Not the Nine O’clock News was one of those rare comedy creations that did far more than just get us chuckling. It defined a decade, influencing scores of other shows and helping to launch the careers of some of Britain’s most talented comedians and writers.
Like many innovative television programmes, it took a while for the NTNON producers find the right formula. The programme’s original conception as a fast-moving sketch show loosely based on the news and overtly political in places remained solid. But there was a lot of tweaking before the format most viewers remember was established. Nervous BBC executives cancelled an early version featuring six performers because they considered it too politically controversial to screen during the general election of spring 1979. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the producers used the opportunity to rethink the show’s line-up. When it finally aired in October 1979, NTNON was just as political but the cast had been trimmed. The fate of the new show rested on just four regular performers, all of them unknown to the wider public.
The quartet most viewers remember were Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. In fact, Jones didn’t join the show full-time until the second series. Chris Langham was the fourth performer for series one, though Jones had some supporting roles. The chemistry between Atkinson, Stephenson, Smith and Jones produced very funny television indeed. Highlights included a fabulous send-up of Abba, Stephenson’s uncannily adroit impersonations of newsreaders and an acidic satire on religious sensibilities in which supporters of Monty Python’s Life of Brian accuse the Church of blaspheming against the Flying Circus.
It wasn’t just unknown performers who got the chance to shine at NTNON. The producers cast their net wide for writing talent, too. Among the eager scribes to get a break on the show were Richard Curtis, whose subsequent credits include the sublime Blackadder as well as hit Brit romcoms Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually. Nigel Planer, Rory McGrath, Clive Anderson and Ruby Wax all worked on the show, too.
As the first truly satirical comedy revue on the BBC since That Was The Week That Was back in the 1960s, the producers wanted NTNON to have a contemporary feel. Every episode contained news footage that had been re-cut and re-voiced to satirise public figures. We take this technique for granted today but it was pioneered by the NTNON team. The show was also the first to exploit the potential offered by digital graphics. Writers were given guidelines they had to follow when penning a NTNON sketch. The piece had to be short: the overwhelming majority of sketches were less than two minutes. It also had to have a modern setting – even if the gag itself was as old as the hills!
Griff Rhys Jones
Producers: John Lloyd, Sean Hardie
Writers on the show included the cast as well Richard Curtis, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, Colin Bostock-Smith, Rory McGrath, Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin, Paul Smith and Terry Kyan, Nigel Planer.
Network: BBC Two
Duration: 27×25 minute episodes
Aired From: 16 October 1979 – 8 March 1982
Clochmerle (BBC-2 1972, Cyril Cusack, Roy Dotrice)
Period sitcom, based on a novel by Gabriel Chevallier that was adapted by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, that saw the French villagers of Clochmerle kick up a fuss over plans to install a new toilet.
CYRIL CUSACK as Major Piechut
ROY DOTRICE as Ponosse
KENNETH GRIFFITH as Ernest Tafardel
WENDY HILLER as Justine Putet
HUGH GRIFFITH as Alexandre Bourdillat
BERNARD BRESSLAW as Nicholas the Beadle
MADELINE SMITH as Hortase Girodet
GEORGINA MOON as Rose Biraque
PETER USTINOV as Narrator
Writers: Ray Galton, Alan Simpson
Novel: Gabriel Chevallier
Producer: Michael Mills
Network and Production Companies: BBC Two – Bavaria
Duration: 9×30 minute episodes
Aired From: 18 February – 14 April 1972 Fridays at 10.05pm
Clairvoyant, The (BBC-2 1986, Roy Kinnear, Sandra Dickinson)
In Roy Clarke penned sitcom The Clairvoyant used car salesman Arnold Bristow is knocked down in a car accident and suddenly finds himself with psychic powers – or so he believes. There was a pilot broadcast 27 Nov 1984.
ROY KINNEAR as Arnold Bristow
SANDRA DICKINSON as Lily
HUGH LLOYD as Burma
SHAUN CURRY as Newton
GLYNIS BROOKS as Dawn
CARMEL CRYAN as Carmen
Writer: Roy Clarke
Producer and Director: Alan J.W. Bell
Network and Production Companies: BBC-2
Duration: 6×30 minute episodes
Aired From: Pilot – 27 November 1984 and Series – 15 May – 19 June 1986
Christmas Princess (UP 2017, Nicole Munoz, Zak Santiago)
Christmas Princess is the true story of Donaly Marquez who, through a childhood of neglect and abuse, achieved her dream of becoming a rose bowl princess. An inspirational story of resilience, strength and finding a family to call your own.
Nicole Muñoz as Donaly Marquez
Rosa Blasi as Sara
Zak Santiago as Ignacio Marquez
Olivia Steele Falconer as Emily Marquez
Jaedon Siewert as Abraham Marquez
Lina Renna as Young Donaly
Paloma Kwiatkowski as Chloe
Ty Wood as Trent
Pendo Muema as Monique
Kalyn Miles as Maria
Kaaren de Zilva as Roberta
Garfield Wilson as Dr. Miller
Clay St. Thomas as Judge #1
Patti Allan as Judge #2
Natalie von Rotsburg as Judge #3
Director: Allan Harmon
Writer: Tracy Andreen
Network and Production Companies: UP
Duration: 1×120 minute episode
Aired From: Sunday 10 December 2017
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