An insight into what influenced some of the nation's best-loved comedians, and what made them belly laugh. With Paddy McGuinness, Frank Carson, Nigel Havers and Sean Lock.
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Coming up, Britain's best-loved comedians reveal who gets their chuckle muscles working overtime.
No, "fork 'andles".
The Two Ronnies were the greatest British double act ever.
He is brilliant. That is fantastic. Just gets it just right, don't he?
No fuss, no frills approach to comedy. Just gets on with it!
I've never seen electricity. That's why I don't pay for it.
From stand-up routines to sketches and classic sitcoms...
Well, huzzah and hurrah!
..they're letting us in on their all-time favourite jokes
and their love, envy and sheer admiration for the star performers behind them.
A stand-up purist, I love it. I love it.
You're having me on, aren't you?
That can be shown again and again for the next 20, 30 years, and it's still funny.
That's how you know you're a star, and he was one that night.
So dust off your laughing gear,
and buckle up for a raucous ride into the land of comedy.
You are having me on! You are definitely having me on!
The Two Ronnies, in my opinion, are the greatest British double act ever.
Now the late news. Senator Grunsden, a candidate for the United States presidency,
complained that just because he likes to go down to his Carolina poultry farm,
help with the harvest and preserve his beetroots,
that doesn't make him a cotton-picking, chicken-plucking, pickle dip.
They complemented each other so well,
Corbett and Barker, wonderfully well.
When they were together it was just magic.
It wasn't just because they were both
consummate professionals, brilliant performers,
but also the material - it was so good.
The Two Ronnies' sketch show
was one of the longest-running entertainment shows on the BBC,
with 22 million viewers tuning in each week.
My favourite sketch
has to be the Two Ronnies, the Four Candles sketch.
The Four Candles sketch first aired in 1976
and is widely thought of as their masterpiece.
When you think of the Two Ronnies a lot of people will probably say that sketch first - Four Candles.
Oh well, I mean that's just a classic. It is a classic.
Here you are, four candles.
No, "fork 'andles".
Well, there you are, four candles.
No, "fork 'andles".
Handles for forks.
When I watched it as a kid with my family,
everybody - mum, dad, aunties, uncles -
they're laughing their heads off.
And it's a very clever play on words, but they cram so much comedy into it.
It just makes you roar with laughter.
-Got any plugs?
-What kind of plugs?
-Rubber one. Bathroom.
Ronnie Barker doesn't do much speaking at all in that sketch.
And Ronnie Corbett drives the sketch.
-Got any 'oes?
When you watch that sketch, watch Ronnie Corbett's reactions, which were beautiful.
-I thought you meant hoes!
They made the next pun, the next gag, even greater.
He did the groundwork.
'ose...? Oh, you mean pantyhose! Pantyhose!
No, no, O's. O's. O's for the gate.
"Mon repose" - O's.
I thought you meant...
I mean, it's very funny where he's getting fed up,
you know, thinks he's getting him at it.
JON CULSHAW: Your sympathy for the Ronnie Corbett shopkeeper character,
who has to keep going further into the shop and get ladders,
and just go to more effort, and climb to the top of the shelf to get the things.
Got any P's?
Gawd's sake, why didn't you bleedin' tell me that when I'm up there?
I'm up the stairs already...
I'm up and down the shop all the time!
I'm up and down...
JON RICHARDSON: Ronnie Corbett's little withering looks to camera -
he sort of goes through
being annoyed and then feeling victimised,
and then just frustrated, and then hating him,
climbing the ladder and having to go back up.
And there's so much going on beyond the great jokes and the wordplay.
It's a really perfect piece of writing and performance.
How many do you want?
No, tins of peas.
Three tins of peas.
You're having me on, aren't you? You're having me on! Eh?
Such is the success of the Four Candles sketch,
that the original script hand-written by Ronnie Barker
surfaced on the Antiques Roadshow back in 2006.
