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The Thirty Nine Steps to Film Heaven
on 23 May 2008
Difficult to imagine in these days when we get a new TV channel every couple of days that in 1982 we only had three and that the first night of Channel Four would be an important cultural event. The one programme that I had been looking forward to was `The Comic Strip presents...Five Go Mad in Dorset' a perfect parody of the Enid Blyton's `Famous Five' books. It was an absolute scream and has coloured my television viewing ever since, from `The Young Ones', `The New Statesman', `French and Saunders', `Happy Families' and `Bottom' on to this weeks `Teenage Kicks'.
The remainder of the first series carried on the success with the brilliant ensemble piece `War', the fantastically clever `The Beat Generation', the classic heavy metal parody `Bad News Tour' and the brilliantly observed `Summer School'. The first three films were written by the Peter Richardson and Pete Richens partner ship while `Bad News Tour' was the brain child of Adrian Edmondson and `Summer School' was written by Dawn French.
The second series raised the bar even further with it's precursor of a second `Famous Five' film, `Five Go Mad On Mescalin' which built on the first film. Second up `Dirty Movie' is a brilliant visual comedy from the pen of Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall which works well with Rod Melvin's organ accompaniment. `Susie' is a brilliant love story parody from the Richardson Richens axis with Dawn French brilliant in the lead. `A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques' has Rik Mayall collaboration with the core writing team to create a perfect pastiche of the Dollars trilogy. `Gino' is a brilliant film with Keith Allen in the lead and is without doubt my favourite of all the Comic Strip films.
Edmondson's `Eddie Monsoon' and Jennifer Saunders `Slags' close the series and show how all the writing had improved.
`The Bullsh*tters' is now considered a Comic Strip film although as a collaboration between Allen and Richardson it was originally released without the familiar title so as to give Allen equal status as the creator of this perfect parody of Seventies TV detectives `The Professionals'. Other stand alone episodes at this time where Edmondson's brilliant `Private Enterprise' and `Consuela' a perfect French and Saunders parody of Daphne Du Maurier's `Rebecca' which was the template for the shorter film parodies that would later be the centre pieces of their own TV show.
The next film was the cinema release of feature `The Sugergrass' which was Peter Richardson's directing debut and does perhaps drag in areas and would possibly have been better served to have been edited to a hour as part of the next series which kicked off with the brilliant `The Strike' which was the first of many films to parody Hollywood and it's most famous sons through films within films of very English political films, in this case a sexing up of the miners strike. The next film was `More Bad News' which continued in a similar vein to its predecessor. Edmondson's and Mayall then gave us `Mr Jolly Lives Next Door' which is a film prototype of the duo's later sit com `Bottom'. The Next film was Allen's `The Yob' which mocks Allen's own football yob persona and parodies `The Fly' in a brilliant film which was the first film not to use the bulk of the original ensemble. This is continued with Alexi Sayle's film `Didn't you Kill my Brother?' and Nigel Planer's `Funseekers'.
The fourth series of films saw a move to the BBC and a return to the half hour format but continuity was guaranteed with Trouble from `Traveller's Cheques' and Max from `Gino' as well as the full ensemble appearing in two parter `South Atlantic Raiders'. `GLC' was a sequel to `The Strike' with Robbie Coltrane playing Charles Bronson as Ken Livingstone in the story of the abolition of the Greater London Council. `Oxford' features special guests Lenny Henry and Leslie Philips while `Spaghetti Hoops' and `Les Dogs' featured less of the regulars, the latter been a particularly weird piece.
Three specials came from the Comic Strip staple the first of one being the brilliant `Red Nose of Courage' which parodied British politics with Adrian Edmondson being a worryingly good John Major. `The Crying Game' was another Allen Richardson collaboration twisting the Paul Gascoigne story with a politically correct twist. `Wild Turkey' was a Christmas special featuring a gun toting turkey questioning our Christmas traditions.
The fourth series started strongly with Allen and Richardson's `Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown' expanding the `Bullsh*tters' to parody all TV detectives with a few song and dance numbers. `Space Virgins from Planet Sex' was possibly the last great film with a B-movie pastiche blending with a wonderful James Bond parody in a way only the Comic Strip could pull off. `Queen of the Wild Frontier' saw Richens and Richardson move towards straight films but had none of the charm of the older films. `Gregory' was an accurate parody of `The Silence of the Lambs' whilst `Demonella' and `Jealousy' outlined that the Comic Strip had indeed had its course.
The original cast re-assembled on Channel Four five years later with the brilliant `Four Man in a Car' the success of which was almost repeated in 2000 with `Four Men in a Plane'. This DVD was released before the last Comic Strip film `Sex Actually' was produced but a further release will no doubt see this been added.
Although the bonus documentaries offer very little insight the original Julian Temple film of the initial stage revue at least fill in the gaps of a brilliant box set of a truly bench mark TV show.