1 9 8 2 – 2 0 0 0 (UK)
37 episodes (various durations)
The Comic Strip Presents was a series of occasional comedic films from Peter Richardson, Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall and friends.
The team parodied almost every genre of television and movies and provided some of the absolute finest British comedy of the late 1980s.
Production values were high, all the roles were beautifully played, and the shows were just damn funny.
We’re talking side-splittingly, pant-wettingly, gasping-for-oxygen funny. “I think we’re halfway between a Carry On film and a Joe Orton play,” Robbie Coltrane told Radio Times in 1990.
While many thousands of words have been written about the Comic Strip Presents TV films – mostly in praise but some vitriolic in their scorn – it is likely that no better description exists of these unique contributions to British TV.
All 37 films are distinct productions, self-contained from the others, their dialogue stuffed with dangerous lines, their action containing hefty quantities of seemingly gratuitous physical violence.
By the same token, all the programmes contain some wonderfully funny dialogue, creative ideas and perhaps the most astute film pastiches ever attempted on TV. Whether the results were good or bad, to have missed a Comic Strip production meant that you missed something of note.
Financed by theatrical impresario Michael White – who presented the 1963 revue Cambridge Circus in the West End, which led, eventually, to Monty Python and The Goodies by way of radio gem I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again – the Comic Strip club had opened in October 1980 at the Boulevard Theatre in London.
Like the Comedy Store before it, this was located within a Soho strip joint, but, unlike that other and more famous venue, what was staged at the Comic Strip was more like a show, with the same personnel repeating nightly – and honing, all the while – the same act.
The eight-strong core team at the venue comprised Alexei Sayle, Arnold Brown and three double-acts: Mayall and Edmondson, Planer and Richardson and French and Saunders. Peter Richardson was keen to get the team on to TV, and was especially interested in using film as the medium.
After some ideas had been thrashed around, Richardson took a list to Jeremy Isaacs, head of Britain’s fourth TV channel, due to open in November 1982, whereupon six films were commissioned.
With the exceptions of Arnold Brown (whom Comic Strip TV viewers never saw) and Alexei Sayle (who showed up in only six of the 37 films), the six other protagonists appeared in most of the productions.
Added to round off the eight were Pete Richens (who co-scripted a good many of them and had tiny roles in two latter productions) and Robbie Coltrane, who had not played the Comic Strip club but was brought in as a friend by Rik Mayall. These eight formed their own production company, Comic Strip Productions, with Peter Richardson the linchpin and driving force of the collective.
The first film, the fabulous Enid Blyton parody Five Go Mad In Dorset, went out on the opening night of Britain’s Channel 4 (with “lashings of ginger beer”), and four of the other films were screened soon after.
Although capable of comedic savagery, these young comedians steered clear of the traditional areas of racism, sexism and religion to concentrate on more general, social and political themes, albeit with an anarchic edge.
Their TV success did much to rid the small-screen of the outmoded and often downright offensive comedy that had followed the liberalisation of the medium in the 1960s, although this in turn coincided with (or possibly instigated) a wave of ‘political correctness’ that swept through British society.
The films kept coming, at reasonably regular intervals and switched in 1990 to BBC2. All the while, the various players were enjoying glorious success with other TV productions (The Young Ones and French And Saunders to name but two) and the ‘alternative’ comedians rapidly became primary stars of the medium.
After a five year break, the team returned to the screen (and to C4) in 1998.
Stand-outs include Bad News Tour (1983) – how Spinal Tap could have been made; Fistful of Travellers Cheques (1984) featuring mean ugly gunslingers Miguel (Peter Richardson) and Carlos (Rick Mayall) on their holidays from the Polytechnic; Space Virgins From The Planet Sex (1993); and the zenith of Gin-soaked, Tom-Jones obsessed, cuddly-toy massacring hilarity, Mr Jolly Lives Next Door (1988), in which Mayall and Edmondson operate a male escort business from above an Off License (liquor store). “Escorts, bestcorts – Come in if you’re saucy!”.
The duo inadvertently get mixed up with the mob when they receive a large amount of money and instructions to “take out Nicholas Parsons”. Turns out the parcel was actually for their next-door neighbour – Peter Cook as Mr Jolly, a rather house-proud contract killer.
While produced in association with Channel 4, two Comic Strip films were made expressly for the cinema. The Supergrass, released in November 1985, and Eat The Rich! (October 1987) were written by Peter Richardson/Pete Richens and directed by Richardson.
Five of the six 1988 TV productions (all but Funseekers) were also afforded a limited theatrical release in autumn 1987 but these were unquestionably made for television.
The 1991 feature film The Pope Must Die, starring Robbie Coltrane, written by Peter Richardson/Pete Richens and directed by Richardson, was not made by Comic Strip Productions, however.
Five Go Mad In Dorset (1982) | War (1983) | The Beat Generation (1983) | Bad News Tour (1983) | Summer School (1983) | Five Go Mad On Mescalin (1983) | Dirty Movie (1984) | Susie (1984) | Fistful Of Travellers Cheques (1984) | Gino – Full Story And Pics (1984) | Eddie Monsoon – A Life? (1984) | Slags (1984) | Consuela (1986) | Private Enterprise (1986) | The Strike (1988) | More Bad News (1988) | Mr Jolly Lives Next Door (1988) | The Yob (1988) | Didn’t You Kill My Brother? (1988) | Funseekers (1988) | South Atlantic Raiders – Part 1 (1990) | South Atlantic Raiders – Part 2 (1990) | GLC (1990) | Oxford (1990) | Spaghetti Hoops (1990) | Les Dogs (1990) | Red Nose Of Courage (1992) | The Crying Game (1992) | Wild Turkey (1992) | Detectives on the edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1993) | Space Virgins From Planet Sex (1993) | Queen Of The Wild Frontier (1993) | Gregory – Diary Of A Nut Case (1993) | Demonella (1993) | Jealousy (1993) | Four Men In A Car (1998) | Four Men In A Plane (2000)