A funny old year...

2001 in the comedy world

Gone, but not forgotten

  • Former Goon Sir Harry Secombe died from prostate cancer at the age of 79 in April
  • Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy creator Douglas Adams had a fatal heart attack while exercising at a gym near his home in Santa Monica, California, in May. He was 49.
  • Carry On star Joan Sims died in June, aged 71.
  • Sir Nigel Hawthorne, Sir Humphrey Appleby in the classic comedy Yes Minister, died on Boxing Day at the age of 72. He had a heart attack.
  • Peggy Mount, star of vintage sitcom The Larkins, died in November at the age of 86.
  • Comic turned gameshow host Ted Rogers, who was 65, died in May after suffering heart problems.
  • David Angell, one of the creators of Frasier, flying on one of the planes flown into the World Trade Center on September 11
  • Variety circuit comedian Jimmy Logan, who inspired Billy Connolly to go into comedy, died at the age of 73 in April.
  • Caroll O'Connor, who played Archie Bunker - the US version of Alf Garnett - had a fatal heart attack at the age of 76 in June



  • Julian Clary lost thousands of pounds of jewellery in a raid on his dressign room in a Brighton theatre
  • BBC1 proudly unveiled its new Friday night comedy line-up of Adrian Mole: The Cappucino Years, Office Gossip and Chewin' The Fat
  • Simon Munnery was cleared of assaulting a police officer during Arthur Smith's late-night tour of Edinburgh during August's festival. Meanwhile, the city's Gilded Balloon Ltd declared itself insolvent, leaving a question mark over cash owed to comics who performed at its fringe venues.
  • An Albanian library named its children's section after David Baddiel.
  • Anthony Hopkins was reportedly in line to play Tommy Cooper in a TV movie based on the comic's career.
  • Stand-up Russell Brand signed a deal to host a series of shows on MTV.
  • Filming began on Davina McCall's first sitcom, Sam's Game, while across the Atlantic, Third Rock From The Sun ended.
  • BBC governors criticised They Think It's All Over for "gross and poisonous" jokes at the expense of Posh and Becks.
  • Channel 4 paid £10,000 to council worker Keith Laird because his name was so similar to that of fire safety worker Keith Lard in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights - but Michael Costanza lost a $100million lawsuit against Seinfeld, claiming the character of George Costanza was based on him.


  • David Baddiel and Frank Skinner annoucned they would transfer their Unplanned TV show to the West End stage.
  • Billy Connolly wrested control of Internet domain name billyconnolly.com from cybersquatter Anthony Stewart, who was using the address to sell his dog's stud services.
  • A lost archive of Charlie Chaplin outtakes was uncovered.
  • Councillors in Inverurie, near Aberdeen, tried to ban Bernard Manning from performing a charity gig because of his racist and sexist reputation.
  • Business leaders who booked Nicholas Parsons for an after-dinner speech demanded a refund after finding him 'too corny'.
  • Broadcasting watchdogs ruled that comedian Richard Blackwood was not being offensive when he called the Queen a 'bitch' on Have I Got News For you.
  • Caroline Aherne said she was ready to pull the plug on The Royle Family,
  • ITV commissioned its first sketch show in years, starring Jim Tavare, Lee Mack, Ronni Ancona, Tim Vine and Karen Taylor


  • The Royle Family's Ricky Tomlinson, 60, was offered a five-figure sum to pose naked.
  • Stand-up Bruce Morton said comics could learn a lot about delivery from the then Tory leader William Hayes.
  • Jack Dee took part in Celebrity Big Brother
  • Stewart Lee laid into BBC2 boss Jane Root for nixing a second series of Simon Munnery's Attention Scum, which he directed, before the first had even been screened.
  • Victoria Wood had emergency surgery to remove a twisted fibroid growth in her womb after being rushed to hospital with crippling stomach pains.
  • Thieves stole Al Murray's laptop, containing all his gags.
  • Jim Davidson said he could lose thousands of pounds following a disappointing panto season.
  • Dom Joly said he was axing Trigger Happy TV
  • Rowan Atkinson was hailed a hero after taking the controls of a light aircraft after the pilot collapsed ­ even though he had never flown before.
  • Steve Coogan said that Alan Partridge will return next year.


  • The BBC apologised to Dave Gorman after shifting the last episode of The Dave Gorman Collection forward a day, meaning thousands of his fans missed the conclusion of his odyssey.
  • The earliest known TV footage of comic Tommy Cooper, dating from 1950, was unearthed in a shed.
  • Granada sold the rights to The Royle Family to CBS to allow it to be remade for American audiences as The Kennedys. Meanwhile, creator Caroline Aherne said she was taking a year off from TV, and she later moved to Australia
  • The Cambridge Footlights attracted flak from anti-smoking campaigners for accepting £25,000 sponsorship from British American Tobacco
  • Newcomer Seymour Mace won the biggest cash prize in comedy - the £10,000 Bachelors Cup A Soup Extra Comedy Challenge.
  • Graham Norton turned down a reported £5million to defect to the BBC - because he didn't want to host Blankety Blank, which would have been part of the deal. But Johnny Vaughan accepted the same figure to host a chat show, and to make asitcom, Orrible.
  • Jeremy Hardy's column was axed by The Guardian because editors said it was too political and not funny enough.



