As part of the 2012 Festival, the British Film Institute (BFI) presented an interesting examination charting the rise of the ladies on the telly that make us laugh. However, going beyond the informal academia of merely putting together a number of chortlesome clip reels they teamed up with the Hackney Empire to also include two nights of live performances and comedy as part of the season, coinciding with Ha Ha Hackney.
It was this partnership that really made the season despite being an untried and untested format. The combination of clips framing live performances offered an exciting and unique outing. ‘From the Halls’ was an exceptional event, seeing Carry On and infamous landlord of Eastender’s Queen Vic, Barbara Windsor, host a brash and bawdy evening of Victoriana kitsch. Most notable was Joanna Riding’s outrageously saucy song about loving oneself, but there were also some starry-eyed recreations from others of the performances that marked the careers of stars long since passed. Here the clips effortlessly added to the show and the evening was side-splittingly memorable.
On BFI’s side of the bargain, the closing night of the season celebrating ten years since Smack the Pony hit our screens was a fantastic evening, not just because of the comic gold that was the clips shown, but because of the question and answer session with none other than Fiona Allen, Sally Phillips, Doon Mackican, and Victoria Pile, on the influence and legacy of the show; which was chaired by season curator Dick Fiddy and was vastly insightful.
However, the season was also not without a handful of low points. ‘Some Girls Do It Standing Up’ didn’t work quite as well as ‘From the Halls’ as stand-up is inherently hit and miss. Although the bulk of the comics did well, with Jenny Eclair’s high octane and unhinged compering, newcomer Joanne Lau’s strong start to the evening, and Rosie Wilby taking her set by storm, a string of colostomy bag jokes from one comedian and some slightly outdated feminism from another marred the evening a little, forcing the guffaws to come from the well selected clips.
There also could have been a little more variety at points. ‘Storytellers and Cabaret Stars’s’ strength was in the kaleidoscope of clips and women showcased, whereas ‘Girls Acting Up’ included a full 30 minutes episode of Miranda Hart’s Miranda, which ended up dominating the clip reel. As giggle inducing as this was, the chance to have given more screen time to some of the other women featured, such as Diana Dors and Dora Bryan, was one that was sorely missed. Also, as much loved as Hylda Baker is, her appearance across several of the events became a little tiresome for those attending the lion’s share of the season, especially as the same routine cropped up more than once.
But all in all, this was a great season that has no doubt whetted the appetite of many, to give the trials, tribulations, and successes of these marvellous girls a new angle and appreciation. Hopefully this will mean the BFI will go on to facilitate and build upon the fantastic foundation they’ve laid down with this season and we can see more of the same thing soon, especially since the trailblazing partnership with institutions such since the Hackney Empire have served it so well.
Trailblazers – Queens of TV Comedy took place between 14 – 28 August 2012.
Featured image: Diana Dors – a smouldering, scintillating, and bloody funny British actress and pin-up of the 1950s.