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Classic TV Revisited: The Stanley Baxter Show

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The Stanley Baxter Show was a lavish sketch show running from 1963 to 1985 in which Scottish comic Stanley specialised in impersonating famous women including the Queen, aka the Duchess of Brenda.

Why was it so good?
Stanley had a perfect pair of pins and made a disturbingly attractive woman. His gags were also waspish and surprisingly risque for the time. Naturally, they incurred the anger of Mary Whitehouse.

How did it begin?
Glaswegian Stanley cut his teeth at the city’s Citizen Theatre and made his TV debut in 1951. In 1959, he fronted the series On The Bright Side with dancers including Una Stubbs and Amanda Barrie. Film, TV and stage offers flooded in and he got his own show on BBC1, plus a spin-off Baxter On… subjects as diverse as travel, law and the theatre. But he became even more famous when he switched to ITV in 1972.

How good was it?
Stanley was spoken of in the same breath as Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery and Les Dawson in the ’70s and early ’80s. The Stanley Baxter Show metamorphosed into The Stanley Baxter Picture Show at ITV. His 1976 Stanley Baxter’s Christmas Box is on five on Boxing Day. His jokes could be hilariously cruel and he wasn’t afraid of controversy – he was the first to mimic the Queen on TV and he impersonated the Pope.

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What were his shows like?
Lavish. At ITV they cost half a million to make because of the flash sets and the outfits. There were comic remakes of Gone With The Wind and Busby Berkeley musicals. He had 40 costume changes in one show. Stars mocked included Liza Minnelli, who became Liza Mimammi; Malcolm Muggeridge was Malcolm Gibberidge and Joan Bakewell was transformed into Joan Bakelite. There were also uncanny spoofs of Upstairs Downstairs.

What went wrong?
In two words, John Birt. He axed Stanley first when he was at LWT on the grounds of cost, and did the same when he became director-general of the BBC in the 1980s.

What happened to Stanley?
Initially, his shows were often repeated while he made a good living as a dame in panto in his native Scotland. At his height, his TV shows were seen by up to 20m people. He is now retired and lives in North London.

Could it be revived?
It is unlikely as the shows would cost the earth, even though Stanley is still going strong at the age of 90.

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Distinguishing features
Probably the best pair of men’s legs ever seen on TV.

Do say
“Stanley’s comedy came from a golden age of TV which we will never see the like of again.”

Don’t say
“Never heard of him, I’m only 25 you know.”

Not to be confused with…
Jim Baxter; Biddy Baxter; Baxter’s Soup; Stanley knives; Stanley Matthews; Stan The Man.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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