Sometimes the simplist ideas are the best. The simple format used in The Comedians is still being used today in shows such as: Live At the Apollo, Michael Mc Intyre’s Comedy Roadshow uses some of the elements. In 2011 this popular TV show celebrated 40 years at the top and we were lucky enough to have the show’s creator and legendary TV producer Johnnie Hamp provide us with the story of how it all came about. What follows is part one of The Comedians story.
Throughout the sixties and into the seventies, clubland in the North of England featured the stand-up comic, invariably a compere or opening act. Johnnie Hamp, Head of Entertainment at Granada Television, himself a one time variety act ans son of a magician, toured the clubs looking for comics for a pilot edition of a new program he had in mind, and felt the time was undoubtedly right to introduce them to a television audience.
The concept was new and viewers had seen nothing like it before. It had the simplest of formats, the most basic sets and featured six or seven of those comics from the clubs, telling their best gag routines with Hamp ruthlessly cutting from one to another in quick succession. Only a handful of club comics had broken away from clubland and made it into television in the past. This was different and refreshing.
The comics were picked and the pilot was filmed early 1971. it was shown to program controllers in an unlikely place, the Montreux casino in Switzerland. Ten minutes into the recording a Yorkshire Television rival actually fell out of his chair with laughter. Another television boss was heard to say, with a possible tinge of envy. “It’s terrific and extremely funny – I wish I’d thought of it first.”
The first series of The Comedians was aired in June 1971 to great critical acclaim. The unknown club comedians in the first transmission included: the brash cigar smoking Bernard Manning, the cuddly soft spoken George Roper, Ken Goodwin, with his giggly comic book humour, loud Irishman Frank Carson, Duggie Brown, complete with trademark quintessential seventies dress sense and Charlie Williams, the black comic who spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent – something television audiences had never seen before. It was groundbreaking.
These men became household names on The Comedians overnight. A second series was immediately commissioned and the team expanded giving others a break along the way. Tom O’ Connor, Jim Bowen, Mike Reid – they all owe their success in show business to The Comedians and they have acknowledged it.
More series followed along with several hour long specials each starring individual comics and festive programs each Christmas and New Year.
Hamp devised a spin- off series, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, featuring Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton, which also introduced new names to television, such as Cannon and Ball and Paul Daniels, working alongside top show business stars like Roy Orbison and Howard Keel.
Our Thanks to Johnnie Hamp who kindly supplied the material used in this post.
Final Part Next Week