At Last The 1948 Show – BFI DVD Review

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Background

Broadcast in 1967 on ITV (Rediffusion London) At Last The 1948 Show is one of a handful of shows which laid the groundwork for Monty Python’s Flying Circus two years later (Do Not Adjust Your Set is another key pre-Python programme which I’ll be taking a look at next week).

Earlier in the sixties, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor had been part of the Cambridge Footlights team who took the revue A Clump of Plinths/Cambridge Circus first to the Edinburgh Festival and then onto the West End, Broadway and a tour of New Zealand.  Some of the best of their revue material would later be pressed into service in At Last The 1948 Show.

Cleese and Brooke-Taylor were also integral members of the radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again from 1964 whilst Cleese and Chapman also kept busy writing for The Frost Report.  Feldman was another key Frost Report contributor (he co-wrote the Class sketch which featured Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett). And like the others, Feldman was also enjoying considerable radio success (co-writing Round The Horne with Barry Took).

David Frost was something of a television powerhouse during this period. Although he would be the subject of harsh (but loving?) ridicule in both At Last The 1948 Show and Python, there’s no denying that he pushed the careers of many of his contemporaries forward (something which both Cleese and Brooke-Taylor are happy to acknowledge today).

Produced by Frost’s company Paradine Productions, At Last The 1948 Show ran for two series in 1967 (six episodes during February and March with a further seven following between September and November). Joining the four writers and performers was the lovely Aimi MacDonald who managed to wring the absolute maximum out of the small amount of material she was given.

Although At Last The 1948 Show had a more convential format than Python (sketches with punch-lines for instance) MacDonald’s fractured linking material does echo the way that Terry Gilliam’s animations would later be used in Python to provide a brief interlude between the sketches.

The likes of Bill Oddie, Barry Cryer and Eric Idle also pop up from time to time (Cryer having the smallest of small parts in probably the most famous sketch the series produced – Four Yorkshiremen).

Archive Status

Like a great many shows made during the sixties and early seventies, most of At Last The 1948 Show was wiped during periodic archive purges.  By the time that the remaining Rediffusion archive was donated to the BFI, it was found that only two episodes (four and six from series one) remained.  That most of the series now exists is testament to the tenacity of several key people (notably Steve Bryant and Dick Fiddy).

The first breakthrough was the return in 1990 of five compilation programmes broadcast in Sweden (these were issued on DVD in 2007).  Over time, several other shows were also located whilst fragments of footage have been obtained from disparate sources which include the Australian censor and Marty Feldman’s widow, Lauretta.

Most recently, two virtually complete editions (including series one, show one) were donated from Sir David Frost’s archive. For this release, where no video footage exists (the second episode of series one is the most incomplete) off-air audio has been synchronised to the camera script in order to fill the gaps.

The Series

Right from the off, the comic personas of the four main players are deftly established. John Cleese displays the type of manic intensity which would be his signature performance style for the next decade or more. Graham Chapman has a nice line in authority figures (albeit ones who have some fatal flaw – such as the Minister who literally falls to pieces). It also has to be said that he gives good yokel.

Tim Brooke-Taylor is always perfect as the hapless sufferer but also, like Cleese, does manic intensity very well. His clockwork hospital visitor (attempting to comfort a bed-bound Bill Oddie) is a wonderfully energetic spot of nonsense.

And although Marty Feldman had far less performing experience than the others, he impresses right from the off.  His boggle-eyed stare (something which David Frost thought would be offputing for the viewers) means that he’s perfect casting as the more eccentric characters, although he’s equally able to play the straight man when required.

Series one is stuffed with memorable sketches, a number of which were later recycled by the Pythons. For example, in the first show we see Graham Chapman’s solo wrestler in addition to the Secret Service sketch (which later appeared on the Python’s Live at Drury Lane album).

The Undercover Policeman sketch in show four is a delightfully ramshackle piece which saw all four struggle (and fail) to keep a straight face. In his interview on the third disc, Brooke-Taylor fills in some of the background – what was transmitted appears to be a second take and the others, for whatever reason, decided to devitaite from the script the second time around. This initially leaves Tim a little at sea ….

