The Comedy Vault – Filthy, Rich And Catflap.

Filthy, Rich And Catflap (BBC2, 1987)

This is another sitcom from the 80s that I don’t really remember from the time, but it is worth featuring. After the end of The Young Ones, three-quarters of the main cast reunited to try out something a little different. Filthy, Rich And Catflap was written by Ben Elton and was a parody of celebrity and showbusiness, proving that being famous isn’t sometimes all it seems.

Rik Mayall played Rich, an actor who lives in a rotten flat and has been in the business for a decade but was resting all the time. He thinks that he is a huge talent that should be on TV, but the most high-profile work he has had to date is being a continuity announcer on TVS (well he couldn’t have been any worse than Brian Nissen). One thing that Rich aimed for was to be showbiz pals with Brucie and Tarby. That’s what it seems he thought fame consisted of, and he had their pictures on his wall. vlcsnap-01026

Adrian Edmondson played Catflap, a friend of Rich, although he was completely useless, and gave him little encouragement in his fame quest. And Nigel Planer was Filthy, a sleazy agent who tried hard but constantly failed to find Rich any decent work. Throughout the episodes, Rich does finally get some TV work, including appearing on a game show very similar to Blankety Blank, and TV-am. vlcsnap-01011

Rich does spend most of his time though being rather frustrated, and this leads to random bouts of violence against Catflap, and several unfortunate milkmen. Rich also spends a lot of time down the pub causing a scene. By the end, Rich decides to become a journalist and ruin the careers of everyone who is famous with outrageous stories, meaning that he is the only one whose reputation isn’t damaged, and he really does now have all the TV shows to himself. Made it! vlcsnap-01027

Other elements of the show included characters looking into the camera, discussion of how good the jokes were (or weren’t), and saying “oo-er!” at what was mildly rude, which was just about everything. There were also some guest appearances from various comedy names, including Fry and Laurie, Hale and Pace, Chris Barrie, Harry Enfield, and Mel Smith. vlcsnap-01025

There was only one series of Filthy, Rich And Catflap, and it didn’t get that great a response from viewers and critics. Mayall and Edmondson would do much better though with their next sitcom Bottom, which was similarly anarchic. I think there was also a repeat run on Dave a while ago. The show has been released on DVD, and then there was a shinier re-release for the 25th anniversary.

The Comedy Vault – Cradle To Grave.

Cradle To Grave (BBC2, 2015)

I don’t know if I should admit this, but I have enjoyed the work of Danny Baker over the years. Danny started out in the mid-70s as a writer for various music magazines including NME, and by the early-80s he had got into TV presenting, usually on LWT. By the 90s he hosted various game shows, admitting that some of them weren’t so great, along with tapes featuring football gaffs. It’s best not to think about the Daz Doorstep Challenge for now.

He has also worked for various radio stations, and the shows he hosted alongside Danny Kelly are some of the funniest things that I’ve heard (“any more pie?” and all that). Danny was definitely able to spin a good story, and alongside Kelly he wrote a very entertaining book about football, including the time that he and his dad (both lifelong Lions fans) went to the FA Cup Final.

He then went on to release the first part of his autobiography Going To Sea In A Sieve, which was very enjoyable too. It was decided to turn some of the stories in this book into a TV sitcom. Danny was the co-writer and co-executive producer, who would he want on board to play him and his family? Who would play Danny’s old man Fred (or “Spud” as everyone knew him). Well what about Peter Kay? vlcsnap-00991

Now he is a popular comedian, but being from Bolton meant that he wasn’t the first person you’d expect to play someone who lived in Bermondsey in south London. But it seems that Danny is a big fan of Peter’s work and wanted to collaborate with him at any price, so he’d better get practising that accent. His mum Bet was played by Lucy Speed, previously best-known for playing Natalie in EastEnders and marrying some fat bloke. There were also some newcomers to play the three children. vlcsnap-01024

Cradle To Grave was based on Danny’s teenage years and set around 1973 (the year that my brother was born). Alongside Danny was his brother Michael (I remember Danny being frustrated that around the same time the BBC1 sitcom Count Arthur Strong coincidentally also featured a character called Michael Baker), and his sister Sharon. The young Danny narrated the story. The opening theme was provided by Squeeze, and most scenes were soundtracked by the big hits from the era. vlcsnap-01027

Fred was something of a wheeler-dealer in the Del Boy style, and he had a mouth on him like a docker, most probably because, er, he was a docker. There was always a deal in the back of his van, even if it wasn’t always double legal. Danny also goes through some embarrassing moments at school including having a big crush on his teacher, along with playing pranks with his mates, and going through several girlfriends, while Sharon plans to get married. And Michael nearly lost an eye, which meant they would’ve had to call him Mchael. vlcsnap-01026

