'The Fairly Pointless Show' or the madness of Do Not Adjust Your Set...

by Michelle Duffy - Date: 2006-12-11 - Word Count: 1611 Share This!

Set aside, purposefully for the youngest of viewers, Rediffusion (who later were bought out by Thames Television) produced the first moving pictures of an early Monty Python team plus a couple of others. Shot wholly in black and white, 'Do Not Adjust Your Set,' was designed to warm towards children, despite the unchildlike title. Appearing along side the hap hazard antics of Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, a very timid and almost squeaky clean to the grit of TV life, was a totally unknown David Jason. Another young, unfamiliar face to TV yet known from theatre was girlie and naturally funny Denise Coffey. Completing the team with a long haired, motley crew of old rockers calling themselves, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band led by Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall, the cast was truly set for the surrealism, silliness and immeasurable confusion that only children adore.

Circling madly around silly sketches and peculiar yet humorous songs, the show was doomed as it appeared to be in the first series. The programme, first aired on Boxing Day 1967 didn't quite go to plan either. With a technical error to blame, the first show was aired until the following week so the first two were accidentally swapped, thus adding to a confused production team, and a none the wiser audience at home.

As the brain child of the handsomely named TV producer, Humphrey Barclay, (great names appeared to be a requirement when applying for a job in television back then) had been heavily involved in the making of versatile and randomly amusing radio shows, he was looking to produce something as sharp and as witty, as well as mildly entertaining in the same vein. Taking a chance on seeing Jason at an end of pier show and Coffey from the Edinburgh fringe, he allowed (as most producers did then) the main writers of the new show to run free. Each half an hour programme was to aired on a Thursday at 25 minutes past 5. The ideas that sprung to life to maintain a rather fidgety audience attentive were a collection of characters that would appear over and over again. Probably the most notable for children was the defying feats of the city gent clad Jason who would turn, in a blink of an eye into Captain Fantastic and dare to bring to justice his arch enemy Mrs Black played rather cunningly by Coffey. Shot in fast framed sequences, the idea was then transformed into shorter versions then used in more adult shows. Benny Hill had cottoned on to this idea of fast action filming and again, such short serial sketches were used frequently by The Two Ronnies. Such features of a certain era can always be traced back to a particular moment!

As part of a string of satirical and more openly, topical non descriptive shows of that time, Do Not Adjust Your Set, was seen not just as a tweenie programme but even bosses felt the financial pinch when it was discovered adults sneaking out of work early one particular day of the week to rush home for this unusual yet absurdly brilliant laughter show. Fellow humorous dialogues were already haunting the airwaves in honour of The Goon Show that had gone a decade before. Casual mixes of song and sketch came in the current affair form of 'Round The Horne', 'Beyond Our Ken' and 'Sorry I'll Read That Again'; the latter comprising of another ready made Python, John Cleese.

The most apparent feature of this particular children's programme was it's successful failure in the quest to patronise the younger viewers. Somehow hitting the market in between with a commercial nail, this programme was a revolution in itself and not just a massive jump up the entertainment ladder for it's budding cast. In one perspective, some would say that it was the embarking on the craziness of the subjects of each song that truly turned the programme on its head. With their ridiculous pieces of subject matter, they were a hit with both adults and children, Such classics included 'My Brother Makes Noises For The Talkies,' 'I'm The Urban Spaceman,' and who could forget, 'My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe'? Although comedy rock never really took off, at least they had that fact that one of their songs had featured in The Beatles, 'Magical Mystery Tour.' For the few of you who may have witnessed the biggest Beatle flop, it was 'Death Cab For Cutie,' which being of a similar nature of the film that it appeared in, it made no sense…

Towards the end of this irruption of genius collaborating with nerd like qualities, the viewers, ever increasing in age and number, were subjected to the young animations of an American kid called Terry Gilliam. He first unleashed his surrealism in the form of cartoons and picture deformities in 'Do Not Adjust Your Set,' around 1969. The two minute macabre intervals were surprisingly well received. Since television, even in the late Sixties was still bounded in chains by the pre War stiffness of the BBC, to view such disorientating scenes of perfectly priceless paintings being chopped in half and shoved down a cannon to be blown to pieces was about as risqué as 'Euro Trash' forty years before it's time. Even so, Thames seemed to be quiet prepared for anything. If a sketch was put forward by the writing team that was regarded as somewhat unsuitable for children, it was filing into a cabinet for safe keeping and possibly used for something else in the future. It wasn't unusual for such material to get dusted off for future reference in Monty Python.

