BFI Film (studio)
320min approx (length)
16 September 2019 (released)
27 September 2019
This 3-disc box set is a real treat for the legion of Monty Python fans out there (one of the few British comedy shows to achieve legendary status in the US). Some who are now pensioners, then tired of the likes of 'comedy out of the ark’ - flogging that old dead horse a la Arthur Haynes, Benny Hill and so on must have found this new style of comedy a revelation in the 60's.
It all really started in the early 60's with 'Beyond the Fringe' leading to the political satire of David Frost's 'That was the Week that Was', Pete and Dud's 'Not only - but Also', followed by 'The Frost Report' (also with John Cleese and co-written by Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman) leading to ‘At last the 1948 Show’ (and quite a few other splinters) - culminating with Monty Python.
Here we can clearly see ALL of the elements that would feature predominantly in Python just a couple of years later. Mainly a number of subjects at that time would have be seen as 'sacred' cows by many and here being mercilessly lampooned. But some Brits had the ability to laugh at quite frankly what can be conceived as absurd in any case. However, things have not really changed (as if they ever will) and even when the Python's made 'The Life of Brian' there were still many (the 'silent' majority) who would have happily seen them hanged. We must also bear in mind that our protagonists were clever boys- ALL Oxbridge graduates (with the exception of Feldman; arguably the most talented) mocking the establishment of which they could (or would in some cases) so easily become a part of. An old joke about the series was that producer Frost himself started out knocking it and ended up owning it - but that sadly IS life. Enough then about politics! There is much to be enjoyed here and there is a stupendous amount of comedy talent involved on offer: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman are the main performers but we also have contributions from the likes of Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh, not forgetting the lovely Aimi MacDonald (whose own glamorous contributions are debatable) - she was apparently 'discovered' by David Frost. Later she is accompanied by more and more scantily clad glam girls, Mary Maude among them (who later achieved some fame as a serious actress) this is, of course, all a deliberate 'send-up' of the old traditions.
The multitude of sketches on offer will show the genesis of characters that would later be developed to extremes by our talented protagonists. There are far too many sketches to go into detail. Many really are absolutely hilarious. Four stereotypical British holidaymakers in Spain are all identically dressed. They all are from different parts of the UK talking boring rubbish – punchline is they are all married to the same woman. Btw they all have the same name: Sydney Lotterby (in case the joke will be lost on you as he was a top BBC Comedy producer at the time). Then we have Feldman as a (presumably Jewish) doctor who can't stop telling his overly polite patient about a 'little deal' he has going on the side: “Do you drink, Sir?” Patient: “Well I do as a matter of fact.” Doctor: “I can get you a lorry load of brandy - dirt cheap AND I'll throw the lorry in for a tenner”. Of course this sort of sketch would no doubt offend the nowadays pc brigade but back then somehow you could get away with it.
One particularly riotous sketch is the one in which Feldman plays a beggar asking Brooke-Taylor for money… when he refuses to give him anything Feldman threatens to take his clothes off bit by bit. The joke goes on until Brooke-Taylor turns the table and threatens to take HIS clothes off unless Feldman stops pestering him. It ends with a copper stepping in who then starts taking off his own clobber. Another sketch has Cleese as an operatic tenor singing about getting a 'ferret stuck up his nostril'. You can see why some more simple-minded folk found this stuff an insult to their presumed intelligence and twelve years later were laughing at a return to the old sexist/racist material still on TV. Oh well.
Our four protagonists rebound off each other extraordinary well: Cleese and Chapman both being well over 6 feet tall and Brooke-Taylor and Feldman being comparatively small men. The energy level here is almost frightening (particularly with Cleese), just as well they were all young. The goggle-eyed looking Feldman was the first to get his own TV series and a full length one at that. Anyone who is even vaguely interested in progressive comedy can hardly go wrong here. This appears to be all there is of this series. Some sketches no longer have a picture transmission and the quality itself is hardly tip-top but it hardly matters.
At Last The 1948 Show – Collector's Edition comes with an array of Special Features.