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It’s been twenty years today since Peter Cook left us, and a group of people from Tumblr, myself included, rewatched a lot of his material, including both sketches and the 1967 film Bedazzled, in his honor. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how brilliant his writing actually was again and just how influential his material was for generations of comedians afterwards.
I figured this would be a great time to reflect on it all with those people he influenced, as well as some of his compatriots, so here’s this lovely documentary someone posted on YouTube in six parts to watch and enjoy. I figure it’s better to watch funny things instead of spend the entire day crying.
I know there’s a certain bias towards the Oxbridge School of Comedy on this blog. It’s their fault that I ended up deciding to really academically study comedy in the first place (who even does that to begin with?), but they’re brilliant to boot and their influence on comedy is still felt long after their ascendance in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, a lot of what members of the movement did was lost due to a horrendous practice called tape-wiping. You can ask any of my archival colleagues what that is and they’ll probably all grimace or make other disgusted faces at you. We don’t like it very much nowadays, but it was often the norm when a studio needed to reuse tapes due to space and monetary concerns. Tapes of television broadcasts were cleared of data and reused over and over again, and as a result a lot of valuable material was lost. That’s why we only have a little bit of the famed Not Only…But Also, one of the major groundbreaker programs during the period. I’m still not over that. I don’t think I’ll ever be over that. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore offered to buy the tapes and pay for new ones and they still wiped it.
I’m totally not bitter or anything. Okay, yes I am.
I’m heartened now, though, because apparently back in March someone managed to uncover audio of all six episodes of Peter and Dudley’s Beyond the Fringe confederate Alan Bennett’s program On The Margin, which ran in November of 1966 and repeated twice in 1967 before allegedly being a victim of the tape-wiping epidemic:
Audio of Alan Bennett’s first major TV show has been recovered, decades after it was wiped in a bid to save tape.
The recordings of the six-part satirical BBC Two series On The Margin were made in 1966.
The show, written by and starring Bennett, also featured Prunella Scales and John Sergeant, who later became the BBC’s chief political correspondent.
The recordings, made during a 1967 repeat of the series, are due to be returned to the BBC archive.
The show, which originally went out on BBC Two, contained satirical and observational sketches, including its own mini-soap opera.
There were also serious poetry and musical slots during the programme, including readings from actress Scales, and archive footage of music hall stars.
On The Margin was a critical success, and was repeated on BBC One, prompting the wrath of television campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
She objected to a sketch which contained the line “knickers off ready when I come home” and was perceived as insulting to Norwich, which emerges by putting together the first letter of each word.,
The programme was wiped after its final broadcast, with tape recycling a common practice at the time.
Michael Brooke, writing for the British Film Institute, said the show was “one of the most notorious victims” of material being destroyed.
It was feared that with the exception of some fragments, On The Margin had been lost forever.
I’ve always held out hope that these shows would turn up in some format somewhere, and it’s a huge relief to know we haven’t lost On The Margin completely after all. It makes me believe that my beloved Not Only…But Also is out there somewhere and might just be recovered someday.
An archivist can dream, you know.
Biopics tend to be either really good or really bad. Either way, they usually make me cry for various reasons.
In 2007, when I first watched Not Only But Always, Channel 4’s 2004 film about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, I cried a lot. Double acts have always made me emotional, and when you combine one of my favorite double acts ever with high-quality British television, you get a tearjerker.
The BBC’s going to make me cry a lot more in 2014 because they’ve got a biopic coming up about a double act with a really good relationship that tells a story from later in their lives about their friendship.
BBC One has commissioned Stan And Ollie, a biopic focused on the later years of Laurel and Hardy, the double act who became famous worldwide for their slapstick comedy films.
The 90-minute show, which is being overseen the corporation’s in-house comedy department, aims to tell the tale of the duo’s 1953 UK tour.
The one-off TV episode has been written by Jeff Pope, who recently worked on the movie Philomena, and prior to that the TV comedies The Security Men and The Fattest Man In Britain.
Stan Laurel was an Englishman, whilst Oliver Hardy was American. Laurel entered the world of theatre aged 16, and set sail for America a few years later on the same ship as Charlie Chaplin with the aim of appearing in films.
He forged a successful solo career in Hollywood, however after starring in the silent short film Putting Pants in 1927 with the heavyset Harlem-born Oliver Hardy, the duo soon became a double-act. As a team, they went on to perform in 107 films, including the likes of Big Business, and became an inspiration to generations of comics, including Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.
Speaking about the new production, the BBC say: “It tells the story of the duo’s 1953 UK tour. Their shtick – Stan the wide-eyed ingénue, Ollie the pompous fool, their meticulously rehearsed physical routines and their charming musical numbers had made them superstars all over Europe, South America and beyond. However, a split from their controlling mentor, the vagaries of studio politics and a run of poorly received films had resulted in their star falling. A series of acrimonious divorces, alimony battles and Oliver Hardy’s failing health didn’t help.
“The British tour was supposed to relieve some of the gloom and, despite numerous glitches, the public loved them. Audiences grew and grew as word spread that Laurel and Hardy were back and as funny as ever and, as audiences swelled, so did morale. But as their careers and friendship blossomed, disaster struck as Ollie suffered a heart attack. He tried to carry on performing on the tour, but it became clear that he was too ill. Replacement performers were found to fill in but, without Stan and Ollie’s charm and warmth, the shows simply weren’t the same.
“Eventually, with it clear that Hardy’s health problems were serious, Stan was offered the chance to perform alone, but refused. He realised that neither worked without the other, that they were so much more together than they were apart. Appreciating the sacrifice made by his friend, Ollie roused himself from his sickbed for a few last, triumphant performances, the very last of their extraordinary career.
“Ollie died not long afterwards and Stan never performed again, but their films endure and are still popular all over the world half a century later.”
Charlotte Moore, the Controller of BBC One, says: “Stan And Ollie demonstrates the fabulous range of comedy on BBC One. Written by Jeff Pope, this is a poignant single film about one of Britain’s best loved double-acts.”
BBC Comedy Commissioner Shane Allen adds: “Stan And Ollie is Jeff’s love letter to two pioneers and enduring giants of screen comedy. It beautifully captures the deep emotional bond forged over a lifelong partnership as they reflect on their rollercoaster careers through the prism of this final UK farewell tour. An epic story about the world’s most famous comedy double-act to date, told with great insight and heart.”
The programme will be filmed and broadcast in 2014. Casting details are expected to be announced early next year.
This was, indeed, their last overseas tour, as Babe Hardy passed in 1957, just four years after they were abroad. By this point, both of them were aging and not in the best health, but they had also become extremely close after touring together and essentially being next-door neighbors since the 1940s. At this point in their career, they really were the best of friends, and that makes this even more emotional than it is already.
Basically, I’m ready to sit there and sob for 90 minutes.
Earlier this year, Carol Burnett was announced as this year’s recipient of the Mark Twain Award for American Humor, the highest honor a comedian can receive in the United States.
Last night, she finally got her award.
The award ceremony will be televised on November 24th (sources have said at 8 pm) on PBS stations across the country, so set yourself a reminder to watch!
“This is very encouraging,” Burnett deadpanned in accepting the prize. “I mean it was a long time in coming, but I understand because there are so many people funnier than I am, especially here in Washington.
“With any luck, they’ll soon get voted out, and I’ll still have the Mark Twain prize.”
To be fair, they probably will be after that government shutdown.