Do Not Adjust Your Set – BFI DVD Review

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Background

Like its Rediffusion stablemate At Last The 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set was an important building block which paved the way for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And despite its status as a children’s show, DNAYS quickly gathered an appreciative adult audience as well  (John Cleese, for one, was especially captivated).

Running for two series – the first on Rediffusion, the second on Thames – DNAYS was the brainchild of Humphrey Barclay. Barclay was a Cambridge Footlights contemporary of John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor and would continue to work with Cleese and Brooke-Taylor on the radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.

Michael Palin and Terry Jones had first met as students in Oxford and continued their writing partnership following their graduation (joining a roster of very familiar names penning material for The Frost Report).  They also worked as BBC writers for hire, with Billy Cotton and Roy Hudd amongst their clients. Although the pair had appeared on television prior to DNAYS, it was this series which allowed them to blossom as performers (something which Palin remains grateful for to this day).

Eric Idle, a Cambridge Footlights old boy, was (like seemingly everybody else in the comedy world during the mid sixties) a writer on The Frost Report and also co-wrote (along with Barry Cryer and Graham Chapman) the first series of the Ronnie Corbett sitcom No, That’s Me Over Here! (the series which replaced At Last The 1948 Show in the schedules).

Another future Python connection was put into place with the arrival of Terry Gilliam. His animations, similar in style to his Python work, would appear in some of the later episodes.

The roster of regulars was completed with Denise Coffey and David Jason. Both were hired as performers rather than performer/writers (as Palin, Jones and Idle were) but Coffey and Jason did eventually contribute material to the show. Captain Fantastic (a regular filmed insert featuring Jason as a bowler-hatted superhero and Coffey as his evil nemesis) was originally written by Palin, but he found it increasingly tough going (as he wasn’t performing the material) so Coffey and Jason took up the challenge. It proved to have a brief life outside of the series – the shorts continued for a short while as an insert in the magazine programme Magpie.

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Regular musical interludes (and occasional sketch walk-on roles) came courtesty of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who are always nothing less than a total delight. Their antics are especially noteworthy when you consider that they had to fit these spots in-between their busy gigging schedule which regularly took them up and down the country. So that helps to explain why sometimes everything looks rather thrown together ….

Archive Status

Out of the 27 episodes made and broadcast, today 14 exist. The Thames series is especially hard hit – with only two (the 1968 Christmas special and episode two) now remaining from the thirteen broadcast.

There has been some positive news in recent years though. Episode four of series one was recovered back in 2015 (which does give one hope that more material might still be out there somewhere) whilst there’s nearly an hours worth of audio clips from selected missing Thames episodes on this DVD, which helps to fill in some of the gaps.

The Series

The first show should have been the Boxing Day special. Alas, due to a mix-up this wasn’t transmitted until January.

The Boxing Day theme might have been out of date by the time it was finally broadcast but there’s plenty of interest – Eric Idle as a slick quizmaster catches the eye as does the very lithe David Jason (in the boxing sketch). The Bonzo’s first contribution to the series is Jolitty Farm. It’s odd stuff, but when compared to some of their later offerings you have to say that it’s positively restrained ….

As with At Last The 1948 Show, it’s fascinating to see proto-Python moments pop up in DNAYS. The first show proper has an early outing for Michael Palin’s recalcitrant shop-keeper (today he’s annoying the unfortunate David Jason). Interesting to see the sketch play out to virtual silence – another early Python trait.

As the series progresses, a more adult and unconventional tone creeps in. This helps to explain why some sketches don’t get much of a reaction – at times the juvenile audience seems to be more comfortable with visual slapstick rather than intricate wordplay.

Travelling Kettle, How To Eat, Insurance Salesman and Art Gallery are all series one sketch highlights. The unexpected appearance of the keen-as-mustard Tim Brooke-Taylor (deputising for the ill Michael Palin) in episode nine is something else to look out for. And the increasingly demented Bonzos (blacked up when performing Look Out There’s A Monster Coming,  playing football during  Equestrian Statue) continue to be excellent value for money.

It’s a shame that so little material from the Thames era exists as what we do have is top notch (Palin and Jones continue to work excellently together). The audience sounds different in episode two (the laughter is deeper than the high-pitched chuckles from the first series, suggesting that the young audience has been supplanted by older types) and it would be interesting to know if this was a regular occurrence or just a one-off.

Picture Quality

Generally the episodes are in good shape – certainly overall the picture quality is more consistent and better than At Last The 1948 Show. Even episode four of series one, sourced from a Phillips 1500 cassette rather than a telerecording, is very watchable.

Special Features

Michael Palin (33 minutes) and Humphrey Barclay (34 minutes)  both contribute new  in-depth interviews whilst there are shorter contributions from Tim Brooke-Taylor and John Cleese. Three Terry Gilliam animations, remastered from his original 35mm elements, are another treat.

Pride of place on the extras disc has to go to the The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band documentary.  Running for sixty minutes and featuring contributions from Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin-Spear and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith it’s an absorbing watch.

Conclusion

Do Not Adjust Your Set obviously showcases Palin, Jones and Idle but this time round I’ve been especially impressed with David Jason, who throws himself into every sketch with gusto.  Denise Coffey might have slightly less to do than the others (Palin, Jones and Idle have acknowledged that writing for women – unless they were actually playing them – was not their forte at this time) but having a regular female performer does add an extra dimension to the series.

As with At Last The 1948 ShowDo Not Adjust Your Set is an excellent package – the episodes bolstered by a plentiful helping of extras which help to set the programme firmly in context.  The series’ hit rate was higher than I’d remembered from previous viewings and I’m sure that this is a DVD that I’ll come back to again and again in the future. Highly recommended.

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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)