The Secret Policeman's Balls


The Secret Policeman's Balls

:"This article is about the entire series of "Secret Policeman's Ball" benefit shows for Amnesty International (1976-2008)":"For the original 1979 show that gave the series its name see: The Secret Policeman's Ball":"For the 2006 benefit show - see: The Secret Policeman's Ball 2006:"For the 2008 benefit show - see: The Secret Policeman's Ball 2008

The Secret Policeman's Balls is the collective name informally used to describe the long-running series of benefit shows staged in England to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International. The shows started out in the mid-1970s primarily as comedy galas featuring popular British comedic performers and later expanded to include leading musical performers.

The shows have yielded movies, TV specials, home-videos, albums and books that have been distributed worldwide and had a considerable international impact. The "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows and their spin-offs are credited by many prominent entertainers with having galvanized them to become involved with Amnesty and other social and political causes in succeeding years. [1] Musicians such as Bob Geldof, Bono, Sting and Peter Gabriel have credited the shows with inspiring benefit events that they subsequently helped organize such as Live Aid and Live 8 - and triggering their activism leading to social issue organizations with which they are associated including the Band Aid Trust, the Live Aid Foundation, the Witness human rights group, The Rainforest Foundation, the ONE Campaign, the Debt, AIDS & Trade in Africa DATA charity and the Global Elders.

To date there have been four distinct eras of the Amnesty benefit shows. The first era (1976-1981) featured internationally-known British performers and were widely seen and heard internationally via theatrical films, TV specials, home-videos and record albums. The three subsequent eras (1987-1989, 1991-2001 and 2006 onwards) have featured primarily British performers popular in their homeland - and the spin-off products have been released mainly just in the UK.

Impact

The early shows (1976-1981) spawned movies, TV specials, albums and books that were distributed worldwide and had an impact far beyond the London theatre audiences who saw the original events. Those four shows and their spin-offs are credited by many prominent comedians, musicians, actors and producers with having galvanized them to become proactively involved with Amnesty and other social and political causes in succeeding years. [http://www.ireland.com/theticket/articles/2006/1020/1160606784745.html ]

Rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono who were both knighted for their humanitarian work (in 1986 and 2006 respectively) and Sting and Eric Clapton who were both made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for their charity work (in 2002 and 2004 respectively) have all attributed their involvement in humanitarian issues to their exposure to the "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows - Geldof, Sting and Clapton as participants - Bono as an audience member. [http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article2099967.ece]

Amnesty directly attributes the quantum leaps in awareness of the human rights issue, the significant increases in its membership (especially among the young) and its dramatically increased fund-raising achievements to the impact of the various shows and their spin-offs.

The "Secret Policeman's Ball" title was not actually used until the third of Amnesty's benefit shows in 1979. However, the two preceding shows in 1976 and 1977 were clearly antecedents to that 1979 show and have been retroactively considered part of the "Secret Policeman's" canon. (The 2004 DVD box set titled "The Secret Policeman's Ball: The Complete Edition" included edited versions of the films of the 1976 and 1977 shows.)

The series was created and developed by Monty Python alumnus John Cleese and entertainment industry executive Martin Lewis working closely with Amnesty staff members Peter Luff (Assistant Director of Amnesty 1976-1977) and subsequently with Peter Walker (Fund-Raising Officer from 1978). Cleese, Lewis and Luff worked together on the first two shows (1976 and 1977). After this, Cleese and Lewis worked on the next two shows (1979 and 1981) with Luff's replacement at Amnesty, Peter Walker - utilizing the "Secret Policeman's Ball" name for the first time and developing the series identity. Cleese and Lewis subsequently worked individually on other Amnesty projects. Cleese made brief cameo appearances in the 1987 and 1989 shows and co-directed the latter. Lewis produced two American films drawn from the first four shows (released in the US in 1982 and 1983) and then helped expand the participation of rock musicians for Amnesty (that he first engendered in the 1979 and 1981 shows) with his contributions to the 1986 "Conspiracy Of Hope" US tour and the 1988 "Human Rights Now!" world tour. [http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2007-07-04-live-earth_N.htm?csp=34] [http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2007-07-04-live-earth-timeline_N.htm]

The earliest shows (1976-1981) predated the proliferation of comedy and rock benefit shows that took place in the UK and US in the mid-1980s such as Live Aid, Farm Aid, Prince’s Trust concerts, The Free Nelson Mandela Concert and the British and American versions of Comic Relief. The Amnesty shows are considered to have been the pioneering charity events that helped inspire those later shows.

U2’s Bono told "Rolling Stone" magazine in 1986: "I saw 'The Secret Policeman’s Ball' and it became a part of me. It sowed a seed..." In 2001, Bono described "The Secret Policeman's Ball" to an Amnesty audience as "a mysterious and extraordinary event that certainly changed my life..." In 1986, Sting told the BBC "I've been a member of Amnesty and a support member for five years, due to an entertainment event called 'The Secret Policemans Ball' and before that I did not know about Amnesty, I did not know about its work, I did not know about torture in the world." Bob Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure - who went on to create the Band Aid records, Live Aid, and Live 8 - first met and worked together at 1981’s "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" which was the first benefit show that either of them had performed at. Geldof credits the "Secret Policeman's Ball" series with having inspired his own charity show endeavours. [http://www.channel4.com/entertainment/tv/microsites/S/secret_policeman/history.html]

The first wave of shows took place approximately every other year – and three of the first four shows were filmed and released theatrically as movies with corresponding record albums. Because multi-artist benefit shows with contemporary performers were a new phenomenon in Britain in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, they were accorded considerable media coverage and public attention. Some of the movies received international theatrical release (including important markets for British comedy such as the US, Canada and Australia), and the soundtrack albums enjoyed commercial success worldwide, all of which generated considerable international awareness of the original shows, together with a growing grassroots awareness of Amnesty international and the human rights issue. Amnesty states that public awareness of Amnesty increased by 700% between the first and third shows. [http://www.amnesty.org.uk/secretpolice/index.asp?page=6] Membership of the organization increased exponentially.

There was then a six-year hiatus. When Amnesty International re-commenced staging benefit shows, it did so without the benefit of the Amnesty staff members and outside producers who had successfully guided the first wave of shows (1976-1981). The new team running Amnesty International re-commenced staging benefit shows in 1987, and the shows were on a noticeably smaller scale and consequently generated considerably less media attention. The second wave of shows (1987 onwards) were videotaped to be shown as TV specials and/or released on home video in Britain rather than filmed as movies with prospects for international release. The sole exception to the smaller scale events was an ill-fated attempt in June 1988 to stage a "Live Aid" style music extravaganza - a weekend concert event titled "Amnesty International Festival Of Youth" at the 65,000 capacity Milton Keynes Bowl [http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/88_06_40.pdf] The event was a massive failure and for the first time ever, one of Amnesty's fund-raising benefit events lost money. [http://www.potatoacademy.com/overview.asp?theyear=1988]

Only two more of Amnesty's benefit shows (in 1987 and 1989) carried a "Secret Policeman's Ball"-related title. Between 1991 and 2001 Amnesty staged four more benefit events and though they were comedy shows in the same vein as their predecessors - none of them carried a "Secret Policeman's Ball" title. When Amnesty staged a 40th anniversary show in 2001 it was stated that the "Secret Policeman's Ball" title had run its course and would not be revived.

However, in October 2006, following a seventeen-year gap since the last show with "Secret Policeman's" in the title, the name was revived for a benefit show that used the identical title as the 1979 show. The merit in returning to use of the original title was underscored by Amnesty electing to use the "Secret Policeman's Ball" name once again for a show in October 2008.

Origin of the first show

In early 1976, the British section of Amnesty International was seeking a way to simultaneously raise funds for itself and elevate the very low profle of human rights issues in British public discourse. It decided to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Amnesty parent organization with a simple one-night benefit show with a few entertainers contributing services as was the norm with charity events in that era. There was no anticipation that the event might be filmed or recorded to be shared with an audience beyond the people attending the benefit. And no anticipation that it might be anything other than a one-off event.

Amnesty’s Assistant Director Peter Luff approached John Cleese of the Monty Python comedy troupe to seek his participation. Cleese was taken with the idea and volunteered to assist the event by helping to "round up a few friends.”