Several of the Cleese/Feldman two-handers, especially the bookshop sketch (Feldman as a customer requesting more and more unlikely books, Cleese as the increasingly ticked off proprtieter) are top notch. This one was recycled several times, both by Feldman and the Pythons, but the original is hard to beat.  The Wonderful World of the Ant is another which gets the thumbs up from me.

I also like the way that the hostesses increase by one each week, meaning that by the sixth and final show there are half a dozen glamourous girls all vying for attention. The lovely Aimi always comes out on top though.

She has a slightly increased role in the second series, which continued very much in the vein of the first.   Highlights include the period drama The Willets of Littlehampton and Tim Brooke-Taylor’s fairly savage parody of David Frost (The Marvin Bint Programme). The Four Yorkshiremen sketch is the undoubted jewel of show six, but Tim Brooke-Taylor’s chartered accountant dance is also worthy of a mention.

The seventh and final show has another classic Cleese/Feldman sketch and whilst it’s a shame that this edition isn’t quite complete (the final skit – a performance of The Rhubarb Tart Song – is missing) at least the end credits (which feature Ronnie Corbett gatecrashing proceedings to trail his new show) do still exist.

Special Features

The three disc set contains a generous amount of supplementary content.  Copies of the two scripts which feature the most missing material are included on the first two discs, along with a handful of other brief features.(such as photo galleries and John Cleese’s 2003 introduction from the BFI Missing Believed Wiped event).

The bulk of the special features are on the third disc.  Two newly shot interviews with John Cleese (31 minutes) and Tim Brooke-Taylor (38 minutes) are both of interest.

Cleese’s comments on his increasingly distant relationship with Feldman and his fondness for performing with Brooke-Taylor (who he likens, in performance style, to Michael Palin) were a few highlights from his interview whilst it’s hard not to love the all-round good egg that is Tim Brooke-Taylor. Indeed, rather like Michael Palin it’s difficult to imagine anyone ever having a bad word to say about him.

Also included is a 2006 interview with Cleese at the BFI (36 minutes) and 25 minutes of rushes from a 1969 interview with Marty Feldman which was never broadcast. Several audio features – Reconstructing At Last The 1948 Show (44 minutes) and a chaotic Dee Time interview (12 minutes) are also worthy of investigation.

Picture Quality

The previous DVD release (of the Swedish compilations) was incredibly grotty so any upgrade would have been welcome. The picture quality is certainly much improved, although given that several episodes were patched together from various sources it’s not surprising that some sections look better than others.

Given the age and condition of the telerecordngs, there may have only been a finite amount of restoration work which could have been carried out. So you can expect to see tramlining and other picture defects from time to time. But these are only intermittent issues, so in general the picture quality is quite acceptable.

Conclusion

Whilst At Last The 1948 Show will probably always be viewed as a son of Monty Python, it’s a series that really deserves to be appreciated on its own merits. Like every sketch show it doesn’t have a 100% strike rate, but when it clicks (as it so often does) the results are simply glorious.

It’s also very pleasing that after a great deal of hard work by the BFI, we have the series reconstructed in as complete a form as possible. Together with a raft of impressive contextual extras, it results in a very impressive package which comes highly recommended.

I have been watching ….

Taking a quick look at some of the programmes I’ve been watching over the last week or so.

Are You Being Served? – The Old Order Changes (17th March 1977)

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As you might have gathered from the above screencap, this is one of the (many) episodes where the staff of Grace Brothers are required – for a very flimsy reason – to indulge in a spot of dress up.  But by the start of the next episode all of the changes we see have been completely forgotten ….

Doctor Who – The War Games (April – June 1969)

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Continuing my rewatch tribute to Terrance Dicks (following Horror of Fang Rock) with this large slab of 1960’s Who. I’m taking it nice and easy (I’m sure some people have watched all four hours in one go, but that would several steps too far for me). I’m still finding that the story is as good as ever.  Yes it’s pretty leisurely, but every episode or so there’s a notable new arrival (some of whom only stick around for a short time) who ensure that the interest levels are kept up.

