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29 July 2014
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  • Comedy
  • Not The Nine O'Clock News

Not The Nine O'Clock News

The cast of Not the Nine O'clock News

In any fight over which is the most influential British comedy programme of all time, Not... is a real contender.

When John Lloyd went to the BBC nabobs with his plan to do a show commenting on the week's news, nobody, not even he, had any idea that they were about to create a defining cultural moment.

Piecing together a team which included Mel Smith, Chris Langham, Pamela Stephenson and Rowan Atkinson, the first series aired in 1979.

Griff Rhys Jones and Rowan Atkinson

Langham was replaced by Griff Rhys Jones, and the team we now recognize as Not... was born, running for three series and two stage shows before the stars decided to move on.

Not The Nine O’Clock News was the first major programme showcasing the talent of the so-called 'alternative' comedy performers. Unlike the Bernard Mannings of the world, the performers didn’t rely on boob gags and mother in law jokes to get them through the day.

They dealt in observational comedy and were about to put their observations not just of life, but of the events of the world and the country to work, in the first major topical comedy programme since the 1960s. 

Not... played with the medium of television, using footage and fast editing in a way that hadn't been done before and largely created modern alternative comedy.

Throwing open the doors to almost any writer, it put through their paces most of the stars of the last generation including Clive Anderson, Richard Curtis and practically everyone else.

Not... also largely helped make comedy a professional industry, rather than the gentlemanly intellectualism of the surrealist Pythons.

Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones

It created a flow of material and a system of writing talent that directly led to the founding (by Atkinson, Smith and Jones amongst others) of the independent production companies that were to dominate comedy development in the future.

Without Not... companies such as Tiger Aspect, Hat Trick or Talkback simply wouldn't have existed.

Whether The Goons was funny or not depended on Spike Milligan's state of mind, while the Pythons sometimes spiraled into territory too surreally intellectual to be truly funny. Not... however, was both consistently intelligent and topical.

Virtually every sketch on Not... is funny now. The newsreader sections are still funny because their punchlines, aimed at Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher et al, are easily transferred to modern times.

The more observational sketches are still funny because producer John Lloyd authored the show so rigorously.

Lloyd inculcated a system of editing and writing, that ensured almost nothing made it to the screen that hadn't been triple-tested.

Griff Rhys Jones in Not The Nine O'Clock News

Because those doing the editing and rewriting were all writers and comedians themselves, they kept the jokes in, sharpened each sketch to razor-keenness and then flung it at an unsuspecting public.

The best of Not...'s sketches include: the Allright Bob? sequence lampooning the British Leyland robot ads; the Constable Savage sequences where a frowning Savage fails to understand how he can't keep arresting Mr Winston Kodogo for being black; the Cut Off Their Goolies piece where Stephenson’s social theorist shocks everyone by agreeing with Smith’s plans for yob control and of course the Does God Care routine where Rowan Atkinson continually questions with real venom whether God cared about him because He had let him almost die trying to feed his cat.

Not The Nine O'Clock News gave the world alternative comedy and made the media scene we have today.

Its huge popularity was ensured by the fact that sketches like the telethon for Poland ("the only good Pole is a Deed Pole") brought huge rushes of complaints that were virtually ignored.

From the moment Not... was aired, the world of comedy had changed.

Alternative comedy had become the way things were. But it also ensured the birth of Mr Bean, so perhaps we should mute the enthusiasm a little.

Cast

Rowan Atkinson
performer
Griff Rhys Jones
performer
Chris Langham
performer
Mel Smith
performer
Pamela Stephenson
performer

Crew

Clive Anderson
writer
Rowan Atkinson
writer
Andy Hamilton
writer
Griff Rhys Jones
writer
Nigel Planer
writer
Mel Smith
writer
Guy Jenkin
writer
Richard Curtis
writer
Andrew Marshall
writer
David Renwick
writer
Rory McGrath
writer
Simon Woodham
writer
Colin Bostock-Smith
writer
Vicky Pile
writer
Guy Meredith
writer
Kim Fuller
writer
Laurie Rowley
writer
Mark Wallington
writer
Dick Fiddy
writer
Paul Smith
writer
Mick Deasey
writer
Terry Kyan
writer
Howard Goodall
writer
Tony Mather
writer
Jim Hitchmough
writer
Philip Pope
writer
Mike Radford
writer
Paul Newstead
writer
Janey Preger
writer
Trevor McCallum
writer
Colin Gilbert
writer
Peter Richardson
writer
Roger Planer
writer
Peter Brewis
writer
Ruby Wax
writer
John Lloyd
writer
Sean Hardie
writer
Bill Wilson
director
Geoff Posner
director
John Lloyd
producer
Sean Hardie
producer

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