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Beyond the Fringe (1964)

A TV version of the stage show originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe (August 1962) and subsequently in London (Fortune Theatre) and Broadway.

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A TV version of the stage show originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe (August 1962) and subsequently in London (Fortune Theatre) and Broadway.

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12 December 1964 (UK)  »

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The full recording of this show was believed lost or erased, but it has been found. The Museum of Television and Radio showed it in March, 2005. See more »

Connections

Featured in Britain's 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches (2005) See more »

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British sketch comedy at its finest
11 April 2008 | by See all my reviews

Sketch comedy has a long history – beginning in this country with vaudeville and burlesque, and in England with the music hall ("vaudeville isn't dead; it just moved to England"). In the States, radio and television continued the earlier traditions because the people who first moved to the new mediums were old vaudevillians. The line is clear from vaudeville to Ernie Kovacs and Sid Caesar (among others) to Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, and their contemporaries and successors.

In England, however, something happened in the middle of the last century that changed radically the course and character of the British comedy sketch. That "something" was "Beyond the Fringe". There the line travels to "At Last the 1948 Show" and its contemporaries, to Monty Python, and onward. Of course the mother country could scarcely fail to influence the colonies. After "The Kids in the Hall" influences tend to become confused and muddled. So today we will not move beyond "Beyond" – of which seminal production we luckily now have some wonderful remembrances in this recording of the final performance of the revue.

The writers and stars – indeed, the entire cast – of Fringe were Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore. They appear in this film uncannily resembling the Beatles at the start of their careers: wearing plain black suits. All of these talented gentlemen went on to considerable careers in stage and/or screen.

Bennett has thus far written or co-written 27 films and appeared in 31. He is the author of the brilliant film (and its stage-play source), "The Madness of King George".

Cook (deceased 1995) appeared in 44 films and wrote or co-wrote 17 – including the wonderful "Yellowbeard".

Miller has been active in all facets of film, including direction of a number of Shakespeare's plays and production of a number of operas.

Moore is the best-known of the quartet. He has appeared in roles in 49 films and TV series, and as himself in 58 others. He has composed 8 film scores, and so on. In Fringe his piano playing suggests talent of concert level, but the only way to be sure is to get his recording of the Grieg concerto.

In a certain way Dudley Moore is the star of this show that really has no star. He performs some of its best material on the piano. His parody of Dame Clara Haskell (the Wanda Landowska of her day, but on the piano) is to die for – but it will be lost on today's audience, most of whom won't know who Landowska was, much less Haskell. In any event, it's a minor event and not the best piano-related gibe. Moore does satires of art songs, of which the finest is a direct hit on Schubert, "Die Flabbergast". The best item has no singing: a fantasia on the March from "Bridge on the River Kwai" in the style of Beethoven. Assuming Moore wrote the piece, his wit is as unerring as his pianism.

Although Fringe had a core of material in more or less constant use, the show tended to mutate over time so that it consisted overall of about 40 or so segments. This version gives us 22 (+ 1 track that is not a sketch) . Among the best is "Aftermyth of War", a longish bit that has people reminiscing about WWII in an hilarious manner that must have seemed irreverent to the Brits, less than 20 years on. Of course, irreverence is the absolute hallmark of the best humor – and this revue is rife with it.

Another hugely funny bit is "Sitting on the Bench", a monologue I've heard in other venues, and often known as "The Coal Miner's Tale". Here a coal miner bemoans his inability to pass the test to become a judge and had to take the coal miner's test instead. "There's only one question, 'What is your name?' I got 75% on that." Some of the best lines, such as the miner's rumination on the absence of falling coal in courtrooms, are missing here.

At least one routine is not to be found on the DVD nor apparently on the available CDs. This concerns Britain being unable to use the U.S. Trident submarine and thus having no remote launch platforms for its nukes. One plan is to run at the Berlin Wall, put up ladders, climbing the ladders, and throwing the bombs over. But there are plenty of others, and the DVD is funny as the dickens.

Cultural references being what they are, a good many viewers will find many of the sketches "dated". This means that they choose to blame the messengers instead of their own limitations in understanding the messages. Still, you needn't have lived through World War II to get some good laughs from "Aftermyth of War". And the good news is, there's 116 minutes of it.

If you like this sort of thing, there's more on CD. The one to get is "Beyond the Fringe: Complete", which has 3 CDs. The others are single CDs, each of which offers a limited selection, mostly duplicating the DVD. The 3-CD set has 42 tracks, but there are some duplications so that the total of different ones is 38, including 14 not found on the DVD. Two sketches from the DVD aren't on the CDs ("T.E.Lawrence" and "Art Gallery Director"), so the total DVD + CDs = 40.

Don't miss this opportunity to experience the great tap-root of the wonderful Pythons.


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