Worst to Best
Kelly Monteith

Prev 3 Next

20 Episode 2.4

Another episode that marks a significant evolution in the course of Kelly's show. While Kelly had done spoofs of old movies and some imaginary sequences before, they were usually tied to his current situation, or contemporary affairs. Here we start with Kelly in the Revolutionary War, before we see cutaways to him as a soldier, or even as a young baby. Suddenly Kelly's imaginary world expanded even further, and the showcase of this one was one of his lengthiest sketches, a six-minute parody of the 1935 Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood.
     Of course, the only problem with doing spoofs of old movies is that you risk the audience not getting the joke if they're unfamiliar with the source. Captain Blood was fairly well-known at the time, being shown no less than seven times on the repeat-happy BBC, four of those instances before Kelly's show even started airing. In fact, the BBC loved showing it so much, it was even screened twice during the first two years of Kelly's show, with this episode, fortuitously, going out just 52 days after the last screening.
     Cut to the present and it's over 23 years since the BBC last showed the movie, and even old school movie buffs might not be as familiar with it, the picture now nearly 85 years old, as opposed to the relatively sprightly 45 when this episode was first broadcast. All of which tells us that, if nothing else, when comedians made sitcoms in 1980, they didn't really make them with consideration of how nostalgia nerds might view them forty years later.

19 Episode 2.1

Kelly wasn't entirely satisfied with the second series, having work in America which limited his time to write it. In particular, he felt that the part of his onscreen wife, Suzanne, wasn't given enough material throughout the year. Although the scripts were written comfortably in advance of the October-December broadcast dates (The Stage was reporting them as completed and ready to go into production during June), it was also the first to be written entirely by Kelly and Neil Shand, whereas the first year had some additional material by Ian Davidson.
     Kelly's his own worst critic in this regard, as while Suzanne arguably does get sidelined a little here and there, it's a strong set of episodes, many of which are very high up this ranking. However, the writing issue became particularly notable here, as this episode was found to be underrunning. In the BBC Memories instalment dedicated to it, Kelly describes how he had to go back to his hotel and come up with the scene where he learns plumbing via a record. It's a testament to the skill of Kelly and Neil Shand that this late addition doesn't show signs of being hastily crammed in, but instead feels organic within the episode.
     It possibly also speaks to the time and care given towards the show from the BBC, with even cut-away sketches having multiple supporting actors and extras, unusual for the usually cash-conscious corporation. Kelly states that there wasn't much time for filming, and so most of it was recorded in the set of Kelly and Suzanne's "flat". Yet by normal BBC standards this was a leisurely pace... some episodes of The Goodies, for example, getting some studio dates incredibly close to their broadcast dates, sometimes even a week beforehand.
     Finally, for trivia, then this episode features, as pictured, the very talented Derek Griffiths, and also includes Kelly using that most peculiar of Americanisms: "could care less".

18 Episode 1.3

This episode was entered for the Montreux Festival, though failed to pick up an award. Digging through the various newspaper reports at the time, there are conflicting reports as to what actually did win, and in what category. Not The Nine O'Clock News and It'll Be Alright on the Night 2 both won Silver Roses (Rose d'argent) for different categories, with NTNON winning under "innovation". The actual Golden Rose Winner was Dream Weaver, a special featuring ice skater Toller Cranston.
     If all this makes any sense of what went on (even the official Festival site doesn't carry records going back that far), then the question still seems to be: why wasn't this episode well-received enough to get an award? Certainly, with a lengthy spoof of Italian art movies, it's one of Kelly's more sophisticated efforts.
     The Stage alleged that the main problem was that the judges couldn't understand what was being said, and it's a feasible excuse - there is a lot of fast wordplay and characters shouting over one another in one of the scenes, which would make it less accessible to an international audience. Due to the effect of a lot of the humour being lost in translation, it was stated as having "died quickly", though it's not clear why the BBC never tried entering the show a second time.

