Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The dark side of Footlights

We're used to the Cambridge dramatic society Footlights being a breeding ground for media humorists - the source of many of the UK's comedy greats over the years from Monty Python and the Goodies to the likes of David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade. But what's not quite so well known is the distinct lack of humour exhibited by some of its members back in the heady 1970s.

When I was at Cambridge, probably the most feted Footlights show was a frothy little number called Chox from 1974. The cast featured Clive Anderson (at the same college as me, though I don't think we ever spoke), Geoffrey McGivern, who played Ford Prefect in the radio version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Griff Rhys Jones. And amongst the writers was Douglas Adams himself.

Now I confess that I never saw Chox - to be honest, to most of us, the Footlights crew were considered a bit up themselves, though clearly some of them turned out okay. In fact it was much more trendy to go the Medical Society review, which was widely thought to be more edgy and genuinely funny. And this was never more so than it was that year. Because, in a stroke of genius, the Med Soc gang used a very similar poster to Footlights, but added a load of red spots, and named the show Pox.

Brilliant humour, yes? Only the funny guys at Footlights didn't see it that way and either sued, or at the very least threatened to sue. (It's a long time ago - details on that are a bit fuzzy.) Either way, it was hardly the right way to respond to an affectionate spot of snook cocking. The Med Soc show itself was mixed, but certainly had some decidedly funny bits. I've no idea if it produced any famous funny people - a lot do start off as medics - but I just think it's useful to put the glamorous associations of Footlights into context.

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