Monday, November 27, 2006

Between fact and breakfast

Have worked my way through all 25 episodes of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” in the last few weeks.

It’s very wordy, and at its best when kept short and to the point, rather than rambling any old which way. Often the longer skits end up in them refusing to go on, like they’ve even bored themselves.

While some judicious and brutal editing would have helped, there’s still heaps of wonderful stuff. The vox pops are often especially good. I also adored the wet le Carre stylings of Tony Mercheson making coffee for Control, which manages to be quite moving.

Like Uttoxeter’s damn businessmen, Peter and John, I’d remembered them as being much more prominent throughout the run, rather than just in one series. They’re also a lot more of their time than I’d realised – Tony losing his job when the Berlin Wall comes down.

I’d remembered it as rather silly fluff, but there are frequent, angry tirades against consumerism and crassness and meaningless corporate speak. Two seasons bow out with Fry’s emotive address to camera about the turgidity of buzzwords like “choice”, “charter marks” and “leisure facilities”.

There’s also a recurring thing of showing up the silliness of accepted procedures: the former estate agents now selling petrol, and the lawyers agreeing the stages of a one-night stand.

The series covers a huge range of stuff – daytime telly and Top of the Pops to gritty drama in the mould of the Professionals, advertising, politics, semantics, various films and sports, even the life of Alan Bennett. And in large part it’s character-led stuff, with the comedy hinging on the well-observed performance and vocabulary.

That range is all the more impressive considering it’s largely just the two of them. Earlier seasons have a couple of fun one-off cameos from the likes of Paul Eddington and Nicholas Parsons, but the season 4’s “guests” doesn’t really work. It all feels a bit smug and pally, even when they’re trying to make things a little more interesting, like implying m’colleague Clive Mantle is an alkie.

(I had to turn off the extra on Season 2, a 1982 Cambridge Footlights Review, which is just toe-curlingly self-indulgent and simpering.)

And yet and yet.

What really tickles this viewing several is some very simple comedy stuff: two men dressing up as daft women; an awkward great loaf with no rhythm dancing; lots of mugging like fools at the camera.

Actually, with all the silly wigs, frocks and singing involved, I’m surprised the series isn’t more often featured in “Before they were famous”, now Laurie’s a big film star and house.


Anonymous said...

And Jackie Tyler's in it.

Anonymous said...

>Actually, with all the silly wigs, frocks and singing involved, I’m surprised the series isn’t more often featured in “Before they were famous”, now Laurie’s a big film star and house.<

you're completely right about that being the kind of thing BTWF does but it always annoys me when they do. It should be about adverts, bit-parts and other footage people did before they were recognisable. But it's full of people doing things for which they were being greatly recognised at the time. Examples of which regretably currently elude me...

Anonymous said...

Such as David Jason doing adverts in the late 1970's - after he hecome famous in Porridge, Open All Hours and Do Not Adjust Your Set...

Anonymous said...

Yes! This is someone BEING famous, you oafs.

Anonymous said...