17 Episode 6.4

This particular episode got slated by Ron Knox, the TV critic of the Aberdeen Press and Journal. Stating that Kelly "used to be quite clever with his dry look at the antics of the human animal", Knox regarded this edition as "puerile and unamusing. This is primary-school cycle-shed humour". This is, after all, the one where they spend an episode looking for an alternative word for "tits", but then as the very first sketch in the entire programme was a policeman speeding to go to the toilet, the show had never been above going for a cheap laugh when called for.
      It's a shame this aspect of the show overrides the good in it, as the reason why this particular entry gets a fairly high ranking is due to the restaurant dinner scene, as illustrated above. A witty and technically demanding sketch that was actually completed in a single take, it involves Kelly and his date sitting too close to a neighbouring table, and both parties getting their conversations mixed up when overhearing the other. It's a great "why didn't I think of that?" moment, the kind of concept that it's surprising isn't on TV more often, and proof that, while the final series was more of a mixed bag than some of the others, it certainly hadn't ran out of steam.
      (Incidentally, RE: trivia like the ratings for the show, or the adventures of Mr. Ron Knox, TV critic. if you've read the IMDb entry on the show, and are concerned they've ripped me off, or I've ripped them off, you can relax... after all, who do you think updated the IMDb? The world needs to know who was the vision mixer for each episode, am I right?)

16 Episode 4.2

The episode that features Kelly naked in a hotel lobby, his modesty preserved by a fire extinguisher, and also one where he ends up trapped in reception wearing a tomato outfit as fancy dress. Apart from noting a very similar "naked with a fire extinguisher" sketch in a 1993 Mr. Bean episode (Mr. Bean in Room 426), Kelly's concerns were more related to the tomato outfit. In an episode of BBC Memories, he describes dressing up as "not embarrassing", but "to walk through a hotel lobby dressed as a tomato is ... uh... something you would think of when you were really high on weed, basically."
     Of all the series four episodes, this is the only one that charted in the BBC2 top ten, with 3.1 million viewers. This wasn't that the show had become unpopular in its fourth year, more that the standard of competition was incredibly high. This was the period that Boys From The Blackstuff and Smiley's People debuted, and a number of BBC1 programmes, including The Kenny Everett Television Show and The Two Ronnies, were being repeated on BBC2 to high viewing figures, coming in off the back of an established mainstream audience.

15 Episode 1.4

A nudity-heavy instalment, where even Frank Thorton gets his kit off. While such things, as pictured, can amuse, they shouldn't distract from how much philosophical material is used up in the rest of the episode, with Kelly musing on everything from sound, gender identity, fear of germs, fear of communication, and basic fear of human interaction. The image above is only in Kelly's imagination, as he pictures the members of a business meeting as naked in order to get over his insecurities. The semi-nudity gets the biggest laughs from the studio audience, but it's the more thoughtful, reflective stuff that really rewards.

14 Episode 3.5

Kelly reflects on his divorce to Suzanne and what it cost him. (He claims it was half, but in series six the Gods of Mount Olympus reveal he lost "everything".) Unfortunately this vein of comedy with a newly-lonely Kelly wasn't for everyone, with TV critic Louise Montgomery saying in the Daily Mirror that Kelly was a "natural" for comedy sketches, but it was "sad" that he "seems to rely more and more on the tedious 'let's have a go at women' routine".
     So, is this episode sexist? Well, not particularly. Kelly does complain about his wife after she's left, but that's not specific to all women. Of course, this was made in a very different time - the Sex Discrimination Act was only five years old - and so sexism was quite prevalent on television, possibly making it seem far worse in context. And certainly, there are a number of Kelly's episodes that could be accused, certainly in modern day terms, of being sexist, but this particular edition seems one of his more benign.
     Lastly, in the article on The Young Ones, specifically the episode "Oil", it was discussed how the BBC sometimes appeared to plant audience members with distinctive laughs, to not only help "sell" the comedy, but also to possibly be infectious, and make the rest of the audience laugh along. This particular episode gets two of what sound like "professional laughers", if such a thing existed, one of whom has a very distinctive laugh which was heard every other week on The Paul Daniels Magic Show. It seemed very common practice for the BBC at the time, but unfortunately they only serve to distract from the flow of the piece.

