Spike Milligan Q5-Q6-Q7 on DVD

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 00:00 Written by 

Spike Milligan - episode of Q series finally come to DVD completeThere’s a reason that Spike Milligan’s TV shows from the late 1960s onwards have faded away from memory. On one level it can be put down to a lack of repeats, but the truth is based on their effective ‘blacklisting’, all down to one social factor which has scared people into silence. Political correctness. Seeing the shows Q5, Q6 and Q7 finally getting a DVD release is symptomatic of the fightback going on across the world at the moment. People are sick to death of being told what views they cannot hold, what language they can and cannot use, and instead being expected to go along with social restrictions which make it nigh-on illegal to have targets for humour.

Milligan adopts equal opportunities on many such targets for his off-the-wall stream-of-consciousness humour. Every religion, race, and political allegiance is verbally machine-gunned. The stupidity of belief systems and cultural actions are exposed to the spotlights which reveal the nature of divide-and-rule that such codes of conduct allow to grow. But the Social Justice Warriors will just focus in on the use of terms which, in this day and age, have been abolished. In effect, in the 21st Century the Q series has suddenly become the tool of revolution. And so it is that this new release from Simply Media allows us to take a snapshot of how sensibilities have changed from those of 1969, 1975 and 1978 respectively.

The press release for the series points to the likes of a stop-motion standing still race, the work of the Jehovah’s burglars, conversing with the Queen’s chicken (a scene-stealing animal if ever there was one to be seen), engaging with highly dubious, diplomatically-immune Arab sheiks, and taking the disaster holiday of a lifetime with Bermuda Triangle Tours. Q5, more specifically Spike, was nominated for a BAFTA in 1970 for Best Light Entertainment Personality.

Cult TV fans will be keen to see a Star Trek parody (the uniforms having ‘GPO’ emblazoned on the front), many references to bionics (The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman were very popular at the time) and, of course, the politically incorrect Pakistani Daleks, keen on exterminating and putting all remnants in the ever-brewing curry.

Writing partner in crime, and the format’s co-creator, was Neil Shand, a journalist with both the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, before taking to comedy scriptwriting. Those he fed lines to included David Frost, Mike Yarwood, Kelly Monteith, Jasper Carrott (on Carrott Confidential) and Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker.

No-one is exactly sure why the first of the runs of these series was called Q5 – there was certainly no ‘Q1’ to ‘Q4’. One suggestion was that the initial title was inspired by the project to construct the then-new Cunard liner, the QE2, launched in September 1967, which was code-named ‘Q4’. Another possibility was Milligan taking note of the BBC six-point scale for technical quality, with ‘Q5’ being severe degradation to picture or sound, and ‘Q6’ complete loss of sound or vision. This was extended by some engineering departments to a nine-point scale, finishing at ‘Q9’. That might explain why what was to have logically been ‘Q10’ was actually called There’s A Lot of It About. However, according to Spike’s autobiography, the final series was renamed after the BBC felt the general public might find ‘Q10’ too confusing!

The Monty Python’s Flying Circus team have gone on record that, having seen Q5, they were really depressed, as Spike had literally come up with the format they were looking themselves to put together. Indeed, they even poached director Ian MacNaughton from Spike to mastermind their own series.

This is the first time the series has been available as complete episodes on any home format – its only previous official availability was as a compilation VHS video “The Best of Q”, which ran for around 90 minutes. There was a DVD release, “The Best of Spike Milligan” in 2004 which also featured sketches from the various series.

There are only three surviving episodes of seven which made up the 1969 series Q5 – and just one of these is in colour, the other two being black and white film copies designed for foreign sales. All three surviving episodes feature on this release. In supporting roles are satirists John Wells and Richard Ingrams, with Fanny Carby as the prototype sexy foil, and the guest voice of Harry Secombe trapped inside an elephant (yes, you did read that right).

John Bluthal was almost an ever-present, often wheeling out his impressions of the likes of Huw Weldon and Hughie Green. John is known to Cult TV fans as the voice of Commander Wilbur Zero in Fireball XL5, while the mainstream public will most recently know him as Frank Pickle in The Vicar of Dibley. He’s guest-starred on the likes of The Saint, The Avengers, The Baron, Man in a Suitcase, The Goodies, Minder, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Inspector Morse, Taggart, Lovejoy, Jonathan Creek, and starred as Manny Cohen in Never Mind The Quality, Feel the Width.

Across the seasons, you’ll also see David Lodge (as noted in the series, he played Ruddock in 1955’s “The Cockleshell Heroes”), pianist Alan Clare (referred to as the ‘Amnesic Actor’, constantly reading his lines from a script), Peter Jones (Mr Fenner in The Rag Trade and ‘The Book’ in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Keith Smith (Mr Wheeler in The Beiderbecke Affair), Robert Dorning (Pendleton in Bootsie and Snudge), Stella Tanner (Sister Ransome in Emergency Ward 10), John D Collins (Fairfax in ‘Allo ‘Allo), Rita Webb (the brassy comedy turn who worked with the likes of Benny Hill, Ken Dodd and Eric Sykes), Chris Langham (Hugh Abbot in The Thick of It), Sheila Steafel (The White Lady in The Ghosts of Motley Hall) and Margaret Nolan (Dink in “Goldfinger”). Even Jeanette Charles, impersonator of Her Majesty the Queen, makes a few appearances across the run.

No doubt sexism will be seen via the way Julia Breck is utilised, and dressed. The buxom lady was seen in an array of assorted revealing lingerie, and was game for a laugh. She is the only member of the cast to have appeared in Monty Python, as ‘Rita’ and ‘Puss in Boots’ in the episode “Mr and Mrs Brian Norris’ Ford Popular”. On Q, having been born on the Isle of Wight, she didn’t seem deterred by a sketch which targeted the residents of that location.

Every show has a musical interlude, played straight, coming from the likes of Ed Welch, Alan Clare, Spike himself and other star performers.

You’ll see from this review that there are a lot of familiar faces, many cast against type and sending themselves up. Much is made of the persistent ‘corpsing’ (laughing when you shouldn’t) in the show, and this does get more prominent as we go along. Some see this as annoying, but my take on this is it shows that everyone is having fun – and so should the audience!

In this day and age, this curio from previous times is as dangerous and edgy as humour can ever be. To approach this material, you need to stop a possible kneejerk reaction of thinking whether you should be laughing at what unfolds, and don’t take affront if your beliefs or background are put in the crosshairs. And yes, it’s not politically correct for me to say that, but there is no malice in Neil and Spike’s writing.

Q Volume 1: Series 1-3 (Q5, Q6, Q7) is out now from Simply Media. The three DVD set has a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 480 mins approx, and a RRP of £24.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2016 09:48

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