Saturday Live (Channel 4, 1985-1987)/Friday Night Live (Channel 4, 1988)
This is a show that is regarded to be one of the most important of its era, as it helped to establish the “alternative comedy” scene, and was proof that they were here to stay on TV. Saturday Live (later Friday Night Live) featured lots of comedians from this country and abroad performing sketches and stand-up, including some regulars, as well as performances by music groups, all shown live in a primetime slot, and attracting a young audience.
A while ago, Network released some compilations of the comedy highlights (unfortunately an episode-by-episode boxset probably isn’t possible because of the amount of musical content). They also released a compilation of sketches and stand-up from some of the most popular regulars, and as this is the DVD that I have in my collection, I’ll concentrate on them.
First of all, there were Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. This was about four or five years on from Alfresco, which gave them some of their earliest TV exposure. And once again, just like with that show, this was like discovering yet another bonus series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie (they really did put the work in during this time, also appearing in lots of adverts together). Their sketch style was now established, and watching them do their thing was very enjoyable. Some special guests occasionally joined them too.
There was also Harry Enfield, who started out as a little-known comedian, but by the end of the series, he had become rather popular. He became known for his sketches as two characters. First was Stavros, a friendly Greek kebab shop owner who had a dubious grip on the English language. He was based on a kebab shop owner who Enfield and Paul Whitehouse knew when they lived in Hackney (he would sometimes reference “the Bethnal Green Road” which was nice!).
And there was Loadsamoney, a plasterer who was always boasting about how much he earned in his job, definitely thinking that greed was good. He became popular enough for there to be a comedy single released that made the Top Ten in 1988. The remarkable thing about this is that Enfield stopped playing these characters at the peak of their popularity, deciding that they had run their course, and they didn’t even feature in his sketch show that launched on BBC2 in 1990.
And there was Ben Elton. Better known at the time as a writer, he performed stand-up in a quick-talking style and became the main host of the show. He liked to rant against the politicians of the time, or just about anybody else in the news. He did take part in a sketch or two with Fry and Laurie though (including recycling one from Alfresco). He also went on to his own comedy series in 1990. After this, he went on to write novels, musicals, and more acclaimed sitcoms (and The Wright Way).
About a decade later, ITV decided to revive Saturday Live (and there was another revival about a decade after this one). There were some highlights, including having Harry Hill as a regular guest doing his rather strange comedy thing, but this didn’t make as much of an impact with viewers, mostly because unlike at the time of the original version, this style of comedy was now regularly on TV.