Comic Strip

By Katie Ekberg for TV Times, 20 – 26th February 1988

What’s got 18 arms, 18 legs and likes to make you laugh? Answer. The Comic Strip. On Saturday this wacky gang star in The Strike, the first of their six new films for Channel Four. But be warned-it’s humour with a bite!

Look closely at those faces opposite – for what you see is a little bit of comic history. Simply, it is the first time that the zany ninesome who make up The Strike have been pictured together.

It’s not that they don’t like getting together. Far from it. They’re all the best of friends and have been performing together for almost 10 years. But when it comes to posing for the public, they are still a little bit, well, camera shy.

Over the next six weeks you’ll be seeing plenty of them in a collection of new films they have written and directed themselves. But it’s unlikely you’ll recognise them… They’ll be dressed as miners, villains, holidaymakers, even heavymetal rockers, in films such as The Strike – on C4 screens this week – Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, Funseekers and More Bad News.

A decade ago they were known as ‘alternative’ comedians. But then they burst on to our screens with The Comic Strip Presents Five Go Mad In Dorset (1982), and their radical humour found instant popular acclaim.

Since Peter Richardson founded The Comic Strip Club in 1980 – in a room rented from Soho club king Paul Raymond – nearly all the performers have gone on to become popular screen, stage and television personalities. Today the club is closed – but its performers have found success.

One face that isn’t so well known is that of Richardson himself. He writes many of the scripts but admits that he isn’t wild about performing on TV, even though he takes the lead in The Strike. Richardson is probably the most shy of The Comic Strip, but even he agreed to pose for our picture by David Bailey.

‘Everyone made the effort – everyone was involved,’ he says incredulously.

The Strike, written by Richardson and his regular writing partner Pete Richens, looks at how an American movie mogul handles a script from an innocent Welsh playwright, about the miners’ strike. The playwright is Alexei Sayle, who also enjoys success as a newspaper columnist, author and singer – his record Ullo John Got A New Motor? was a chart hit.

Actor Robbie Coltrane – happily hugging centre stage in our picture – takes the role of Exclusive picture by David Bailey/Wards the movie mogul, who casts Al Pacino to play Arthur Scargill and Meryl Streep to be his wife. Peter Richardson portrays Pacino and Jennifer Saunders the character of Streep.

Filming was done on location in Wales in a village near Merthyr Tydfil. ‘It was a lovely village with a deserted main street,’ says Richardson. ‘When we first arrived, all the women and children came running out – we were the first visitors since the pits closed down.’

Coltrane adds: ‘I thought there would be resentment over us making a funny film about the strike – but the people were fantastic – they aren’t bitter at all.’

In fact, many of them ended up in the movie in crowd scenes. ‘I think we gave them a bit of employment and a bit of entertainment for a week,’ says Richardson.

Nigel Planer – a veteran of such television series as ITV’s Roll Over Beethoven and King And Castle – plays the role of the movie director, Bernard. ‘He’s a champagne socialist,’ laughs Planer.

He’s certainly very different to the character that most people would know Planer for; that of Neil, the long-haired downtrodden hippy, from the BBC series The Young Ones.

Comic Stripper Adrian Edmondson, who plays a simpleton miner in Saturday’s film, is married to fellow Stripper Jennifer Saunders. They have two daughters, Eleanor, two, and six-month-old Beatrice.

Dawn French – the other half of the French and Saunders comedy duo – is married to comedian Lenny Henry.

She explains why The Comic Strip team aren’t very fond of the press. ‘It’s not the interviews that make me angry, it’s what appears afterwards. It’s as though I never spoke to the person They’re the same people who camp on our doorstep to find out what size trousers my husband Lenny wears.’

One of the best known members of The Comic Strip is Rik Mayall, famous for his portrayal of the callous B’stard in ITV’s The New Statesman

Keith Allen, the final member of the team, is a seasoned performer on the fringe theatre circuit. In this new series he’ll star in his own film, The Yob!, about a brain swop between a film director and a football hooligan!

But let the last word go to Robbie Coltrane: ‘The Comic Strip coming together is like a family reunion,’ he says. ‘That poor man Bailey didn’t stand a chance.’ He got his picture, though.