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  Pleasure at Her Majesty's Register Your Complaints HereBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: Roger Graef, Jonathan Miller
Stars: Alan Bennett, John Bird, Eleanor Bron, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Peter Cook, John Fortune, Graeme Garden, Terry Gilliam, Barry Humphries, Neil Innes, Terry Jones, Jonathan Lynn, Jonathan Miller, Bill Oddie, Michael Palin
Genre: Comedy, Documentary
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This was the first benefit concert for the humanitarian charity Amnesty International, and since it was the brainchild of John Cleese, he of the Monty Python team as well as friend of many others of the comedy elite in Britain, the theme was humour, with Cleese gathering a few famous friends to put on a show with the hope of raising a sum of money for their patrons. The results were staged under the name A Poke in the Eye (with a Sharp Stick) at London's Her Majesty's Theatre between the first and third of April 1976 and were a roaring success, so much so that the Amnesty concerts went on to be a regular event.

Basically what you had here with the film Pleasure at Her Majesty's was a record of the highlights, much of which had been seen before in other media, though the attraction was to see this collection of talent assembled together under one roof. Not only did you have the Pythons (though Eric Idle was absent), but you had Beyond the Fringe (though Dudley Moore was heard only in voiceover), The Goodies, John Bird and John Fortune, Eleanor Bron and assorted others, all of whom were part of comedy history, so you could see the appeal of watching them assemble under one roof and strut their stuff humour-wise, even if most of the material was overfamiliar even in 1976.

Yet, as the manner in which comedy appreciation progressed down the years, being familiar with the material was to become much of what brought the fans to enjoy their favourite sketches, television shows and films over and over again, getting to know them so well that they could recite the dialogue along with the comedians and actors, which was why the audience at Her Majesty's is heard (and occasionally seen) laughing along so heartily: it was being fully aware of what was coming up that offered a substantial element of the entertainment. They weren't being sycophants, the laughter was genuine and the willingness to let the performers know how well respected they were was important.

Otherwise, the skits we see kicked off with one of the most famous of all time, a certain Dead Parrot sketch, which you can sense the audience are electrified to see played out in front of them when they had only experienced it previously on the television or on vinyl record (no DVDs or YouTube clips in those days). Even when the remaining Pythons got together at the end of their careers to restage their greatest hits, you could still get the same sense of emotional warmth and comic reverence meant that the performers could tell how much it was worth and how much part of the cultural landscape they had become. As for the others, the Fringe team's jokes are these days less well-known, and Alan Bennett especially was one of the highlights.

Jonathan Miller was mostly relegated to behind the scenes duties, but did appear for the Shakespeare parody near the end, just before things are rounded off with The Lumberjack Song, accompanied by most of the cast in Mounties uniforms. Also worth a mention was the Last Supper sketch which became very well regarded after its appearance here, Cleese playing the Pope and Jonathan Lynn, a future director himself, as Michelangelo arguing over the latter's highly individual take on the religious occasion, twenty-eight disciples, kangaroo and all. The Goodies offered us their hit record Funky Gibbon, Barry Humphries took on the subject of British spunk in song (and prompting Smiths fans to ponder whether Morrissey was a fan of Dame Edna what with the gladioli connection), Neil Innes spoofed Bob Dylan (the audience would have been satisfied with the harmonica playing, or so it seems) and Peter Cook delivers monologues in his inimitable fashion. It looks like a good night, and valuable to capture in a film first shown on the BBC's Omnibus strand for Christmas then given a cinema release.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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