Danny’s life at home consisted of plenty of boredom whilst Fred was always trying to trick people out of a bob or two, and then he’d go down the pub and get well alight! This really was a poignant look back to those days, and all three of Danny’s children appeared in the final episode. There have been eight episodes of Cradle To Grave so far, and they have all been released on DVD, although they contain no extras. vlcsnap-01025

There were some plans for a second series, but this hasn’t happened yet for various reasons (including Danny having long-since burned his bridges with the BBC). I hope that the story will continue one day though into the 90s where we get to the point that we find out what really happened behind the scenes of Win, Lose Or Draw. Until then, all we’ll get from Danny is his award-winning podcast that he does in his garden shed.

The Comedy Vault – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC1, 1969-1973)/Monty Python (BBC2, 1974)

This is just about the most documented and celebrated comedy show in British TV history, so it’s rather hard to decide what angle to take on it, but I thought that I might as well add my thoughts. The basis for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (or Owl-Stretching Time or whatever you want to call it) was in the mid-60s when the cast appeared in various acclaimed comedy shows including At Last The 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set, and The Frost Report.

As well as the future Pythons, these shows also featured most of the other major players in TV comedy over the next few decades, including Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, David Jason, Bill Oddie, and so on. By 1969 the sextet who would star were established, and they would also write the sketches. Although the show was ground-breaking in its style, there had been some surreal comedy on TV before, usually provided by Spike Milligan, whose Q series had already launched by this point. vlcsnap-00423

The show played around with the idea of comedy on TV like barely any other show has before or since, with the opening sequence and credits being shown at the wrong time and sketches ending randomly being the start of it. There were plenty of original ideas, along with parodies of things including game shows, which will always go down well with me. There were also the famous animated sequences between sketches, along with the classic moments and catchphrases, you’ll know them all. There were 45 episodes of Monty Python that always pushed the boundaries. And this is where the story really starts. vlcsnap-00486

By 1974, the show was starting to be shown on TV channels in America, where it arguably caused even more of a stir with viewers than it did in the UK, seemingly making them ask “is this what passes for comedy in England?” as it was rather different to anything that American comedy was offering at the time. By this point there had been some merchandise including books and albums, and the cast had moved on to other comedy shows that would be a big success, including Fawlty Towers, Ripping Yarns, Rutland Weekend Television, and more. vlcsnap-00504

There were also some hugely successful films, so they decided to tour America, acquired a huge amount of famous fans, and were now comedy superstars around the world. The first time that I remember seeing the show was during a repeat run in the early-90s, I definitely found it all rather entertaining. Also around this time “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” was released as a single and wasn’t too far off being an unexpected chart-topper. vlcsnap-00501

After this, in 1999 BBC2 dedicated a night to celebrating their career for the 30th anniversary. And along with a musical, a few years ago there was a stage show at the O2 Arena where our heroes went through the big sketches one last time which was much celebrated. Knighthoods is the very least that we can offer them. The show and films have also been released on DVD, and they seem to be constantly repackaged, so look out soon for the Limited Edition Blu-Ray Remastered 3D Glow-In-The-Dark Special, priced at a very reasonable £495.

More TV Memories – Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-2003)

I have never been that interested in the drama genre, but having enjoyed the likes of Alias and Dark Angel, I thought that I should give this one a go too. This is a show that is well documented online, but as I became a fan I thought I might as well add my piece. Buffy The Vampire Slayer started out as a film in 1992 that starred Kristy Swanson and had more of a comedic style. Then in 1997 it was decided to return to the idea, but this time as a fantasy TV drama series, and with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role.

Buffy Summers attends a school at Sunnydale, but there is no getting away from her destiny. If there are ever any vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any of those kind of things around, and there are a rather surprising amount of them it seems, Buffy has to come to the rescue. Can Buffy save the world and still get her project in on time? Well hopefully. vlcsnap-00420

There were plenty of other characters that we meet in the show of course, including Angel, Cordelia, Spike, and Buffy’s shock secret younger sister Dawn who turned up in the later episodes. So those zombies better watch out. Also playing a major part was the school librarian Rupert Giles, who was played by the English-born Anthony Head. vlcsnap-00297

Now to some he will always be best-known as Giles, and to some he will always be best-known as that bloke in the Gold Blend advert. But my parents were once in the studio audience for the BBC Radio 4 sitcom Bleak Expectations that Head starred in, so to them he will always be best-known as Mr Gently-Benevolent (and we mustn’t forget his role as terrifically-voiced Captain Hercules Shipwright in Cabin Pressure either). But either way, he always put in a great performance. vlcsnap-00298

