Ways You Can Support My ‘Art’

•November 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish. For context, since the launching of the Patreon, I’ve posted over 100,000 words of free material on here each year. I hate getting into the grotty business of money, but I can’t do this if I starve to death, so here’s how you can slow my eventual descent into the skeletal realm.

SUPPORT ME ON PATREON. There are various tiers, starting at $1 a month, including access to tons of exclusive content which will never appear here on the free blog.

BUY MY BOOKS. I’ve got a number of titles available in both paperback and digital, on Amazon UK, and Amazon US, or your local Amazon of choice.

BUY ME A KO-FI, if you’d like to sling me the financial equivalent of a coffee. If it helps, feel free to pretend you’re throwing it in my face instead of letting me drink it.

CHUCK ME SOME MONEY ON PAYPAL.

Cheers.

Lesser Noel’n Edmonds

•December 8, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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[More Noel: Noel’s HQFirst & Last: Noel’s House PartyThe Live, Live Christmas Breakfast ShowWhen Noel Tried to Crack AmericaNoel’s Christmas PresentsSwap ShopSaturday RoadshowHouse Party Hell Playlist]

Continuing our scholarly appraisal of Edmonds, it’s time to really get into the weeds, with a pair of shows which fail to even reach modern standards of existing, with neither deemed worthy of a Wikipedia page. 1999’s The World of the Secret Camera filled the gap between House Party‘s acrimonious end and the final BBC edition of Christmas Presents, suggesting its recording pre-dated Noel’s bust-up with the Beeb. A Friday night run of eight episodes, Secret Camera is the most low-budget enterprise of Noel’s career, and a straight hosting gig, like filling the revolving chair of a Commercial Breakdown. Accordingly, of all his works, this is the one which most feels like his heart’s not in it.

Animated opening credits depict comical self-destruction of the world’s landmarks, crumbling into shame as they’re captured on camera; the Millennium Dome deflating; Lady Liberty’s skirt blowing up to reveal her knickers (with accompanying wolf whistle), which as it will turn out, is pretty on-brand. The set’s comprised of a day-glo map, with an incongruous ladder extending into the ceiling, perhaps for Noel to make a quick escape from demeaning role as bearded bookmark betwixt old clips from foreign prank shows.

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This is very much the Tarrant on TV space of “ain’t telly from abroad mad?!” and opens with a Frenchman hurling himself down concrete steps. Members of the public rush to help, with multiple slo-mos of the impact, and of bystanders’ shocked faces, while Noel’s audience shriek hysterically. The man himself is mid-laugh when we cut back — “extraordinary!” Hailing from the days before global pop culture became a communal paddling pool of slurry, the outrageous behaviour of other countries is our theme, with a flabbergasted Edmonds continually extolling the televisual Wild West of our overseas chums. “There is something totally mad about the French,” he’ll tell us, guffawing over the politically-incorrect Spanish, and teasing viewers with the words “more from those barmy Japanese!

To be fair, as mentioned in my look at Endurance UK, pre-internet, Japanese television was the lone source of shit you couldn’t believe existed, where crying naked men were shooting 80mph downhill on a toilet. You can’t really blame Noel, his fist clenched in excitement with a cry of “it’s Japanese time, yes!” into a clip of some poor sod being gifted a lifetime’s PTSD as a fruit stand violently explodes around him. But even now, after all we’ve seen — men on Omegle solving Rubik’s Cubes with their anuses; YouTubers having diarrhea fights — decades-old Japanese prank shows still have the power to loosen your jaw. Here, a rambler’s out for a casual stroll when landmines start going off; explosions so powerful they send up twenty-feet of dirt in a single frame, chasing him down the path as he makes a desperate dash for safety, believing he’s already seen his children’s faces for the final time.

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Maybe Noel finds kindred souls here, as he’ll pull out a vintage 1982 clip of his own making, where a panicked victim working at a ‘dynamite factory’ is physically restrained escaping from an accidentally-lit stick by a man playing a foreman, and dragged screaming back to an explosion which reveals a beaming Noel — “hello!” Noel reiterates how stressful it was, worrying that the man — in terror of losing limbs or his life — might run out of frame, before presenting him the joke gift of a bomb. Similarly questionable is a montage of Russians trying to extricate a $100 bill from under the wheel of a parked car, which we’re told is equivalent to the average monthly wage.

