The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs (1974)

[post updated in April 2017]

Writing my recommendation for The Piglet Files convinced me that I should write one for The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs as well after all.
I had been thinking about this since planning this blog, but I hesitated as for decades (literally) this show had never been available on either Video or DVD, and it seemed pointless to recommend something that no-one who reads this can buy.

But I published this post here anyway, as a companion piece (and point of comparison) for The Piglet Files.

And, lo and behold, since 2015 The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs is now finally available on a 2-disc DVD set (Region 2 only). I already got mine and am highly chuffed.

 

The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs is a 1974 ITV comedy show totalling 13 episodes. It stars David Jason in the title role of Edgar Briggs, a bumbling idiot spy whose name alone is enough to send shivers done the spine of his superiors and colleagues. Those agents who have the bad luck to serve under him are especially hard hit, not to mention his long-suffering wife.

When I say “idiot”, I mean it, because Edgar Briggs is not merely a man who is in over his head, or a hapless character beset by adversities. Edgar Briggs is a human being with all the intelligence of a piece of bread. The absurdity of the humour comes from the premise that a person such as this could be a quite high-ranking officer within British Intelligence. As one might imagine, the humour is therefore not subtle, but rather very slapstick-y in nature. David Jason proves his talents at physical humour with occasional genuine slapstick moments. Most other humorous moments in this show are produced by scenes of carefully choreographed movements in which items are constantly misplaced, found, or switched. This, again, requires some talent on the part of Jason and his co-stars. The humour is enhanced by confused of non-sensical monologues which Jason’s character delivers at relatively high-speed and which accompany these choreographed scenes.

Edgar being the only idiot in the village, all other characters have the sole function of serving as “straight” men (women). That may sound as if it does not give them much to do, but as I said, they are all involved in those choreographed scenes where timing is essential. Also, all the regular cast members deserve credit for playing their characters’ reaction to Briggs’s buffoonery with a quiet and subtle (yet noticeable) dignity. It is their desperate attempts to stay polite and to keep the proverbial stiff upper lip that add a great deal to the success of this show.

The episodes are all following a similar pattern: a problem arises, Briggs is charged with dealing with said problem, creating lots of mayhem instead; in the end, some coincidence or other helps Briggs to solve the problem after all (in spite of his actions, no because of them), or at least look like the one who did it. Most episodes end, however, with that moment of triumph being undermined by some new idiocy by Briggs.

I guess The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs is one of those shows one either loves or hates. Personally, I recommend checking some internet clips for “test viewing” before buying the DVDs


excursion: the unnecessary yet inevitable comparison

Many episodes of The Piglet Files are structured in a similar way, but the two shows are very different in tone. “Piglet” is hapless and inexperienced, but he is by no means an idiot (unlike some of his colleagues). The tone and humour of both shows are also rather different. The choreography and monologues of Edgar Briggs would, in all their absurdity, not seem too much out of place in a Monty Python sketch. While The Piglet Files is far less absurd, and slightly closer to some form of reality.
So, each show’s style very much fits its respective era. And while the antics of Edgar Briggs are somewhat more hilarious and outrageously funny in a silly sort of way, its humour has not aged nearly as well as that of
The Piglet Files.

 

 

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