They may not be well known Stateside, but these two 1967 skeins played a key role in the development of British sketch comedy. Monty Python, Terry Jones explains in one of the bonus interviews, “was really ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ meets ‘At Last the 1948 Show.'” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” would essentially combine the styles honed by Eric Idle, Jones and Michael Palin in “Do Not” (fast-paced sketches, singing, music, plenty of slapstick, pun wordplay) with the preoccupations and attitudes of “1948’s” John Cleese and Graham Chapman (ridiculing authority, surreal juxtaposition, silly names).
“1948” is essential viewing for any Python fanatic; it’s the more obvious Python precursor given the forcefulness of Cleese and Chapman’s writing, and Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman share comic sensibilities closer to Python than “Do Not’s” David Jason and Denise Coffey.
Familiar comic targets like chartered accountants and the police are already staples here. The penchant for dressing up in women’s clothing also is evident in sketches like “Plain Clothes Police Women,” where performers in intentionally awful drag take turns cracking each other up.
“Do Not” is noticeably less cerebral and more juvenile than the superior “1948 Show,” which is fitting as it was designed as a kids’ show. It relies far more on slapstick and puns rather than more intellectual wordplay and sketches are much shorter.
The tone of the show noticeably changed as it progressed, however, and “Do Not” actually gathered a significant adult following. It had to be repeated late in the evening in order to prevent adults coming home early from work just to catch it on TV!
These shows document comedians feeling out the limits of the sketch show formula they would later smash through in “Monty Python.” Jones reveals he was inspired by Spike Milligan’s method of moving between sketches by folding them into each other.
In “1948,” comedienne Aimi MacDonald provides interstitial bits, shouldering several skits simply with the phrase “And now.”
“Something completely different” was just around the corner, but these DVDs show that Britain’s comedians were already almost there.