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Bird, John (1936-) and Fortune, John (1939-)

Actor, Writer, Director

Main image of Bird, John (1936-) and Fortune, John (1939-)

Individually and as a partnership, the two Johns, Fortune and Bird, have been omnipresent during the small screen's 40-year flirtation with satire. Bird had been active in the Cambridge Footlights (he'd directed the 1959 revue, The Last Laugh, the first to be directly politically satirical) before joining the Royal Court Theatre as an assistant director. John Fortune had been in the 1961 Footlights revue (under his real name John Wood) and later appeared at Peter Cook's satirical cabaret club The Establishment, which also featured John Bird amongst its occasional cast.

Later the pair appeared (along with another Cambridge colleague, Eleanor Bron) in the first pilot programme for That Was The Week That Was (BBC, 1962-63), however all three of them left for the US for a touring version of The Establishment, and thus missed being in TW3 when it started its run proper. Later, however, all three appeared in TW3 follow-up Not So Much A Programme More A Way of Life (BBC, 1964-65), and their contributions to this show (writing and performing) were the best received of any of the material. Later the trio appeared in Bird's TV film My Father Knew Lloyd George (BBC, tx. 18/12/1965) and in the next satire series BBC-3 (BBC, 1965-66), the title of which alluded to BBC2 - which launched in 1964 - and is now best remembered for featuring critic Kenneth Tynan infamously saying the 'f' word during a debate. This was followed by yet another satire magazine series, The Late Show (BBC, 1966-67) and by John Bird's own series, A Series of Birds (BBC, 1967).

Over the following years, Bird and Fortune made intermittent appearances in a number of TV productions (The End of the Pier Show, BBC, 1974-75; After That, This, BBC, 1975; Well Anyway, BBC, 1976) and separately made many 'straight' acting appearances. The pair were gloriously reunited in 1989 by satirical impressionist Rory Bremner, who hired them as support for his series Rory Bremner (BBC, 1989-92). They made an immediate impact, and worked with Bremner through his many subsequent series and also graduated to their own starring shows Our Hands in Your Safe (ITV, tx. 27/8/1995) and The Long Johns (C4, 1995-97). For this later phase of their career (in which they were informally referred to as The Long Johns) they presented a style (honed over many years) of free form satirical conversations with scripts inspired by their own ad-libbed meanderings on the subject. These they presented often as interviewer and government or business official.

Dick Fiddy

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Selected credits

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Jonathan Miller's startlingly imaginative version of Lewis Carroll's fantasy

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Dennis Potter recreates a 1940s West Country childhood, using adult actors

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Impressions and sharp satire from Rory Bremner and the Two Johns

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Children's comedy series about the world's worst-behaved girl

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A report on early 1960s satire, interviewing many key participants

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BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation

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