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The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball
Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 93 mins . M15+ . PAL


The Secret Policeman’s bandwagon rolls on, bringing much deserved attention to Amnesty International with this fifth release in the series. The presentation of this particular show, held at London’s Cambridge Theatre in 1989 differs a little from the clandestine cop’s previous outings, eschewing elaborate introductions and innumerable generally boring musical interludes and making a beeline straight for the comedy jugular – and it’s quite the mighty array of comic talent that gets to do the vampiric duties.

John Cleese and Michael Palin dig up the classic Monty Python ‘Parrot’ sketch, but give it a hilarious remix treatment. Fans of the troupe will also love reliving the somewhat classic ‘Argument’ sketch, complete with some help from Dawn French. Lenny Henry appears a couple of times, both with some delightfully bad jokes put to funky music and as a newsreader confused about cat flaps and with serious trust issues when it comes to James Bond. He later returns with Robbie Coltrane for another classic Python sketch, ‘Crunchy Frog’. A rather sparkly and beyond-hyper Ben Elton gets a sizeable chunk of airtime in this release, discussing the joys of lemon clean-up squares and from memory managing NOT to mention Thatcher even once. French and Saunders take the opportunity to put their own spin on improv, which only falls flat a little due to the obscure English minor celebrities of the time that it brings up. Otherwise the Spitting Image puppets pop up (mercifully briefly) doing their standard royal family shtick, as well as such comic luminaries as Kathy Burke, Adrian Edmondson, Fry and Laurie and one of the disc’s definite highlights – well two in fact...

For the first time in sixteen years, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (bless both of their souls) reunited on stage, often struggling hard to suppress giggle fits while running roughshod through ‘The Frog and Peach Restaurant’ and ‘Tarzan’ sketches. It’s absolutely delightful stuff, and when combined with the many other talents mixing and matching together, such as Ade Edmondson and John Cleese with the ‘Michelangelo’ sketch, this disc shows that although it took a while, they finally managed to hone the formula for the balls to near-as-dammit perfection.

There is still a little music included – a quick honky tonk piano thang from Jools Holland and John Williams dragging out his Cavatina kicking and screaming once more - however both are brief and have welcome spins attached – so don’t go skipping them...


One of the things we’re used to by now from the Secret Policeman’s... series is to expect full frame vision – which we get. One of the things we’re NOT used to however is a decent picture – which pleasingly we DO get. More recent than any of the previous releases, this was shot on video equipment rather then film, and mercifully it appears as if the tapes were actually stored somewhere other than the middle of a frantically busy roadway. Vision is generally quite clear and free of imperfections, black levels are pretty much spot on and really the only whine of any significance would be a slight washed out appearance to the colour, which appears to be due more to the use of harsh, white stage lighting rather than anything inherently wrong with the source material.

The sound comes as no surprise – it’s still in mono. However, with a virtual complete absence of musical interludes this isn’t as much of an issue as it was on previous releases. It also improves things in so far as it doesn’t include anything in the way of snaps, crackles or pops - or even Coco the Monkeys, Sam Toucans or Tony the Tigers for that matter. The often remarkably rapid fire delivery of some performers, notably Ben Elton - who really should have been born with a pitch control knob (fnar!), comes up clearly and distinctly 99.9% of the time, and is all perfectly synched.

Something else we’re familiar with by now is the menu design. It is rather neat and natty, however is still the same one as previous releases, recoloured red in this instance. Extras on this disc are identical to The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball and The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball – The Music - five pages of background on Amnesty and how the idea for the balls evolved, an important 30-second Amnesty International commercial on the plight of women that possibly should have been included in the disc’s start-up and another grab bag of trailers masquerading as Umbrella propaganda. Once again these are Malcolm, The Natural History of the Chicken and Woody Allen's re-dub-fest What's Up, Tiger Lily?, plus a still screen flogging the five Secret Policeman’s... discs that precede this one.

With its decent running time and massive improvement in both disc and content quality, The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball is easily the best release in the series so far, and for British comedy fans something that is well worth flinging a few shekels at – it’s even more entertaining than watching somebody munch on a spring surprise...

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  •   And I quote...
    "With a massive improvement in quality, this is even more entertaining than watching somebody munch on a spring surprise... "
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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