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Series / At Last the 1948 Show

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The cast. Clockwise from top left: Marty Feldman, Aimi MacDonald, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese.

At Last the 1948 Show is a sketch comedy series that ran on ITV for 13 episodes in 1967 and 1968. It starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Marty Feldman, and Aimi MacDonald. It is generally regarded, alongside Do Not Adjust Your Set and How to Irritate People, as being one of the three spiritual predecessors of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Most of the series was lost for decades; fortunately, almost all of the missing footage has since been found, and it's all been released on DVD.

Two sketches from the series are particularly well-known, having gained wider fame through being recycled by Chapman and Cleese for Monty Python:

This series provides examples of:

  • Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better: Each of the four Yorkshiremen had a poorer and more deprived childhood than the one before.
  • Blatant Burglar: Any sketch featuring a burglar is likely to use this trope.
    • In the "Burglar Hides in the Library" sketch, Wilkins is dressed in a flat cap, Domino Mask, neckerchief, and striped jersey, and carries a Thief Bag (helpfully labelled "SWAG"), although it still takes the arrival of a police sergeant for the librarian and other library patrons to think anything of Wilkins' attire.
    • The two jewel thieves in the "Uncooperative Burglars" sketch have more understated versions of the "blatant burglar" costume - flat cap, neckerchief, unlabelled Thief Bag, but no Domino Mask or striped jersey - but make up for this with more brazen defiance of the constable who tries to arrest them.
  • Bouncer: The "Meek Bouncer" sketch parodies this trope, as a thoroughly drunk nightclub patron (John Cleese) becomes unruly and is very politely asked to leave by the diminutive bouncer (Marty Feldman). The drunk physically throws the bouncer aside several times, and eventually starts emptying glasses over his head and mashing desserts into his face and clothes.
  • British Brevity: One series of six episodes in early 1967 and one of seven episodes later in the year for a total of thirteen episodes.
  • The Bully: Nosmo Claphanger (John Cleese), presenter of "The Nosmo Claphanger Quiz Show", shouts a constant stream of abuse at both the contestants and the audience on his quiz show, taking every opportunity to belittle or berate the contestants and ignoring almost everything they try to say in their defence, while browbeating the audience into clapping or laughing on command. The character was allegedly based on the real-life game show host Michael Miles.
  • Captain Obvious: Part of the reason the constable (Graham Chapman) in the "Uncooperative Burglars" sketch gets nowhere with the burglars (Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor) is their constant dismissal of his obvious statements and obvious questions.
    [the constable's repeated bellowing of "'Allo!" having got no reaction, he consults a notepad in his pocket]
    Constable: 'Allo, what's goin' on 'ere, then?
    Burglar 1: We're robbing the shop.
    Constable: I see. [consults notepad again] Do you have the owner's permission?
    Burglar 1: No!
    Constable: Oh! [consults notepad once again] Do you realise you are committing a criminal offence?
    Burglar 1: 'Course!
    Constable: Right! [to himself] No, no, no, no, wait a minute. [consults notepad yet again; reads] "'Allo, what's goin' on 'ere, then, we're robbing the shop, do you have the owner's permission, no..." [walks up to burglars again] Do you realise you are committing a criminal offence?
    Burglar 1: [losing patience with the questions] YES!
    Constable: Well don't let it happen again! [marches off; the burglar shrugs and gets back to the robbery. After a few seconds, the constable returns] 'Allo, still at it I see?
    Burglar 2: Yeah.
    Constable: Burglars, aren't you?
    Burglar 1: Yeah, that's right, yeah.
    Constable: I thought as much... [suddenly] What have you got in that sack, then!?
    Burglar 1: Jewels, look! [shows him]
    Constable: Burglars?... Jewels?... There's something fishy goin' on 'ere!
  • Cast Full of Writers: Brooke-Taylor, Chapman, Cleese, and Feldman wrote and performed. In fact, Feldman had previously written but never performed.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: As the hero, Oddish (Tim Brooke-Taylor), and the villain, Macdonald (John Cleese), engage in fisticuffs during "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte", they have a long Info Dump exchange summarising the intricacies of the plot so far; the implication is that there wasn't time to shoot a fight scene and an info dump scene, so they had to combine them.
  • Cliffhanger: Parodied in "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte", which ends with arch-villain Macdonald trying to cough up the keys he has swallowed so that he can open the manor's locked doors and escape (while the heroes are trying to help him so that they can get out as well). The titles ask:
    "WILL THEY ALL ESCAPE?" [then gives away the answer] "NEXT WEEK: Episode 6: NO!"
