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From Steptoe to May to December: Almost 30 Years of British comedy

The original: Steptoe and Son

A cut out and keep guide to the very best of classic British comedy presented in chronological fashion from 1962’s Steptoe and Son through to May to December in 1989.

1962
Series One of Steptoe and Son, the classic series starring Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett as a father/son team who run a sad “rag-and-bone” business in London. This would later be transferred to US television as Sanford and Son.
Graham Chapman and John Cleese star together in their first revue, called Double Take.
British audiences get one of their first glimpses of Mollie Sugden in the David Croft produced Hugh and I.

1963
David Frost brings biting political satire to British television with That Was The Week That Was. Included on the writing staff are David Nobbs (who would go on to create Reginald Perrin), Dennis Potter, Johnny Speight (who would go on to write Till Death Do Us Part), and John Cleese.

1964
Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller bring their classic stage revue Beyond The Fringe to television. This is one of the high points of the political satire boom of the 60s.

1965
Michael Palin graduates from Oxford University and spends six months hosting a pop program called Now!
Meanwhile, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam work together for the first time on a photographic comic strip about a man obsessed with a Barbie doll. It appears in a magazine entitled Help!

comedy-remakes-till-death-us-do-part

The pilot of Till Death Do Us Part is shown as a “one-off” on Comedy Playhouse. A full series chronicling the exploits of bigoted,
right-wing Alf Garnett (played by Warren Mitchell) would follow in 1966. Norman Lear would later take this premise, change the name Alf Garnett to Archie Bunker, move the setting to New York, and create American television history with All in the Family.

1966
David Frost hosts the first series of The Frost Report and brings together for the first time most of the talent who would go on to form Monty Python. John Cleese was an occasional performer (as were the legendary “Two Ronnies” – Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker) and the writing staff included Marty Feldman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones.

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1968
The first of nine series of Dad’s Army premieres. 1969
The first of Spike Milligan’s anarchic Q, series, which was a major influence on the budding Pythons because of its view that skits didn’t necessarily need a beginning, middle and end, taking the emphasis off the punchline.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus premieres in October. Sales of Spam skyrocket.
Doctor In The House premieres, with scripts by Graham Chapman and John Cleese plus Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie of The
Goodies.
A pre-Mr. Lucas Trevor Bannister has his first major role as “Heavy Breathing” in a series about garbage collectors called The Dustbinmen.
A pre-Mrs. Slocombe Mollie Sugden appears as the snobbish, overbearing mother of a Liverpool lass in the Carla Lane sitcom The Liver Birds. This series would eventually run for ten series.

1970
The Goodies (composed of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie) create a comedy classic with their own brand of visual lunacy. Basically a cartoon brought to life, The Goodies would eventually run for nine series.
Are You Being Served? co-writer Jeremy Lloyd marries future Absolutely Fabulous co-star Joanna Lumley. They split four months later, but Lumley still goes on to make an appearance on the “German Week” episode of AYBS?
Frankie Howerd plays Roman slave Ludicrus Sextus in the first series of producer David Croft’s sitcom Up Pompeii!

are-you-being-served-cast

1972
The pilot of Are You Being Served? is shown unexpectedly when the massacre of Israeli athletes causes a temporary halt to the Olympic Games.
The Pythons begin production of their third series, which would be the last with John Cleese.

1973
Premiere episode of Last of the Summer Wine.
AYBS? begins its first full series.
Dad’s Army star James Beck (“Private Walker”) dies at the early age of 42 from complications after a stomach operation.
Open All Hours teams sitcom legends Ronnie Barker and David Jason in this series about a shopkeeper called Arkwright (Barker) and his nephew Granville (Jason). The scripts are by KUA/Last of the Summer Wine scribe Roy Clarke

1974
Leonard Rossiter plays the greedy, petty but hysterical landlord Rigsby in the first series of Rising Damp.
Ronnie Barker hits sitcom pay dirt again playing a prisoner as the first series of Porridge premieres. Also in the cast are Richard Beckinsale (of Rising Damp) and Brian Wilde (of Last of the Summer Wine). Three series and two specials of this classic are eventually made.
The remaining Pythons produce their final series and call it a day after introducing viewers to the Worst Family in Britain.
Producer David Croft has another hit with It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, about a military theatrical troop in India during WWII.

fawlty-towers-cast.jpg

1975
Series One of Fawlty Towers.
Python fans rejoice as Monty Python and the Holy Grail is released.
Lenny Henry first comes to national attention when he wins the New Faces talent competition.
John Inman reaches #39 on the UK charts with his single Are You Being Served, Sir?
Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers try self-sufficiency in the first series of Good Neighbors, known in the UK as The Good Life.

1976
Premiere episode of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin starring the late, great Leonard Rossiter as a man who suffers a mid-life crisis and fakes his own death.
Pleasure at Her Majesty’s brings most Britcomedy royalty together for a benefit in aid of Amnesty International.
Lenny (Chef!) Henry stars in a British version of Good Times called The Fosters.
The AYBS? stage play runs from June to October.
Monty Python invades New York to appear at the City Center.