Cleese’s “few friends” transpired to be his colleagues in Monty Python, pals in the earlier British comedic ensemble "Beyond The Fringe", his "Footlights"/"I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again" peers in the contemporary British comedic ensemble "The Goodies" — and other members of the British comedy community from the 1960s and 1970s (primarily those described as "Oxbridge" comedians).

Luff obtained a theatre provided free of charge working with his Amnesty colleague David Simpson. The tickets for the show were advertised solely in the satirical magazine Private Eye and were sold out within four days.

The other member of the production team was Martin Lewis, a young record industry executive who initially undertook to produce a record album of the show and then became closely involved with Cleese, Luff and Simpson on the show production – which evolved into a three-night run. TV documentarian Roger Graef, approached the team offering to make a “fly-on-the-wall”-style documentary about the production of the show and to film the show itself. The resulting film was titled "Pleasure at Her Majesty's". Lewis' background was in publicity and marketing and he also undertook responsibility for publicizing the show and its film and record spin-offs.

The first Amnesty show - "A Poke In The Eye" (1976)

The first show – titled by Cleese "A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)" - took place on April 1–3, 1976 as a series of late-night galas at Her Majesty's Theatre – a theatre in London’s West End theatre district. The show was directed by "Beyond The Fringe" alumnus Jonathan Miller. The shows started at 11.30pm - after the performance of the theatre’s regularly-scheduled play. This idea for the show to be a late-night event – born of logistical necessity – became a hallmark of many of the subsequent shows and contributed to the lively atmosphere of the shows.

In addition to Lewis’ audio recording team, Roger Graef, using a small 16mm film crew, documented the rehearsals and performances. The footage was later assembled into the film "Pleasure At Her Majesty's", which premiered in November 1976 at the 20th annual London Film Festival, and was broadcast by the BBC in December 1976. Subsequently the film received a modest theatrical release at art-house cinemas in 1977. A record album of the show, titled "A Poke in the Eye (With a Sharp Stick)" was released in November 1976 by Transatlantic Records and was a commercial success.

The working title for the show was "An Evening Without David Frost" – a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the fact that David Frost was a common frame of reference for all the performers, most of whom had worked with him - or for him - early in their careers.

The second Amnesty show – "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977)

In May 1977 a second Amnesty benefit was held to build on the success of the first show and with the intent of developing momentum for a regularly-scheduled benefit show. The returning production team included Amnesty Assistant Director Peter Luff and Martin Lewis. The show was directed by Monty Python member Terry Jones. This show was unlike the first show and its primary successors in three key aspects. It was a single-night event rather than consisting of multiple performances, it started at 8:00pm on a Sunday evening, and the show was videotaped as a TV special rather than filmed for theatrical release.

The show took place at London’s Mermaid Theatre and was titled "An Evening Without Sir Bernard Miles" – an affectionate reference to the celebrated actor/manager who was the founder of the Mermaid Theatre. (The idea for the title grew out of John Cleese's recollection of the discarded working title for the previous year's show.)

The comedic performers in the 1977 show included several who had performed in the first show – such as Peter Cook, Terry Jones, John Cleese – joined by his then wife Connie Booth - and some newcomers including Sir Peter Ustinov. There were also a handful of acoustic musical performers including classical guitarist John Williams, actress/singer Julie Covington and folk troubadour Pete Atkin.

The record album of the show and the TV show were given a fresh title - "The Mermaid Frolics". The album was released on Polydor Records in December 1977 and the TV special was shown on the ITV network that same month through Granada TV. The title accorded to the TV show and record album has subsequently become the name by which the original stage show itself is known.

The third Amnesty show – "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1979)

Amnesty decided not to present a benefit show in 1978 in order to consider how to make better use of the performing talent so favourably disposed to assist it in raising funds. Peter Luff left Amnesty in 1978 and the organisation’s new fund-raising officer, Peter Walker, was deputed to work with Lewis on reconfiguring the show to raise more money and greater awareness of Amnesty.

Lewis and Walker determined that the third show needed to be produced in the same vein as the first show (i.e. multiple performances, late-night and documented on film for theatrical release) but with a more professional approach to exploiting the film of the show. They approached John Cleese who agreed to be involved again. He also agreed to direct the show though requesting that his credit read "slightly" directed by John Cleese." Cleese recruited the majority of the comedic performers – including Peter Cook and fellow Pythons Michael Palin and Terry Jones. He also selected a newcomer on the British comedy scene named Rowan Atkinson. Lewis recruited Scottish comedian Billy Connolly with whom he had worked while employed at Transatlantic Records. Connolly was the first non-"Oxbridge" comedian to perform at an Amnesty benefit – a distinction he made fun of in his performances at the show.

Lewis proposed to Cleese that in addition to the comedy performances the show should feature some contemporary rock musicians. Cleese delegated this responsibility to Lewis who recruited Who guitarist Pete Townshend to perform, as well as New Wave singer-songwriter Tom Robinson.

Cleese and Palin promoted the upcoming show in a rare joint TV interview transmitted on BBC TV on June 22, 1979. Cleese and Palin explained their support for Amnesty and their reasons for doing the shows. They also talked about the origin of the show name with Cleese crediting producer Lewis for coining the "Secret Policeman’s Ball" title.

The shows took place over four consecutive nights at Her Majesty's Theatre in London from June 27-30, 1979.

The shows were again filmed by a rudimentary 16mm documentary crew and the resulting 100-minute film – also titled "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" was released theatrically by ITC in June 1980 heralded by a special preview attended by many of the show’s participants. (A one-hour TV special drawn from the performances aired on Britain’s ITV network by London Weekend Television in December 1979 to coincide with the release of the "Secret Policeman’s Ball" record album on Island Records, produced by Lewis, of the comedy performances.)

A second record was released to coincide with the release of the film – a 12” EP containing eight musical performances from the show including three Townshend songs.

The film and record albums enjoyed critical and commercial success in the UK and sparked international interest. The film was released in several countries with notable success in Australia. For the first time there was also interest in the USA – with the 12" EP of the musical performances being released as an album by Atco/Atlantic Records and the US movie rights being acquired by fledgling independent distributor Miramax Films.

The iconic "Secret Policeman's" cartoon character used to promote the show, film and record albums made its first appearance in 1979. It was created by New Statesman cartoonist Colin Wheeler who had been commissioned by Peter Walker.

The fourth Amnesty show – "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" (1981)

Following the success of the 1979 show and the financial benefits accruing to Amnesty from the spin-off movie, TV special and record albums – Cleese, Lewis and Walker planned the next show to be a more spectacular event.

Cleese focused on broadening the comedic talent to be presented at the show. In addition to the Amnesty show stalwarts drawn from the Oxbridge/"Monty Python"/"Beyond The Fringe" orbit, he invited newcomers such as Rowan Atkinson’s colleagues from the BBC TV show "Not the Nine O'Clock News" including Pamela Stephenson and Griff Rhys Jones; comedian Victoria Wood and regional comic Jasper Carrott. Lewis secured a return appearance by Billy Connolly and a debut appearance by "alternative" comedian Alexei Sayle who Lewis had recently discovered and was managing.

Building on the success of Pete Townshend’s 1979 appearance Lewis recruited other rock musicians to perform at the 1981 show including Sting, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Donovan and Bob Geldof.

The show was presented at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on four consecutive nights on September 9-12, 1981.

Cleese invited theatre director Ron Eyre to co-direct the show with him. Walker secured funds to have the show filmed (at Lewis’ suggestion) by new wave filmmaker Julien Temple. For the first time an Amnesty show was filmed with a full 35mm film crew. The resulting film was released in the UK by UIP in March 1982. It became a commercial success on both its theatrical release and its subsequent home video release.

Two record albums were also released by Springtime/Island Records. One featured highlights of the comedy material, while the other featured the musical performances. In addition to the movies and albums, Methuen published a large coffee-table book edited by Lewis and Walker, featuring transcripts of the sketches from the show, photographs and some specially written comedic notes by Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Distinctive elements of the first four shows (1976-1981)

The reputation of the original four shows has endured and grown over the years. In September 2006, 30 years after the first show – a profile in the respected British newspaper The Daily Telegraph referred to the “talismanic power of the words The Secret Policeman's Ball” and “the show's folkloric status”. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/09/30/btball30.xml]

There are many factors that have contributed to the reputation of the shows – particularly from the first wave 1976-1981:

• The galas were the first stage shows in the UK to feature a broad cross-section of the baby-boomer generation of contemporary comedic performers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Media reviews at the time described the 1976 show as a gathering of the tribes.

