1 9 6 1 – 1 9 7 5 (UK)
127 x 30 minute episodes
This BBC series of one-off plays served as a showcase for potential comedy series’ for 14 years.
The first episode – entitled Clicquot Et Fils – starred Eric Sykes as French undertaker Pierre Clicquot with Warren Mitchell as Alphonse Lagillarde. It aired on 15 December 1961 and was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the team who had successfully helped Tony Hancock become a TV superstar.
Amongst the successful programmes broadcast on Comedy Playhouse were ‘The Offer’ (5 January 1962) which was the pilot episode of Steptoe & Son; ‘The Bishop Rides Again’ (17 May 1966) which became the series All Gas & Gaiters; ‘The Last Of The Summer Wine’ (4 January 1973) which developed into the long-running series; and ‘Happy Ever After’ (7 May 1974) which led to a following five series‘ starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield.
In total, no fewer than twenty-seven sitcoms arose out of Comedy Playhouse, including Meet The Wife, The Walrus and The Carpenter, Beggar My Neighbour, Room at the Bottom, The Whitehall Worrier, The Reluctant Romeo, Not In Front of the Children, Wink To Me Only, Wild, Wild Women, Me Mammy, The Liver Birds, It’s Awfully Bad for Your Eyes, Darling, That’s Your Funeral and Are You Being Served?
Writers included Galton and Simpson, Harry Driver, Jack Rosenthal, Ronald Chesney, Ronald Wolfe, Gerry Jones, Derek Collyer, George Evans, Marty Feldman, John Wraith, Michael Pertwee, Peter Robinson, Alan Melville, John Junkin, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Roy Clarke, Eric Davidson and John Chapman.
Programmes between December 1961 and January 1964 were in black & white, moving to colour for the shows aired between May 1965 and July 1975.
There have been several attempts to revive the format without success. Comedy Showcase by LWT produced only three forgettable half hours in 1976.
In January 1993, Carlton Television presented eight single comedies under the title Comedy Playhouse. Only The 10%ers and Brighton Belles were commissioned for full series’ (the latter being a British version of The Golden Girls which failed miserably and was taken off before it completed its run).
The 1974 Yorkshire Television series Comedy Premier gave birth to Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt and Leonard Rossiter’s finest (half) hour, Rising Damp.