'Barnaby Spoot and the Exploding Whoopee Cushion' (what a great title!) was transmitted 28 May 1965 on BBC1. This one-off playlet is a perfect example of the sort of comedy that British television does so brilliantly, but which American TV doesn't even attempt to create. A story like this would never get production approval from American TV executives unless it were a pilot for a continuing series ... and the scriptwriters of 'Barnaby Spoot' would have had difficulty spinning this idea into a continuing series, as it's about a man who attempts to murder his boss.
'Barnaby Spoot' was written by the veteran comedy team of Barry Took and Marty Feldman. This was during the period before Feldman became a successful on screen performer. (BBC producers were reluctant to put Feldman in front of a TV camera, due to his bizarre appearance.) In hindsight, the role of Barnaby Spoot seems tailored for Feldman's distinctive persona ... but the role was actually played by John Bird, a popular comedic actor (as opposed to a comedian) who played a wide range of roles in British television comedy during this period. The entire cast are first-rate, and well served by producer Dick Clement (a brilliant comedy scripter in his own right) who also served as uncredited director of this playlet.
SYNOPSIS: Barnaby Spoot (John Bird) is the lowly assistant in a novelty shop managed by short-tempered Mr Bostock (John Le Mesurier, another comedy veteran). Spoot is a mere shopclerk ... but he keeps trying to make his mark in the novelties trade (and augment his income) by inventing new gags and novelties, in the hope that Bostock will add them to the shop's stock-in-trade. Unfortunately, all of Spoot's novelty inventions are terrible. His latest failure is the "chatty Cheddar" ... a talking cheese that nobody would possibly want. Dismayed by Bostock's rejection of his cheesy brainchild, Spoot decides to wreak revenge by assassinating the entire board of directors of the conglomerate that owns the novelty shop. How does he plan to do this foul deed? By smuggling into the boardroom an exploding whoopee cushion! Of course, Spoot's grim plot takes an unexpected turn...
Also prominent in the cast are Ronald Lacey as Justin Fribble, and (short of height but long on talent) the deft South African comedienne Sheila Steafel as Narcissus Font. (Great name, that!) Trust Feldman and Took to get great comedy out of the theme of a downtrodden little man who turns homidical. John Bird turns in a fine performance as Spoot, but I regret that Feldman didn't play this role himself. Still, I rate this hilarious show 10 out of 10. Well done all round!
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