Part two is here.

SERIES 5

NOTE: The move to the BBC also sees Richardson and Richens back in complete control, with Richardson firmly in the director’s chair also.

With many of the regular team developing their own careers, the ensemble cast is widened to include Gary Beadle, Sara Crowe, Doon Mackichan, Tim McInnerny, Phil Cornwell and Steve O’Donnell, and the series is now prestigious enough to attract guest stars such as Miranda Richardson, Kate Bush and even Antony Sher.

5.1 South Atlantic Raiders – Part 1 1 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
5.2 South Atlantic Raiders – Part 2: Argie Bargie! 8 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (35 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
With: Kathy Burke, Lenny Henry, Ron Tarr, Lemmy
A love affair over the radio requires a bank robbery, a prison break, a plane hijack, and an invasion of the Falkland Islands before “Happily Ever After”.
Utterly typical of Richardson and Richens with all their faults and all their failings. On the one hand the story is original, arresting, makes sense and features strong characters and situations most of the time. There are some dreadful lapses however (the redundant and clichéd prison sequence) and the mix of drama and comedy is sometimes uneasy. With the comedy elements pushing the story toward absurdity, it is hard to take the drama as seriously as it seems to want. The series as a whole feels re-energised and refocused however.
NOTE: One of Richardson’s least favourites, and he cut around 5 minutes for the DVD release, to the ire of some fans.

5.3 GLC: The Carnage Continues 15 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Leslie Philips, Gary Beadle, Ron Tarr
In Hollywood’s version, GLC leader Ken Livingstone (Charles Bronson) needs all the help he can get to defeat the evil Ice Maiden (Bridget Nielson).
Abbreviated re-run of “The Strike” with redundant premiere sequence to set it up but no other behind-the-scenes story. Some bright gags and a compact running time help keep the sense of gnawing familiarity at bay. Coltrane is marvelous, as ever.

5.4 Oxford 22 Feb 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Lenny Henry, Ronald Allen, Leslie Philips, Graham Crowden
An paranoid American comedy movie star and a ball-busting American student cross paths at Oxford University.
Odd splicing-together of ideas which never really gels. Often looks great, but the dearth of jokes is a huge problem and Henry is awful.

5.5 Spaghetti Hoops 1 Mar 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Tim McInnerny, Steve O’Donnell, Nosher Powell
In Italy, a crooked banker embezzles millions and then attempts to escape, pursued by two amateur hitmen in the pay of the Freemasons.
Cleverly combines atmospheric black-and-white photography with cheeky gags about the lack of foreign location filming. Planer and Sayle in particular are in fine form, but the nervous hitman stuff and the Freemason jokes fall flat and feel second-hand. The near total disregard for basic cause-and-effect plotting doesn’t help either.

5.6 Les Dogs 8 Mar 1990, BBC2 Thu 9pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Edmonson, Peacock, Richardson, Sayle
Plus: Gary Beadle, Kate Bush(!), Tim McInnerny, Steve O’Donnell, Miranda Richardson, Julie T Wallace
In an England run by an eco-dictator who bans cars and television, a wedding degenerates into all-out war, although many attendees seemingly take this all in their stride, including the gatecrasher seducing the bride through a series of fantasy sequences.
Disjointed and willfully nonsensical even by Comic Strip standards, this thoroughly bizarre entry does kind of work, if you’re in the mood for it. Richardson’s cool tone, as both director and de facto protagonist, anchors the piece, allows the character sketches to work in their own right, and skillfully balances the reality of the carnage with the seen-it-all-before reactions from most of the characters. Look! It’s Kate Bush.

F.3 The Pope Must Die Feature Film 1991 (88 min)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Coltrane, Edmondson, Richardson
Plus: Alex Rocco, Annette Crosbie, William Hootkins, Paul Bartel
NOTE: Again, really only a Comic Strip Film if you accept the premise that everything Peter Richardson directs is a Comic Strip Film. As he directs little else (except Stella Street) and always casts from the same pool of people, it’s not an entirely untenable premise, but the film evaded the Channel 4 DVD box set in any event and I haven’t seen it either.

