The YouTube Files – The Elvira Show.

The Elvira Show (CBS, 1993)

I wanted to do something a little different for a piece on Halloween, and I discovered something on YouTube that definitely fits the bill. In America in 1981, Movie Macabre launched. This was a show that was hosted by Elvira, the self-styled “Mistress Of The Dark”, a spooky alter-ego who was created and played by actress Cassandra Peterson.

Now Elvira had a rather striking look, with big black hair, and a dress that didn’t leave much to the imagination. In Movie Macabre, Elvira introduced and commented on rather bad horror and science-fiction B-movies, some of them having since become unintentionally amusing. The show originally ran for five years and gained a cult following despite being shown rather late at night, as proven by the smudgy clips taken from now rather mouldy VHS tapes that are available online. vlcsnap-00516

By the mid-80s, Elvira had become a famous character, and was appearing on various TV shows, along with adverts and music videos, and in 1988 there was a successful comedy film. Elvira also became known in the UK, hosting the 1989 BBC2 series Heavy Metal Heaven. There was also a huge amount of merchandise, including comics, computer games, and even pinball machines. vlcsnap-00527

By the 90s, someone thought that it would be a good idea to put the Elvira character into a sitcom, so in 1993 a pilot episode was made for CBS, which is on YouTube. Elvira couldn’t do it all on her own though, so the idea was expanded, with additional characters added, including some shock long-lost relatives. Would this character work in this different format? vlcsnap-00523

The Elvira Show was set in Kansas, and along with Elvira, who works as a fortune teller doing psychic readings, the other main cast members are her long-lost aunt Minerva who is a witch, her long-lost niece Paige who is a girl scout, and Renfield the talking cat, who made “catty” remarks, ha-ha. The guest cast included Chip, who Elvira is very pleased to make the acquaintance of. He could fall under her spell, but does he have a secret? The squealing studio audience couldn’t wait to find out. vlcsnap-00525

Although this was enjoyable, there clearly weren’t 200 episodes in the idea as the show didn’t go any further than an unaired pilot. Looking back, many people think that the show was a cross between Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Married… With Children, with an unusual mix of witchcraft and boobie jokes. Maybe the idea was too spooky for a cheesy domestic sitcom with too much hugging. After this, Elvira made many more guest appearances in TV shows, along with more series of Movie Macabre.

The Comedy Vault – Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (E4, 2012)/Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2: Tales From Painted Hawaii (E4, 2014)

The Mighty Boosh was a sitcom that I was a big fan of, and when that ended in 2007, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt didn’t go their separate ways as such, but they haven’t done a huge amount of mucking around together since. Noel clearly still had a feeling for doing some rather bizarre comedy though, so about five years on he launched a show of his own.

The first series of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy had a sketch format, which was hosted from a treehouse. And there were a few other regular cast members, including half-anteater Smooth (played by Noel’s brother Michael), the deceased American artist and Curiosity Killed The Cat fan Andy Warhol, and German woman Dolly. vlcsnap-01045

There would also be a rather odd range of characters, and most of them were played by Noel, including Sergeant Raymond Boombox, Wonky Steve, The Singing Fish Finger, and Secret Peter. There were also plenty of songs and animated sequences, and among the guest appearances was Richard Ayoade. I must admit that I was disappointed by the lack of a talking cushion though. vlcsnap-01048

And well, this really was some weird stuff, even Noel’s fans might have been a little surprised by how far-out it was, it was even weirder than garlic and bananas. Needless to say the critics were totally split on the show’s merits, Noel’s style could be the ultimate in the “you either get it or you don’t”-type of comedy. Some thought that his style could compare favourably to Spike Milligan and Kenny Everett, while others were just horrified. vlcsnap-01042

Noel did return for a second series though, although this had a change of format, and was more of a sitcom. All of the regulars were back, but Noel now worked in a coffee shop on the edge of a volcano in Hawaii. It was surprising that they got so many customers, and Noel had to deal with things including being unable to think of an ending to the show, and meeting his biggest fan. vlcsnap-01063

There were 12 episodes of Noel’s Fielding’s Luxury Comedy in two series. They were originally shown on E4, but I can’t recall there being a repeat run on Channel 4 though. They were also shown rather late at night on TV in Australia. All of the episodes have been released on DVD, and extras include plenty of deleted scenes, along with a look behind the scenes, and also a big poster too. vlcsnap-01062

But then, a few years ago, Noel returned with his most outrageous show yet in another different format that once again surprised fans. In this new series, Noel was locked in a tent in a field somewhere that was full of ovens, and all those people came along and had to bake some cakes while he watched on, it was seriously trippy, dude.

