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Q5, Q6 etc. / There's a Lot of It About (1969-82)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Q5, Q6 etc. / There's a Lot of It About (1969-82)
BBC2, 24/3/1969-25/10/1982
38 x 30 min edns in 6 series, colour
ProducersIan MacNaughton
 Douglas Argent
 Alan J.W. Bell
ScriptSpike Milligan
 Neil Shand

Cast: Spike Milligan, John Bluthal, Neil Shand, Alan Clare, Charlie Young, Richard Ingrams, Michael Malnick, Peter Jones, Chris Langham, Stella Tanner, Julia Breck, David Lodge, Sheila Steafel, Bob Todd, David Rappaport

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Surreal sketch comedy tinged by madness and genius.

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Spike Milligan became a household name with the radio show The Goons (BBC), which habitually bent and often abandoned the rules of traditional sketch comedy - narrative structure and even punch lines were regularly sidelined in a seemingly perverse pursuit of the absurd. In partnership with fellow Goons Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, Milligan helped create a new vocabulary for comedy that is still in use today.

The Goons' success meant that Milligan's transfer to TV was only a matter of time. However, the BBC wasn't the first to try and harness his brand of surreal comedy for the small screen. In 1956 Associated Rediffusion produced five episodes of The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d, which also featured Peter Sellers, and later that year A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, again with Sellers in tow. Producer for all three shows was Dick Lester. Yet it was Milligan's return to the BBC that saw him achieve his best and sometimes most confusing TV work, the various incarnations of Q.

Starting with Q5 (1969) Milligan and writing partner Neil Shand created a show where routines were dropped midway through, seemingly out of a bizarre antagonism towards the viewers, while heed of the fourth wall - the tacitly-observed divide between the world within the TV and that of the audience - was often totally abandoned; during sketches Milligan would regularly look down the camera at the viewers at home, convulsed with laughter or seemingly confused.

With its incomplete sets, deliberately amateurish makeup and sense of chaos, Q was not to everyone's liking. However, the BBC maintained an intermittent faith in Milligan, who returned with Q6 (1975) and so on up to Q9 (1980). Q10 was renamed There's A Lot Of It About (1982), apparently at the insistence of his employers who felt that the Q moniker had run its course.

Q's hit and miss nature is partly responsible for its lack of a popular legacy. Milligan's questionable use of racially-based humour hasn't helped its cause either, nor his use of the amply-endowed, and often semi-naked, Julia Breck as a stereotypical female sexual predator. However, for all of its flaws, the series broke new comic ground, and was an undoubted influence on Monty Python and, in turn, on generations of comedy writers and performers.

Anthony Clark

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Inflatable sympathy hump (3:22)
2. Live from Westminster (1:08)
3. Standing still race (0:44)
Q5: Complete edition (27:05)
It's a Square World (1960-64)
MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)
Milligan, Spike (1918-2002)
Renwick, David (1951-)
The Roots of Monty Python