A product of a bygone age, when sexism in the media was rife and women were the butt of many a joke, along with the odd Irishman and Scotsman, series one of Jokers Wild arrives on DVD to show today’s presenters how it’s really done.
Beginning with 1969’s unbroadcast pilot, Barry Cryer is the host of a weekly panel show in which top comedians of the day were asked to come up with jokes relating to the topic written on a randomly chosen playing card. Opposing panelists could interrupt at any time with what they assumed to be the punchline.
Ted Ray and Ray Martine were the two regulars, joined each episode by four more names which obviously meant something to 1960s viewers but who may raise a few querulous eyebrows today. Les Dawson, Lennie Bennett, Roy Hudd, Don Maclean and Ted Rogers are just some of those guests, with each line-up getting at least two episodes together.
Perched uncomfortably on a stool and flanked by a pair of lovely ladies in bathing suits for the pilot, things settle down for the series proper. Filmed in monochrome for the first few episodes, things then stutter into colour as the series progresses, though one thing that doesn’t change is the constant smoking of the contestants.
It’s fair to say that the first handful of episodes are a slightly uncomfortable watch. Whether it’s nerves or a lack of preparation, the banter between the comedians doesn’t always work, Ray Martine’s prickly persona a particular cause of discourse between guests.
With the series’ move into colour, the arrival of a new title sequence and a move to a different studio there’s some settling down of the format, while fresh faces on the panel to give things a different feel from week to week. Of the guest stars, the young Hudd is a breath of fresh air and Rogers is clearly adept in front of the audience. Lennie Bennett seems to be enjoying himself immensely while Alfred Marks doesn’t quite take to things as well as the others.
The point of the programme seems to be that there really isn’t much of one. Although it’s hard to feel much empathy for Ray Martine, he somehow becomes the star of the show. Whether he’s wearing a suit that’s louder than Les Dawson, rambling incoherently as his jokes meander or taking comments about his mop of hair/tan/nose (delete as applicable) on the chin, Martine doesn’t stop.
Presentation-wise, the picture quality is high for a 40-year-old series, Network DVD also leaving in the extended caption cards that top and tail the ad breaks, meaning we can hear the panelists chatting among themselves for a few seconds when they think they’re off-air.
There’s little to complain about with this set, the sheer variety of jokes and banter making it excellent value. More please!