Episode 6 My Favourite Joke


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Episode 6

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.

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No, "fork 'andles".

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The Two Ronnies were the greatest British double act ever.

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He is brilliant. That is fantastic. Just gets it just right, don't he?

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No fuss, no frills approach to comedy. Just gets on with it!

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I've never seen electricity. That's why I don't pay for it.

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From stand-up routines to sketches and classic sitcoms...

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Well, huzzah and hurrah!

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..they're letting us in on their all-time favourite jokes

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and their love, envy and sheer admiration for the star performers behind them.

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A stand-up purist, I love it. I love it.

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You're having me on, aren't you?

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That can be shown again and again for the next 20, 30 years, and it's still funny.

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That's how you know you're a star, and he was one that night.

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So dust off your laughing gear,

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and buckle up for a raucous ride into the land of comedy.

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You are having me on! You are definitely having me on!

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The Two Ronnies, in my opinion, are the greatest British double act ever.

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Now the late news. Senator Grunsden, a candidate for the United States presidency,

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complained that just because he likes to go down to his Carolina poultry farm,

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help with the harvest and preserve his beetroots,

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that doesn't make him a cotton-picking, chicken-plucking, pickle dip.

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They complemented each other so well,

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Corbett and Barker, wonderfully well.

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When they were together it was just magic.

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It wasn't just because they were both

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consummate professionals, brilliant performers,

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but also the material - it was so good.

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The Two Ronnies' sketch show

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was one of the longest-running entertainment shows on the BBC,

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with 22 million viewers tuning in each week.

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My favourite sketch

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has to be the Two Ronnies, the Four Candles sketch.

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The Four Candles sketch first aired in 1976

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and is widely thought of as their masterpiece.

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Four candles.

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Four candles?

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When you think of the Two Ronnies a lot of people will probably say that sketch first - Four Candles.

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Oh well, I mean that's just a classic. It is a classic.

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Here you are, four candles.

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No, "fork 'andles".

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Well, there you are, four candles.

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No, "fork 'andles".

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Handles for forks.

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When I watched it as a kid with my family,

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everybody - mum, dad, aunties, uncles -

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they're laughing their heads off.

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And it's a very clever play on words, but they cram so much comedy into it.

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It just makes you roar with laughter.

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-Got any plugs?

-Plugs?

-Yeah.

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-What kind of plugs?

-Rubber one. Bathroom.

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What size?

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13 amp.

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Ronnie Barker doesn't do much speaking at all in that sketch.

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And Ronnie Corbett drives the sketch.

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-Got any 'oes?

-'Oes?

-'Oes.

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When you watch that sketch, watch Ronnie Corbett's reactions, which were beautiful.

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No, 'ose.

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'Ose!

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-I thought you meant hoes!

-'Ose.

-'Ose!

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They made the next pun, the next gag, even greater.

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He did the groundwork.

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No, O's.

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'ose...? Oh, you mean pantyhose! Pantyhose!

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No, no, O's. O's. O's for the gate.

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"Mon repose" - O's.

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-Letter O's!

-Letter O's!

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I thought you meant...

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I mean, it's very funny where he's getting fed up,

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you know, thinks he's getting him at it.

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All right?

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JON CULSHAW: Your sympathy for the Ronnie Corbett shopkeeper character,

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who has to keep going further into the shop and get ladders,

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and just go to more effort, and climb to the top of the shelf to get the things.

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Yeah, next.

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Got any P's?

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Gawd's sake, why didn't you bleedin' tell me that when I'm up there?

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I'm up the stairs already...

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I'm up and down the shop all the time!

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I'm up and down...

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JON RICHARDSON: Ronnie Corbett's little withering looks to camera -

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he sort of goes through

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being annoyed and then feeling victimised,

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and then just frustrated, and then hating him,

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climbing the ladder and having to go back up.

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And there's so much going on beyond the great jokes and the wordplay.

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It's a really perfect piece of writing and performance.

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How many do you want?

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No, tins of peas.

