Worst to Best
Kelly Monteith

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10 Episode 3.2

Digging for the ratings of Kelly's earliest shows isn't easy, as what was available to the public was very different back then. This wasn't an age of Top 30s per channel, with even satellite channels listed - this was the age of just three terrestrial stations, and that was your lot. For the first two years of the show, listings magazines just gave overall network rankings and figures, with BBC1 and ITV battling it out. No one could comfortably expect the more niche BBC2 to compete in a chart where over 12 million viewers was needed to break into the top 20, and of course, it rarely did.
     However, for 1981, the newly-formed Broadcasters' Audience Research Board had begun publishing a "top ten" of each individual channel, with chart placings but no ratings. Scouring those old newspapers brings up the charts for all but the last episode in this run, with all five available episodes featuring in the BBC2 Top Ten, averaging at 7th place.
     Speaking of trivia, then the Daily Mirror claimed to have the budgets for all of the BBC programmes on air the day this episode was broadcast, giving a figure of a £30,000 for Kelly's show (around £130,000 in today's money.) Although £10,000 less than the Horizon which followed, and £20,000 less than the Des O'Connor Tonight that came before it, it was one of the three most expensive shows on BBC2 that night, with an episode of The Adventure Game having to be put together on a reputed £14,000.
     Such matters do bring to light just how expensive a serious science fiction show costs to make, and probably indicates why the BBC were going off them in the late eighties: the notoriously cheap Blake's 7 was on BBC1 that same evening, and, if the article can be believed, cost as much as Des, Kelly and Horizon put together. As the episode in question was the minimal sets and recyled costumes of "Assassin", it makes you wonder how much science fiction on the BBC would have cost if they'd actually funded it adequately...

9 Episode 1.2

An episode guest-starring Lorraine Chase, an actress with a nice line in comic ability, so much so that she was the most-featured guest on the original Blankety Blank, clocking up almost 30 appearances. Sadly it's her only appearance in Kelly Monteith, though making her first of two guest spots is another 80s favourite, Sabina Franklyn. Fairly unknown at the time, Franklyn had appeared just the previous month in an episode of Fawlty Towers, though would break the hearts of 80s kids from 1981 on as one of the daughters in Keep It In The Family.
     There's some notable trivia points here, including Kelly tailoring his vocabulary to the UK audience. Although he'll still say stuff like "ass", "pants" and "up the kazoo", he'll also make an effort to refer to elevators as "lifts" and his apartment as a "flat". In this particular instalment, he introduces the words "birds" and "chatting up" to his lexicon. Lastly, there's the curious admission that his wife is aware of his monologues to the audience, but can't see through the fourth wall like he can, accusing Kelly of "talking to himself".

8 Episode 2.2

Is there a difference between racism and stereotypes? It's a question the popular YouTube reaction channel Frankenstein's Lab frequently ask and debate. Here Kelly goes on holiday with Suzanne to Italy, meeting Victor Spinetti as an Italian stereotype. Spinetti's full-on dedication to the part is considerable, and he amusingly straddles the line of over-the-top in a funny instalment.
     There's a fair bit of humour in this one that's a lot more "traditional" than usual, with an overbearing couple on holiday that they can't get rid of, and some beach-based comedy. Yet the commitment of all involved really makes it work, and secures its high ranking here.
     One of the centrepieces is Kelly doing a monologue about gambling, and how bad he is at it, talking to the audience while Suzanne is unaware of him breaking the fourth wall. It's a theme he would return to in the first of his two (to date) movies, 2004's A Lousy 10 Grand. Currently unavailable on Amazon, it's worth checking to see if it becomes available again. Not as dark as Too Hip For The Room, it's more of a light-hearted tall tale, but definitely raises a smile.

