“By the end of its run, I believe Alfresco had turned into one of the most extraordinary comedy shows of all time.”
–Jem Roberts, author of Soupy Twists!
Let’s assume that, unless you’ve somehow missed eight years of House M.D. and are not one of the 12.5 million Twitter users following @stephenfry, you’re familiar with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. You may be fans of their solo careers or you may be nostalgic for the comedy duo Fry & Laurie, who brought P. G. Wodehouse to a new audience with the TV adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster in the early nineties. But do you know Alfresco? Five years before the duo got their own sketch show (A Bit of Fry & Laurie), they joined fellow Cambridge Footlight alum Emma Thompson in There’s Nothing to Worry About!, which later became Alfresco, the sketch comedy program shot on location (or “in the open air”).
Along with Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane, and Siobhan Redmond, the three Footlight friends performed short, one-off sketches, as well as reoccurring ones, like the postmodern Pretend Pub. The episodes get better as they go. Jem Roberts, author of the forthcoming book on Fry & Laurie titled Soupy Twists!: The Full Official Story of the Sophisticated Silliness of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, admits that season one gets off to a rough start: “It’s hard to believe anyone ever tried to sell a comedy show with such a depressing atmosphere to it.” But don’t give up too early. Season two, Roberts says, is a whole different story:
“The mix of Beano-style comic book characters and social comment, in a sitcom format filled with sketches… well, it’s just so rich. There’s about three good ideas in one there, any one of which would make for a good comedy show today if only someone nicked it. The social comment which arose from the silly characters they played in the Pretend Pub is something we could really do with in comedy today. There’s nobody doing anything as exciting as this now, and it’s tragic that so much potential was halted in its tracks after six episodes. I suppose the question is, whether we have comedy writer/performers talented enough to attempt anything similar in 2017?”
So if you want to watch Hugh Laurie break into Stephen Fry’s house in the middle of the night to interrogate him about his newspaper reading habits, or Fry and Laurie in an old-fashioned pistol duel, then check out Alfresco.
Jaime Pond writes about British television and is the editor of Anglonerd.com.