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Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979-82)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979-82)
BBC, 16/10/1979-8/3/1982
27 x 25 min editions in four series, colour
DirectorsBill Wilson
 Geoff Posner
ProducersJohn Lloyd
 Sean Hardie
Writers includeRichard Curtis
 Colin Bostock Smith
 Howard Goodall

Cast: Rowan Atkinson; Mel Smith; Pamela Stephenson; Chris Langham (series 1); Griff Rhys Jones (series 2-4)

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Lively mix of sketches, skits and songs, with a satirical edge.

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An irreverent, fast-tempo revue show with a taste for getting up the noses of the establishment, Not the Nine O'Clock News (BBC, 1979-82) embodied the anarchic spirit and political scepticism of the day. Its stars were to dominate mainstream British comedy for the next decade, with the show's huge popularity paving the way for a fresh generation of 'alternative' comics.

Created by radio producer John Lloyd and current affairs expert Sean Hardie, the series thrust previously little known comedians Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson and Chris Langham (later replaced by Griff Rhys Jones) into the public spotlight. A typical episode packed sketches, songs and spoof news bulletins into a half-hour of deliriously unhinged comedy. The sketches were snappy and usually punchline-driven, but with a keenly observed satirical bent. A tight recording schedule ensured the jokes remained fiercely topical.

The writers, including Richard Curtis and David Renwick, were eager to bring each cast member's idiosyncratic brand of humour to the fore, and often worked alongside the comedians in formulating new material. Pamela Stephenson's gift for mimicry was quickly seized upon, her parodies of newsreaders Angela Rippon and Moira Stuart providing some of the show's most memorable moments. The series also showcased the extraordinary comic versatility of Rowan Atkinson, who offered a foretaste of comic creations to come with his disdainful delivery and unique expressive range.

Celebrities and politicians alike were routinely and mercilessly lampooned, but the show's subversive agenda frequently ran deeper, with writers stubbornly refusing to shy away from highly emotive issues including institutionalised racism - notably in the police force - the Cold War and unemployment. The team would also regularly satirise various aspects of popular culture: self-consciously 'wacky' youth TV hosts and other sitting targets were gleefully parodied. Each episode would usually end with a short skit taking humorous swipes at the pop icons of the era (for example the punk pastiche 'Gob on You').

The series' politically sensitive nature - combined with the cast's frequent lapses into toilet humour - ensured a strained relationship with its paymasters at the BBC. Nevertheless, it enjoyed four successful series, providing a rich seam of satire and some much-needed light relief during a particularly unsettled period of Britain's recent past.

Darren Lee

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Video Clips
1. One last job (0:45)
2. Tory Party Conference (2:51)
3. Watching the camera (0:15)
4. Gerald the talking gorilla (3:32)
5. I Like Bouncing (1:43)
Spitting Image (1984-96)
Atkinson, Rowan (1955-)
Curtis, Richard (1956-)
Davies, John Howard (1939-2011)
Rhys Jones, Griff (1953-)
Smith, Mel (1952-2013)
Stephenson, Pamela (1950-)
BBC2 (1964-)
TV Satire