  • Dramatic Unmask: Parodied in "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte" when Oddish (Tim Brooke-Taylor) is tied to a chair to face the villain (John Cleese), who proceeds to remove a series of disguises.
    Villain: Good evening, Mr. Oddish, welcome to Locksby!
    Oddish: Dr. Atkins! ["Atkins" removes his sunglasses] Professor Newburg! ["Newburg" flips down an eyepatch] Fou Tong! ["Fou Tong" removes the eyepatch] Macdonald!
  • Eat the Evidence: In "Someone Has Stolen the News", the day's news stories are ripped out of the hands of a newsreader (John Cleese) by a passing thief (Marty Feldman). When the newsreader and two technicians (Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Chapman) finally pin the thief to the desk, he bites the newsreader's hand to get him away for just long enough to allow him to eat the pages he has stolen.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In the final exchange of "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte", the villainous Macdonald laughs that the heroes have no way out, as he has locked all of the doors and swallowed the key. It dawns on him that this means he cannot get out either, and he tries to regurgitate the key.
  • Fanservice:
    • Tim Brooke-Taylor admitted in an interview that this was the only reason Oddish's girlfriend Susan is dressed only in a bikini for the entirety of "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte".
    • In Series 2, Episode 7, after the presenter (Cleese) of "24 Hours and Hours" signs off, he tries to get the show into the ratings by projecting an image of a nude woman.
  • Funetik Aksent: In the "Burglar Hides in the Library" sketch, the police sergeant's signs transcribe the accent of the stereotypical East End copper:
    Constable: 'Allo 'allo 'allo"... 'Orl right Wilkins, we know yer 'iding in 'ere.
  • Grumpy Old Man: The four Yorkshiremen.
  • Hand Signals: In the "Burglar Hides in the Library" sketch, when the police sergeant (Graham Chapman) is shushed each time he tries to ask the librarian (Eric Idle) if he has seen fleeing burglar Wilkins (Tim Brooke-Taylor), he resorts to indicating Wilkins' approximate height, tracing the outline of a Domino Mask over his eyes and stripes across his shirt, miming examining valuables before throwing them into a Thief Bag, running in place, then indicating the door of the library. The librarian, without breaking eye contact with the sergeant, points Wilkins out at a nearby table.
  • He Knows Too Much: Parodied in an episode-opening sketch with Marty as gangster "Baby Face" Lip Salve and Graham as rival gangster "Diamond" Albert Nose Fetish. Baby Face demands to know when Prussia first acquired the hegemony of the North Germanic Confederation; 1866, says Diamond. Baby Face then asks for the angle of the plane of movement of the two outer and brighter of Uranus' satellites (Oberon and Titania) with the elliptic; 82 degrees, says Diamond. Finally, Baby Face asks for the square root of 7,974; 89.3, says Diamond. Baby Face says he now has to kill Diamond - he knows too much.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The four Yorkshiremen claim to have had these. Marty says his father used to thrash him to sleep with his belt, Graham claims his father used to beat him about the head and neck with a broken bottle, Tim alleges his father used to slice him in half with a bread knife, and John tops them all by claiming his father used to strangle him and dance about on his grave.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Exaggerated in the "Burglar Hides in Library" sketch; burglar Wilkins (Tim) draws a gun on the three policemen (Graham, John, and Marty) who have cornered him, but, in deference to the rules of the library, first fixes a silencer to the barrel. When he fires, it makes no noise at all, and it takes a few seconds for the policemen to establish which of them has been hit.
  • Impossible Insurance: In "Life Assurance for the Accident Prone", the hapless Mr. Waring (John) buys a life assurance policy from Mr. Briddock (Graham) which covers him against everything except acts of God, as well as death by fire, flood, earthquake, nuclear war, and Red Indian attack. As Briddock recites this list, Waring is killed by an arrow to the stomach.
  • Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: In "Plain Clothes Police Women", PC Staveacre (Graham) is smoking a pipe and hasn't bothered to shave off his moustache, PC Hawkins (Marty) is carrying his policeman's helmet under his arm, and PC Bude (John) hasn't shaved his legs.
  • It's All About Me: This was the main joke of "the lovely Aimi MacDonald", who instead of doing transitions between the sketches (her supposed role on the show) would talk about how lovely she was, try to raise money for the "Make Aimi MacDonald A Rich Lady Fund," and just generally try to draw all attention to herself. She genuinely seems to believe the sketches are the in-between segments for her scenes, rather than vice-versa.
