Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Comedians, The (1971-93)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Comedians, The (1971-93)
Granada for ITV, tx. 12/6/1971-28/12/1993
78 x 30 min editions in 11 series plus three specials, colour
ProducersJohn Hamp, Ian Hamilton, Jane McNaught
DirectorsWalter Butler, Peter Walker, David Warwick, Ian Hamilton, Baz Taylor, Jonathan Glazier

Performers: Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Duggie Brown, Charlie Williams, Ken Goodwin, Sheps Banjo Band

Show full cast and credits

Various stand-up comedians' acts are presented on a joke-by-joke basis.

Show full synopsis

Alongside The Benny Hill Show (ITV, 1969-89), The Comedians may have been the spark that ignited the flame of alternative comedy, epitomising as it did of the kind of frequently racist and sexist humour the new generation abhorred. At the turn of the 1970s, Granada's head of Light Entertainment, John Hamp, seeking a quick-fire comedy show (possibly influenced by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, US, 1967-73) and came up with The Comedians. Hamp and director Walter Butler, both from show-business families, recognised that if they let the comedians do their acts in full, they could edit and inter-cut the different comics using their funniest material.

A private pilot screening to ITV executives won it a second series while the first was still in production. Hamp claimed he had nine miles of tape with material from 30 comedians to deliver 50 gags per show. The comedians themselves were largely unknown outside the (mainly Northern and Midlands) club circuits - to which some were soon destined to return. Others, though, became stars, notably Bernard Manning and Frank Carson. Few women appeared (none until Pauline Daniels in June 1985) because, Hamp claimed, they just weren't around.

Blue material was out, but much of the humour would be unacceptable today on the grounds racism, sexism or other offence (some acts were worse than others), and a US transmission was dubbed by Variety magazine an offensive showbusiness anachronism. Later, Hamp modified his criteria, but at the time he suggested, not very convincingly, that the use of black regional English comedians was a way of combating racist attitudes - even if they included racist jokes in their own acts.

The simple format - really no format - remained virtually unchanged. Sheps Banjo Boys provided opening and closing music to get the audience clapping along. The audiences - friends and workmates, chosen because it was felt that people laughed more with those they knew well - got a three-and-a-half-hour studio show. Unusually, there was no top-of-the-bill act, so all the acts had to work equally hard.

However unpalatable to some, The Comedians proved hugely popular. The first series was never out of the ratings, three of the cast were chosen to play a special Liverpool Royal Show in 1971, and Ken Goodwin was voted The Stage's top comedian. The TV Critics Circle voted it top show and a Comedians LP sold some 30,000 copies, preceding a cast tour.

David Sharp

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Ken Goodwin and titles (0:40)
2. Frank Carson (1:36)
3. Mike Coyne (1:49)
4. Charlie Williams (0:59)
5. Ken Goodwin (0:39)
6. Bernard Manning (1:30)
Complete 1971 edition (24:43)
Comedians (1979)
Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club (1974-77)
Hamp, John
TV Variety