'The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine' is one of British television comedy's greatest enigmas. Few saw it in 1971, and hardly anybody has seen it since. Sir Lew Grade of A.T.V. poached the comic from the B.B.C., intending to to sell him to the American public by putting him in his own show; a U.S. producer - the talented Larry Gelbart ( later to develop the T.V. version of 'M#A#S#H' ) - was put in charge, and he hired writers of the calibre of Barry Levinson, Sheldon Keller, Rudy de Luca, and Chris Allen ( Marty must have liked working with Allen as he later used him on his Universal movies 'The Last Remake Of Beau Geste' and 'In God We Tru$t' ), and brought aboard guest-stars such as Roger Moore, Groucho Marx, Art Carney, and Barbara Feldon ( '99' from 'Get Smart' ). With Tim Brooke-Taylor busy on 'The Goodies' ( though he did provide some material ), Marty found himself co-starring with Bob Todd, Clovissa Newcombe, Frances de la Tour, Valentine Dyall, and Hugh Paddick. It should have worked a treat, but for some reason did not. The strain of producing a fourteen-part, hour-long British comedy sketch show aimed at America seems to have taken its toll on everyone concerned. This, coupled with Marty's inability to get along with Gelbart, virtually scuppered the project.
I.T.V. inexplicably placed it in a late-night slot, and when ratings proved as poor as one might expect, pulled it off the air, replacing it with repeats of 'The Benny Hill Show'. In the States, it was cut down to 14 half-hour segments, where it fared slightly better.
In 1972, a 23-minute compilation show was entered for the Golden Rose of Montreux Festival - and duly won, beating out the classic 'Goodies' episode 'Kitten Kong'. It opens with a Terry Gilliam animated title sequence depicting an automated assembly line where perfect men are being manufactured. Marty gets into the system - and is swiftly rejected. The first sketch proper is a quickie featuring Marty taking a bath and a W.W.2 U-boat fires on him ( on his chest is a tattoo of a British warship ) beneath the soap-suds. Saluting, Marty sinks. Next is up is a film sequence in which Todd's city gent is relentlessly pursued by a persistent photographer ( Marty in his 'Mr.Globb' incarnation ). Orson Welles introduces an appeal on behalf of the 'Natural Preservation Society' - and we get a short film of Marty as hard-up aristocrat 'Lord Plumdick' of 'Spongling Manor' who has become a tourist attraction along with his posh country house. 'The Fly' has Marty as a cymbalist in an orchestra ( conducted by John Junkin ) who keeps trying to swat an annoying insect with his instruments. Marty and Spike Milligan next play rival undertakers ( both called 'Melmoth' ) in a small town where nobody ever seems to die, and finally - my favourite item - Marty chases after a runaway spare wheel whilst fixing his car, and is taken on a mad journey, involving monks being knocked down like skittles and his gatecrashing of a marathon race.
Its all good natured fun, although whether it deserved to win the Golden Rose is a matter for conjecture. Being a compilation there was bound to be an emphasis on visual humour. It was repeated in 1987 by Channel 4 as part of an A.T.V. theme night; by then, Marty had been dead some five years. In his recent biography, Robert Ross calls 'Machine' a mixture of the good and the terrible. It would be nice to see the entire series on D.V.D., so we can decide for ourselves which is which. Marty's comedy machine should be cranked into action once again!
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