Behind the Fridge was a play on the title Beyond the Fringe, the groundbreaking London stage revue which had years earlier established Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller as the leading stars of satirical comedy in the 1960s, and which paved the way for a generation of political satire shows and "alternative comedies" when the term was truly justified but years before it had been coined. 'The Fringe', which sprang out of the Edinburgh Festival and Cambridge Footlights played a hugely important role in the development of comedy in the UK.
Established in 1947 to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit" at a time when the UK was recovering from its post-war malaise, the Edinburgh Festival was, in that first year, unofficially "gatecrashed" by a number of theatrical companies. From the mid-1950s onwards this annual feast of drama and music also had the added attraction of unofficial performances by various small and often experimental theatre and revue groups including the Cambridge Footlights - the 'Fringe' of the festival. Founded in 1883 the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (more simply known as The Footlights) is an amateur theatrical club run by students of Cambridge University. In 1960 former Oxford student John Bassett was assisting festival runner Robert Ponsonby who suggested that the Festival have an official late-night revue. Bassett suggested Oxford students Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett and two Cambridge people for balance. Bassett, through a member of his family, knew recently qualified doctor and ex Cambridge student Jonathan Miller who in turn recommended Peter Cook.
While still at school Cook had submitted a Goon Show pastiche script to the BBC which was turned down. Cook had joined the Footlights Club in 1959 and performed his own self-penned monologue and from then on writing became his main interest. Bassett suggested that the four should pool their resources using the best of their material to bring their collection of sketches up to an hour. Ponsonby suggested the title Beyond the Fringe (which none of the performers were keen on) to suggest that what they were doing was beyond the capabilities of The Fringe. Beyond The Fringe opened at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on Monday 22 August 1960. The show was so successful that it went from Edinburgh to play in Cambridge and Brighton before opening at the Fortune Theatre on 10 May, 1961.
Although labelled a 'satirical masterpiece' by critics such as Kenneth Tynan and Bernard Levin at the time, Jonathan Miller would later say that there was no attempt at satire and nor was their target the establishment. "There were targets we wanted to hit - Alan had people he wanted to lampoon. None of us approached the world with satirical indignation. We had no reason to...we were all very comfortably off." Beyond the Fringe ran for over a year with the original cast and changed the face of British comedy by opening the satire boom of the 1960s and paving the way for TV shows like That Was The Week That Was.
Similarities between Behind the Fridge and Beyond the Fringe could be drawn as both featured a series of sketches portraying the eccentricities of the British, but this one-off special starring only Peter Cook and Dudley Moore from the original quartet, shown on BBC2 as part of the Show of the Week strand, was probably more reminiscent of their previous television series Not Only...But Also.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.