• They were the first stage shows in the UK to present comedic performers (such as Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson) in the same setting and shows as their contemporaries in rock music (such as Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and Sting).

• The shows became famous for presenting unusual permutations of performers. By way of example in the 1976 show, Peter Cook of "Beyond The Fringe" became an honorary member of "Monty Python" for their "Courtroom Sketch". Terry Jones of "Monty Python" took the place of the absent Dudley Moore in "Beyond The Fringe’s" "Shakespeare skit". Rowan Atkinson was a guest performer with three members of "Monty Python" for the "Four Yorkshiremen sketch". John Cleese had the opportunity to perform in "two-handers” (skits for just two performers) with two of his mentors: Jonathan Miller in 1977 and Peter Cook in 1979. In 1981, it was Cleese’s turn to fulfill the role of mentor in a two-hander with Rowan Atkinson.

• Much of the material performed in the heralded first four shows (1976-1981) came from the rich repertoire of sketches and skits created in the preceding 15 years by "Beyond The Fringe" and the subsequent work of its alumni – and by "Monty Python" and the many stage, radio and TV antecedents to "Monty Python". In some cases, material that had been created for radio or TV shows was revived and presented on stage. For example: several skits from the cult 1960s TV show "At Last the 1948 Show" were resuscitated by John Cleese (one of that show’s creators) – and performed by him with various Amnesty show cast members including fellow Pythons (Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman) and other peers (John Bird, John Fortune and Tim Brooke-Taylor, the last also an "At Last the 1948 Show" writer/star), younger performers (Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones) and Cleese's then wife, actress/writer Connie Booth.

• The out-of-the-ordinary pairings were not limited to the comedic performers. In the 1979 show producer Martin Lewis arranged for rock guitarist Pete Townshend to duet with classical guitar virtuoso John Williams on The Who’s "Won't Get Fooled Again". Lewis also arranged for new-wave rock performers Sting and Bob Geldof to perform in a specially assembled super-group (named "The Secret Police") with 1960s guitar icons Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck on a grand finale performance of Bob Dylan’s "I Shall Be Released".

• Solo live performances by rock musicians of their hits was not a familiar phenomenon prior to the "Secret Policeman’s" shows. This changed with Townshend’s performance of "Pinball Wizard", Sting singing "Message In A Bottle" and "Roxanne", Phil Collins performing "In The Air Tonight".

• The shows were also the first to present the new-wave of working-class comedians (sometimes described as “alternative comedians”) such as Billy Connolly and Alexei Sayle to a wider audience. By the time of the second and third waves of "Secret Policeman’s" shows (in 1987-1989 and 1991-2001 respectively) alternative comedians had become the new mainstream succeeding the Oxbridge comedy school of the 1960s and 1970s. The later Amnesty shows followed the lead of the earlier shows in presenting the most popular comedy performers of the era – and many of these were the newer, alternative comedians such as Ben Elton, French & Saunders and Eddie Izzard.

American exploitation of the first four Amnesty shows

The films and records of the first three Amnesty benefit shows did not receive much exposure in the US, but this started to change in 1981-1982.

The original British versions of the two "Secret Policeman’s Ball" movies were presented at the 1981 and 1982 "Filmex Los Angeles International Film Festival". Media coverage of the festival screenings in magazines such as "Rolling Stone" created some awareness of the existence of the benefit shows.

The album "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball – The Music" was released by Island Records/Warner Bros. Records in March 1982 and became a Top Thirty album in the "Billboard" charts.

The third major element in bringing the Secret Policeman's Balls to the U.S. was the acquisition of the UK films by an American distributor. Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein, founders/owners of the new independent distribution company Miramax Films had previously acquired the US rights to the film of the 1979 show "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" and they subsequently acquired the rights to its successor "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball". They determined that neither film would be successful in the American marketplace in their original incarnations because some of the comedy content was too parochial for broader American tastes. [ Book: Peter Biskind, "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film"] They decided that the two films needed to be melded into one movie for the US. With Amnesty's blessing, they decided to combine the two films into one.

Original producer Martin Lewis was asked to create a new version of "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" specially for the American marketplace. Lewis distilled the best performances from both films into one new 110-minute film with a special American opening sequence narrated by "Saturday Night Live" announcer Don Pardo. The new film premiered in New York in May 1982 as a fund-raiser for the U.S. section of Amnesty; it received enthusiastic reviews and went on to box office success. The film is recognized as Miramax’s first hit. The American version of the film was released on home video by MGM-UA later in 1982. The US film (though drawn from the UK films of both the 1979 and 1981 shows) used as its title "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" – a title that by May 1982 had some resonance in the US marketplace because of the success of the music soundtrack album and media coverage of the film festival screenings.

In 1983, the Weinsteins and Lewis produced an 80-minute sequel TV special for HBO/Cinemax later released on home video by Media Home Entertainment titled "The Secret Policeman’s Private Parts". The program compiled material from the first two Amnesty shows (the 1976 and 1977 benefits) and the best of the content from the original 1979 and 1981 films that had not been used in the 1982 US version of "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball".

Two American offshoots of the "Secret Policeman’s Ball" shows (1986 and 1988)

In the early 1980s, Amnesty had a low profile in the US, and its Executive Director Jack Healey was looking for a way to raise the organization’s profile, especially among young people. In a 1986 profile in "Rolling Stone" Healey related how he decided to explore if some of the goodwill for Amnesty of rock musicians that he had seen in the US version of "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" could be put to service to help improve Amnesty’s profile in America.

Consulting with Martin Lewis, Healey conceived and produced Conspiracy Of Hope, an 11-day/6-concert rock tour of the US that took place in June 1986 in celebration of Amnesty’s 25th anniversary. The tour was headlined by a mixture of British and Irish artists – Sting, The Police, Peter Gabriel and U2 – with American and Canadian musicians Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, The Neville Brothers and Bryan Adams. The tour was promoted by rock impresario Bill Graham. The tour concluded with a major all-day concert at Giants Stadium in New Jersey that was televised by MTV. The final concert featured multiple additional artists including Bob Geldof, Joan Armatrading, Rubén Blades, Carlos Santana, Howard Jones, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell. Just one month after the tour, the membership of Amnesty in the USA had increased by 45,000 members. [http://www.artforamnesty.com/view_event.php?id=3]

Subsequent to "Conspiracy Of Hope", Lewis and Healey collaborated in conceiving the 1988 Amnesty world tour Human Rights Now!, that featured Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour and Tracy Chapman. Lewis and Healey's intention was to commemorate of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by staging a tour that would visit all five continents. The aim was to raise consciousness of the human rights issue rather than be a fund-raising exercise.

The six-week/20-concert tour was produced by Healey and Bill Graham. The tour staged concerts in 19 different nations in all five continents - and was considered successful in raising considerable awareness of the human rights issue throughout the world. [http://www.artforamnesty.com/view_event.php?id=4]

Aftermath in Britain of the first four shows

Following the success of "The Secret Policeman's Ball" shows, there was a virtual explosion of benefit shows and charity projects in the UK in the early-to-mid 1980s - for a wide variety of causes. Many of the shows were modelled on the format of the "Secret Policeman’s Ball" shows. At a certain point the media started to refer to a phenomenon described as "benefit fatigue" a term coined to describe the attitude towards the glut of benefit shows – many featuring the same group of performers – that were taking place each year. [http://www.washtimes.com/entertainment/20050630-100541-7478r.htm] [http://www.auntiemomo.com/cakeordeath/amnestypage.html]

By 1982, Amnesty had lost the services of two key staff members who had successfully guided the first wave (1976-1981) of their benefit shows: Peter Luff (the 1976 & 1977 shows) and Peter Walker (the 1979 & 1981 shows).

The British Section of Amnesty responded to these two factors by taking a break from staging new benefit shows for six years. When it restarted the "Secret Policeman’s" series in 1987 it scaled back from producing theatrical movies of its shows to making them into TV and home video specials.

