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The Driving Instructor - 20 Comedy Classics
see end of review for track listing
ALTO TAKE 2 ALN 1919 [79:00]

The Bricklayer - 17 more Comedy Classics - Vol. 2
see end of review for track listing
ALTO TAKE 2 ALN 1929 [78:00]

Introducing Tobacco - 22 more Comedy Classics Vol.3
see end of review for track listing
ALTO TAKE 2 ALN 1939 [78:35] 

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CD: Volume 1 ~~ Volume 2 ~~ Volume 3

Experience Classicsonline


This review took me outside my comfort zone ... which is probably just as well from time to time.
 
The territory covered by these three discs covers dates mostly from the heyday of the LP and the novelty single. They pick up on classic comedy scenes as well as the genre of goofy and oddball songs and do so in very clean transfers. The undercurrents range from sharp wit to broader humour - thanks Max Miller and Noel Coward. Frankie Howard was much indebted to Miller. Coward is something of a legend of the double-entendre in Let’s do It and is cleverly vengeful in Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.
 
Jokes have to be pretty robust for you to know the punch-line and still want to hear the joke over and over again. That’s where style and nostalgia come in to fill the gap left by knowing the pay-off. Style and nostalgia are here in spades.
 
Taste in comedy is very personal and possibly very national. One man’s guffaw is another’s wan smile. Take one example close to home. Tony Hancock - as opposed to the comedians around him - never did anything much for me. The general consensus is overwhelmingly against me. Hancock in all his bleak gloom is represented here by some truly classic scenes so you can make your mind up if it is not already formed. We hear Sunday afternoon at home and The Blood Donor.
 
Bob Newhart’s delivery is superb. Listen to his artistry in Tobacco, in Cruise of the Codfish, in Driving Instructor and in Bus Drivers’ School though the latter does feel like a bit of a re-tread. I loved Shelley Berman in Stewardess which is just so clever and witty about the English language. Speaking of which Tom Lehrer is self-enraptured as well he might be in Poisoning pigeons with its tightly intricate rhyming schemes. In his Wiener schnitzel waltz the flame burns high again - here is a man who with Sondheim-like mastery rhymes simile with Rudolf Friml-ey. In The Elements he sings the names of the Elementsto the tune of I am the very model of a modern major general - a tongue-twister in which he manages to rhyme Harvard with discarver’d. Lenny Bruce is represented by one track of rasping and gravelly satire. Stan Freberg’s Elderly Man River was new to me and very welcome.
 
There’s quite a few of those Uncle Mac, Family Favourites and Workers’ Playtime novelty songs too. I remember hearing these while sitting in the barbers’ shop with the Light Programme playing on the radio on a Saturday morning. They’re well done but where there was once fizz there is now only a slight smile: There’s a Hole in my Bucket (Dear Lisa Dear Lisa), Cribbins’ Right Said Fred and Hole in the Ground and Three wheels on my wagon. Rolf’s Tie Me Kangaroo Down is pretty flat but he is good at pathos and carries it off. Tommy Cooper induced infectious laughter but the song Don’t Jump Off the Roof is mostly so-so - not his finest hour. American examples include the affectionate and slightly tearful Laurel and Hardy in Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the Groucho Marx Hooray for Captain Spaulding is a triumph of Groucho’s style but the Spike Jones track (skitting Raksin’s Laura) is as flat as 48 hour-uncorked champagne - dismal.
 
Stanley Holloway’s The Lion and Albert is a hangover from music-hall monologues - perhaps the most famous. Hoffnung is a classic raconteur - among many other accomplishments. He is heard in two signature anecdotes from the Oxford Union. Kenneth Williams was a distinctive and engaging performer as Hand Up Your Sticks and Not an Asp go to show. Joyce Grenfell can be heard slumming it in Shirley’s Girlfriend and up there in cut-glass snooty land in two other more typical and marvellous selections.
 
I remember going to see Victor Borge at Bristol’s Colston Hall in the 1970s. Even then I am not sure that I thought he was that funny though his sly and absent-minded manner was consummate. I can see that his Phonetic Punctuation is a tour de force and that his delivery is stylish but where has all the effervescence gone? Compare him with Peter Ustinov’s virtuoso performance as singer and orchestra all by himself in Folksong: just magnificent.
 