Attempting to put his own stamp on a tired genre, Noel will repeatedly use the phrase “secret camera” as though it’s a thing; like how WWE solely refer to their fans as “the WWE universe” so it can be trademarked for t-shirts. These aren’t clips, they’re “secret camera films,” made by “secret camera film-makers” and “secret camera operators.” As with Beadle’s About, most of the humour derives from bewildered confrontations, yet in another odd choice, none of these are subtitled, instead backed by vaguely ethnic stock music, leaving you no clue as to what’s being said when another Iranian pickpocket prank turns physical, which even the audience aren’t sure they should be laughing at. Noel points out “you might get your hand chopped off for this,” though it’s diffused when the camera’s revealed, and the men involved exchange a peace offering of handshakes, cheek-kisses, and a flower. “I hope that doesn’t catch on,” cracks Noel, “or I don’t think I’ll do another Gotcha!

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Naturally, he can’t refrain from getting involved himself, playing back earlier footage of the audience being patted down by a ‘security guard’ who’d been secretly rifling through their pockets, for ill-gotten gains of wallets, watches, and the most 1999 totem of all, a Cartman keyring, described as “the height of bad taste!” He also remakes gags from old American Candid Cameras, feeding people free supermarket samples before revealing it’s made of cockroaches, then offering them cash to eat it. “As it involves the Americans, it is of course, all about the money,” says Noel Ernest Edmonds, who some years later would literally be paid to eat cockroaches and eyeballs on I’m a Celebrity. Incidentally, his catchphrase when walking in for the big reveal is “you’ve just been caught,” which sounds more like security informing a cleaner their nightly wank was captured by the office CCTV.

One particular German clip’s described by our man as the cleverest stunt he’s ever seen — “bordering on magic” — which is high praise indeed from the prank-master, consisting of a building site workman submerging into a puddle like the Vicar of Dibley. Again, everything’s in unsubtitled German, with Bavarian accordion music soundtracking the panic of passers-by believing themselves to be helplessly watching a man drown. “Any idea how they did that?!” asks Noel. I dunno; dug a hole? He’s completely aghast, perhaps thinking back to his own pranking career of making celebrities late to fictitious appointments by giving them a driver who’s a bit ruddy mad!!

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Again and again we will return to the continent, with Eurotrash style voiceovers on foreign clips by Kate Robbins (who actually did the Eurotrash dubbing) and some bloke, putting scouse accents over Spanish footage of “a very mad hairdressers,” and even a “fan-dabi-dozi!” when a female dwarf dressed as Supergirl’s loaded into a cannon and seemingly fired through the mark’s window. Most popular, we’re told, is a French prankster who featured in previous episodes, instigating a flood of letters and phonecalls begging for more. Let’s break down a list of his witty japes at the beach:

  • kissing an unsuspecting stranger

  • squirting sun cream all over the body of a sleeping woman in a bikini

  • massaging a shirtless man’s belly

  • pulling down a raging man’s trunks to expose the white of his bare arse as he fights him off

  • undoing a woman’s bikini from behind, and grabbing at her tits as she tries to cover them

  • pulling down the trunks of a very angry old man

  • licking the thonged crack of a woman sunbathing

  • mounting an old man and aggressively kissing him

  • throwing sand over a sunbathing women in a clip I’m 80% sure results in accidental exposed vagina on British tea-time television

Almost every one of those would involve prison time in 2022. “It’s terrible, terrible,” laughs Noel, promising something we can play along with at home, to amaze our friends, annoy our family, and possibly “get to know the local constabulary!” Not sending us out to pull women’s tops off, are you? The truth is more mundane, signalled with a cry of “here comes a mad Frenchman!” and footage of a bloke in a baseball cap trapping people inside phone boxes by running round it with gaffer tape while EMF’s Unbelievable plays. He’ll later do it with buses, tractors, and some old men on a bench, before finally the Arc de Triomphe. Noel’s so amused, he has to compose himself, and the episode closes with various BBC folk, from a tea lady to Dick from Dick ‘n’ Dom, being taped up by an imposter Frenchman played by Barry Killerby, AKA Mr. Blobby’s guts.