As always, I do slightly boggle at the performance James Bree. Possibly both he and Edward Brayshaw (who also delights in chewing the psychedelic scenery) deliberately decided to play things very broad.  Their performances certainly contrast sharply with the more naturalistic playing of most of the human soldiers (such as Graham Weston).

Blankety Blank (1st February 1985)

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Some more Dawson-era Blankety Blank. This edition sees the above lucky contestant walking away with a toolkit (she puts a brave face on it).  What’s notable about the Dawson episodes I’ve seen recently is the fact that the female contestants are all young and personable (in contrast to Wogan times, when you’d also see a few oldsters).  Les doesn’t seem too disappointed though, as it’s fair to say he’s rather tactile with all the lady contestants.

Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? – Strangers On A Train (9th January 1973)

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Okay, it’s slightly contrived that the lights go out just as Bob happens to stumble into Terry’s compartment (and also that they come back on at exactly at right dramatic time) but I think we can cut Clement and La Frenais some slack on this. Especially since the dialogue and interplay between the pair is so sharp right from the off.

I love poor Terry’s lament (he’s still in his thirties at this point remember) about everything that’s passed him by during the last five years (due to his army service). “I missed it all. Swinging Britain was just heresay to me. The death of censorship, the new morality, Oh Calcutta!, topless waitresses and see-through knickers …”

Callan: The Richmond File – Call Me Enemy (10th May 1972)

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Dug this one out for another watch on the anniversary of T.P. McKenna’s birth. Every scene between Woodward and McKenna is excellent (George Markstein’s script gives them so much to work with). A pity Markstein didn’t write any other Callan episodes but some of his other work (especially Mr Palfrey of Westminster) has a very similar feel and is well worth seeking out.

You can read my previous thoughts on Call Me Enemy here.

Shelley – Of Cabbages and Kings (15th December 1983)

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Thanks to Forces TV, I’ve seen a few episodes of Shelley over the last week or so. Odd that they cut out the musical stings on the adcaps (and the picture quality is pretty mushy) so it does make me rather keen to dig out my DVDs for a more concerted rewatch.

Of Cabbages and Kings is an episode that’s always stuck in my memory – possibly this is down to the second half appearance of Fulton Mackay. He plays a friendly down-and-out who obviously sees two fellow souls in Shelley and Malcolm (Bruce Bould).  Shelley tends to work best when the plot is minimal – like this one. Cabbages is simply 25 minutes of three people chatting – a mini-play which works nicely as a snapshot of the depressed eighties (and sadly still seems relevant in today’s depressed times).

European Superstars – 1975

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I’m continuing to chug my way merrily through the available Superstars shows on YouTube. In this one, David Hemery and Malcolm Macdonald are the plucky Brits, hoping to uphold the honour of the nation.

It may not be as well known as Kevin Keegan’s bike incident, but Hemery’s nasty tumble in the steeplechase is an edge of the seat moment (well slightly).  Having watched a fair few of these now, because Hemery often pops up it’s easy to be invested in his fate.  As ever, the dips and squat thrusts make for compelling viewing.

Mr Palfrey of Westminster – The Honeypot and the Bees (25th April 1984)

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Michael Chapman’s The Honeypot and the Bees feels quite different from what’s come before – this is mainly due to the way that Mr Palfrey is sidelined until the last twenty minutes or so. Therefore whilst Blair is following this week’s person of interest, Air Vice-Marshal Conyers (Richard Johnson), Mr Palfrey is spending his time critiquing the singing talents of choirboys ….

It has to be said that part one is a bit slow.  But then it does need to set up the mechanics of the story – namely the fact that Conyers is conducting an affair with Anna Capek (Catherine Neilsen), the stepdaughter of a known foreign agent, Stefan Horvath (Denis Lill).

