British comedy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

British Comedy, in film, radio and television, is known for its consistently quirky characters, plots and settings, and has produced some of the most famous and memorable comic actors and characters in the last fifty years. Exemplary are Carry On films, Benny Hill and seaside postcards at the lowbrow end of the spectrum and Monty Python at the highbrow end.

Contents

Restoration comedy

Restoration comedy

Restoration comedy is the name given to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1700. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a rebirth of English drama. Restoration comedy is famous (or notorious) for its sexual explicitness, a quality encouraged by Charles II (1660–1685) personally and by the rakish aristocratic ethos of his court. The socially diverse audiences included both aristocrats, their servants and hangers-on, and a substantial middle-class segment. These playgoers were attracted to the comedies by up-to-the-minute topical writing, by crowded and bustling plots, by the introduction of the first professional actresses, and by the rise of the first celebrity actors. This period saw the first professional woman playwright, Aphra Behn.

Film comedy

British comedy film

British comedy films are legion, but among the most notable are the Ealing comedies, the 1950s satires of the Boulting Brothers, and innumerable popular comedy series including the St Trinian's films, the "Doctor" series, and the long-running Carry On films. Some of the best known British film comedy stars include Will Hay, George Formby, Norman Wisdom, Peter Sellers and the Monty Python team. Other actors associated with British comedy films include Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Margaret Rutherford, Irene Handl and Leslie Phillips.

Recent successful films include the working class comedies Brassed Off (1996) and The Full Monty (1997), the more middle class Richard Curtis-scripted films Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999) and youth-oriented, pop-culture referencing Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

See Cinema of the United Kingdom.

Radio

Radio comedy in Britain has been almost exclusively the preserve of the BBC, and a number of British radio comedies achieved considerable renown in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the 1940s and 1950s variety dominated the schedules, and popular series included ITMA and Much Binding in the Marsh. In the mid 1950s, however, two notable series emerged which would help to shape the future of radio and television comedy in Britain. The Goons (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe) starred in their own anarchic series The Goon Show which ran throughout the 1950s. At the same time, the BBC was also running Hancock's Half Hour starring Tony Hancock, the first of a new generation of comedies based around believable characters and situations. Hancock's Half Hour later transferred to TV and was phenomenally successful throughout the '50s, running concurrently on radio and television until 1960.

Another notable radio show was the double entendre-laden Round the Horne (1965-1968), a sequel to the earlier series Beyond Our Ken, which ran from 1959 to 1964.

Later radio shows made use of the panel game format, including the long-running Just a Minute (from 1967 to date) and I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue (from 1972). This in turn has influenced TV series like Have I Got News for You (from 1990) and They Think It's All Over (from 1995).

BBC Radio has continued to be a breeding ground for new talent and many programmes have transferred successfully to television in recent years, including Whose Line is it Anyway?, Goodness Gracious Me, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Little Britain.

Television

Although many popular shows of recent years began life on BBC radio, there have been many successful and influential series which were designed purely for TV.

Following the success of Hancock's Half Hour, the sitcom became firmly entrenched in the television schedules. Some of the most successful examples include Steptoe and Son, Dad's Army, The Likely Lads, Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, Are You Being Served?, Yes Minister, Only Fools and Horses, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, One Foot in the Grave, Porridge and The Office.

The BBC has generally been dominant in television comedy, but the commercial stations have also had some successes. ITV's most successful sitcoms were generally produced in the 1970s, including Rising Damp, On the Buses, George and Mildred and the now terminally unfashionable Love Thy Neighbour.

Commercial station Channel 4 has been more successful than ITV with situation comedies in recent years. Some of the better-known examples are Chelmsford 123, Chance in a Million, Drop the Dead Donkey, Spaced, Father Ted, Black Books, Green Wing and The IT Crowd

Other formats have also been popular, with sketch shows, stand-up comedy, impressionists and even puppet shows finding success. Although impressionists experienced a lull in popularity in the 1990s, the recent success of Dead Ringers (another BBC radio cross-over) has been notable.

The most notable satirical comedies are the ground-breaking 1960s series That Was The Week That Was, ITV's controversial puppet show Spitting Image. British satire has also washed over into Quiz shows - popular examples include the news quiz Have I Got News for You and music-based Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

One of the most influential sketch shows was Monty Python's Flying Circus, a comedy from the late 1960s and early seventies that introduced us to such luminaries as John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. The Pythons went on to produce several feature films and had a profound influence on British comedy. They themselves had been influenced by The Goons and Spike Milligan's Q series. Python found surprising popularity in the United States in the 1970s, as did the less cerebral humour of Benny Hill and his ITV sketch series The Benny Hill Show.

Other notable sketch-based series include Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, French and Saunders, Absolutely, Little Britain and The Fast Show.

Vic Reeves Big Night Out influenced the style of a whole new generation of comics in the 1990s until the present day. [1]

The 1990s and 2000s have also seen the rise of a new set of British comedians who have made innovative contributions mainly in the form of sitcoms. Programmes such as Green Wing, Black Books, Spaced, Smack the Pony, Big Train and The Office have used editing, surreal humour and cultural references to great effect. A loose clique of stars, including Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Mark Heap, Ricky Gervais, Tamsin Greig and Bill Bailey have revolved around these series, with the most obvious acknowledgement of this coming in the scene in the film Shaun of the Dead when the two groups of survivors troop past each other, with cameos galore.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "British comedy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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