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Three tins of peas.

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You're having me on, aren't you? You're having me on! Eh?

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Such is the success of the Four Candles sketch,

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that the original script hand-written by Ronnie Barker

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surfaced on the Antiques Roadshow back in 2006.

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It just is one of the funniest things I've ever seen,

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and I think it is probably one of the most famous English comedy sketches.

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It later sold at auction for a whopping 48 grand!

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£48,500 of the Queen's English pounds.

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I would love to have that.

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I mean, it really is a piece of comedy history.

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-There we are. Right.

-Pumps.

-Pumps.

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Hand pumps, foot pumps, come on.

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-Foot pumps.

-Foot pumps. Foot pumps.

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JON CULSHAW: You can watch that sketch a thousand times,

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and you'll only get more fond of it.

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Here we are.

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No, pumps for your feet.

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Brown pumps, size nine.

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-You are having me on! You are definitely having me on!

-No, I'm not.

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-I'm not.

-You are!

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PADDY McGUINNESS: It stands the test of time. It can be shown again and again

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for the next 20 or 30 years, and it's still funny.

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-Washers.

-What - windscreen washers, car washers,

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dishwashers, floor washers, back scrubbers, lavatory cleaners, floor washers?!

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It's just lovely to watch. Always makes me laugh my head off.

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Four Candles is definitely the one for me.

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Mr Jones? You serve this customer, please. I've just about had enough!

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Look what he's got on there, look what he's got on there!

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Right - how many would you like, one or two?

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Probably one of the all-time greats of the Royal Variety Show

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was Freddie Starr.

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He's very young, he's very good, he's very talented.

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Say hello to Freddie Starr!

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ENTRANCE MUSIC AND APPLAUSE

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I mean, I can't ever remember laughing as much at someone

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as I did at Freddie Starr.

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MUSIC: Intro to "It's Not Unusual"

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# It's not unusual to be loved by anyone... #

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Freddie Starr just absolutely just explodes onto the stage

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with this brilliant, brilliant, brilliant physical comedy.

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It's like watching him on fast forward

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and it's astonishing, just out of nowhere.

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# Ahh... #

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# If anything, if anything... #

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Mad-cat comedian and impressionist Freddie Starr

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got his first big break in 1970, when he was invited to appear

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on the highly prestigious Royal Variety Performance.

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Second verse.

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-LENNY HENRY:

-Freddie Starr's performance was ground-breaking

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cos he was a young club comedian no-one had really seen

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but he came on and surprised everybody.

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He did every pop star he knew and he was outrageous.

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Mr Billy Fury.

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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Very clever. Very clever act, you know.

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I've never seen anybody change shape, faces, voice,

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just like that.

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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Of course, the whole place just fell about.

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# At sweet 16 she goes just to see the boys

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# She's ha ha ha ha ha... #

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The young, up and coming comic took the Palladium by storm

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but it was his famous impression of a certain pouty iconic pop star

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that truly clinched the deal.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones.

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I will never, ever forget his impression of Mick Jagger.

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Oh, yeah. Yeah, he is brilliant!

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That is fantastic!

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Just gets it just right, doesn't he?

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It was an incredible thing - he suddenly did things

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with his lips and became Mick Jagger and sort of did the whole strutting,

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you know, that sort of dance that Jagger does.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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# I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be

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# You're gonna give your love to me... #

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His use of his body - I mean those legs, it's an image

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that I will always have with me, Freddie Starr's legs,

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and what he was able to do with them.

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# I know exactly how I'm gonna feel. #

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Following this legendary performance, Freddie's star rose,

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making him a TV regular throughout the '70s and '80s,

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wowing audiences with his outrageous brand of comedy.

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Freddie Starr, when I was a kid,

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whenever he came on telly, everything would stop in our house.

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You know, me mum would sit down, whoever was in, your friends,

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they'd sit down and you'd be kind of mesmerised by him.

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MUSIC PLAYS

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As an audience,

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we like chaos and we like things going wrong -

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that's why those blooper shows do so well.

