Paying upwards of £60 a head (with profits to the Prince's Trust), a crowd of 1,700 gathered last night to watch comedy supposedly fit for a future king in a celebration of Prince Charles's 60th birthday, with the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry in attendance.
The host John Cleese, 69, came out on a wheelchair, sporting pyjama bottoms and flanked by two "nurses". Cleese deliberately garbled the names of the performers, giving each turn backhanded compliments and gently mocking the potential awkwardness of such occasions. "It's the thought that counts," was Cleese's verdict on previous variety shows but, on this occasion, both thought and deed were a success.
Robin Williams, a candidate for top-of-the-bill, kicked off the proceedings in earnest. Grey-haired and slightly hoarse, he raved about Barack Obama and celebrated the departure of George Bush, "the comedy piñata", and exclaimed: "America is officially out of rehab."
In the brief second half, Williams came on with Bill Bailey to perform a blues duet about how it was unfair that Charles's "mama" had more birthdays than he did, and lamented that the Prince did not appear on British currency, singing: "Don't you think it's strange that you are not on the change?" Bailey himself, in a solo turn, risked minor treason by suggesting the national anthem should be the Pink Panther theme, so British athletes could look cooler at sporting events. Meanwhile, his "oompah" version of the Belarus national song had Charles in stitches; clearly a chord had been struck in a man who has endured endless national anthems.
Bailey's set was tight, as was that of the Anglo-Iranian comic Omid Djalili, who cut back and forth from an upper-crust English accent to an Iranian one and found a quick hit-rate with such gags as: "To you, an Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman is a joke – to us it is a hostage situation."
Moving down another comic generation still, Steven K Amos initially had to work a bit harder to get the audience on his side, but duly did so, while Michael McIntyre was born for moments like this.
Elsewhere, there were cracks about the Queen's tenacious reign on the throne, Rowan Atkinson reprised his sermon about Jesus turning water into wine and being asked to do children's parties, Joan Rivers was motormouth brash and John Culshaw had his duff Simon Cowell skit redeemed by a terrific George Bush: "My fellow amphibians, as you are no do doubt underwear, we have a new Precipice of the US, Borat Osama."
You might think Eric Idle showing up at the end of a seemingly straight English National Ballet performance to sing, with brass band and choir, the Monty Python classic "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" would steal the show. In truth, it was Andrew Sachs momentarily reprising the role of Manuel from Fawlty Towers: proof that the BBC's shamed king of chat, Jonathan Ross, can influence comic proceedings even while in exile, and even when the royal show is on ITV.