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Beyond the Fringe Where British Satire was Born

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Before The Daily Show, before Saturday Night Live, even before Monty Python, there was Beyond the Fringe—the 1960s West End and Broadway hit revue that reinvented comedy. While another Fab Four was revolutionizing music, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller were giving birth to the British satire boom. With nothing but their brilliant writing and inspired performances, they created side-splitting comedy that held nothing and no one sacred. In the process, the four performers became international stars. It was long thought that no filmed record of the original cast existed, until this gem was discovered in a producer’s vault. A 1964 gala farewell performance in London, it features the troupe’s classic sketches, including "Man Bites God," "Aftermyth of War," and "One Leg Too Few."

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One of the legendary landmarks of modern comedy finally gets a DVD airing: Beyond the Fringe is the sole filmed performance of the satirical revue that hatched at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960 and subsequently conquered London's West End and Broadway. The four young cut-ups thrown together for the sketch revue all went on to illustrious solo careers: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, and Jonathan Miller. Their success inspired a generation of comedians and helped birth satire as we know it.

In general, the more topical humor contained in this performance has aged uncertainly, and doesn't seem especially remarkable in the wake of political satire of the 1960s and 70s. Still, the "Aftermyth of War" sketch, which traipses through World War II nostalgia in a way that ruffled feathers back then, remains a pre-Vietnam bit of jaundice. The show's absurdist humor comes through like gangbusters; the classic Peter Cook-Dudley Moore sketch, "One Leg Too Few," about a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan, remains sublimely silly ("I've got nothing against your right leg--the problem is, neither do you").

Moore provides song parodies, while Bennett's two soliloquies (a vicar's sermon and a man who slightly knew Lawrence of Arabia) perhaps prefigure his later monologues for theater and television. Cook has a pair of bona fide masterpieces. One casts him as a detective on the case of the Great Train Robbery (Bennett: "So you feel thieves are responsible?" Cook: "Good heavens, no. I feel that thieves are totally irresponsible."). The other is "Sitting on the Bench," the rambling musings of a miner disappointed at not have been a judge. As Cook stares frozen-faced at the audience for the duration of the piece, you may get the uncanny frisson of genius.

The performance was recorded in London in 1964, during a final revival of the show. The technical quality is quite poor, but it hardly matters--this is the record of a seismic shift in comedy, and thus an essential disc. --Robert Horton


Special Features

  • Background notes
  • Cast bios
  • DVD-ROM: original Broadway Playbill

Product Details

  • Actors: Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore
  • Directors: Duncan Wood
  • Writers: Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore
  • Producers: Arnold Brown, Burt Shevelove, Don Silverman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Acorn Media
  • DVD Release Date: October 4, 2005
  • Run Time: 66 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000A6T1WW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,453 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Beyond the Fringe Where British Satire was Born" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Walter Five VINE VOICE on October 2, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Inspired by The Goon Show, inspiring "At Last The 1948 Show", "Do Not Adjust Your Set" and "Monty Python's Flying Circus", a film of the original "Beyond The Fringe" surfacing is cause for celebration of British Humor the world over!!!

This presentation has the complete West End/Broadway show, and runs a side-aching 116 minutes. *Very* funny stuff, this!

However, despite the box's claims, this *not* the first released, nor the *only* filming of "Beyond The Fringe." As any maven of early '80's U.S. Midnight movies knows, that honor goes dubiously to the poorly filmed and terribly recorded document of their Royal Command Performance reunion with Monty Python's Flying Circus at Prince Albert Hall from 1972, released in the U.S. as "Monty Python Meets Beyond The Fringe." U.S. filmgoers (at any rate)left the theatre badly puzzled: The audience knew all the punchlines, and began laughing at them, and shouting at them before they were even uttered, drowning the actors out on the film's soundtrack. That Command Performance has mercifully remained unreleased on Videotape and DVD, THIS performance fortunately is MUCH better! It is hilarious!