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 – The Inbetweeners.

The Inbetweeners (E4, 2008-2010)

This is another sitcom from Channel 4 that is considered to be among the best of their home-made comedy shows. This one centres around the lives of four teenage boys (ignoring the fact that the actors who played them were actually all about 25 at the time) who attend the sixth form at Rudge Park Comprehensive, who can contest that these are the best years of your life.

The Inbetweeners begins when Will’s parents go through a divorce and he has to move schools. At first he finds it all rather difficult, but then he befriends a group of boys, Simon (bid again etc), Neil, and Jay. They aren’t exactly unpopular, but they’re far from the trendiest people at the school too. Their teacher is Mr Gilbert who really doesn’t know how to deal with them. vlcsnap-00719

Will also narrates the episodes to set the story, and also reflect on what he has learnt (which isn’t much). The show could be seen to be one of the more extreme examples of shows that feature boys who have reached that age where everything can be rather awkward. They are confused, and then some. How can you do your exams when you feel like this. Will even made Adrian Mole (whose sitcom I reviewed recently) seem to be sensible and untroubled by comparison. vlcsnap-00720

Beyond school, we also see the boys doing things like attending birthday parties, visiting theme parks, trying to have a drink, and going camping, of course the embarrassment factor is high. Most of the other cast members are fellow pupils, along with some of the boys’ parents. It’s fair to say that the girls at school aren’t exactly falling for them, even though they think they are irresistibly the knees of the bees. Are the adolescence years really like this? Mine are so long ago now I can barely remember. vlcsnap-00715

The Inbetweeners received better reviews than most sitcoms from around this time. I didn’t see much of the show first time round, but after critics began falling over themselves to praise the show and were saying things like it was so funny you’ll snort like a pig, I thought that I might as well give it a go. It was definitely rather good, although I don’t recall making many pig-like noises.vlcsnap-00717

First shown on E4, the show did well enough for a quick repeat on Channel 4. The show had a rather trendy soundtrack which was released on CD, and the cast even appeared on the cover of NME, proof that their fanbase included all the trendy dudes who get on down. The Inbetweeners won a British Comedy Award, and there was also a Comic Relief special, an American version, two books, and not one but two successful films. vlcsnap-00738

The cast went on to further success, starring in more sitcoms including Rock And Chips and Friday Night Dinner. There were 18 episodes of The Inbetweeners in three series. All of them have been released on DVD (and are rated 18 because my goodness it’s rather saucy), and there are also plenty of enjoyable extras, including a look behind the scenes and outtakes.

The Comedy Vault – Black Books.

Black Books (Channel 4, 2000-2004)

This is another Channel 4 sitcom that was definitely one of their better offerings. This one was co-written by and starred Irish comedian Dylan Moran, and it was another variation of the “wrong person, wrong job” idea that serves comedy shows well, and this one had a surreal edge. The show started out as an unaired pilot in 1998, and it had enough potential to be fully developed into a series that launched in 2000 and livened up Friday nights.