It just is one of the funniest things I've ever seen,
and I think it is probably one of the most famous English comedy sketches.
It later sold at auction for a whopping 48 grand!
£48,500 of the Queen's English pounds.
I would love to have that.
I mean, it really is a piece of comedy history.
-There we are. Right.
Hand pumps, foot pumps, come on.
-Foot pumps. Foot pumps.
JON CULSHAW: You can watch that sketch a thousand times,
and you'll only get more fond of it.
Here we are.
No, pumps for your feet.
Brown pumps, size nine.
-You are having me on! You are definitely having me on!
-No, I'm not.
PADDY McGUINNESS: It stands the test of time. It can be shown again and again
for the next 20 or 30 years, and it's still funny.
-What - windscreen washers, car washers,
dishwashers, floor washers, back scrubbers, lavatory cleaners, floor washers?!
It's just lovely to watch. Always makes me laugh my head off.
Four Candles is definitely the one for me.
Mr Jones? You serve this customer, please. I've just about had enough!
Look what he's got on there, look what he's got on there!
Right - how many would you like, one or two?
Probably one of the all-time greats of the Royal Variety Show
was Freddie Starr.
He's very young, he's very good, he's very talented.
Say hello to Freddie Starr!
ENTRANCE MUSIC AND APPLAUSE
I mean, I can't ever remember laughing as much at someone
as I did at Freddie Starr.
MUSIC: Intro to "It's Not Unusual"
# It's not unusual to be loved by anyone... #
Freddie Starr just absolutely just explodes onto the stage
with this brilliant, brilliant, brilliant physical comedy.
It's like watching him on fast forward
and it's astonishing, just out of nowhere.
# Ahh... #
# If anything, if anything... #
Mad-cat comedian and impressionist Freddie Starr
got his first big break in 1970, when he was invited to appear
on the highly prestigious Royal Variety Performance.
-Freddie Starr's performance was ground-breaking
cos he was a young club comedian no-one had really seen
but he came on and surprised everybody.
He did every pop star he knew and he was outrageous.
Mr Billy Fury.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
Very clever. Very clever act, you know.
I've never seen anybody change shape, faces, voice,
just like that.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
Of course, the whole place just fell about.
# At sweet 16 she goes just to see the boys
# She's ha ha ha ha ha... #
The young, up and coming comic took the Palladium by storm
but it was his famous impression of a certain pouty iconic pop star
that truly clinched the deal.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones.
I will never, ever forget his impression of Mick Jagger.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, he is brilliant!
That is fantastic!
Just gets it just right, doesn't he?
It was an incredible thing - he suddenly did things
with his lips and became Mick Jagger and sort of did the whole strutting,
you know, that sort of dance that Jagger does.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
# I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
# You're gonna give your love to me... #
His use of his body - I mean those legs, it's an image
that I will always have with me, Freddie Starr's legs,
and what he was able to do with them.
# I know exactly how I'm gonna feel. #
Following this legendary performance, Freddie's star rose,
making him a TV regular throughout the '70s and '80s,
wowing audiences with his outrageous brand of comedy.
Freddie Starr, when I was a kid,
whenever he came on telly, everything would stop in our house.
You know, me mum would sit down, whoever was in, your friends,
they'd sit down and you'd be kind of mesmerised by him.
As an audience,
we like chaos and we like things going wrong -
that's why those blooper shows do so well.
Everything he did was a blooper, you know,
and that's why everyone loved him.
It was very visual, Freddie's comedy,
but when you're a kid that's the kind of thing that you like.
You know, you don't really think about what he's saying and what the gags are -
it's just very, very visually funny.
I remember in the '70s, I found him hilarious.
SCREAMING AND LAUGHTER
I can remember Freddie Starr doing his Hitler impression
in turn-down Wellington boots, a pair of shorts on
with swastikas, big white baggy shorts with swastikas on,
doing comic Sieg Heiling,
and nobody thought there was anything wrong with that.