This is the 1964 farewell performance from London's West End. It is well enough recorded, sonically speaking, although sometimes some castmembers seem unevenly miked or undermiked, or worse have a microphone drop-out for a second or two. Furthermore, it *is* in Black & White, which the product review doesn't seem to mention in any prominent way. Putting on the subtitles will help you with the occasional mike drop-out, but the B&W format does not contrast the stage set very well, and may seem a bit drab to the 21st century viewer. However, don't let these details scare you away: this really *was* (and remains) one of the funniest things seen on stage since the Marx Bros. "Animal Crackers" in 1929!!!
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Format: DVD
This show was filmed 41 years ago. It was filmed in black & white with primitive audio/video equipment. The show itself was utter simplicity: four young comedians on a bare stage. Their few props included a piano, a table and some chairs. Beyond a couple of hats, the players' only costumes were the gray suits they wore throughout the show. The show itself consisted of these comedians riffing off political and cultural topics of the day. If you haven't seen it, it doesn't sound like much.

But then why does "Beyond the Fringe" make nearly all of today's comedy look pathetic by comparison?

This DVD captures four comic geniuses in peak form. No, it's not "politically correct", and that is one reason it's great. Yes, in some places it comes off as quaint or dated, but 1964 was a while ago. 95% of the material is as fresh today as it was the day the show was filmed. It's best to see this on DVD. You need both the video and the audio to fully appreciate each gag. And you need to be able to run parts back and watch them over, because you won't catch it all the first time. This is smart humor for educated adults. Bring your thinking cap and be ready to laugh.

By comparison, the "Saturday Night Live" kids look like...just that. Little kids playing in a sand box. The "Monty Pythoners" were as irreverant, but never as cool or smart. Are you a fan of today's typical setup-punchline comics? The "My mother/father/wife/kids..." or "Did ya ever wonder..." types? Then "Beyond the Fringe" is not for you. The one negative thing about this DVD is the way it reveals how far comedy has sunk since the 1960s, when "pushing the envelope" referred to intelligence and creativity, and not to the number of sexual or profane references used.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
If you want to know about the contents of this DVD, read some of the other reviews here. For me, I'd just like to say that, having discovered BEYOND THE FRINGE on LP in 1962 when I was in college and having seen a road-show production of it in Philadelphia and having seen Peter Cook and Dudley Moore on Broadway in GOOD EVENING and having an LP called BEHIND THE FRIDGE and on and on, all of these things dating back 30-40 years and more, having FINALLY been able to SEE the original cast perform the show was a delight.

Yes, the video quality is sad. I'd expected the black and white, since this was filmed for TV in 1964, but the audio quality threw me at first. But that doesn't matter! The comedy and the performances are perfect. Peter Cook was (at least this side of the pond) one of the most under-rated comic geniuses of the latter half of the 20th century. His partnership with Dudley Moore, which lasted well beyond FRINGE until Moore became a movie star in his own right, was always enjoyable (except for their dreadful "party" personnae as "Derek and Clive," over-the-top blue material that leaves me totally unamused).

As one reviewer has said, this DVD demonstrates how far down comedy has sunk in the past 30 years or so. Nowhere in this hilarious program is there a sexual reference or an off-color remark. This is comedy for people with brains. I remember when there was more of that. (Does anybody remember Nichols and May?)

I heartily recommend this DVD!
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By Alex on November 9, 2006
Format: DVD
Many of the reviews below are inaccurate. For example, Beyond the Fringe was not inspired by The Goon Show and didn't particularly inspire Monty Python. Beyond the Fringe was unique for a number of reasons. Firstly it brought together four people who were each uniquely talented in their own right. Despite being relatively fresh out of Cambridge University, Peter Cook already had a reputation as an astonishingly funny man and had already written two revues which were performed in London's West End. While at university he had been the star of Footlights and revered by his contemporaries. Dudley Moore was already known as a brilliant musician, having been an organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford and then turning to jazz at which he excelled and made his living. Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett had turned their backs on performing careers, Miller to become a doctor and Bennett to pursue a career as a historian. They were tempted back by the impresario who was trying to put together the revue that became Beyond the Fringe and what a blessing that they were - Miller went on to become an outstanding theatrical and operatic director, Bennett went on to become one of the two or three most oustanding post-war playwrights (Forty Years On, A Private Function, The Madness of King George III).

Secondly, Beyond the Fringe was really the first time that highly intelligent products of the establishment (each had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge) mocked that establishment. Sure, the Goons had occasionally made fun of Parliament or the BBC in passing, but it was all harmless fun. Beyond the Fringe was new because it went much further and satirised British institutions and mores for the first time.
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