But there are some areas of interest – chiefly the scenes where Conyers is seen interacting with (for the time) some cutting edge computer technology.  Floppy discs are very much the order of the day here. In a pre-internet world, crucial defence information is stored on a single floppy disc and this could spell disaster for the NATO alliance if it fell into the wrong hands.

This seems a little hard to believe (network computers were around at this point and would have negated the need for Conyers to carry the disc on his person at all times) but for the sake of the story we’ll have to let it go.

The relationship between the Co-Ordinator and Mr Palfrey has undergone something of a gear change since last time. They don’t interact a great deal, but when they do they appear to be on the same side.  However it may be that Mr Palfrey is simply keeping a quiet counsel – for example, when the Co-Ordinator speaks to Admiral Frobisher (Frederick Treves) Mr Palfrey maintains a watching brief for a while. What he’s thinking about we can only guess.

Alec McCowen had an excellent gift of stillness – Mr Palfrey often appears to be immobile and slow to respond, but the fact that McCowen is so frequently dialled down only serves to heighten the focus on Palfrey’s character. Palfrey’s pleasant (on the surface anyway) interrogation of Conyers’ daughter, Melissa (Leonie Mellinger), is the point where he really starts to go to work.

It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Markstein’s efforts, but The Honeypot and the Bees, once it gets going, is very worthwhile. And whilst he may not be a household name today, Richard Johnson’s casting would have been something of a coup at the time (the fact his name comes up last on the credits seems to be acknowledging this).  At first Conyers – by falling for such an obvious trap – appears to be extremely foolish, but by now the viewer should be wary about taking everything they see at face value.

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Grange Hill Series Seven and Eight coming to DVD from Eureka DVD in November 2019

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It’s good to see that, a year following the release of series five and six, the next two series of Grange Hill are slated for release this November.  And if the front cover is to be believed then this DVD will also include the 1981 Christmas Special (which was left off the previous DVD).

Given its school disco setting, it was assumed that music clearances had scuppered its release – so possibly the clearances have now been sorted or there may be trims/music substitutions. Time will tell.

As for series seven and eight, it’ll be good to retire my old off-airs and revisit these two years.  For me, series seven has always felt like it was treading water somewhat – by this point GH would have benefited from the introduction of some fresh blood (although we’d have to wait until the following year for a new crop of first years).

Gripper (apart from a brief cameo) is missed.  At least they didn’t attempt to replicate his character and Jimmy McClaren (Gary Love) is fitfully amusing from time to time (although his villainy does seem quite restrained compared to Gripper’s rampaging).  Possibly the most interesting thing about Jimmy’s inclusion in the series is that it enables Roland to make the switch from victim to bully.

Jeremy Irvine’s swimming pool demise (Grange Hill‘s second pupil fatality) is the clear dramatic highpoint whilst there’s a generous (three episodes) amount of time set outside the school. Two episodes focus on the mock UN summit hosted by David Bellamy (they also feature a young Gina Bellman) whilst the third centres around the odd couple of Mr Baxter and Roland, who find themselves in trouble during an orientating weekend.

If series seven felt at times like an inferior companion to series six, then series eight initiated a major shake-up.  Most of the fifth-formers failed to make it to the sixth form – only Stewpot, Claire and Precious survived.  Indeed, had it not been for the plotline of Stewpot’s infatuation with Annette (a bizarre twist – Claire might have been a bit of a moaner, but surely she was preferable to Annette) then they would have nothing at all to do ….

The new crop of first-years – Gonch, Hollo, Trevor, Calley, Ronnie – fell into familiar patterns. Gonch was simply another Pogo (always with his eye on the next money-making scheme) whilst Calley and Ronnie are this years Trisha/Cathy or Annette/Fay.

There’s conflict amongst the fourth-years, as the remnants of Rodney Bennett and Brookdale found themselves rubbing shoulders with the old GH hands (although I’ve never quite understood how three schools worth of pupils could fit into two school buildings).

