CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV:

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Heard about the ventriloquist’s dummy who wants a solo career?

Comedy legends


Saving Britain Pubs With Tom Kerridge


Bloke goes for a job, and the interviewer fires the usual questions at him, ending with that old chestnut about what he feels his biggest weakness to be.

‘Honesty,’ says the man without hesitation.

‘Honesty?’ asks the interviewer. ‘I don’t think that counts as a weakness.’

The bloke says: ‘What the f*** would you know about it?’

That gag is courtesy of Barry Cryer who, as his many friends can testify, has a wonderful habit of picking up the phone to pass on a bit of news and ends the call by barking: ‘Joke?’

Each week Baz and his chum Tony Hawks debate the merits of a comic great

Each week Baz and his chum Tony Hawks debate the merits of a comic great

‘Yes please, Baz,’ you say, and the master reels off a humdinger. Whether these are newly minted or culled from his classic repertoire, I’ve never found out, because he always puts down the receiver before I’ve finished laughing.

And if you’re now wishing that Mr Cryer would give everyone a ring to brighten all our mornings, I couldn’t agree more. The man should be a nationalised industry, available free to the public.

Happily, his series Comedy Legends (Sky Arts) now is, since the channel switched to Freeview back in September. Each week he and his chum Tony Hawks debate the merits of a comic great. They’ve been doing this for a couple of years, covering most of the British giants — Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise, Kenny Everett, you name ’em.

Now they’ve moved on to the American stars, which is arguably more interesting since the personalities and the material are less well known over here. Bob Newhart is familiar to British fans from his 1960s LPs, which featured his telephone routines: he performed one side of a ridiculous conversation, leaving listeners to imagine what was being said down the line.

Barry’s guest, stand-up comic Jo Caulfield, remembered being captivated by her parents’ Newhart albums: ‘It’s clever and it’s clean. I can’t think who wouldn’t laugh.’

But Brits are less familiar with his sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s, The Bob Newhart Show (in which he played a psychiatrist) and Newhart (where he owned a hotel in a village full of idiots).

The hour-long format of Comedy Greats allows for long extracts, giving us the chance to appreciate their comic rhythm. 

Too many compilation shows supply just a few seconds, taking punchlines out of context and ruining the build-up. (How many times, for instance, have you seen a three-second clip of Frank Spencer roller-skating under an articulated lorry, when it was the long sequence leading up the stunt that made it so funny?)

When Covid-19 strikes it puts the whole industry, including Tom Kerridge's own pubs, in peril

When Covid-19 strikes it puts the whole industry, including Tom Kerridge’s own pubs, in peril

Apt name of the night

CCTV on Kitten Rescue With Jo Brand (C5) caught the moment that clumsy puss Marta fell from a fourth-storey balcony. 

She fractured a back leg, an injury known as ‘high rise syndrome’. And what was the vet who fixed her called? Kat, of course.

Newhart was a genius of the wordless reaction — such as his look when a ventriloquist brought his dummy to be analysed on the psychiatric couch. ‘He wants to go solo,’ complained the man. ‘He says I’m holding him back.’

The publicans on Saving Britain’s Pubs (BBC2) were all held back by their own hesitations, unwilling to face change. This second episode was no more dynamic than the first, but towards the end of the hour the persistence of chef Tom Kerridge was paying off.

Lana at the Golden Anchor in Peckham had faced down her truculent domino players, who sat all night in her bar drinking next to nothing. The Albert in Stroud was now selling pizzas to hungry punters and at the White Hart in Chilsworthy, the front wall was being replaced with a picture window to reveal the spectacular Cornish landscape.

Then lockdown struck. How those pubs are coping, we don’t know. Maybe Tom will get to that next week but it’s slow going. Drink up, gents, please!


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