Black Books centred around Bernard Black, who ran a small and rather dirty second-hand bookshop in London, where some rather strange things would happen. Bernard is assisted by Manny (Bill Bailey), who somehow puts up with all of this, and also featuring is Fran (Tamsin Grieg) who in the first series runs a trendy bric-a-bric shop next door. vlcsnap-00707

Bernard had the problem of enjoying books but not much else, and he definitely didn’t like having to interact with customers who wanted to buy any, he can just about put up with Manny and Fran. The only other thing Bernard enjoyed was wine, but he was often left in such a dazed state after having so much that it gave him a rather skewed view on life. vlcsnap-00440

As the episodes progressed, things seemed to get increasingly bizarre, as the idea was ever more stretched to the point that things only coincidentally happened in a bookshop. But despite everything, Bernard became a popular character with viewers. I suppose the show could best be described as a cross between Spaced and Father Ted (this probably isn’t a coincidence as the writers of Father Ted also contributed to some episodes). vlcsnap-00712

There was also an impressive list of guest stars, and just about all of them have gone on to have further success in comedy shows over the past two decades, including Simon (“bid again, Simon!“) Pegg, Olivia Colman, Peter Serafinowicz, and Johnny Vegas. The show ended up doing well enough to win the Best Comedy Bafta award twice, and there have been repeat runs on channels including Dave. vlcsnap-00711

Critics also enjoyed what was on offer, with one saying the show was “a sitcom that actually makes you laugh”. Well, that is the basic idea of them. They’ve clearly thought of everything. There were 18 episodes of Black Books in three series, and they have all been released on DVD (excluding the pilot). Extras include deleted scenes and outtakes, and if you’re lucky you might find an Easter egg too!

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 – Toast Of London.

Toast Of London (Channel 4, 2012-2015)

This is a sitcom that I didn’t see that much of at the time, which is a surprise as I realised that it is the kind of show that I usually enjoy, so I soon caught up and discovered that it was one of the better comedy efforts from Channel 4 around this time. Toast Of London was co-written by Arthur Mathews who was also behind other memorable comedy shows including Father Ted and Big Train, so it was clear that this was going to be something a little different.

The show starred Matt Berry, someone who has appeared in various comedy shows including Garth Margenhi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh, and not too surprisingly he has done a lot of voiceover work. He has also had success as a musician and released some albums, and anybody who wants to make an album consisting of reworkings of famous TV themes that includes the LWT and Thames ident music is fine by me. vlcsnap-00821

Steven Toast is an actor, he has been in the business for a long time, but he really isn’t that great at it, and he has become frustrated with his agent Jane who can only seem to offer terrible plays that get him booed off stage. He also fills the time by doing some voiceover work, but he can’t stand working with the young team, and constantly says to them “yes, I can hear you” (is that a catchphrase we see before us?!). vlcsnap-00813

Also featuring are Steven’s actor landlord Ed, and his main rival Ray. Steven is also going through a divorce and is having some trouble meeting a new woman at the local club he attends. He has to shamble from one mishap to the next, but he didn’t spend 28 years at RADA for nothing, and he is determined that he’ll soon get his dream job and become the superstar that he has always thought he was. vlcsnap-00828

Every episode featured a creative musical interlude performed by Toast. The show also attracted some special celebrity guests, including the chart-topping singer Michael Ball, Peter Davison, and Lorraine Kelly, and by the third series they had won plenty of awards and done well enough for Bob Monkhouse to come back to life and make a special appearance. vlcsnap-00815

There were 19 episodes of Toast Of London in three series. They were very well-received, and they have all been released on DVD. There are also a generous amount of extras that go beyond the usual deleted scenes and the like. And there has also been a book called Toast On Toast, where Steven shares some terrific anecdotes about some of the famous people that he has known in the business, along with plenty of advice on acting that is worth following I’m sure.

CITV Memories – Supergran.

Supergran (ITV, 1985-1987)

This is another show that was popular in the 80s. Who would’ve thought that some old woman could turn into someone so powerful that they could rival Superman? Well that’s what happened in this one. Supergran was based on a series of books, the first one was published in 1978, and the TV version launched in 1985. The show also had a memorable opening animated sequence, and the theme music became a hit single.

