But there was another sub-genre that rarely made it to these shores. It didn't travel well, partly because it was very much to the English working class taste of the time: unsubtle, flagrantly acted, full of outrageous (often double entendre) puns. It's derived from the English music hall tradition, which Yanks couldn't relate to. Kenneth Williams and his madcap sidekicks Sid James and Charles Hawtrey raised the style to at least a low art form in the long-running Carry On series (Carry On Doctor, Carry On Nurse, Carry on Up the Khyber, etc.).
The Carry On films I've managed to see have been a guilty pleasure, although they're hard to come by in the United States. And I have another name for you: Tommy Cooper.
If you're (a) American or (b) under the age of 40 anywhere, that may mean nothing to you at all. It's understandable. He died in 1984, before many British TV shows (by which he was best known) were shown in the U.S. His brand of comedy came out of a gentler, less "edgy" (how I've come to loathe that word), less "ironic" time, and I suppose many young people would think he's corny. At least until they find themselves laughing till tears gather in their eyes.
How come I know about Tommy Cooper, being a Yank? Because I saw him on British TV: on my first visit, buckets of years ago now, and much more recently in a tribute program (er, "programme") on the BBC. (Once in a while, the Beeb does something to its credit.) It was narrated by Anthony Hopkins, no less, and he did a pretty fair imitation of Cooper's way with a joke.
That way is very hard to describe, because it was so (seemingly) effortless, Zen-like. There are people who know how to "do" comedy or tell jokes; Tommy Cooper simply was funny, the way some people are serious or curious. It was his nature.
I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.
Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one but let the other one go off.
A man walked into the doctor's, he said, 'I've hurt my arm in several places.' The doctor said, 'Well, don't go there any more.'
Went down to the corner shop. Bought four corners.
I went to the doctor the other day, and he said, 'Go to Bournemouth, it's great for flu.' So I went, and I got it.
I went to the doctor with a jelly stuck in one ear and custard in the other. The doctor asked, 'What seems to be the problem?' I said, 'You have to speak up, I'm a trifle deaf.'
Now, most dentist's chairs go up and down, don't they? The one I was in went back and forwards. I thought, ' This is unusual.' And the dentist said to me, 'Mr Cooper, get out of the filing cabinet.'
I went into a butcher's and I said, 'I'll have a pound of sausages.' He said, 'I'm very sorry, sir, we only sell kilos in here.' I said, 'Okay then, I'll have a pound of kilos.'
So I knocked on the door at this bed & breakfast and a lady stuck her head out of the window and asked: 'What do you want?' I said, 'I want to stay here.' She said, 'Well stay there' and shut the window.
I had a meal last night. I ordered everything in French, surprised everybody. It was a Chinese restaurant. I said to this Chinese waiter, 'Look, this chicken I got here is cold.' He said, 'It should be, it's been dead two weeks.'
I said, 'Not only that.' I said, I said ... I said it twice, I said, 'He's got one leg shorter than the other.' He said, 'What do you wanna do with it, eat it or dance with it?'
I said, 'Forget the chicken, give me a lobster,' and he brought me this lobster. I said, 'Just a minute, he's only got one claw.' He said, 'Well he's been in a fight.' I said, 'Well give me the winner.'
[Drum roll … ]
Tommy Cooper: And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for.
Tommy Cooper: Good night!