The show was also full of pop-culture references, and Buffy soon became a reference in itself after gaining a decent-sized fanbase, and was referenced in Spaced among other shows. A few creative ideas were tried out too, including a musical special. There were 144 episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in seven series, they have all been released on DVD uncut, and extras include outtakes and scripts. vlcsnap-00299

The show has been on several channels in the UK, including BBC2 and Sky One, but they were usually shown in an evening slot, meaning that most of the slaying was edited out. Other merchandise included computer games and a monthly magazine that contained a comic strip and posters, I did have a few of these, but I do wish that I managed to have more. vlcsnap-00300

There have also been three books released called The Watcher’s Guide, that contain everything that you could ever want to know about the show, including episode guides, a look behind the scenes, and interviews with the cast and crew. Along with the main show, the Angel character went on to have a long-running spin-off series that was well-received too.

The Comedy Vault – Colin’s Sandwich.

Colin’s Sandwich (BBC2, 1988-1990)

This is another sitcom that I don’t remember from the time, but here’s why I was interested in finding out more about this one. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones appeared in a lot of comedy shows together over the years, but like most double acts, they also worked on a few shows separately, and this is a thoughtful and downbeat sitcom that was designed to for Smith to star in on his own. The first series even received a Radio Times cover.

Smith was Colin, who has possibly the most humdrum existence of any sitcom character in this era. Colin works in the complaints department of British Rail, and often has to deal with endless complaints on the phone. It’s consistent work but it’s the same routine day in day out, he couldn’t be more bored if he tried, and his colleagues are hugely unsympathetic. Needless to say, he doesn’t look forward to Monday mornings. vlcsnap-01025

The only way that Colin can get through this is because he is always aiming for something a little more. He would like to become a successful writer, especially in the horror genre. He often spends his time at home at the typewriter with huge amounts of paper everywhere trying to think of ideas. If only he had a stroke of luck he could soon be outselling Stephen King. vlcsnap-01026

We also hear his inner thoughts as he tries to deal with various people, and the other main characters are Colin’s girlfriend Jenny and friend Des, who do their best to encourage Colin to keep trying, and he constantly hopes that the telephone will ring with some good news. But he seems to be one of those people who constantly ends up making things more difficult for himself, leading to some bizarre mishaps and endless bad luck. vlcsnap-01028

And yet, despite the overall fairly glum tone of the show, Colin does actually take the first steps into success and being a published writer, and he really tries to grab the opportunity. They won’t laugh at him in the office now! Colin finally begins to cheer up, realising that his aim maybe isn’t such a daft idea, and he’ll soon be hobnobbing with all the big cheeses or something. I’m not sure where the sandwich comes into it though. vlcsnap-01027

There were 12 episodes of Colin’s Sandwich in two series, and they were definitely enhanced by Smith’s performance, as he was someone who was often praised for his naturalistic style of acting. There was also a repeat run of the second series on BBC2 in 1992. The show has been released on DVD, but it’s rather hard to track down, it does seem to be worth it though.

The Comedy Vault – House Of Fools.

House Of Fools (BBC2, 2014-2015)

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are a double-act who have used their rather bizarre comedy style in various formats over the years. These have included sketch shows (Vic Reeves Big Night Out), drama series (the revival of Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)), and even panel games (Shooting Stars). This was an attempt to put their style into a sitcom format (although this one was different to the earlier Catterick as they were essentially playing themselves).

House Of Fools starred and was also written by Vic and Bob, and unsurprisingly it was something a little different. Bob tries to have a quiet time at home, but he is often distracted by various unwelcome relatives and visitors. These include housemate Vic, Bob’s rather odd Norwegian son Erik, his brother Bosh, his next-door neighbour Julie, and also Beef. vlcsnap-01012

One thing that Bob likes to do is wear a wig, and he has even won awards for doing so, something that he is rather proud of. Most of the cast were played by the next generation of rather surreal comic actors who had been nurtured by Vic and Bob, including Matt Berry, who has appeared in many comedy shows including The Mighty Boosh, and he has also had some hit albums in his career as a musician. vlcsnap-00994

Every episode usually ended descended into some rather weird areas, accompanied by some animated sequences and special effects. Well Bob couldn’t believe it, as you can imagine. And episodes would end with the cast performing a song looking into the camera, and then taking a bow while we got a wide shot of the rather enthusiastic studio audience offering their applause. What is this, Mrs Brown’s Boys?! vlcsnap-01024

