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Alfresco (1983-84)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Alfresco (1983-84)
Granada for ITV, 1/5/1983-2/6/1984
12 x 30 min edns in two series, colour
DirectorStuart Orme
ProducersSandy Ross
 John G Temple
ScriptBen Elton
 Stephen Fry
 Hugh Laurie

Cast: Ben Elton; Stephen Fry; Robbie Coltrane; Hugh Laurie; Emma Thompson; Siobhan Redmond

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Alternative sketch show.

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A relatively minor, but not undistinguished, piece of the alternative comedy jigsaw, Alfresco is chiefly significant for its cast, all of whom went on to greater things, and for extending the Comedy Store/Comic Strip family - only Robbie Coltrane and Ben Elton had any prior professional relationship with the scene. Notably, whereas the first wave of alternative comedians, including Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Alexei Sayle, had mostly attended redbrick universities, art colleges or drama schools, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson had been plucked from the Cambridge Footlights Revue, following in the hallowed footsteps of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and several Pythons. Both Thompson and Siobhan Redmond (who had been spotted performing at Edinburgh) would ultimately gravitate away from comedy, but Fry and Laurie, despite their more privileged roots and often cerebral humour, continued to rub shoulders with the alternatives for much of their careers.

Granada's hope had been for a response to the BBC's successful Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979-82), and producer Sandy Ross initially approached Rik Mayall to star. After persuading Granada to hire Ben Elton to write, Mayall pulled out, leaving Granada with Elton, Fry, Laurie, Thompson, Redmond and Paul Shearer. With this team, Granada produced the short series There's Nothing to Worry About (1982), which aired only in the North West. By the time Alfresco went into production, Coltrane had replaced Shearer.

The programme's title was a reference to the decision to shoot much of the material outside the studio, using handheld video equipment that until then had been the province of news crews. Such formal innovation was not Alfresco's only strength, however. While the series failed to have the impact Granada had hoped for, it had a nice line in warped logic, while the kind of linguistic gameplay that would be a feature of Fry and Laurie's later work is also in evidence. Production values were generally high, and there was none of the wilful anarchy associated with the alternative comics. In fact, despite the cast, the series doesn't feel particularly 'alternative' at all, beyond its youthful energy and avoidance of sexual and racial stereotyping. While many of the sketches seem overlong - particularly to a post-Fast Show (BBC, 1994-97; 2000) audience - Alfresco's strike rate compares well with contemporary sketch shows like Three of a Kind (BBC, 1981-83) or A Kick Up the Eighties (BBC, 1981; 1984).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Mr Butcher and Mr Baker (2:16)
2. Stalag 17 (7:11)
Complete edition: Part 1 (9:54)
Part 2 (14:40)
Bit of Fry and Laurie, A (1989-95)
Coltrane, Robbie (1950-)
Elton, Ben (1958-)
Fry, Stephen (1957-)
Laurie, Hugh (1959-)
Thompson, Emma (1959-)
Granada Television
Alternative Comedy