By far the most significant new arrival is, of course, Mr Bronson (“You boy!”). For many he defines Grange Hill, although his era (series eight – twelve, 1985 to 1989) saw some peaks and troughs for the show (series ten in 1987 was a bit of a nadir for 1980’s GH as the running thread of Harriet the Donkey was stretched to breaking point).

For those who want more episode by episode information, posts on series seven can be found here whilst my thoughts on series eight are here.

Do Not Adjust Your Set to be released by the BFI (16th September 2019)

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Also released by the BFI on the same day as At Last The 1948 Show is Do Not Adjust Your Set, which looks to be equally as essential. The press release is below –

Do Not Adjust Your Set
Collector’s Edition

3-DVD set released on 16 September 2019

Do Not Adjust Your Set, a madcap sketch show with a cult following, was a huge influence on television comedy. Written by and starring Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle, with performances and additional material by David Jason and Denise Coffey, it also provided a showcase for Terry Gilliam’s animations and the musical antics of art-school jazz-anarchists The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

This collection brings together all the existing shows from the Rediffusion and Thames series for the first time. Among the five episodes entirely new to DVD, two were previously thought lost entirely. The research, reconstruction and restoration involved in creating this 3-DVD set and its companion, At Last The 1948 Show, both released on 16 September 2019, is the biggest TV project ever undertaken by the BFI National Archive. Both represent huge cross BFI projects with extensive work done by the Video Publishing and Technical departments, to ensure the best releases possible.

Do Not Adjust Your Set will be launched during a month-long season at BFI Southbank, It’s… Monty Python at 50, running 1 September – 1 October 2019, celebrating Monty Python – their roots, influences and subsequent work both as a group, and as individuals. The season forms part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the beloved comedy group, whose seminal series Monty Python’s Flying Circus first aired on 5 October 1969. It will include all the Monty Python feature films; oddities and unseen curios from the depths of the BFI National Archive and from Michael Palin’s personal collection of super 8mm films; back-to-back screenings of the entire series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in a unique big-screen outing; and screenings of post-Python TV (Fawlty Towers, Out of the Trees, Ripping Yarns) and films (Jabberwocky, A Fish Called Wanda, Time Bandits, Wind in the Willows and more). There will be a free exhibition of Python-related material from the BFI National Archive and The Monty Python Archive, and a Python takeover in the BFI Shop.

On Sunday 8 September at 17:40 in NFT1, there will be a special screening of two episodes of Do Not Adjust Your Set (one newly recovered). After the screening, a fully illustrated panel discussion will look back at the series and assess its importance within the Monty Python canon.

Special features
• Putting Strange Things Together (2019, 33 mins); Michael Palin recalls his early TV days, including Do Not Adjust Your Set;
• We Just Want You to Invent the Show (2019, 34 mins): Humphrey Barclay on his comedy career from Footlights to Rediffusion;
• The Uninvited Guest Star (2019, 5 mins): Tim Brooke-Taylor on his Do Not Adjust Your Set appearance;
• The Funniest Thing on English Television (2019, 7 mins): John Cleese reflects on the show’s impact;
• Bonzos on the Box (2019, 60 mins): new feature-length documentary on The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band featuring Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin-Spear and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith;
• The Doo-Dah Discotheque (2019): a Bonzo video jukebox;
• The Intro and the Outro (2018, 2 mins): a newly filmed introduction by Neil Innes;
• The Christmas Card (1968, 3 mins); Beware of the Elephants (1968, 3 mins); Learning to Live With an Elephant (1968, 4 mins): animations by Terry Gilliam, newly scanned from his own 35mm film masters;
• Lost Listens (1969, audio): rare sound-only excerpts from missing Thames episodes;
• Do Not Adjust Your Scripts: reproductions of scripts from missing Rediffusion episodes;
• The Humphrey Barclay Scrapbook: photos, cuttings and drawings from the legendary producer’s personal archive;
• Illustrated booklet with an introduction by Michael Palin, an exclusive interview with David Jason, new contributions from Humphrey Barclay, Neil Innes, ‘Legs’ Larry Smith and Kaleidoscope’s Chris Perry, plus essay and episode guide by the BFI’s Vic Pratt, comedy context by the BFI’s Dick Fiddy and musical notes by The Doo-Dah Diaries’ David Christie.

