The Secret Policeman's Ball (Disc 1) (1981)

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Released 12-Dec-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Amnesty International
Trailer-What's Up Tiger Lily?, The Natural History Of The Chicken
Trailer-Malcolm, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 76:14 (Case: 75)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Roger Graef
Amnesty Int.
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring John Cleese
Michael Palin
Rowan Atkinson
Peter Cook
Mike Brearly
Eleanor Bron
Ken Campbell
Terry Jones
Pete Townshend
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Being a big fan of English comedy, The Secret Policeman's Ball is a sort of Holy Grail type DVD. It is something I have always wanted to see because of its pride of place in the English comedy lexicon. It is the sort of combination of comedy performers which one does not see too often, including as it does classic performers such as John Cleese, Terry Jones & Michael Palin from Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Peter Cook and Clive James. Having now seen this DVD, I realised that I have seen at least some of this material before, but many years ago. So then, the big question is - is it any good?

    Frankly, the answer is...well it's OK, but you wouldn't get too excited. To my mind it is patchy and the best material is just recycled Monty Python skits anyway. Having said that there were some funny sketches, but mixed in with stuff that was either a little dated or just not funny. For those who are not aware, this is a live recording of a show which was held over 4 nights in June 1979 at Her Majesty's Theatre, London. The show was to benefit Amnesty International and their fight for human rights. John Cleese was initially approached by Amnesty after he made a donation and he agreed to get involved in putting together a show to raise money. He gave Amnesty the names and numbers of other comedians whom he thought would agree to get involved, and most of them did. This is actually the third such show, the first being staged in 1976.

    The DVD contains the following sketches / songs:

  1. Interesting Facts - Peter Cook & John Cleese. Peter Cook annoys Cleese with some strange facts while Cleese is trying to read his newspaper. OK, but not spectacular.
  2. Letters & Telegrams of Apology Clive James reads letters of apology from people who cold not attend. Funny stuff, especially the obtuse Mozart one.
  3. Pregnancy Test  - Peter Cook & Eleanor Bron. Yawn
  4. Pinball Wizard - Acoustic version of the song by Pete Townshend of The Who.
  5. School Master - Classic Rowan Atkinson. A Highlight.
  6. Cheese Shop - John Cleese & Michael Palin recycle this sketch from the Monty Python series. Funny.
  7. Cavatina from The Deer Hunter - John Williams on acoustic guitar.
  8. The Ken Campbell Roadshow - A fairly stupid collection of physical comedy & stunts including audience members
  9. Dear God - A funny sketch involving Eleanor Bron confessing
  10. The Pianist - Rowan Atkinson miming a pianist. Underwhelming.
  11. The Name's The Game - John Cleese & Terry Jones as a game show compere and his elderly female contestant. She has to guess which celebrity is beating her up. Funny.
  12. Glad to be Gay - Tom Robinson sings a protest song. Clashes with the tone of the rest of the show as it is VERY VERY serious.
  13. Entirely a Matter For You - A funny Peter Cook sketch which lampoons a court case at the time where the judge badly led the jury. It is still funny even if you don't know the other case.
  14. Four Yorkshiremen - Another recycled Monty Python sketch performed by Cleese, Palin, Jones & Rowan Atkinson. Funny, but if you're a Monty Python fan you have seen it before.
  15. We Won't Get Fooled Again - Another acoustic The Who song performed by Pete Townshend, this time with John Williams.
  16. The End of The World - A good sketch featuring the entire cast. Funny end to the show.

    If you like English comedy this is worth seeing but it is certainly patchy.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The video quality is poor.

    The feature is presented in a 1.29:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which is probably the original aspect ratio, although I have no evidence one way or the other.

    The picture was reasonably blurry throughout, not helped by the grain and significant colour artefacts. There was no evidence of low level noise and the transfer has been done at a healthy bitrate. The shadow detail was virtually non-existent, although being a show on a brightly lit stage this is to be expected..

    The colour was pretty average with lots of bleeding, chroma noise and colour issues probably caused by tape tracking problems. From 36:45 to 38:00 the colour comes and goes and at 17:25 there was a big flash of red. Even when the colour is OK it is dull and lifeless.

    Film artefacts were plentiful including lots of white specks and blobs, jumps, hairs and reel change markers.

    There are subtitles which provide details of the musical tracks but nothing else. These can be turned on and off.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio quality is decent but pretty flat.

    This DVD contains an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack encoded at 224 Kb/s.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand and there was no problem with audio sync, which is obviously the most important thing for a comedy show.

    The music did not come over very well, sounding flat and lacking dynamics.

    The surround speakers and subwoofer were not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu included an intro, motion and sound, and the ability to select scenes, or random play. The I icons allow for the music info subtitle track to be turned on if desired.


    Five text pages which explain how the concert came about.

Amnesty International (0:30)

    A short ad for Amnesty is available by selecting the Amnesty logo on the main menu.

Umbrella Propaganda

    Selecting the umbrella logo on the main page gives you access to trailers for other Umbrella product including The Natural History of the Chicken, Malcolm, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball & What's Up Tiger Lily.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is available in Region 2 as part of a box set of titles. It does not seem to be available separately or in Region 1. This disc is coded for all regions.


    A live comedy charity show recorded in 1976 featuring the cream of English comedy. Unfortunately, the material is patchy.

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio quality is decent but not more.

    The disc has no real extras except a few text pages.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

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