It would cause incident and break up the European Union now.
Freddie Starr is a naturally funny man and he proved it on that Royal Command Performance
when he not only stopped the show -
he drew riotous applause, which brought him back on to take a call.
His act was carefully honed down to a mere three minutes for the show,
but such was the audience response that he became
the first performer in 47 years to be allowed an encore.
That's how you know you're a star and he was one that night.
Tony Hancock is pretty much the prototypical sitcom lead man -
a guy with ambitions that he can't succeed in. He's pompous,
he likes the sound of his own voice.
If you want to know where it all comes from in English sitcom,
go and look at him and you'll see it everywhere else.
Oh my word, swipe me, ooh!
Perhaps the first-ever true sitcom,
Hancock's Half Hour crossed over from the radio to television in 1956
and was a dramatic departure from the variety shows of the time.
It starred comedy actor Tony Hancock,
playing an exaggerated version of himself.
He was really ahead of his time
because the show is about Tony Hancock.
He wasn't playing anyone other than himself
and that's quite an innovative thing, I thought.
You can't do that! A man in your position has to keep up appearances!
You can't let the public see you queuing up with a tray!
What about the business lunches and producers?
I would beg my parents to stay up to watch his show.
I could get his downbeat humour, I just loved the way
he was always cross and bad-tempered.
All those that are empty are off! There's mince and baked beans.
I don't want that!
Did you handle it?
The last thing I'd handle is mince and beans!
What's wrong with it?
I just don't like mince and beans, that's all!
And he turned it into an art form and I just love that about him.
And he was a brilliant actor.
Good grief, this is sheer extortion.
Four and fivepence, please, or change your food.
Oh, very well, then.
What makes Tony Hancock funny? Just his face
and his turned-down shoulders,
but his enthusiasm to pull himself up.
He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
What other delicacies are you keeping hidden?
I think he was a genius - absolute comic genius.
And there was one particular episode that I absolutely fell in love with
and it's called The Economy Drive.
You great oaf! I thought I told you to cancel the milk.
Oh, shut up moaning! Open the door.
400 bottles of milk - look at it all!
What am I going to do with 400 bottles of milk?
He lives with Sid James in this episode and they come back from holiday.
First of all, there are 5,000 pints of milk outside the front door.
That got him going.
Why didn't you just put a notice up?
"Gone away for three months, come on in and help yourselves!"
What a buffoon you are!
Think I'm made of money? Come on out of the way!
And then when he got inside, all the lights have been left on,
the TV has been left on.
Do you think I'm made of money? This waste has got to stop, Sid.
'Welcome to another evening of television!'
And so he decides to go on an economy drive
and so the cut-backs, you cut,
then you see Sid James is wrapped in a rug cos it's so cold
and in the grate in the fire,
there's one lump of coal burning, which he tries to keep going.
At one stage, he reaches to put another lump of coal on.
Put it back!
It's freezing in here!
Put it back!
One lump an hour - we've had our ration for tonight!
Going to bed in about 15 minutes - save the lights.
It's only seven o'clock!
Well, if you think I'm sitting here all night with that thing blazing away, you're mistaken!
40 watts, that is!
The thing that got me was he's rolling up a cigarette,
which he's never done before, but he explains how he can buy
a whole lot of tobacco and filters for one and seven or something.
A-ha, 400 for one and nine, boy!
He manages eventually to roll one
and he lights it and because it's only got one strand of tobacco,
it immediately burns straight to his fingers and that's the end of it.
Mind, you get through a lot of them.
It's the most bizarre cigarette you've seen smoked in your life.
"Don't do this, don't do that!" I can't stand it much longer!
I can't go on living like this much longer - it's driving me mad, mad!
Don't walk up and down, it wears the carpet out.
Just a phenomenally funny joke, really,
and that's my favourite comic moment of all time.
And they don't make them like that any more.
