On April 1, Royal Mail issued stamps featuring Great Britain’s favorite comedians of the past 60 years.
In announcing the stamps, Royal Mail said, “Of all of the traits used to describe the British around the world, it is their sense of humour that is considered the most distinctive.”
Called Comedy Greats, the issue includes 10 nondenominated first-class stamps in two strips of five with the designs se-tenant (side-by-side). The first-class rate is 63 pence as of March 30.
Starting on the left side of the first strip, the stamps honor: Spike Milligan, the Two Ronnies (Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett), Billy Connolly, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, and Norman Wisdom.
Commemorated on the second strip of five are Lenny Henry, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin), Dawn French and Victoria Saunders, and Victoria Wood.
In an April Fool’s Day press release about the Comedy Greats, Royal Mail said that the stamps focus “on performers who emerged from the tradition of stand-up and sketch show artists, rather than those more widely regarded as comic actors.”
Of the 19 comedians honored on the stamps, 11 are still alive (Corbett, Connolly, Henry, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, Palin, French, Saunders and Wood).
One of these, Gilliam, was born in the United States (Minneapolis), but became a British citizen in 1968.
Each stamp shows two photographs of the performer or performers. Faces are featured in the larger image in the foreground of the designs, and skits or a stand-up routine in the smaller illustration in the background.
For example, the six original members of Monty Python are pictured in the foreground of their stamp, while in the background Cleese is shown in the sketch “Ministry of Silly Walks” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Another famous Monty Python skit, “Spam,” first aired in 1970, inspired the use of the word spam to mean junk e-mail.
Royal Mail mentions two anniversaries related to the Comedy Greats stamps: Norman Wisdom was born 100 years ago, Feb. 4, 1915; and Cook and Moore’s BBC television series Not Only … But Also debuted 50 years ago, Jan. 9, 1965.
Wisdom was known for his physical slap-stick comedy. He also became a cultural icon in Albania. According to his obituary on the BBC News website, Wisdom’s films were the only ones from the West allowed in that country.
Royal Mail’s the British Philatelic Bulletin said that Cook and Moore “brought the avant-garde to mainstream Sixties TV” with Not Only … But Also.
The photo in the background shows the duo having tea at a table.
Yellow boots shaped like bananas and a piano are among the other items that can be seen on the stamps.
Connolly first wore the yellow banana boots on stage in 1975. They now are on display in a museum in Glasgow.
Wood is pictured playing the piano in the background of her stamp. Royal Mail said, “As a stand-up, songwriter, playwright and performer, Victoria Wood has earned a place in the comic pantheon several times over.”
Many of the comedians honored on the stamps influenced those who came after them.
Royal Mail said of Milligan,
“ … Before him, comedians were constrained by rules and conventions, but in his wake they were free to be funny in all manner of different ways.”
As for French and Sanders, “their partnership paved the way for a new generation of funny women,” according to Royal Mail.
The pair appeared together in Girls on Top and French and Sanders in the 1980s, and later starred separately in The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Famous.
French was married to Henry from 1984 to 2010. In addition to his stand-up comedy and roles in television and films, Henry is one of the founders of Comic Relief.
The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise covered a wide range of comedy, including spoofs, sketches and musical parodies.
The Chase designed the stamps. Each stamp measures 41 millimeters by 30mm, and is perforated gauge 14.5 by 14.
International Security Printers printed the stamps by offset in sheets of 50 (sold in panes of 25 at most postal outlets).
A booklet with moisture-activiated stamps was printed by gravure.
This booklet includes the Norman Wisdom and Morecambe and Wise stamps and four first-class Queen Elizabeth II Machin definitives.
Among the other Royal Mail products for the Comedy Greats issue are first-day covers, 10 postcards reproducing the designs of the stamps, and a presentation pack containing a mint set of the stamps and text by comedy biographer Graham McCann.
The stamps can be ordered at Royal Mail’s shop on the Internet. Ordering information also is available from Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 S. Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB, Scotland.
More from Linns.com: