1 October 2006 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
The little man in Alveston Road
'The Frost Report' was notable for bringing together a huge number of talented British writers, performers and writer-performers who would later go on to greater things, notably Monty Python, the Goodies and the Two Ronnies among very many others. The format parodied a current events show, with David Frost 'reporting' on various allegedly topical issues which would then lead to skits and blackouts. Ironically, this comedy format was actually pioneered in the States back in radio days, with Fred Allen conducting his 'surveys' on Allen's Alley ... then, on early television, Steve Allen (no relation to Fred) doing his 'man in the street' interviews, followed by Jackie Gleason(!) doing his 'American Scene magazine' blackouts.
I have only a patchy memory of 'The Frost Report', as it was usually transmitted at times that conflicted with my employment ... and there were no VCRs in those days. I recall a very bitter skit performed by John Cleese and Sheila Steafel in which she was meant to be his mother; I noticed that their accents didn't match, and Cleese was nearly two feet taller than Steafel ... which would have been funny if it had been relevant to the skit, but it wasn't.
I recall much more pleasantly the Christmas special edition, 'Frost Over Christmas', which aired on Boxing Day 1967. The highlight was a sketch in a cocktail party setting, featuring a conversation between 5'2" Ronnie Corbett -- only slightly taller than Sheila Steafel -- as a very dull little man from 37 Alveston Road, Hendon (one of the most boring neighbourhoods in London) and 6'5" John Cleese as a man whose life would seem to be one of multi-faceted excitement. No matter what plodding observation Corbett makes, Cleese tops it with an allusion to his James Bond-like exploits ... which Corbett then turns back into an observation on life in Hendon. I'm not describing it well, but those of you who are familiar with the comic timing of Corbett and Cleese will believe me when I say it was well and truly hilarious. Let's see this aired in repeats, please ... or put out on home video!