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Everything he did was a blooper, you know,

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and that's why everyone loved him.

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It was very visual, Freddie's comedy,

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but when you're a kid that's the kind of thing that you like.

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AUDIENCE SCREAMS

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You know, you don't really think about what he's saying and what the gags are -

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it's just very, very visually funny.

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I remember in the '70s, I found him hilarious.

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SCREAMING AND LAUGHTER

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I can remember Freddie Starr doing his Hitler impression

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in turn-down Wellington boots, a pair of shorts on

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with swastikas, big white baggy shorts with swastikas on,

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doing comic Sieg Heiling,

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and nobody thought there was anything wrong with that.

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It would cause incident and break up the European Union now.

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Freddie Starr is a naturally funny man and he proved it on that Royal Command Performance

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when he not only stopped the show -

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he drew riotous applause, which brought him back on to take a call.

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His act was carefully honed down to a mere three minutes for the show,

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but such was the audience response that he became

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the first performer in 47 years to be allowed an encore.

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That's how you know you're a star and he was one that night.

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Tony Hancock is pretty much the prototypical sitcom lead man -

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a guy with ambitions that he can't succeed in. He's pompous,

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he likes the sound of his own voice.

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If you want to know where it all comes from in English sitcom,

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go and look at him and you'll see it everywhere else.

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Oh my word, swipe me, ooh!

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Perhaps the first-ever true sitcom,

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Hancock's Half Hour crossed over from the radio to television in 1956

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and was a dramatic departure from the variety shows of the time.

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It starred comedy actor Tony Hancock,

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playing an exaggerated version of himself.

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He was really ahead of his time

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because the show is about Tony Hancock.

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He wasn't playing anyone other than himself

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and that's quite an innovative thing, I thought.

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You can't do that! A man in your position has to keep up appearances!

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You can't let the public see you queuing up with a tray!

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What about the business lunches and producers?

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I would beg my parents to stay up to watch his show.

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I could get his downbeat humour, I just loved the way

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he was always cross and bad-tempered.

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All those that are empty are off! There's mince and baked beans.

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I don't want that!

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Did you handle it?

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The last thing I'd handle is mince and beans!

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What's wrong with it?

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I just don't like mince and beans, that's all!

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And he turned it into an art form and I just love that about him.

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And he was a brilliant actor.

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Good grief, this is sheer extortion.

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Four and fivepence, please, or change your food.

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Oh, very well, then.

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What makes Tony Hancock funny? Just his face

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and his turned-down shoulders,

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but his enthusiasm to pull himself up.

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He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

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What other delicacies are you keeping hidden?

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LAUGHTER

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I think he was a genius - absolute comic genius.

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And there was one particular episode that I absolutely fell in love with

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and it's called The Economy Drive.

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You great oaf! I thought I told you to cancel the milk.

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Oh, shut up moaning! Open the door.

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400 bottles of milk - look at it all!

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What am I going to do with 400 bottles of milk?

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He lives with Sid James in this episode and they come back from holiday.

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First of all, there are 5,000 pints of milk outside the front door.

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That got him going.

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Why didn't you just put a notice up?

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"Gone away for three months, come on in and help yourselves!"

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What a buffoon you are!

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Think I'm made of money? Come on out of the way!

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And then when he got inside, all the lights have been left on,

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the TV has been left on.

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Do you think I'm made of money? This waste has got to stop, Sid.

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'Good evening.

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'Welcome to another evening of television!'

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And so he decides to go on an economy drive

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and so the cut-backs, you cut,

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then you see Sid James is wrapped in a rug cos it's so cold

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and in the grate in the fire,

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there's one lump of coal burning, which he tries to keep going.

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At one stage, he reaches to put another lump of coal on.

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Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!

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Put it back!

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It's freezing in here!

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Put it back!

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One lump an hour - we've had our ration for tonight!

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Going to bed in about 15 minutes - save the lights.

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It's only seven o'clock!

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Well, if you think I'm sitting here all night with that thing blazing away, you're mistaken!

