Cable has classic English comedy


"There'll always be an England," is how New Yorker magazine tags certain quaint column-ending fillers, a droll reference to the island nation's peculiar habits. Cable viewers could say the same about "The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball," an oddly engaging comedy special on the Arts & Entertainment basic service tonight (at 10 o'clock).

The show is an hour-long collection of excerpts from a comedy fund-raiser at London's Dominion Theatre, which raised money for Amnesty International in the manner that America's "Comic Relief" raises funds to fight homelessness.

What does the title mean? The show does not give a clue. But it does offer some particularly puckish English humor from the likes of "Monty Python" veterans John Cleese and Michael Palin, and the temporarily reunited comedy duo of Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. (Yes, the same Moore who was "Arthur.")

Palin and Cleese, for example, re-create and revise from the old "Python" series both the famous "parrot sketch" and the skit about a man (Palin) who pays for five minutes of argument, protesting that what he gets (from Cleese) is merely "contradiction."

Remember? "No I don't. Yes you do. No, I don't! Yes, you do!"

And Cooke and Moore, who played the Mechanic Theatre perhaps two decades ago with their literate comedy act before going their separate ways, re-create memorable bits about a man who has opened a restaurant that serves nothing but frogs and peaches, and an audition sketch in which a one-legged actor seeks the part of Tarzan.

Cooke calls the man "a unidexter" and says "it is in the ledivision that you are deficient, to the tune of one." But he promises the part, in the event that only non-legged actors apply.

By the way, here's a quick trivia quiz: Who remembers the titland setup of a short-lived series in which Cooke starred on U.S. television? (It was "The Two of Us," on CBS in 1981-82, and he played a proper English butler for a TV talk-show hostess, played by Mimi Kennedy.)

Also on the English special tonight are the funny Spitting Image life-size puppet caricatures -- including the entire royal family and a very good Cleese -- and we are introduced to some English stars who are little known on this side of the pond.

A SHOW IS BORN -- Also on basic cable this weekend, the Lifetime network is premiering (at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow) the first installment of a half-hour series about child-rearing, "Growing Up Together."

The show, with host Leeza Gibbons of "Entertainment Tonight," joins Lifetime's new parenting block, and in July will become a daily weekday show.

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