  • Kick the Dog: "The Nosmo Claphanger Quiz Show" features violently sociopathic host Nosmo Claphanger (John Cleese) doing this repeatedly to the elderly couple (Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor) who have had the misfortune to appear on his show. He berates them at the top of his lungs at every opportunity, then offers them increasing amounts of cash instead of the prize they have selected and ignores their pleas to be given the money. The prize turns out to be a luxury yacht - which Claphanger decides to keep for himself instead. At the end of the sketch, he tricks them into getting eaten by a tiger, and finishes by performing a Nazi salute (answered by Stock Footage of a Nazi rally).
  • The Klutz: Mr. Waring (John) in "Life Assurance for the Accident Prone" manages to break everything in the office of Mr. Briddock (Graham) completely by accident as the latter evaluates his suitability for one of his company's life assurance policies.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: In the "Automatic Hospital Visitor" sketch, the robotic hospital visitor (Tim) asks the lonely patient (Bill Oddie in a guest appearance) what the nurses are like at the hospital, then winks and nudges the air with his elbow while shouting, "Eh? Eh?"
  • Look Behind You:
    • Used twice in "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte"; each time, the hero Oddish points toward the ceiling and says, "Look out!" before kicking the gun out of the hand of the villain he is trying to distract. (This backfires the second time when the gun lands in the villain Macdonald's hand.)
    • In the "Burglar Hides in Library" sketch, because the librarian and other library patrons shush them angrily if they so much as whisper, the policemen disarm the burglar by using a sign.
      Sign: Look out. There's someone behind you.
  • The Münchausen: By the time it gets around to the fourth Yorkshireman, the stories they're telling have escalated to this level.
  • Never Needs Sharpening: The "Stringettes" sketch (for which only the audio survives) features John Cleese as an excitable advertising rep and Marty Feldman as a prospective client with a 122,000 mile collection of string - which has been cut into three-inch segments due to bad planning. The advertising rep decides to market the idea as "Stringettes", the string that has already been cut to the right length. This was also recreated on the Contractual Obligation album with Eric Idle standing in for Marty Feldman.
  • Off the Rails: One sketch involves an educational segment where four actors teach basic English vocabulary, and one distraught, underpaid actor (played by John Cleese) derails the segment completely by inserting bogus words into his lines, vandalizing the set and pouring scalding hot tea on the heads of his co-actors.
  • Oop North: The Yorkshiremen sketch makes use of clichés about Northerners.
  • Parody: Several contemporary television series were parodied, including ballroom dancing competition Come Dancing (in which two couples finish level and must engage in a dance-off during which one of each couple decides they'd rather dance with each other than with their original partners, leading to a dance-like fight) and quiz show Top of the Form.
  • Police Are Useless: In the "Uncooperative Burglars" sketch, two burglars (Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman) have smashed the front window of a jeweller's and are emptying the displays into bags. An incompetent constable (Graham Chapman) has to read from an instruction manual in his notepad when the burglars simply ignore him bellowing "Hello!" and openly admit that they are robbing the jeweller's and that they know they are breaking the law. When they flatly refuse to accompany him to the station, he gets an equally ineffectual sergeant (John Cleese) who simply repeats the constable's questions. As the two policemen confer, the burglars nonchalantly depart; the policemen don't notice until they try to rush the thieves. When they do notice, they shrug it off and suggest the burglars will be picked up by traffic wardens.
  • Poverty for Comedy: The reminiscences of the four Yorkshiremen start off with realistic examples of poverty but quickly escalate to ridiculous extremes.
    First man: There were over 150 of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road!
    Fourth man: Cardboard box?
    First man: Aye.
    Fourth man: You were lucky.
  • Self-Made Man: The title characters in "Four Yorkshiremen" didn't just work their way up from nothing, but first had to work their way up to nothing (or so they claim) on their way to becoming rich men. When we meet them, they are dressed in white dinner jackets, drinking fine wine poured for them by a waiter, and smoking cigars.
  • The Shelf of Movie Languishment: The title of the series is an in-universe parody of this trope; ITV had a bad habit of letting television productions sit on the shelf for months or even years before airing them (in this case, since seven years before ITV were even founded!).
  • The Smurfette Principle: Aimi MacDonald was the only female member of the cast, and was used mainly for jokes revolving around her being an attractive young woman.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: Several of the sketches had their origins in Cambridge Circus and/or I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (the casts of both included Tim and John; Graham wrote for both, but only performed in the former), such as "The Minister Who Falls Apart" and "Automatic Hospital Visitor".
