The Comic Legacy of British TV Director Bob Spiers

It’s me, mikl-em, geeking out about comedy yet again.

On Monday one of Britain’s great comic actors, the inimitable Stephen Fry (of such shows as The Black Adder and Jeeves & Wooster), shared the sad news via Twitter that director Bob Spiers had died.

Bob Spiers directed most of the episodes of the great series Absolutely Fabulous (aka “Ab Fab”), as well as stints directing such classic British comedies as A Bit of Fry and Laurie (co-starring Fry and his longtime partner in crime Hugh Laurie, now of House fame), John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers, and PBS mainstay Are You Being Served?.

So it turns out that we have Spiers to thank in part for these highlights of the last 3 decades of British comedy. I will not mention, or try to rationalize into this, Spiers’ responsibility for Spice World. I just won’t.

In the US we tend to hear about only a narrow sliver of British television comedy, generally way after the fact and hopefully before we’re exposed to a weak American replica. The Office is the exception where the adaptation can measure up to the UK version). Both versions have their own merits. But I’m still glad I saw Ricky Gervais’ version first.

Recent reports are that Fox will do a US version of Ab Fab, under the executive production of Mitchell Hurwitz who produced and wrote the much missed Arrested Development. So hopes are high, but the precedents are awful, including a short-lived Ab Fab knockoff on CBS in the 1990’s with a Designing Women vet as the lead.

A few other British comedy suggestions… if you have never seen Ab Fab by all means hurry to correct that. Or if you are already a fan then you’ll want to check out French and Saunders, starring Jennifer Saunders (the star of Ab Fab) and Dawn French–Absolutely Fabulous spun out of a sketch from their show. French and Saunders co-wrote most of the Ab Fab series.

I’d also highly recommend French’s series Vicar of Dibley. Or you can go back to either The Young Ones where French and Saunders made guest appearances or The Comic Strip Presents, which featured them and many in the Young Ones’ cast. Both those shows aired briefly in the 80’s on MTV.