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National Portrait Gallery celebrates 70 years of British comedy

Exhibit includes modern performers Russell Brand and Johnny Vegas, as well as stars from the past such as Kenneth Horne

From Benny Hill looking dirty-minded to Johnny Vegas looking sexy, the National Portrait Gallery in London is celebrating British comedy in a free display that includes several recent acquisitions.

The gallery said it had acquired a photograph originally commissioned by the Guardian, which shows Vegas mimicking Demi Moore's pregnant pose on the cover of Vanity Fair. The photograph is one of more than 20 taken by Karl J Kaul, including Sacha Baron Cohen as Michael Jackson and Russell Brand as Christine Keeler.

Other recent acquisitions include portraits of Jimmy Carr and Mitchell and Webb by Barry Marsden, Omid Djalili by Karen Robinson and Matt Lucas by Nadav Kander. The display charts 70 years of British comedy, from people such as Kenneth Horne in the 1940s to the Catherine Tate Show. Along the way it takes in comedians and comic performers from the Goon Show to Les Dawson to Victoria Wood.

Clare Freestone, the gallery's associate curator of photographs, said the NPG aimed to promote an appreciation of people who have made and are making British history and culture. "Comedians do this in a unique way," she said. "They are very good at reflecting back at us the times in which we live and, of course, they make us laugh."

She said the gallery had a large number of photographs of comedians taken over the last century, some by celebrated photographers such as Bill Brandt, Lewis Morley and Annie Leibovitz.

"This display gave us the opportunity to highlight a group of people that have always been held high in public affection, with their performances often creating national talking points."

Comedians: From the 1940s to Now runs until 8 January 2012 © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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