The Comedy Vault – Monty Python Live.

Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down Five To Go (2014)

When the much acclaimed Monty Python TV series came to an end in 1974, it turned out that this was far from the end of the story. They then had their breakthrough in America, along with some films. Then it all went quiet for a while as they went on to work on separate projects, although there were always plenty of rumours that one day there would be a reunion of some kind.

Because they hadn’t been doing it for years on end, maybe there a chance that there was still some life left in the idea, and they could go through the hits one final time for a big old fancy stage show. So there was a mixture of delight along with some surprise when it was finally announced that the five remaining Pythons would get together again.

This would be a special show that would be staged for ten dates at the O2 Arena in London. Rather unsurprisingly these tickets sold out quickly, thanks to the promise of seeing some extra cheesy parrots. Some people felt that this had been inevitable, but could’ve happened a long time ago (I remember someone describing this as “At Last The 1998 Show”).

It’s fair to say that this was a success overall though. Now of course the idea was that they were going to perform some of their most popular sketches, which went down with the rather pleased crowd who were familiar with the dialogue, meaning that coming on stage and saying “is your wife a bit of a goer?” practically received a standing ovation in itself.

I also remember seeing a lot of comedians of various generations saying that they wanted to attend so they could see their idols doing their thing, which definitely gives the indication that they have been much imitated but never bettered. There were also some guest appearances from famous faces in some sketches including Professor Stephen Thingy and Mike Myers.

For two hours they were at it! And with the reminder that everyone should always look on the bright side of life, leaving people rather satisfied, the curtain finally came down on Monty after all these years, which must’ve hurt. The final show has been released on DVD, and extras include a sneaky look behind the scenes as they meet up again and have to decide what sketches to perform.

CITV Memories – Spin-Off.

Spin-Off (CITV, 1988-1989)

When Motormouth launched as the new CITV Saturday Morning show in 1988, there were going to be some changes from the shows that had previously been in this slot. Well in a way there wasn’t, as to some extent this was going to be the usual mix of cartoons, music videos, and general silliness. But one of the features was an attempt at a sitcom, that would appear in every edition of the first series.

Spin-Off was supposedly set in a motel that was near the main TV studio. And of course it was chaos there. The general manager was Hilary Rolls (or “Bog” as he was known in the dressing room rather unsurprisingly), who obviously wore a syrup. And there was also his assistant Francesco who was rather useless. The rest of the team weren’t much better.

Also featuring was Lucinda the manageress, and Jimmy the rather young and enthusiastic bellhop. There were all kinds of bizarre moments, including what seemed to be the same people walking around in the background. I don’t know if this was a joke or not, or if they really couldn’t afford that many extras. There were a few familiar names among the cast though.

These included Roger Sloman, Richard “he’s dead silly” Waites, Joe “Spatz” Greco, and even Wendy “Wizadora II” van der Plank made some appearances. Spin-Off eventually ran for 28 episodes that were all about ten minutes long, but viewers seemed to be fed up with all of this by the end, and the mix of silly comedy and soap, and this didn’t return for the second series.

There was a similar idea that was tried out in the fourth and final series of Motormouth though. This wasn’t really a sitcom, but what seemed like half of every edition featured a look at what was going on behind the scenes with a regular cast playing the staff, and we saw them interact with the various guests for that week’s edition as they entered and left the studio.

More TV Memories – Baddiel’s Syndrome.

Baddiel’s Syndrome (Sky One, 2001)

David Baddiel is a comedian who has been popular over the years, but his career had reached a difficult point. He had previously had success in a double-act with Rob Newman, and they were at the forefront of the “comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll” movement, even appearing on the cover of music magazines, where the rock stars once used to be. He then went into a double-act with Frank Skinner that also did well.

But those days are now behind him. One day when he is at home, he walks into his front room, and there are some people sat on his sofa who he doesn’t recognise. There is a posh Englishman called Peter, along with the American Ethan. There is also Eva, who is from Slovenia or Latvia or some such country, who knows. He is just trying to live an ordinary life, including spending a lot of time in his local pub, but he has become trapped in a world full of zany comic actors.

They talk in unnatural ways and do rather bizarre things, only taking a break for a brief musical sting accompanied by a shot of a staircase between scenes. He begins to feel rather uncomfortable about all of this, so he decides to do the decent thing, and go and talk to someone about it. #britaingettalking His therapist is unseen, but is voiced by Stephen Fry (not that I am suggesting that he was probably too in-demand to appear in person, so he probably dashed off all of his dialogue in one session, even though I am).

What eventually becomes clear in these conversations is that David had a nice person from Sky One go up to him and wave a cheque with a rather big number on it, in the hope that he would write and appear in a sitcom for that satellite channel, following on from their other home-made comedy shows, including The Strangerers, Time Gentlemen Please, and Harry Enfield’s Big Load Of Nonsense (I think that’s what it was called).