13 Episode 1.1

The series format was one that Kelly had been trying to sell in America for roughly a year beforehand, before two successful appearances on chat show Des O'Connor Tonight led to the BBC offering Kelly his own show. (Those who remember Des O'Connor Tonight for its 16-year run on ITV may forget that it was a BBC2 show at first, from 1977-1982.)
     The BBC were interested in more of a standard variety show for Kelly, but agreed to take a chance with what was then a fairly unusual format, and offered little to no censorship, something that was not the case in Kelly's home country, where rules about network TV were much stricter. Kelly did return to Des O'Connor Tonight for a third appearance, though by that point his own sitcom was already airing.
     The basic process was that Kelly would write the shows in America, many of them drawing on his years of material as a stand-up, and would come to England where his co-writer Neil Shand would rewrite with Kelly, and adding his own input. A lot of Shand's involvement is essential to bridge the cultural divide, as while Kelly's light, amusing comic patter travels surprisingly well over to England, there are still some cultural mores and concerns that don't always play out.
     Kelly himself admits that later episodes that are concerned with things like an overabundance of wire coat hangers were "really not very British", and a large part of this opening episode is taken up with Kelly worrying about tipping, something that doesn't play as well in a country where a tipping culture is far less prominent.
     Yet what makes this first episode work so well is that everything is targeted at winning over scepticism. Kelly starts off by introducing himself and explaining his own concerns about an American having his own British sitcom, before cutting to one of his regular supporting actors, Michael Stainton, playing a London taxi driver slating American comics.
     The whole thing is counterbalanced by having a strong supporting cast of fairly well-known English actors, to help "sell" the concept. Frank Thornton plays a large supporting role in this opener, an actor who was on screens the very next day in an edition of Are You Being Served? that was watched by 16.4 million people. It's an ideal "in" for casual channel-hoppers, unsure what to make of this unknown quantity from a different place, but assured that, if people they watch regularly are in his show, then he must be okay. It's all topped off with the rapport and affection Gabrielle Drake shows towards him as his onscreen wife, effectively putting across the idea that this is a guy you'd like to spend more time with.

12 Episode 5.6

Kelly drew on his own experiences for inspiration, and this is one of the most autobiographical episodes of all. While the true difference between Kelly and the "Kelly" seen in the series can only be speculated, his real-life progress through a world of low rent dressing rooms and having to do stand-up in strip clubs is charted here. Thanks to flashbacks to an imaginary world of old movies, you also get to see Kelly sing, as he showcases the difference between the entertainment world as romanticised, and the jarring reality.
     Kelly showing the more desperate, cash-strapped and lonely side of the business is something he would return to in the aforementioned movie Too Hip For the Room. There Kelly plays "Jake Deets", an ageing, luckless comedian desperate for one last shot at stardom, while having to raise money to support his autistic son. Featuring some other stand-ups in supporting roles, including the Stewart Lee-cited Franklyn Ajaye, the film is bleaker than might be expected, worth a look, and, thanks to Amazon Prime, you get a pass to see it.

11 Episode 4.6

Neil Shand's role as co-writer wasn't just limited to a script rebuild/rewrite, he would also have input into many of the situations, coming up with ideas of his own. There's a film noir spoof in this episode that features a running gag suggested by Neil, where Kelly constantly finds a box of matches to give him clues. Kelly was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1942, so all the spoofs of the great old noir movies he does aren't necessarily a love for old cinema, but often the films that were around him when he was growing up.
     Perhaps because of this element, this is the first episode to feature a number of American actors as guest stars, whereas before this only one episode (3.1 with David Healy) had featured an American other than the star. Here Healy returns, along with Douglas Coates, Hal Galili and Gabrielle Drake's old UFO co-star, Ed Bishop. Ed would also return for a small role as a guy who steals Kelly's newspaper in episode 6.2, but sadly he never appeared in an episode with Gabrielle. Ironically enough, in the noir spoof, Ed plays a character with an English accent.
     Lastly, Kelly's Americanisms are out in full force this episode, with talk of "ass", "pants" and "write me". With this in mind, it's not clear if his remark of "give me the willies" was an intentional joke or accidental; either way, it gets a big laugh from the studio audience.