One day, a granny is walking along in the quiet town of Chisleton, and is accidentally hit by a magic ray from a machine being used by Inventor Black. And now, despite being about 107 years old, Supergran can jump high and run quickly, and becomes an unlikely hero! Now that’s impressive. The main villain in the show is The Scunner Campbell along with his useless team, whose plans never succeed. vlcsnap-00547

Every episode also featured a rather deep voice that introduced the story, the kind that you’re more likely to hear on those “critics are saying that if you don’t think that this is the greatest film ever made then you’re a total moron”-style trailers. Also featuring were a few children, including Supergran’s grandson, and there were some vehicles too that could fly, accompanied by some fancy special effects. vlcsnap-00589

These heroics definitely caused a big stir, leading to lots of fame for our tartan-wearing star, including appearances on the covers of Lookin, and more impressively, the Chisleton Bugle. The show was also enhanced by a huge amount of guest appearances from famous faces, including comedians such as Spike Milligan, along with many pop stars and sportspeople joining in. vlcsnap-00590

There were 27 episodes of Supergran in two series, including an hour-long Christmas special in 1986. The show was originally in a Sunday afternoon slot, although it seems that there were some episodes later repeated on CITV. There was also an episode shown as part of the Old Skool Weekend, and Supergran took control of the CITV spaceship in May 1985. vlcsnap-00657

There were some plans for a third series, but Tyne Tees only had enough money to make this or some more editions of Chain Letters, and well, people just can’t get enough of their daytime word games, so it was bad luck. There was also an annual featuring Supergran released, along with more books, and some computer games that weren’t very well received. All of the episodes have been released on DVD by Network.

The Comedy Vault – Adrian Mole.

The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Age 13¾ (ITV, 1985)/The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole (ITV, 1987)

This is another show that I don’t remember much of from the time, but because I am always interested in discovering quirky shows, especially from the 80s, this seemed to be another one that was worth a go. The character of Adrian Mole was created by Sue Townsend, and he first appeared in the early-80s, and which point he was called Nigel Mole, although this was soon changed because there was a similar character around at the time called Nigel Molesworth.

I must admit that I haven’t read too much of the books, but I know that they have been consistently popular, and he came to TV in 1985. Adrian is at the age, where, to use a euphemism, he is beginning to discover the world around him. To put it a little more bluntly, he is starting to think about girls, and is wondering why they are now making him go all tingly down there. Whatever could it all mean? vlcsnap-00501

Adrian realises that one girl inparticular is doing this to him, his classmate Pandora. Indeed, the theme music was “Profoundly In Love With Pandora”, which was a hit single for Ian Dury in October 1985. He decides to keep track of all this in a diary, which has as much doodling on the pages as it does writing, where he tries to make sense of late-20th century Britain. Being able to write things down gives him an opportunity to help him through all this, and he is fond of writing poetry too. We are also able to hear his inner thoughts. vlcsnap-00491

Adrian lives in Leicester and we meet a few other characters, including his parents whose marriage is in trouble, the elderly Bert who he befriends, and his school friend Nigel. Adrian doesn’t really like going to school, he’s not that popular, all he wants to do is try his best to be an adequate pupil. You could say that the awkward time in life of becoming a teenager hit him harder than most. Pandora has a pony, and all he’s got is spots and a hole in his sock. It’s just his luck. vlcsnap-00486

Adrian was played by Gian Sammarco, who after this did a little more acting along with some TV presenting, but he had left the screen by the early-90s. The first series was much acclaimed, opening with an hour-long episode, and also around this time there was a stage show, a computer game, and plenty of parodies, which all helped to keep the sales of the books healthy, and proof of the success was that suddenly people were trying to work out their age in quarters. vlcsnap-00442

There were some changes for the second series. Now approaching 15, Adrian has begun to take an interest in politics, Pandora is still giving him those feelings, and by this point he is so angst-riddled he hasn’t realised that his mum has turned into someone else. Now that really is awkward. There were two series of Adrian Mole, they were made on location with no laughter track, and they have been released on DVD by Network, although they contain no extras. vlcsnap-00504

Almost 15 years on in 2001, Adrian returned to the screen in The Cappuccino Years, this time on BBC1. Adrian was now played by Stephen Mangan, who has gone on to have lots more success in various comedy shows over the past two decades. Adrian is now approaching 30, although he is a little wiser he is still rather curious about life, and ultimately he is still rather fond of Pandora.

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.