Teatime. 1968. In millions of homes in Great Britain something strange was happening and TV comedy around the world would never be the same – Do Not Adjust Your Set.
Hitting audiences like a wet fish in the face it was weird, wonderful and hilarious. Do Not Adjust Your Set combined the writing and performing skills of Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, added a dash of David Jason, a dollop of the legendary Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and a hint of Terry Gilliam. Feast your eyes on the madness and discover how something completely different began…
eyelights: Eric Idle. Terry Jones. Michael Palin. the Pythonesque humour.
eyesores: David Jason. the unsophisticated humour. the sloppiness of the direction and performances. the goofy, circus-like theme song. the musical numbers. the incompleteness of the set.
‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ is a comedy programme that ran in Britain from 1967 to 1969. Popular with children, it featured some of the earliest works by future Monty Python stars Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam (whose animation appeared in the second series).
The series also proved the training ground for David Jason, who became very popular playing the lead in “Captain Fantastic” on the programme. He would later grow into a popular British leading man, became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and was knighted.
A black and white programme, ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ was medley of skits and gags by its cast and musical numbers by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band. Although it quickly became popular with the kiddies, it also features more mature themes.
Unfortunately, these more adult-oriented bits were often edited out by the studio, leaving Idle, Jones and Palin frustrated. By the end of the second series, they asked to put in a later time-slot to allow for such material, but they were turned down.
That was the end of the show.
I did not know this until now, but the episodes on this DVD set are actually not all of the episodes that were broadcast at the time. Not only that, but they’re not numbered correctly, giving the impression of being a complete set and in the correct order.
You see, back in the sixties, TV studios still didn’t have the foresight of keeping records of their shows for reruns/syndication or home video (which didn’t exist at the time). In the most efficient British fashion, they regularly wiped their videotapes and recorded over them.
There were two series for a total of 27 episodes, but only 11 episodes have thus far resurfaced. Only the 9 from the first series have been released on home video, and are included in this set. The lone episode from series two and the Christmas special are missing.
What’s frustrating is that the packaging, courtesy of Tango Entertainment (the company has produced this set for the North American market) doesn’t even mention it, clearly for marketing reasons – for the same reason that they highlight the Python members’ involvement.
…even though one of them, Terry Gilliam, is nowhere on this set.
All “untruth in advertising” aside, I looked forward to revisiting the series, which I’d only done the one time, back when I bought the set in 2005. I remembered enjoying it less than its spiritual counterpart, ‘At Last the 1948 Show‘, but it certainly had its moments.
Here are a few highlights:
- A skit where a small orchestra’s instruments don’t play the proper sounds, ending up even playing sound effects. Silly, but funny.
- A shopkeeper (Palin) gives a customer (Jason) the wrong groceries; he just doesn’t understand what they are asking for unless they ask for shoe polish. Very Pythonesque. Sadly, Jason isn’t very good; he overacts like crazy.
- Idle hosts a TV science class on gravity (or G-R-A-V-Y, as he spells it). It’s silly and kid-oriented, but fun.
- A French man (Jason) stops by a British government office to ask them (Jones and Palin) how they’re doing on the Concord project. But there’s a misunderstanding: they were building a boat. It’s slightly Pythonesque, but it’s too silly and poorly acted.
Episode 5 (labelled as Episode 3)
- The opening skit, called “How to Eat”, which has Michael Palin instruct David Jason on proper dinner etiquette. It’s promising, but a bit juvenile and marred by a weak performance by Jason as well as unfortunate directorial choices.
- A very Beatles-esque song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, with Innes on vocals – not Stanshall, their usual singer. The performance is silly, however, with a soccer theme and the band goofing off.
Episode 6 (labelled as Episode 4)
- There’s a segment called “Round-Up” that features interviews with a variety of people (played by the whole cast in a variety of roles). It has moments. Few, but some.
