Clive Anderson to take on the devil

The Sunday Telegraph 10/1/1999

Cartoon set in heaven stars alternative comedy pioneers

By Catherine Milner, Arts Correspondent

A new television cartoon series that will rival America’s award-winning The Simpsons is to be launched by the man who, 20 years ago, pioneered Britain’s alternative comedy boom.

Peter Rosengard, a life insurance salesman who set up the Comedy Store in London in 1979, was responsible for the showbusiness debuts of Clive Anderson, Alexei Sayle and a host of other well-loved entertainers.

Now those comedians are set to repay their debt by becoming the stars of Cloud Cuckoo Land – a new cartoon series funded by Mr Rosengard, in which all the protagonists die in the opening sequence.

The series, written by the award-winning scriptwriter Ollie Dennis, together with Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley and Adam Peters, is described by Mr Rosengard as something “between Toy Story and The Simpsons”. It is being made by Planet 24 which hopes it will be broadcast by the BBC next year.

It is set in the 1980s, when a takeover of heaven by hell has resulted in the bland, happy atmosphere of Cloud Cuckoo Land. Clive Anderson, who appeared on the opening night of the Comedy Store in 1979, when he was still working as a barrister, will star as the voice of the Devil in the programme, and Alexei Sayle, who was the first compere at the club, will play Trevor, head of the Cloud family.

Other appearances will be made by Arnold Brown in the role of St Peter, who has problems operating the electric Pearly Gates, and Susannah Doyle form Drop the Dead Donkey, who will play Mrs Cloud.

Mr Rosengard, who will feature in a six-part series about alternative British comedy which starts tomorrow night on BBC2, said he was inspired to set up the Comedy Store after seeing Robin Williams perform at the one in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

At first, said Mr Rosengard, he had to advertise in magazines to find the comedians. “I had no idea how to find them so I placed adverts in Playboy, The Stage and Private Eye”.

“Most of the people who turned up were terrible,” he said. They were a motley bunch of builders, chauffeurs, accountants, city brokers and labourers, “all of whom thought they were hilarious”.

But one who stood out was a barrister. “The place was full of drunken journalists.” recalls Clive Anderson of his first-night performance. “I went along but had to purchase life insurance from Peter at the same time.”

Although other comedians who have the Comedy Store to thank for launching their careers, include Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, Nigel Planer and French and Saunders are not involved in the new show, they revolutionised British comedy, said Mr Rosengard, which up until then had been dominated by the racist, sexist routines of comedians such as Les Dawson and Bernard Manning.

“I had never liked the northern club comics and their mother-in-law jokes on TV,” he said. “After Benny Hill I had heard enough double entendre to last a lifetime.