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Moving on, or rather back, it’s 1992’s Noel’s Addicts, which wasn’t even a spin-off of Telly Addicts, and surely came about when a commissioning editor decided “people like Noel programs about Addicts, let’s make some more of them!” Though the pitch is ‘Noel meets with addicts’, this isn’t a heavy docuseries like Ross Kemp would do, giggling through his beard as someone details a crippling struggle with meth, but another Edmonds vehicle devoted to British eccentricity. Culturally, its biggest footprint is as the show Reeves and Mortimer were parodying, in the bit which gave us Bob’s infamous wheezing and lumpen Noel. As grim warning, Addicts shares a director with 3-2-1 and every episode of Plaza Patrol, and its opening titles use the Davro’s Sketch Pad format of painting different outfits on its mugging host — cowboy, vampire, cool leather daddy — under theme music peppered by Seinfeld-esque mouth noises.

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In this instance, ‘addict’ is a blanket term for anyone who’s got a hobby, back when having interests marked you out as a nerrrrrd, which was very much a pejorative term. “Look at this nutter!” is Noel’s lifeblood, but this is moreso a capsule of what people of 30 years ago considered to be eccentric. An elderly male belly dancer; teddy bear collectors; men who repair aeroplanes, or enjoy the extremely-1992 activity of launching yourself at an inflatable wall in a Velcro bodysuit — “mad,” shrieks Noel, “total madness!” If they did this now, it’d be about feet pics and tide pods and tweeting transphobia. Mate, we all spend 18 hours a day staring at our phones, don’t talk to us about your so-called addictions.

They’ve clearly got access to one of those video effects packages allowing the screen to be folded into a shape and flown around, and use it in every transition; Noel turning into a clock face or melting down into a donut, or the footage becoming a frisbee which flies about his head. Willie Rushton’s got a segment ala Dictionary Corner, talking a mile a minute about historical addictions, showing how clever he is by dropping references from Rambo to Dracula to reincarnated earwigs, and implying that Alexander Graham Bell fucked a sheep.

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The series has all the connective threads of Noel’s back catalogue, everything riddled with those familiar puns, like regarding Shakespeare (addicted to writing plays), “if he was that popular, how come he was bard from Avon?!” There’s also viewer letters, of which he claims there have been “tens of thousands,” reading out missives from a lady who collects puffins, a man who paints hot air balloons, and holding up a picture of a bedroom crammed with Postman Pat memorabilia. He’ll hurl facts at us; a human trivia book kept on the cistern, informing breakfast addicts that nuts come from Turkey and bananas from Brazil. Now laden with fruit, Noel asks “where can I get my oats?” A busty woman enters stage left, greeted with a “well hello!” before, much to his disappointment, rather than take them out, she tips a sack of oats over him.

In a pre-record hosted by unacceptably wacky DJ Adrian Juste, we meet a radio addict with a collection of over 200,000 recordings, which honestly seems quite normal in this era of content hoarding. I download that many podcasts every week. Juste introduces it by pushing at his mixing desk to play stings of “AH, THE FELLA MUST BE NUTS!” and “STARK RAVIN’ BONKERS!” with a completely unnecessarily effect where he’s physically squashed into the shape of a signal, flying into his panel and over the airwaves to the addict’s house. The radio buff describes himself as “a servant of history,” which I may steal, for when people ask what I do for a living, and I’m forced to explain what “funny essays about, say, Michael Barrymore or Syd Little” actually consists of. Along with an early Noel broadcast — with a cut to whining dogs making a bolt for it — they show a picture of him looking slightly different, which leaves our thoroughly humiliated host bashing the arm of his chair with a “not fair, not fair!