Product details
RRP: £29.99/ Cat. no. BFIV2120/ Cert PG
UK / 1967-1969 / black and white / 361 mins / English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 4:3 / DVD9 x 3: PAL, 25fps, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio (192kbps)

At Last The 1948 Show to be released by the BFI (16th September 2019)

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A three-DVD deluxe set of At Last The 1948 Show is due to be released by the BFI on 16/9/18. The press release, detailing the mouth-watering collection of extras, is reproduced below.

At Last The 1948 Show
Collector’s Edition

3-DVD set released on 16 September 2019

At Last The 1948 Show debuted in 1967: the silly, cerebral team effort of future Pythons John Cleese and Graham Chapman, Goodie-to-be Tim Brooke-Taylor and the marvellously fizzogged Marty Feldman. With laconic links by The Lovely Aimi MacDonald and set-pieces including the debut of the landmark ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch, this pioneering comedy series is now ready to be enjoyed by a new generation of fans (or by old ones all over again). The research, reconstruction and restoration involved in creating this 3-DVD set and its companion, Do Not Adjust Your Set, both released on 16 September 2019, is the biggest TV project ever undertaken by the BFI National Archive.

Initially beginning work six years ago, a team of the BFI’s specialist TV curators gathered every episode known to exist. Further down the line, the Video Publishing and Technical Delivery teams work tirelessly to reconstruct missing episodes, using audio recordings and shooting scripts, to create the most complete collection ever assembled of this series.

This Collector’s Edition includes all 10 surviving shows, plus two near-complete reconstructions and a partially complete episode with full-length audio: all presented with an array of archive gems and newly filmed extras. The accompanying booklet includes an essay by curator Steve Bryant detailing the research and technical work that was carried out.

At Last The 1948 Show will be launched during a month-long season at BFI Southbank, It’s… Monty Python at 50, running 1 September – 1 October 2019, celebrating Monty Python – their roots, influences and subsequent work both as a group, and as individuals. The season forms part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the beloved comedy group, whose seminal series Monty Python’s Flying Circus first aired on 5 October 1969. It will include all the Monty Python feature films; oddities and unseen curios from the depths of the BFI National Archive and from Michael Palin’s personal collection of super 8mm films; back-to-back screenings of the entire series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in a unique big-screen outing; and screenings of post-Python TV (Fawlty Towers, Out of the Trees, Ripping Yarns) and films (Jabberwocky, A Fish Called Wanda, Time Bandits, Wind in the Willows and more). There will be a free exhibition of Python-related material from the BFI National Archive and The Monty Python Archive, and a Python takeover in the BFI Shop.

On Sunday 8 September at 15:00 in NFT1, there will be a special screening of At Last The 1948 Show (two recovered editions from the series plus an exclusive preview of some of the extra material from this DVD release) followed by a Q&A with Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Special features
• Something About the Year 1948 (2019, 31 mins): John Cleese on working with Humphrey Barclay, David Frost and Graham Chapman, At Last The 1948 Show and the path to Python;
• We Just Wanted to Be Silly (2019, 38 mins): Tim Brooke-Taylor recalls his comedy influences and the making of At Last The 1948 Show;
• John Cleese in Conversation (2006, 36 mins): John Cleese joins comedy historian Dick Fiddy at BFI Southbank to reflect on At Last The 1948 Show;
• Reconstructing At Last The 1948 Show (2000, 44 mins, audio): the BFI’s Steve Bryant in discussion with Aimi MacDonald, Tim Brooke-Taylor and audiophile Ray Frensham;
• John Cleese Introduces At Last The 1948 Show (2003, 2 mins): an introduction recorded for the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped event;
• At Last It’s Dee Time (1967, 12 mins audio): the At Last The 1948 Show team’s unruly guest appearance on the BBC chat show;
• Now and Then: Marty Feldman (1968, 25 mins): Feldman discusses the nature of comedy in this unedited interview, shot for a never-broadcast Bernard Braden documentary series;
• The Humphrey Barclay Scrapbook: rare photos and drawings from the legendary TV producer’s personal archive;
• At Last Some Pictures: image gallery of promotional material;
• Reproductions of two scripts for the incomplete episodes;
• Illustrated booklet with Not Quite 500 Words by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Steve Bryant’s account of recovering and restoring the programmes and a look at the show’s place in comedy history by the BFI’s Dick Fiddy, plus episode notes with transmission dates and credits.

