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I was delighted to view this tele-recording for two reasons. Firstly,
it's well and truly hilarious. Secondly, the recovery of this long-lost
recording vindicates for television something I've long maintained for
cinema films: no movie or TV programme should be considered 'lost'
unless it was deliberately destroyed. Sadly, the BBC are notorious for
wiping their own programmes and taping over them ... and so, far too
many great moments of British television history are indeed gone
forever. Unless the transmission patterns are still bouncing off Alpha
Another IMDb contributor, Elena-48, has already reviewed this recording. Elena's review is perceptive but contains one niggling error: Alan Bennett's sermon is ostensibly about Esau and Jacob, not Ezra. Bennett's sermon is hilarious, as he piously and pretentiously draws metaphors between sardine tins and human existence. ('I wonder: is there a little bit you can't reach under the sardine tin of your life? I know there is under mine.') Here's something which this recording doesn't mention: an audiotape of Bennett's hilariously pretentious sermon is now used as a training tape in the Anglican church, warning newly ordained priests of the sort of claptrap they must avoid.
The opening sketch, with its references to the Cold War and Harold Macmillan, is necessarily dated but still funny ... especially when Peter Cook warns the gaunt Jonathan Miller to 'try to look well-fed'. Elsewhere, we have Miller as a prisoner in a death cell: Cook bookends this routine, setting the scene and then returning for the punchline.
Cook and Dudley Moore perform their brilliant 'One Leg Too Few' sketch, with Moore as the one-legged 'unidexter' auditioning for the role of Tarzan. Over the decades, Cook and Moore performed this routine hundreds of times, forcing Moore to spend many cumulative hours hopping on one foot. As Moore actually had a clubfoot (only partially corrected), the effect on him was not pleasant. But the routine is uproarious.
At intervals throughout, Moore performs his brilliant piano solos. The entire cast perform 'So That's the Way You Like It', skewering Shakespeare hilariously. Less effective is a routine in which all four portray camp homosexuals. A high point is Jonathan Miller's bizarre monologue, 'The Heat-Death of the Universe', pondering the fate of trousers that are abandoned on British Railway trains.
My own favourite here -- a quietly hilarious set-piece -- is Cook's solo turn, as a demented monologist sitting on a bench, explaining why he could have been a judge but ended up being a coal miner. Although the character is never named here, Cook privately named this creation E.L. Wisty, and depicted him many times over the decades. Cook's E.L. Wisty routine changed significantly at each performance, as Cook introduced new improvisations.
Periodically throughout this taped performance, the camera cuts away to show the audience. I felt this was a mistake, as the laughter on the soundtrack makes it clear that there's a live audience. Much more effective are the close-in shots, enabling us to see the expressions on the faces of the cast as the sadistic Cook ad-libs, trying to 'corpse' his castmates (especially Moore) and make them break character as they burst out laughing.
With Cuddly Dudley and 'Cookie' now both dead, and Bennett and Miller having largely forsaken performance in favour of their other talents, it's a delight to be able to see this crucial record of these four comedic geniuses at their peak. And this show is pretty damned funny, too. I'll rate it absolutely 10 out of 10.
About 30 years ago, Boston's only classical music radio station used to
offer a program (after its Saturday live broadcast of the Boston
Symphony) that played lots of recorded British comedy, including
excerpts from "Beyond the Fringe." It was from listening to that show
every week that I got to learn by heart many of the routines from this
legendary stage production that started the careers of Jonathan Miller,
Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. This DVD now provides an
opportunity to see the quartet in action, and to realize just how
brilliant they were, individually and as a team.
The great routines are still great. Peter Cook was a lost genius (lost, ultimately, to drink and dissipation), and his long monologue as the miner who didn't become a judge because he didn't have the Latin is a masterpiece - only in part because his deadpan stare at the audience remains unbroken even while he's speaking the most amazing nonsense. Dudley Moore, it turns out, was also something of a lost genius (lost, in his case, to Hollywood) - his musical interludes are extraordinarily accurate parodies of various classical music styles, including an eerie impersonation of Sir Peter Pears and a set of Beethovenian variations on "The Colonel Bogey March" that gets wildly out of hand.