The fifth Amnesty show – "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1987)

When the British Amnesty shows finally resumed in 1987 after a six-year hiatus, the show format was retooled in an effort to take advantage of the growing number of rock musicians supporting Amnesty, especially after the 1981 show and the 1986 Conspiracy Of Hope US tour. Instead of the live show being primarily a comedy show with a few musical cameos, the event made a point of giving equal emphasis to the comedy and the music. The show’s four nights were divided up into two nights of comedy and two nights of music.

The resulting 92-minute TV and video special was subsequently criticized for the increased musical content in place of comedy. While all the musical performances were presented in full, the comedic performances were often edited heavily. The TV version also prominently featured spoof documentary segments by newcomer Ruby Wax, which took time from the performances by the established comedians and musicians. This reflected the fact that, unlike the previous shows (which had been stage events that integrated comedy and music) the performances were edited together from two entirely different types of stage show.

The lineup of musicians included several who were already veterans of earlier Amnesty benefits in the UK and/or USA: Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne and Lou Reed. Other performers included Kate Bush, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Joan Armatrading, Chet Atkins, World Party and Duran Duran.

Most of the comedic performers in the 1987 show were talents familiar primarily just to British audiences. This made the film of the show far less appealing to overseas audiences and unlike its predecessors; it did not find major international distribution in lucrative markets such as the USA and Canada.

Comedic performers included: Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, Mel Smith & Griff Rhys Jones, Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders, Hale and Pace, Lenny Henry, Rory Bremner, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane, Ruby Wax and the "Spitting Image" puppets.

The shows took place at The London Palladium over four consecutive nights March 26-29, 1987. The shows were videotaped and a home video special was created integrating performances from the two comedy nights and two music nights. It was released by Virgin Vision. Two TV specials were created and transmitted - one featuring musical performances, the other featuring comedy performances. Following the pattern established by the 1979 and 1981 shows, separate albums of the comedic and musical performances was released by Virgin Records.

The sixth Amnesty show – "Amnesty International Festival Of Youth" (1988)

In 1986, the US Section of Amnesty International had organized the very successful Conspiracy Of Hope tour featuring leading rock musicians on an 11-day/6-concert tour of the US. This tour built upon the participation of rock musicians in the 1979 and 1981 "Secret Policeman's" shows. In early 1988, the US Section of Amnesty announced plans for a world tour featuring major musicians to take place later that year. Titled Human Rights Now! the tour would commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The primary artists who had signed on to perform were Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour and Tracy Chapman. It was also announced that the world tour would commence with a gigantic kick-off concert in England - a salute to the fact that Amnesty had been founded in England. The choice of England for the first concert was also in acknowledgement of the English "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows that had pioneered the deployment of rock musicians for Amnesty's benefit - and the presence on the line-up of two prominent English musicians - Sting and Peter Gabriel.

Shortly after the announcement of the forthcoming concert in England, the British Section of Amnesty International announced that it too had decided to salute the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a rock concert in England. The British Section of Amnesty scheduled its own concert to take place less than ten weeks prior to the announced date of the Human Rights Now! English concert already organized by their American sister organization.

Amnesty's British Section then booked one of Britain's largest concert venues, the 65,000 capacity Milton Keynes Bowl and at very short notice staged a weekend-long extravaganza titled "Amnesty International Festival Of Youth". [http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/88_06_40.pdf] Fatally for any chance of success for the event, Amnesty's in-house producer Pat Duffy [http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2002/feb/26/guardianobituaries1] scheduled the event to follow just one week after the long-announced "Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute" at England's 82,000 capacity Wembley Stadium. The Nelson Mandela concert had already lined up appearances by many of Amnesty's most prominent supporters in the music community - including Sting, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Steven van Zandt, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, Youssou N’Dour, Joan Armatrading - all of whom declined to partake in the new Amnesty show taking place at short notice just one week later. The "Nelson Mandela Concert" was the largest such event since 1985's "Live Aid" and the lineup also featured: Dire Straits, George Michael, Eurythmics, Joe Cocker, Ashford & Simpson, Natalie Cole, Tracy Chapman, Wet Wet Wet, Bee Gees, UB40, Chrissie Hynde, Hugh Masakela, Jerry Dammers, Whitney Houston, Meat Loaf, Salt-N-Pepa, Stevie Wonder and many more. The vast publicity for the one-year-in-the-planning Mandela concert which was receiving massive worldwide live television coverage in the style of "Live Aid" made it virtually impossible for the comparatively last-minute Amnesty event, with less celebrated performers, organized by people without much previous experience, to succeed. Amnesty resisted recommendations that it postpone or cancel the event and proceeded with the weekend.

Amnesty's "Festival Of Youth" weekend featured: Aswad, Joe Strummer, Big Country, The Stranglers, Aztec Camera, Motörhead, The Bhundu Boys, Go West, The Damned, Spear of Destiny, Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, New Model Army, The Icicle Works, Rhythm Sisters, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Transvision Vamp, So, World Domination Enterprises, Runrig.

Positioned chronologically between the two previously-announced major benefit concerts that summer in the UK - the "Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert" and Amnesty's own "Human Rights Now!" concert - both of which featured far more stellar line-ups -and with the inexperience of the organisers, the "Festival Of Youth" was destined to fail and the show was a major financial disaster for Amnesty. Uniquely among all the Amnesty benefit shows, Amnesty failed to find a film studio, television network, radio broadcaster, home-video distributor or record company to partner with it on the event and this compounded the substantial financial losses sustained by Amnesty.

The seventh Amnesty show – "The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball" (1989)

After the criticisms of the 1987 show’s disproportionate focus on music - and the financial disaster of its music-only "Festival Of Youth" weekend concert in 1988, Amnesty returned to the original formula that had been so successful in the 1976-1981 era with a primary focus on comedy. Pat Duffy was dropped from organising any further benefit events for Amnesty and for the 1989 show, Amnesty hired producer Judith Holder. [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0390313/]

John Cleese and Michael Palin made brief cameo appearances, establishing a connection to the original shows. Also returning was Peter Cook – on this occasion performing with his longtime comedic partner, Dudley Moore - and satirist John Bird. Several performers from the 1987 show returned including: Adrian Edmondson, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders, Lenny Henry, Rory Bremner, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane, Willie Rushton and the "Spitting Image" puppets.

The shows took place at the Cambridge Theatre from August 30-September 2, 1989. It was directed by Jennifer Saunders and John Cleese. The show was videotaped and televised in October 1989.

The eighth Amnesty show – "Barf Bites Back" (1991)

In early 1991, Amnesty held a comedy gala at the Duke of York's Theatre in London to commemorate its 30th anniversary. The event was the first Amnesty comedy show since 1979 for which Amnesty did not use the "Secret Policeman’s" title. The performers were primarily alternative comedians including: Tony Slattery, Lee Evans, Simon Fanshawe, Martin Soan, Eddie Izzard and Richard Vranch. The show was videotaped and televised by Granada TV in August 1991.

The ninth Amnesty show – "The Big 3-0" (1991)

A second event commemorating Amnesty's 30th anniversary was organized as a TV special at the end of 1991. The cast included Jonathan Ross, Steve Coogan, Julian Clary, Frank Skinner, Paul Merton, Vic Reeves and Alexei Sayle. The musical director was David Gilmour and musical guests included Tom Jones and Spinal Tap.

Unlike Amnesty's previous shows that had all taken place in public theatres or concert venues, these shows took place in a television studio. They were videotaped at Central Independent Television Studios, Nottingham, on December 13 and 15, 1991 and televised later that month.

The tenth Amnesty show – "So You Think You're Irish" (1997)

In early 1997, Amnesty held a comedy gala at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. The performers were primarily Irish performers including: Barry Murphy, Brendan O'Carroll, Pauline McLynn, Dermot Morgan, Kevin McAleer, Owen O'Neill, and Kevin Gildea. The show was videotaped and televised on ITV in March 1997.

