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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Soon after the transmission of 'The Complete & Utter History Of
Britain', an unimpressed John Cleese rang Michael Palin, and said:
"Well, you won't be doing any more of those!". The show came from the
newly-formed London Weekend Television, and went out just before the
second - and final - run of Thames' 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' ( with
these shows and Marty Feldman's to write, Palin and Terry Jones were
certainly kept busy ) commenced in early 1969. The idea came from a
sketch they had done previously in 'Twice A Fortnight' ( a late night
B.B.C. show from 1967 ). What if television had existed during
Britain's past? You could show say the participants in the Battle of
Hastings interviewed in their dressing rooms immediately afterwards,
diarist Samuel Pepys hosting a David Frost-type chat-show, Robin Hood
as the very first social worker, Norman conquerors wearing berets,
striped shirts, and riding onion-covered bikes or a damsel in distress
failing to be rescued because her knight in shining armour insists she
first sign a form confirming its legality. Another sketch had an estate
agent showing a young couple round Stonehenge as though it were a
Each episode covered a particular period of history. It was produced by Humphrey Barclay and directed by Australian Maurice Murphy ( later to work on L.W.T.'s 'Doctor' series ). Palin and Jones, as you would expect, took many of the best roles, but were not happy overall with the finished product. To give an example, they had written a battle in the style of a Western gun fight, but the way it looked on screen was not what was intended, just a few blokes larking about with swords. They were also unhappy with the casting of performers whom they felt to be 'old school' and out of step with the humour. Colin Gordon's stuffy presenter linked the sketches, which featured amongst others Diana Quick ( later to play Graham Chapman's wife in the film of 'The Odd Job' ), Johnny Vyyvan ( a diminutive comedian best remembered for his appearances on the Des O'Connor show ), and Wallas Eaton ( 'Ludricrus Sextus' from the second season of 'Up Pompeii' ). According to Roger Wilmut in his excellent book 'From Fringe To Flying Circus', the major weak point was Roddy Maude-Roxby's 'Professor Weaver', a forgetful historian unable to concentrate on the subject at hand. He is right. Palin or Jones would have been far better in the role.
Possibly because it was so radically different to most I.T.V. comedy of that period, the show was not well received - I.T.V. did not network it for some strange reason - and it was quickly forgotten, being overshadowed later in the year by the arrival of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'. Originally seven editions were made, but the suits insisted the first two be combined as they were not deemed strong enough to go out separately. To add insult to injury, it was wiped soon after broadcast. Some film inserts survive though, along with the first two episodes ( as broadcast and as produced ). Hit and miss it may be, but it is a stepping stone on the road to Python ( the 'Dennis Moore' sketch from Season 3 could have fitted neatly into 'Complete & Utter' ). The surviving material was finally put on D.V.D. ( with the scripts to the missing bits included as extras ) in 2014.
In 1972, a B.B.C. children's programme tried to mine the same vein of historical humour as 'Complete'. It was called 'Cabbages & Kings', and starred Julie Stevens, Derek Griffiths, and Johnny Ball ( who also wrote it ).
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