The Cambridge Footlights are one Britain’s oldest student sketch comedy troupes. Their inaugural performance took place in June 1883. For some months before the name "Footlights" was chosen, the group had performed to local audiences in the Cambridge area. They wished to reach a wider audience than the University Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) as its theatre only seated one hundred people. They performed every May Week at the Theatre Royal, garnering huge public appeal. A local paper commended the Footlights on their appeal to “the many different classes of which life in Cambridge is made up".
The group grew in prominence in the 1960s as a hotbed of comedy and satire, and found a permanent home in the basement of the Cambridge Union. Having established a tradition of performing at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the group entered the mainstream when its members Peter Cook and Dudley Moore formed half of Beyond the Fringe, the hugely popular stage revue show which toured Britain and America in 1960. The 1963 revue then followed in the footsteps of Beyond the Fringe, appearing again at the Edinburgh Fringe and on London's West End, before travelling to New Zealand and the United States, where it made appearances on Broadway and The Ed Sullivan Show and received a full-page review in Time Magazine. Over the next decade, Footlights’ members came to dominate the British comedy scene, creating and starring in shows such as I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, At Last the 1948 Show and That Was The Week That Was. At this time, hugely popular comedy groups came out of the Cambridge Footlights, such as Monty Python and The Goodies. These comedians fuelled the trend for satirical and surreal comedy that captured the British imagination in the 1960s and 1970s.
During the 1980s, Footlights reinforced its position as the heart of British comedy. The 1981 revue, featuring Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Slattery, Penny Dwyer and Paul Shearer, won the inaugural Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe and spawned Fry and Laurie. In the 1990s, the Footlights was once again home to many future stars, such as Golden Globe and BAFTA-winning actress Olivia Colman, the hugely popular double act David Mitchell and Robert Webb, and comedian-presenters Richard Ayoade, John Oliver, Sue Perkins, and Mel Giedroyc.
The 2000s saw TV presenter, comedian and the brains behind Taskmaster, Alex Horne begin his comedy career with the Footlights. In 2001, despite not being a member of the University, Tim Key joined the Footlights and befriended Mark Watson. The Footlights International Tour Show of that year Far Too Happy, threw Key into the limelight and earned him a nomination for the Perrier award for Best Newcomer. Star of The Mindy Project Ed Weeks became the president of the group in 2002 and then Stefan Golaszewski, the creator of BBC sitcoms Him & Her and Mum, took over from Weeks in 2003.
More recent Footlights’ members include Simon Bird and Joe Thomas, the stars of The Inbetweeners; Liam Williams, Alastair Roberts and Daran Johnson from award-winning sketch group Sheeps, BBC mockumentary series Pls Like and Channel Four sitcom Stath Lets Flats; Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen from The Pin; Alex Mackeith, Ben Pope and Jamie Fraser from Princes of Main; comedic actresses Sarah Solemani and Sophie Winkleman; and stand up comedians Ken Cheng and Phil Wang. We do hope you enjoy watching the stars of tomorrow, today.