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40 watts, that is!

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The thing that got me was he's rolling up a cigarette,

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which he's never done before, but he explains how he can buy

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a whole lot of tobacco and filters for one and seven or something.

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A-ha, 400 for one and nine, boy!

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He manages eventually to roll one

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and he lights it and because it's only got one strand of tobacco,

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it immediately burns straight to his fingers and that's the end of it.

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Mind, you get through a lot of them.

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It's the most bizarre cigarette you've seen smoked in your life.

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"Don't do this, don't do that!" I can't stand it much longer!

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I can't go on living like this much longer - it's driving me mad, mad!

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Don't walk up and down, it wears the carpet out.

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Just a phenomenally funny joke, really,

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and that's my favourite comic moment of all time.

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And they don't make them like that any more.

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One of my favourite comedians has to be Steven Wright,

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the American stand-up who's been around since the '80s.

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The best comedian in America, a fine man. We've enjoyed him all day.

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Please put your hands together in the studio, for Steven Wright!

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He's a brilliant stand-up, wonderful joke writer and unique thinker.

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Last time I tried to commit suicide was about an hour ago.

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I was down the street on the roof of this very tall building.

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I leapt off the edge and I accidentally did a triple back flip, landing standing on my feet.

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Nobody saw this but two little kittens, one of them said, "See, that's how you do that."

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Multi-talented film-maker, actor, writer and comedian,

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Steven Wright has had a stand-up career spanning over 30 years.

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He hit the big time in 1982

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when he was discovered by a producer of The Tonight Show.

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Often described as the comedian's comedian,

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he's famed for his lethargic delivery and philosophical one-liners.

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I think he's the best joke writer there is.

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No fuss, no frills approach to comedy. Gets on with it.

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Friday, I was in a book store and started talking to this very French-looking girl.

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She was a bilingual illiterate. She couldn't read in two different languages.

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Steven Wright is a stand-up purist,

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one-liner merchant.

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I love it, I love it.

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I've never seen electricity. That's why I don't pay for it.

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A lot of his jokes were like him dropping tiny little word bombs

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into people's heads

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and then waiting for them to think about it for a couple of seconds

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and then thinking, "Yeah, that's an amazing image."

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I went fishing with Salvador Dali.

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He was using a dotted line.

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He caught every other fish.

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In the late '80s,

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Wright appeared on the iconic stand-up show Saturday Live,

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where his distinctive style went down a storm with British audiences.

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Steven Wright kind of tapped in to the whole weird darkness

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of a lot of British comedy

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and I think that's why people over here took him to their hearts.

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The opening joke, I think, is a brilliant joke.

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Last night I had a dream

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that all the babies prevented by the pill showed up.

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They were mad.

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It's not structured like a normal joke.

0:20:310:20:34

It's just trying to create an image in people's heads.

0:20:340:20:37

It's just a way of thinking.

0:20:370:20:39

It's a very, very unusual, provocative way of thinking.

0:20:390:20:42

I got up the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen

0:20:420:20:45

and replaced with an exact replica.

0:20:450:20:48

I think it's very hard to do well, that style of humour.

0:20:480:20:52

I mean, the masters of it do it superbly.

0:20:520:20:55

What's absolutely essential is that the quality of the jokes

0:20:550:21:00

is brilliant, because if they're not then you lose people immediately.

0:21:000:21:04

Stones, I love the Stones. I can't believe they're still

0:21:040:21:07

doing it after all these years. I watch them whenever I can...

0:21:070:21:10

Fred and Barney.

0:21:100:21:11

He's not abrasive. He's very sort of relaxed and slightly shambolic

0:21:130:21:20

and really has the knack of making it sound like

0:21:200:21:25

these things have just popped into his head,

0:21:250:21:28

which is a really difficult thing to do.

0:21:280:21:31

Today I was...

0:21:330:21:35

No, that wasn't me.

