When We Were Funniest, UKTV Gold

by | Feb 28, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

Generations thousands of years into the future may used these innumerable TV polls in much the same way as this generation follows the Bible – arranging arbitrary, uncorroborated fables founded on impulse, prejudice and stupidity into an ideal for living. For the current generation this is a lasso tossed around the cud-chewing herds of comedy over the past 40 years, yielding some amusing clips that would have been more amusing had they not appeared ad nauseam on UK Gold since it inception, and will be repeated with even more fervour over the next nine months.

What was good about it?

• All the advocates were supremely talented comedians who actually knew what they were talking about and did so in a passionate, gripping manner. It wasn’t Celebrity Ding Dong.

• The best of them was perhaps Martin Freeman, paradoxically because he had the hardest task of eulogising the 60s which also meant his clips were the most novel (i.e. they hadn’t been on heavy rotation on UK Gold) such as Captain Mainwaring’s insufferable vanity in black and white, Pete and Dud corpsing and a Morecambe And Wise sketch that wasn’t Breakfast (Meera Syal showed that for her 70s selection).

• Freeman also noted that the avalanche of oily conceit that smothered the vigilance of the youth of the country when Smashie and Nicey’s exile to Radio Quiet was replicated in real life through DLT, Simon Bates etc. It has ultimately provided a pathway for an even worse, more egotistical generation to usurp the old stagers, overkeen to play “the new single from The Hooisers” in the delusion that they are the new John Peel crossed with Kenny Everett when they are in fact guilty-faced vermin chubbers licking their festering, gangrenous wounds cut into their hides in the shape of Simon Cowell’s arsehole.

• Syal and Jo Brand (for the 80s) both presented hilarious clips, but they were hilarious clips we’ve seen a thousand times before – Basil and the Germans, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”, Fools & Horses’ chandeliers, Acorn Antiques – although Brand did choose Morwenna Banks’ stroppy little girl from Absolutely as her top choice, yet it was pointed out that this was actually from the 90s.

• Phill Jupitus dredged up the jockeys and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince sketch, which was to Big Train what Diego Maradona was to Argentina’s 1986 World Cup squad and the more predictable Del and Rodney as Batman and Robin, Smashie & Nicey get the sack, and Goodness Gracious Me go for ‘an English’. But the stellar entry was Brass Eye’s Cake spoof that still thrills with its invention and the fact that the language of comedy seems to have been in a heavy reverse gear ever since with its exquisitely composed synonyms and terminology of Cake: “Shatner’s Bassoon”, “Joss Ackland’s Spunky Backpack”, “Czech neck’, “made-up drug”, “custard gannet”, “ponce on the heath” and “Hattie Jacques’ pretentious cheese wog”.

• Frankie Boyle’s choices from the first decade of this century, although the most recent were peculiarly also the least familiar. This isn’t to suggest Monkey Dust, Black Books, TV Burp or Nighty Night are hugely inferior to previous decades’ it’s more a case that they haven’t been hammered into the public consciousness through UK Gold like Only Fools & Horses, say.

What was bad about it?

• The erasure of history into misguided soundbites. While we’re not expecting an analytical scrutiny of an autopsy, to label the 90s as “when lads stalked the earth” is simply a lie worthy of an advertising executive. Sure ‘lads’ and ‘laddism’ were prominent in the 90s through the launch of Loaded, Men Behaving Badly and Oasis, but these twin pinnacles of human devolution soon became emblematic of a squandered culture.

• Loaded quickly became a concentration camp for morons, who were corralled into a contemporary shallow puddle to be permanently ignored while Oasis descended into glossy obsolescence after Morning Glory, pandered to only by the odious editor of Melody Maker and naïve, scrawny boys who almost used to explode with simmering testosterone when Roll With It was played at the student disco, stripping off their T-shirts to reveal jail-bar ribs and a chest based on the geography of Holland.

• Comedy was similarly sectioned into catchphrase asylums – “satire of the 60s” “shouty 80s” “lady 90s” and “catchphrases of the noughties (which is, incidentally, the second worst word in the English language at the moment behind ‘lol’)”.

• To begin with, each of the advocates was given 60 seconds to summarise the comedy from their respective decade emphasising the futility of the whole ‘pro-ject’ in condensing ten years into such a microscopic dot of clichés. Thankfully, Jo Brand realised this and spent much of her minute recalling an 80s liaison on an Essex roundabout and concluding it with: “Bernard Manning was a terrible racist and I’m glad he’d dead!”

• The random images segued together to epitomise the wider social impact of each decade, as atrophied film reels of the Beatles, Stones and Jimmy Savile drearily raised the emotional skull and crossbones for the 60s. There also seemed to be a unfathomable bias towards sporting triumph as if, being a comedy show, nobody wanted to believe bad things happened with only the occasional nod towards the Twin Towers and Tiananmen Square.

• “Your vote is key!” – your money from your telephone vote is key.

• The absolute pointlessness of these polls. Will the winner of this poll be passed into law as the ‘funniest decade’ will anyone dissenting this democratic vote be subjected to the same persecution and repression as an outspoken Russian politician. Of course not, it will resolve anything other than to affirm that the current generation that currently decides opinions of the country grew up during the 80s – the probable winner.

• Much like their forbears, now irrelevant pensioners, who crowed loudly about the virtues of the 60s, 80s people are motivated not by an objective appraisal of comedy, but by a determination to see their halcyon days recognised as being the best time to be alive. Something the otherwise intelligent Frankie Boyle alluded to with, “It is innately darker in the modern world”, which translates as: prosperous, white people in the UK and America now think that a plane might fly into their office or their train might blow up swiftly forgetting the sporadic images of suffering shown earlier in the programme from the past 40 years.

• Even in his introduction, Martin Freeman unwittingly plugged all the nails in the coffin and started to entomb the sarcophagus with his shovel when he said: “The 60s is acknowledged as the best time for pop music and clothes…” when only a month or so earlier a similar BBC programme had adjudicated that the 70s were the best time for music, while the best time for clothes was in the time of dinosaurs when there was no exploitative fashion industry only scaly reptilian hides that would later evolve into snooty fashion journalists.

While When We Were Funniest was also crippled by the same problem as the BBC in ascribing particular programmes to particular decades such as Dad’s Army and Only Fools that straddled more than one; and here that also simply illuminated the insignificance of this whole travail.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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