ARTS 1996

It was the year of Cezanne at the Tate and Oasis at Maine Road; of `Moll Flanders' and `Emma', `Trainspotting' and `Our Friends in the North'. And here, in time-honoured tradition, our critics pick their people and productions of the past 12 months. The envelopes please ...

Comedy: Antique Cutlery in fine condition

With all the gravitas commensurate with his status and venerability, the legendary Glaswegian sage, poet and humorist Ivor Cutler puts the collective mind of his audience at ease. Though the poetry books may shake in his hand, he assures a rapt Cambridge Corn Exchange, he is "not suffering from tertiary syphilis". That may very well be the case, but even well into his seventies, the uniquely affecting and melodious timbre of the Cutlerian larynx still poses a sexual threat.

COMEDY The Pub Landlord's Late Lock In Her Majesty's Theatre, London

For rather too long, Al Murray was grinding it out as one of comedy's also-rans, building up something of a name as the circuit's number-one gun impressionist. If a comic burst of Kalashnikov fire was your idea of a rollicking night out, Murray was your man. Then, while introducing Harry Hill's Pub International show a couple of years back, he needed a fill-in character to cover Hill's wig change, and hurriedly came up with a Cockney landlord. Murray took to his royal-worshipping pub patriot with such relish that in a very short space of time the character had evolved into a full act. So convincing has the Landlord proved that people have been known to come up to him after a show and ask him the whereabouts of his boozer.

COMEDY: Al Murray: Pub Landlord

Al Murray: Pub Landlord, Her Majesty's, London SW1 (0171-494 5558) 7.30pm Sun; The Stand-Up Show, BBC1 2 Nov

Fringe / Al Murray's Late Night Lock-In

Al Murray's Late Night Lock-In

Choice: The critics: COMEDY

Harry Hill There are few things more tiresome than self-consciously "look at me, aren't I clever" wackiness, but Hill throws himself into his stream of silliness with such gusto that you can't help but like him for it. From the moment he runs on stage in an agent orange Cilla Black wig singing "Hawaii 5-0" to the tune of "Cockles and Mussels", he captivates with craziness. Lyric Hammersmith, London W6; to 31 Dec

Boys' night out

If it's Sunday it must be the Comedy Store. Mark Wareham tagged along with Merton, Mullarkey, Sweeney and company

THE CRITICS: The joy of being Harried


Profits collapse at Hambro Countrywide

Hambro Countrywide, the troubled estate-agency chain, admitted yesterday that the slide in the housing market had led to a profits collapse in the past year.



When did you have your first drink?


Red-carding racism

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Edinburgh Festival / Day 15: Perrier Award

This year's Perrier Pick of the Fringe Award, announced in a shopping mall at midnight on Saturday, has gone to . . . Lano and Woodley. 'Who?' chorused the gathering of astonished press and performers, partly because the PA had broken down but chiefly because no one had heard of them, let alone seen the show. The decision was described as 'bizarre' by one of the Perrier judges, Vicky Coren. The winners, an Australian double-act blending traditional variety with stand-up, receive a pounds 3,000 prize and a gig at the Lyric Theatre, London, on 2 October. Not giving the prize to the more bankable favourites, Alan Davies and Harry Hill, has at least put a temporary stop to the traditional post-Perrier cries of 'Fix]'.

Comedy / Just a Perrier contender for me, thanks

AS AUGUST progresses, the Perrier Award - referred to with wry deference in some comedic circles as 'The Little Bottle of Water' - casts an ever longer shadow over the Edinburgh jollity. This is a shame, because the Perrier is no Delphic oracle; it's just the opinion of a couple of people who have won competitions in magazines, the odd TV producer, and a handful of journalists including Alan Coren's daughter. Harry Hill's Pub Internationale (Pleasance) ought to have won it by now - the result was due to be announced at midnight last night - if only for being the perfect antidote to fizzy-water poisoning.

Edinburgh Festival / Day 11: Side View: Perrier Award

The shortlist for the 1994 Perrier Pick of the Fringe Award for best comedy reads as follows: much- fancied stand-up Alan Davies at the Gilded Balloon (8.15pm); Harry Hill (see review opposite); mild-mannered Brummie Jeff Green, the Assembly Rooms (9pm); absurd Australians Lano and Woodley, the Fringe Club (8.30pm); true blue American Robert Schimmel, the Assembly Rooms (10pm); and autobiographical sit-down comedian Owen O'Neill, the Gilded Ballon II (10.30pm). The winner will be announced at midnight on Saturday.
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