There’s quite a lot of Peter Sellers. This is all to the good even if the novelty songs like Goodness Gracious me with its faintly racist after-burn will only raise a slight smile. However his hyper-oration for Balham, Gateway to the South is supreme. It rings out like those cheesy Telly Savalas commentary-laden topographical documentaries around the UK; remember the ones for Birmingham and Portsmouth? His other Sophia Loren hit, Bangers and Mash still works. Sellers’ nuanced work with Irene Handl is celebrated in The Critics and Room for Romance. Evoking an era are the Flanders and Swann classics: Gnu Song, Hippopatmus and Madeira M’Dear. Michael Bentine’s clever delivery in Football Results sets the scene for the mania later tapped into by John Cleese.
 
Inevitably the vagaries of copyright expiry have helped dictate the selection. Of personal and slightly more recent favourite characters such as Alan Partridge, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Dick Solomon, Al Bundy and Sheldon Cooper there is nothing; nor could there be. Ideally we would have been treated to extracts from the two professors in History Today and the stars of Fist of Fun but this is just not feasible. What there is from the 1930s through to the early 1960s is well worth hearing. All the more so since some of these classics may be unknown to people in the 20-50 age bracket. For those 50+ these discs serve as an exercise in nostalgia - nothing wrong with that. Some of it will misfire but a lot pushes the button top dead centre.
 
There you have it: three brimmingly generous discs at super-budget price. There’s so much here and by no means all of it familiar. Explore, discover and re-discover. There’s plenty of gold here and for young comics setting out or learning their craft this functions as an inexpensive laughter primer. Something here to amuse everyone at Christmas and New Year.
 
These three discs go with Alto ALN 1935 (Very Best Of Bob Newhart) and with ALN 1921 (Tom Lehrer).  

Rob Barnett 

 
Full Track Details
 
The Driving Instructor - 20 Comedy Classics
1. The Driving Instructor (Newhart) Bob Newhart (1960) 8:00
2. Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (Lehrer) Tom Lehrer (1960) 2:40
3. Fight Fiercely Harvard (Lehrer) Tom Lehrer (1953) 1:23
4. The Kid In The Well (Bruce) Lenny Bruce (1958) 2:59
5. Nursery School (Flowers) Joyce Grenfell (1956) 5:09
6. Max At The Met - Excerpt (Miller) Max Miller (1956) 3:57
7. A Sunday Afternoon At Home (Galton/Simpson) - Excerpt - Tony Hancock, Sidney James, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques (1955) 4:01
8. Phonetic Punctuation (Borge) Victor Borge 5:40
9. Darktown Poker Club (Vodery/Havez/Williams) Phil Harris (1945) 3:02
10. Balham - Gateway To The South (Muir/Norden/Goodwin) Peter Sellers 6:03
11. Suddenly It’s Folk Song (Sellers/Fisher) Peter Sellers 5:20
12. Trail Of The Lonesome Pine (Carroll/MacDonald) Laurel & Hardy (1937) 1:59
13. A Transport Of Delight (London Omnibus) Flanders & Swann 3:02
14. The Hippopotamus Song Flanders & Swann 3:48
15. Let’s Do It (Porter) Noel Coward 3:40
16. Don’t Let’s Be Beastly To The Germans (Coward) Noel Coward 3:14
Orchestra conducted by Carroll Gibbons (1942)
17. Cocktails For Two (Johnston/Coslow) Spike Jones & his City Slickers Vocal: Carl Grayson (1944) 2:57
18. Laura (Raskin/Mercer) Spike Jones & his City Slickers Vocal: Jimmy Cassidy, Red Ingle and Dr. Horatio Q. Birdbath (1945) 2:58
19. Hooray For Captain Spaulding (Kalmar/Ruby) Groucho Marx (1951) 3.09
20. The Lion And Albert (Edgar) Stanley Holloway (1932) 3.15
ADD/DDD
ALTO ALN 1919 [79:00]
 
