‘Peter Fleming’s ‘Woefully Inaccurate History Of The BBC’ is TV Heaven: Review

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Photo Credit: 'Woefully Inaccurate History of the BBC'

★★★★★

As a comedy character, Peter Fleming is a one-off. The unholy union of a Doctor Who DVD extra and a Harry Enfield parody, old-school kids TV producer Fleming is here to take us through the history of the BBC in its centenary year. What emerges from Tom Burgess’ finely judged Edinburgh Fringe show is something both hilarious and heartfelt, a Pæan to the Reithian vision of the BBC whilst at the same time mocking its eccentricities and failures. Take a bow sir: it’s the most fun I’ve had at the Fringe.

An hour mixed between stand-up and one-man sketch show, Fleming takes us through the Shakespearian origins of the Beeb to its mid-60s heyday (featuring the BBC bar and poorly judged concepts) and then into the unstable modern period. Surprisingly, at times it feels genuinely like a well-observed history of the Corporation but with added jokes and, whilst for television fans of a certain vintage much is familiar, Burgess manages to drop in some genuine ‘fun facts’ alongside the hilarity.

Humour comes from all directions, ranging from parodies of programmes, satirical jabs at the permissive culture of mid-century Beeb and jokes about a child traumatised by a regenerating Doctor Who. Fleming also explores his own shows, most of which have been wiped (probably deliberately) and which had fabulous titles like ‘Professor Zany’s Mad Laboratory’. These offer plenty of quickfire jokes (the sheer speed and intensity of this comedy is genuinely impressive) but could at times be spun off further: we want to see more of Fleming’s output, rather than Biddy Baxter’s. Regardless, Fleming ably and hilariously carries us along on his exploration of television history.

What is surprising is the genuine affection and pathos within the show. Burgess obviously has a deep love for what the BBC has and still could offer, and the destruction of Television Centre and the BBC’s current impermanence raise genuine emotion amongst the audience. Brief notes of Fleming’s own unsatisfactory life add to this: his is a yearning for a lost golden age of personal and professional success. These add greater depth to the character, meaning that Burgess can both explore other styles of comedy within the show, but also create a genuine connection with the audience. All this, and then immediately followed by quickfire shots at Blue Peter presenters.

‘Peter Fleming’s Woefully Inaccurate History of the BBC’ is a television and comedy fans dream. Combining top-class stand-up, parody and sketch with TV in-jokes and a genuine love of its subject material, Burgess has crafted a truly unique crowd pleaser. After all, how many comedies reference The Quatermass Experiment?

Words by Issy Flower


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1 COMMENT

  1. I saw this at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was lucky enough to catch the one and only performance at EdFringe2022. It was a comic masterpiece, a young man with some kind of grey powder in his hair to make him look old had me in stitches immediately and within an hour he’d moved me to tears. Brilliant, a must-see and I am so looking forward to his “Peter Fleming Meets Doctor Who” show in 2023.

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