Beyond the Fringe

From Academic Kids

Beyond the Fringe, a comedy troupe which many see (due to its satirical content) as a forerunner to British television programmes That Was The Week That Was, At Last the 1948 Show and Monty Python's Flying Circus, was formed by Oxbridge students Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett in the early 1960s.

The show is credited with giving many other performers the courage to be satirical and more improvised in their manner, and broke the conventions of not lampooning the government of the day or the Royal Family. However the show wasn't all that satirical, merely making fun of things-such as the war films-however even this was a step forward in comedy. Shakespearean drama was another target of their comedy. There were a number of songs in the show, mainly using music played by Dudley Moore.

The show was conceived by Roger Ponsonby who was artistic director for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1960 with the idea of bringing together the best of the Cambridge Footlights and the Oxford Revue that in previous years had transferred to Edinburgh for short runs. Ponsonby's assistant was John Bassett who knew Dudley Moore, who in turn recommended Alan Bennett who had been a hit at Edinburgh a few years before. Bassett also identified Miller who had been a Footlights star in 1957 who in turn recommended Cook. While Bennett and Miller were already pursuing respected careers Cook had an agent due to him having written a west end revue for Kenneth Williams, as a result Cooks agent negotiated a higher weekly fee for him to participate but by the time the agents fee was taken off Cook actually earned less than the others from the initial run.

The show's runs in Edinburgh and the provinces had a luke warm response but when it transferred to London it was a sensation thanks in some part to a review by Kenneth Tynan. The show transferred to New York in 1962 with President Kennedy attending a performance. A version continued to run there until 1964 while a London run with different cast continued to 1966.

The majority of sketches were by Cook based on material written for other revues including "One Leg too Few". Amongst the entirely new material the stand outs are "The End of the World", "TVPM" and "The Great Train Robbery".

The magazine Private Eye originated at the same time and survived partly due to financial support from Peter Cook. The Establishment Club was also launched around this time. Many of the members of Monty Python recall being inspired by "Beyond the Fringe". Arguably, "Beyond the Fringe" launched the 1960s' satire boom.


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