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Saturday Live / Friday Night Live (1985-88)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Saturday Live / Friday Night Live (1985-88)
LWT for Channel Four, tx. 12/1/1985-11/4/1987; 19/2-29/4/1988
32 x 60 min editions in 3 series, colour
DirectorsPaul Jackson
 Geoff Posner
 Ian Hamilton
ProducersPaul Jackson
 Geoff Posner
 Geoff Perkins

Hosts: Ben Elton, Lenny Henry, Tracey Ullman, Pamela Stephenson, Chris Barrie, Michael Barrymore, Gareth Hale & Norman Pace, Fascinating Aida, Peter Cook

Show full cast and credits

Stand-up, sketches and music, featuring a variety of established and 'alternative' performers.

Show full synopsis

Producer Paul Jackson has a diverse comedy portfolio, including The Two Ronnies (BBC, 1971-86), Blankety Blank (BBC, 1979-89) and Cannon and Ball (ITV, 1979-88), but is most closely associated with alternative comedy, having brought The Young Ones (1982-84) to BBC2. The groundbreaking Saturday Live and its Friday night sequel combined a wish to pursue edgy live comedy, triggered by Jackson's involvement with the Jasper Carrott vehicle Carrott's Lib (BBC, 1982-83), with a return to a variety format. As its name suggests, it was influenced by the hugely successful US show Saturday Night Live and was a perfect fit for the different agenda of Channel 4.

The titles attempted to be cutting edge, initially with scratch video and computer graphics. The sets at the LWT studios had enthusiastic audiences mainly standing around - some seating is evident - and to create a heady party atmosphere, the studio was decorated with giant inflatables and mobiles, complemented by fairground rides, all of which sometimes impeded camera movement.

Initially, the hosting role changed most weeks, and there were filmed inserts to help speed up the shows. Eventually, Ben Elton, already a major contributor, took over as regular host. His suits, though, were more sparkly than his ranting style, which many critics found hard to take week after week. Early editions combined establishment names (Peter Cook, Frankie Howerd, Barry Humphries, John Wells and John Bird among them) with newer, alternative, more subversive acts drawn increasingly from the cabaret circuit, comedy clubs and the fringe, as well as providing a better gender balance. The programme launched the likes of Jo Brand, Paul Merton and, most memorably, Harry Enfield, whose plasterer 'Loadsamoney' (a character and catchphrase combined) captured the greedy zeitgeist associated with Thatcher's Britain.

In truth, the bill was generally sketch and stand-up comedy plus music, although other kinds of act did appear, but the shows provide almost a potted history of alternative comedy. With hindsight, many acts were just younger, or unexposed, and quite a few were absorbed into the mainstream (in the way that some punk music exponents were), moving on to star in their own television shows, which Jackson cites as a reason for the series ending.

It was revived, though, on Saturday nights, not once but twice: ITV tried one series in 1996 with Lee Hurst hosting; and Marcus Brigstocke fronted their 2007 revival

David Sharp

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Video Clips
1. Ben Elton: NHS funding (3:18)
2. Stavros (3:42)
3. Loadsamoney rap (3:29)
4. Les Bubb plays Rachmaninov (3:43)
Complete final edition (1:08:33)
Viva Cabaret! (1993-94)
Elton, Ben (1958-)
Enfield, Harry (1961-)
Hale, Gareth (1953-) and Pace, Norman (1953-)
Jackson, Paul (1947-)
Laurie, Hugh (1959-)
Alternative Comedy
TV Variety