Another masterpiece is Alan Bennett's vaporous, meandering sermon, which includes a pointless retelling of the time he and a friend went climbing to the top of a mountain, at which point "my friend very suddenly and very violently vomited. I sometimes think life's a lot like that." Jonathan Miller is the least proficient actor of the group - he mugs and gesticulates and mutters a little too much, and it's probably for the best that he gave up performing in favor of medicine and opera direction.
The video has a few technical faults, particularly in its sound, but the camera-work is good. For anyone even remotely interested in British comedy (and in seeing where Monty Python came from), this is a must.
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
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.
If you want to laugh then see this show. This is sketch comedy at its
finest, as Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook
riff on pretty much everything under the sun from religion, Philosophy,
music, the end of the world and being a miner. Its a wild mix of
nothing is sacred humor with a very clever edge.
If you want to trace the history of British comedy one would start with the music halls move on to the Goons stopping at this show before moving on to people like the Goodies, Monty Python and Eddie Izzard. These are the guys and this is the show that began, in part the draining of the colleges and setting them to work for places like the BBC. Python took the anarchic sketch comedy found here and welded the insanity of Spike Milligan and the Goons. If you need more proof consider that a good number of bits from this show ended up in the Secret Policemen's Balls that were staged by the members of Python for Amnesty International. They used the material because its funny.
Historical importance aside this is a very funny show. Certainly there are bits that have dated since it was first performed but on the whole the show remains relevant, and above all funny. If you like to laugh see this show.
We saw a tape (in glorious Black and White) of the Closing Night of
Beyond The Fringe (1964) at the New York Museum of Television and
Radio. There was a remark in the Website that the full tape of this
show is lost or erased but this tape was 2 hours long.
Although the tape quality was not always good (especially the sound!) and the audience looked oddly wooden we so enjoyed seeing this. Dudley Moore was such a great Parodist and Musician. He does parodies of Brecht, Schubert and Britten (Britten's Little Miss Muffett was especially funny). How sad that both he and Peter Cook are now dead.
We also enjoyed seeing Alan Bennett again doing his bit as the Vicar giving a long rambling sermon based on Ezra "My brother is a hairy man but I am a smooth man..." Was this once once broadcast on PBS?
Could some industry executive PLEASE put this out on DVD as soon as possible!!! And while we're at it what about Bennett's Talking Heads? At present it is only available in the UK.
I snapped up this video the moment it was released as one of the rare
Original London (and Broadway) cast performances recorded complete as
it was done on stage (recorded at its final London performance). It was
also the source of two hilarious LPs from Capitol Records that saw many
of us through our college years.
The classic revue - which later led to such heady intellectual fare as TV's THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS - is just as good as remembered and makes one long for the days when comedy wasn't afraid to make you think.
...THE FRINGE still had its share of buffoonery with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore embarking on their long careers as clown princes, but the BRIGHTEST of the bunch, Alan Bennett, is an even greater reason to spend an evening BEYOND THE FRINGE (the title an oblique reference to the famed annual Edinburgh Cultural Festival and its burgeoning "Fringe" Festival of entries which could not be booked into the main festival venues).
Bennett would soon leave the performing field (mostly) to concentrate on an even longer and more fulfilling writing career. As I write this, I'm still in the heady glow of one of the early Broadway performances of what may be Bennett's masterpiece, THE HISTORY BOYS, which transferred from London with most of its cast in tact after being filmed for later release. If half as good as it is on stage, THE HISTORY BOYS will be another movie/video to be cherished and the ultimate "Bennett Double Feature" as it expands the intellectual gamesmanship Bennett first started to develop in BEYOND THE FRINGE to full mature power.
A Brit recently told a newsman en-route to interview Bennett that "in England he's a God!" High praise indeed for a country which has also given us such relatively recent cultural deities as Tom Stoppard (ROSENCRANCZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD and Shakespeare IN LOVE) and Michael Frayn (NOISES OFF and COPENHAGEN), but also well merited.
