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Alas Smith and Jones

Alas Smith and Jones - britishheritage.org

Alas Smith and Jones is a British comedy sketch television series starring comedy duo and namesake Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones that originally ran for four series and two Christmas specials on BBC2 from 1984 to 1988, and later as Smith and Jones for six series on BBC1 until 1998. A spin-off from Not the Nine O'Clock News, the show also had a brief run in the United States on A&E and PBS in the late 1980s, as well as on CBS in the early 1990s during their late-night block.

Background

The show's creation followed the ending of Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1982. Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson followed individual career paths, whilst Smith and Jones opted to form a double act instead.

The first post-Not… appearance as a duo was in a short sketch in the BBC1 comedy special The Funny Side of Christmas in 1982, where Jones played a complete stranger who annoyed hospital patient Smith to the extent that Smith's character walked out in a rage, leaving Jones's character to enjoy Smith's Christmas gifts.

Shortly afterwards the BBC offered the pair their own show, with much of the material written by themselves with help from a large team of other writers. The show's title was a pun on the American television series Alias Smith and Jones, which was very popular in Britain.

Format

The show continued along lines similar to Not…, using taboo-breaking material and sketches in questionable taste (as well as bad language). It also featured head-to-head 'duologues' between Smith and Jones. It shared several script writers with Not the Nine O'Clock News including Clive Anderson and Colin Bostock-Smith, and used Chris Langham as a cast regular, while also using Andy Hamilton, which helped keep the show to a consistently high standard.

The head-to-head sketches were very much in the Pete and Dud mould, with Smith playing the idiot who knew everything and Jones the idiot who knew nothing. The format of the head-to-head with similar characters was used by Smith and Jones in a series of commercials.

TalkBack

The final full series to be produced solely by the BBC was series 4 in 1987, also the last series to be broadcast on BBC2. Starting from the 1987 Christmas special, The Homemade Xmas Video, the show became one of the first to be produced for the BBC by an independent production company, TalkBack, of which Smith and Jones were founding directors. Series 5 in 1989, the first series to be broadcast on BBC1, was the first full series of the show to be produced by TalkBack for the BBC.

Smith and Jones would later sell TalkBack to Pearson Television, by then owners of Thames Television, in 2000 for £62 million.Pearson PLC sold Pearson Television to CLT-UFA in 2001 to form the RTL Group. Pearson Television was renamed FremantleMedia and its UK division took the Thames Television name. The operational departments of TalkBack and Thames were later merged to form Talkback Thames in 2003; initially each brand continued to be used on screen, but eventually all productions used the Talkback Thames name. However, in 2011 it was announced the individual brand names would return and 'Talkback' is now once again used solely for comedy productions.

Episode guide

The show ran for ten series across 14 years, each comprising six 30-minute episodes.:

Smith and Jones (BBC1)

The show moved from BBC2 to BBC1 starting from the fifth series in 1989, and at the same time 'Alas' was dropped from the title.

The World According to Smith and Jones (1987–1988)

In early 1987, between series 3 and 4 of Alas…, the duo produced a six-part series for London Weekend Television called The World According to Smith and Jones. The BBC was not happy about the move to a rival and came close to not renewing their relationship. Reviews for this series were mixed; critics did not know what to make of it. Smith and Jones soon appeared back with the BBC for a fourth series later that year.

Despite the criticism, The World According to Smith and Jones returned for a second six-part series in 1988, but then disappeared from the schedules without a repeat (unlike the first series, which was repeated in battle against the BBC in late 1987).

Smith and Jones in Small Doses (1989)

Smith and Jones in Small Doses was a series of four comedy playlets shown on BBC2 from 19 October 1989 to 9 November 1989, each written by a different comedian or screenwriter. It was the last show the duo made for BBC2, broadcast shortly before the fifth series of Smith and Jones (the first shown on BBC1).

The series was repeated a year later on BBC2 from 25 October 1990 to 15 November 1990, albeit in a completely different order (The Boat People, The Whole Hog, The Waiting Room, Second Thoughts).

The Smith and Jones Sketchbook (2006)

Following on from the success of The Two Ronnies Sketchbook the previous year, Smith and Jones returned in 2006 with The Smith and Jones Sketchbook.

The six-part series consisted primarily of Smith and Jones introducing highlights from the show's original run from 1984 to 1998. Some of the classic head-to-head sketches were updated with new material written especially for the programme.

The series was broadcast on BBC One on Friday nights at 9:30 p.m., from 21 April 2006 to 26 May 2006. It has not been repeated since its original broadcast or released commercially.

Commercial releases

In 1991, a compilation of footage from series 5 and 6 was compiled for a VHS release—simply titled Smith and Jones. The second video released in 1993 featured footage from series 1 to 4, particularly from the second series. A compilation DVD release The Best of Smith and Jones was scheduled for 8 August 2005 by the BBC, but has been delayed many times and is unlikely to be released.

However, in October 2009, FremantleMedia released a two-disc set titled At Last Smith and Jones - Volume 1. This contained compilations of the first four series, as well as the two Christmas specials, "The Homemade Xmas Video" and "Alas Sage and Onion". The first of these has a scene cut, presumably for music clearance reasons, but the latter has an additional scene removed from the initial broadcast. The scene involves a plane crash, and the special was first broadcast mere hours after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The set also includes the complete 1989 series Smith and Jones in Small Doses. Volume 2 was prepared at the same time as the first release, featuring newly-edited highlights episodes from the later Smith and Jones era plus the unbroadcast sitcom pilot Three Flights Up, but has yet to see release.

Tie-in books included The Smith and Jones World Atlas (a humorous gazetteer of the world's countries), Janet Lives With Mel and Griff, and The Lavishly Tooled Smith and Jones Instant Coffee Table Book (co-written with Clive Anderson), which was designed to look as if it could be made into a coffee table.


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