Thursday, January 16, 2014

At Last The 1948 Show (1967, DVD)

A week ago, I wrote about Amazon's sale of a two-DVD set of Do Not Adjust Your Set.  It's still on sale (also at Amazon.co.uk) and so is the companion two-DVD set of At Last the 1948 Show.  After watching DNAYS, I immediately ordered ALT1948S.

These two sets are complementary, in that one has half of Monty Python on the team, and the other one has the other half.  ALT1948S was conceived by David Frost, who approached John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor with the idea for a comedy show. They suggested Marty Feldman be involved and the show went ahead. It debuted in 1967 (the year 1948 has nothing to do with it), and distributed by Rediffusion. Since my parents wouldn't let me watch any of the ITV programming (it was BBC all the way), I didn't get to see it. (In fact, it may never even have shown in Yorkshire - not all regional programming was syndicated all over Britain.)

As I wrote earlier, DNAYS is a children's program, filled with puns that land with a mighty thud, and kid-friendly physical slapstick of the fall-over-a-lot variety (David Jason was particularly good at the falling-over comedy), accompanied by the cartoony adventures of Captain Fantastic and his nemesis, a woman with a handbag.  The studio audience is audibly made up of schoolboys. In contrast, ALT1948S is a grown-up comedy, filled with absurdity and surreal over-the-top banter that starts with a premise, digs into it as assiduously as possible for three to five minutes, and then is reeled back in by a punchline, a line of dialogue that restates or refutes the original premise - and that's how you know the skit is over.

As an example, one skit is set in a library. A thief runs in (with police in audible pursuit outside) and is told to "Shhh!" by the library patrons. The police arrive and are told to shush; various cops and robbers things happen silently (or are told to shush) until eventually the thief shrieks,

"ALL RIGHT I'LL COME..."
 "SHHHH!"
"...quietly."

And thus it ends.

Although the humor is as well-developed as Monty Python, it's that final hard-stop on each sketch that sets it apart from MP's interconnected zaniness.

As an example, the initial Four Yorkshiremen sketch is in this set, and it's fully developed. Initially it's odd to see Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman as two of the Yorkshiremen, but the steadily-building humblebrag banter is just as spit-take inducing as the later Python forays.



Both DNAYS and ALT1948S have strong female leads, unlike either The Goodies or Monty Python. ALT1948S has Aimi MacDonald as theirs. Dressed in fur stoles and ballgowns covered with thousands of hand-sewn sequins whose dazzle completely overwhelmed the TV camera tubes of the day, Aimi came on between sketches to tell us how great she was. The first few times were obviously a parody of something or other that went on in those days, but by the fifteenth or twentieth time it got a bit grating. Suddenly, near the end of the series, she pulled out all the stops and performed the "Alas, poor Yorick" soliloquy from Hamlet while tap-dancing. (Similarly, Tim Brooke-Taylor pulled off a chartered-accountant-at-a-hippy-happening solo spot that kills.)



Apart from Aimi's sequins, it hasn't aged badly. There's a bit where a newsreader is unable to continue a piece about President Tito when a passing plot-device steals his notes, and we're not surprised as we don't remember anything about Tito either, and a couple of references to then-current events, but in general it's Monty Python zaniness just waiting for Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones to come on over from Do Not Adjust Your Set and fulfill their true destiny.


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