7 Episode 6.2

While reference has been made to the new format of the final series not quite working as well as the original concept, it wasn't a failure, it's just that it couldn't compete with the high standards of the original set up.
     Certainly, there are episodes where the "meta" humour works better than others, and it's particularly strong here, as Kelly comes up with a sitcom-in-a-sitcom plotline that sees the BBC on the verge of cancelling his show. His fictional co-writer and fictional producer are concerned it's tempting fate (something which did actually happen) and there's a group of Greek Gods who enjoy ruining Kelly's life just for fun.
     It's a rewarding episode where the potential of the new concept is really mined to its full potential, as well as establishing Kelly's relationship with new romantic interest Alex (Trudie Styler). Finally, lovers of trivia may like to know that studio recording of the final series began in July 1984 for a September/October broadcast schedule, and at 31'38m, this is the longest episode of the series.

6 Episode 4.3

Kelly is worried that his American background has led to him overeating at all the parties he's invited to. Pedants may wonder how Kelly can be concerned when he reads out "9.7 stone" as his weight, which is towards the slimmest end of the ideal weight range for a 5'8 37-year-old, but such things get in the way of the fun, and, after all, it shows that Kelly must be really paranoid about his weight.
     Kelly's monologues contain some of his most incisive thoughts on his home country, points that are still relevant four decades later: "that's part of the American Dream, to have a big home, and a big yard, drive around in a big car and worry about big debts". There are plenty of nice moments in this one, such as the trial court that's run on non-specific measurements, Kelly at a party in a sea of faceless people, and the superb Derek Griffiths bringing energy to a role as a party boor.
     In terms of trivia, then this is the direct opposite of the previous entry, with its 26'50m runtime making it the shortest episode of the run. There are also some gaps of logic which are of note. One is that Kelly does a routine about not understanding different systems of measurement as an American abroad, and explains that he doesn't understand "kilometres" when he's in the UK, but "miles" is something he could grasp. It's a decent routine, blunted by the fact that, while the UK did adopt the metric system, it never wholly embraced it, and everyone still tends to use the other way of measurements, particularly regarding road distance.

5 Episode 3.1

A low-key opener to series three as Kelly comes to terms with the breakdown of his marriage. Due to Gabrielle Drake not being involved in the series, flashbacks are done via a body stand-in, though strangely the one time "Suzanne" speaks, it's with an American accent. Perhaps they didn't wish to offend Gabrielle by having someone imitate her voice as well as her hand and side of her face, but it's an unsual choice.
     While Kelly looks downbeat due to his onscreen divorce (he'd just gone through one in real life, too) he's joined by some notable UK sitcom actors. Included in the line-up is Reginald Marsh, who seemed to be constantly working, though is perhaps best remembered as "Sir Dennis" in Terry and June. Then there's Andrew Hall, who played the older brother in Butterflies.
     Hall has a good rapport with Kelly as his friend "Jeff", and, while a regular character can limit the scope of a show, it would have been nice to have seen him again on the odd occasion. It is arguable that he's a little too young to play the part of a fellow divorcee, given that Kelly was 38 when the episode was recorded and Hall was just 27, but he has a nice presence and commitment to the part. Sadly he died in 2019, aged just 65.
     This is perhaps an odd inclusion into the top five, as there are funnier episodes, and more thoughtful episodes, but there's a special kind of feeling to this one, as a desperately lonely Kelly is plagued by the fear of what people will say about him to his wife behind his back, and ends the show calling the speaking clock for company.

4 Episode 4.1

What today would be known as a "bottle episode", with Kelly alone, doing anything to get out of writing - even procrastinating by looking up the definition of procrastinating. It's highly relatable stuff, essentially a one-man play with just cutaways to related sketches. It also proves that series six didn't really need to revise the format to get the full benefit of the "sitcom-within-a-sitcom" set up, as in the first five series Kelly will often show his sketches on a television screen, and what is he avoiding writing here, if not material for his own sitcom?
     It's a strange show on many levels, a kind of Möbius strip of realities, as Kelly discusses writing his sitcom within his sitcom, while relating lots of fantasy scenarios like how Shakespeare would struggle in the age of television. It's a really strong episode that reflects on the nature of obsession, sexuality and the nature of invention. The only element which casts doubt upon its very high placing is that this is the one that opens with Kelly talking about spiking drinks, something that seems awkward even taking the era into consideration. However, after a shaky start, this minimalist, thoughtful effort really engages.

