Radio 2's History Of British Comedy

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011913 To 19382013030520141120

David Mitchell traces the history of British humour from Music Hall to the modern day. Stand up comedy, funny songs, blockbuster films, and superstar performers - it might seem like the world of today, but as David learns, we've hardly travelled any distance at all.

In the first of a four part series, David takes us from 1913 to 1938. We learn about the cutting edge innovation that was the Music Hall 'comedy turn'. And the programme also looks at the early days of the movies - silent at the start, but virtually entirely comedy based.

A whole host of comedy performers are on hand to try and understand if there is such a thing as 'British' comedy - before the programme goes on to examine that most British of concepts - innuendo! There's also a look at the role of women in comedy, and how and why regional styles of comedy developed. David examines the difference between Variety and Music Hall - and discovers it wasn't about one genre becoming extinct as another began to dominate - Music Hall evolved into Variety as it became more acceptable across all social classes. Long before stadium tours and mega management companies, comedy was already a major industry too! And this first part looks at the two main players in the market - The 'Stoll Moss' and 'The Empire' theatre companies, and their ability to make or break a performer's career. This is also the period when radio came to the masses, and we hear from some of those early radio comedians.

A whole host of comedy performers are on hand to try and understand if there is such as thing as 'British' comedy - before the programme goes on to examine that most British of concepts - innuendo! There's also a look at the role of women in comedy, and how and why regional styles of comedy developed. David examines the difference between Variety and Music Hall - and discovers it wasn't about one genre becoming extinct as another began to dominate - Music Hall evolved into Variety as it became more acceptable across all social classes. Long before stadium tours and mega management companies, comedy was already a major industry too! And this first part looks at the two main players in the market - The 'Stoll Moss' and 'The Empire' theatre companies, and their ability to make or break a performer's career. This is also the period when radio came to the masses, and we hear from some of those early radio comedians.

02Wwii To The 1960s2013031220141127

David Mitchell traces the history of British humour from World War 2 to the dawn of the 1960s. From the cosy world of ITMA to the new wave represented by The Goons - here more than anywhere else, the path of modern British comedy changed.

This episode looks at how the Variety Theatres were briefly closed - and then opened again to boost morale - and how Radio became a nation's lifeline.

This was also the age of the catchphrase - and David asks how and why these devices came about, as well as tracing the lineage of "I don't believe it" and "You can't see the join" to those early catchphrases that were on everyone's lips!

The programme also looks at the venue that gave many performers their first post-war start as well - the 'Windmill Theatre' - where the comic's job was to give the bill some respectability in-between the nude tableaus that the entirely male audience had come to see! Tough yes - but it enabled performers to learn their trade in a way that wasn't available again until the arrival of comedy clubs in the 1980s

This is the era when The Goon Show changed everything - but also when ITMA, Take It from Here, Variety Bandbox and the various forces programmes became a vital part of everyone's lives - and those changes ushered in the first signs of comedy that only appealed to certain generations.

David also looks at a series which started on the 'Light Programme' ran for half an hour a week and changed how we consumed our narrative comedy forever.

Amongst those you'll hear from in part two are: Michael Grade, Denis Norden, Producers Johnnie Hamp, Beryl Vertue, Writers David Nobbs, and Barry Cryer, Show Biz agent Laurie Mansfield, Eric Morecambe, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Social historian Eric Merryweather, Media lecturer CP Lee, Film Historian Steve Ellison, Jimmy Cricket and Dr Jonathan Miller

03The 1960s And 70s2013031920141204

In the third programme, David Mitchell traces the history of British humour in the 1960s and 70s.

In this episode, David looks at 'Round The Horne' - Innuendo has been there in every programme so far, but never in the field of British comedy has anyone pushed as hard as Julian and Sandy did!

He examines the big screen too. Everyone knows what is meant by the phrase "Carry On humour", but as the films moved through the 60s, they became freer and laced with sexual innuendo. But by their demise in the late seventies, the double entendre was more forced and attempts to shock were creeping in.

The programme marks the satire boom of the 60s. Britain was the centre of popular culture, and comedy was on that band wagon with Peter Cook and That Was The Week That Was.

David also learns how Beyond The Fringe changed reviews forever, whilst the programme marks the contributions of the Monty Python team, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise..

Many call the 70s the Golden Age of British Comedy - well that's depends on where you're looking at it from, but there's no denying that this was the heyday of peak-time light entertainment that was targeted at all ages! Behind the big names however, there was a change of emphasis. We were facing an economic situation and - in times of hardship - comedy is often there to take our minds off our worries - not to remind us of our problems!

As TV and Radio dominated, many say that live variety started to die in the 70s, but variety shows packed out every theatre in every seaside town while Working Men's Clubs took on the acts who once toured the Empire or Stoll Moss circuits a couple of decades before.

Amongst those we hear from in part three are: Denis Norden, Producer Johnnie Hamp, Writers David Nobbs, and Barry Cryer, Show Biz agent Laurie Mansfield, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, Kenneth Williams, Media lecturer CP Lee, Dave Spikey, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller

04 LASTThe 1980s To The Present Day2013032620141218 (R2)

David Mitchell traces the history of British humour from the 1980s to the present day.

70s escapism gave way to 80s cynicism, and this final episode in the series explores why comedy changed suddenly instead of gradually - and the role Channel 4 played in that change.

This was the era of The Young Ones and Blackadder, but was alternative comedy really something new - post World War 2 the old order was actively challenged by those seeking a new approach - and even before that, the Crazy Gang had almost set the template for 'alternative'?

Part 4 looks at the 90s and beyond when stars who'd grown up on their 'new wave' predecessors also saw the best of what had gone before them. In a time when the nation's divisions were less obvious, so it was with comedy.

And as ever - there was change. We hear about stadium stand-up, sit-coms without laughter tracks, and big screen comedy successes.

And David asks what new methods of communication will mean to British Comedy - new portals for the latest 'experimental live improvisational sit-com featuring a cast of 'train spotters', or opportunities for comedy consumers to discover new laughs in classic clips? Via YouTube and its ilk, new audiences are discovering long dead comedy greats in a way that that suits their needs - Tommy Cooper material in particular has a high hit rate amongst those not born since he passed away.

Amongst those you will hear from in part four: Michael Grade, Denis Norden, Producers Beryl Vertue and Johnnie Hamp, Writers John Sullivan, David Nobbs, Carla Lane and Barry Cryer, Show Biz agent Laurie Mansfield, co founder of the comedy store Don Ward, Media lecturer CP Lee, Expert on British Film Steve Ellison, Alan Davis, Jimmy Cricket and Dave Spikey.