The who's who of comedy royalty

They're avin' a larf, ain't they? Once we celebrated generals and industrialists, now we look up to Britain's funny men (and women). As 'Little Britain' returns, Ian Irvine salutes the Comedocracy
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Armando Iannucci: WRITER, PERFORMER AND DIRECTOR

Next year Iannucci will be the Rupert Murdoch Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford University. It's acknowledgment of his role in promoting the contemporary comedians Chris Morris, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Patrick Marber, Richard Herring and Stewart Lee. His current project is a satire, The Thick of It.

Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders: WRITERS AND PERFORMERS

French and Saunders are the most successful contemporary female comedians. They met in the late 1970s and worked together on The Comic Strip. Their French & Saunders shows for the BBC showed their power of pastiche and both had successes separately with Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley. They are working on a pilot for a new sitcom, Jam and Jerusalem.

Matt Lucas & David Walliams: WRITERS AND PERFORMERS

Despite lukewarm reviews of the third series of Little Britain, which began on Thursday, the pair are now at the peak of their powers with sales of DVDs of their previous series and tickets for their live show selling out, as well as a slot on prime time BBC1. Little Britain began on Radio 4 in 2001, transferred to BBC3 in 2003 and later to BBC1.

Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews: WRITERS

They began writing sketches for Harry Enfield, Alexei Sayle and Paul Whitehouse's Fast Show, but their great breakthrough in television came with the three incomparable series of Father Ted. With Dylan Moran, they later wrote Black Books. Linehan has written The IT Crowd, about a group of office-bound computer nerds, for Channel 4's winter season.

Peter Bennett-Jones: CHAIRMAN OF TIGER ASPECT PRODUCTIONS AND PBJ MANAGEMENT

PBJ, as he's universally known, is a major power in broadcasting, and particularly comedy. In 1982, he set up Talkback with Griff Rhys Jones, but four years later went solo with what eventually became one of the most succesful indie TV producers. Tiger Aspect was responsible fore shows such as Harry Enfield and Chums, Mr Bean, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley while PBJ Management has a roster of comedians including Rowan Atkinson, Barry Humphries, Lenny Henry, Dylan Moran, Harry Enfield, Reeves & Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Dom Joly, Bill Bailey, Chris Morris and The League of Gentlemen.

Jon Plowman: BBC HEAD OF COMEDY

For 20 years, Plowman has proved the BBC's safest pair of hands with comedy. His remarkable run began in 1984 when he produced Alas Smith and Jones .

He went on to produce A Bit of Fry and Laurie, French and Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous, The Vicar of Dibley, Goodness Gracious Me, Gimme Gimme Gimme, The League of Gentlemen, Dead Ringers, The Office, Little Britain and The Thick of It - among many others. The shows he is most proud of are Ab Fab (for which he did audience warm-ups) and The Office (which he spotted as a seven-minute tape in a BBC directors' training course).

Chris Morris: PERFORMER, WRITER

The darkest and most dangerous talent in British comedy, Morris spent the 1980s working in radio, composing spoofs and parodies. The delirious send-up of news and current affairs, On The Hour on Radio 4 introduced his Paxman-inspired insane news anchorman . Since then he has caused anxiety among executives with Blue Jam on radio, The Day Today, Brass Eye and Nathan Barley.

Steve Coogan and Henry Normal : BABY COW PRODUCTIONS

The creation of Alan Partridge made Steve Coogan a star, but the creation of Baby Cow Productions in 1999 with the writer Henry Normal (The Fast Show, The Royle Family) made them important players in the business.

Baby Cow made the name of Rob Brydon in Human Remains and Marion and Geoff and they won a Rose of Montreux for best sitcom with Julia Davis's Nighty Night. Currently they have two new series on BBC2; Ideal, starring Johnny Vegas, and Sensitive Skin, with Joanna Lumley. They have also moved into film production: A Cock and Bull Story stars Coogan and Brydon in a version of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

Peter Kay : PERFORMER, WRITER, DIRECTOR

The success of Peter Kay's cover version of Is This The Way To Amarillo (seven weeks at No 1) was a great fundraiser for Comic Relief and the acknowledgement of his arrival in the top rank.

