Griff Rhys Jones: comedian, boxer, boatman

As the broadcaster reunites with Mel Smith for a comedy head-to-head, we look back at Griff's career in TV

Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith go head to head once more tonight for a half hour of comedy that recalls their hugely successful partnership in Alas Smith & Jones. Although Jones would now be seen as a safe bet to present a big-budget, mainstream documentary series, Alas Smith and Jones, which ran for ten series from 1984 to 1998 on the BBC, was regarded at the time as impudent and irreverent.


Schooled in Essex and a Cambridge Footlights graduate, Griff Rhys Jones’s journey from comedian to avuncular frontman of programmes such as Three Men in a Boat began with the ground-breaking comedy sketch show Not the Nine o’Clock News.

Not the Nine o’Clock News 1979-1982

A distinctly plummy, earnest-looking young Griff was already making headway at BBC Radio as a producer but his talents as a comic actor were spotted by Not the Nine o’Clock News producer John Lloyd when Griff took on a few minor roles in the first series. Here he joins Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith for I Like Trucking from series three, one of several songs from the show that caused outrage, in this case because of its use of a hedgehog (stuffed) in the video.

Alas Smith and Jones 1984-1998

The tubby guy and the thin one played on the idea of a pair of opposites as so many famous comedy duos had done before, from Laurel and Hardy to Morecambe and Wise, when they came up with the format for their successful sketch show. The dialogue was more Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, though, with the two comedians having a regular face-to-face encounter in which an apparently serious conversation degenerated into a lewd satire on the issues of the day. In this famous sketch, Mel tells Griff about his visit to a sperm bank:

Morons from Outer Space 1985

Griff and Mel teamed up with director Mike Hodges for this spoof sci-fi. As co-founders of the highly successful comedy production company TalkBack (They Think It’s All Over, Da Ali G Show, Smack the Pony), the pair might have expected a hit at the box office but the reception was lukewarm despite both comedians in starring roles. Still, it gave Griff the chance to wear some fashionably sizeable 1980s specs.

Restoration 2003-2006

Although Griff had already presented more serious programmes like the literary show The Bookworm, Restoration took him out of the studio and into the community as he invited viewers to choose a building worthy of rescue with the help of a National Lottery grant. What better way to get close to your audience than to help them save a much-loved local landmark?

Losing It 2008

Having established himself in the public consciousness as both funny guy and kindly faced presenter of intelligent documentaries, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that Griff had anger management problems. In three-part series Losing It, he was in confessional mode, sharing his darker side and tackling his problem in the boxing ring.

Three Men in a Boat 2006 onwards

The holy grail of TV presenting must surely be a show in which you potter around in nice locations with a couple of mates. So the Three Men in a Boat series sees Griff messing about with  Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath on the not-so-high seas around Britain and even venturing as far as Venice for a gondola race. It’s a good gig but he’s earned it!


The One Griff Rhys Jones airs tonight at 8:30pm on BBC1