Well he is very happy to oblige, and comes up with this 13 episode sitcom, which really does come across as an uncomfortable mix of Baddiel’s deadpan style and everyone else carrying on like a fifth-rate George Costanza. Oh, and Dave Lee Travis made a guest appearance in the first episode, and everything went downhill from there really.

He didn’t do it all by himself though, other writers included his brother Ivor and Jonathan Ross. Despite all of this, it’s fair to say that the response to Baddiel’s Syndrome was mixed. One critic whined “I’m truly angered by the effrontery of it all”. After this effort, Sky One practically gave up on making comedy, and went back to the tried and trusted imports in the schedule.

CITV Memories – Adam’s Family Tree.

Adam’s Family Tree (CITV, 1997-1999)

This is a sitcom with a fantasy twist that was often on CITV in the late-90s and was rather enjoyable. Adam’s Family Tree was once introduced by CITV announcer Steve Ryde as about a boy who dabbles in unnatural forces, which might be a slight exaggeration, but isn’t too far off really. Adam (Anthony Lewis) is a 12-year-old schoolboy with a great name I must say.

At home he has a magic CD-Rom containing information on his family, going back generations, and indeed centuries (I’m not sure if the title is a play on people who insist that they really can trace their ancestors all the way back to Adam). He puts this into his computer, and once he finds who he wants, he presses the relevant button, and they suddenly appear in the present day to help him out.

So for example, if a magician was planned to appear at his school and perform, but is then unable to make it, he can get hold of an ancient sorcerer from his family to come in and save the day. His friend Jane (a pre-Coronation Street Samia Longchambon) is the only other one who knows that he can do this. Even his parents aren’t aware, although they quickly realise that something rather odd is happening.

And his other schoolmates and teachers including Mrs Copstick, Mrs Rocket, and Mr Blah have no idea either. Curiously, for the third and final series, the actors who played Adam and Jane changed, but his parents didn’t, and they didn’t seem to notice that either. And there were also a large amount of rather well-known faces who guest starred as an ancestor of Adam in one episode each.

These included Bill Oddie, Toyah Willcox, Brenda Gilhooly, Christopher Biggins, and oh yes, Brian Blessed. This shouldn’t be confused with Bernard’s Watch, a CITV series around the same time with a similar idea of a boy who can do something rather unusual. There were 20 episodes of Adam’s Family Tree in three series, and they were all written by Brian Walsh and Neil Armstrong (not that one).

More TV Memories – Zoe, Duncan, Jack And Jane/Zoe…

Zoe, Duncan, Jack And Jane (WB, 1999)/Zoe… (WB, 2000)

This is an American sitcom that I only really remember vaguely from the time, but a while ago somebody requested that I review this. I don’t usually ask for requests, but luckily, despite this not being that much of a success with viewers, I do have some affection. Firstly, this was a sitcom that was aimed at teenagers, when I was in my teens myself (it turns out that most of the cast were beyond their teens though).

Zoe, Duncan, Jack And Jane was originally about four friends who all attend a high school in Manhattan. The main character was Zoe (Selma Blair, who was actually about 26 years old at the time of the launch), along with Duncan (David Moscow), Jack (Michael Rosenbaum, not to be confused with Michael Rosen, no), and his twin sister Jane (Azura Skye, nice hair).

We follow Zoe’s life at school and at home. They all spent rather a lot of their time in the café, discussing their lives. The other main characters are her single mum Iris, and her rival at school Breeny (Sara Rue, who later appeared in teen drama Popular). A quartet of fast-talking attractive people living in New York who get into lots of bizarre situations? It’s been done before.

Many felt that this was simply an attempt at making Seinfeld for younger viewers, although there was never a chance of this one comparing with that classic. Maybe a better comparison would be with Friends, although once again many would that feel this comes off second-best. At the end of the first series, it was decided to give this idea a rethink.

The second (and what turned out to be final) series was retitled Zoe…, although the other three main cast members still featured. But now they are attending college, which isn’t easy, and Iris and Breeny had left, with new friend Doug being added to the mix. There were 26 episodes of Zoe… in two series, but WB just couldn’t get the formula right, and there has been no DVD release.

Some of the cast did go on to further success though, including Rosenbaum in drama Smallville. But the other reason that despite everything I do have a little affection for this is because this was shown on Channel 5 on Saturday afternoons, in their weekend strand for teenagers, so I group this in with the other shows that I really enjoyed in those days including The Tribe, Harry And Cosh, Our Hero, Daria, and so on. And that’s enough for me.

More TV Memories – I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever.

