Comedy legend brands 'formula' a joke

A BOFFIN'S claim to have discovered a successful formula for comedy has been dismissed as a joke by Suffolk sitcom king David Croft.Mr Croft, now in his 80s and retired to west Suffolk, is a veteran of the British comedy scene, and the writer behind some of the most successful sitcoms of all time.

A BOFFIN'S claim to have discovered a successful formula for comedy has been dismissed as a joke by Suffolk sitcom king David Croft.

Mr Croft, now in his 80s and retired to west Suffolk, is a veteran of the British comedy scene, and the writer behind some of the most successful sitcoms of all time.

In a career spanning five decades, he has penned the likes of Dad's Army, Are You Being Served, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi de Hi, Allo Allo and Oh Doctor Beeching and has produced and directed some of the nation's most memorable comedy moments.

He is perhaps singularly qualified to judge the efforts of molecular neurobiologist Dr Helen Pilcher, and writer Timandra Harkness, who claim to have come up with a winning comedy formula in the hope of reviving the fortunes of British TV comedy.


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According to the results of Pilcher and Harkness's Comedy Research Project, the comedy value of a sitcom is calculated by multiplying the main qualities of the main character(r) by their delusions of grandeur (d), added to the verbal wit of the script(v) multiplied by the amount someone falls over.

If that were not enough, the total is divided by the success of any scheme during the show (a) and the difference in social status between the highest and lowest ranking characters is then added (s).

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When put to Mr Croft, who is currently holidaying in Portugal, it at least elicits a laugh from him. "Nonsense," he adds.

"There is no secret, it's not something you can explain, you could analyse and put it into an equation but you won't be able to produce anything out of it."

He also pointed out that the one part of the formula which you can't qualify is the verbal wit of the script.

"That's something you have to work at," he said, "It's something you really have to work at, everybody who starts writing initially comes up with rather bad stuff, but you keep writing and eventually the penny starts to drop.

"Over a number of years you will come to understand what works and what doesn't, but basically your just writing and trying to get paid."

The formula has been produced to mark the launch of the Golden Rules of Comedy season, launched on UKTV Gold last night.

UKTV Gold controller Jon Keeling said: "Critics have been saying that sitcoms are a dying art form and recent shows from Johnny Vaughan (Orrible) and Frank Skinner (Shane) and Denise Van Outen (Babes in the Wood) would seem to suggest they have a point.

"We hope this formula will provide aspiring future writers with all the tools they need to produce the next generation of classic TV comedy."

Using the formula it has been calculated that Orrible scored just 6.5 points, and Babes in the Wood scored eight and both shows were panned by the critics and shunned by viewers.

On the other hand the most successful of all time were calculated as Only Fools and Horses, 696 points, The Office, 678, Father Ted, 564, Fawlty Towers, 557 and Blackadder, 374.5.

Dr Pilcher said: "This formula shows why some sitcoms fail to make the grade whilst others are destined to make us laugh time and time again."

Mr Croft acknowledges that the genre does seem to be undergoing something of a rough patch, and agrees with the formula's choice of top sitcoms, but not with how the conclusions were reached.

"It's something indefinable, they are just funny, that's all, and that's not something you can explain."

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