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Three of a Kind (1981-83)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Three of a Kind (1981-83)
BBC, 1/7/1981-8/10/1983
16 x 30 min edns in 3 series, plus 2 specials, colour
ProducersPaul Jackson
 Martin Shardlow
Writers includeKim Fuller
 Mike Radford
 Bob Sinfield
 Rob Grant
 Doug Naylor

Cast: Lenny Henry, Tracey Ullman, David Copperfield

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Sketches, gags and music.

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A fast moving comedy show with a stream of sketches, fragmented gags and musical items, Three of a Kind launched the career of the multi-talented Tracey Ullman and enhanced the reputation of rising comic Lenny Henry, although the third member of the team, northern club comedian David Copperfield, failed to find lasting TV success.

With its pre-watershed primetime slot, there was little room for sexual content or biting satire. The programme, though, was packed with gags, written predominately by Kim Fuller and Mike Radford with the odd contribution from Henry and Copperfield and a group of up-and-coming writers including Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, Nick Revell, Gareth Hale, Norman Pace and Ian Hislop. Even when the jokes were lame, the three performers enlivened the material (they were allowed to choose which sketches they wanted to perform, down to the costumes and wigs). Ullman displayed similar accomplishment as comic actress and singer (in 1983 she had three top ten hits); Copperfield excelled with the more slapstick elements and his characters 'Old Scrunge' and the popular 'Medallion Man', while Henry, the boisterous member of the team, showcased two excellent comic creations, the Reverend Nat Westminster and reggae politician Fred Dredd.

The sketches and jokes were broken up by musical guests and by 'Gagfax' using then state-of-the-art (but to modern eyes laughably crude) computer graphics to send-up the BBC's teletext service Ceefax. The trio enjoyed impersonating fellow performers, with Copperfield doing Cliff Richard and Reggie Bosanquet; Henry showcasing Gladys Pugh from holiday camp sitcom Hi-De-Hi (BBC, 1981-88) and his already well-established David Bellamy and 'Trevor McDonut'; and Ullman aping Julie Walters and, disturbingly, Kenny Everett. Contemporary musicians were another subject of light-hearted ribbing, including 'Annoyah' (Toyah) and 'Bunchananas' (Bananarama). Television, too, was a good source of material: Boys from the Blackstuff (BBC, 1982), Juliet Bravo (BBC, 1980-85), Brideshead Revisited (ITV, 1981) and 'Jenny Hill', which wittily reversed the ITV's star's sexual leering.

The show won BAFTAs for Best Light Entertainment Programme in 1982 and Light Entertainment Performance for Tracey Ullman in 1983 and that year's special won the Montreux Golden Rose. With their profiles raised and new projects to pursue, it became increasingly difficult for the trio to be available, leaving the series to finish still fresh and at its peak.

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. Opening credits, three heads (1:12)
2. Cinema ticket (0:14)
3. A clown's gift (0:29)
4. The Rev. Nat Westminster (2:39)
5. Nailien (0:42)
6. Lie detector (1:48)
Complete edition (29:52)
Henry, Lenny (1958- )
Jackson, Paul (1947-)