This is quite a long-winded introduction, but the point is the comedy that you can download as MP3 files, if you are so inclined, so stick with it.
For the last little while, Richard Fidler has been hosting radio shifts on ABC 702 during holiday time when regular hosts are on vacation. During these periods, he gets me in to talk comedy. In addition to having a general discussion about trends and developments, it’s an opportunity for me to raid my own comedy archives.
This time around, for example, I took the opportunity to play a bit of Bill Hicks, justifying it with not just the recent release of a performance DVD, Bill Hicks Live, but also because 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of Hicks’s passing. Carefully removing the cussing (“scumsucking fucks”, I believe, was the offending phrase, for the free-thinkers and free-speakers amongst you), I edited together two excellent little bits on the American Presidency. In addition to whichever albums they originally featured on, they may be found on the excellent compilation entitled Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks.
I also played yet another excerpt from the interview conducted with Graeme Garden in honour of the impending Goodies tour of Australia. This Goodies bit opens with the the show’s signature call-out, followed by discussion with Graeme of the perception of The Goodies as a ‘kids’ program’, and the censorship that resulted. It serves as a great reason to segue to a skit about censorship from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, a radio show that featured, amongst its cast, The Goodies and John Cleese, prior to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies coming into existence.
My favourite artifact was a recording of the old Pete ’n’ Dud sketch ‘One Leg Too Few’, as performed by Kenneth Williams. This requires a bit of context: prior to Peter Cook graduating from Cambridge, and indeed, the university club that proved a training ground for many English comedians-to-be, the Cambridge Footlights, he was recognised as a talented writer and was commissioned to write some sketches for Kenneth Williams, already established by that stage as a comic performer. The ‘One Leg Too Few’ sketch went on to appear in Beyond the Fringe, the show commission for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, featuring OxBridge graduates Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, (Dr Sir) Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Pete ’n’ Dud went on to perform the sketch as a duo. The interesting thing about Kenneth Williams’s version is the existence of a tag that was later dropped.
These older recordings are always a bit of a hit, as the following unsolicited e-mail shows:
I was listening to you the other night on Radio 702, so I thought (and would appreciate) if you may be able to answer this question:
I've been chasing for some years the classic Marty Feldman sketch in which he plays a ballet dancer being reprimanded by the theatre manager for a drunken performance of the Nutcracker ballet on the previous night, and it being re-counted the disgraceful things he did in performance.
Do you know of the sketch and what show it originated from (I thought it's maybe from At Last The 1948 Show)? And do you know if it is available in any current recorded medium?
Thanks for your time
I must admit that I have had trouble locating any sound recordings from At Last the 1948 Show, a program that featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman before Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Tim Brooke-Taylor before The Goodies and Marty Feldman before he emigrated to Hollywood and became a regular in Mel Brooks films. The only At Last the 1948 Show material I've found from that time is the stuff that the Pythons re-hashed either on record (the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch comes to mind - the Secret Policeman’s Ball version is the only one I have a recording of – or ‘The Bookshop’ sketch that appears on the Monty Python Contractual Obligation album) or in print (John Cleese gave a couple of the sketches a run in his book entitled The Golden Sketches of Wing Commander Muriel Volestrangler – in which, I notice, the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch is entitled ‘The Good Old Days’.)
I know that huge swathes of At Last the 1948 Show were wiped rather than retained; at that time it was believed that the cost of videotape was great and the chance of comedy being of interest decades down the track, minimal; a great book on the topic exists, called Missing, Presumed Wiped and covers comedy as well as drama and science fiction. Thus, not much of the mere thirteen episodes remains.
However, the ‘Ballet’ sketch comes from Marty Feldman’s follow-up show to At Last the 1948 Show. Entitled Marty, it featured Tim Brooke-Taylor as a regular contributor and performer and, significantly, Terry Gilliam provided animated opening credits. A record of this was released, also entitled Marty, a very scratchy copy of which resides in my record collection.
The ‘Ballet’ sketch is excellent, but I particularly like ‘Bishop’. “You what?!” Feldman’s cockney, workingclass Bishop of No Fixed Abode reacts to a train passenger (played by Brooke-Taylor) who has admitted to being agnostic. “You stupid git! You try telling Him that you’re agnostic when you get up there and He’ll smash your teeth in… in His infinite mercy.”
There are two other sketches I’ve decided to include. The first is entitled ‘Weather Forecast’, which is a bit unfortunate, as it gives away the punchline. (This sort of titular cock-up, when presenting comedy, should probably be defined as a ‘to get to the other side’ error!) It has a similar feel to the apocalyptic sketch, ‘The End of the World’, that first appeared in Beyond the Fringe and was featured in The Secret Policeman’s Ball.
The other is a cute little bit of nonsense entitled ‘Salome’.
In all, Marty is a great album, and, I assume, a great comedy series, if, indeed, it is still in existence in somebody’s archive.