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Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)
BBC, tx. 14/10/1980
30 minutes, colour
ProducerK. Paul Jackson

Cast: Keith Allen, Tony Allen, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Alexei Sayle, Paul Jones and the Blues Band

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A selection of acts from the leading lights of London's new alternative cabaret scene.

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Barely noticed when it originally appeared, Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights has acquired a retrospective importance as the TV launchpad for the alternative comedy generation. With the insane optimism of youth, producer Paul Jackson originally pitched the idea of a 26-part series capturing the new cabaret scene. In the end, the BBC granted him one half-hour slot. It was the beginning of a lengthy association with alternative comedy for Jackson.

Jackson elected to show solo performers, meaning neither Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall's regular partner in 20th-Century Coyote, nor Peter Richardson, the other half of the Outer Limits duo with Nigel Planer, appeared. Richardson, in particular, was angry at being excluded, beginning a long-term feud with Jackson. Ruby Wax was also recorded, but in the end her material was left out. For want of money to commission a signature tune, Jackson took the programme's title from the repertoire of Paul Jones' Blues Band, who begin the show and also perform two other songs.

The show highlights the diversity of performance styles within the scene. Keith Allen and Sayle bring an aggressive, slightly manic edge (the latter performs 'Ullo John, Gotta New Motor?', an unlikely chart hit in 1982). Tony Allen is laconic and aloof, while Planer, presenting the character of dreary hippy Neil that would bring him cult status in The Young Ones (1982-84), performs a hilariously self-pitying ballad, accompanying himself with ramshackle guitar. The revelation, though, is Mayall. Coiled and intense, he delivers two wonderful examples of pretentious, neurotic poetry - 'Theatre' and 'Vanessa', the latter a lovelorn tribute to Vanessa Redgrave ("Vanessa, I shall go to my grave with a broken heart / But at least it will be a red grave") - pausing repeatedly to berate the audience for their lack of due reverence. Mayall plays it absolutely straight, in a performance that is a world away from the wilful overacting he later favoured.

Screened in a thankless slot - 10.20pm on BBC2 - the show got a subdued reception ("the worst audience response in the history of the department," was how Jackson recalled it), but the BBC was intrigued enough to commission a second show, which went out seven months later (tx. 5/5/1981) under the same name. All the cast but Keith Allen reappeared, joined by Peter Richardson, Ade Edmondson, Pauline Melville and Andy de la Tour, with music provided by Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Keith Allen (2:56)
2. Nigel Planer (2:09)
3. Alexei Sayle (2:13)
4. Rik Mayall (4:53)
Complete programme (28:29)
Young Ones, The (1982-84)
Jackson, Paul (1947-)
Jones, Paul (1942-)
Mayall, Rik (1958-)
Planer, Nigel (1953-)
Sayle, Alexei (1952-)
Alternative Comedy
TV Variety