1 9 7 5 – 1 9 7 6 (UK)
12 x 30 minute episodes
Eric Idle’s follow-up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast him as the programme controller of fictional Rutland Weekend Television, based in England’s smallest county (which had disappeared in a 1974 local government reorganisation). From there issued forth sub-Python parodies for television.
The first series was recorded in a small studio for the BBC’s Presentation Department, with no participating audience. The cast included David Battley and Henry Woolf and Idle also roped in Neil Innes, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Band and a collaborator since Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69), to write the comic songs.
Rutland’s programming parodied everything from quiz programmes – A Penny for Your Warts – to music shows – The Old Gay Whistle Test. The latter included Idle’s excellent impression of presenter ‘whispering’ Bob Harris.
The first series bowed out after RWT “overspent its budget” – with the penny-pinching producers removing the set and costumes, the presenters were left draped in BBC towels.
Having found some change down the back of the sofa, Rutland was back on the air for a Christmas special, with the bonus of special guest George Harrison singing a composition co-written with Idle, The Pirate Song.
With a new logo – a revolving Friesian cow – and a bigger studio in Bristol, Rutland returned for a second series, in which the parodies continued with The Lone Accountant and Rutland Five-O.
The series presented a spoof documentary history of the Beatle-esque ‘pre-fab four’; Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry – The Rutles, following them from their beginning in Egg Lane, Liverpool, to super-stardom – including footage of the group performing such classics as WC Fields Forever and Goose Step Mama.
The sketch took on a life of its own with a successful revival in the US in 1976 when Idle hosted an edition of Saturday Night Live and the pastiche was ultimately developed into the enduringly popular full-length mockumentary film The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978).
Rutland Weekend Television was last heard of in 1980 when the broadcaster unsuccessfully applied – through former cleaner Elsie Harbinger – for one of the 16 available ITV franchises.