It all started BEYOND THE FRINGE.
While some of the sketches have dated badly, and others lack the
invention of the best, this is the only way to see a version of the 4
man theatrical revue 'Beyond the Fringe' which has got some inspired
pieces of absurdity and satirical lunacy.
A huge success in the early 60s, 'Fringe' had a major influence on Monty Python, and by extension much of modern comedy. A very young Peter Cook and Dudley Moore teamed up with leading British playwright and screenwriter to be Alan Bennett, and Jonathan Miller, who went on to, among other things, produce and direct some stunning versions of Shakespeare for the BBC.
But here they playfully skewer many of societies sacred cows, with everything from a tremendously funny send up of Shakespeare, to Dudley Moore doing some amazing comic work at the piano, to a very, very funny interview piece with Moore interviewing Cook as a head of Scotland Yard about the Great Train Robbery. Cook is hysterical as the obviously incompetent official, and you can hear the kind of absurdist wordplay John Cleese or Graham Chapman would be doing as some officious character just a few years later.
The DVD transfer of this black and white TV special is pretty awful, hard to see at times, clearly damaged at moments, sound levels all over, etc. But it's more than worth it for the brilliant wit on display, and the opportunity to see this piece of comedy history.
8/10 but 0/10 for whoever wrote the bios on the DVD. In Alan Bennett's bio regarding "Talking Heads", the writer continually refers to "Thora Bird". If you've never heard of her, it's because he means Thora Hird. The DVD itself is a priceless time-capsule for fans of any satirical comedy that came after. Some of it is dated of course, but here are a few definite gems. Cook is by far the star of the show (as was recognized at the time). Moore is not given enough to do other than his masterful piano playing, Bennett shows the roots of his future droll comedy and Miller is a bit too over the top and the weakest performer of the four. The video quality suffers occasionally as does the sound track but not to any great extent. Watch out particularly for the old lady in the audience who never applauds. Perhaps the inspiration for the Pythons' old "pepperpots".
So after decades of reading about the comedy revue that jump-started the careers of the comic duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, I finally watched on DVD that revue that also featured Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller: Beyond the Fringe. Not everything that was depicted in this now-legendary event was funny, in fact, many of the references to certain historical or cultural happenings were dated to me but there were still a few skits that were quite hilarious to me like the beginning one about America, "The Great Train Robbery" with Cook making it clear that it's not a reference to a train being stolen, another Cook sketch in which he's a coal miner who wanted to be a judge and who writes about nude women on the side, and then there's "One Leg Too Few" in which Cook interviews Moore jumping on one foot as he auditions for the role of Tarzan! That one I recognized immediately since I first watched this sketch on a rerun of "Saturday Night Live" that they hosted when I was a teen. Still quite hilarious to me. Also loved seeing Moore at the piano especially as he makes faces to us or when he performs a pretentious version of "The Colonel Bogey March". Bennett can be a bit droll here especially when he plays a vicar delivering a sermon about the part of a sardine can you can't reach into and Miller can occasionally amuse when he mugs furiously. So on that note, I'd recommend Beyond the Fringe for anyone who's into satire especially of the British kind.
In the early 1960s, the comedy group consisting of Peter Cook, Alan Bennet, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore had a long-running stage show called "Beyond the Fringe". It's supposed to be a wonderful example of the sort of new British comedy that would become popular in the 1960s--a precursor to things like "Monty Python's Flying Circus". Fortunately, this performance was taped AND a copy was recently discovered--and is now on DVD. However, unfortunately for me there are no captions. Let me explain. I am hard of hearing and really like most of my films to be captioned. But if they aren't, they're best if they have excellent sound and accents I can easily follow. When I watched "Beyond the Fringe", it was a HUGE struggle, as the sound was only fair, there were no captions and the four person cast had thick British accents (and sometimes they put on accents that were even tougher for me to follow). About midway through the DVD, I simply turned it off, as I found I was missing too much. Should they ever bring out a captioned version, I'd be thrilled to try it again.
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