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Rutland Weekend Television (1975-76)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Rutland Weekend Television (1975-76)
BBC2, tx. 19/05/1975-24/12/1976
13 x 30 mins in 2 series plus 1 special, colour
DirectorIan Keill
Production CompanyBBC
WriterEric Idle
MusicNeil Innes

Cast: Eric Idle (Eric); Neil Innes (Neil); David Battley (David); Henry Woolf (Hery); Andy Roberts (Andy); Gwen Taylor (Gwen)

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Britain's smallest television network takes to the airwaves.

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After the demise of Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74), Eric Idle swiftly returned to the small screen with this witty broadcasting spoof. The title was suggested by John Cleese, a favour for which Idle paid him £1. In Idle's conceit, Rutland (Britain's smallest county, which had disappeared in a 1974 local government reorganisation) begins producing its own programmes on a shoestring budget not dissimilar to Idle's own (£30,000 for the series; the cost of one Lulu show).

The first series was recorded in a small studio for the BBC's Presentation Department, with no participating audience. The cast included David Battley and Henry Woolf; Idle also roped in Neil Innes, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Band and a collaborator since Do Not Adjust Your Set (ITV, 1967-69), to write the comic songs. Rutland's programming parodied everything from quiz programmes - 'A Penny for Your Warts' - to music shows - 'Old Gay Whistle Test'. The latter included Idle's excellent impression of presenter 'whispering' Bob Harris. Central to Rutland's output were its documentaries, which comically inverted familiar subjects; notable examples included a farmer breeding beauty queens and suburban streets turned into prisons, with the inmates being visited by Johnny Cash (played by Innes).

The first series bowed out after RWT "overspent its budget"; with the penny pinching producers removing the set and costumes, the presenters were left draped in BBC towels. Having found some change down the back of the sofa, Rutland was back on the air for a Christmas special, with the bonus of special guest George Harrison singing a composition co-written with Idle, 'The Pirate Song'. With a new logo - a revolving Friesian cow - and a bigger studio in Bristol, Rutland returned for a second series, in which the parodies continued with 'The Lone Accountant' and 'Rutland Five-O'.

A sketch about a pop group, the very Beatles-esque The Rutles, took on a life of its own. A successful revival of the sketch in the US in 1976, when Idle hosted an edition of Saturday Night Live, proved quite a hit, and the pastiche was ultimately developed into the enduringly popular full-length mockumentary The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (BBC, tx. 27/3/1978).

Rutland Weekend Television was last heard of in 1980, when the broadcaster unsuccessfully applied, through former cleaner Elsie Harbinger, for one of the 16 available ITV franchises.

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. The Old Gay Whistle Test (1:10)
2. Rutland Weekend Theatre (2:50)
3. Amnesia (1:27)
4. Rutland Weekend Documentary (3:35)
5. The Fantastic Bingo Brothers (1:44)
Complete edition (28:20)
Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69)
End of Part One (1979-80)
Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)
Idle, Eric (1943-)