act.
It turns out that Alfresco actually wasn’t a very successful show with viewers at the time, being shown rather late at night, and the only time it’s been seen on TV since was when a few editions were repeated on Granada Plus. I did enjoy watching it though because it was great seeing a lot of promising comedy talent blossoming as the shows went by, as if discovering a secret bonus series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie.