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Not unlike Monty Python and Benny Hill, this short-lived, fast-paced sketch comedy show, a coproduction between US' Cinemax and UK's Channel 4, features numerous, mostly unrelated sketches performed by mixed UK and US cast.
This excellent programme is being released on DVD in the UK today 2nd February 2009. The two-disc package contains both series of 'Al Fresco' and the three-part pilot series 'Nothing To Worry About', which was only shown in the Granada region.
The shows are well worth watching - they contained many funny ideas and were generally innovative for their time. As others have mentioned, the acting was also top notch and foreshadowed the talent inherent in the cast.
I was Floor Manager/1st AD on the pilot series and the first series of Al Fresco. The location scenes of the pilot were shot on 16mm film but a decision was made to shoot the entire first series on location, using what was then revolutionary lightweight location video equipment. It was also this decision which prompted the name of the series.
At the time, most comedy shows were studio-based, shot multi-camera on video, with location inserts shot on film. Attempting to shoot the entire series on location and on video was challenging, to say the least! Up until then, to shoot location drama on video necessitated taking out an entire outside broadcast unit and an army of crew and vehicles. It was very rarely done, with film being the preferred format.
With the new lightweight mobile video unit that Granada invested in we could go on the road as a much smaller unit and shoot scenes like a traditional film crew. That was the theory anyway! There were many logistical difficulties and technical breakdowns but we got it done.
However, the first series turned out to be very expensive, not least because of the post production. Video editing at the time was expensive, slow and labour intensive and we were shooting a lot of the scenes film-style using a single camera. This necessitated a lot of editing.
Granada requested a second series but with a reduced budget. The new producer decided to shoot it like a traditional studio-based sketch show, hence the birth of the 'pretend pub' concept to link it all together.
I have many fond memories of working on Al Fresco. I was very young at the time (most of us were!) but even then I knew that this coalescence of talent, coupled with a new way of doing things, was something remarkable and special.
I hope a new audience and a new generation will enjoy Al Fresco and that those who were in their teens and twenties in the mid 80s will enjoy rediscovering this lost treasure.
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