0:21:350:21:36

There's another beautiful joke

0:21:410:21:43

which is about a woman asking him how he's feeling

0:21:430:21:47

and he says, "You know when your chair's leaning back?"

0:21:470:21:50

I said, "You know when you're sitting on a chair and you lean back, and then you lean too far

0:21:500:21:54

"and you almost fall, but just at the last second you catch yourself?

0:21:540:21:58

"I feel like that all the time."

0:21:580:22:01

It's a wonderful observation.

0:22:010:22:03

I was walking down the street and I saw a man who had wooden legs

0:22:030:22:06

and real feet.

0:22:060:22:08

He is a master at creating imagery.

0:22:090:22:11

In stand-up, you want to be able to create images.

0:22:110:22:15

One of my favourite Steven Wright jokes is when he says, "I was a Caesarean baby."

0:22:150:22:21

I was Caesarean born.

0:22:210:22:23

Can't really tell.

0:22:230:22:24

Although whenever I leave the house, I go out through the window.

0:22:250:22:29

He creates an image of this guy who's a Caesarean baby, who just can't resist the window.

0:22:290:22:35

I put a new engine in my car, but I didn't take the other one out.

0:22:350:22:38

Now I can go 500 miles an hour.

0:22:380:22:41

I took the headlights off and I put strobe lights on.

0:22:410:22:44

So when I drive at night, it looks like I'm the only one that's moving.

0:22:440:22:48

But he's a very, very funny man. I suggest you check him out.

0:22:520:22:55

One of my most favourite comedy moments was in the last episode of Blackadder.

0:23:010:23:06

PHONE RINGS

0:23:060:23:08

Hello, the Somme public baths.

0:23:090:23:12

No running, shouting or piddling in the shallow end.

0:23:120:23:15

The whole of the last episode of Blackadder was actually terribly,

0:23:150:23:19

terribly moving and very sad and...

0:23:190:23:22

kind of very darkly funny.

0:23:220:23:25

Gentlemen, our long wait is nearly at an end.

0:23:250:23:28

Tomorrow morning, General Insanity Melchett

0:23:280:23:31

invites you to a mass slaughter. We're going over the top.

0:23:310:23:34

Well, huzzah and hurrah!

0:23:340:23:36

After four series and 25 episodes,

0:23:380:23:41

Blackadder and his chums graced our screens for one final time.

0:23:410:23:46

Blackadder Goes Forth

0:23:460:23:48

has the dark setting of the trenches of World War I.

0:23:480:23:51

-AL MURRAY:

-That fourth series is awesome.

0:23:510:23:54

I think it probably seemed controversial to do a sitcom set in the First World War in the trenches.

0:23:540:23:59

We've been sitting here since Christmas 1914,

0:23:590:24:02

during which millions of men have died and we've advanced no further

0:24:020:24:05

than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping.

0:24:050:24:08

I mean, it's beautifully placed, that whole series.

0:24:080:24:12

It's really neatly done and they walk a fine line.

0:24:120:24:14

It was quite clever.

0:24:140:24:16

I just think it was comedy that made you think, really.

0:24:160:24:19

It's ice cream in Berlin in 15 days.

0:24:190:24:22

Or ice cold in no man's land in 15 seconds.

0:24:220:24:25

Now the time has come to get out of this madness once and for all.

0:24:250:24:29

It was a rare thing - you don't get that in comedy.

0:24:290:24:32

You don't get anything that poignant and that powerful,

0:24:320:24:35

but Blackadder did it. I mean, the writing was just amazing.

0:24:350:24:38

-Permission to ask a question, sir?

-Permission granted, Baldrick.

0:24:380:24:41

As long it isn't the one about where babies come from.

0:24:410:24:44

Writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis penned an all-time classic scene

0:24:440:24:48

where the hapless Baldrick unforgettably highlights the futility of war.

0:24:480:24:54

You have Baldrick as the sort of representative

0:24:540:24:58

of the ignorant people, God bless him,

0:24:580:25:01

who's the one kind of asking the big questions

0:25:010:25:05

that a lot of us don't really understand.

