Comedy Playhouse

Comedy Playhouse

1961 - United Kingdom

Comedy Playhouse was the generic title for a series of unrelated one-off comedies used to showcase the talents of both writers old and new to television -as well as established and up-and-coming sitcom stars, many of whom would go on to become stalwarts of British comedy for years to come. The series was inaugurated in 1961 by then Head of BBC Light Entertainment, Tom Sloan. It also went on to become the catapult for some of the best-loved sitcoms of all time.

The first episode entitled Clicquot Et Fils starred Eric Sykes as French undertaker Pierre Clicquot with Warren Mitchell as Alphonse Lagillarde and was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the team who had successfully helped raise the profile of Tony Hancock to that of British TV superstar. In fact, Tom Sloan was so confident in Galton and Simpson's ability that he commissioned them to write the entire first two series of one-offs comprising 16 episodes from December 61 to April 63. It was, however, the fourth episode of the first series, broadcast on 5 January 1962 that went on to win a permanent place in the affections of the British public in those early shows. Like many of the pilots that featured under the Comedy Playhouse umbrella, The Offer had a change of title before going into production as a series in its own right and then finding its place in sitcom legend. In this particular case that title was changed to Steptoe and Son. It wasn't always the title that changed either. There were a number of occasions in which cast changes were made during the transition, as in the case of Till Death Us Do Part.

No fewer than twenty-seven sitcoms arose out of Comedy Playhouse, although some of them fared better than others. As an example Wild, Wild Women by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney was a variation on the duo's own successful sitcom The Rag Trade. Although the potential was seen for a full series, the comedy, starring Barbara Windsor as the head of a group of factory workers in Victorian London, never made it beyond the first six episodes. Others did much better. The Liver Birds, All Gas and Gaiters, Not In Front of the Children and Last of the Summer Wine, featuring the talents of the country's top sitcom writers and performers, all started life as a Comedy Playhouse presentation. Some classic sitcoms appeared in the Comedy Playhouse time-slot although not under the 'CP' banner, such as Up Pompeii and It Ain't Half Hot Mum, which were broadcast as one- offs when the regular series was taking a break. To add to the confusion, No Peace on the Western Front, in 1972, was presented as a Comedy Special. (A title which was revived five years later and featured five shows, one of which was John Sullivan's Citizen Smith).

The final Comedy Playhouse presentation, French Relish, scheduled for 16 July 1974, was never shown. In its place was a repeat of the Seven of One episode Open All Hours, leading some to assume that this classic Ronnie Barker series arose from 'CP'. It didn't. 

Although Comedy Playhouse ended with the P G Wodehouse adaptation The Reverent Wooing of Archibald (starring William Mervyn, Julian Holloway and Madeline Smith) in 1974, there have been several attempts to revive the format without success. Comedy Showcase by LWT in 1976 produced only three forgettable half hours. In January 1993, Carlton Television, who had just won the ITV franchise for London, presented eight single comedies under the title Comedy Playhouse. Only the 10%ers and Brighton Belles were commissioned for full series' the latter being a British version of The Golden Girls (it failed miserably and was taken off before it completed its run). Only Yorkshire Television can claim any sort of success, their 1974 series Comedy Premier gave birth to Oh No -It's Selwyn Froggitt and Leonard Rossiter's finest half hour's: Rising Damp. In September 2017 the BBC revived the format very briefly (again just three episodes), but its late-night broadcast slot was perhaps a reflection on the confidence the BBC had in it.

Profoundly influential in its successful springboarding of truly classic situation comedy creations onto both the nation's screens and into its collective heart, the elegantly simple, yet devastatingly effective, Comedy Playhouse format indelibly stamped its stylish creative mark in to the annals of British television comedy. 

Includes title changes for full series where applicable

  • The Offer - Steptoe and Son

  • The Walrus and the Carpenter

  • The Bed - Meet the Wife

  • Hudd

  • Till Death Us Do Part

  • The Vital Spark - Para Handy

  • The Bishop Rides Again - All Gas and Gaiters

  • Beggar My Neighbour

  • Room at the Bottom

  • The Mallard Imaginaire - The Whitehall Warrior

  • The Reluctant Romeo

  • House in a Tree - Not In Front of the Children

  • The Old Campaigner

  • View By Appointment - Wink To Me Only

  • Wild, Wild Women

  • B-and-B

  • Me Mammy

  • The Liver Birds

  • As Good Cooks Go

  • Last Tribute - That's Your Funeral

  • Under and Over

  • Just Harry and Me - Now Take My Wife

  • It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling...

  • Are You Being Served? 

  • Last of the Summer Wine

  • No Strings

  • Happy Ever After

  • The Big Job - Mr Big

Published on December 5th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH (6 February 2003 - updated December 2018). for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Faces of Jim

Jimmy Edwards series of one-off sitcoms that introduced a minor supporting character actor who would go on to become 'the guv'nor' of British comedy...Ronnie Barker.

Also released in 1961

Mr. Aitch

Harry Aitch wants status more than money. If status means he's got to have money then he'll go out and get the money. Any way that's practically legal. But he spends most of the time conning himself...

Also tagged Steptoe And Son

Come Back Mrs Noah

A housewife wins a prize to visit a spaceship. While she is there, it spontaneously goes into orbit. Following hot on the heals of Are You Being Served? Mollie Sugden starred in this excellent David Croft sitcom which is now sadly overlooked.

Also tagged Are You Being Served

Harry H. Corbett

"Most of my life I have been lucky. I've not always had the money, but I have always been able to act out any part I want to play, whether it's professional on stage or before a real camera; or what passes for real life."

Also tagged Steptoe And Son

Dr. Kildare

At Blair General Hospital a young intern has to learn to deal with his surgeon mentor.

Also released in 1961

Ben Casey

Unlike the almost saintly portrayal of doctors in other medical series, doctor Ben Casey was shown as a tough rebel who was ready to flaunt the rules if it was in his patient's interest.

Also released in 1961

The Dick Van Dyke Show

This much loved, top rated US comedy series from the 1960's very nearly didn't make it on the air because then CBS chief, Jim Aubrey, disliked it so intensely that he had to be persuaded by the shows sponsors, Proctor and Gamble, to put it on.

Also released in 1961

Sanford and Son

Remaking a classic: Included in Time Magazine's 2007 list of "100 Best Shows of All Time", Sanford and Son was based on the BBC Galton and Simpson sitcom Steptoe and Son.

Also tagged Steptoe And Son