- A woman (Coffey) goes to the Burglar Prevention Department for information. The clerk (Jason) is dressed as a burglar, but she is oblivious to it. He asks her all sorts of questions about her home, then charges her for the service before taking off – presumably to her place. Too obvious, but amusing anyway.
- A short bit with a priest (Palin) doing his sermon, making absurd connections to all sorts of passages of the Bible.
Episode 9 (labelled as Episode 5)
- The first half is all about sports, but it’s super corny. The only good bit in the whole show is Jones and Jason playing chess, followed by Jones starting to eat the pieces. Curious, Jason does the same. It’s very short, but amusing.
- Tim Brooke-Taylor makes a brief and droll guest appearance (to fill in for Michael Palin, who was sick).
Episode 10 (labelled as Episode 6)
- A show host (Idle) threatens to talk about the economy if the person who put boot polish in his bed doesn’t own up. Short, but funny.
- An espionage segment with lots of short skits. By far the best is the disguised spy (Palin) who shows us the tricks of the trade. Palin’s performance is excellent, showing the beginning of his comedic genius. It’s a ridiculous bit, but it a good way.
Episode 11 (labelled as Episode 7)
- A business man (Jason) comes home from a miserable day at work, goes on and on about it, only to realize that he’s in the wrong house. Amusing.
- The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band play the song that inspired Death Cab For Cutie. It’s an amateurish performance, but it’s a fun Elvis-type number.
Episode 12 (labelled as Episode 8)
- The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band are introduced (including the ‘Do No Adjust Your Set’ cast in their midst, with Jones on “toast”) by Stanshall. That’s it. No song. But it was amusing enough.
- An interview show with the host (Palin) introducing a man (Jason) who falls a lot. This then segues into a weatherman (Jones) who tells the weather in vague terms, referencing past and future weather. Absurdly funny.
- A spokesperson (Jason) for the GPO announces all sorts of ridiculous postal delays for Christmas.
Episode 13 (labelled as Episode 9)
- Spotter’s Corner: After telling viewers to spot the error in the skit, they do a sketch about a manager (Jason) meeting a tardy employee (Jones). The twist: it’s all performed in reverse sequence.
- In-studio news updates from Palin about the show wrapping up once and for all, with the whole cast going about manic business in the background and sometimes cutting to them talking amongst themselves.
Now I remember why I wasn’t all that enthused with ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’: due to being a live show, the performances aren’t very slick and the direction sometimes even worse. As well, since it was geared towards children, the humour lacks sophistication; I frequently tired of their so-called “punchlines”.
The worst of it for me were the two recurring segments of the show:
- The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Although Neil Innes, one of the core members of the band, ended up working with Monty Python on their musical bits, I found most of the music here inconsequential. The band acted all goofy, which could have been fun, but it looked sloppy as all get out (due to the limitations of live TV).
The only fun thing about the band was that they sometimes participated in the skits – particularly when a larger cast was needed (and they usually wouldn’t have any speaking lines). I also liked that, towards the end, they were often slagged by the cast in lieu of an introduction. I loved that they didn’t take themselves seriously.
- Captain Fantastic: This a loopy serial about a mustachioed, bowler and trenchcoat-wearing sleuth (Jason) who is trying to prevent Mrs. Black (Coffey) from taking over the world. It’s silly and chock full of bad slapstick and unsightly gags – very childish stuff. Naturally it was very popular, and kids cheered wildly for it.
To make matters worse, since each segment continued from the previous episode, and many episodes are missing, it makes even less sense than it likely already did. So when Captain Fantastic is chased by a tree, you have no idea why. Frankly, I think it’s especially lame – although it’s nice to have a continuing thread.
I’m no great fan of ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’, but I’m sure it has its fans – likely those who first saw it when it aired back in the day. But it has aged badly, and without an understanding of the context, it would be rather difficult to appreciate by the casual viewer.
Still, what there is left of the series provides Monty Python fans with insight into the gestating brand of humour that Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin would contribute to the group. One can see their roots, and for that reason alone it’s worth seeing.
Dates of viewing: Feb 22-Mar 8, 2015