I had never heard of the At Last The 1948 Show before a colleague of mine handed me a 2 DVD disc set a couple of weeks ago. I had however heard of many of the people involved in the show and even seen one of the skits performed on another much more famous show.
The famous show in question is none other than Monty Python's Flying Circus and the skit is the legendary Four Yorkshire Men. The four Yorkshire men are played in this case by John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman and someone new for me, Tim Brooke-Taylor. Although the actors are different and the quality of the image is terrible the skit itself seems to be word for word the same and delivered with just as much skill as it would be years later.
At the time At Last The 1948 Show was shot, Cleese and Chapman were in their early twenties but we can already see much of their comedy style that we would later see in the Python years forming here. When I was growing up, Marty Feldman, for me, was some kind of freak that got cheap laughs in bad American movies just because his eyes bugged out. Now I learn that he was an integral part of an avant-garde comedy troupe that was the pre-cursor to one of the all time great comedy shows. Brooke-Taylor is no second fiddle either, he stands along side the others as an equal and tells us in a recent interview included in the set that they all collaborated as a team to create the five shows we see here.
At Last The 1948 Show was shot in black and white and was edited very little if any. This means that they pretty much filmed it live and all the little quirks and actors laughing and breaking out of character are caught on tape. The image is of poor quality and is very grainy -see the note passage on Cinescope. Some of the humour here has aged less well than the Four Yorkshire Men. The tone is a mix of Vaudeville and a more modern absurd sensibility. Aimi MacDonald is another member of the troupe who appears for the most part as the clueless sexy scantily clad blond that sings and dances in segues that link the main skits together, à la Benny Hill. I am no Benny Hill fan. It's the absurdity that appeals to me in these shows. Some of the titles of the pieces can give you a hint of the absurd side of the show: Mice Laugh Softly Charlotte, Visitors for the Use of Lonely Patients, Scottish National Ballet Supporters (drunken hooligans), and The Chartered Accountant Dance.
It is important to note that of the original 13 episodes, 10 were supposedly erased. Although the soundtrack of all 13 shows exist, a lot of the original series has officially vanished but sources say 8 are available on the internet and of the remaining 5 the audio exists and bits of the video exist.
Despite its faults, this DVD set of At Last The 1948 Show has some really good sketches in it and is fun for Monty Python fans as a historical document. The interviews with Terry Jones and Tim Brooke-Taylor tell us a lot about the early years of TV comedy and some of the elements that helped give birth to Monty Python's Flying Circus.