  • Split Screen:
    • In "Top of the Form", both teams of schoolchildren (three boys on one, three girls on the other) are played by Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Marty Feldman; they were shot separately as each team and combined into a single shot via split-screen effects. In the final shot, the boys (in the bottom half of the screen) poke the girls (in the top half) with sticks.
    • One episode begins with credits for each of Graham, Marty, Tim, and John, who are shown from the waist up on the top of the screen doing the arm motions for a tap dance being performed by four (female) dancers shown from the waist down on the bottom of the screen. To hammer the gimmick home, the top and bottom halves exit in opposite directions.
  • Talking with Signs: In the "Burglar Hides in Library" sketch, because the librarian (Eric Idle in a guest appearance) and library patrons react to any noise whatever by impatiently shushing the noisemaker, the police sergeant (Graham Chapman) who has cornered burglar Wilkins (Tim Brooke-Taylor) in the library communicates entirely using signs, including "blowing his whistle" by holding up a tiny sign reading "Peep! Peep!"
  • Throw It In: Several sketches feature in-universe examples.
    • In "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte", the heroes are about to make their escape when Macdonald draws a gun on them. However, it gets stuck in his jacket pocket, so the heroes keep hopping back and forth from one foot to the other until he finally gets the gun out. Later in the sketch, henchman Strauss (Marty Feldman) jumps through a window with a gun - and drops it before he gets into the room. Without missing a beat of his evil laughter, he grabs Macdonald's discarded gun.
    • In "Studio Tour", an episode of The Forsyte Saga-esque costume drama The Willetts of Littlehampton, airing live and starring John Cleese, Jo Kendall, and Graham Chapman, is interrupted when the head of drama (Tim Brooke-Taylor) brings a group of Jordanian television executives onto the set, and takes an absurdly long time to get the message that they have walked into a live broadcast. Cleese and Kendall are forced to improvise around the Jordanians' presence (which gets difficult when one of the Jordanians (Marty Feldman) begins getting amorous with Kendall), and just when things finally seem to be getting under control, another head of programming (Barry Cryer) brings a party of Nigerian television executives onto the set.
  • Tuckerization: "The Four Sydney Lotterbys" was co-written by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman; Tim recalled in an interview that he asked Marty for a funny name for the four characters and Marty suggested "Sydney Lotterby". Tim agreed, unaware that Lotterby was a real person - a BBC producer/director with whom Marty had previously worked (and with whom Tim would later work on Broaden Your Mind). Lotterby was not amused, especially when prank callers found his number in the telephone directory and called him using the voices from the sketch.
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: The customer in the bookshop sketch asks for several books with titles similar to ones by Charles Dickens, refuses to buy Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds unless the gannet is removed (and then refuses to buy it because there's a page missing), and eventually reveals after he finds a book he does want that he has no money and can't read.
  • Violent Glaswegian: The "Ballet Supporters" sketch revolves around audience members for a collaborative performance of Swan Lake at Covent Garden by the Royal Ballet and the Scottish National Ballet. The Scottish audience members who have come to London specially for the performance arrive drunk and begin cheering and shouting pro-Scottish and anti-English chants as if they were at a Scotland-England football match; the English audience members soon get over their discomfort and begin retaliating in kind, and eventually a fight breaks out between the two groups of "fans".
  • Vox Pops: Though not used as extensively as on Monty Python's Flying Circus, this trope did feature in a sketch (until 2014, the only surviving footage from the first episode) in which an interviewer (John Cleese) pulls a man (Tim Brooke-Taylor) out of a telephone box and asks him if he likes At Last the 1948 Show. The man waffles without actually giving an answer until the interviewer slaps him hard and growls, "YES - OR - NO!?"
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: After the live airing of The Willetts of Littlehampton breaks down as various heads of programming lead groups of foreign television representatives onto the set, the continuity announcer (Graham Chapman) snarls that perhaps the head of children's programming is about to lead a party of Eskimos onto the set. The picture cuts to the announcement "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible"... at which point the head of children's programming (Barry Cryer) smashes through the picture with a group of Eskimos (Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, and Marty Feldman).
  • When I Was Your Age...: The four Yorkshiremen complaining about how youngsters these days have it soft, and they'd never believe how tough we had it in our day.
  • Word Salad Title: The title of the parody thriller "Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte", though grammatically correct, is deliberately nonsensical.

So that was At Last the 1948 Show. And you try telling the young people of today that, and they won't believe you.