Beyond The Fringe, 1964
Beyond The Fringe was a comedy stage revue that made it’s way to the BBC in 1964. Originally premiered at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in 1960. It was the brainchild of Robert Ponsonby: director of the Edinburgh Festival, who aimed to engineer a hit show that would outstrip the competition by cropping the best writer-performers Oxford and Cambridge had to offer.
Ponsonby’s assistant, John Bassett recruited Dudley Moore first, who in turn suggested Alan Bennett. Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook followed. It was over lunch the four comics decided that the idea of the show could be profitable and Beyond the Fringe was born.
After dominating Edinburgh, the quartet went on to take both the West End and Broadway by storm, before reuniting in 1964 for a final televised performance for the BBC.
For many it was felt that historically the show lit the blue touchpaper for the 1960’s satire boom and opened the floodgates for a raft of bright young things to breathe fresh life into British comedy.
For the BBC performance all the show’s strongest characteristics that made the stage revue so successful were present: from the minimalist style to the masterful sketches themselves.
As the TV version was recorded in 1964, Peter Cook’s scurrilous impersonation of Harold MacMillan may have lost its topicality seeing as MacMillan had now left office but it was still a razor-sharp attack, while Bennett delivered his trademark parody of awful church sermons.
The broadcast also included one of Cook’s monologues in his persona as the bizarre E.L. Wisty and the masterpiece One Leg Too Few: featuring Moore as a one-legged auditionee hoping to land the role of Tarzan.
Original BBC Transmission Date: 12th December 1964