The Bricklayer - 17 more Comedy Classics - Vol. 2
1. Goodness Gracious Me (Lee/Kretzmer) Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren / Orchestra conducted Ron Goodwin 1960 3:11
2. The Bricklayer (Hoffnung) Gerard Hoffnung at the Oxford Union 1958 7:27
3. The Blood Donor - Excerpt (Galton & Simpson) Tony Hancock with Patrick Cargill 1961 3:57
4. Hand Up Your Sticks (Cook) (From “One over the Eight”) Kenneth Williams and Lance Percival 1961 2:28
5. The Ballad Of Bethnal Green (Roberts) Paddy Roberts 1959 2:43
6. The Critics (Goodwin/Schreiner) Peter Sellers and Irene Handl 1959 6:48
7. French Widows (Hoffnung) Gerard Hoffnung at the Oxford Union 5:08
8. Shadows On The Grass (Handl) Peter Sellers and Irene Handl 6:46
9. Aftermyth Of War (from ‘Beyond The Fringe’) Bennett/Cook/Moore/Miller) Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller & Dudley Moore 1961 7:37
10. Not An Asp (Cook) (from “Pieces of Eight”) Kenneth Williams and Peter Brett Rec.1959 4:44
11. Bangers And Mash (Lee/Kretzmer) Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren /Orchestra conducted Ron Goodwin 1960 2:43
12. Madeira M’Dear (Swann/Flanders) Michael Flanders and Donald Swann Rec.1959 3:57
13. Bus Drivers’ School (Newhart) Bob Newhart Rec.1960 6:20
14. Department Store (Berman) Shelley Berman Rec.1959 6:08
15. The Elements (Lehrer) Tom Lehrer 1959 2:19
16. Misalliance (Swann/Flanders) Michael Flanders and Donald Swann Rec.1957 3:55
17. The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz (Lehrer) Tom Lehrer Rec.1953 2:22
ADD stereo
ALTO ALN 1929 [78:00]
 
Introducing Tobacco - 22 more Comedy Classics Vol.3
1. Introducing Tobacco to Civilization (Newhart/Kaufman/Rosen/Hargrove/Sharp/Snyder/Hickley) - Bob Newhart (1962) 6:01
2. Stewardess (Berman) - Shelley Berman (1959) 3:08
3. Shirley’s Girlfriend (Grenfell) - Joyce Grenfell (1958) 4:46
4. Right Said Fred (Dicks/Rudge) - Bernard Cribbins (1961) 2:19
5. Tie Me Kangeroo Down Sport (Harris) - Rolf Harris (1960) 2:49
6. Don’t Jump off the Roof, Dad (Coben) - Tommy Cooper (1961) 2:32  
7. Come Outside (Blackwell) - Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard (1962) 2:49
8. A Pub with no Beer (Parsons) - Slim Dusty (1959) 2:58
9. Football Results (Bentine/Law) - Michael Bentine (1961) 1:48
10. Bloodnok’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call (Carbone) - The Goons (1956) 3:11
11. Cougher Royal (Milligan) - Spike Milligan with Valentine Dyall (1961) 2:53
12. Gnu Song (Flanders/Swann) -Michael Flanders & Donald Swann (1957) 3:06
13. Phoney Folk-Lore (Ustinov) - Peter Ustinov (1952) 3:17
14. Narcissus (The Laughing Record) (Nevin/arr.Paramor/Grenfell) - Norman Wisdom and Joyce Grenfell (1952) 2:54
15. All’s Going Well (My Lady Montmorency) (Misraki/Parsons) - Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford (1953) 3:23
16. Hole In The Ground (Dicks/Rudge) - Bernard Cribbins (1962) 1:50
17. Three Wheels on my Wagon (Bacharach/Hilliard) New Christy Minstrels (1962) 2:58
18. The Yellow Rose of Texas (George) - Stan Freberg (1955) 3:21
19. The Cruise of the USS Codfish (Newhart) - Bob Newhart (1960) 5:01
20. There’s a Hole in my Bucket (Trad./arr.Belafonte/Gordon) - Harry Belafonte and Odetta (1961) 4:14
21. Mother and Son (Nichols/May) - Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1960) 6:35
22. Elderly Man River (Freberg/Barnum/Kern/Hammerstein II) - Stan Freberg (1957) 5:10
ADD stereo
ALTO ALN 1939 [78:35] 

 


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