1977
John Inman plays Blackpool fish and chip shop owner Neville Sutcliffe in the series Odd Man Out. His co-star, Josephine Tewson, would later play Hyacinth Bucket’s neighbor Elizabeth in Keeping Up Appearances.
The cast of AYBS? goes to the Costa Plonka on vacation in a movie version of the popular series. Also in this film is Andrew Sachs, who must have been hired because of the Spanish accent he used as Manuel in Fawlty Towers.

1978
Arthur Lowe goes AWOL from Dad’s Army to play Father Charles Duddleswell in Bless Me, Father.
Mollie Sugden teams up with Ian Lavender (that “stupid boy” Pike from Dad’s Army) in the short-lived Come Back, Mrs. Noah.
Series One of Butterflies, starring Wendy Craig as a woman dealing with mid-life crisis.
Eric Idle masterfully mocks Beatlemania in All You Need Is Cash. Aided by the wonderful tunes of Neil Innes, Idle tells the story of The Rutles, the “pre-fab four” consisting of Dirk, Barry, Stig, and Nasty.

The original: Not the Nine O'Clock News

The original: Not the Nine O’Clock News

1979
First series of To The Manor Born.
Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones and Chris Langham team up for the classic satire of Not The
Nine O’Clock News. (Langham would leave after the first series.)
Second (and sadly, final) series of Fawlty Towers.
Richard Beckinsale, star of Rising Damp and Porridge , dies of a heart attack at the age of 31.
The charity benefits for Amnesty International continue as John Cleese directs The Secret Policeman’s Ball.

1980
Yes, Minister debuts, chronicling the adventures of politician James Hacker.
Dad’s Army writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft team up again for Hi-de-Hi, a long-running sitcom set in a holiday camp.
The Pythons play before adoring fans at the Hollywood Bowl. This is filmed and later released as a motion picture.

only-fools-david-jason

1981
Only Fools and Horses begins its long run.
Mollie Sugden stars as housekeeper Ida Willis in That’s My Boy.
Dad’s Army star Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) passes away at the age of 66.
John Inman plays Rula Lenksa’s secretary in Take A Letter, Mr. Jones.

1982
Peter Bowles stars as The Bounder. Also in this popular sitcom scripted by Eric Chappell was George Cole.
Comedy loses a great talent when Marty Feldman passes away after a heart attack. He is only 49.
The Young Ones brings a decidedly anarchic and punk view of life to British television screens. “Alternative comedy” becomes the big catch phrase.

1983
Rowan Atkinson begins his long ride through British history as The Black Adder premieres.
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton and Robbie Coltrane continue alternative comedy’s assault on television
in the short-lived but influential sketch comedy show Alfresco.

Allo Allo cast

Some of Allo Allo’s large ensemble cast.

1984
Listen carefully – I will say this only once – Café René opens for business on ‘Allo ‘Allo!
First series of Ever Decreasing Circles, starring Richard Briers as Martin Bryce.
Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles team up once again for Executive Stress. Geoffrey Palmer originally stars with Keith, but bows out after the first series.

1985
Jennifer Saunders gives a tour-de-force performance as Granny Fuddle and her four daughters in Happy Families. Also in the cast are Dawn French, Stephen Fry, and Adrian Edmondson.

1986
The adventures of James Hacker continue in Yes, Prime Minister.
Blackadder standouts Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie get their own series as A Bit of Fry and Laurie debuts for the first of four series.
Birds of a Feather begins it long run, telling the story of two sisters (Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson) whose husbands get sent to jail for armed robbery.
The first Comic Relief raises lots of money for charity and gives top alternative comics an opportunity to strut their stuff.

1987
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders come into their own in the first series of their sketch comedy show French and Saunders.
The New Statesman, starring Rik Mayall as a excruciatingly slimey Member of Parliament, debuts and provides a scathing look into the inner workings of the government. It mines the same territory as Yes, Minister, but with a more wicked and exaggerated slant.

1988
The crew of the Jupiter Mining Corporation spaceship Red Dwarf takes off for the first time, combining sci-fi and comedy into a classic series.
The First of the Summer Wine debuts. This “prequel” looks at the characters in Last of the Summer Wine when they were children.
Future Academy Award winner Emma Thompson makes a rare misstep with an ill-advised foray in sketch comedy called
Thompson.

1989
Only days before the 20th anniversary of the first Monty Python show, Graham Chapman succumbs to cancer. Terry Jones tries to bring humor to a sad situation by saying, “This is the worst case of party pooping I have ever come across.”
The adventures of Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick reach a touching conclusion during WW1 with Blackadder Goes Forth.
First series of May to December, a popular sitcom about the romance between a middle-aged solicitor and a 26-year old teacher.