TV: AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2006)

1948It was arguably the finest sketch comedy series ever produced, anywhere, combining the talents of Cambridge footlighters John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Chapman with Round The Horne scriptwriter Marty Feldman. For good measure it also featured the shapely and “lovely” Aimi MacDonald as the resident hostess, who was wont to utter the immortal phrase “and now for something completely different”. Bill Oddie, Eric Idle and (the voice of) Barry Cryer were also featured in lesser roles.

Despite misgivings about the look of his eyes, Feldman was a revelation and soon starred in his own award-winning BBC2 colour series (with Brooke-Taylor, en route to The Goodies). For Cleese and Chapman, the show led directly to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and cult comedy status.

At Last The 1948 Show was a groundbreaking mixture of surreal situations and strange characters that had an amazingly successful strike-rate of sketches. Its title referred to the often frustrating delays in getting the go-ahead from programme planners, and ironically the series itself was to fall victim to scheduling problems across the ITV network when it appeared. Viewers in the London area were about the only ones in Britain to see both seasons, with other regions adopting a rather cavalier attitude to screening all thirteen episodes.

There was also a very limited amount of merchandising associated with the series … Pye Records releasing an LP of soundtrack highlights from the first season, together with a single featuring two specially recorded vocals by the cast members.

Despite the notoriety achieved at the time, and the success soon being enjoyed by its principals, the show itself was almost immediately consigned to the scrapheap, having been made in black-and-white. Colour television effectively came to Britain in late 1969 (after several years of test transmissions on BBC2), and all but one of the tapes were junked. Happily (to this writer in particular), tele-recordings of the thirteen editions had been screened in far-off Australia by the A.B.C.

There was also a curious postscript to the series with the show’s producer, David Frost’s Paradine Productions, recording a one-hour colour special in 1968 called How To Irritate People. Using the same theme music, it featured Cleese, Chapman and Brooke-Taylor (along with Michael Palin in place of Feldman). Never screened in Britain, it aired on U.S. television in syndication, and in recent years has been released on video and DVD.

By the 1970s, with no prospect of the original performances being repeated, a number of the scripts were recycled on The Two Ronnies, various Monty Python ventures and stage show fundraisers for Amnesty International.

Then, in the mid-1980s, came a breakthrough. Somehow, and for whatever strange reason, it was learnt a batch of compilation editions had been distributed to Swedish television many years earlier. Five survived and were sent to the British Film Institute for restoration.

Ten years later a further two original episodes were also recovered from a collector who had saved them from a dumpster back in the sixties. With 1/4 and 2/3 joining the extant 1/6 and the five Swedish copies at the BFI, more than half of the material was now available.

Then, in 2003 two more editions came to light (1/5 and 2/5) from a technician who’d souvenired them years earlier, making a total of five complete programmes and the compilations.

One other segment was also located … the Clothes Off sketch from 2/2 was found on a promotional spool at the A.B.C. and (together with compilation segments) allowed that entire episode to be reconstructed.

Finally (for the moment, anyway) in 2010, the B.F.I. was able to retrieve a nearly complete copy of 2/6 which, by adding the missing Four Yorkshiremen segment from another of the compilations, could also be pieced together.

Thus (at the time of writing) seven complete programmes and another four highlights editions are in existence. Over the years CH4 and BBC4 have screened three of these episodes. With the release of a double-DVD containing the five compilations, comedy fans can now have access to the cream of British comedy from an era when it was at its peak.

The pictures may be grainy and lack colour, but the laughs are in pure gold.

 

 

EPISODE GUIDE

(produced by Paradine Productions for Associated-Rediffusion) b/w

Cast: Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Marty Feldman and Aimi MacDonald

Series #1: ITV London February 15 to March 22 1967 (6 x 25 min)
1  Doctor and Man With Skinny Legs/Witch/One Man Wres­tling/Secret Service Chief/Treasure Trove/Vox Pop
2  Four Sydney Lotterbys/Lucky Gypsy/Judge Not
3  Visitors For The Use Of/Sleep Starvation/Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte/Sheepdog Trials/Bookshop/ Job Description
4  Someone Has Stolen The News/Grublian Holidays/Memory Training/One-Man Battalion/Ministerial Breakdown/Engine Driver/Undercover Policemen
5 Top Of The Form/Gentleman Farmer/The Wonderful World Of The Ant/John And Mary In Malaya
6  Let‘s Speak-a English/Headmaster/The Siege In The Frock/Choral Repetition/Chinese Restaurant/ Beekeeping/Ferret Song

Series #2: ITV London September 26 to November 7 1967 (7 x 25 min)
1  Spiv Doctor/Reptile Keeper/Thief In Library/Come Danc­ing/Joke Shop
2  Shirt Shop/Nosmo Claphanger Game Show/Clothes Off!/Insurance For Accident Prone Man/ Thuggish Ballet Supporters
3  Pessimistic Customer/Meek Bouncer/Men‘s Club/Neurotic Scientist/Sydney Lotterby Craves The Test Score/Shop For The Sight And Sound Impaired
4 Discussion On Pornography/Door To Door Undertaker/Uncooperative Burglars/Topic Discusses Freedom Of Speech/ Programme Announcement/Studio Tour
5  Reluctant Choir/Psychiatrist/Secret Service Cleaner/Reprimanded Soccer Player/Deadly Architectural Model
6 Toast: Police/Sydney Lotterbys Renew Acquaintance/Chartered Accountants Dance/Toast: Spies/Dangers Of Dentistry/Four Yorkshiremen
7  TV Current Affairs/Railway Carriage/Pet Shop/The Rhu­barb Tart Song

Only seven complete episodes – 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 2/2, 2/3, 2/5 and 2/6 – plus the sketches italicized are known to survive. These segments come from five compilation editions recovered from Sweden in the 1980s …

VICAR
A vicar has a congregation who won’t sing.
PSYCHIATRIST
An aggressive psychiatrist examines his timid patient
SECRET SERVICE
Head of the Secret Service sends the tea boy to burn down the Kremlin.
ZOOKEEPER
Head Zookeeper disciplines a keeper who has been swallowed by a snake
THE CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT
A new dance based on the life of a chartered accountant.
FOUR YORKSHIREMEN
Four successful men remember the days when they were poor.

