1 9 8 1 – 1 9 8 3 (UK)
16 x 30 minute episodes
Originally a 1967 revue series to advertise the talents of Lulu, Mike Yarwood and Ray Fell, the show was revived in the 1980s as a showcase for Lenny Henry, Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield (the northern club comedian not the American magician).
With its pre-watershed primetime slot, there was little room for sexual content or biting satire but even when the jokes were lame, the three performers enlivened the material (they were allowed to choose which sketches they wanted to perform, down to the costumes and wigs).
Ullman displayed great accomplishment as both comic actress and singer (in 1983 she had three top ten hits); Copperfield excelled with the more slapstick elements – and his characters ‘Old Scrunge’ and the popular ‘Medallion Man’ – while Lenny Henry, the boisterous member of the team, showcased two excellent comic creations, the Reverend Nat Westminster and reggae politician Fred Dredd.
The sketches and jokes were broken up by musical guests and by ‘Gagfax’ using then state-of-the-art computer graphics to send up the BBC’s Teletext service Ceefax.
The trio enjoyed impersonating fellow performers, with Copperfield doing Cliff Richard and Reggie Bosanquet; Henry showcasing Gladys Pugh from holiday camp sitcom Hi-De-Hi and his already well-established David Bellamy and ‘Trevor McDonut’; and Ullman aping Julie Walters and, disturbingly, Kenny Everett.
Contemporary musicians were another subject of light-hearted ribbing, including ‘Annoyah’ (Toyah) and ‘Bunchananas’ (Bananarama). Television, too, was a good source of material: Boys from the Blackstuff, Juliet Bravo, Brideshead Revisited and ‘Jenny Hill’, which wittily reversed the ITV’s star‘s sexual leering.
Widely acclaimed – the show won BAFTAs for Best Light Entertainment Programme in 1982 and Light Entertainment Performance for Tracey Ullman in 1983 and that year’s special won the Montreux Golden Rose – it did much for the TV careers of Henry and Ullman (Copperfield went to the cabaret circuit), not to mention those in the gag-writing backroom, amongst them Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (who went on to create Red Dwarf) and Ian Hislop.