The Secret Policeman’s Ball, 1976
The Secret Policeman’s Ball is the generic title given to a series of benefit shows to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International. There have been four distinct eras of the Amnesty benefit shows. Perhaps the most fondly remembered was the first era, 1976-1981. They featured five members of Monty Python and included newcomers of the time such as Rowan Atkinson. These early shows yielded films, television specials, home-videos, and albums that have since been widely seen and heard internationally.
This post deals with the origins of the show and the 1976 show. We’ll cover the others in separate posts.
Co-founded by then Monty Python member John Cleese, campaigner Peter Luff and entertainment industry executive Martin Lewis, the shows were initially staged in the United Kingdom, beginning in 1976, with A Poke In The Eye (With Sharp Stick). These early shows featured popular British Comedians, but would later include leading musicians and actors.
The Secret Policeman’s Ball shows are credited by many prominent entertainers with having inspired them to become involved with Amnesty and other social and political causes in succeeding years.
The shows’ audio was recorded and subsequently released as a highlights LP in November of 1976. A film recording was also made entitled “Pleasure At Her Majesty’s” It had it’s premiere in November 1976 at the 20th annual London Film Festival held at the National Film Theatre. The film was subsequently screened on British TV by the BBC in December the same year. Going into 1977, the film received a modest theatrical release at ‘’art-house’’ cinemas.
A Poke in the Eye (With a Sharp Stick) was the title of the first show. Performed in 1976 as a series of sketches, it took place between 1st and 3rd April, 1976 as a series of late-night galas at London’s West End at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The cast included Monty Python stars, The Goodies, Dame Edna and Peter Cook.
Here’s the show in full
Barry Humphries as Dame Edna
Original Film Release Date: November 1976
Original TV Transmission Date: 29th December 1976