The eleventh Amnesty show – "So You Think You're Irish 2" (1998)

In 1998, Amnesty staged a reprise of "So You Think You're Irish" in Dublin. The performers were again primarily Irish performers including: Milo O'Shea, Barry Murphy, Pauline McLynn, Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain, Tommy Tiernan, Ed Byrne, Kevin McAleer, Owen O'Neill, Ian Coppinger, Eddie Bannon, Brendan Dempsey and Kevin Gildea. The show was videotaped and televised on ITV in August 1998.

The twelfth Amnesty show - "We Know Where You Live" (2001)

In June 2001, Amnesty staged a benefit show that was video-taped as a TV special to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

Titled "We Know Where You Live" the show was a one-night performance at the Wembley Arena. The show was coordinated by comedian Eddie Izzard. The majority of the performers were British comedians popular in their homeland but lacking appeal to a broad international audience. Performers included Izzard, Dawn French, Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, Phill Jupitus, and Jonathan Ross - with cameo appearances by actors Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Richard E. Grant, Tim Roth, Emma Thompson, and Julie Walters.

In a salute to the original "Secret Policeman's Ball" that was the show's direct inspiration - the finale of the show was a re-creation by four performers (Alan Rickman, Vic Reeves, Eddie Izzard and Harry Enfield) of the celebrated "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch that had been performed at the 1979 Amnesty gala by John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Rowan Atkinson.

Coordinator Eddie Izzard also acknowledged the show's heritage in an interview in London's Evening Standard (May 31, 2001) saying: "The musical elements will follow the previous format because it's the son of "Secret Policeman's Ball" - so they're more acoustic than electric..." [http://www.auntiemomo.com/cakeordeath/amnestypage.html]

Explaining the show's new title, Izzard told the Evening Standard: "The title is designed to streamline the message of "Secret Policeman's Ball", which was a bit more ambiguous. "We Know Where You Live" is about gangsters or governments who run countries and withhold human rights."

The audience saw a musical performance on a giant video screen by U2 via satellite. Also acknowledging the heritage of the show, Bono introduced U2's performance by saying: "Right, what we'd like to do now is go live from Toronto to London, to "The Secret Policeman's Ball" - which is a mysterious and extraordinary event that certainly changed my life..." (Notwithstanding the description of the show as "live" the U2 performance had actually been pre-recorded in Toronto two weeks earlier on May 21, 2001.)

Revival of the "Secret Policeman's Ball" title in 2006

On August 18 2006, Amnesty International announced that it was reviving the "Secret Policeman's Ball" title for its upcoming benefit show - a one-night show to be held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on October 14, 2006.

In a conscious reprise of the Amnesty benefit shows of the 1970s and early 1980s that had heralded the organization's breakthrough in public awareness and fund-raising - the new show was given the same title as the 1979 show - "The Secret Policeman's Ball" - the name that had by now become the colloquially-used umbrella title for all of Amnesty's fund-raisers. The 2006 show was coordinated by British comedian Eddie Izzard - who had coordinated the 2001 Amnesty show.

The thirteenth Amnesty show - "The Secret Policeman's Ball 2006"

The thirteenth show in the Amnesty series took place at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on October 14, 2006.

Unlike the first (1976-1981) era of Amnesty shows featuring primarily internationally-known stars - the lineup mirrored the second (1987-1989) and third (1991-2001) eras of Amnesty shows with the vast majority of performers being known only to UK audiences. There was one internationally-known British comedic performer - Eddie Izzard - headlining a roster of locally popular acts - including Russell Brand, Jon Culshaw, Al Murray, The Mighty Boosh and Meera Syal. Four performers from America also made brief cameo appearances. Comedic actor Chevy Chase appeared in a skit along with actor Seth Green - and comedians Jimmy Fallon and Sarah Silverman also performed. There was a cameo from actor Richard E. Grant and animations featuring various familiar voices including Jennifer Saunders. Music was supplied by The Zutons and The Magic Numbers.

In common with the more parochial nature of the latter-era Amnesty shows (1987-2001) - the 2006 edition of "The Secret Policeman's Ball" was not filmed for international theatrical release as a movie but was instead videotaped for a UK TV special of highlights that was broadcast by Britain's Channel 4 network on October 31, 2006. A DVD with 90 minutes of edited highlights from the three-hour event was also issued. There was also a "cinecast" in which the Royal Albert Hall event was shown live in 17 cinemas in major British cities.

The fourteenth Amnesty show - "The Secret Policeman's Ball 2008" (2008)

In July 2008, Amnesty announced that it would present another show in the series to be titled "The Secret Policeman's Ball 2008". [http://blogs.coventrytelegraph.net/passtheremote/2008/07/channel-4-to-broadcast-secret.html] [http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/tv/article1420489.ece] Like its immediate predecessor, the show was a single-night live event at London's Royal Albert Hall. It took place on Saturday 4th October 2008.

In common with other Amnesty benefit shows in recent years, the majority of the performers were British (or UK-based) - well-known primarily just in Great Britain. (There was one Canadian comedian Russell Peters - who appeared via a pre-recorded video-tape.)

Confusingly, there were contradictory announcements about the cast list for the show, with one "finalised line-up" announced on Amnesty's webpage [http://www.protectthehuman.com/ball] for the event and a different "finalised cast list" announced on the webpage of the event's broadcaster Channel Four [http://www.channel4.com/entertainment/tv/microsites/S/secret_policeman/2008.html] indicating a lack of coordination between the two wings of the production.

Performers who were featured on BOTH lists were: Frank Skinner, Alan Carr, Graham Norton, Sean Lock, Kristen Schaal, Fearne Cotton, Matt Berry, Katherine Parkinson, Mitchell and Webb, Jason Manford, Shappi Khorsandi, Russell Howard, Russell Peters (via video-tape).

Performers who were listed as due to appear according to Amnesty's website but who were not listed on the Channel Four website were: Katy Brand, Tim Minchin, Sarah Millican,Kayvan Novak, Meera Syal, Sean Williamson, Sharon Horgan, Nick Mohammed, Dan Clark, David Armand.

Performers who were listed as due to appear according to the Channel Four website but who were NOT listed on the Amnesty website were: Eddie Izzard, Ed Byrne, Deborah Meaden, Jon Culshaw, Gok Wan, Mike Fenton Stevens, Keane, Razorlight,

The 3-hour event was video-taped and a 95-minute television special adapted from the show is scheduled to be broadcast the following day (Sunday 5th October 2008) on Britain's Channel Four. There was also a "cinecast" in which the Royal Albert Hall event was shown live in 35 cinemas in major British cities. [http://www.protectthehuman.com/articles/secretpolicemancinecasts] It was also available live in 4 cinemas in Australia. [http://www.greaterunion.com.au/movies/7048/Secret-Policeman's-Ball-08.htm] The "cinecast" was available in cinemas in six of Canada's thirteen provinces and territories. The Cineplex cinema chain made the film available on 50 of its 1,317 screens. [http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Cineplex-Entertainment-TSX-CGX.UN-905459.html] . Unfortunately for Canadian audiences, Amnesty and Cineplex did not make any public announcement in Canada about the Canadian "cinecast" until Wednesday October 1st 2008 [http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Cineplex-Entertainment-TSX-CGX.UN-905459.html] - just three days before the screenings and thus not allowing sufficient time for the event to be effectively promoted in Canada.

