Most of the group started performing at the Comedy Store in London, before setting up their own premises called the Comic Strip in a nearby Soho strip club under the Raymond Revue Bar. The lineup consisted of three double-acts: Edmondson and Mayall under the name "20th Century Coyote", Planer and Richardson ("The Outer Limits"), and French and Saunders. The other regulars were Arnold Brown, an older standup comic who did not fit so obviously into the alternative comedy scene, and Alexei Sayle, who acted as compere.
Comic Strip founder Peter Richardson prompted members to sign a contract to signify their attachment to the group. While the performers gained more exposure, actors such as Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams turned up to watch.
The show came to the attention of Jeremy Isaacs, head of the new Channel 4. Peter Richardson negotiated a deal with the channel for six self-contained half-hour films, using the group as actors rather than standup performers. Almost simultaneously, the BBC signed Edmondson, Mayall, Planer and Sayle to star in The Young Ones, a sitcom in the same anarchic style as the Comic Strip. Richardson was initially to have been involved too (in the role of Mike, ultimately played by Christopher Ryan), but dropped out due to clashes between him and the show's producer, Paul Jackson. With The Comic Strip Presents..., Richardson had creative control.
The first episode was "Five Go Mad In Dorset", a parody of The Famous Five. It was written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens, who wrote most of the early episodes. "Five Go Mad..." drew anger from some viewers for the way it mercilessly satirised a children's classic, although the Enid Blyton estate had given permission for the broadcast. A meeting was called to discuss the group's future with Channel 4, after complaints from viewers.
The final episode of the first series was to have been a spoof chat show called "Back to Normal with Eddie Monsoon" (referred to as "An Evening with Eddie Monsoon" by some sources). However, it was never produced, as it was considered too vulgar even for the "alternative" Channel 4, not to mention possibly libellous. The script – which, uniquely for the Comic Strip, was written as a collaboration by the entire cast – was later published, along with the rest of the series, in book form.
A second series of seven episodes followed in 1983-84, including "Five Go Mad On Mescalin", a sequel to the first episode, and the newly-written "Eddie Monsoon – A Life?", a spoof documentary on the life and times of the title character, an obscene, drunken television host (played by Adrian Edmondson). Michael White, the theatre impressario and Rocky Horror Show producer who had been brought in by Richardson as executive producer on the series, appeared in this episode as Monsoon's producer, who had been responsible for axing Eddie's television comeback show – called Back to Normal with Eddie Monsoon. The reasons given for the cancellation (e.g. "the things you said about Burt Reynolds") are presumably the same problems that led to the real "Back to Normal..." being dropped by Channel 4. (The name Eddie Monsoon – a corruption of "Edmondson" – was later used by Jennifer Saunders, Adrian Edmondson's wife, for her character in Absolutely Fabulous.)
There then followed a four-year wait until the next series, during which the group made two feature films - The Supergrass (1985) and Eat the Rich (1987) - as well as three one-off Comic Strip Presents... episodes. The first of these, "The Bullshitters", was a parody of television spy and detective shows such as The Professionals. It was not broadcast under the Comic Strip name, partly because of the original group only Richardson appears (he is the only performer in every single episode), and partly because co-star and co-writer Keith Allen did not want to be so closely associated with the group.
The third series was broadcast in 1988, and some episodes had longer running times, mostly around 50 minutes. Five of the six episodes (all except "Funseekers") were given a limited theatrical release. They included "The Strike", which won the Golden Rose of Montreux; "More Bad News", a sequel to "Bad News Tour" showing the band reforming after five years to play at Castle Donington; and "Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door", written by Mayall and Edmondson in the violent and stupid style of their sitcoms Filthy Rich and Catflap and Bottom, which featured Peter Cook as a psychotic contract killer (the eponymous Mr. Jolly). Peter Richardson and Pete Richens only contributed one episode, allowing cast members such as Planer and Alexei to get their ideas on screen.
By now the show had proved a hit, and several notable stars appeared in later productions, including Leslie Phillips, Miranda Richardson, Lionel Jeffries, Nicholas Parsons, Kate Bush, Richard Vernon, Ruby Wax, Graham Crowden, Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Elvis Costello, and Benjamin Zephaniah (as a Rastafarian police van driver) and several musical acts, particularly from the Bad News series which was also aided by Queen guitarist Brian May, such as Def Leppard and Marillion.
In 1998 the original team reunited and returned to Channel 4 for a one-off special, "Four Men In A Car". This was followed in 2000 by a sequel, "Four Men In A Plane". After another long hiatus, another 60-minute one-off, "Sex Actually", was made in 2005. It starred Sheridan Smith (Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) and Tamer Hassan (Layer Cake) alongside several of the regular cast members.
Peter Richardson, who has built his career as a writer-director, with the TV series Stella Street and films such as Churchill: The Hollywood Years, has not ruled out the possibility of a whole new series of The Comic Strip Presents... featuring younger cast members.
Spike Milligan particularly disliked The Comic Strip Presents... and dismissed it as crude. He said, "Rik Mayall is putrid. Absolutely vile. He thinks nose-picking is funny and farting and all that. He is the arsehole of British comedy. Jim Bowen said "The Comic Strip was disgusting and anything 'alternative' is not funny." Labour MP Dennis Skinner said "The Comic Strip ridiculed history, but put forward another side to that of The Miners Strike and Arthur Scargill."
In 1986 Virgin Video released various episodes of the programme dating between 1982-4, which have now become rare. The 1988 series was released on video the same year by Palace Video, each episode having its own video. The only existing episode of the BBC series on video is "GLC", which Polygram Video released with "The Strike" in 1994. When the Virgin and Palace Video videos went out of print in 1990, the rights were transferred to Polygram Video. After three years all the Channel 4 episodes of The Comic Strip were released on video.
