The Many Faces Of.... Copyright: Green Inc Film And Television
The Many Faces Of...

The Many Faces Of...

  • TV documentary
  • BBC Two
  • 2009 - 2016
  • 14 episodes (3 series)

Comedy actors look back at their career, with archive footage and testimony from friends and colleagues.

Press clippings

Radio Times review

No comic actor ever wrinkled their nose or pushed up their spectacles with better timing. Ronnie Corbett's gifts are lauded by a biography strand that's previously given warm tributes to Robbie Coltrane, Les Dawson, Judi Dench and indeed Ronnie Barker. Interviews and clips aim to bring out the secrets behind the success of The Two Ronnies, and Corbett's rather bleak solo sitcom, Sorry!

There's plenty to explore from the years before his TV career: when Corbett appeared on The Frost Report as a fresh-faced, talented newcomer, he was actually 36 and a veteran of the clubs. Before that were his days as a teenage organist - no, that's not the set-up for a Two Ronnies newsreader joke - and his 1952 film debut in You're Only Young Twice.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 23rd December 2015

Seventeen million: the audience figure The Dick Emery Show regularly pulled in - and the number of years his Saturday TV show seemed to plough on for (just under two decades, in reality). Which likely explains why catchphrases such as "Ooh, you are awful ... but I like you!" (the first part also being the title of his ridiculously entertaining 1972 film) seem so indelibly carved into the comedy bedrock. Here, David Walliams and Charlie Higson reflect on this gifted mimic's appeal.

Ali Catterall, The Guardian, 27th January 2014

Another episode in The Many Faces of... strand on BBC Two, narrated by Sally Philips, focused on a comic actor famed for his laugh, his acting skill, and his rather wrinkled looks.

Broadcast to mark the 100th birthday of Sid James, which is in a few weeks, this documentary it has to be said didn't start well. This was nothing to do with James or the programme's production, but more to do with the fact that in the third cut-away you discovered that one of the talking heads featured in this programme was Chris Moyles.

But this aside, the other contributors, including Nigel Planer (busy week for him then) were good. There were also some rare outings of comedies now rarely seen such as Citizen James, which was basically Hancock's Half Hour without Tony Hancock, and looked like a decent show in its own right. There was also his straighter acting, which included appearances in a Quatermass film.

The Carry On films were the main area of covered, but for me the most interesting bit was the coverage of ITV sitcom Bless This House. I was unaware of how popular it was. It was one of the most watched comedies of its day, although this was helped by the fact that the show on the BBC at the same time was Panorama. This just goes to prove that what you really need to make a good sitcom is the right timing - not just good comic timing, but good scheduling too boot.

Ian Wolf, Giggle Beats, 8th April 2013

A profile of the walnut-faced comic actor with the infectiously lascivious laugh, famously described by Bruce Forsyth as "a natural at being natural". The South African-born star made his name on Hancock's Half Hour and played world-weary father figures in a string of sitcoms such as Bless this House, but James remains best known for his roles in 19 of the Carry On films. Cor blimey.

The Telegraph, 5th April 2013

Stanley Baxter was a gifted mimic whose lavish shows were legends of opulence. During the 1970s and 80s Christmas wasn't complete without Baxter dressed as a woman to play anyone from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Mrs Bridges from Upstairs, Downstairs, or an entire Busby Berkeley dance troupe.

In this fond tribute Baxter himself (looking very good for 86) talks us through his career, from early days on stage in Glasgow to his heyday at LWT, where his indulgent boss Michael Grade wrote the cheques. Baxter was brilliant but his shows, apart from becoming too expensive for TV, had an in-built obsolescence and dated immediately.

Alison Graham, Radio Times, 5th January 2013

A profile of the Glaswegian entertainer and talented mimic who performed most of his sketches in the guise of celebrities of the day. Famously, Baxter would use clever editing to portray all the characters in a scene and was the first person to play the current Queen on TV. We hear how he started his career in Scottish variety theatre and the Army entertainment corps, before going on to draw huge audiences during the Seventies and Eighties for his TV specials - until the cost of his epic productions priced him off our screens. Fans and friends including Michael Grade, Barry Cryer, Bill Oddie and Gregor Fisher pay tribute.

