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    Great Comedy Moments

    BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 108 mins . PG . PAL


    Ever wondered what it is that makes British comedy different from other comedy? It's difficult to really pin it down, but perhaps it is the wit, cleverly inter-woven storylines, sly wordplay, sexual innuendo, or all of the above. While there have been numerous successful British comedies and comedians over the years, there have also been quite a number of failures. You would be hard pressed to get complete agreement on the comical worth of any show or individual you care to mention. What is clever, witty and amusing to one viewer can be utter garbage to another. With this in mind, and armed with a decent slice of preconception, I boldly ventured headlong into this collection of Great Comedy Moments.

    This presentation is little more than one long advertisement that goes for 108 minutes, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It gives the chance to reminisce about some of the great British sitcoms and remember some great British comedians from the past (and present - as some are still performing). It is a chance to sample shows and performers now considered pioneers, and classics, as well as provide exposure to a few 'new' ones. The faces are generally well known, the voices and the characters likewise, and it is interesting to watch performances from comedians you've possibly only heard of.

    So what's included? Well, there are clips from well known shows and performers such as The Two Ronnies, Are You Being Served?, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Blackadder, Morecombe and Wise, Steptoe & Son, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Allo Allo, The Good Life, and Yes Minister. There are also vintage performances from the likes of Alf Garnett, Tony Hancock, Eric Sykes, and Dick Emery. Whilst a few are quite amusing, others barely raise a smile. For some it is because the humour has dated, for others it is the unfortunate choice of material. It is also due in part to time constraints, and many clips have been 'plucked' (ooh, I say!) from the full half-hour show format and presented out of context, losing some of their comedic punch. There is also a noticeable lack of female performers, with most acting as foils for the male comics, but there a few such as Mrs Alf Garnett, Betty Spencer (wife of Frank), and the blue-rinsed Mrs Slocombe - and no, there is no mention of her pussy (ho ho).

    While there will be arguments over what has been included and what has been omitted, Great Comedy Moments is still sure to get a few laughs from just about anyone. If it had only included some Monty Python, The Goodies, Ab Fab, Dad's Army, Red Dwarf, Young Ones, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Not The Nine O'clock News, Fawlty Towers, George and Mildred, Billy Connolly, French and Saunders, Smith and Jones, Julian Clary, ah the list is endless - as no doubt, are the reasons why many of these were omitted.

    The only other criticism would be that each clip leads directly into the next with no introduction or break. Sure, you can refer to the inside cover, but some on-screen details with even the barest of information would have been nice.


    There is little to be gained from giving a blow-by-blow (snicker, snicker) description of each and every one of the 43 chapters, suffice it to say that all are presented in full frame and not 16x9 enhanced. All were originally recorded for a television audience and there are minor examples various video artefacts throughout, but most scrub up satisfactorily. Colours vary depending on the age of the show, indeed some are black and white, but you can't expect much from a lot of the source material. Only the excerpts from Tony Hancock are of truly poor quality and are badly pixellated. It is still enjoyable, but you won't be able to ignore the picture quality. Generally, there are no standout problems, and audio-sync is good. It's just like watching television except for the layer change which happens mid-scene - good one!


    As per the video quality, audio quality is adequate. All selections are Dolby Digital 2.0 and almost certainly most are mono as none appear to make use of stereo separation other than for some occasional (and very annoying) canned laughter - it's good to see some things never change. The clarity is remarkably good and the volume is even. There are a few instances of hiss (age related) but nothing too intrusive. There are no severe accents to contend with, but there are (mostly) faithful subtitles to refer to should the need arise.

    Again, there is little to be said other than this is an adequate presentation. With the varying sources I would have expected a much greater range in quality, hiss and clarity, but fortunately, this is not the case.


    None - next? Oh hang on, I think these are supposed to be 'Special Features' - at least the cover says they are. There is Random Play (that'll add to the value), Select A Show which allows you to watch the various snippets from any one show consecutively (wow!), and Subtitles (a choice - on or off)


    After many years of British comedy, I find it hard to concur that these are the definitive moments, but in all fairness, the title is Great Comedy Moments and not 'GreatEST Comedy Moments'. Given that none of the included clips are dated much beyond 1985, perhaps Volume II is already in the works. A smarter move would be to start releasing more complete television shows and series and use these clips as promos on more fulfilling releases. Still it is fun, and serves as a great reminder of how good British comedy can be, and how camp and dated it can become.

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      And I quote...
    "While you can't please all the people all the time, with a little more thought and variety, this could have potentially pleased more people than it will. "
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