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DVD: Do Not Adjust Your Set / At Last The 1948 Show | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Do Not Adjust Your Set / At Last The 1948 Show

DVD: Do Not Adjust Your Set / At Last The 1948 Show

What the Pythons did first: the remnants of two iconic 1960s shows, restored with respect

Loved by Italian waiters: the cast of 'Do Not Adjust Your Set'

Both first broadcast in 1967, Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show were collectively written and performed by the future Monty Python team. More written about and discussed than actually seen, many episodes were wiped or lost, and these two three-disc DVD sets from the BFI offer as much as is likely to survive of both series. A significant amount of the footage included has been sourced from foreign broadcasters and private collections, including that of David Frost, who was executive producer on At Last the 1948 Show, a late-night successor to The Frost Report.

Do Not Adjust Your Set (★★★★★) was created by producer Humphrey Barclay and intended for Rediffusion’s 5:15pm Thursday afternoon children’s slot. Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were given their first break as writer-performers, cannily teamed with David Jason and Denise Coffey. Plus Vivian Stanshall’s Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band as house musicians. What could go wrong with such a line-up? Very little, actually: the surviving shows contain much very funny material, and the fact that the series was ostensibly aimed at younger audiences means that it’s aged well. Pythonites will spot early appearances of Palin’s typically unhelpful shopkeeper, and Jones giving us an early incarnation of Mr Gumby.

Everyone’s clearly having a ball, the youthful studio audience lapping it up. Standouts include the "Stool Pigeon" sketch, with Palin as a hapless constable trying to infiltrate a criminal gang, and Jason as a French official sent over to check on the progress of the Concorde aircraft. Jason and Coffey are superb throughout, particularly in their weekly Captain Fantastic inserts, Jason’s bowler-hatted hero battling Coffey’s villainous Mrs Black and her "horrible handbag". The Bonzo Dogs offer fulsome support. "I’m the Urban Spaceman" is still a great song, though one wonders what the young studio audience made of "Tubas in the Moonlight". A second series was commissioned by the newly-formed Thames Television (look out for their iconic ident), where the gang was joined by animator Terry Gilliam. Little of his work on the show survives, though we do get to see his sublime "The Christmas Card" in context.

At Last the 1948 ShowAt Last the 1948 Show (★★★, pictured right) starred John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor, as well as kick-starting Marty Feldman's onscreen career. David Frost wasn’t sure about unleashing Feldman on the public (“I’m not sure people will accept his eyes”), though Feldman’s contributions hold up very well, whether he’s smashing valuable antiques or tormenting Cleese’s tetchy commuter. The tiny but matchless sight gag in the final episode, where Feldman as “the French trade union leader, Anistide Boulet” makes rude faces at Cleese’s newsreader, stands up to repeated viewings. It’s nice to see an early incarnation of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch, later performed in Python live shows, and the show’s sadly underused hostess Aimi MacDonald even gets to say “And now for something completely different...” But the caustic, snarky tone of much of the material begins to grate. What we see is diverting, and invariably entertaining, but not always that funny.

Image quality is inevitably variable, though the restorers have done a superb job with At Last the 1948 Show, the missing sections filled in with sound recordings and script pages. Booklets and bonus features are excellent in both sets. Palin reveals that Italian waiters about to start their evening shifts were big fans of Do Not Adjust Your Set, and there are interesting contributions from Brooke-Taylor and Cleese. There’s also plenty of Bonzo Dog footage and some Terry Gilliam material scanned from the director's own masters. Essential viewing.

@GrahamRickson

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