I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever (BBC2, 2002)

When the third and final series of The Fast Show came to an end in 1997, it probably wasn’t thought that there would still be so much life left in this popular comedy sketch show. After this, there has been a theme night, a stage tour, various adverts, spin-offs (including Swiss Toni), and even a few more one-off specials. And there was this, which was an interesting way of recycling the archive.

I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever was a parody of documentaries and lists about nostalgia. This was a genre that had only been going for a year or two by this point, but already seemed to be completely exhausted, and had lapsed into self-parody. This was hosted by Johnny Vegas, who often turned up on these type of shows, and was sending himself up somewhat.

But as well as the archive sketches, there was also a lot of new material, featuring yet another group of creative characters, the vast majority having not previously appeared, who shared their rather useless observations. Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson were clearly still coming up with good ideas, and must’ve been burning the midnight oil at both ends to complete this.

Do you think that The Fast Show was just a procession of people with wigs saying their catchphrases? Well it was really. Among my favourites of the new characters has to be the nice soldier, and the rather bizarre Count Rudolph Gesthaus, who was definitely good enough to have been a regular in the series, it was a shame that we never saw any more him.

And who could forget the catchphrase “this week I don’t know where I left my coat!”. Although this was 90 minutes long, they didn’t get to complete the Top Ten, so Johnny simply said that after all of the votes had been counted, and the points have been added, the Number One was “Imagine”, or probably “Bohemian Rhapsody”, because well it usually is isn’t it.

And I know that this is a weird thing to say, but this was shown on the first day of 2002. Now I remember when 2001 was supposed to be long in the future, and there was a time when I couldn’t really comprehend anything beyond that, but somehow 2001 was now in the past, and well, even this is over two decades ago now, how did that happen. How nice.

The YouTube Files – Blue Heaven.

Blue Heaven (Channel 4, 1992-1994)

This is a sitcom that I don’t remember watching at the time, but there is one thing that I do know about this that has always made me want to find out more. Firstly, Blue Heaven starred and was written by Frank Skinner. At this point he was still fairly early in his comedy career, he had won the coveted Perrier Award, and he appeared in a few shows, including Channel 4’s Packet Of Three.

In 1992 the pilot episode was shown as part of the Bunch Of Five series, where various sitcom ideas were tried out, but this was the only one of them that received a series. Now my sister was in the studio audience for this, but when this returned in 1994 two years on, there was no audience, which seems to be a curious decision, as there was plenty to enjoy.

Blue Heaven starred Frank as, er, Frank, an aspiring singer who was in a duo with his friend Roache who played keyboards. They spent most of the time playing gigs at small-time pubs, and they were usually booed off, mostly because a lot of their songs were about how fond they were of West Bromwich Albion (and indeed, when Frank wasn’t down the pub, he was at The Hawthorns watching the Baggies).

His dream is to be a success though, despite everything, he is sure he’ll get there. Frank often looks into the camera to explain his feelings and the current situation. This show definitely got my approval for the episode where Frank and Roache get as far as making a music video for one of their songs, which was accompanied by yet another parody of The Chart Show icons, well done.

Throughout the episodes, a rather large amount of familiar faces appeared, including Bill Bailey, Carol Barnes, Lucy Davis, Kevin Eldon, Stephen Frost, Philip Glenister, Tamsin Greig, Brian Hibbard, Kate Lonergan, David Neilson, Beryl Reid, Tony Robinson, John Thomson, and Paula Wilcox. Frank clearly had musical aspirations for real, as he also wrote and performed the theme music.

And although he didn’t realise it at the time, he really would have a chart-topping single when he collaborated with The Lightning Seeds for the football anthem “Three Lions”. There were seven episodes of Blue Heaven, which never had a VHS or DVD release (unfortunately I couldn’t track the pilot down, but the series episodes are on YouTube). This seems to be little remembered now, but at least Channel 4 showed all of the episodes, unlike his other sitcom…

More TV Memories – The Savages.

The Savages (BBC1, 2001)

This is another sitcom that was a one-series wonder. The Savages was written by Simon Nye, who was also behind Men Behaving Badly (one of the most successful sitcoms of its era), along with My Wonderful Life, Is It Legal?, and Beast, so plenty of viewers wondered if this one would be up to standard. This one centred around a family, but they weren’t “savages”, they were “Savages”, because that was their surname. Er, yes.

Episodes were originally shown at 9pm, not long after the news was moved to 10pm, and it was still odd to see something else in that slot. And this was also in “digital widescreen” when that was something of a novelty. The Savages are a family, where life really is chaos. The father is the terrifically-named Adam (Marcus “Toffee Crisp” Brigstocke), who is a cartoonist for a national newspaper, but he often struggles for ideas.

The mother is Jessica (Victoria Hamilton, the woman off CITV sitcom Cone Zone who later played the Queen Mother in the early series of The Crown), and she is a travel agent. They have two young children, Nicola and Luke, who are always making trouble, both at school and home. Adam and Jessica are often bickering with each other too, but somehow they manage to get through life.