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The Peter Gunn theme signals an American section, traveling to meet a man who collects film and TV memorabilia, like Andy Kaufman’s jacket and Elvira’s dress. It’s here my two very specific addictions collide, as Noel Edmonds chats about Elvira’s great big gothic knockers, even having a feel of the underwiring. Also, we have what I believe to be the only onscreen meeting between Noel and Slimer. Another episode has him interview Phyllis Diller in her Beverly Hills mansion, about various collections of clocks, cars, jewellery, wigs, hats, and musical instruments, including seven grand pianos. Hold on… that’s just being rich and buying things!

Things take a turn in a sudden sketch which feels like something got taped over the end by mistake. Titled The Saint Anne Greavsie School for Girls, it’s that disturbing 90’s adult-schoolgirl aesthetic, with Susie Blake, Sherrie Hewson and Sophie Lawrence in St. Trinians pigtails and uniforms, sat behind desks to recite the play “Noel Pulls It Off” (a riff on Daisy Pulls it Off) and randily gossip about meeting the head boy behind the hockey pavilion. Enter Noel in a mortarboard, physically attacked by the girls and begging “please; don’t; stop!” When they do, he lets out a disappointed “I said please don’t stop…” Revealing himself their new biology teacher, Lawrence giggles “can we start now?!” and excitedly rushes him, before a woman enters the classroom. No, it’s not a WPC ready to cuff him, but an addict for vintage schoolgirl comics, of which this has all been the set-up; comedically portraying Noel as a paedophile.

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Going through her comics, Noel laughs really hard at the phrase “bosom chums,” and in celebration of the addict answering twelve questions correctly, he gives the girls the rest of the day off. Susie Blake grabs her satchel and runs to Noel, who excitedly asks “does this mean we’re off to the bike shed?!” But don’t call Yewtree, it’s just for some “sticky buns” — yeah, I bet. Also aging badly is a Woody Allen addict (“don’t worry, we’ll try and cheer him up”), who says he’d love to have Woody’s record with women, with their interview conducted in front of a backdrop of enormous Woody headshots, leering over the whole thing like he’s thinking “bit old for me.”

We close with Noel dressed as an old-timey barber in red and white stripes, (fake handlebar moustache over his real one) sweeping the floor of a barbershop set, as four men in pink jackets bid him hello, helloo, helloooo, hellooooo! Barbershop addicts, (i.e. they have a group), before singing us out, the leader says a “good ear” is important, and for literally no reason at all, starts doing Prince Charles, pulling out big rubber ears and going “errrr, errrr, Diana,” although in a close-up, I can’t legally confirm whether he’s moving his stiff arms up and down.

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Noel’s Addicts is a show which re-emphasises 1992 — even moreso than now — as a time when one simply couldn’t enjoy a thing without being derided for it. You mean you don’t come home from work and drink yourself to sleep in front of the telly? What a ravin’ great nerd! Old book-boy loves his books, don’t he? Bet you shag ’em! Papercuts all over his willy, this one! There was a clip going round Twitter last year of Graham Norton belittling Henry Cavill for partaking in Warhammer, with that idea that men shouldn’t have fun; shouldn’t have hobbies; and even a casual interest renders you an obsessive weirdo and helpless addict. Keen on Woody Allen films? ADDICT! Go out dancing once a week? JUNKIE! Like a thing which other people don’t like as much as you? STARK RAVIN’ BONKERS! My own addiction is writing longform pieces about Noel Edmonds, which you are all enabling, so don’t bother trying an intervention.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my videos, my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

Millard’s Halloween Fright Bag

•December 8, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast and videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 647,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

Satanic Panic: Geraldo vs. the Devil

•November 16, 2022 • Leave a Comment

(this one’s on Vimeo as it was deemed too spicy for YouTube)

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast and videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 647,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

The Devil is Real (Sometimes)

•November 8, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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[Previously in this series: Heartbeat’s Alien AbductionThe Waltons PoltergeistBaywatch Monsters & MermaidsAliens in Dukes of Hazzard and CHiPsVampires Are Real (Sometimes)]

Though October means a return to our annual tradition, Highway to Heaven doesn’t strictly adhere to the rule of ‘paranormal stuff in otherwise-grounded shows’, being its conceit is a probationary angel earning his wings with good deeds down here. The ultimate in Sunday afternoon dread, it was an hour of God’s Day spent with every mum’s choice, Little House on the Prairie‘s Michael Landon; DILFy beef stashed inside a brown leather jacket, with a lovely thick head of hair. Just imagine how firm he’d be with the manager if she got overcharged at Tesco.