0:25:050:25:08

The thing is, the way I see it, these days there's a war on, right?

0:25:080:25:13

And ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right?

0:25:130:25:16

So there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away...

0:25:160:25:21

-SHAPPI KHORSANDI:

-I remember watching it at the time, and just being really glad

0:25:210:25:25

that it's a comedy sketch with real intelligence behind it

0:25:250:25:29

and real pathos for the characters.

0:25:290:25:32

That's a great scene cos they're just talking - nothing happens.

0:25:320:25:35

They sit there and discuss a thing in a funny way.

0:25:350:25:37

So, what I want to know is...

0:25:370:25:41

how did we get from the one case of affairs

0:25:410:25:44

to the other case of affairs?

0:25:440:25:47

Do you mean, how did the war start?

0:25:470:25:50

Yeah.

0:25:510:25:52

So they're sat and they're having this deep and meaningful about why war happens

0:25:520:25:57

and the entire time Edmond Blackadder

0:25:570:25:59

has got a pair of underpants on his head and he's trying to look mad,

0:25:590:26:03

cos he's heard that if you look mad, then you won't have to go into war.

0:26:030:26:07

The war started because of the vile Hun

0:26:070:26:09

and his villainous empire building.

0:26:090:26:12

George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe,

0:26:120:26:16

while the German empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika.

0:26:160:26:20

Baldrick comes into his own cos he says it's about someone shot

0:26:200:26:26

an ostrich called Archie Duke.

0:26:260:26:29

And you know he's got it yet again messed up,

0:26:290:26:31

he's got all his wires crossed.

0:26:310:26:34

I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich cos he was hungry.

0:26:340:26:40

I think you mean it started when the Arch Duke of Austro-Hungary got shot.

0:26:410:26:47

No, there was definitely an ostrich involved.

0:26:470:26:50

Well, possibly, but the real reason for the whole thing

0:26:500:26:54

was that it was just too much effort not to have a war.

0:26:540:26:57

By gum, this is interesting. I always loved history.

0:26:570:27:00

Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives, all that.

0:27:000:27:04

'It's quite touching,'

0:27:040:27:05

the patience with which

0:27:050:27:09

Blackadder deals with these two at the very end,

0:27:090:27:12

trying to explain to them that they thought that the method for peace

0:27:120:27:16

was two superpowers to be armed to the hilt.

0:27:160:27:19

You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe,

0:27:190:27:22

two superblocs developed. Us, the French and the Russians on one side,

0:27:220:27:26

and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other.

0:27:260:27:28

The idea was to have two vast opposing armies,

0:27:280:27:32

each acting as the other's deterrent, that way there could never be a war.

0:27:320:27:36

But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?

0:27:360:27:39

Yes, that's right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

0:27:390:27:43

What was that, sir?

0:27:430:27:44

It was bollocks.

0:27:440:27:47

"What's that, sir?" "Cos it's bollocks."

0:27:480:27:52

So the poor old ostrich died for nothing.

0:27:520:27:56

I think they were spot on about the futility of it

0:27:570:28:01

and the pointlessness of it all.

0:28:010:28:03

Mad as a bicycle.

0:28:030:28:05

'It doesn't matter why it started, it's just happened.'

0:28:050:28:08

They make a neat point with it and Baldrick still doesn't understand,

0:28:080:28:12

so you've pretty much got the whole situation of the programme encapsulated in that scene.

0:28:120:28:16

No, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.

0:28:160:28:19

For comedy to affect you like that...

0:28:190:28:23

I mean, cos obviously the last scene where they go over the top

0:28:230:28:26

and it all goes black and white was...

0:28:260:28:29

God, I still remember that

0:28:290:28:31

and it was like a punch in the stomach. It was like, "Oh, they're dead."

0:28:310:28:35

I feel a real statement's made

0:28:350:28:39

and it does go down in my personal library of all-time favourites.

0:28:390:28:44

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:29:020:29:06

E-mail subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:29:060:29:09

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.