3 Episode 3.6

As referenced earlier in this article, the nature of television if a very transient thing, and someone can only realistically stay in memories for so long if their show doesn't get aired. The series is now at least two generations in the past, and without repeats, only those of us with failing memories will be able to recall it.
     While not blessed with excessive repeat broadcasts, this particular entry does achieve some form of longevity through the clever use of repeat imagery. The two key sketches in this one - Kelly invades a beach, only for his battalion to be stopped by a secretary, plus an inventive spoof of Sergio Leone westerns - are captured via stills in probably the most memorable title sequence for the show.
     Consequently, even if you haven't seen the episode, all you needed to do was see any of the other five episodes in the run and you'd still get the visual shot of Kelly as Clint Eastwood, or as a soldier invading the shore. This use of shots from sketches was actually unique to the third series, as the others just featured Kelly in various smiley poses, or, in the case of series six, the title logo was just superimposed over whatever opening sketch started the show that week.
     Speaking of opening sketches, then the use of pre-titles "cold opens" was something the show began with, and largely abandoned during series 3 and 4. Some of the most memorable ones were Kelly at a conference for the deaf, or as the shortest soldier in the Revolutionary War. Out of the first two series, only 2.3 dropped the idea, but by this third series the idea had been dropped almost entirely. This episode's "Kelly acts like he's in the horror of war, only to be working in a video arcade" skit is just one of two attempts at a pre-credits quickee.
     Series four had just one "cold open", while series five brought them back to a point, with half of the run featuring them. For reasons discussed, then series six can't perhaps be included in this discussion - can it really be a "cold open" if the title of the show is superimposed on top of the sketch?
     Naturally some of the "cold opens" work better than others - the Revolutionary War sketch, while seemingly one of the most random, ties into Kelly's monologues about height and the nature of enforced masculinity, for example. Others are unrelated to the general theme and the show in question, and the cold open sketches do contain a lot more pressure in the need to get a big laugh right from the start. In an episode of BBC Memories, Kelly talks about how difficult it became to come up with fresh "cold opens" each week, and why they were eventually more or less abandoned.

2 Episode 5.3

This episode also achieved greater longevity, as I believe sections of it were screened as part of a BBC clips programme some years later. The name of the clips show and the presenter escapes me - there's that failing memory again - though I very strongly suspect it was an episode of Chris Serle's Windmill, which ran from 1985-1988. Consequently, a lot of the material here had a chance of living on a little longer, and it helps that it's some of Kelly's best stuff, too. There's Kelly as his own father, as an unlucky cowboy, and, as in the clip reshown, Kelly as a boxer who can't stop punching whenever he hears a bell.
      The boxing sequence in particular is nice and silly, and contains a series of amusingly over-the-top visual gags, combined with some daft wordplay. There's also strong monologues from Kelly, as he worries what people think about him. The only real disappointment with this outing is that Gabrielle Drake returns to the show for a quick cameo as a "talking head", but not as Kelly's ex-wife, Suzanne.

1 Episode 2.3

Comedy is subjective, of course, and while there are plenty of funny moments in Kelly Monteith that will hopefully get you laughing, for the main part it's more of a whimsical, slightly philosophical show that will produce smiles and chuckles. This is not a criticism, as if there's one thing we all need today it's a smile and some chuckles, along with something to think about.
     Here Kelly ruminates over many topics, including the nature of masculine virility and mortality. Quite heavy topics for a comedy show, but then in Kelly's perverse universe he gets laughs from depicting himself in a coffin. There's also an eerie reminder of the nature of time, as Kelly wonders what he'll look like when he gets old... at date of writing Kelly is 78, and this programme is now forty years in the past. As Kelly himself puts it "time goes by so quick [...] what the Hell happened to my youth?"
     Kelly's thoughts on the topic range from straight observational humour, such as noting that the retired get free bus travel when they no longer have anywhere to go, up to more "high concept" thoughts, like having the life knowledge of an elderly man in a child's brain. It's quite a dark episode in many senses, including a life insurance salesman who collects obituaries. There are certainly more overtly amusing episodes of the series, but this one tops the list here as it gives viewers a lot to mull over, even after the end credits have faded.