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Beyond The Fringe
Beyond the Fringe is the seminal show that lit the blue touchpaper for the 1960s satire boom and opened the floodgates for a raft of bright young things to breathe fresh life into British comedy.
The concept was the brainchild of Robert Ponsonby: director of the Edinburgh Festival, who aimed to engineer a hit show that would outstrip the competition by cropping the best writer-performers Oxford and Cambridge had to offer.
Ponsonby's assistant, John Bassett had spotted Dudley Moore, who in turn suggested Alan Bennett.
Balancing the team with two Cambridge starlets, they picked the genial and fiercely intellectual Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook: the outstanding talent of his generation in the Footlights, who was already writing West End revues for Kenneth Williams.
Meeting together over lunch, the four comics eyed each other suspiciously but decided the show could be a profitable venture and Beyond the Fringe was born.
After dominating Edinburgh, the quartet went on to take both the West End and Broadway by storm, before reuniting for a final televised performance for the BBC.
All the show's strongest characteristics were present, from the minimalist style (originally enforced by lack of money but soon seen as a virtue) to the masterful sketches themselves.
Recorded in 1964, Peter Cook's scurrilous impersonation of Harold MacMillan may have lost its topicality seeing as MacMillan had now left office but it was still a razor-sharp attack, while Bennett delivered his trademark parody of awful church sermons.
The broadcast also included one of Cook's monologues in his persona as the bizarre E.L. Wisty ("on the whole I would rather have been a judge than a miner…but I didn't have the Latin") and the masterpiece One Leg Too Few: featuring Moore as a one-legged auditionee hoping to land the role of Tarzan.
Showcasing four brilliant talents who together made a peerless team, the broadcast of Beyond the Fringe was nothing short of historic television.
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