One of my favourite comedians has to be Steven Wright,
the American stand-up who's been around since the '80s.
The best comedian in America, a fine man. We've enjoyed him all day.
Please put your hands together in the studio, for Steven Wright!
He's a brilliant stand-up, wonderful joke writer and unique thinker.
Last time I tried to commit suicide was about an hour ago.
I was down the street on the roof of this very tall building.
I leapt off the edge and I accidentally did a triple back flip, landing standing on my feet.
Nobody saw this but two little kittens, one of them said, "See, that's how you do that."
Multi-talented film-maker, actor, writer and comedian,
Steven Wright has had a stand-up career spanning over 30 years.
He hit the big time in 1982
when he was discovered by a producer of The Tonight Show.
Often described as the comedian's comedian,
he's famed for his lethargic delivery and philosophical one-liners.
I think he's the best joke writer there is.
No fuss, no frills approach to comedy. Gets on with it.
Friday, I was in a book store and started talking to this very French-looking girl.
She was a bilingual illiterate. She couldn't read in two different languages.
Steven Wright is a stand-up purist,
I love it, I love it.
I've never seen electricity. That's why I don't pay for it.
A lot of his jokes were like him dropping tiny little word bombs
into people's heads
and then waiting for them to think about it for a couple of seconds
and then thinking, "Yeah, that's an amazing image."
I went fishing with Salvador Dali.
He was using a dotted line.
He caught every other fish.
In the late '80s,
Wright appeared on the iconic stand-up show Saturday Live,
where his distinctive style went down a storm with British audiences.
Steven Wright kind of tapped in to the whole weird darkness
of a lot of British comedy
and I think that's why people over here took him to their hearts.
The opening joke, I think, is a brilliant joke.
Last night I had a dream
that all the babies prevented by the pill showed up.
They were mad.
It's not structured like a normal joke.
It's just trying to create an image in people's heads.
It's just a way of thinking.
It's a very, very unusual, provocative way of thinking.
I got up the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen
and replaced with an exact replica.
I think it's very hard to do well, that style of humour.
I mean, the masters of it do it superbly.
What's absolutely essential is that the quality of the jokes
is brilliant, because if they're not then you lose people immediately.
Stones, I love the Stones. I can't believe they're still
doing it after all these years. I watch them whenever I can...
Fred and Barney.
He's not abrasive. He's very sort of relaxed and slightly shambolic
and really has the knack of making it sound like
these things have just popped into his head,
which is a really difficult thing to do.
Today I was...
No, that wasn't me.
There's another beautiful joke
which is about a woman asking him how he's feeling
and he says, "You know when your chair's leaning back?"
I said, "You know when you're sitting on a chair and you lean back, and then you lean too far
"and you almost fall, but just at the last second you catch yourself?
"I feel like that all the time."
It's a wonderful observation.
I was walking down the street and I saw a man who had wooden legs
and real feet.
He is a master at creating imagery.
In stand-up, you want to be able to create images.
One of my favourite Steven Wright jokes is when he says, "I was a Caesarean baby."
I was Caesarean born.
Can't really tell.
Although whenever I leave the house, I go out through the window.
He creates an image of this guy who's a Caesarean baby, who just can't resist the window.
I put a new engine in my car, but I didn't take the other one out.
Now I can go 500 miles an hour.
I took the headlights off and I put strobe lights on.
So when I drive at night, it looks like I'm the only one that's moving.
But he's a very, very funny man. I suggest you check him out.
One of my most favourite comedy moments was in the last episode of Blackadder.
Hello, the Somme public baths.
No running, shouting or piddling in the shallow end.
The whole of the last episode of Blackadder was actually terribly,
terribly moving and very sad and...
kind of very darkly funny.
Gentlemen, our long wait is nearly at an end.
Tomorrow morning, General Insanity Melchett
invites you to a mass slaughter. We're going over the top.
Well, huzzah and hurrah!