SERIES 6

The sixth “series” was, again, a number of one-off specials broadcast during 1992.

6.1 Red Nose Of Courage 9 Apr 1992, BBC2 Thu 10.30pm (50 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle
Plus: Phil Cornwell, Mark Caven, Sue Lloyd Allen, Doon Mackichan, Nosher Powell
With echoes of The Shop Around The Corner, opposition leader Glenys Kinnock has no idea that the shy Coco The Clown with whom she is striking up a passionate affair is actually Prime Minister John Major.
While any number of hack newspaper cartoonists made limp fun of the fact that new Prime Minister John Major had supposedly run away from the circus to become an accountant, it took The Comic Strip to portray him as leading an insane double-life of politician by day and clown by night, and to create a genuinely tender love story into the bargain. Edmondson and French as Major and Kinnock are outstanding, and only Major’s preachily climactic speech and a slightly uneasy Sayle spoil this excellent entry which for once easily sustains its length. Also, something has happened to the budget or the film stock as this looks far glossier, more expensive and more cinematic than any of the preceding films.
NOTES: Second of only two appearances in the BBC episodes by Rik Mayall, who was busy on ITV’s The New Statesman for much of this period. Transmitted on the night of the general election at which John Major was unexpectedly returned to power. This entry runs 50 minutes. No later Comic Strip film was longer. The days of hour-plus entries are thankfully behind us.

6.2 The Crying Game 5 May 1992, BBC2 Tue 10pm (35 mins)
Written by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson. Directed by Keith Allen & Peter Richardson
Featuring: Allen, Planer, Richardson
Plus: Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Chris Hargreaves, Simon McBurney, Paul Moriarty, Antony Sher, Sara Stockbridge
Footballer Roy Brush is signed to a major London club and is quickly drawn into a whirlwind of lucrative promotions, personal appearances and tabloid coverage. However, his personal life hides a secret which may be his undoing.
The satire is toothless, the themes well-worn even in 1992, and it still manages to be overlong at 35 mins. On the upside, Allen’s central performance is uncharacteristically vulnerable and all the better for it, and Antony Sher’s dementedly pop-eyed tabloid editor is a bit of a treat but overall this is a very slender entry. The juxtaposition of the supposedly moving inspirational speech from the club manager with Phil Cornwell mugging away as TV pundit “Jimmy Twizzle” behind an enormous plastic chin tells you everything you need to know about how clumsy and misguided this is.

6.3 Wild Turkey 24 Dec 1992, BBC2 Thu 10pm (30 mins)
Written by Peter Richardson & Pete Richens. Directed by Peter Richardson
Featuring: Richardson, Saunders
Plus: Ruby Wax, Paul Bartel, Phil Cornwell, Mike McShane, Gary Beadle
An all-American cop brings home to his wife the last Christmas turkey he can find, which turns out not to be quite dead yet, and determined not to be cooked and eaten. It takes Sue and Jim hostage and demands Bernard Matthews (the British turkey magnate) be brought to him.
The only Comic Strip Christmas Special brings us more toothlessly clumsy satire, saying nothing that Douglas Adams hadn’t said in one-sixth the time, a dozen years earlier, in his dish-of-the-day sequence at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Many of the Comic Strip films suffer from an uneasy relationship between the narrative and the comedy. Some play the story straight and stick jokes on top, seemingly at random (Private Enterprise). Some manage to elevate the otherwise slight comedy with bravura staging and playing (A Fistful of Travellers Cheques). A precious few blend the comedy and the drama perfectly and maintain the balance throughout (Red Nose of Courage). Plenty simply don’t have enough jokes to keep the interest (The Yob). In this rare case, the glossy presentation and melodramatic acting just serves to kill what few jokes there are. And how is it that Phil Cornwell – an impressionist – can’t sustain an American accent?