  • Lenny Henry won the Golden Rose of Montreux for his Christmas sketch show Lenny Henry in Pieces - his first comedy programme in seven years. Dylan Moran's Black Books won the best sitcom Bafta and Radio 4's Dead Ringers won the Sony Award for comedy.
  • Liverpool honoured Ken Dodd by granting him the freedom of the city.
  • Charlie Chaplin's house in Switzerland became the the first official museum of the his life


  • Eddie Izzard hosted the Amnesty benefit We Know Where You Live at Wembley Arena
  • Stan Laurel's birthplace in Ulverston went on the market for £60,000.
  • Women are more likely to go to comedy clubs than men, a year-long survey at The Stand in Glasgow revealed.
  • Barry Cryer was made an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours, and Dudley Moore received a CBE.
  • White magistrates were told to study Lenny Henry's characters to get an insight into the culture of black defendants.
  • Police arrested US stand-up Paula Poundstone on child endagerment charges. She later pleaded no contest and was sentenced to undergo a rehab course.
  • Two long-lost episodes of Dad's Army that had been dumped in a skip decades ago were recovered following a BBC appeal.
  • Veteran US comic Jerry Lewis, chairman of America's Muscular Dystrophy Association, was forced to apologise after calling disabled people 'cripples' and telling them to stay at home if they did not want pity.


  • Channel 4 showed a new episode of Brass Eye. There was a bit of a to-do about it.
  • Rob Newman has called on comedians to boycott the Perrier awards because of Nestlé's sales of powdered baby milk to the third world.
  • Rowan Atkinson walked away unhurt after crashing his car at a race meeting.
  • Billy Connolly received an honorary degree from Glasgow University and used the occasion to attack the government for failing to secure 1,000 shipbuilding jobs.
  • Burma released comedians U Pa Pa Lay and U Lu Zaw, imprisoned for telling jokes against the government, after a long campaign by Amnesty International.
  • Channel 4 started planning a panel show Be Funny Or Else, in which comics who failed to amuse would be plunged into a tank full of alligators. Nothing more has been heard of the idea.




  • David Baddiel became a father for the first time, and Mel and Sue cancelled their return to live comedy when Mel Giedroyc became pregnant.
  • Broadcasting watchdogs gave their verdict on Brass Eye - a slap on the wrist, for Channel 4.
  • The stars of the Seventies show The Comedians reunited for a British tour.
  • Manchester staged its first comedy festival with the likes of Ed Byrne, Trev and Simon, Daniel Kitson and Sean Lock.
  • Caroline Aherne created a new BBC2 sitcom, Dossa and Joe, set in Australia where she went to live.
  • Lee Evans tuned down a second series of So What Now?
  • Johnny Vaughan's sitcom Orrible arrived, and quickly started shedding viewers.
  • Billy Connolly revelaed he was abused as a child in a biography by wife Pamela Stevenson.


  • Harry Hill signed a two-year deal with ITV worth a reported £500,000 to develop ideas away from stand-up
  • Rowan Atkinson criticised government plans to outlaw "incitement to religious hatred", saying it could stifle comedy.
  • Jerry Seinfeld raised $1.85million for New York rescue workers with a benefit gig.
  • Jim Davidson shared tips on delivery, dealing with the media and camera technique with new Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.
  • Ali G star Sacha Baron Cohen was physically attacked over his supposed stereotyping of black people in a London club.
  • Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding ­ who perform as The Boosh ­ received a radio comedy writing award set up in memory of Douglas Adams.
  • Freddie Starr launched a bitter attack on modern comedians in his autobiography. And in his book, Frank Skinner revealed how he lost his virginity to a £5 prostitute nicknamed Corky.
  • The Royle Family won both comedy prizes at the National TV awards.



  • Frank Skinner branded single women in their 30s "rough as areseholes" and claimed that "very, very bright women don't actually exist".
  • An armed bank robber who took to a US comedy club stage to confess his crimes was jailed for 87 years.
  • David Baddiel was appointed as a 'comedy czar' by Winchester Films to find new ideas, five of which will be developed into scripts and, possibly, British movies.
  • BBC2's Monday night comedy line-up performed disappointingly, with Steve Coogan's Dr Terrible's House of Horrible getting only around 1.4million viewers. The Stephen Tonkinson sitcom Mr Charity, now axed, saw its audience slump as low as 700,000.


  • Eric Sykes joined the ever-growing list of comedy veterans who attack the modern scene, criticising political humour and comics who use bad language.
  • Frank Skinner, David Jason, Johnny Vegas and The Office were among the victors at the British Comedy Awards. Full list of winners here.
  • Eddie Izzard said he was planning a huge European tour - but not until 2003 - and was learning German for a gig in Berlin. He also said he quite fancied being a Labour MEP.
  • And it was announced that Graham Norton's chat show will appear five nights a week from next year.

Published: 30 Dec 2001

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