Relive the early days of Spike Milligan's madcap comedy series. Get set for a hilarious stop-motion standing still race, meet Jehovah's burglars, converse with the Queen's chicken, engage with highly dubious, diplomatically immune Arab sheiks, and take the disaster holiday of a lifetime with Bermuda Triangle Tours. Rarely seen surviving episodes of the 1969 series Q5 feature seasoned satirists John Wells and Richard Ingrams, Fanny Carby as the prototype sexy foil, and the guest voice of Harry Secombe trapped inside an elephant. As the show resumes in 1975 and 1978 with Q6 and Q7, Spike and John Bluthal are joined by Peter Jones, Bob Todd, Chris Langham, John 'it's the little things that count' Rappaport and a busty and barely clad Julia Breck. Bawdiness and borderline bad taste prevail, mixed in with musical numbers by Ed Welch, Alan Clare, Spike himself and other star performers. Gloriously frivolous and edgy gags and sketches from an undisputed comedy genius and his faithful cohorts.
Retro Tomfoolery, Slightly Past Its Laugh-By Date
- Q.: Vol.1 review by Count Otto Black
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The first thing that struck me about this compilation, before I even got as far as the episodes, was that, although all this material was made and originally broadcast by the BBC, these discs were released by a company that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Beeb. Presumably that's because Spike's relationship with the BBC eventually got so strained that they sacked and basically disowned him, to the point where they had trouble finding enough material they were happy about airing to fill the tribute evening they broadcast when he died. The reasons for this aren't as apparent here as they will be in Volume 2, but if you're likely to be offended by white actors in blackface, cash registers being referred to as "Jewish pianos", or Pakistani Daleks, you probably shouldn't rent this!
The second thing that struck me was how extraordinarily self-indulgent it all was. Re-watching Monty Python recently after a long time, I was surprised how many sketches I'd completely forgotten because they weren't very funny. With Spike's shows, there's a much smaller ratio of inspired lunacy such as the Irish astronaut who thinks the lift at Harrods will take him to the Moon, or those extremely politically incorrect but very funny Pakistani Daleks, to sketches which seem almost completely random, and consist to a great extent of Spike staring at the camera in his trademark "I'm mad!" way while saying not very funny things in his default "This is funny!" voice. And some of the supporting cast, not to mention nearly all the guest musicians, are obviously on the show because they're friends of Spike, and there's a very good reason why you won't see them anywhere else.
When it's good, it's hilarious. But far too often I found myself thinking that if I was laughing as much as the cast were at their own jokes, I'd be having a lot more fun than I was. Even the good bits are sometimes less funny than they should be. Everybody chuckles fondly at the mention of Jehovah's Burglars, but that great idea about people whose religion compels them to rob you is almost immediately abandoned, and the sketch becomes incoherent, as far too many of them do. I think these shows may have seemed funnier at the time because if your only way to see them was on TV for half an hour once a week, you'd forgotten about the weaker gags by the time it came on again, and it wasn't so obvious how repetitive some of the jokes were. But viewing it in large doses, I was disappointed to find that it hadn't aged as well as the best Goon Shows, despite being considerably more recent. Spike seems to be relying on the fact that he's officially the funniest man alive, so the audience are primed to expect everything he says or does to be funny. I suspect that if he'd somehow ended up with a studio audience who didn't have the slightest idea who he was, the silence would sometimes have been deafening.