Tag Archives: sitcom

oh how we didn’t laugh

Russ Stewart: London, 2021


70s British comedies. 

Pavlovian catch phrases.  
Class and race/ethnicity stereotypical themes.  
Telegraphed slapstick routines. 
Sexual innuendo from leering, creepy old goats.

Benny Hill, On the Buses…………….

The odd gem: 
Reginald Perrin, Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers…. excellent although all fell back on lazy 70s comedy devices on occasion.

I live near a showbiz retirement home in Twickenham… I see odd 70s era characters venturing out to exercise their gums on Werther’s originals.   

Mad Frankie Fraser was a resident.  
Probably the funniest guy there.  He must have had an equity card to get in (from appearing in some sycophantic gangster worshipping TV show).  
My pal, ex mayor of Richmond borough, encountered Frankie during an official visit.  
Frankie eyed up his mayoral bling. 

I digress….

Contrast to US comedy of the 70s era. 
The Odd Couple, MASH, Taxi, Mork & Mindy, All in the Family, SOAP……..

US comedy had sharper dialogue, more nuanced themes and juxtapositions of pathos / humour.  
They had a phalanx of writers on each script and hence 3.5 jokes per iambic pentameter.

One imagines the typical two man UK comedy writing team collaborating, in their diamond Pringle pullovers, eying their watches for their afternoon golf appointment with Tarby, and hence agreeing to pad out a script with a prat fall and an unfunny one liner so they can meet the submission deadline and the tee off time.

A key characteristic of US comedy writing is sharp dialogue, which in turn is probably influenced by the strong Jewish presence in US showbiz. 
I have noticed it in US literature too.

For example:  I can re-read works by  Philip Roth, James Elroy, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connolly  due to the wit, menace and rich content of the dialogue. 

On the music front Steely Dan lyrics are as evocative as the music. 

I digress again… 
On balance there are some British gems.  Reginald Perrin hit the spot, genuinely sad and funny, albeit occasionally reverting to the catch phrase and the “catch image” (the hippo mother in-law was actually funny on repetition).  

Even Fawlty Towers could not resist the catch phrase and use of the ethnic comedy device, with the Man(uel) from Barcelona as the foil.  

The brilliance of Capt Mainwairing and Sgt Wilson’s exchanges, in Dads Army, were often interrupted by irritating repetitions of “we’re doomed” and “don’t panic”.  

UK comedy has evolved, in the context of so many great, current comedians. 
Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse and Ricky Gervais are the homo sapiens that have evolved from the primordial swamp that produced Bernard Manning, Mike Reid et al.  

The Office is a work of genius, albeit descended from Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. 

Some say there are many funny UK sitcoms. 
I don’t believe it….