Archive for February 6, 2009


Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 6, 2009 by dcairns

Surviving bits of Independent Television’s answer to the BBC’s radio extravaganza The Goon Show, known as A Show Called Fred. Directed by Richard Lester, who honed his appreciation of visual surrealism by working in live television, where mistakes of the most catastrophic nature were transmitted to the entire nation, without any opportunity for correction or apology. A dog might go berserk and tear down a backdrop of Versailles, leaving actors in 16th century French aristocratic gear stranded in front of a wild west town. One time a dog bit a microphone in two during a love scene and people phoned up from all over to find out what had happened. You can see this kind of chaos at work in Fred, where it’s practically become the subject: the show, like many sketch shows, is a deconstruction (or demolition) of television itself.

Of course, it helps that Lester was working with Spike Milligan, the most anarchic talent the BBC has ever known. As the series went on, in two more incarnations (The Idiot Weekly, Price 2D and Son of Fred) Milligan pushed the deconstruction ever further — no sets, just numbered flats, and actors carrying props from one sketch to another. Eventually he lost the audience, and more or less lost Lester. Leave it to Milligan to test-drive surrealist comedy to destruction years before any of the Monty Python team had even entered TV.

Some of these sketches are a little rough-edged or overlong, but we’re lucky to have them: for years the entire show, which went out live, was considered lost to history.