List of shows/locations/dates

*"A Poke in the Eye (With A Sharp Stick)" (the film of which was titled "Pleasure At Her Majesty's") (Her Majesty's Theatre, London, April 1-3, 1976)
*"An Evening Without Sir Bernard Miles" (the TV special and album of which was titled "The Mermaid Frolics") (The Mermaid Theatre, London, May 8, 1977)
*"The Secret Policeman's Ball" (Her Majesty's Theatre, London, June 27-30, 1979)
*"The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London September 9-12, 1981)
*"The Secret Policeman's Third Ball" (The London Palladium, March 26-29, 1987)
*"Amnesty International Festival Of Youth" (Milton Keynes Bowl, June 18-19, 1988)
*"The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball" (The Cambridge Theatre, London, August 30-September 2, 1989)
*"Barf Bites Back" (Duke of York's Theatre, London, 1991)
*"The Big 3-0, Amnesty's 30th Anniversary" (Central Independent Television Studios, Nottingham, 13 & 15 December, 1991)
*"So You Think You're Irish" (Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, 1997)
*"So You Think You're Irish 2" (Dublin, 1998)
*"We Know Where You Live" (Wembley Arena, London, June 2001)
*"The Secret Policeman's Ball 2006" (Royal Albert Hall, London, October 14, 2006)
*"The Secret Policeman's Ball 2008" (Royal Albert Hall, London, October 4, 2008)

List of participating artists (1976-2001)

Comedic performers

Comedy troupes

* The Monty Python team of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. (The sole exception is Eric Idle who has not participated in any Amnesty shows)
* The Beyond the Fringe team: Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller. (Dudley Moore participated in just one show with Peter Cook - but not as part of "Beyond The Fringe")
* The Goodies team of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.

olo performers and "double-acts"

Rowan Atkinson, Eleanor Bron, Connie Booth, Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Chris Langham, Hugh Laurie, Griff Rhys Jones, John Bird, John Fortune, Jimmy Mulville, Sir Peter Ustinov, Robbie Coltrane, Clive James, Jonathan Lynn, John Wells, Ben Elton, Adrian Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, Carol Cleveland, Jennifer Saunders, Victoria Wood, and Ruby Wax.

Musical performers

olo performers

Joan Armatrading, Kate Bush, Bob Geldof, Phil Collins, David Gilmour, Sting, Pete Townshend, John Williams, Neil Innes,Donovan

Bands

U2, Duran Duran, World Party, Stereophonics

Celebrities making cameo appearances

"Celebrities who are neither comedic nor musical performers who have made cameo appearances in skits at some of the shows"

* 1979 show: Anna Ford, Mike Brearley, Melvyn Bragg, Clive Jenkins
* 1987 show: Richard Branson
* 2001 show: Kate Moss

The shows on film, video and audio formats

Adaptations of the shows have been released in various film, video and audio formats over the years. Because there have been multiple different versions released in different configurations in different countries over the years, there has been some public confusion as to which version is which.

The confusion is most notable in respect of the two widely-different versions of the film "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball". The only home-video/DVD version presently available is based on the UK version of the film. There is currently no home-video version of the very different, original 1982 US version of the film. The confusion is apparent from consumer comments and complaints on e-tailer websites such as Amazon.com.

The first two Amnesty productions "Pleasure At Her Majesty's" (1976) and "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977) have never been released on home video in their original unedited form - only in truncated form. Video reissues of "The Secret Policeman's Ball" (1979) and "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" (1981) have also had original sequences edited out.

The US compilation "The Secret Policeman's Private Parts" (1983) - that featured special additional content and outtakes not included in the original UK films - has not been available in any format since the early 1980s and has never been released outside the US.

The most recent home-video release has been a 5-disc box set of DVDs entitled "The Secret Policeman's Ball: 25th Anniversary Silver Box Set". Released on region zero international format. The discs feature the edited, truncated versions of the earlier films.

The original audio albums of comedy and music from the shows have not been commercially available since the early 1990s.

Theatrical films made from the shows

UK film releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s" (1976)"100-minute documentary featuring rehearsals, backstage footage and performance of the 1976 show A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef
Executive Producers: David Simpson, Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Show Director: Jonathan Miller
Show Producers: John Cleese, David Simpson, Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Premiere: National Film Theatre, London Film Festival - November 1976
Release: Limited “art-house” release - 1977
Distributor: Essential

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1980)"94-minute concert performance film of the 1979 show of the same name"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Director: John Cleese
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Premiere: London - June 1980
Release: General release - 1980
Distributor: ITC/Tigon Films
Original home-video distributor: Hokushin (1981)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (1982)"99-minute concert performance film of the 1981 show of the same name"
Directed by Julien Temple
Produced by Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Directors: John Cleese & Ron Eyre
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Premiere: Plaza Theatre, London - March 1982
Release: General release - 1982
Distributor: UIP
Original home-video distributor: Videospace (1982)

US film releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "Monty Python Meets Beyond The Fringe" (1978)"Documentary featuring rehearsals, backstage footage and performance of the 1976 show A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick). This was the "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s" film misleadingly re-titled by the US distributor (without Amnesty’s permission) for the American market.
"(This US theatrical version differed from the UK theatrical release. Approximately 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes documentary footage was cut from the original film.)"
"Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Release: Limited “art-house” release - 1978
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Original home-video distributor: Wizard Video (1982)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (USA Version)" (1982)"110-minute concert film amalgamating footage from the two original UK films of the 1979 show and the 1981 show. With new, specially-created opening sequence."
US version produced by Martin Lewis
Executive Producers: Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Original footage directed by Julien Temple & Roger Graef
Original footage produced by Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Premiere: Sutton Theatre, New York - May 1982
Release: General release - 1982
Distributor: Miramax Films
Original home-video distributor: MGM-UA (1982)

Australia/NZ film releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* " The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1980)UK theatrical version
Release: General release - 1981
Distributor: Greg Lynch Film Distributors
Original home-video distributor:

* " The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (1982)UK theatrical version
Premiere: Sydney - September 1982
Release: General release - 1982
Distributor: Greater Union
Original home-video distributor: Village Roadshow (1982)

TV specials made from the shows

"The premiere broadcast of each TV special. Listed in chronological sequence of first TV transmission"

(This list excludes straightforward TV transmissions of the films that received prior theatrical release)"

UK TV broadcasts

* "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s" (1976)"100-minute documentary featuring rehearsals, backstage footage and performance of the 1976 show A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef
Executive Producers: David Simpson, Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Show Director: Jonathan Miller
Show Producers: John Cleese, David Simpson, Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Premiere: BBC-1 – Wednesday 29 December 1976 (billed as an “Omnibus” special)

* "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977)"60-minute TV special of performances from the 1977 show 'An Evening Without Sir Bernard Miles"'
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef
Executive Producers: Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Show Director: Terry Jones
Show Producers: Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Premiere: ITV Network via Granada TV – Saturday 10 September 1977

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1979)"60-minute TV special of performances from the 1979 show of the same name. This was NOT the full-length 94-minute film subsequently released theatrically in 1980 but a selection of highlights from the stage show. Most of these sequences were included in the theatrical film. "
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Director: John Cleese
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Premiere: ITV Network via London Weekend TV – Saturday 22 December 1979

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball – The Music" (1987)"60-minute TV special of music performances from the 1987 shows
""Transmitted after its home-video release
"Directed by Ken O’Neill
Produced by Neville Bolt & Tony Hollingsworth
Premiere: Channel 4 - Wednesday 21 June 1989 (billed as a "Late Shift" special)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1987)"95-minute TV special of performances from the 1987 shows
""Transmitted after its home-video release.
"Directed by Ken O’Neill
Produced by Neville Bolt & Tony Hollingsworth
Premiere: Channel 4 - Sunday 29 December 1991

* "The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball" (1989)"70-minute TV special of performances from the 1989 show of the same name"
Directed by Mike Holgate
Produced by Judith Holder
Premiere: ITV Network – Saturday 28 October 1989

* "Barf Bites Back" (1991)"60-minute TV special of theatre show held to celebrate Amnesty’s 30th anniversary"
Premiere: ITV Network via London Weekend TV - Saturday 24 August 1991

* "The Big 3-0" – "Amnesty’s 30th Anniversary Special" (1991)"120-minute TV show specially created as celebration of Amnesty’s 30th anniversary"
" Premiere: ITV Network via Central TV - Saturday 28 December 1991

* "So You Think You’re Irish" (1997)"80-minute TV special"
Directed by Gerard Stembridge
Executive Producer: John Sutton
Premiere: ITV Network via Granada TV - Monday 17 March 1997

* "So You Think You’re Irish 2" (1998)"3 x 30-minute TV episodes"
Directed by Gerard Stembridge
Executive Producer: John Sutton & Sean Love
Premiere: ITV Network via Granada TV - Tuesday 11th, 18th & 25 August 1998

* "We Know Where You Live, Live!" (2001)"100-minute TV special of performances from the 2001 show of the same name.
"Produced by Lisa Chapman & Richard Parker
Executive Producers: Malcolm Gerrie & Andy Ward
Show Director: Eddie Izzard
Show Producer: Katherine Allen
Premiere: Channel 4 – Saturday 16 June 2001

