Alas Smith and Jones

 

Highlights

  • Popular Sketch Show with Mel Smith & Griff Rhys Jones
  • Series script writers included- Clive Anderson and Colin Bostock-Smith
  • Featuring head-to-head sketches with Smith & Jones
  • Successful show which ran in total from 1984 – 1998

 

Alas Smith and Jones is a British comedy sketch television series featuring Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones that ran for four series and two Christmas specials on BBC2 from 1984 to 1988, and later as Smith and Jones for six series on BBC1 from 1989 to 1998. A spin-off to Not the Nine O’Clock News, the show also had a brief run in the United States on A&E and PBS in the late 1980s, as well as on CBS in the early 1990s during their late-night block.

The show’s creation followed the ending of Not the Nine O’Clock News in 1982. Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson followed individual career paths, whilst Smith and Jones opted to form a double act instead.

The first post-Not… appearance as a duo was in a short sketch in the BBC1 comedy special The Funny Side of Christmas in 1982, where Jones played a complete stranger-annoying hospital patient Smith to the extent that Smith’s character walks out in a rage, leaving Jones’s character to enjoy Smith’s Christmas gifts.

Shortly afterwards the BBC offered the pair their own show, with much of the material written by themselves with help from a large team of other writers. The show’s title was a pun on that of the American television series Alias Smith and Jones, which was very popular in Britain.

The show continued partly along the same steps of Not… of using taboo-breaking material and sketches in questionable taste (as well as bad language), and also featured head-to-head ‘duologues’ between Smith and Jones. It shared several script writers with Not the Nine O’Clock News including Clive Anderson and Colin Bostock-Smith, and used Chris Langham as a cast regular, while also using Andy Hamilton, which helped keep the show to a consistently high standard.

The head-to-head sketches were very much in the Pete and Dud mould—Smith was the idiot who knew everything, Jones the idiot who knew nothing. The format of the head-to-head with similar characters was used by Smith and Jones in a series of commercials.

The final full series to be produced solely by the BBC was series 4 in 1987, also the last series to be broadcast on BBC2. Starting from the 1987 Christmas special, The Homemade Xmas Video, the show became one of the first to be produced for the BBC by an independent production company, TalkBack, of which Smith and Jones were founding directors. Series 5 in 1989, the first series to be broadcast on BBC1, was the first full series of the show to be produced by TalkBack for the BBC.

Smith and Jones would later sell TalkBack to Pearson Television, by then owners of Thames Television, in 2000 for £62 million. Pearson PLC sold Pearson Television to CLT-UFA in 2001 to form the RTL Group. Pearson Television was renamed FremantleMedia and its UK division took the Thames Television name. The operational departments of TalkBack and Thames were later merged to form Talkback Thames in 2003; initially each brand continued to be used on screen, but eventually all productions used the Talkback Thames name. However, in 2011 it was announced the individual brand names would return and ‘Talkback’ is now once again used solely for comedy productions.

In early 1987, between series 3 and 4 of Alas…, the duo produced a six-part series for London Weekend Television called The World According to Smith and Jones. The BBC was not happy about the move to a rival and came close to not renewing their relationship. Reviews for this series were mixed; critics did not know what to make of it. Smith and Jones soon appeared back with the BBC for a fourth series later that year.

Despite the criticism, The World According to Smith and Jones returned for a second six-part series in 1988, but then disappeared from the schedules without a repeat (unlike the first series, which was repeated in battle against the BBC in late 1987).

  • Series 1: 11 January 1987 – 15 February 1987
  • Series 2: 16 January 1988 – 20 February 1988

Smith and Jones in Small Doses was a series of four comedy playlets shown on BBC2 from 19 October 1989 to 9 November 1989, each written by a different comedian or screenwriter. It was the last show the duo made for BBC2, broadcast shortly before the fifth series of Smith and Jones (the first shown on BBC1).

  1. The Whole Hog by Graeme Garden: 19 October 1989
  2. The Boat People by Griff Rhys Jones: 26 October 1989
  3. Second Thoughts by Anthony Minghella: 2 November 1989
  4. The Waiting Room by John Mortimer: 9 November 1989

The series was repeated a year later on BBC2 from 25 October 1990 to 15 November 1990, albeit in a completely different order (The Boat People, The Whole Hog, The Waiting Room, Second Thoughts).

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