His two series of Phoenix Nights, in which he played Brian Potter, the foul-mouthed, wheelchair-bound manager of a Bolton social club, first appeared on Channel 4 and have sold huge numbers on DVD.

He is planning a new comedy on Channel 4 next year and a third series, and possibly a film, of Phoenix Nights.

Jon Thoday: FOUNDER AND JOINT MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE AVALON GROUP

If you go to the Edinburgh Festival to see stand-up comedy, you can't miss the dominant presence of Avalon.

Formed in 1989 Avalon now represents (among many other performers, including some Americans) Harry Hill, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner, the Pub Landlord Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Simon Munnery, Dan Antopolski, and this year's Perrier winner Laura Solon.

As well as TV (The Sketch Show, Time Gentlemen Please, Baddiel & Skinner), Avalon moved into West End theatre production with Jerry Springer -- The Opera.

Paul Schlesinger: BBC RADIO ENTERTAINMENT

In his five years in the job Schlesinger's predecessor, John Pidgeon, re-established Radio 4 as the place to find the best new comedy talent.

Schlesinger, who only took up the post in September, is now responsible for all in-house comedy on BBC national radio. His previous experience includes producing TV comedies like People Like Us, Absolute Power and Wild West and radio programmes like The Sunday Format.

Simon Pegg: PERFORMER, WRITER

Movies now take up most of Pegg's time: he co-wrote and starred in the zombie-romcom, Shaun of the Dead and will appear with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III. But Pegg is most famous for co-writing (with Jessica Stevenson) the ground-breaking sitcom Spaced. He is penning a new sitcom about a pub quiz team for Channel 4 called La Triviata.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant: PERFORMERS, WRITERS, DIRECTORS

The first series of The Office opened quietly in 2001, but through word of mouth, repeats and DVDs, it became a major phenomenon and David Brent a national figure. The second series topped BBC2 ratings and the final two specials were broadcast on primetime BBC1. It won awards in both the UK and US.

Their next project Extras proved The Office's excruciating comedy was no fluke. Brad Pitt and Madonna are interested in guesting in a second series.

Denise O'Donoghue & Jimmy Mulville: CO-FOUNDERS AND JOINT MDS OF HAT TRICK PRODUCTIONS

Since its foundation in 1986 by a comedian (Mulville) and a management consultant (O'Donoghue) who were married, Hat Trick has produced some of the country's most entertaining comedy and innovative formats.

Their shows include Father Ted, Drop The Dead Donkey, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Have I Got News For You, The Kumars at No 42 and Room 101. It has won more awards than any other non-BBC producer.

In 1999 Mulville and O'Donoghue were given the Bafta Alan Clarke award for outstanding contribution to television. The pair divorced in 1998. Each earned £11.27m when they sold 45 per cent of Hat Trick to Kleinwort Capital in July 2003. O'Donoghue will leave the company in January. Mulville is another Cambridge Footlights alumnus, whose friends and contemporaries include Griff Rhys Jones, Clive Anderson, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Rory McGrath and Nicholas Hytner.

Stuart Murphy: CONTROLLER OF BBC3

At 33, Murphy is the country's youngest channel controller. Before launching BBC3 in 2003, he launched and ran UK Play, the now disbanded BBC music and comedy channel, which ran Rock Profiles by future national stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

The success of Little Britain raised BBC3's profile and many of its comedies have since won awards, including The Mighty Boosh, Nighty Night and Monkey Dust.

Murphy is leaving BBC3 to work in the independent sector.

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer: PERFORMERS AND WRITERS

In a poll earlier this year ofThe Comedians' Comedian, Vic and Bob were voted the 9th greatest comedy act by their peers.