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (2006)70-minute TV special of highlights from the 2006 show of the same name.
Premiere: Channel 4 – Tuesday 31 October 2006

US TV broadcasts

* "The Secret Policeman's Private Parts" (1983)"80-minute compilation blending together highlights of the 1976 and 1977 shows; sequences from the 1979 and 1981 shows that had not been incorporated in the USA theatrical version of "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball"; unused outtakes from all four shows. With new, specially-created opening and interstitial sequences."
Created & produced by Martin Lewis
Executive Producers: Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Original footage directed by Julien Temple & Roger Graef
Original footage produced by Roger Graef, Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Premiere: HBO/Cinemax 1983
Original home-video distributor: Media Home Entertainment (1984)

Home-video releases of films & TV specials

UK - Original home-video releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1980)"First home-video release of the UK theatrical film of the 1979 show of the same name"
"(This home-video version was identical to the 1980 UK theatrical release.)"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Director: John Cleese
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1980 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Hokushin

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (1982)"First home-video release of the UK theatrical film of the 1979 show of the same name"
"(This UK home-video version differed from the UK theatrical release. A few skits were omitted. They were replaced by other skits and songs not used in the theatrical film.)"
Directed by Julien Temple
Produced by Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Directors: John Cleese & Ron Eyre
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1982 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Videospace

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1987)"First release of the video-tape of the 1987 show of the same name"
Directed by Ken O’Neill
Produced by Neville Bolt & Tony Hollingsworth
Video release: 1987 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Virgin Vision

* "The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball" (1992)"First home-video release of the TV special of the 1989 show of the same name"
Directed by Mike Holgate
Produced by Judith Holder
Show Directors: John Cleese & Jennifer Saunders
Show Producers: Tony Harpur
Video release: 1992 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 16921)

UK - Home-video reissues and compilations

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball (Music Edition)" (1991)"Compilation of music performances from the 1979, 1981, 1987 & 1989 shows."
Video release: 1991 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1992)"First reissue of home-video release of the UK theatrical film of the 1979 show "The Secret Policeman’s Ball"
"(This 1992 home-video reissue was similar to the original 1980 home-video release. However certain performances in the original film and video (eg Billy Connolly) were deleted from this edition)"
Video release: 1992 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 16920)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (1992)"First reissue of home-video release of the UK theatrical film of the 1981 show "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball"
"(This 1992 home-video reissue was identical to the original 1982 home-video release.)"
Video release: 1992 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 16917)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1992)"First reissue of the video-tape of the 1987 show of the same name"
Video release: 1992 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 21431)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Early Bits" (1993)"First UK home-video release of some of the content from the first two shows. This 78-minute compilation presented some material from the 100-minute "Pleasure At Her Majesty's" (1976) and the 60-minute "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977). It does NOT present those two productions in their entirety."
Video release: 1993 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 21432)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Box Of Balls" (1993)"4-tape box set of the films of the 1979, 1981, 1987 & 1989 shows "The Secret Policeman's Ball", "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball", "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball" and "The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball"
Video release: 1993 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 21431)

* "Comic Balls" (1994)"118-minute compilation of content from the first six shows (1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1987 & 1989).
Video release: 1994 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Columbia TriStar (CVR 21907)

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Early Years" (2002)"VHS & DVD reissue of VHS compilation released in 1993 as "The Secret Policeman’s Early Bits". This 78-minute compilation presents some material from the 100-minute "Pleasure At Her Majesty's" (1976) and the 60-minute "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977). It does NOT present those two productions in their entirety."
VHS Release: 2002
DVD release: 2004
Distributor: ILC

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Middle Years" (2002)"VHS & DVD reissue of 1993 VHS version of the UK theatrical film of the 1979 show of "The Secret Policeman’s Ball". This 2002 reissue was similar to the original 1980 home-video release. However certain performances in the original film and video (eg Billy Connolly) were deleted from this edition"
VHS Release: 2002
DVD release: 2004
Distributor: ILC

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Alternative Years" (2002)VHS Release: 2002
DVD release: 2004
Distributor: ILC

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Music Years" (2004)"DVD reissue of VHS compilation released in 1991 as "The Secret Policeman’s Ball (Music Edition)". Compilation of music performances from the 1979, 1981, 1987 & 1989 shows."
DVD release: 2004
Distributor: ILC

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Complete Edition" (2004)"4-disc DVD box set. 9.5 hours. Collection of edited versions of the films of the 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1987, 1989 & 1991 shows.
(Certain original sequences were omitted from the films of the 1976, 1977, 1979 & 1981 shows")
DVD release: 2004
Distributor: ILC
"Contents:"
Volume 1
1976 show - "Pleasure At Her Majesty's (1993 edited version)
1977 show - "The Mermaid Frolics (1993 edited version)
Volume 2
1979 show - "The Secret Policeman's Ball (1992 edited version)
1981 show - "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982 video version of the UK version of the film)
Volume 3
1987 show - "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball"
1989 show - "The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball"
Volume 4
1991 show - "Amnesty International's Big 3-0" (Special Edition)
Compilation - "The Secret Policeman's Ball (Music Edition)" (1991 compilation of music performance)

* "The Secret Policeman's Ball - 25th Anniversary Silver Box Set" (2005)"5-disc DVD box set. 11 hours. Reissue of 2004 DVD box set "The Secret Policeman's Ball - The Complete Edition" with one additional disc containing the 75-minute 2004 TV documentary "Remember The Secret Policeman's Ball?"
DVD release: 2005
Distributor: ILC
"Contents:"
Volume 1
1976 show - "Pleasure At Her Majesty's (1993 edited version)
1977 show - "The Mermaid Frolics (1993 edited version)
Volume 2
1979 show - "The Secret Policeman's Ball (1992 edited version)
1981 show - "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982 video version of the UK version of the film)
Volume 3
1987 show - "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball"
1989 show - "The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball"
Volume 4
1991 show - "Amnesty International's Big 3-0" (Special Edition)
Compilation - "The Secret Policeman's Ball (Music Edition)" (1991 compilation of music performance)
Volume 5
Documentary - "Remember The Secret Policeman's Ball?" (2005 documentary)

* "Remember The Secret Policeman's Ball?" (2005)"75-minute 2004 TV documentary commemorating the 25th anniversary of "The Secret Policeman's Ball"
DVD release: 2005
Distributor: ILC

US - Original home-video releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "Beyond The Fringe" (1982)"First US home-video release of the UK theatrical film "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s" as released theatrically in the US in 1978. The theatrical release of the film had been misleadingly re-titled "Monty Python Meets Beyond The Fringe" by its US distributor (without Amnesty’s permission). Following complaints to the distributor from Monty Python and Amnesty International - the title was truncated for its US video release to the equally misleading "Beyond The Fringe"
"(This US home-video version differed from the UK theatrical release. Approximately 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes documentary footage was cut from the original film.)"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Video release: 1982 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Wizard Video (0040)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (USA Version)" (1983)"First - and only - home-video release of the 1982 US theatrical film. This US film and video is different from the UK film and video of the same name. "
"(This US home-video version differed slightly from the US theatrical release. A few skits were omitted. They were replaced by other skits and songs not used in the US theatrical film.)"
US version produced by Martin Lewis
Executive Producers: Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Original footage directed by Julien Temple & Roger Graef
Original footage produced by Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1983 (VHS only)
Video distributor: MGM-UA (MV800175)

* "The Secret Policeman's Private Parts" (1984)"First - and only - home-video release of the US TV special of the same name"
"(This home-video version was identical to the TV special.)"
Created & produced by Martin Lewis
Executive Producers: Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Original footage directed by Julien Temple & Roger Graef
Original footage produced by Roger Graef, Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1984 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Media Home Entertainment (M295)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1987)"Video-tape of the 1987 show of the same name"
Directed by Ken O’Neill
Produced by Neville Bolt & Tony Hollingsworth
Video release: 1987 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Virgin Video

* "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s" (1998)"Second US home-video release of the 1976 UK theatrical film "Pleasure At Her Majesty’s". First US release under its original title.
"(This US home-video version differed from the original UK theatrical release. Approximately 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes documentary footage was cut from the original 100-minute film - leaving a 70-minute program.)"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Peter Luff & Martin Lewis
Video release: 1998 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Rhino Home Video (R3 2557)

