Humphrey Barclay producer of radio's I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again was given the
opportunity to assemble a comedy team from scratch for his first television venture.
Surprisingly, this would be a show aimed at children and broadcast at tea-time. Not
only did Barclay leave a steady radio job at the BBC to make the series, but Rediffusion's
days were already numbered as their contract to provide the weekday London service
would come to an end in July 1968.
Barclay already knew writer-performer Eric Idle from revue in Edinburgh while Terry
Jones had performed in Oxford University's revue in the West End at the same time
as Barclay's Cambridge Circus show. Jones requested that his writing partner Michael
Palin be included. Denise Coffey was spotted at an Edinburgh Festival production
of A Midsummer Night's Dream, David Jason came from a production of the play Chase
Me Comrade on Bournemouth Pier, while The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band came via a flyer
their manager had sent. Their debut LP Gorilla had broken through a few months' earlier.
A pilot show was recorded on 6th November 1967, was viewed as a success and the series
was commissioned. The first show "Do Not Adjust Your Set, Or A Happy Boxing Day And
A Preposterous New Year" was broadcast on ITV on 26th December, the very same evening
that the Bonzos were guests on BBC1's Magical Mystery Tour. However due to a technical
error the first, introductory show was shown without the expected advert break, so
a three minute gap was eventually followed by the ads, shortening the show by three
minutes. To make matters worse, some areas saw the first edition of the show proper
On Thursday 4th January 1968 the first series kicked off and became an immediate
favourite, not only with kids but adults who caught it coming home from work. David
Jason and Denise Coffey were given their own weekly in-show silent comedy serial
"Captain Fantastic" in which Jason's unlikely Macintosh-clad super hero outwits villainess
Mrs Black. Captain Fantastic would go on to would inspire the title for Elton John
and Bernie Taupin's 1975 autobiographical concept album. It was the Captain who got
the most response from the fans and listening to the audience response on the early
shows it's evident that children who first found it funny, but listening to the later
shows in the first series it's plainly adult voices you hear cheering for the Captain.
Proving the show's popularity the troupe were given the front cover of the TV Times,
week beginning 17th February 1968. The show would be repeated a few months' later,
this time broadcast early evenings in an attempt to attract an older audience.
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had been hired to perform songs and to appear as extras,
but certain members of the band took the opportunity to bamboozle the producers by
asking for visual props which they didn't actually need for the song. For 'By A Waterfall'
Larry Smith requested a petrol taker, a plank of wood and a bag of boiled sweets,
only to have a reply from the production team that "we're having trouble with the
petrol tanker, would an oil drum do?". They would also frazzle the nerves of director
Daphne Shadwell as they were not used to being told where to stand so that the camera
could see them, so they would often leave their marks and move around the set. The
show was taking up three days of the week, so was giving the band less time on the
road and in February 1968 the band had to cancel UK tour dates supporting Gene Pitney.
As the end of Rediffusion was on the horizon it was assumed that it would also be
the end for the show. But, talking to the Daily Mirror in March 1968 David Jason
claimed "There has been some vague talk of the series returning on Thames. But nobody
has been approached officially."
The show was entered by Rediffusion into a prestigious TV competition and its win
was celebrated with a one-off show, named "Special winner of Fairly Pointless Show
of Prix Jeunesse, Munich," broadcast on the last day of transmission by Rediffusion.
The success of the show was not lost on Rediffusion's successor, Thames Television,
who had only re-commissioned a few shows from Rediffusion, DNAYS being one. Captain
Fantastic would continue separately from the show, occupying the final five minutes
of the first few months of the children's magazine show Magpie, finishing 10th December
1968, and while they were waiting for Thames' invite Idle, Gilliam and Jason made
their way into London Weekend's We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh in August 1968.
The re-commissioned show began with a Christmas day 1968 special "Do Not Adjust Your
Stocking." However, producer Barclay had been offered a job at one of the other new
ITV channels, London Weekend, so he would leave the show he had created. In addition,
director Daphne Shadwell would be replaced.
The team re-assembled for the new series which began 19th February 1969, but this
time animator Terry Gilliam, who had contributed to a few sketches in the first series
and had an animation piece in the Christmas show, was now a permanent member of the
If there was a temptation to move to series to a post tea-time slot to attract more
adults then it seems to have been resisted as it played at 5.20 - 5.50 pm. Talking
to the Daily Mirror new producer Ian Davidson claimed "We don't start off with an
adult approach and then water things down for the kids. Children have always been
By the second series the resident band had changed their name to The Bonzo Dog Band
and would release Tadpoles, an album of songs from the series. But despite the fun,
the cracks were showing, Larry Smith, talking to Neil Innes on a Radio 4 documentary
in 2016 claimed "Do Not Adjust Your Set was fun, we actually rehearsed and got disciplined,
but we were also very tired when we did the damned thing. We were working really
hard at that period, and we'd arrive at Paddington at seven o'clock on a sleeper,
they'd thrust some awful tea into your hand and be limosined down to Teddington studio
and we didn't really wake up until just before doing the gig. I always felt completely
knackered when we did the shows, but I enjoyed doing them.... It was a very happy
time, but we were working intensely for telly, or for anything serious you've got
to have your energy up and our energy levels were frankly low ladies and gentlemen!"
Sadly, the show would not make it to a third series. Idle, Palin, Jones and Gilliam
helped create Monty Python, Jason and Coffey would later co-star in children's show
Two D's and a Dog, while the Bonzos would split shortly after.
Do Not Adjust Your Set had the magic ingredient Tiswas would later discover, making
a show that crossed age demographics while not being aware of it.
In 2019 the BFI released a 3DVD set of all the surviving episodes.