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The Secret Policeman's Balls

29 customer reviews

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(Jan 27, 2009)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Secret Policemans Balls are a legendary series of benefit shows staged to raise funds for Amnesty International. Beginning in 1976, they have featured the cream of Britain s comedians and musicians, and laid the groundwork for high-profile charity events,
including Live Aid. This 3-dvd set collects the five biggest and best Balls, featuring Monty Pythons John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, Beyond The Fringes Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Jennifer Saunders(Absolutely Fabulous) and Hugh Laurie (House M.D.). In addition to the comics, the shows feature historic unplugged performances by Pete Townshend, Sting, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel, Donovan, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading. Also featured are rare duets from guitar legends Eric Clapton & Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler & Chet Atkins.

The Balls:

Pleasure At Her Majesty s (1976)

The Secret Policeman s Ball (1979)

The Secret Policeman s Other Ball (1981)

The Secret Policeman s Third Ball (1987)

The Secret Policeman s Biggest Ball (1989)

Bonus Features:

* Remember The Secret Policemans Ball?(2004): Feature-length BBC documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary. Never before seen in the U.S.

* Footage from the U.K. premiere of the Secret Policemans Other Ball.

* Rare bonus footage.

* Brand-new essays and video intros byco-producer Martin Lewis.

Imagine Saturday Night Live, in its heyday, but as a live series of hot-ticket events, with the best stand-up comics, sketch actors, and rockers of the time, held to benefit a good cause--all with a decidedly British accent. That comes close to describing the magic mayhem of The Secret Policeman’s Ball performances held as fund-raisers for Amnesty International from the late '70s through the late ‘80s. This boxed set is a pop culture fan’s dream; included are all the members of Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie (pre-House and pre-Black Adder), Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Jennifer Saunders, and the Beyond the Fringe troupe--and that’s just the comics. Musicians include Sting, Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, Lou Reed, Joan Armatrading, and duets between Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins. And a very baby-faced Bob Geldof, who admits in an interview that these Balls spawned the idea for Live Aid and other events for charity. The best gem of all--and the best place to start to appreciate the depth and breadth of the series--is a 2004 documentary featuring interviews with some of the original shows’ principals, looking back on their younger selves and the current of the times. John Cleese, the true ringmaster of the events, recalls making the original phone calls and arranging for a West End theater to be available after its regular production ended. The programs became so popular that they made stars of the youngsters (Laurie, Stephen Fry, Atkinson), and brought worldwide attention for the first time to Amnesty International. Some bits are beloved and done here again--including the Pythons’ "Lumberjack Song" and "The Dead Parrot." Cleese recalls, and the filmmakers oblige by including, a speech Margaret Thatcher later gave in the ‘80s where she repeated the "Dead Parrot" bit line for line about a piece of legislation--and bringing the audience to its knees. A young Barry Humphreys (Dame Edna, as a brunette) and a bushy-haired Billy Connolly are also delightful. The music acts are delicious, including Townshend’s acoustic duet with the American classical guitarist John Williams, and Phil Collins appearing onstage at a piano solo for the first time ever. Equal parts silly and inspiring, this boxed set will be in heavy rotation for the comedy and music fan. --A.T. Hurley

Special Features

  • Remember the Secret Policeman's Balls?: Feature-length documentary commemorating the 25th anniversary
  • Ultra-rare comedy and music performances not in the original film
  • Rare promotional TV spots, trailers and news footage
  • Long-unavailable sequences from the original US releases
  • Introduction and commentary by series co-creator Martin Lewis.

Product Details

  • Actors: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Rowan Atkinson
  • Directors: Roger Graef
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Shout Factory
  • DVD Release Date: January 27, 2009
  • Run Time: 510 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001GP5TMM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,478 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Secret Policeman's Balls" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Entity on July 4, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
These are NOT the complete shows, but the complete shows do not exist on DVD. However, they're showing at the Paley Center in NYC in July 2009--check out [...]. They're also at the Paley Center in LA until July 19, 2009--check out [...].

Five stars for content, 3 stars for quality, which varies a lot, but is noticeably better than the VHS version. There's quite a bit of profanity, so if that bothers you, be forewarned. Pete Townshend's acoustic solos make these DVDs more than worth the price. Sting's solo performances are incredible, too. Phil Collins does "Something in the Air Tonight" with just piano and bass, and it's so taut and intense, it'll knock your socks off! There's an alternate version of Monty Python's "Parrot Sketch" with a surprise ending. Rowan Atkinson does his pianist sketch and a cleaned up version of "Smut" retitled "Schoolmaster". John Cleese is hilarious, as always. Fry and Laurie do "Hedge" and "Silver Dick". The list of sketches is really long:

Disc 1:

Pleasure at Her Majesty's

Starring John Cleese, Peter Cook, Carol Cleveland, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, John Bird, Barry Humphries, Jonathan Miller, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Amnesty Staff and Harrod's saleslady, Dame Edna, Neil Innes, John Fortune, Des Jones, and Eleanor Bron.

