An Oxford undergraduate discovers that amid the dreaming spires there roosts a boozy bird. 3D and 2D, live action and animation blend to create the drunken world of The Unsteady Chough. With Monty Python's Terry Jones.
I saw 'Twice a Fortnight' (which works out to once a week, ha ha) when it was originally transmitted by the BBC on a weekly basis. The programme lasted precisely five fortnights (i.e., ten weekly episodes) in late 1967, terminating just before Christmas. In fact, I was a member of the studio audience for one episode, which is noteworthy because of this programme's unusual relationship with its studio audience.
As it now stands, the only real achievement of 'Twice a Fortnight' is that it gave Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie a chance to get some television experience, and to make some beginners' mistakes, before going on to their legendary success in Monty Python (Palin, Jones) and the Goodies (Garden, Oddie). The programme was a flop largely because these lads didn't know what they were doing ... but they learnt very quickly indeed. (A previous IMDb reviewer, AlaGls1, is mistaken: Terry Jones and Michael Palin were both on-camera performers in 'Twice a Fortnight', although only in the film sequences shot outside the studio.)
Bill Oddie was keen to do a series involving audience participation. This led to the first mistake: the studio audience were seated much nearer to the performers than usual, encouraging the audience to feel that they were part of the comic anarchy. The second mistake was the notion to 'warm up' the audience by serving drinks to them before the show (including alcoholic bevvies, if they so chose). I think that this idea was down to the director Tony Palmer: at all events, he wasn't the first to try this; it was previously done by 'That Was the Week that Was', which catered for rather a different studio audience. The third mistake -- almost certainly Palmer's -- was the decision to hand round noise-makers to the audience before recording each episode. So, we've got boozed-up audience members, armed with noise-makers and practically sitting in the performers' laps, whilst encouraging them to join into the insanity. Can you see where this is heading? One of my least favourite viewing experiences was a midnight screening of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', in a roomful of idiots intent on proving that they were more clever than the performers ... only they weren't. I got a very similar sensation while trying to watch 'Twice a Fortnight'.
In several of the episodes which I viewed from home (in transmission), most of the in-studio sequences were almost totally indiscernible, due to the constant whooping, interruptions and unfunny wisecracks of the audience. The single biggest reason why I went down to the Beeb's theatre in Shepherds Bush and joined the studio audience for one of the later episodes was because I was hoping I might get a chance to hear the actors' dialogue if I was in the same room with them. Some hope! Fortunately, by that point in the run of the series, the free booze had been curtailed and the audience were comparatively restrained. Only just.
The best aspect of the in-studio sequences was that they included performances by really first-rate rock acts. How's this for starters? The Who, Cream, Cat Stevens, Moody Blues, Small Faces, and Scaffold (featuring Paul McCartney's brother Mike McGear). It was these musical interludes -- and ONLY the musical interludes -- which evoke fond memories of 'Twice a Fortnight' for me when I'm watching some top-name musical act on 'Saturday Night Live'. The only resemblance between 'SNL' and 'Twice a Fortnight' was the reliable presence of some first-rate rock'n'roll acts. (And a too-rowdy studio audience drowning them out.)
The comedy sequences performed in the studio for that awful audience were largely dire. In hindsight, they feel like incredibly bad imitations of Monty Python skits ... generally, the ones featuring two men sitting on stools, one interviewing the other. Perhaps if these skits had been funnier, the studio audience would have been more co-operative ... and the larger audience watching the transmissions at home would have been able to hear the dialogue.
What saved 'Twice a Fortnight' -- ever so barely -- were the film inserts, which were recorded previously in exterior locations, without any audience apart from a few goggling pedestrians. (These clips were aired on CC monitors for the studio audience's benefit.) The funniest film sequence in 'Twice a Fortnight' was a sketch about midget policemen, played by actual midgets in constable cozzies. Just the sight of a bunch of helmeted midgets wielding truncheons and doing Constable Plod routines ("Here, now, wot's all this, then?") is hilarious in itself. But this sketch became even weirder (and funnier) because the actors performed their movements BACKWARD, while filmed conventionally. The film was then played in reverse, to have the actors moving forward ... but with a weird alien appearance to their movements which is difficult to describe. If you've seen the Red Dwarf episode 'Backwards', you'll recognise the effect I mean.
It would be great if Auntie Beeb could issue a 'Twice a Fortnight' compilation DVD, featuring all of the musical performances and film clips. The studio sketches weren't very funny in the first place, and are made even less tolerable due to the live audience's antics. I'll rate this comedy series -- not very funny, yet historically (and musically) important -- 5 out of 10.
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