1 9 7 1 – 1 9 7 4 (UK)
1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 0 (UK)
1 9 8 4 – 1 9 8 5 (UK)
1 9 9 2 – 1 9 9 3 (UK)
78 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 45 minute episode
2 x 60 minute episodes
Remarkably popular during its earlier series, The Comedians was basically a bunch of stand-up comedians and a Dixie Jazz band (Shep’s Banjo Boys) in Acker Bilk vests.
Recruited from the hard-drinking Northern night clubs and working men’s clubs that were their staple environment, Granada TV put the North’s best ‘unknown’ comics into the studio, taped their (expletives deleted) live acts and edited the material into non-stop barrages of quips to slay the audiences at home, packing up to 50 jokes into each half-hour show (although 80% of the material recorded was never used).
Even though some of the comics had been working for 20 years, many were appearing on television for the first time.
Many of the lines were so old they creaked, and there was a fair dose of racist, sexist and physical defect material that was only just acceptable then and would not be today, but mostly the jokes were of the mother-in-law, Irishman and three-men-walk-into-a-bar variety.
Viewers took to the series with great enthusiasm and from those first few golden series many stars were born, among them Colin Crompton (a weedy Northerner), Ken “settle down now” Goodwin (a shy stutterer), Charlie Williams (an ex-professional footballer and “coloured chap” from Yorkshire), Bernard Manning (a portly northern club owner), the great if relentless Ulster comic Frank Carson, Lennie Bennett (a giggler) and Mike Reid (a ‘marfy’ cockney).
All of them found their nightly fees skyrocketing from around £50 to £1000 or more.
So popular was the series at the time that in the summer of 1972 The Comedians became a stage show, mounted in Blackpool, Great Yarmouth and London, and an album made the lower reaches of the charts.
The series was created by Granada’s Light Entertainment producer Johnny Hamp, whose father had been a magician playing music halls as The Great Hamp.
Being steeped in the tradition of old-fashioned stage entertainment, both knew exactly where to find the best local talent, and had the stamina not only to last the exhausting three-hour recording sessions where each comedian would perform a stand-up spot of around 15 to 20 minutes but also to edit the resulting tape into finished shows.
Although The Comedians was still turning up fresh talent, audiences at home grew tired of the formula after three years and the series came to an end after 50 editions.
In 1974, on the back of its major success with The Comedians, Granada launched a Northern working men’s club variety show, The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club which featured many of the same comics, with Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton as comperes.
Three separate revivals of The Comedians followed and although none matched the success of the earlier shows, some new stars were unearthed, among them Stan Boardman and Roy Walker – indeed, perhaps the best epitaph for the series is that it spawned more TV games show hosts than any other series before or since.
“As the Pope once said to Michelangelo; ‘You’d better come down, I think we’ll have it wallpapered”.
Johnny ‘Goon’ Tweed
Sheps Banjo Boys