The second series featured a slight change as it introduced Erik’s girlfriend Rachel, Julie opened a restaurant, and there were various guest appearances from famous comedy names including Johnny Vegas. This was rather good fun, and although it seemed to do well with critics (“had me screaming with laughter” apparently), it didn’t really do the business in the ratings, and not too many people noticed when it came to an end. vlcsnap-00992

There were 13 episodes of House Of Fools in two series (including a Christmas special). They have all been released on DVD, and extras include some outtakes and a look behind the scenes. There has also been a repeat run on Gold. After this, Vic and Bob reunited again to revive their Big Night Out format, and Bob has had further success in his well-received Gone Fishing series alongside Paul Whitehouse.

CBBC Memories – Fast Forward.

Fast Forward (BBC2, 1984-1986, CBBC, 1987)

This is yet another rather fast-moving comedy sketch show for children from the 80s, there really were a lot of them, weren’t there. The show’s title Fast Forward was rather fancy for the time, as it was when video recorders were starting to become commonplace. The animated opening sequence also featured a robot voice that actually wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on Transformers (that I reviewed recently).

Various comic talents took part in the sketches, after running on stage at the start of the show to much cheering of course. The cast changed a little over the years, and among them were Floella Benjamin, Nick Wilton, and Andrew Secombe, who’d already worked in children’s TV for a while and would go on to further success. One highlight was a parody of Blue Peter, featuring an unseen pet dog called Tiny, who had an enormous bowl, meaning that he probably wasn’t very tiny at all. vlcsnap-00848

There were also a few regular characters, including the silly spaceman Milton Keenze from the planet Zymatron who would often interrupt sketches whilst trying to find out more about Earth, and there was also the explorer India Rubber Jones. Also featuring was Late Late Laser Link-Up with the window on the world, clips of animals being played backwards for comic effect, The Jokers, where various children were encouraged to tell some of their favourite jokes and stories, and there was even a guest appearance from Phillip Schofield, how nice. vlcsnap-00707

All of this was rather corny, but it was usually accompanied by a lot of giggling from the studio audience, which is just as well, because there was a very long list of writers who probably stayed up all night to write these sketches. There were three series of Fast Forward, the first two were shown on BBC2 after CBBC had ended over on BBC1, the third was shown as part of the main CBBC afternoon strand, and it was repeated until 1988. I don’t think that there were ever any episodes released on VHS though. vlcsnap-00715

The show isn’t connected to the magazine Fast Forward which launched in the late-80s after this one had ended, and was the BBC’s second attempt to make an equivalent of Lookin. Before then, the best magazine coverage a CBBC show could hope for was a feature in John Craven’s Back Pages in Radio Times, which I’m sure was an honour.

The Comedy Vault – Upstart Crow.

Upstart Crow (BBC2, 2016-present)

I am not usually that interested in shows that have an historical setting, but this one attracted me because it was a sitcom that had a good cast. The launch of Upstart Crow coincided with the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the Great Bard no less, who knew a thing or two about writing a great story that would be read by people for centuries to come.

The show was written by Ben Elton, who has worked on several comedy shows throughout the years as a performer and writer, and it was rather brave of him to attempt another sitcom following the hugely-criticised The Wright Way which lasted for only one series (“don’t get me started!”), but thankfully this one was much better received by viewers and critics. vlcsnap-00297

One thing that helped was that the cast was rather impressive, with Shakespeare being played by David Mitchell (in his first sitcom since the long-running Peep Show ended), and he was well cast because he really, really, really, looked like Shakespeare. Also among the cast were Liza Tarbuck as his wife Anne, Paula Wilcox as his mother Mary, and Harry Enfield as his father John. vlcsnap-00298

And also featuring was none other than Mark Heap as Shakespeare’s nemesis Robert Greene. The amount of comedy shows that have been enhanced by Heap’s performances really is remarkable, and he delivered again here. There have also been a huge amount of guest stars playing various historical figures, including Adrian Edmondson, Noel Fielding, Ben Miller, and Nigel Planer. vlcsnap-00296

The show begins in the late-16th century in Stratford-Upon-Avon, when Shakespeare is planning a stage version of Romeo And Juliet, and is also trying hard to come up with some more ideas for his plays, if only he could remember where he left his quill. Some have said that the situations and dialogue can be compared to Blackadder, which is no coincidence as Elton was one of the writers of that sitcom too. vlcsnap-00299

There have been three series of Upstart Crow so far, including a couple of Christmas specials, and about a year ago there was a stage version of the show that also starred Mitchell, and that seemed to go down rather well too. All of the series have also been released on DVD, but they contain no extras. Hopefully there is a chance that there will be another series coming soon.

