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Unaired BBC sitcom was among the funniest things Mel and I did, says Griff Rhys Jones

Mel Smith and Grif Rhys Jones in the Smith and Jones Sketchbook. Photo: BBC / Talkback Thames

Mel Smith and Grif Rhys Jones in the Smith and Jones Sketchbook. Photo: BBC / Talkback Thames

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Griff Rhys Jones talks about his new tour, his enduring partnership with the late Mel Smith and their unaired BBC sitcom.

Griff Rhys Jones will appear at various venues across East Anglia with his new show Where Was I? Photo: Emile Holba Griff Rhys Jones will appear at various venues across East Anglia with his new show Where Was I? Photo: Emile Holba

If Smith and Jones got a bit childish and lacking in real gravitas I’m afraid that was down to both of us,” laughs Griff as talk switches from his new stand-up tour, Where Was I, to his long-standing comedy partner, the late Mel Smith.

He recalls sitcom pilot Three Flights Up, about two guys who shared an office, which they pitched on their return to the BBC.

“One drew this very simple cartoon and it took him no time at all to draw it, but it took all day for the other to write the thing so they were stuck in an office all day together.

“One of them was just playing all the time and f***ing around and had his mates in and it sort of reflected, if you like, the relationship between Mel and me,” he laughs.

Teaming up when seminal sketch show Not the Nine O’Clock News finished, their decades long partnership produced series like Alas Smith and Jones, Smith and Jones, The World According to Smith and Jones, Smith and Jones in Small Doses, The Smith and Jones Sketchbook and the movie Morons from Outer Space.

Griff has often spoken of how, when it was good, performing with Mel was sheer bliss.

“It’s a bit like the Rolling Stones, when you read all the reports you wonder how Mick Jagger and Keith Richards stayed together (so long). Either you’re the people who think ‘I’ve got better things to do’... that’s what brings a working relationship to an end, really, one or other of the people in it assuming, in some way, they’re that much better than the other and they’re being dragged down by the other person.

“That’s quicker than anything else and that’s sort of, slightly, what happened with Nine O’Clock News; four series and then Rowan (Atkinson) and Pamela (Stephenson) both felt that they could do better things so it came to an end.”

Griff (right) says the sitcom pilot he and Mel Smith (left) worked on was among the funniest things they did together. Photo: Stephen Rousseau Griff (right) says the sitcom pilot he and Mel Smith (left) worked on was among the funniest things they did together. Photo: Stephen Rousseau

It was almost universal that if Mel and Griff had a script on the table either one of them found very funny, so did the other. They also knew what it needed and how to do it.

“Although we (he and Mel) weren’t very similar people we did laugh at the same things.”

Given the duo’s success, it’s bizarre the Beeb rejected Three Flights Up and the pilot never aired.

“We’d been longing to make a pilot because we’d been longing to bring the sketch show to an end, it’s a long period, a lot of sketches to write and it took us a lot of time and hard work,” recalls Griff.

“They said ‘oh yes, go and make a pilot’ so we did and we were very pleased. It was among the funniest things we did.

“The first episode was about a man who comes to mend the plumbing and dies on the premises and they don’t know how to get rid of the body. We had a lot of other scenarios but we just wanted to do two men in a room really.

“We showed extracts from it and audiences loved it, but it was one of those the writing was on the wall things, the BBC just decided they’d had enough of us so it didn’t get made.

“It’s quite interesting to show it now, to look at it and go ‘actually, it wasn’t at all bad’. It’s a funny thing but that’s just the way things go, we finished when we finished.”

Where Was I is the follow-up to his successful tour of Jones and Smith last year – his one-man, stand-up and story show about Mel, his untimely death, their relationship and the onset of ageing.

The topic this time is travel, using some of his personal jaunts from the last 15 years as the jumping off point. He’ll also look at the real truth about TV travel and the growing demand for jeopardy, incident and immersion as well as musing on the differences between travel and tourism, what are all the old people doing taking gap years and most important of all - how to get an upgrade.

Still a work in progress, Griff’s not straying too far from his Suffolk home, with dates at Haverhill Arts Centre, October 12; the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, October 22; The Cut, Halesworth, October 24; Ipswich Corn Exchange, October 26 and Diss Corn Hall, November 3.

There will also be two dates in aid of EACH, the first at Wherstead Suffolk Food Hall, October 21 and Woodbridge’s Ufford Park Hotel, October 29. His October 27 date at Sudbury’s Quay Theatre has already sold out.

The nationwide tour starts in January so this is a good time to catch Griff before some of the racier stories get cut. You can read about those and more about the show in our arts and culture section soon.

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