The Telegraph, 4th January 2013

An hour-long gush-fest for one of our greatest actresses, who, according to the narration, half the world actually believes is part of the royal family.

"I think we would be quite happy if she became queen," says one of the show's rentagobs (Queen Judi? Has a nice ring to it, don'you think?!).

She's a "tough old boot," says another (off with his head!).

The programme covers Dame Judi's 50-odd year career, from early performances in Z Cars and Cabaret (in the role later made famous by Liza Minnelli) through the sitcoms of the 80s and the 90s film career to her more recent work, including Cranford and the mobile phone film Rage, for which she had to be taught how to smoke a joint.

Although sticking firmly to the usual format of these type of shows (bit of an unseen clip, testimony from a colleague, another more well-known clip, quote from a TV expert who has never met her) it's delightful.

So long as you can stand all the gushing.

Jane Simon, The Mirror, 30th December 2011

"She just likes working so if someone offers her a job, she takes it. She's crazy," says Geoffrey Palmer affectionately in an attempt to explain why Dame Judi Dench has had so many disparate roles during her lengthy career. Having started out as a Shakespearean actor, she cornered the market in gritty TV drama before becoming the queen of middle-class British sitcoms.

Then Hollywood caught up and cast her as M in the Bond films, since when she's played Queen Victoria, Elizabeth I and Iris Murdoch, among others. Her peers, including Simon Callow and Samantha Bond all talk fondly, telling stories of her mischievous side, illustrated by the occasional outtake that'll bring a smile. "You always wanted to be in Judi's gang because they had the most fun," says As Time Goes By's Philip Bretherton. And you can absolutely see why.

Jane Rackham, Radio Times, 30th December 2011

From classical stage work to Hollywood blockbusters, 77-year-old Judith Olivia Dench is our finest actress working today. This documentary charts the Dame's distinguished career via the roles she has played over the past half century. We discover how she disliked drama at school in York but "had a go" and rose to prominence in 1960s theatre. She impressed during an early small screen appearance in Z Cars, which led to later TV work including Cranford and A Fine Romance, alongside late husband Michael Williams. Her career was redefined, though, by an extraordinary run of films: whipping James Bond into shape in GoldenEye; her acclaimed turn as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown; and the Oscar-winning Elizabeth II in Shakespeare in Love. This otherwise pedestrian programme is made by the quality of the clips which include last year's Proms tribute to Stephen Sondheim, out-takes showcasing Dench's dirty laugh and footage from the original stage production of Cabaret. Michael Parkinson, Simon Callow and Geoffrey Palmer also share their anecdotes. It's preceded at 7.00pm by another chance to see the final episode of As Time Goes By.

Michael Hogan, The Telegraph, 29th December 2011

If a documentary's purpose is to makes you want to find out more about the subject then The Many Faces of Les Dawson was a huge success.

Dawson is one of those classic comedians that, annoyingly, I haven't paid as much attention to as I should have. That's a shame, really, because there's a lot to like about him.

The fact that he had to overcome the adversity of poverty and was selling vacuum cleaners for years and years until he became famous was new to me and an interesting segment of the show.

However, I think the thing I most like about his early career was that he appeared on Opportunity Knocks - and failed to win - but became just about a bigger success than anyone else who appeared on it. Even back in 1967, comedians were proving just how stupid and pointless talent shows were.

There were a few other fascinating factual nuggets in this show, too. The fact that Dawson's show Sez Les was the only TV show that John Cleese did between Monty Python and Fawlty Towers was a revelation. I never knew the two of them worked together until now.

Yes, he is manly known for mother-in-law gags and deliberately playing the piano badly, but there's much more to Les Dawson than that, as I've just found out.

Ian Wolf, Giggle Beats, 26th December 2011

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