The 1950’s – The Great British Sitcom Is Born
Continuing our look back at some of the key moments in the changing face of comedy over the last 70 years.
In the history of British Comedy the 1950’s is perhaps one the most significant decades. Radio is still the main player but with the advent of the Queen’s Coronation more households have television. The content of comedy is still very much variety based: sketches and musical interludes. However somthing was about to change.
Some of the most iconic comedy shows started in the 1950’s and of course the humble sitcom was born. In 1951 one of the most iconic comedy shows of all time, still popular today, The Goon Show was born originally: Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. The show caught on almost immediately as audiences grew from 370.000 to nearly two million by the end of the 17th show. Michael Bentine moved on to persue his own projects after series two.
Between 1951- 1952 Tony Hancock took to the airwaves with his catchphrase “flippin’ kids” as Archie Andrews Tutor for one series of Educating Archie which ran from 1950 – 1958. A move to television for the show was not so popular. Shown on the new ITV network the series lasted 27 episodes.
Having made his debut on stage in 1948 as straight man to magician David Nixon, Norman Wisdom hit cinema screens in 1953 with his first film Trouble In Store.
Also on the big screen in 1954: a film based on a book of the same name and starring Dirk Bogarde, Doctor In the House made it’s debut. It was a huge success most becoming the most popular box office film of 1954 in Great Britain. Off the back of this success came six sequels, two radio series in 1968 and in the 1970’s the films found themselves adapted for television.
Derek Roy was one of the top comedians of the time, unfortunately his 1952 all star radio series Happy Go Lucky was not the success he might have hoped for, but it did give writers Galton and Simpson their first script writing break.
On the matter of writers a top comedy double act: Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin were also writers. Their BBC Radio series ‘Calling All Forces’ was a huge hit in the 1950’s, but for whatever reason they never completed it, enter Galton and Simpson to complete the series. This was a significant assignment as they worked with Tony Hancock, which inturn lead to Britain’s first sitcom: Hancock’s Half Hour in 1954.
Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin pop up again in 1954, this time they have their own show. Fast and Loose was A BBC TV sketch show written and performed by Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin it ran for 2 series.
Prior to Hancock’s Half hour, in 1953 a hit radio series that had started in 1948: Take It From Here made a slight adjustment to part of it’s show introducing us to the ‘Glums’. They were so popular, that in 1978 they were still remembered and appeared as part of the unsuccessful Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night program, a year later, in 1979, The Glums was made into it’s own television series (consisting of eight episodes) by London Weekend Television and broadcast on ITV.
In 1954 another future comedy act made their debut with a BBC Radio series: You’re Only young Once and a less than successful TV series Running Wild. The Act: Morecambe and Wise, who after their brief brush with their own TV show took a spot on a popular TV show of the time the Winifred Atwell show with material written by Johnny Speight and this was a success.
By Jove Mrs – guess who got his first break into showbusiness in 1954? Yes, Ken Dodd then aged twenty-six, in September of this year, he made his professional show-business debut at the now-demolished Nottingham Empire. By 1958 Ken Dodd had gained top billing at Blackpool, just like his shows he’s still going!
In 1955 ITV was born and so the race for the top TV show was on. Hancock’s Half Hour moved to TV in 1954, becoming the first TV sitcom to be broadcast each week. ITV’s first sitcom offering was The Army Game in 1957 starring William Hartnell who would go on to star in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant in 1958 (of course this was the first of the long running Carry On series) and as TV’s first Doctor Who.
As the 1950’s drew to a close we saw the beginnings of the TV Christmas special with the BBC’s: Christmas Night With The Stars that ran between 1958 and 1972. By 1959 Benny Hill had his own show on the BBC, Kenneth Horne made his radio debut with Beyond Our Ken and an all star cast set sail with The Navy Lark.
Next Time: We take a look at at the highlights from the 1960’s: Tony Hancock hits the big screen and another chapter that sets the scene for some of our best loved sitcoms opens