BBC celebrates its commitment to comedy with raft of new commissions

People love great comedy. And, at the BBC, it’s in our DNA. Our commitment hasn’t wavered in 80 years. Across BBC Radio, Television and increasingly Online we’re backing new talent and showcasing some of this country’s best performers.Tony Hall, BBC Director-General
Date: 04.03.2015     Last updated: 09.03.2015 at 18.03
  • Tracey Ullman returns to BBC One
  • Annual Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture on BBC One
  • Brand new Ben Miller series from the writers behind The Worst Week of My Life
  • Programme to mark 25 years of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse on the BBC
  • More satire on BBC Two from Rory Bremner
  • Morgana Robinson pilots her own show on the BBC
  • Brand new Kerry Howard series for BBC Three

At an event co-hosted by BBC Director-General Tony Hall and Shane Allen, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, it was announced that BBC One will host the annual Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture, to be given by a key comedy figure to share his or her experiences and to help inspire others, as well as addressing the present-day challenges and opportunities facing the industry.

Akin to the Reith and Dimbleby lectures, the Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture’s aim is to articulate why comedy matters so much, both on a personal level and how it helps to reflect and define our national character. An inaugural speaker announcement will be made shortly. There is huge debate around satire because of events across the globe from North Korea and across Europe, and this lecture will be the chance for the comedy community in the UK to lead that debate and discuss what role comedy must play in a free society. From BBC In-house Comedy (1x30).

Shane Allen, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, says: “This marks the significant cultural impact of comedy in British life. It’s a great opportunity for an influential comedy figure to share their experiences, opinions and challenges in keeping the comedy flag flying high at the BBC. We’re proud to name the lecture in honour of BBC legend Ronnie Barker; it marks the huge contribution he made as one of the nation’s most beloved writers and performers, whose work will continue to be enjoyed for decades to come.”

Tony Hall, Director-General, says: “People love great comedy. And, at the BBC, it’s in our DNA. Our commitment hasn’t wavered in 80 years. Across BBC Radio, Television and increasingly Online we’re backing new talent and showcasing some of this country’s best performers. Coming soon on the BBC – Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse, Peter Kay, Rory Bremner and the brilliant Tracey Ullman. That’s quite a line-up. And then, of course, there’s Red Nose Day and let’s not forget the return of W1A. You can imagine how much I’m looking forward to that...”

Shane Allen also outlined details for several exciting new comedy commissions for BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Three:

After a number of years working in the US, BAFTA and EMMY award-winner Tracey Ullman is back home for a brand-new series on BBC One. The six-part series, The Tracey Ullman Show, will feature Tracey portraying a multitude of diverse and distinct characters living in, or visiting, the busy global hub that is the UK.

Tracey last appeared on the BBC in A Kick Up The Eighties and Three Of A Kind in the early and mid-Eighties before emigrating to the States where she enjoys huge success as an actress, writer, producer and director, pushing the boundaries of character comedy while also introducing The Simpsons to television. The Tracey Ullman Show (6x30’) is a BBC In-house Comedy and Allan McKeown Presents production. The producer is Caroline Norris, and executive producers are Tracey Ullman and Ben Farrell.

Tracey says: "It's a privilege to be doing this. I still feel as inspired to inhabit people as I did when I was six, standing on the windowsill in my mother's bedroom, putting on a show. The BBC has changed a bit since the last time I worked here, when it was all men in bow ties who had completed National Service. Now there are a lot more women. Great ones. The important things haven't changed, though. The BBC still provides an environment that allows you the freedom to create the best shows possible.”

Shane says: “It’s about time the Americans gave her back. Tracey has been the missing gem in the British comedy crown for too long. Talent doesn’t come much bigger and the BBC audience is in for a huge treat.”

I Want My Wife Back is a brand-new series for BBC One starring Ben Miller. Murray is a nice guy. Everyone thinks so. He is good to his friends, kind to his colleagues, treats his staff well. He's a top bloke. So no one is more surprised than Murray when his wife, Bex, walks out on their marriage. On her 40th birthday, at her surprise party. Murray is confused. What's he done wrong? Where's she gone? Is she coming back?

So begins Murray's quest to find out what went wrong with his marriage and how he can change... though it's less a journey than a floundering stumble in the dark towards the prize of returning his life to something approaching normality. All the while he’s having to manage the demands of his ultra-needy team members at the office, as well as navigating his way through the well-meaning but counter-productive advice from friends and family.

So will Murray haul himself out of the chaos that now engulfs his life and get his wife back?

Written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni (The Worst Week Of My Life), I Want My Wife Back (6x30’) is a co-production between Mainstreet Pictures and Busby Productions. BBC commissioning editor is Chris Sussman.

Ben Miller says: "It's fantastic to be returning to the BBC with Mark and Justin who have created another original and iconic comedy. Fans of The Worst Week Of My Life will be happy to learn that not much goes right in this one either!"

