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Bit of Fry and Laurie, A (1989-95)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Bit of Fry and Laurie, A (1989-95)
BBC, tx. 13/1/1989-2/4/1995
25 x 30 min episodes in 4 series, plus 1 special, colour
ProducersRoger Ordish
 Jon Plowman
 Kevin Bishop
Written byStephen Fry
 Hugh Laurie
Directors includeBob Spiers
 Roger Ordish

Cast: Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie

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Sketches, monologues and wordplay from the urbane Mr Stephen Fry and the genial Mr Hugh Laurie.

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Laden with literary sophistication and innuendo, this series showcased the comic talents of former Cambridge Footlights members Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In a collection of sketches and songs, they revealed the vagaries of British character with all its glorious eccentricities. Their humour bridged the gap between highbrow '60s satire and '80s alternative comedy.

Unusually for a sketch-based series, the double act wrote every single word; penning 153 sketches for the first run. Many sketches set off along a clich├ęd route but, with mounting word play, would turn themselves on their heads. A joy in language found expression throughout. Words were explored to their fullest comic potential, notably in a sketch based around the ampersand of the programme's title.

Middle England and its corporate machinery proved another fertile ground for their cerebral comedy, with one of the successful recurring sketches following the exploits of two yuppies saying 'damn it' a lot and trying to put Uttoxeter on the map. There were spoofs of espionage and horror, while classic comedy sketches were given a Fry and Laurie twist. The Two Ronnies' 'Fork Handle' became a rich playground for the duo's word play - "Four felching pens and a bevelled spill trunion."

Regular segments included Fry's monologues railing against Thatcher's Britain, Laurie's music parodies and a section dealing with viewers' fictitious complaints. In fact, the programme did receive a number of complaints for its use of 'disgusting material' (including a mock interview, 'Photocopying My Genitals With...').

The pair found a good use for funny lines which proved impossible to incorporate into sketches; from the second series on, they introduced vox-pop interludes, presenting a myriad of characters answering unheard questions on a nondescript high street ('A little man in the village runs up my skirts...').

From series three, each episode would conclude with a cocktail recipe. In a nod to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's show-ending turns in Not Only... But Also (BBC, 1965-66, 1970), 'Mr Music' Laurie would play the piano, while a peculiarly dancing Fry mixed the cocktail. The final series introduced guest actors (not Fry and Laurie's idea), and the show was poorer for it. Finally, 'me colleagues'' brand of comedy ran its course, with both partners citing sketch comedy as a young man's game. "Soupy Twist."

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. Vox Pops (0:35)
2. Ampersand (1:36)
3. Duelling Sketch (2:51)
4. There ain't but one way (2:43)
Complete episode (29:21)
Alfresco (1983-84)
Fry, Stephen (1957-)
Laurie, Hugh (1959-)
Alternative Comedy