LET’S SPEAK ENGLISH
An English lesson for Italians.
TOP OF THE FORM
A parody of the schools’ quiz programme
DOCTOR
A doctor tries to sell his patient various bargains
LIBRARY
Police attempt to arrest a thief who has hidden in a public library.
COME DANCING
A parody of the programme.

THE NEWS
A newsreader has his script is stolen.
TOPIC
A parody TV discussion programme
RAILWAY CARRIAGE
An irritating man disrupts the journey of a rail traveller
ANNOUNCER/THE WILLETS OF LITTLEHAMPTON
TV announcer leading into a “Forsyte Saga” type drama is interrupted by the Head of Drama showing a party of Arabs round the studio.

SYDNEY LOTTERBY
Four boring people, all called Sydney Lotterby, meet on holiday.
AUTOMATIC HOSPITAL VISITOR
Tim Brooke Taylor as a robot sent to cheer up a lonely man in hospital (Bill Oddie).
APPEAL
Marty Feldman appeals on behalf of people with sleeping sickness.
MICE LAUGH SOFTLY CHARLOTTE
Parody of a thriller serial
POLICE IN DRAG: Policemen dressed as tarts prepare to raid a club.

SHIRT SHOP
Three shop assistants con a customer into buying expensive shirts.
NOSMO CLAPHANGER SHOW
Parody game show with an aggressive host (John Cleese)
LIFE ASSURANCE
Accident prone man buys life assurance from an insurance officer
BURGLARS
Police fail to notice a blatant robbery in progress
SCOTTISH BALLET FANS
Three drunken Scots treat a ballet performance like a football match.

Amateur soundtrack re­cordings (in various degrees of fidelity) also survive of 1/1 (complete)
plus a number of other segments.

 

RECORDINGS

The Ferret Song/The Rhubarb Tart Song
Pye single 7N 17336 (June 1967)
these are John Cleese And The 1948 Show Choir studio vocals (not original soundtracks)
released before the start of series 2

At Last The 1948 Show
Pye LP NPL 18198 (1967)
Bookshop
Sheepdog Trials
Where Were You?
The Wonderful World Of The Ant
Gentleman Farmer
Witch
Top Of The Form
Someone Has Stolen The News
One Man Battalion
Doctor And Man With Skinny Legs
Ministerial Breakdown
Job Description
Engine Driver
The Four Sydney Lotterbys
Beekeeping
The Ferret Song (Cleese studio version)
Vox Pop

 

DVD

AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW
Boulevard Entertainment 2-DVD (2005)
contains the five compilation programmes recovered from Sweden

 

Despite the junking of much of AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW, many sketches were performed again ..

How To Irritate People (1-hour special featuring Cleese, Brooke-Taylor, Chapman and others, now released on video/DVD)
includes Topic Discusses Freedom Of Speech

Marty Amok
featured Bookshop (with Feldman and Junkin)

The Dean Martin Show (weekly series)
NBC October 8 1970
featured Feldman and Martin recreating The Door-To-Door Undertaker

Marty Back Together Again (BBC1 1974 series)
also included a version of The Door-To-Door Undertaker (with Feldman and James Villiers)

The Two Ronnies featured versions of
3/2  Spiv Doctor
3/4  Psychiatrist
3/5  Grublian Holidays (also on LP)
3/8  Secret Service Teaboy
8/8  Choral Repetition

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
the 2nd German special featured Hearing Aid

Monty Python Live At Drury Lane (LP/CD) features  
Secret Service
Wrestling
Four Yorkshiremen

Monty Python At The Hollywood Bowl (on video/laser disc/DVD) features
Wrestling
Four Yorkshiremen 

Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album (LP/CD)
features Bookshop (performed by Cleese and Chapman)

Monty Python’s Hastily Cobbled Together For a Fast Buck Album (LP/CD)
includes Memory Training 

The Amnesty fundraising concert The Mermaid Frolics (LP, video, DVD)
includes Bookshop (with Cleese and Connie Booth) 

The Amnesty fundraising concert The Secret Policeman’s Ball (LP, video, DVD)
includes The Four Yorkshiremen (performed by Cleese/Michael Palin/Terry Jones/Rowan Atkinson)

The Amnesty fundraising concert The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (LP/CD, video, DVD) includes
Clothes Off! (with Cleese/Chapman/Pamela Stephenson),
Beekeeping (Cleese and Rowan Atkinson)
Top Of The Form (Cleese/Brooke-Taylor/Chapman/Atkinson/John Bird/John Fortune/Griff Rhys Jones)

 

 

BOOKS

No More Curried Eggs For Me
(compiled) by Roger Wilmut (Methuen, London 1982)
features script of Bookshop

Son Of Curried Eggs
(compiled) by Roger Wilmut (Methuen, London 1984)
features script of Sheepdog Trials

The Golden Skits Of Wing-Commander Muriel Volestrangler FRHS & Bar
by John Cleese (Methuen, London 1984) features scripts of
Shirt Shop
Top Of The Form
Bookshop
Hearing Aid
The Good Old Days (aka Four Yorkshiremen)
Lucky Gypsy
Railway Carriage
Slightly Less Silly Than The Other Court Skit (aka Judge Not)

 

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