* "The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1998)"First US home-video release of the UK theatrical film of the 1979 show of "The Secret Policeman’s Ball"
Directed by Roger Graef
Produced by Roger Graef & Thomas Schwalm
Executive Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1998 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Rhino Home Video

* "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (UK version)" (1998)"First US home-video release of the home-video version of the 1982 UK version of the film of "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball"
"(This video of the UK version of the film is different from the 1982 US theatrical and home-video versions of the film.)"
Directed by Julien Temple
Produced by Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Show Directors: John Cleese & Ron Eyre
Show Producers: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Video release: 1998 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Rhino Home Video (R3 2559)

US - Home-video reissues and compilations

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (1998)"First reissue of the video-tape of the 1987 show of the same name"
Directed by Ken O’Neill
Produced by Neville Bolt & Tony Hollingsworth
Video release: 1998 (VHS only)
Video distributor: Rhino Home Video (R3 2563)

Audio recordings made from the shows

UK - Audio releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick) (1976)
"Album of highlights of the 1976 show
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1976 - Transatlantic Records (TRA 331)

* The Mermaid Frolics (1977)
"Album of comedy & music highlights of the 1977 “An Evening Without Sir Bernard Miles”
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1977 - Polydor Records (2384101)

* Here Comes The Judge (1979)
"Mini-album featuring Peter Cook's "Entirely A Matter For You" monologue from "The Secret Policeman’s Ball"
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1979 - Virgin Records

* The Secret Policeman’s Ball (1979)
"Album of comedy highlights of the 1979 show
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1979 - Island Records (ILPS 9601)

* The Secret Policeman’s Ball – The Music (1980)
"12” EP of music highlights of the 1979 show
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1980 - Island Records (WIP-6598)

"'* Neil Innes: "Protest Song" (1980)
"Single of Neil Innes' performance of "Protest Song" from "A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)"
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1980 - Warner Bros. Records

"'* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (1981)
"Album of comedy highlights of the 1981 show
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1981 - Springtime!/Island Records (HAHA 6003)

* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball – The Music (1982)
"Album of music highlights of the 1981 show"
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1982 - Springtime!/Island Records

* The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball (1987)
"Album of comedy highlights of the 1987 show
"Released: 1987 - Virgin Records

* The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball – The Music (1987)
"Album of music highlights of the 1987 show
"Released: 1987 - Virgin Records (90643)

* The Secret Policeman’s Ball' (1991)
"Cassette-only reissue of original 1979 comedy album
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1991 - Laughing Stock (LAFC A3)

* The Complete 'A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)' (1992)
"First CD release of original 1976 album. Issued with bonus disc of unreleased material
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1992 - Springtime!/Castle (ESDCD 153)

* The Complete 'Secret Policeman’s Other Ball' (1992)
"First CD release of original 1981 album. Issued with bonus disc of unreleased material
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1992 - Springtime!/Castle (ESDCD 152)

* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball – The Music (1992)
"First UK CD release of album of music highlights of the 1981 show"
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: Springtime!/Castle Communications (1992)

US/Canada - Audio releases

"(listed in chronological sequence of release)"

* The Secret Policeman’s Ball – The Music (1980)
"Album of music highlights of the 1979 show
"Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1980 - Atco/Atlantic Records

* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball – The Music (1982)
"Album of music highlights of the 1981 show"
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1982 - Island/Warner Bros. Records (9698)

* The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball – The Music (1987)
"Album of music highlights of the 1987 show
"Released: 1987 - Virgin Records (90643)

* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball – The Music (1992)
"First US CD release of album of music highlights of the 1981 show"
"(Released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the album's original release in 1982)"
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1992 - Springtime!/Rhino Records (R2 71048)

* Dead Parrot Society: The Best Of British Comedy (1993)
"Compilation CD includes first US release of comedy content from the 1976 & 1981 shows"
Produced by Martin Lewis
Released: 1993 - Springtime!/Rhino Records (R2 71049)

Books created from the shows

* The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (1981)
"Book containing transcripts of skits and monologues, lyrics of songs, photographs, of the 1981 show. Also features production notes and comedic observations about the show by Michael Palin & Terry Jones."
Editors: Martin Lewis & Peter Walker
Publisher: Eyre Methuen (1981) ISBN 0-413-50080-2
* The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball (1987)
"Book containing transcripts of skits and monologues, lyrics of songs, photographs, of the 1987 show."
Publisher: Sidgwick and Jackson (1987) ISBN 0-283-99530-0

Other related TV shows (UK & US)

"Other televised concerts, documentaries and compilations inspired by the 'Secret Policeman's Ball' shows - featuring entertainers in support of Amnesty International"

"(listed in chronological sequence of first TV transmission)"

* Sky At Westminster Abbey (1981)
"75-minute concert celebrating Amnesty’s 20th Anniversary
""The first-ever rock concert at Westminster Abbey"'
Produced by Martin Lewis & Nicholas Wright
Executive Producer: Ken Griffin
Premiere: UK BBC-2 – Thursday 12 March 1981

* Conspiracy of Hope (1986)
"All-day concert celebrating Amnesty International"
Concert Producers: Jack Healey & Bill Graham
All-day live broadcast: MTV (USA) – June 1986
Highlights: Fox TV (USA) – June 1986

* Human Rights Now! (1988)
"Concert celebrating Amnesty International"
Concert Producers: Jack Healey & Bill Graham
Live US broadcast: HBO (USA) – December 1988

* The Secret Policeman’s Retro Ball! (1992)
"60-minute documentary on history of rock musician support for Amnesty"
"Including footage from:"
"The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1979)
"The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (1981)
"Conspiracy of Hope” US Tour" (1986)
"Human Rights Now!" World Tour (1988)
Produced by Martin Lewis
Premiere: VH1 (USA) – December 1992

* The Secret Policeman’s Concert (1992)
"60-minute compilation of rock performances for Amnesty"
"Including footage from:"
“The Secret Policeman’s Ball" (1979)
“The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball” (1981)
Executive Producer Martin Lewis
Premiere: MTV (Europe) - 1992

* Free to Laugh: A Comedy and Music Special for Amnesty International
"TV special video-taped at the Wiltern Theate, Hollywood on Sunday March 8, 1992
"Directed by Bruce Gowers
Produced by Campbell McLaren, Robert B. Meyrowitz & Michael Pillot
Premiere: USA Lifetime - 1992

* Amnesty International Concert for Human Rights (1998)
"Paris concert celebrating 50th Anniversary of Universal Declaration Of Human Rights"
Directed by Stanley Dorfman
Premiere: Thursday 10 December 1998

* Remember The Secret Policeman's Ball? (2004)
"75-minute documentary about the Amnesty shows"
Directed by Margaret Kinmonth
Produced by Roger Graef
Premiere: UK BBC-4 – Thursday 9 December 2004

References

* British Film Institute database of British films & TV shows
* Book: Martin Lewis, Peter Walker, editors, "The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball" (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981) ISBN 0-413-50080-2
* Book: "The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball" (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1987) ISBN 0-283-99530-0
* Book: Jim Henke, "Human Rights Now!" (Bloomsbury 1988) ISBN 0-7475-0318-4
* Book: Douglas L. McCall, "Monty Python: A Chronological Listing of the Troupe's Creative Output, and Articles and Reviews about Them, 1969-1989"
* Book: Peter Biskind, "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film"
* Rolling Stone Magazine - July 20, 1982 - "British Comedy Has a Ball for Amnesty International"
* Los Angeles Times - September 4, 1994 - "Now For Something Completely Retro"
* UK Daily Telegraph - September 30, 2006 - Historical profile [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/09/30/btball30.xml]
* CD Booklet notes: "The Complete A Poke In The Eye" - CD release Springtime!/Castle 1992
* CD Booklet notes: "The Complete Secret Policeman's Other Ball" - CD release Springtime!/Castle 1992
* CD Booklet notes: "The Secret Policeman's Concert" - CD release Springtime!/Castle 1992
* CD Booklet notes: "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball - The Music" - CD release Springtime!/Rhino 1992
* CD Booklet notes: "Dead Parrot Society" - CD release Springtime!/Rhino 1993


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