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Comic Strip Presents..., The (1982-2000)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Comic Strip Presents..., The (1982-2000)
Channel 4 tx. 2/11/1982-20/3/1988, 12/4/1998 & 4/1/2000; BBC2 tx. 1/2/1990-27/5/1993, 37 films of 25-52 mins each, colour/black & white
Writers includePeter Richardson, Pete Richens, Adrian Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall, Keith Allen

Regular Cast: Peter Richardson, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Jennifer Saunders, Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane, Alexei Sayle

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Shot-on-film showcases for the 1980s alternative comedy generation.

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The opening animation of a WWII bomb descending from the sky towards a map marked 'YOU ARE HERE' was the one consistent feature about The Comic Strip Presents..., which, like Play for Today or Armchair Theatre, was more brand than cohesive series. Running for eighteen years across two channels and spanning 37 TV films and two cinema features, it provided the 1980s alternative comedy generation with its most ambitious showcase.

Spurning the traditional method of breaking into television via sketch shows and sitcoms, Peter Richardson had proposed a series of self-contained short films to the newly-established Channel 4. These were to be made by a team comprising himself, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Jennifer Saunders and scriptwriter Pete Richens (Keith Allen, Alexei Sayle, Robbie Coltrane and Daniel Peacock would also make important contributions), the series named after Richardson's own Soho comedy venue.

Enid Blyton spoof Five Go Mad In Dorset (tx. 2/11/1982) was shown on Channel 4's opening night, with the first series screened two months later. This featured an anarchic political satire (War, tx. 3/1/1983), heavy metal "rockumentary" (Bad News Tour, tx. 24/1/1983), campus comedy (Summer School, tx. 31/1/1983) and a bizarre black-and-white attack on the pretensions of The Beat Generation (tx. 17/1/1983), and subsequent Comic Strip series showed a similar range. Though the quality was often wildly variable, this was an understandable by-product of a willingness to take artistic risks that might have been impossible in a more conventional series format.

The first Comic Strip feature film was the critically-acclaimed The Supergrass (d. Richardson, 1985), though the scattershot anti-consumerist Eat the Rich (d. Richardson, 1987) was a self-indulgent disaster. But the next television series was arguably their strongest, with The Strike (tx. 20/1/1988), a depiction of the then-recent miners' strike as mindless Hollywood blockbuster, winning the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux.

A further fourteen Comic Strip films were made for the BBC (1990-93), all but one directed and co-written by Richardson - reflecting the fact that his colleagues had become increasingly active elsewhere. These were not as well regarded as their predecessors, and by the mid-1990s Richardson himself had found alternative vehicles in The Glam Metal Detectives (BBC, 1995) and especially Stella Street (BBC, 1998-2001), though he returned to Channel 4 for two final Comic Strip films (Four Men in a Car, tx. 12/4/1998; Four Men in a Plane, tx. 4/1/2000), bringing the brand full circle.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Minor changes (2:33)
2. Wyoming's opinion (4:01)
3. Lookin' good! (3:20)
Complete episode - 'The Strike' (59:21)
Coltrane, Robbie (1950-)
Edmondson, Adrian (1957-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
French, Dawn (1957-)
Mayall, Rik (1958-)
Planer, Nigel (1953-)
Radclyffe, Sarah (1950-)
Richardson, Peter (1953-)
Saunders, Jennifer (1958-)
Sayle, Alexei (1952-)
Spiers, Bob (1945-2008)
King Coal
Alternative Comedy
Channel 4 Comedy
Channel 4 at 25