What has come to be known as the "Secret Policeman's Ball" series had its roots in four Amnesty benefit shows produced between 1976-1981. The first two shows - "A Poke In the Eye" (1976) and "The Mermaid Frolics" (1977) were produced by Peter Luff and David Simpson. Those originating galas led directly to the show that gave the series its title "The Secret Policeman's Ball" (1979) and its sequel "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" (1981) which were produced by Martin Lewis and Peter Walker. (Lewis had been part of Luff and Simpson's production team for the 1976 & 1977 shows.)
Lewis and Walker subsequently supervised the successful export of the "Secret Policeman's Ball" films and albums to the USA. Constant to all four productions as a performer and inspiration was John Cleese. Cleese also directed the third show and co-directed the fourth. Other key members of the creative team for those early shows were Jonathan Miller who directed the first show, Terry Jones who directed the second and Roger Graef who directed the films of the first three shows.
Those individuals were collectively the creators of the pioneering first four shows that are the foundation of the "Secret Policeman's Ball" series.
|- Amnesty International UK (2008)|
It's Martin Lewis' title, I can pin that one on him. But I thought it was quite funny.
|- JOHN CLEESE (BBC TV - June 22nd 1979)|
I saw 'The Secret Policeman's Ball' and it became a part of me. It sowed a seed...
|- BONO (Rolling Stone - 1986)|
I love looking back at "The Secret Policeman's Ball". It showed us how to do it in a way that wasn't patronizing. I remember Martin Lewis who invited me to do the thing in the first place... I really, really relied on people like Martin and on other people to keep me abreast of what was going on...
|- PETE TOWNSHEND|
("The Secret Policeman Rocks" DVD - 2009)
I've been a member of Amnesty for five years and a supporter because of an entertainment show which was called 'The Secret Policeman's Ball' which I was involved in. And before that I didn't know about Amnesty's work and so in a sense I'm a success story.
|- STING (NBC Today Show - 1986)|
At the moment, I don't think there's a more important organization in the world than Amnesty International.
|- BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN|
(Amnesty's "Human Rights Now! world tour" - 1988)
The Secret Policeman's Ball is a mysterious and extraordinary event that certainly changed my life...
|- BONO (at Amnesty concert - 2001)|
The seed was planted at Amnesty for Bob Geldof. He saw what they were doing. He saw how entertainment could help that process and then he took the "Ball" and ran with it. Further than anybody could possibly imagine.
|- STING (BBC TV - 2004)|
It's 1979 that I appeared at "The Secret Policeman's Ball" - the Amnesty thing that John Cleese had kicked off. And my friend Martin Lewis had invited me to, in a sense, to kind of lighten the proceedings... to break up the comedy. And it was amazing subsequently to see what that triggered. Sting... Peter Gabriel... subsequently people like U2... Bruce Springsteen... and so on... Quite big names got involved in supporting Amnesty. And it became evident that big names in music and Amnesty melded very well. So it's good to see that what I did kicked that off. I feel that I planted a seed...
|- PETE TOWNSHEND (2011)|
The original "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows were always great collaborative events. It all started with John Cleese of course. And all the great comedic talents that he invited in - the other Pythons, Peter Cook and the other Beyond The Fringers... Rowan Atkinson, Eleanor Bron, Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna), Neil Innes and so many more.
It was fueled by wonderful Amnesty staff members such as Peter Luff, David Simpson and Peter Walker who were visionary and worked incredibly hard to make those early shows happen. They were also true gentlemen - generous and gracious enough to share the credit with all those who were on the team.
I was privileged to have been a part of the team that created and produced those first four shows. I was just a kid at the time of the very first show.
The "Secret Policeman's Ball" title was just a silly thing I blurted out at dinner at John Cleese's house when we were planning the 1979 show and trying to think of a name for it. John liked it and said "That's our title!" I was tickled that it was chosen - and I'm very proud that the title still resonates today.
Among the other things I'm proud of, was bringing in all the rock musicians. It started with Pete Townshend and that led me to recruit Sting, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Tom Robinson, Midge Ure, Bob Geldof et al. Of course Bob then took social and political activism to a much higher level than we were doing. Bless him for that! But it all started with Pete. And we all owe Pete a huge debt for saying yes to that first call. He inspired so much that followed...
The other really big kick for me personally was succeeding in my quest to bring the "Secret
Pollceman's Ball" films and albums to the USA. In 1982, I worked very hard together for three
months to create a special version of the "Secret Policeman's Other Ball" film designed just for
the US marketplace. And then I poured everything I had into creating and executing a unique
marketing campaign for the film. To my delight it worked out extremely well. And that helped
Amnesty gain a much higher media and public profile in the US. Which in turn led to the "A
Conspiracy Of Hope" US tour (1986) and the "Human Rights Now!" world tour (1988) that the US
section of Amnesty presented in the 1980s.
The essence of the Amnesty creed is that we should all pass the Amnesty candle on to the next generation - so that the fight for human rights continues.
So I was thrilled decades later in 2012 that Amnesty used my throwaway title for another
fund-raiser - the first-ever American version of the "Secret Policeman's Ball". It took place at
Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The production team of the new show were all Young Turks
and eager go-getters - and that was as it should be. We were all young when we did those classic
I was tickled pink that they sought my help on the production and marketing of the show. As
ancient as I was then (I'm younger than that now!) I managed to rustle up participation for the
show (via video) of three Pythons Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. And as a bonus for
the worldwide Blu-Ray/DVD release I negotiated - I lined up Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg, and
others to film a special new Pythonic skit that I wrote with Michael Palin. For my multiple
producing, writing and marketing roles I was dubbed Producer Emeritus! It made me sound about
120! But I was proud that this old lad could still lend a hand!
I'm delighted that something I helped start back in 1976 and nurtured though all those halcyon
years is still alive, well and kicking - and still helping Amnesty.
So I raise a glass to John Cleese and all the cast members of those first four shows, and to all
my colleagues who are the under-sung heroes of those pioneering early days.
|- MARTIN LEWIS|
Co-Creator "The Secret Policeman's Ball" series
Co-Producer of "Ball" shows/films/albums (1976-1984)
Producer Emeritus - "The Secret Policeman's Ball - USA" (2012)
Producer for Amnesty of "The Human Rights Concerts" DVD (2013)