Eat the Rich 1987 and The Pope Must Die(t) 1991 have not been released on DVD in the UK. Eat the Rich is available as a Region 1 (American) DVD.
A nine-disc Region 2 DVD set, The Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection was released in July 2005. This included all the Channel 4 and BBC episodes plus The Supergrass across eight discs, but not Eat the Rich and was released too early to include ...Sex Actually. The ninth disc includes a retrospective documentary from 2005, live Comic Strip performances from 1981 and interviews with cast and crew from 1998.
To the consternation of fans, the DVD set contains editied versions of several episodes, including a cut-down version of 'The Supergrass'.
|Series 1 (1982-83)|
|1.1||Five Go Mad in Dorset||02/11/82||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders + Ronald Allen|
|1.2||War||03/01/83||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|1.3||The Beat Generation||17/01/83||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|1.4||Bad News Tour||24/01/83||Edmondson||Sandy Johnson||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|1.5||Summer School||31/01/83||French||Sandy Johnson||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|Series 2 (1983-84)|
|2.1||Five Go Mad on Mescalin||02/11/83||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders + Ronald Allen|
|2.2||Dirty Movie||07/01/84||Edmondson, Mayall||Sandy Johnson||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|2.3||Susie||14/01/84||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|2.4||A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques||21/01/84||Mayall, Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Allen, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|2.5||Gino: Full Story and Pics||28/01/84||Richardson, Richens||Bob Spiers||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Richardson, Saunders + Arnold Brown|
|2.6||Eddie Monsoon - A Life?||04/02/84||Edmondson||Sandy Johnson||Edmondson, French, Richardson, Saunders|
|2.7||Slags||11/02/84||Saunders||Sandy Johnson||Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|The Bullshitters: Roll out the Gunbarrel||03/11/84||Richardson, Allen||Stephen Frears||Allen, Coltrane, Richardson + Kevin Allen|
|Feature Film (1985)|
|The Supergrass||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle|
|Consuela, or The New Mrs Saunders||01/01/86||French, Saunders||Stephen Frears||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Richardson, Saunders|
|Private Enterprise||02/01/86||Edmondson||Adrian Edmondson||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|Feature Film (1987)|
|Eat the Rich||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|Series 3 (1988)|
|3.1||The Strike||20/02/88||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Peacock, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle + Kevin Allen, Ronald Allen|
|3.2||More Bad News||27/02/88||Edmondson||Adrian Edmondson||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|3.3||Mr Jolly Lives Next Door||05/03/88||Edmondson, Mayall, Rowland Rivron||Stephen Frears||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Richardson, Saunders + Peter Cook|
|3.4||The Yob||12/03/88||Allen, Peacock||Ian Emes||Allen, Edmondson, Richardson|
|3.5||Didn't You Kill My Brother?||19/03/88||Sayle, David Stafford, Pauline Melville||Bob Spiers||Richardson, Sayle + Kevin Allen|
|3.6||Funseekers||26/03/88||Planer, Doug Lucie||Baz Taylor||Allen, Planer, Richardson + Kevin Allen, Kathy Burke|
|Series 4 (1990)|
|4.1||South Atlantic Raiders||01/02/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Kathy Burke, Lenny Henry|
|4.2||South Atlantic Raiders: Argie Bargie!||08/02/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Kevin Allen, Ronald Allen, Kathy Burke|
|4.3||GLC: The Carnage Continues...||15/02/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Kevin Allen, Gary Beadle|
|4.4||Oxford||22/02/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Edmondson, French, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Ronald Allen, Lenny Henry|
|4.5||Spaghetti Hoops||01/03/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, French, Planer, Richardsonm, Saunders, Sayle + Tim McInnery|
|4.6||Les Dogs||08/03/90||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Edmondson, Peacock, Richardson, Sayle + Kevin Allen, Gary Beadle, Tim McInnery, Miranda Richardson|
|Red Nose of Courage||09/04/92||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders, Sayle + Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan|
|The Crying Game||05/05/92||Richardson, Allen||Peter Richardson, Keith Allen||Allen, Planer, Richardson + Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan|
|Wild Turkey||24/12/92||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Richardson, Saunders + Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Ruby Wax|
|Series 5 (1993)|
|5.1||Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown||22/04/93||Richardson, Allen||Peter Richardson, Keith Allen||Allen, Richardson + Kevin Allen, Gary Beadle, Jim Broadbent, Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan|
|5.2||Space Virgins from Planet Sex||29/04/93||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson, Keith Allen||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, French, Richardson, Saunders + Kevin Allen, Gary Beadle, Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan, Miranda Richardson|
|5.3||Queen of the Wild Frontier||06/05/93||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Richardson, Sayle + Gary Beadle|
|5.4||Gregory: Diary of a Nutcase||13/05/93||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Allen, Edmondson, Planer, Richardson + Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan|
|5.5||Demonella||20/05/93||Paul Bartel, Barry Dennen||Paul Bartel||Allen, Coltrane, Edmondson, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Miranda Richardson|
|5.6||Jealousy||27/05/93||Coltrane, Morag Fullarton||Robbie Coltrane||Coltrane, Planer, Richardson, Saunders + Kevin Allen, Gary Beadle, Kathy Burke, Miranda Richardson|
|Four Men in a Car||12/04/98||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Edmondson, French, Mayall, Planer, Richardson, Saunders|
|Four Men in a Plane||04/01/00||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Edmondson, Mayall, Planer, Richardson|
|...Sex Actually||28/12/05||Richardson, Richens||Peter Richardson||Mayall, Planer, Richardson + Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichnan|
|The Comic Strip|
|Adrian Edmondson — Dawn French — Rik Mayall — Nigel Planer — Peter Richardson — Jennifer Saunders|