May 12, 1975 – On UK TV: Rutland Weekend Television

Rutland_Weekend_Television-1975Rutland Weekend Television (RWT) was a television sketch show on BBC2, written by Eric Idle with music by Neil Innes. Two series were broadcast, the first consisting of six episodes in 1975, and the second series of seven episodes in 1976. A Christmas special was broadcast on Boxing Day 1975.

It was Idle’s first television project after Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ended the previous year. The show was the catalyst for The Rutles. Rutland Weekend Television or RWT centred on “Britain’s smallest television network”, situated in England’s smallest (and mainly rural) county, Rutland.

The show’s title alludes to London Weekend Television (then part of ITV and since renamed ITV London). A Rutland TV station would be pretty small (representing roughly 30,000 people in an area less than 150 square miles), so a Rutland Weekend Television would have to be ridiculously tiny. The joke was doubly meaningful as Idle had accidentally been granted a presentation budget instead of the more lavish budgets associated with light entertainment – so the weekly patter about their inability to buy props and sets reflected reality. Indeed, the last show of the first series featured Idle and Innes, stripped and shivering in blankets under a bare bulb, singing about how the power’s about to be shut off. Idle speaks bitterly about these conditions now but his attempts to overcome them formed the basis of a lot of the show’s jokes.


Idle, in a 1975 Radio Times interview, remarked, “It was made on a shoestring budget, and someone else was wearing the shoe. The studio is the same size as the weather forecast studio and nearly as good. We had to bring the sets up four floors for each scene, then take them down again. While the next set was coming up, we’d change our make-up. Every minute mattered. It’s not always funny to be funny from ten in the morning until ten at night. As for ad-libbing, what ad-libbing? You don’t ad-lib when you’re working with three cameras and anyway the material goes out months after you’ve made it.”

Each episode begins with the announcer, usually with something going wrong or with something out of the ordinary, from announcements catching fire to open auditions for the announcer itself. Occasionally the announcement would be sung, or performed by more than one person. In one episode, the announcements are performed by “The Ricochet Brothers” (spelled Ricochet, but pronounced Rick-ot-chet) who begin the episode as a pair, and expand to a full cast, each speaking the announcement in harmony.

The role of the announcer would be to announce the “programmes” (typically sketches) – many programmes would lead into, or announce one of many songs and accompanying strange vignettes by Neil Innes.

One show introduced The Rutles, a four-piece band fronted by Innes as a man “suffering from love song” spoofing The Beatles, singing “I Must Be In Love”, a pastiche of some of the early Lennon-McCartney songs. This was followed by the beginnings of a documentary feature about the band, cut short when the camera, mounted on a car, speeds off. This scene was later remade in the spinoff film, All You Need Is Cash, featuring Idle, Innes, Ricky Fataar and John Halsey (who also appeared in many of the musical items in the series) as the “Pre-Fab Four”. Innes wrote the music for the film, most of which was parody of well-known Beatles songs.

On RWTV, “The Rutles” are portrayed by: Eric Idle as the Harrison character, Neil Innes as the Lennon character, David Battley as the McCartney character, and John Halsey as the Ringo character. They are introduced as: “Dirk” (Idle), “Nasty” (Innes), “Stig” (Battley), & “Barry” (Halsey). (“Barry” is inexplicably changed to “Kevin” on the RWTV soundtrack album.) The original version of “I Must Be In Love”, is performed by Neil Innes & Fatso, and is slightly different than the 1978 All You Need Is Cash version. Also of note, on RWTV, “The Rutles” are quite clearly a product of Rutland, whereas in All You Need Is Cash, they are relocated to Liverpool.

Innes would later appear in another sketch, as “Ron Lennon”, performing a short song titled, “The Children of Rock-N-Roll”. This 30 second piece would later be expanded into a full Rutles song, “Good Times Roll”, for the All You Need Is Cash film and album. [Wikipedia]


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