Sez Les – Series Four, Show Five

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The fun starts right from the opening few seconds, as Les comes crashing through the YTV indent! Kenny Everett later did this with the Thames logo, but did anybody do it before Les, I wonder? It’s only a throwaway gag, but the concept of disrupting the established grammar of televison is an unusual one for this era of Sez Les – the surviving episodes so far tend to contain much more traditional comic fare.

The fact that Dawson wears the same suit and tie each week when delivering his monologues and links is slightly intriguing me. Did he only have the one suit and tie or was it because all his studio work was shot over a short period and then spread out through the whole series? The Two Ronnies did something similar when they had regular musical guests (that way the artist wouldn’t have to return week after week). Possibly Louis Barfe’s excellent book on Les Dawson might contain some of the answers, I think I’ll have to dig it out for a re-read.

Roy Barraclough returns to the fold in a sketch which features him and Les as a pair of clerical artists. It’s another cheaply mounted studio skit – the countryside is represented by a painted backdrop and some sound effects – which relies on wordplay to begin with. Although it doesn’t take long before it descends into slapstick (like most of the S4 sketches have done) with the pair putting more paint on each other than on their canvases. I’d have preferred more wordplay than slapstick, to be honest. The chief pleasure I derive from this sketch is watching Les’ inability to keep a straight face as he gets messier and messier.

The lovely Aimi Macdonald returns for another large-scale song and dance number. And very nice it is too. Les’ other guest today is New World. If you’re a Two Ronnies fan then they should be familar (the previous year they had guested throughout the first series). As with their Two Rons appearances, NW offer a very laid back performance, although they seem to be cut off a little abruptly.

Dawson’s monologue today is all about love.

The one person who loved me was my grandfather. He stood six foot four and had a hamster. He was a boyhood dream, he was a Red Indian chief and he came from the Who-Ha-He-Ha tribe. So called because they used to run through long grass with no underpants on.

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show Four

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The lovely Aimi Macdonald is one of this week’s guests. She performs a song with the backing of both the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Denys Palmer dancers. It’s a big production number – at one point the dancers move away to a separate set – so it seems that most of the budget for this show was spent right here (today’s sketch by contrast is a simple affair – only utilising a small set).

David Mallet continues to pull out some unusual camera angles – during this sequence there’s a series of crane shots, for example – which helps to give the performance a little more impact. As do the few clothes which Aimi just about manages to wear ….

Given her skills as a comedy performer, it made sense to recruit her for the sketch (and probably saved a little money too). The premise is simple – Aimi is a hotel guest who has lodged her toe in the bathtap and Les is the helpful plumber who comes to assist her. She’s naturally a little reluctant to let him in, but is reassured when he tells her that he’ll be blindfolded the whole time.

There’s something a little queasy about this sketch. Not only the way that Dawson “accidentally” drops his tools into the bath so that he’s got an excuse to give Aimi a quick fondle, but also the final reveal – when we realise that Dawson was only blindfolded in one eye (he gives the camera a self-satisfied leer to hammer this point home). Not something that’s aged very well then although neither has the brief musical skit featuring Les as a Chinaman(!).

Ah well, there are better pickings elsewhere – a few brief film sketches amuse, my favourite being the one featuring two doctors operating on a car … they eventually extract a baby car. Silly, but amusing.

Today’s other guests are The Peddlers. No, me neither, but they’re good fun – a musical trio who favour the organ very highly. I’m going to have to dig into their history, this website looks to be a good place to start.

One of Les’ monologues is directed towards a familiar subject – marriage. It offers a selection of choice cuts, such as this one.

I was reading a horror story the other day, it was a terrifying account of a man who was trapped under a ton of whale blubber. And it reminded me it was me wedding anniversary. That’s ten years, which is a decade, and you’ve never seen such a decayed looking woman.

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Two episodes of At Last The 1948 Show found

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The news that two episodes of At Last The 1948 Show have been discovered in David Frost’s personal archive is, of course, very welcome news – as is the fact that they will receive a public screening in December as part of the BFI’s annual Missing Believed Wiped celebration.

Although At Last has sometimes been considered chiefly notable for being a clear precursor to Monty Python, it stands up extremely well in its own right. Written by and starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman, the series also featured Aimi Macdonald.

Some of the already existing material, such as the four Yorkeshiremen sketch, would be instally familiar to Monty Python fans as it remained a staple of their live sets, right up to their farewell gigs at the O2 earlier this year.

The question now is, will these episodes together with the rest of the series, finally receive a worthy DVD release? The previously existing material surfaced on this DVD nearly a decade ago. Since it’s the only commercial way to own the series it was a must buy, although there are several problems with it.

Firstly, the picture quality is very poor. This is because the episodes have been sourced from very ropey looking teleecordings. Restoration could clean them up nicely, but the issue seems to be that whilst a company called Archbuild now owns the copyright of the Rediffusion archive, they don’t actually own the physical recordings.

Ideally, it would be wonderful for a company like Network to issue a release, such as their Incomplete and Utter History Of Britain. Maybe, thanks to the publicity generated by these two rediscovered episodes, the tangled question of copyright and ownership can be resolved and we’ll finally get the DVD the series deserves. One interesting point is that the BFI press release (link at bottom of the post) mentions they have been restoring the material of At Last which they hold. For a possible DVD release maybe?

The other major problem with the existing DVD is that it’s compiled from a series of Swedish compilations and therefore doesn’t flow in the way the original programmes would have done. The following list was compiled by Matthew K. Sharp and it shows what material was used to source the episodes on the DVD –

Episode One
2.5 choir won’t sing hymns
2.5 psychiatrist
2.5 secret service cleaner
??? the nasty way
2.1 reptile keeper swallowed by snake
2.6 chartered accountant dance
2.6 four yorkshiremen

Episode Two
1.6 televisione italiano presenta – let’s speak english
1.5 top of the form
2.1 doctor trying to sell things
2.1 thief hiding in public library
2.1 come dancing

Episode Three
??? musical item
1.4 someone has stolen the news
2.4 topic – freedom of speech
2.7 railway carriage
2.4 repeats report
2.4 tour through a live programme

Episode Four
1.2 opening
1.2 foggy spain link
1.2 four sydney lotterbys
1.3 visitors for the use of
1.3 sleep starvation
1.3 mice laugh softly, charlotte
1.4 jack the ripper
1.4 plain clothes police(wo)men

Episode Five
2.2 opening
2.2 shirt shop
2.2 the nosmo claphanger show
2.2 insurance
2.4 uncooperative burglars
2.2 rowdy scottish ballet supporters

Ideally, any future DVD would present the sketches in the correct order. This would mean some episodes would run short since various episodes are incomplete, but that would be better than the somewhat random nature of the above compilations.

Time will tell on that score, but at the very least it’s to be hoped that these two episodes will make their way into the public domain, as finding archive gems like these does seem somewhat pointless if they’re then locked away from public view.

PDF of the BFI press release concerning the rediscovery.

Update Sep 2015 – Another two episodes have been found which means that we’re getting close to having a complete run of the series (series one episode one only has about five minutes of footage in existence whilst a couple of other episodes have small amounts of material missing).  Radio Times article on the new discoveries here.