The Comedy Vault – Fawlty Towers.

Fawlty Towers (BBC2, 1975-1979)

This is arguably the most popular and successful British sitcom of its era, and all these years on it is still considered to be one of the best that this country has produced. So once again, just like with Only Fools And Horses, this is one of those sitcoms where it’s rather hard to know what to say about it, because everyone will already be familiar with what it’s about, and people will start to say “get on with it, I already knew that!”.

But I thought that I would like to go on record with the not that too much of a shock revelation that I am a fan of the show too, and this month is also the 45th anniversary of the launch, so that’s as good an excuse as any to get this one over with. After Monty Python’s Flying Circus came to an end (and I’ll review that one soon too), some of the cast went on to individually feature in some excellent comedy shows, and this was John Cleese’s one. vlcsnap-00875

What do I say about Fawlty Towers then? Why does Basil run the hotel in Torquay if he is so ill-equipped to do so? Maybe it’s just the frustration of his surname sounding like “faulty” that has really got to him. The rest of the staff aren’t much use either, including Basil’s wife Sybil, and Manuel, who was often whacked on the head with a spoon, what terrific characters. There were a huge amount of misunderstandings, and Basil also has a lot of contempt for his guests. vlcsnap-00871

Basil often gets very frustrated, and this gives Cleese plenty of opportunity to show off his ability for silly walks! There were only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers in two series, and I don’t know if the second was smugly promoted as “the final series” as most sitcoms seem to be now, but I suppose we were lucky to get that many really, and they were all of a fabulously high standard. vlcsnap-00885

There have also been a huge amount of repeats, probably not too surprisingly. And yet, even by the fifth time it was shown on BBC2, it was still considered by many to be an event. Everyone has their own favourite moment, as things once again descend into chaos, I remember watching some episodes and laughing like I have at few other sitcoms, that’s the moment I realised that this really was something special. vlcsnap-00892

Fawlty Towers has also been repeated on Gold about a thousand times (and that’s probably not too much of an exaggeration). The show also featured on Christmas tapes, proving that the outtakes were more amusing than the entirety of most sitcoms. There have also been three American adaptations, but they captured little of the original’s energy. The DVD is good value too, featuring lots of extras that offer a fresh take on the very interesting history of the show.

The Comedy Vault – French And Saunders.

French And Saunders (BBC2, 1987-1993, BBC1, 1994-2005)

This is a look back at another comedy show that went on to be rather successful. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are a comedy double-act who first appeared on TV in the early-80s, and among other shows it was their ITV sitcom Girls On Top that really raised their profile, and this proved that they had what it takes to star in a comedy show of their own.

In 1987, French And Saunders launched on BBC2. As well as starring in the show, they also wrote all of the sketches, and played a wide variety of unusual characters. Also appearing in the first four series were the male double-act Raw Sex who provided the music and helped out in some of the sketches. There were also some musical interludes including performances from Alison Moyet and Squeeze. vlcsnap-00766

Soon their reputation grew, and they revived lots of acclaim, including the second series being promoted with a Radio Times cover, and celebrities from various areas of entertainment were very eager to take part in sketches. As the series progressed, there were an increasing amount of parodies, of films, TV shows (including Star Test), and pop stars. These took up more and more time in the episodes, and were clearly rather expensive to make. And they wouldn’t think anything of doing an impression of Madonna on a whim. vlcsnap-00819

They have also regularly contributed to Comic Relief, including having a Top Ten hit single in 1989 as members of Lananeeneenoonoo, a memorable parody of Bananarama. In 1994 the show moved to BBC1 and had further success, and the fifth series gave some early exposure to Mel and Sue, another pioneering female comedy double-act. vlcsnap-00820

By the sixth and final series, the format had changed a little so that most of the episodes seemed to consist of Dawn and Jennifer in meetings at the BBC being unable to come up with any ideas, much to the frustration of their producer (Liza Tarbuck). Well it’s a novel way of only having to make about ten minutes worth of sketches an episode. vlcsnap-00782

There have also been plenty of Christmas specials, along with stage tours, adverts, appearances in music videos, and course individual successes in sitcoms including Absolutely Fabulous. There have also been several compilations recycling their highlights, including French And Saunders Go To The Movies, A Bucket O’ French And Saunders, and 300 Years Of French And Saunders. The six series have been released on DVD, but the Christmas specials aren’t included, and there are no extras either.