Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Show Called Fred, A / Son of Fred (1956)

Courtesy of Archbuild

Main image of Show Called Fred, A / Son of Fred (1956)
Rediffusion for ITV, tx. 2/5-5/11/1956
13 x 30 min edns in two series, black & white
DirectorDick Lester
ScriptSpike Milligan

Cast: Peter Sellers, Valentine Dyall, Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark, Patti Lewis, Max Geldray, Spike Milligan

Show full cast and credits

Skits and sketches from the zany to the daft to the downright bizarre.

Show full synopsis

The two comedy sketch series A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred arguably made television history when they appeared in May and September of 1956, ushering in a form of lunatic humour that trampled over the staid boundaries that marked out the television landscape of the period.

No complete episodes are extant, but from the sequences that survive it is apparent that, despite an evident Goon Show influence (the 'Ying Tong Song' is used over the main titles and harmonica player Max Geldray performs in musical interludes), the two series leaned more to being star vehicles for Peter Sellers, with Spike Milligan taking a supporting role. While Sellers enjoyed sole above-the-title billing, Milligan, with his script credit, appeared below the title.

Nevertheless, Dick Lester, who directed (or "created some order out of much chaos" as he termed it), has confirmed that Milligan was the creative force behind both series. He alone wrote all the scripts for A Show Called Fred, establishing the anarchic template maintained in Son of Fred, when other hands, such as John Antrobus and Dave Freeman, were making contributions.

With these two series Milligan challenged the established norms of the medium. Whether running the end of one sketch into the beginning of another, employing inappropriate back projection, or focusing attention onto the artifice of television production itself by placing camera crews or other personnel in shot, he gave the shows an appearance of chaotic anarchy that made little sense - which was the point. Although the above may sound rudimentary today they were innovative and groundbreaking advances at the time.

Lester kept the live studio work commendably on track, sometimes even cutting sketches short when the shows were in danger of overrunning their slots. However, it was the filmed inserts (mostly shot in the countryside) that he particularly enjoyed directing, leading to his Oscar-nominated short film The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1960), with its series of Fred-inspired dialogue-free sketches shot in a field.

Critics were enthusiastic, although ITV chiefs apparently found later editions of Son of Fred too alienating and anarchical, and cancelled the show after eight episodes (of sixteen reputedly scheduled). The two series nevertheless exerted a profound and lasting influence, sowing the seeds for surrealistic television comedy that eventually flowered over a decade later with Milligan's own Q (BBC, 1969-82) and, especially, with Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74).

John Oliver

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Title sequence (1:06)
2. The bird-man (1:43)
3. The Escapers Club (3:11)
It's a Square World (1960-64)
Connor, Kenneth (1918-1993)
Lester, Richard (1932-)
Milligan, Spike (1918-2002)
Sellers, Peter (1925-1980)
Associated Rediffusion / Rediffusion Television
The Roots of Monty Python