Adam’s father is Donald (Geoffrey Palmer). Now wouldn’t it have been great to have had Geoffrey as your father (or indeed your grandfather). He could offer you his wisdom with his lovely voice. But maybe not in this case. He has gone through a divorce, is now retired, and doesn’t really know where he is in his life, so most of his observations are either unhelpful or rambling.

Other characters include Adam’s brother Mark. There were only six episodes of The Savages (and the later ones were moved from 9pm to 9:30pm). And well, this isn’t one that you are likely to see repeated on Dave or some such channel nowadays, and there has been no DVD release. The reason this flopped seemed to be because the antics of the family just weren’t outrageous enough.

And this seemed to be a surprise when compared to some of the things that happened in Nye’s other sitcoms. This was not too far off simply being yet another one of those straightforward domestic “my crazy family” sitcoms. And with another BBC1 sitcom My Family taking most of the acclaim in that area of comedy at the time, there really wasn’t any need for this.

CBBC Memories – Pigsty.

Pigsty (CBBC, 1990-1991)

This is a CBBC show that was a combination of comedy and music. Firstly, the writer of Pigsty was Paul Mendelson, who also worked on various sitcoms for the grown-ups around this time including May To December and So Haunt Me. This was also going to be a show that featured a lot of porcine japery (I think I went to school with someone called Porcine Japery).

In Pigsty, the main characters were a family of pigs (who I think were siblings), Troyboy, Pinks, and Little Pig, who had American accents, and were described as “humans in pig outfits obviously” (“obviously”). Well no, I mean I thought that they actually were real pigs who have had a lot of training. Well they say that pigs are some of the most intelligent animals, so maybe they were. Honestly, who could tell.

Episodes were set at the Pizza Café that they ran (presumably this was the place where people would go before the Monster Café launched). Indeed, this was where all of the trendy people wanted to be seen, especially pop stars. And as this was the early-90s, there were lots of jokes about the big acts of the era including New Kids On The Block and Rick Astley.

The other main character is MT, who is human, and a rather slimy music business bigwig who is always trying to scupper the pigs and their chances of becoming big famous singers themselves. Ainsley Harriott was also in an episode or two, a while before he became better known for being a TV chef. And the café made the tastiest steamed hams this side of Spatz.

Of course, like with most children’s TV shows, this was a rather unusual idea, but also a fun one. There were 18 episodes of Pigsty in two series, and they were all only ten minutes long. Repeat runs continued until 1992, but I don’t think that this was shown as part of the CBBC On Choice strand, and there has been no DVD release of anything like that. Releasing the music from this show seems to have been a missed opportunity as well.

The Comedy Vault – The Big Bang Theory.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-2019)

This is a popular American sitcom that I haven’t watched a huge amount of over the years, but somehow this does seem rather familiar, partly because it seems that this has been on the TV every day for the past ten years. The Big Bang Theory centres around a group of physicists, who know a lot about science and complicated formulas, but not much else.

In the earliest episodes, the main characters are Leonard and Sheldon, along with Penny (Kaley Cuoco, who had previously been in sitcom 8 Simple Rules…). I bet at this point they didn’t realise that there was going to be 12 series of this. Of course there are plenty of unusual situations. And as the series progress, further characters join, including the woman who used to be in Blossom (a sitcom that was regularly on Channel 4 in the early-90s but passed me by somewhat).

When they weren’t at home working on various ideas, Sheldon and co. could often be found at the comic shop. There were also a few running gags and traditional sitcom mysteries, like why did the lift never work, and why did Penny appear to not have a surname. And there were also the things that had too much read into them and probably weren’t mysteries, like if the messages on Sheldon’s T-shirts or the background items signified anything.

And there were guest appearances from various science-type people that resulted in a lot of fanboy squealing, including h-Wil h-Wheaton (he was in Star Trek: The Next Generation you know!), and the veteran comedian Bob Newhart. There was also a parody of this in Family Guy where the actual actors provided the voices, and it was interesting to see them send up their roles. And the theme music was provided by Barenaked Ladies, which was almost as good as “One Week”.

The scheduling of this has been remarkable though. This was occasionally shown on Channel 4, but there had been some repeats on E4. And then, after they lost the rights to Friends, they decided that they had to fill the schedule with another sitcom that was guaranteed to get people watching, despite having been shown several times before, and this is now practically the whole of their afternoon schedule.

And if this wasn’t enough already, there was the spin-off Young Sheldon, taking a look back at his younger years (which has also been shown frequently on E4). There were 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and they have all been released on DVD, which contains plenty of extras. Well who can ever resist an out-take or two. You’ll never think of inert gases in the same way again.