I think the pilot’s worth digging into at some point, so I won’t get too deep into lore, but opening titles explain what you need to know, as Landon’s Jonathan Smith is picked up along an empty highway by a shabby guy in a trucker hat; his earthy sidekick, Mark (Victor French), a scruff-bag who looks like he stinks. It’s the classic Littlest Hobo/Incredible Hulk/Quantum Leap set-up, episodically moving from town to town, solving a problem for that week’s guest star. The Devil and Jonathan Smith is a Halloween episode from October 30th of 1985, and directed by Landon himself, the same way he’d direct a traffic warden to “lower your tone around a lady, sir” if your mum got a ticket.

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It’s a jarring switch from Highway‘s rousing theme to ominous slasher music on a thundery night, where a jack o’lantern glares at us from a window. While driving, Mark talks up how much he loves Halloween, so Jonathan offers to show him something really scary, ducking into the footwell and shape-shifting his face into Mark’s. Jonathan’s ill-defined angel powers would be worth keeping a checklist on if you’re considering a binge. Though they’re leaning into the Christian audience base, the show’s careful in rarely name-checking God, and when Jonathan hops out to start his assignment, it’s with a nudging allusion to “the boss” — which incidentally, is how Savile referred to the Almighty too. With dogsbody — and dog’s odour — Mark left to sort out accommodation, Jonathan warns him to be careful, as he’s got a bad feeling. Mark immediately ploughs into a child on a bike (played by a dummy of stuffed clothes propped up on a BMX).

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Although witnesses clear him of wrongdoing, he paces the hospital distraught, and as a doctor tells him the kid’s in “very critical condition,” Mark offers to give the boy some blood, which should probably be run through a sieve first. “He’s gonna need more than blood,” says the doc, “he’s gonna need a miracle!” At this point, the entire plot is spoiled by onscreen credits, which as a ghoulish child, I was very excited by, but I’ll save that for later. You can start figuring it out at the stroke of midnight anyway, when Mark’s approached by Dr. Stone, a specialist “in certain kinds of transplants,” who raises an eyebrow at Mark’s offer to give anything of his to the kid — “anything?

Mere moments later, the original doc says the boy’s gonna be fine, “I told you we’d need a miracle, and we got one!” which an elated Mark assumes was Jonathan’s doing. But back at his motel, ‘Doctor’ Jabez Stone’s waiting, explaining, rather unnecessarily, what with his red tie and permanently-arched brows, that his “boss” will take possession of Mark’s soul at midnight on Halloween. Uh-oh, Spaghetti-O’s! Refusing to sign a contract, Mark threatens to put his foot in Stone’s “keeshter,” but ends a phone-call to the hospital ashen-faced; the lad’s at death’s door again. He tracks Stone down to a red-lit ‘rare books and manuscripts’ store (actually the historic Cherokee Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard, as seen in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood), and with no option, signs away his stinky soul.

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Stone is tremendous value, black cat Beelzebub in his arms — his former human supervisor, trans-moggified as Satan’s punishment — and camping it up to all the fun little references to his nature. He flinches at words like Christmas and Holy, plays off his sulphuric pong as a new aftershave, and puts a Devilish twist on idioms, like “thank Hell you’re here!

Meanwhile, in Big Ed’s Cocktail Bar, a confidence trickster in a white Southern gentleman suit hustles slack-jawed boozers with the ‘find the pea in the shell’ game, in a joyous performance by Conrad Janis from Mork and Mindy, as the rather on-the-nose biblical reference, C.J. Barabbas. Jonathan offers to stake CJ’s victim another go, so long as he never gambles again, and fixes it by magicking a pea under every shell. CJ’s Jonathan’s assignment; “I was sent to tell you you’re getting a second chance… to change your ways,” and asked who he is, Jonathan enigmatically replies “a friend… of a friend.”