Such, it may be, as a simple children's programme of yesteryear, we must still not be led to underrate it's vital importance in the grand scheme we refer to as the growth of British Comedy. The show ran for an incredibly successful 18 months, quite a feat for a children's programme in those days which also incorporated a special 50 minute feature length programme for Christmas Day 1968 called 'Do Not Adjust Your Stocking.' It was certainly a wise but also bold career move for all involved in the making of it. As quickly as fame can turn into something more extravagantly international, 'Monty Python's Flying Circus,' was launched only five months later after the final show of 'Do Not Adjust Your Set.' From the first humble beginnings, 'Python' simply strode into view from where 'Do Not..' had left off.

After two complete series, two directors and two producers, the cameras ceased rolling and an end of an era came. Having been the platform for each cast member plus the 'Captain Fantastic,' stories revamped on the next new title in children's' TV, 'Magpie,' there seemed little to be sad about. Since everything that had walked into the set had been blessed, it was seen as one of the greatest wombs in history for creating and giving birth to new talents and better ways of writing comedy. Just as ground breaking and manipulative as The Goons, 'Do Not..' had earnt a place in the history books as being the fore runner of the lesser spotted Monty Python.

Naturally coming to an end on the radio front was 'Sorry, I'll Read That Again,' which had run direct parallels with it's TV sister, both strangely, coining titles that were used a thousand times over by BBC broadcasters on a daily basis. Out stepped, a cleansed Cleese whilst three fellow radio jokers from the show broadened their feet and edge like qualities and joined forces as Tim Brooke Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie became the wondrous Goodies. Let it not be forgotten here that Cleese took hand at an adult version of 'Do Not..' as the short lived, 'At Last The 1948 Show.' featuring the future Goodies.

Taking the working title of 'The Fairly Pointless Show,' 'Do Not Adjust Your Set,' was poignantly point full. It grounded certain members for a short while enabling them to cut their secondary teeth on the rigmaroles of working a tight schedule and delivering good sketches every week. It allowed young minds to come together and collaborated, yet none of them possibly understanding their great importance at the time, and none knowing was going to happen round the corner…

Thus, when some of us look back on our childhood (I don't speak from experience here) to the mono chromed days of 'Do Not Adjust Your Set,' you can see how children's entertainment has just to go full circle id not at all. What the team back in 1967 had stumbled upon was the ability to amuse youngsters without having to sit with silly voices dancing dolls up and down on their knees and mimic voices. There was a definite market of the children of the in between age where upon, dazzling them with a handful of nursery rhymes just wasn't going to be enough. I look upon children's entertainment now as the very thing that 'Do Not Adjust Your Set,' succeeded to avoid, making a young mind feel inadequate and stupid.

As a product of the Seventies, it was no wonder that the first thing my parents at me down in front of was Monty Python…

It was better than Playschool…

'Do Not Adjust Your Set' were;

Eric Idle
Michael Palin
David Jason
Denise Coffey
Terry Jones
Terry Gilliam (second series)

'Do Not Adjust Your Set' (9 episodes left surviving)
Released 2005 can be found new on Amazon.com for £16

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band are currently completing their 2006 tour with Phil Jupitus and Adrian Edmondson, find out at www.bonzodog.co.uk Albums;

'The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse' 1968

'Anthropology - The Beast Within' 1999

'Wrestle Poodles And Win' 2006

©michelle duffy(sam1942 ciao and dooyoo) 2006

Related Tags: british, humour, eric, idle, comedy, monty, python, sixties, sketch show

Michelle is a freelance writer in the South of England and owner of the websites, http://www.generationsounds.co.uk, http://nevermindthebloggers.bravehost.com and their successful sister, 'Never Mind The Bloggers' at http://paperback-writer29.tripod.com. She has been writing over the two years, for five major consumer websites across the world and is one of the only two music category advisors for one website in the U.K. Her websites promote young, amateur and professional bands/artists/musicians and their fan clubs whilst also reviewing them for local and world wide promotion. She has also launched the blogs; 'The Ramblings Of An Old Rocker,' 'Bohemian Waffle,' 'The Rhythm Rock And Blues Machine,' 'The Moped's Musings,' 'Generation Sound Suite' and 'Rock Cocoon.' She is currently working on two shops selling her music styled artwork on cafepress.com.

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