1 9 6 9 – 1 9 8 2 (UK)
38 x 30 minute episodes
This very, very odd sketch show from Spike Milligan (if that isn’t tautology) first aired in 1969 as Q5, with subsequent series’ numbered consecutively – Q6, Q7, Q8 and Q9 – and stands as one of the finest moments from one of the greatest men of British comedy.
Reputedly (but oddly) the BBC refused to allow the final series to be titled Q10, thinking that the baffling ‘Q’ prefix had been around for long enough, so Milligan – possibly with a nod towards such ‘official’ thinking – renamed it There’s A Lot Of It About.
The series showcased Milligan’s surreal wit (which at times could be completely incomprehensible) and the sketches came thick and fast, often simply ending with no apparent conclusion, or running into one another while making bizarre leaps from one subject or location to another.
Even the costumes were eccentric – everyone was labelled with luggage tags, and Spike seemed to have a fondness for large noses and hats.
The shows baffled and angered as many viewers as they entertained, and Milligan’s relationship with his BBC masters was fraught during much of the run: He always wanted to direct the shows himself, propelling them into ever-weirder areas, but the executives at the Beeb thought that he needed a strong hand on the tiller.
The Q series does not enjoy the same posthumous reverence amongst fans and critics that is reserved for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There are probably three main reasons for this:
Firstly, the Q series was comedically less consistent, with moments of genius squeezed in between bouts of charmless corn.
Secondly, there is the question of taste – Milligan’s rather old-fashioned shock value usage of racial abuse (jokes about ‘wogs’ and ‘pakis’) and sexual situations (the semi-clad, mammoth-breasted Julia Breck as sexual predator) were acceptable in the climate of the 1970s but don’t age as well as the Python’s shock material (homosexual Brigadiers, cannibal undertakers, etc) where authority figures bear the brunt of the humour.
One sketch which has retrospectively earned a place in the politically incorrect hall of fame features a Pakistani Dalek returning home from work. After crashing about and mentioning how it exterminated some commuters on the train, the Dalek shoots the family dog and then commands his wife to “put it in the curry”. The same thing happens with the Dalek’s mother-in-law and a budgie.
Finally, there is the construction of the shows – whereas both Q and Python had almost limitless freedom to leave a sketch at any point and play with the reality of the show and the genre of television, Terry Gilliam’s brilliant animations permitted Python to effect seamless transitions from one sketch to the next which gave the shows a greater all-round balance.
Notwithstanding all of this, the Q series provided Spike Milligan with his longest TV run, delighting old and new fans alike.
Philippe Le Bars
John D Collins