“Beyond the Fringe” is a British sketch revue from the 1960’s. It was written and performed by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, and Jonathan Miller. If you’re into satire, you need to see it (there’s a DVD on Netflix, but you can also find stuff on YouTube). One review said they were “unapologetic” in their critique of authority. They were unapologetic all around and that’s one of the things that made them great. There’s no hesitation in the satire; it was how they felt. They had to clarify what they meant a couple of times. They have a sketch called “The Aftermyth of War” and they needed to say they weren’t commenting on veterans’ efforts in war, but how the media portrayed it.
I also really enjoyed the group’s genesis story. Once you learn some background, I think you appreciate it more. They were formed to fulfill a need. During the Fringe Festivals in London, theatres lost money because everyone was going to the festivals. One owner got an idea. He wanted to put together a late night revue that would go on after all the Fringe festivities. Makes sense. Everyone’s all amped up. They’ve seen great stuff, but the festivals closed. What do you do? Some don’t want to go home, so the owner provided them with a show. You liked that? You’ll love this.
He talked to two of the performers, one was from Oxford, the other from Cambridge. I read another biography that said he did this on purpose; he wanted to have the best of both worlds, the best of Cambridge’s Footlights and Oxford’s Oxford Revue. Another alluded he knew these two performers and asked if they were interested. Each brought along another performer.
The biography said the show almost didn’t go on at one point because of problems between the performers. Two came from wealthy backgrounds, two from working class. Two came from Oxford, and two came from Cambridge. The owner asked them to give it a go. They joke about their differences in a quick sketch…”in case you haven’t noticed because it’s readily obvious” we come from wealth and the other two are working class. I just saw a recording of their farewell show, so I don’t know if they joked about this often or if it was special for the last show, bringing attention to what everyone knows but no one talks about because they’re afraid they’ll disturb surface tension.
As they performed in London’s West End and Broadway, inspired others to be satirical, inspired groups like Monty Python, I think they made their differences work for them.
I enjoy background stories like that. I got my info from extras on the DVD and another biography I found at the library. They were similar, but slightly different, makes it almost fitting for the group. It comes back around to their “Aftermyth of War” sketch and how the media portrays veterans. It’s about voice and how the story is spun. Regardless, we’re in awe of the efforts of those on the front lines.