Mark and Justin say: “We’ve hugely enjoyed developing this project with Mainstreet and the BBC and are looking forward to consciously recoupling with Ben Miller.”

Shane: “We’re so lucky to see this winning writing and performing combo reunited on BBC One. Mark and Justin are masters of the comic scenario and Ben Miller is never anything short of hilarious.”

BBC Two welcomes the return of two of the UK’s most-loved comedy names - Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. An Evening With Harry Enfield And Paul Whitehouse will celebrate the meteoric 25-year rise of Harry and Paul, including their successful shows Harry Enfield's Television Programme and Harry and Paul.

The show will celebrate not only their sketch characters, but also, for the first time, will introduce the real Harry and Paul, who appear almost live on stage as themselves. Harry and Paul will find themselves exposed to the rigorous questioning of an audience of celebrities. As the programme looks back at their quarter-century-old professional relationship, viewers will gain a genuine insight into the two personalities. Joined by a host of famous fans, this will be an evening that will either make you laugh till you're sick, or simply make you sick. A Balloon production (1x50). Bradley Adams is executive producer, Chris Sussman is BBC commissioning editor.

Harry says: "Even though we are no longer on speaking terms, Paul and I are delighted to be donning masks of civility as we look back over 25 years of professional bliss."

Shane: “I have never come across such a pair of difficult and unpleasant sods. Hopefully this will see the back of them from the BBC.”

Following his hugely successful Coalition Report earlier this year, Rory Bremner returns to BBC Two in Rory Bremner's Election Report for a timely post-election special, focusing on life after the vote, and the story of how the establishment makes sure that while parties come and go, the power-makers behind the scenes never lose out. With a new government installed, who really runs the country? And how? Just before the new government sets out on its five-year mission to austerity and beyond, we ask who has really won, and why. Rory Bremner’s Election Report (1x30) is a Vera production, produced by Geoff Atkinson. BBC commissioning editor is Gregor Sharp.

Rory says: “Just three months after we finally did our first show about it, the Coalition will leave office. Was that a coincidence? Well, yes, it was. Entirely. But the point stands. The next lot will have a week to get their act together before we do. God knows what will happen. We certainly don’t. And nor do they. Join us as we make sense of the nonsense. Or was it the other way round?"

Shane says: “The political landscape in this election year has never been more fertile for satire. Rory’s whip-smart ability to add a healthy dose of ridicule to one and all will be a much-needed antidote to the whole circus.”

Morgana & Friends (w/t) is a brand new sketch show pilot for BBC Two starring the country’s freshest impressionist Morgana Robinson (House of Fools, VIP, The Morgana Show). This show brings together some of her favourite impersonations of Danny Dyer, Natalie Cassidy and Fearne Cotton, along with her take on a whole host of new impressions, including Joanna Lumley, Miranda Hart, Dame Maggie Smith and Karl Pilkington. Morgana & Friends will explore the world of celebrity both on- and off-camera, moving seamlessly between ‘behind the scenes’ ob-docs and a series of fictional celebrity-obsessed travelogues, cookery shows and fake sitcoms.

Morgana & Friends (1x30 pilot) is produced by Happy Tramp. Jack Bayles (Catastrophe) is producer and Ben Palmer (SunTrap) is director. BBC commissioning editor is Gregor Sharp.

Morgana says: “The BBC has given me my own pilot! I’m so pleased, I can’t believe it. It seems like only yesterday I didn’t have my own BBC pilot. It was.”

Shane says: “Morgana is a shape-shifting comedy whirlwind whose star has risen quickly and we believe this is the show that’ll take her from exciting new talent to household name.”

Witless is a brand-new sitcom for BBC Three starring Kerry Howard (Him & Her). Flatmates Rhona and Leanne have their lives turned upside down after they witness a shocking gangland shooting. Forced into witness protection, the girls quickly discover that assuming a new identity isn't simple. While Leanne jumps at the chance to create an extravagant alter-ego, Rhona is paralysed by fear telling the simplest lie. And with two teenage gang members determined to track them down, the girls find themselves getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Made by Objective Productions, Witless (6x25) is written by Joe Tucker and Lloyd Woolf, the producer is Charlotte Lewis and the executive producers are Andrew Newman, Ben Caudell, Joe Tucker, Lloyd Woolf, and for the BBC, Gregor Sharp is commissioning editor.

Kerry says: “This has been a really exciting time for me. It’s such a privilege to work for the BBC – to be valued and counted amongst their talent is a joy. The writers Lloyd and Joe are wonderful and that we’re getting to make a series of Witless is just brilliant. I’m looking forward to creating a new character who’s dumb enough to love being in danger!”

Shane says: “Comedy on BBC Three is very much alive and kicking as this thrilling new series commission demonstrates. Kerry is such a talented actress and has already proved a huge hit on the channel. This series offers the perfect opportunity for her to keep audiences laughing.”

KT