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Best British Comedy Shows-Not The Nine O'Clock News

Updated on July 20, 2013

Best of British Comedy - Not The Nine O'Clock News

Not The Nine O'Clock News was aired for the first time on BBC2 on16th October 1979.

It had been meant to be aired in April 1979 with an amusing prologue by John Cleese (it was going to be straight on after Fawlty Towers) but a General Election was called so that was that, it was delayed until October.

It was shown at Nine O'Clock when the 9 O'Clock News was being shown on BBC1, as such it was meant to offer a satirical alternative to the real news.

The show was another John Lloyd production. John would go on to have huge successes at the BBC and ITV with Blackadder, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and more recently, QI. He certainly had an eye for hot shows.

The original line up for the Not The Nine O'Clock News pilot included Chris Langham but he was dropped later in the show and replaced by Griff Rhys Jones.

The show run for only 4 years when all of the cast members decided they wanted to end it on a high whilst people still loved it.

So what made it so good?

Not The Nine O'Clock News Cast
Not The Nine O'Clock News Cast
Mel Smith who died suddenly in 2013, aged 60.
Mel Smith who died suddenly in 2013, aged 60. | Source
Clive Anderson
Clive Anderson
Richard Curtis
Richard Curtis
Howard Goodall
Howard Goodall

Not The Nine O'Clock News - Sort of a Sketch Show

Not The Nine O'Clock News followed in the tradition of That Was The Week That Was and Monty Python's Flying Circle in creating a 'holistic' entertainment show with skits, sketches, songs and satirical comment.

In charge of the writing were men like Clive Anderson, who later went on to create and host 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. He also went on to have a successful chat show though he was infamous for being somewhat rude to some of his guests.

Richard Curtis also wrote a lot of Not The Nine O'Clock's News' sketches, often using Rowan Atkinson in the main role; that comic relationship continued with Blackadder and Mr Bean.

Howard Goodall was Musical Director, responsible for all of the music on the show including the theme tune, other writers like Curtis wrote the lyrics with Goodall's support.

Topical Sketches

Not The Nine O'Clock News did lots of topical sketches. These usually appeared a few months after a news item on the same thing.

For example, they did an 'American Presidential Candidate' sketch during the Carter-Reagan election run up which basically took the micky out of the fact that any American (clever, political, smart, astute or otherwise) could run for president.

'Constable Savage' poked fun at police brutality and also the police picking on ethnic people for no apparent reason.

'Darts' takes a jokey look at the lack of athleticism of darts players and the fact that, in general, darts players do like to drink whilst they play darts.

My personal favourite sketch though was Gerald the Gorilla. We had seen nothing like it on comedy shows since Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Richard Curtis, Clive Anderson et al always seemed to be able to mix out and out funny sketches (Gerald, Darts and Constable Savage) with genuinely satirical sketches which were anti-establishment. The Not The Nine O'Clock News Team went out of their way to court controversy with their political humour.

Not The Nine O'Clock News - Silliness

Sometimes, Not The Nine O'Clock News ventured too far into satire and the sketches were funny for viewers in a knowing way - the things they poked fun at were happening in the UK and reported in the daily news.

This topicality was very funny but perhaps appealed more to a more knowing audience - older people for example.

What they did do well were silly but clever sketches which were not in the least bit political.

I have included 2 of their best silly sketches, Gerald the Gorilla and Man Walking Down The Street. I hope you will watch them both to get a flavour of how well they did silliness.

It was all about making people laugh - no points to prove, no politicians to offend, no one to please but the viewers.

Not The Nine O'Clock News - End On A High Note

The Not The Nine O'Clock News team made 27 episodes in total over a four year period.

The first series was radical and fresh, a real breath of fresh air at the time - UK TV was ready for another satirical show - we hadn't had one for a while and it was a good mix of satire and humour with a dash of excellent music from Howard Goodall.

They toured the UK with a live version which was a sell out and released an 'album' (an LP, these were pre-CD days) which was a massive hit too even though it was basically soundbites of the sketches from the show.

As I've said in a different hub, even just hearing the scripts of the show was funny, you didn't really need the visuals.

The sketches and songs I have chosen for this hub give a good sense of what the show was all about but I suspect if it was shown now it would look terribly dates; that is the nature of satirical shows. The out and out funny (non-political) sketches stand the test of time but the political stuff is only really funny at the time.

Think of Monty Python's Fish Slapping Dance or 'I'm A Lumberjack' and you still laugh but it doesn't all translate to the twenty-first century. Not The Nine O'Clock News is the same - Gerald the Gorilla can still make us chuckle 30 years later but a sketch about the Conservative Conference is lost on 2012 audiences.

I suspect this hub will be more popular with people of a certain age but I hope a few young 'uns enjoy it too even if all they watch is Gerald the Gorilla speaking Latin.

Alas Smith & Jones
Alas Smith & Jones
Rowan Atkinson
Rowan Atkinson
Pamela Stephenson
Pamela Stephenson

Not The Nine O'Clock News -Where Are They Now?

Rowan Atkinson - Blackadder, Mr Bean,Thin Blue Line and lots of Live Performances, Four Weddings and A Funeral among other things. Rowan will never be looking for work - he's still a very funny man. More recently he can be seen in the hit movies Keeping Mum, Johnny English and Johnny English II. He has also appeared in James Bond movies. He is a keen car enthusiast and has appeared on Top Gear once or twice. He is a notoriously private person and rarely seen in the papers or press, preferring the quiet life.

Griff Rhys Jones - Alas Smith & Jones, co-founder of TalkBack Productions which produced Smack The Pony, Da Ali G Show, I'm Alan Partridge and Big Train. He starred in the West End version of the play 'Charley's Aunt' to rave reviews and also starred in the hit movie, 'Wilt'. More recently he can be seen in 'Three Men In A Boat' on BBC TV.

Mel Smith - Alas Smith & Jones, co-founder of TalkBack Productions with Griff Rhys Jones, starred in The Tall Guy with Jeff Goldblum which was a hit in the UK and wrote and starred in Morons From Outer Space. He was very ill in 1999 after admitting an addiction to Nurofen, an across the counter painkiller containing codeine, an opiate. He recovered from this after a scare which saw him hospitalised. He has appeared in stage and at the Edinburgh Festival in successful productions and prefers the stage to TV.

Pamela Stephenson - Pamela did a 2 year stint on Saturday Night Live where she was the main female contributor in 1984-5. She did a PhD and is a qualified clinical psychologist. Pamela is married to comedian Billy Connolly, they have 3 daughter and she wrote his biography. She is an accomplished sailor, travelling the same route as Robert Louis Stephenson and his wife and writing a book about her travels, 'Treasure Islands' all about it. She also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, eventually coming third. She now lives with Billy and her family in the UK.



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