The history of British Comedy is as diverse and wide ranging as the stars which it has spawned. The first era of post war comedy was dominated by Variety acts who had come up through the theatrical circuit and thrived upon playing to audiences with familiar, safe material which the whole family could enjoy. Yet by the early 1970’s times were changing; Variety theatres closed, stars faded and gave way to a new brand of comedy. Working Men’s clubs were now where people flocked when they wanted a laugh but it wasn’t just Comedy which was changing. The resurgence of Folk music became another catalyst for this minor revolution and if by chance you could attempt to mix the two, you were definitely the dish of the day.
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Writer and comedian Jasper Carrott was looking to do exactly that starting in his hometown of Birmingham. These were still the days when ITV was broken up into geographical areas around the UK and each region boasted their own brand of entertainment. With the exception of Granada, Jasper was lucky enough to secure a spot on each television region performing his early material which gained him a following and started to open many doors. Suddenly his stand up routine became the most popular part of his act and he found himself headlining live comedy shows throughout Britain. He recalls on one specific occasion that his support act was none other than the late great Victoria Wood – something that seems almost implausible to imagine today where the late great comedian is heralded as such an icon of comedy. This was testimony to Jasper’s popularity and unbeknown to him, he was helping to create and champion a brand new generation of comedians.
Such a minor revolution in Comedy was a substantial shock for performers and audiences alike. This generation had grown up on theatrical Variety but unlike their forefathers, they didn’t need to go to the theatre to watch it because it was now a firm fixture of British television. Yet this formulaic, traditional style of comedy wasn’t for everyone and those who required a far more edgier sense of humour were forced to look further afield for comedy which far more represented them. Jasper was influenced by the great American comics including Bob Newheart and Tom Lehrer who would manage to create a dialogue with their audience instead of merely rattling off one liners. It was here that Jasper realised the direction in which he wanted to take his career in.
Determined to set himself apart from the traditional stand up comedy which was then dominated by jokes about mother-in-laws and Irishman, Jasper always wanted to do something different. Despite admiring the late Bob Monkhouse, he had the desire to do so much more than tell jokes. Creating a dialogue and highlighting shared experiences with an audience was something that Jasper thrived upon rather than the execution of cheap one liners. This was a relatively new concept for British audiences and something that would have been considered a gamble in the mid seventies. Yet with formidable figures including Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly and Victoria Wood at the forefront, it was always going to be a roaring success.
By 1978 Jasper had caught the attention of a number of formidable television executives throughout the country. Michael Grade, now Head of Light Entertainment at LWT had the desire to add him to the prestigious list of stars which had starred in their own An Audience With. Usually reserved for established stars, this was the ultimate accolade and helped to catapult Jasper into the Light Entertainment mainstream. The show was then seen by BBC executives who were quick to sign the young comic and offered him a prime time television vehicle. Candid Carrott was a sketch and stand up show written and performer by Jasper, but it wasn’t long before the show demanded bigger and better. A serial element was introduced to the format which offered it a different dimension in the same way that The Two Ronnies had The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town and The Worm That Turned.
For this, Jasper penned a five minute spoof paying homage to infamous cop shows of the 1970’s. Such a dual protagonist sketch required an actor of a certain calibre to complement the comic timing of the star of the show. In the prep meeting with the producer, names of prominent actors were branded around until they uttered the immortal line “We need someone like Robert Powell”. Instantly finding a telephone, Jasper had failed to disclose that Robert was a very good friend and made one phone call to secure the part. The sketch was so successful that the BBC brought two writers Steven Wright and Mike Whitehill to transform this small sketch into a series of six sitcom episodes. Running for four years on prime time BBC1, The Detectives starring Jasper alongside Robert Powell became a family favourite thanks in part to a fantastic supporting cast including George Sewell. The series followed the antics of “partners in crime” Bob Louis, played by Jasper and Powell’s David Briggs as they attempted to solve ridiculous crimes.
Despite sitcom success, Jasper has always remained true to his stand up roots and is now back on tour with a brand new show Stand Up and Rock. Slowly becoming an elder statesman of Comedy, Jasper shows no signs of slowing down and the flocks of people who cue up to see the great man do what he does best illustrates the great affection which the country still has for him. It was a great pleasure to meet Jasper Carrott and wish him all the very best for the rest of his remarkable career in British Comedy.