70 Years Of British Comedy – 1970’s, Part One, BBC
Continuing our look back at some of the comedy highlights of the last 70 years we arrive at the 1970’s. The idea behind the posts is to give readers a quick guide to how comedy has changed over the decades so you can decide which was comedy’s golden decade? These are not exhaustive guides and there will always be someone’s favourite missing.
It was the decade of strikes, the punk rockers and buy the end of the decade Britain had it’ s first woman Prime Minister, but for TV comedy it would become a golden age. There wasn’t just the advent of colour TV, there were so manty good sitcoms you were spoilt for choice. Among all this there were some great game shows that had us laughing and on BBC 2 Laurel and Hardy were regular fixtures on our screens along with Charlie Chaplin.
Many great sitcoms also found success on the big screen and radio. So many highlights we’ve split this post into two. Today we look at the BBC. In part two next week we”ll look at ITV.
As the decade began Galton and Simpson’s legacy was still with us as BBC Comedy Playhouse continued to produce some of our best loved sitcoms. In 1972 it was a sitcom about a Department Store: Are You Being Served? that lead to the long running sitcom of the same name that ran for ten years. It also got the big screen treatment in 1977. In 1973 Roy Clarke’s Last Of The Summer Wine made it to a full series, well, 30 to be precise. Last Of The Summer Wine focused on the antics of three retired men in a Yorkshire villiage, it went on to become the world’s longest running sitcom to date, running for thirty seven years.
After a successful pilot as part of Comedy Playhouse in 1969 Frankie Howerd returned as slave Lurcio for a full series of innuendo and mirth as Up Pompeii retuned for 2 series, interestingly both were broadcast in 1970.
Galton and Simpson had headed off to pastures new in 1965 after series four of Steptoe and Son, but in 1970 they returned for a second run of their hugely popular sitcom, this time in colour and with two Christmas Specials. Of the two specials, it was the 1974 edition that signed off one of TV’s most popular sitcoms, leaving the writers free from the pressure of an ongoing series to once again persue projects that interested them. Like many sitcoms of the 1970’s Steptoe and Son made it to the big screen with Steptoe and Son The Movie in 1972 and Steptoe And Son Ride Again in 1973. Despite writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson feeling that ‘Ride Again’ was sa better script the first movie did better business at the box office.
After appearing in a sketch about class in the Frost Report, Messr’s Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker appeared together in a brand new series that would go on to become a national institution: The Two Ronnies ran for 12 series from 1971 until 1987
Monty Python’s Flying Circus had began life on the BBC back in 1969, it came to an end in 1974 as a TV series springing onto the big screen in 1975 with Monty Python and The Holy Grail, the group’s first film in 1971 entitled: And Now For Something Completely Different was a compilation of popular sketches re-filmed for the big screen, Holy Grail was the first original film script.
Carla Lane had success with The Liver Birds coming off the back of Comedy Playhouse and that was still running, coming to an end in 1978. Not one to rest on her laurels Carla had another big success in 1978 with Butterflies a sitcom about a frustrated housewife and her family, some of the scenes involoving her cooking were comedy gold.
Did TV writers in the 1970’s have a window into the future? during Tom Baker’s tenure as Doctor Who there are mentions of an earth High Minister voiced by a woman, thre Brigadier is heard on the phone addressing the Prime Minister as Maam. Meanwhile writers John Esmunde and Bob Larbey decided to go green with their hugely successful sitcom The Good Life. The series focussed on The Goods who decide to quit the rat race and become self sufficient, much to the horror their social climbing next-door neighbours. The Good Life remains one of the most beloved sitcoms of sll time.
Another enderaring sitcom of course was Dad’s Army, the antics of the Walmington ON Sea Home Guard had begun in 1968 it’s run came to an end in 1977.
After creating controversy in the 1960’s Alf Garnett got another bite of the cherry as Till Death Do Us Part returned for four more series. Despite all the furoar that surrounded the Alf Garnett character it’s interesting to note that he was on TV for four decades.
The classics of the 70’s were not just limited to the BBC, ITV had plenty of their own. In fact many of their gems were brand new. We’ll look at them in a seperate post.