Smith and Jones: Scratch and Sniff Tour: Theatre Royal, Hanley, 1986
Play: Allegiance: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 2006
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones formed a very successful television comedy partnership after the success of the television series Not the Nine O’ Clock News which also featured Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson. Smith and Jones were the perfect double act delivering classic sketches and routines with withering bewilderment and excellent comic timing. The only time I saw them together live when I was at college at Staffordshire University in 1986 studying for a B/TEC Higher National Diploma in Business and Finance. They were on the Scratch and Sniff Tour which stopped off at the Theatre Royal, Hanley and they were at the top of their game being very risqué and very funny. At the start of the show, Smith furiously and frantically appeared on stage on his own trying to get ready for the show and wondering where Jones was. Suddenly from the balcony very close to where I was sitting and with a nod to Morecambe and Wise, Jones appeared in a coat, cap and carrying a shopping bag wondering what all the fuss about. When the show got into full swing, the insults between the two came thick and fast and the material was far more adult than their television output (as is the norm with live comedy). This made the evening somehow more funny and surprising. I saw the show at Christmas time and I can vividly remember the finale entitled Jesus in Pantoland featuring the duo playing all the roles of the nativity including Smith (the more portly) memorably playing two of the three wise men.
When I attended the Edinburgh Festival in 2006, I saw Smith play Winston Churchill in the play Allegiance at the Assembly Rooms on George Street alongside a then unknown Michael Fassbender. Smith made a good stab of the role but because of latecomers at the performance I attended he forgot his lines and was understandably not best pleased. The play was not helped by the fact that new smoking laws banning smoking in public buildings had been enforced in Scotland during the play’s run and Smith made the newspapers commenting that he should smoke on stage claiming that one of Churchill’s trademarks was his cigar and if he couldn’t smoke, he would leave the show. A compromise was decided where Smith would be seen smoking plastic cigars. Nevertheless, the troubled show became one of the hits of the Fringe that year and proved that Smith was a wonderful actor as well as a great comedian.
Between 1979 and 1998 Smith and Jones were a very funny double act. Mel Smith died in 2013 and along with his partner Griff Rhys Jones, they have left a legacy of work that rank alongside the work of other comedy greats.