The World According To Smith And Jones (ITV, 1987-1988)
Here’s a look back at another curious comedy show from the 80s. Comedy double-act Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones first appeared together on TV as part of the team in BBC2’s sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News, after this ended they stayed together and in 1984 their new show Alas Smith And Jones launched. By this point they had become rather successful and were also appearing on stage, and in films and adverts, so in 1987 ITV decided to poach them to host a comedy show. Having enjoyed some of their work but not remembering this one, I was pleased to see that the majority of the 12 editions are on YouTube.
The World According To Smith And Jones was shown in the ITV Sunday night slot usually filled by Spitting Image, and when it launched in January 1987 it was a big enough deal to appear on the cover of TV Times. This was a show that was an attempt to try and tell the entire history of the world in just six shows, each one looking back at a different era, such as the Romans, the Tudors, the Victorians, and so on, all illustrated with clips from forgotten dodgy black-and-white films.
As the series progressed we learned many things including Queen Victoria was a vacuum cleaner, and some of the sillier observations couldn’t help but remind me a little of Harry Hill’s TV Burp. There would also be a running gag where every week Jones would point out some random person in a clip and say that he looks like Smith and must be one of his ancestors, at which point Mel would always say “oh, he looks nothing like me!”.
Writers on the show along with Smith and Jones included Colin Bostock-Smith (who contributed to every other 80s TV comedy show it seems), Clive Anderson, Geoffrey Perkins, and Jack Docherty and Moray Hunter, later of Channel 4’s Absolutely and Mr Don And Mr George fame (and of course Docherty’s ill-fated Channel 5 comedy show). However, the show seemed to receive a rather average response from critics and viewers.
Seemingly realising that it probably wasn’t such a good career move, when they returned to BBC2 for a fourth series of Alas Smith And Jones in October 1987, one of the sketches was a parody of the show as A Collection Of Old Jokes According To Smith And Jones, even sending up the “he looks nothing like me” routine. But then, something rather odd happened.
In January 1988 after the parody, ITV decided to show a second series (this time in a Saturday late-night slot), making it seem even more like Smith and Jones only decided to do it because a bigwig at LWT waved a big cheque under their noses. The format was slightly different in that every edition now concentrated on a single topic, and these were medicine, war, law, education, arts and science.
Although it definitely wasn’t the peak of their careers, it would be unfortunate if the legacy of this show is “Smith and Jones defect to ITV to make some corny jokes and hang around just long enough to get their money” (“ker-ching” indeed) because there were some funny moments. The World According To Smith And Jones hasn’t been seen on TV for about 30 years now, and there has been no DVD release either.