After four series and 25 episodes,
Blackadder and his chums graced our screens for one final time.
Blackadder Goes Forth
has the dark setting of the trenches of World War I.
-That fourth series is awesome.
I think it probably seemed controversial to do a sitcom set in the First World War in the trenches.
We've been sitting here since Christmas 1914,
during which millions of men have died and we've advanced no further
than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping.
I mean, it's beautifully placed, that whole series.
It's really neatly done and they walk a fine line.
It was quite clever.
I just think it was comedy that made you think, really.
It's ice cream in Berlin in 15 days.
Or ice cold in no man's land in 15 seconds.
Now the time has come to get out of this madness once and for all.
It was a rare thing - you don't get that in comedy.
You don't get anything that poignant and that powerful,
but Blackadder did it. I mean, the writing was just amazing.
-Permission to ask a question, sir?
-Permission granted, Baldrick.
As long it isn't the one about where babies come from.
Writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis penned an all-time classic scene
where the hapless Baldrick unforgettably highlights the futility of war.
You have Baldrick as the sort of representative
of the ignorant people, God bless him,
who's the one kind of asking the big questions
that a lot of us don't really understand.
The thing is, the way I see it, these days there's a war on, right?
And ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right?
So there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away...
-I remember watching it at the time, and just being really glad
that it's a comedy sketch with real intelligence behind it
and real pathos for the characters.
That's a great scene cos they're just talking - nothing happens.
They sit there and discuss a thing in a funny way.
So, what I want to know is...
how did we get from the one case of affairs
to the other case of affairs?
Do you mean, how did the war start?
So they're sat and they're having this deep and meaningful about why war happens
and the entire time Edmond Blackadder
has got a pair of underpants on his head and he's trying to look mad,
cos he's heard that if you look mad, then you won't have to go into war.
The war started because of the vile Hun
and his villainous empire building.
George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe,
while the German empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika.
Baldrick comes into his own cos he says it's about someone shot
an ostrich called Archie Duke.
And you know he's got it yet again messed up,
he's got all his wires crossed.
I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich cos he was hungry.
I think you mean it started when the Arch Duke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
No, there was definitely an ostrich involved.
Well, possibly, but the real reason for the whole thing
was that it was just too much effort not to have a war.
By gum, this is interesting. I always loved history.
Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives, all that.
'It's quite touching,'
the patience with which
Blackadder deals with these two at the very end,
trying to explain to them that they thought that the method for peace
was two superpowers to be armed to the hilt.
You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe,
two superblocs developed. Us, the French and the Russians on one side,
and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other.
The idea was to have two vast opposing armies,
each acting as the other's deterrent, that way there could never be a war.
But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
Yes, that's right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
What was that, sir?
It was bollocks.
"What's that, sir?" "Cos it's bollocks."
So the poor old ostrich died for nothing.
I think they were spot on about the futility of it
and the pointlessness of it all.
Mad as a bicycle.
'It doesn't matter why it started, it's just happened.'
They make a neat point with it and Baldrick still doesn't understand,
so you've pretty much got the whole situation of the programme encapsulated in that scene.
No, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.
For comedy to affect you like that...
I mean, cos obviously the last scene where they go over the top
and it all goes black and white was...
God, I still remember that
and it was like a punch in the stomach. It was like, "Oh, they're dead."
I feel a real statement's made
and it does go down in my personal library of all-time favourites.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
A look at what makes the nation's best-loved comedians laugh the most. Contributors share the stories behind each joke, describe how it influenced them, and divulge why it is their favourite joke of all time. From stand-up routines and comedy sketches to classic sitcom moments, they go beyond the joke and provide an exclusive insight into their all-time favourite gags and the star performers who told them. The programme provides a rare chance to see some of the funniest classic comedy moments of all time. Contributors include Paddy McGuinness, Frank Carson, Nigel Havers, Sean Lock and Shappi Khorsandi.