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Mary Whitehouse Experience, The (1990-92)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Mary Whitehouse Experience, The (1990-92)
Spitting Image Productions/BBC for BBC2, tx. 3/10/1990-2/3/1992
12 x 30 min in two series plus pilot, colour
DirectorMarcus Mortimer
ProducerMarcus Mortimer
Written byDavid Baddiel
 Hugh Dennis
 Rob Newman
 Steve Punt

Cast: David Baddiel, Hugh Dennis, Steve Punt, Rob Newman

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Sketches, spoofs and stand-up routines from a four-man team.

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Starting life as a BBC Radio 1 show, which attracted audiences of over a million despite a midnight slot on a station that rarely broadcasts comedy, The Mary Whitehouse Experience evolved into a highly successful TV show, showcasing the comic talents of the then relatively unknown David Baddiel, Hugh Dennis, Rob Newman and Steve Punt. Mischievously named after the nation's most high-profile prude, who railed against the perceived 'immorality' of television, the show's bawdy humour, filled with swear words and sex references, would certainly not have met with Mary Whitehouse's approval.

The format remained the same throughout its run - each episode was divided into 'experiences' (e.g. 'The Vam Vam Vam Vam Experience', about MTV), leading to a comic monologue supported by sketches. A number of skits reappeared during the second series. Some parodied contemporary popular culture, such as those featuring Punt's Hannibal Lecter and Newman's 'Edward Colanderhands'. Newman regularly appeared as The Cure's Robert Smith, imitating the singer's morose delivery while singing incongruously cheery songs, including the theme from young children's series Play Away (BBC, 1971-84), culminating with an appearance from the real Smith in the final episode, borrowing the comic convention of celebrities cheerfully sending themselves up. The most popular routine, 'History Today', starred Newman and Baddiel as stuffy historians whose intellectual debates swiftly descended into childish taunts. The series attracted a huge cult audience, especially among students, while the heavily repeated catchphrases ("That's you, that is", "Milky milky", "Oh no, what a personal disaster") were chorused in schoolyards across Britain, in spite of the show's post-watershed timeslot.

Punt and Dennis originally met working on comedy sketches for Jasper Carrott, while Newman and Baddiel collaborated on several Edinburgh comedy shows; when all four met while writing sketches for Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-96), The Mary Whitehouse Experience was formed. After two series the troupe split back into two duos. Newman and Baddiel in Pieces appeared in 1993, and reprised the 'History Today' dialogues alongside new sketches. In spite of accusations of pretension and self-indulgence, the show was a ratings success, leading to the pair playing a sell-out gig at Wembley Arena, triggering the cliché that comedy was the 'new rock 'n' roll'. The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show (1994-95) also recycled Whitehouse characters, but the outrageous flavour of their earlier work was toned down for a pre-watershed slot and failed to recapture the success of the original.

Alex Davidson

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Video Clips
1. The Decline of the English Murder Experience (2:51)
2. The Zoo Experience (2:49)
3. History Today (2:49)
Complete edition (29:22)