Since their breakthrough in 1990 with Vic Reeves' Big Night Out on Channel 4, they have applied their absurdist humour to a variety of formats: the game show (Shooting Stars), comedy drama (Catterick), and detective drama (Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) ). Reeves is hosting a radio show, Vic Reeves' Big Night In, on Virgin Radio and the pair plan another Friday night show for the BBC, as well as another sitcom.

Sioned Wiliam: ITV HEAD OF COMEDY

Now in her sixth year in the job, Wiliam has ordered a second series of the Frank Skinner sitcom Shane and has high hopes for a sitcom spin-off of the movie Mike Bassett: England Manager, with Ricky Tomlinson.

She has recently commisioned an adaptation of Jonathan Coe's 1980s satire, What A Carve-Up! which she sees as a revival of an ITV tradition of single comedy films.

Richard Curtis: WRITER AND DIRECTOR

The writer of some of the most successful British television sitcoms of all time (Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley) has turned to movies with even greater success: Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and Love Actually. He co-founded Comic Relief and this year and was one a key supporters of the Make Poverty History campaign.

Alistair McGowan & Ronni Ancona: WRITERS AND PERFORMERS

The outstanding abilities of this pair have made Big Impression a an award-winning show. During next year's World Cup a repeat of McGowan and Ancona's sublime double act as Sven and Nancy Dell'Olio is a must.

Lorraine Heggessy: CHIEF EXECUTIVE, TALKBACK THAMES

The controller of BBC1 since 2000, Heggessey left the BBC in April this year to join TalkbackThames, one the country's leading independent television producers. The company produces drama and entertainment, but also a considerable amount of comedy, including Da Ali G Show, Smack the Pony, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and They Think It's All Over.

Rory Bremner: WRITER AND PERFORMER

It will be a great loss to Bremner when Tony Blair does step down as Prime Minster as his impersonation and his mastery of New Labour speak has been the highlight.Since 1999 on Channel 4 Bremner, Bird and Fortune has been the most political of television comedy.

Lucy Lumsden: BBC CONTROLLER OF COMEDY COMMISSIONING

Lumsden took up her new post a fortnight ago and promised to push BBC comedy into "uncharted waters". She began her career at the BBC in 1992 on The Comic Strip and went on to develop independent productions, including The Worst Week of My Life for BBC1, The Catherine Tate Show for BBC2, and Monkey Dust and Nighty Night for BBC3.

Graham Smith: COMMISSIONER OF COMEDY AT CHANNEL 5 AND PARAMOUNT

Smith was once a commissioning editor for C4 where his credits included Harry Hill, Spaced, So Graham Norton, Jo Brand and TFI Friday.

At the BBC he was partly responsible for Little Britain and Dom Joly. He took up his present post last year, with a brief to develop home-grown comedies and sitcoms. He commissioned Swinging, its first homegrown sketch show, and Perfect Day, a two-hour comedy drama about six university friends reuniting for a wedding. Mackenzie Crook (Gareth in The Office) is developing a rock sitcom and Danny Baker a comedy drama.

Frank Skinner: WRITER AND PERFORMER

Skinner is the most relaxed and amusing of chat show hosts, but he's taking a break from his 10-year run of the Frank Skinner Show on ITV and return to stand-up comedy. The last time he toured was 1997 - when he set a UK record for biggest live solo comedy gig, playing to 6,000 at Battersea Power Station.

Caroline Aherne: WRITER AND PERFORMER

After the extraordinary success of The Royle Family, in 2001 Aherne announced her retirement from performing and emigrated to Australia. While there she wrote Dossa and Joe, which was indifferently received.

She returned to the UK in 2002. It was announced she has been succesfully treated for depression and would appear on television as the interview subject of Louis Theroux. There are few more talented comedians in the country.

Ash Atalla: EDITOR OF COMEDY AT TALKBACK THAMES

Atalla hit the big time as producer of The Office, but left the BBC in 2004 to join Talkback Thames. His latest production, Man Stroke Woman, a sketch show of new young talent, has just appeared on BBC3 and he is also producing The IT Crowd, about a group of office-bound computer nerds, written by Graham Linehan for Channel 4.

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