Product details
RRP: £29.99/ Cat. no. BFIV2121/ Cert 12
UK / 1967-1968 / black and white / 320 mins / English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 4:3 / DVD9 x 3: PAL, 25fps, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio (192kbps)

Terrance Dicks (1935 – 2019)

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Growing up, Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who novelisations were my staple reading diet. The Target range had other writers of course, but some of their books (like the two by David Whitaker) seemed a bit intimidating (especially the dense Crusaders).

Terrance may sometimes have been criticised for being a plain, straight-ahead sort of writer, but it’s undeniable that his books were perfectly pitched for his young readership. When I was slightly older I had the confidence to tackle The Crusaders, but had Terrance not been there first then maybe I wouldn’t have made the leap.

It’s a common refrain to hear people say that Terrance Dicks taught them to read, but it’s also true in so many cases ….

His contribution to Doctor Who in general was immense.  He wrote and co-wrote some excellent stories, but his work as possibly the series’ most efficient script editor really stands out. Having witnessed the script chaos which bedevilled the series during the late Troughton era, Dicks (with Barry Letts as a strong and supportive producer) brought stability back to the production office.

Dicks’ formula was simple – find a small group of writers you could depend on (Robert Holmes, Brian Hayles, Terry Nation, Malcolm Hulke, Robert Sloman, Bob Baker & Dave Martin) and then keep on recommissioning them. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Outside of Doctor Who, his work as first script editor and then later producer on the Classic Serials is worthy of further investigation. Like Doctor Who they had to get by on fairly small budgets and this might be one of the reasons why eventually they fell out of favour. By the mid eighties, glossy all-film productions of classic novels were the way forward and the humbler Classic Serial began to look second best by comparison. But many have stood the test of time well and still entertain today (such as the 1984 Invisible Man).

I’m also prepared to fight the corner of Moonbase 3, a series which I have a great deal of love for. It’s far from perfect (indeed Letts and Dicks’ series opener is especially stodgy) but it’s something I find myself drawn back to again and again. Although I’m not quite sure why ….

This evening I’ll be spinning Horror of Fang Rock in tribute. Not only is it a great story, it’s also a perfect example of Dicks’ no-nonsense style. Forced at the eleventh hour to cobble together a new story (after his previous submission was vetoed) Dicks didn’t panic – he simply rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Fang Rock is archetypical Doctor Who – take a group of bickering characters, trap them in an enclosed space with no hope of escape and then kill them off one by one.  It’s hard to go wrong with such a formula and Dicks didn’t disappoint.

He was inadvertently helped by Tom Baker who was in an even more stroppier mood than usual – but his disdain for the script, his co-star, Pebble Mill studios, director Paddy Russell and just about everybody and everything else actually seemed to work in Fang Rock‘s favour. Tom’s Doctor was never more alien and foreboding than he was in this story – and even if this was something to do with the fact that Tom was missing his regular Soho drinking haunts, no matter.

The Fang Rock DVD also boasts a lovely Terrance Dicks documentary and a lively commentary track where Dicks, Louise Jameson and John Abbott swop stories (often about Tom of course).

Judging by the way Terrance is trending on Twitter at the moment I’m sure I won’t be alone in paying tribute tonight. RIP sir and thank you.

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