chapter  7
The comedy enigmas
Pages 13

Comedy is, after drama, the second most popular genre in British television. The schedules of ITV and BBC1 tend to place comedy after the early-evening soaps and before 9 p.m. Comedy is also the second most expensive programming to produce. The situation comedy, especially, is comparable in several ways to studio-based drama. It is usually recorded in a multi-camera studio with an audience and only minor post-production editing. Within British TV comedy there is a strong sense of an established tradition of live performance. In the early days of BBC radio most available types of live comedy were considered too vulgar to be broadcast. Until 1938 BBC radio comedy was confined to brief comedy items within variety and vaudeville formats. Around the time of John Reith’s departure in 1938, the BBC was cautiously beginning to take on board two types of comic vulgarity, namely British working-class humour and US imports. British broadcast comedy has experienced several waves of comedy imports. The first wave of Hollywood imports in 193842 (Bob Hope, Jack Benny) stimulated Britain’s first wave of popular and zany broadcast humour, such as Much Binding in the Marsh and ITMA. Another wave of comedy imports involved I Love Lucy and other examples of early Hollywood TV comedy. A third wave occurred in the 1980s when Channel Four cheaply boosted its ratings with such super-popular US series as The Cosby Show, Cheers and Roseanne.