Playing for the Cameras, A Poke in the Lens, Sunday Morning Rehearsal, Preparing for Court, Funky Business, Brushing Up Their Shakespeare, On Sundays He Goes Rehearsing, A Very Interesting Fact (the Cleese/Cook sketch), With a Sharp Pick, Less Moore--More Jones, Audience with a Housewife Superstar, Ham and Parrot, April Fool's Night, Pet Shop (the Parrot sketch), T.E. Lawrence, Spunk!, Happy Darling?
Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Sorpigal on July 20, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I had previously owned the 1998 VHS release of The Secret Policeman's Ball, which was a re-issue of the theatrical UK film of 1980 bearing the same name. The original UK film runtime (according to sources I find on the internet) 94 minutes but the version included on this compilation is only 72 minutes. The omitted material includes two Billy Connolly bits, one of which was the song "My Granny Was A Cripple In Nashville." It was for this song (and *only* for this song) that I purchased this collection and so it is with great horror that I find that it is not here.

It is extremely disingenuous of the distributor not to advertise that these are not the original performances and that some material is not included. Given the advertised bonus material and rare footage I find it quite unfathomable that non-rare footage, namely part of the actual performance which has already seen wide release, was not included. I am not sufficiently familiar with the other shows to say whether they were also edited down, but I fear the worst. It is on the basis of these omissions and fears that I must give this product a very poor rating.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Keith W. Lawless on June 13, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The digital download for this item is much shorter than the DVD run time (a little over an hour). This isn't mentioned anywhere during the purchase process - it appears that only one of the five shows on the DVD are included, but you won't know it until the download finishes.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey R. Threatt on March 2, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I remember stumbling across the Americanized version of this back in the '80s. It was only "The Secret Policeman's Ball" and "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" then, but I still thought it was great. And who had even heard of Rowan Atkinson then?

Now with this collection, you have all the Balls gathered in one place. It's hours of fun!

I've always been a huge Monty Python fan, but when you throw in the aforementioned Rowan Atkinson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and scads of other folks (whose names I don't remember), plus tons of musical talent (e.g. Eric Clapton, Sting and Pete Townsend), how can you go wrong?

And didn't they all look so young then?
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James C. Campbell on April 28, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I had been looking for the "Balls" series for a long time, so imagine my joy when I found what I thought was the complete set at a great price. When I received the set, I sat down hoping to spend a Python-a-riffic evening of entertainment. Although I wasn't completely disappointed, there was too much back round and not enough "show". Sure, many of the classic skits were there, as well as some great music (Pete Townsend is outstanding!), there were incomplete bits that were either "talked over" in the included documentary, or left out altogether. I was particularly dismayed that the entire "I have a viper in this box" skit with Peter Cook was chopped up. Still, its an alright collection. One thing for sure, the video transfer is pretty bad. I don't remember the original broadcasts being so poorly reproduced, but maybe that's my nostalgia talking. Anyway, if you are a devoted Python fan, or have a craving to see Sting when he was really young, you will get some enjoyment out of this set.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ballard on July 22, 2011
Format: DVD
I bought these through another source, I'll admit that up front. They didn't say on their web-site that these weren't the versions originally cut for U.S. release back in the 80's. I desperately wanted to see Neil Innes performing, "Urban Spaceman" again. But it's not here. Not even in the EXTRAS. There are some things I don't remember seeing back then, and some of them are pretty note-worthy (I can't swear to seeing a pre-Dr. Who Sylvester McCoy do his red-hat and strip to his tidy-whiteys escape routine back then... but that was 25 years ago... the little gray cells are the first thing to go!!). If they ever want to make a decent amount of money for Amnesty, I suggest they gather up all the bits that were shown in the U.S. version but left out of this, the original british (international?) version, and put them all in a new release. My two cents. Thanks.
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Where's "Mermaid Frolics"?
I have no idea why 'Mermaid Frolics' is not on the U.S. release but it could very well be a rights issue. However, Disc One of the U.S. set does feature several Mermaid Frolic sketches as extras. Included are "Bookshop", "From Beyond The Veil" and "Words And Things".
Jan 26, 2009 by Jazz Man |  See all 3 posts
Missing sketches
I dunno! Good question!!! I loved these films when they played the midnite movie circuit in the late 70's/early 80's, bought the videotapes in the 80's... I *was* pretty excited that they were finally available on DVD... but now? Hearing that some of the original material is removed?? Not so much...
May 5, 2009 by Walter Five |  See all 2 posts
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