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Stanley Baxter Picture Show, The (1972)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Stanley Baxter Picture Show, The (1972)
LWT for ITV, tx.8-29/10/1972
4 x 25 min episodes, colour
DirectorDavid Bell
Production CompanyLWT
ProducerDavid Bell
ScriptsKen Hoare, Bill Solly, Eric Merriman
Music DirectorHarry Rabinowitz

Cast: Stanley Baxter, Philip Gilbert, Julia McKenzie, Graham Armitage

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Lavish parodies of classic films and television programmes.

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Moving from the BBC in 1972, with his writer Kenneth Hoare and producer David Bell, Stanley Baxter began a series of lavish and elaborate sketch shows for LWT that established him as a television superstar. The Stanley Baxter Picture Show showcased his versatile and brilliant impressions of personalities and satirical or burlesque 'takes' on film and television.

Baxter and Hoare wrote their first sketch, 'Zoo Pest', in 1958, a spoof of David Attenborough's Zoo Quest. Ideas would evolve from a jigsaw of material inside Baxter's head, with Hoare assembling them into a perfectly written sketch. To create his galaxy of impressions, Baxter watched television avidly, even backstage between stage shows. After watching somebody twice he would know if he could impersonate them. All personalities given the Baxter treatment had one thing in common - he would never take-off anyone he disliked.

The series followed a distinct format; brief sketches; lampooning adverts - the milk tray man delivering rubber knickers and the PG Tips Chimps making tea in a commode; a celebrity song - Koward Heel and Benny Pill; and longer sketches allowing Baxter to play a myriad of characters as he satirised television (Braben's Weak and The Whicked Report) and spoofed cinema (Ken Rissole's The Musex Lovers with Chic Gable and Glandy Jackson; Barbara Stridand in The Peculiar Girl).

In the world of Stanley Baxter, personalities appeared in unusual settings: Ethel Merman would be asked The Question Why by Malcolm Gibberage, Eartha Kitsch would sing on Scars on Sunday, while Patrick Moon presented Film Fright. Full of innuendo, the shows were called 'dirty' by clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who was enraged with Baxter's Queen's speech in the guise of the Duchess of Brenda. The speech was filmed in one take, with the crew having to stuff handkerchiefs in their mouths to stop themselves from laughing.

Recording the 1972 series resulted in Baxter losing a stone in weight. His drive for perfection meant only three 60-minute specials appeared in the next three years. The shows became ever more spectacular - one sketch ambitiously spoofed the Hollywood disaster epic The Towering Inferno (1974) - taking over four months to produce, but his efforts were rewarded with light entertainment BAFTAs in 1973 and 1974. The grand shows appeared sporadically until the costs of his expensive brand of mimicry became too much for LWT to bear.

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. Richard III (0:40)
2. Benny Pill (1:51)
3. What Katie Didn't (3:25)
4. The WAAFs Shall Not Have Them (4:18)
Complete episode (25:45)
Baxter, Stanley (1928-)
London Weekend Television (LWT)