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Imagine Saturday Night Live, in its heyday, but as a live series of hot-ticket events, with the best stand-up comics, sketch actors, and rockers of the time, held to benefit a good cause--all with a decidedly British accent. That comes close to describing the magic mayhem of The Secret Policeman’s Ball performances held as fund-raisers for Amnesty International from the late '70s through the late ‘80s. This boxed set is a pop culture fan’s dream; included are all the members of Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie (pre-House and pre-Black Adder), Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Jennifer Saunders, and the Beyond the Fringe troupe--and that’s just the comics. Musicians include Sting, Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, Lou Reed, Joan Armatrading, and duets between Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins. And a very baby-faced Bob Geldof, who admits in an interview that these Balls spawned the idea for Live Aid and other events for charity. The best gem of all--and the best place to start to appreciate the depth and breadth of the series--is a 2004 documentary featuring interviews with some of the original shows’ principals, looking back on their younger selves and the current of the times. John Cleese, the true ringmaster of the events, recalls making the original phone calls and arranging for a West End theater to be available after its regular production ended. The programs became so popular that they made stars of the youngsters (Laurie, Stephen Fry, Atkinson), and brought worldwide attention for the first time to Amnesty International. Some bits are beloved and done here again--including the Pythons’ "Lumberjack Song" and "The Dead Parrot." Cleese recalls, and the filmmakers oblige by including, a speech Margaret Thatcher later gave in the ‘80s where she repeated the "Dead Parrot" bit line for line about a piece of legislation--and bringing the audience to its knees. A young Barry Humphreys (Dame Edna, as a brunette) and a bushy-haired Billy Connolly are also delightful. The music acts are delicious, including Townshend’s acoustic duet with the American classical guitarist John Williams, and Phil Collins appearing onstage at a piano solo for the first time ever. Equal parts silly and inspiring, this boxed set will be in heavy rotation for the comedy and music fan.

Store Comments

Special Features Remember the Secret Policeman's Balls?: Feature-length documentary commemorating the 25th anniversary Ultra-rare comedy and music performances not in the original film Rare promotional TV spots, trailers and news footage Long-unavailable sequences from the original US releases Introduction and commentary by series co-creator Martin Lewis.

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SF11030 Secret Policeman's Balls DVD (1979/Peter Cook/John Cleese) $39.98 $35.99