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Mark wasn’t fussed signing over his soul, figuring Jonathan’s “connected” and could fix it, but by the rules of Heaven and Hell, he’s not allowed to interfere, leaving Mark with “a one-way ticket south… I can’t even take it when the air conditioner breaks in the car!” So, Jonathan enlists CJ to help win back the contract, pitching it as a chance to go down in history as the man who conned the Devil. The pair scope out the bookstore by pretending to be brothers selling a rare old bible, which Stone recoils from, and when he and Jonathan shake hands, the angel/demon connection sparks drawn-on lightning and a hand-buzzer noise.

Their plan is incredibly convoluted, utilising CJ’s grifter friends, and involving Jonathan faking a heart attack in the vault, replacing the contract with a forgery, a 911 call that’s intercepted by a lineman up a telegraph pole, and being whisked to safety by a fake ambulance. “It’s still stealing,” but it’s that, or condemn Mark to an eternity of massaging Thatcher’s back while sat in a paddling pool of cold diarrhea. To throw in more confusion, CJ decides to double-cross, talking Stone into giving him a cushy spot in Hell, if he can serve up the soul of an angel. As a stoolie, CJ brings in a cop buddy to catch Jonathan in the act of grand larceny, knowing God’s too “square” to rescue a criminal, and hoping it leaves Jonathan no choice but to offer up his soul for his friend’s.

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In the episode’s best trivia, the officer would go onto portray another character later in the series, by the name of Fatso Kessler. But to catch one guy stealing a piece of paper, the cops act like they’re stopping the next 9/11, with plain clothes officers, unmarked cars parked outside, and armed units waiting round the corner. Presumably Stone never went into specifics, as the police sure aren’t acting like the document is actual proof of the biblical God and Devil. In a last minute panic for Jonathan’s soul, Mark tries to stop the heist, but gets grabbed by the undercover boys, as Jonathan collapses in a chair clutching his chest — “my heart, my heart!

Everything’s seemingly going to plan, swiping the contract, and wheeled out by the fake paramedics; and did Only Fools and Horses nick this idea for their own fake-heart-attack/ambulance scam episode four years later? But thanks to CJ, Jonathan’s cuffed outside, while Stone bribes Officer Fatso into giving him the real contract, as “my employer can be more severe than yours.” And speaking of his boss — at midnight no less — smoke pours through Stone’s floorboards, peeling open to reveal red light and the sound of howling wolves. Then, in a tuxedo and red cape, it’s the big lad himself, in that sensational piece of casting I alluded to earlier.

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As an eight-year-old, a horned Michael Berryman was an incredibly frightening yet spellbinding sight on a Sunday afternoon, with audible moans of torture heard through the floor during their chat, in which Stone plays the Renfield role, all “oh master, my master!” Satan demands a cab to Mark’s, as he likes to look at the city on Halloween; “after all, it is my night,” and we cut to a flat-capped cabbie complimenting him on his costume. Even the Devil gets a “What’s dat smell? Smells like Smoke…” “It’s my cologne” gag, and the cab’s filled with smoke when it pulls up, like Cheech and Chong.

Jonathan interrupts the big confrontation between Mark and Satan, offering — as they’d guessed — his soul instead, but as Stone reads Mark’s contract, all it says is “trick or treat!” Yes, not a double-cross, but a triple, and when CJ bribed the cop, that’s when the switch was made — “sweetest con I ever worked!” As there’s no contract, there’s no crime (not how the legal system works; Jonathan and co broke a ton of laws), so Jonathan didn’t do any sinning. Plus the cop isn’t remotely weirded out to be in a room with the actual King of Hell, now confirmed as a real place exactly as described in the bible; Fatso just stood all schlubby with his hands in his pockets. Mark’s contract bursts into flames when the Devil touches it, beholden to Earth legal loopholes, and he storms off in a huff. “We did it,” laughs CJ, “we beat the Devil!

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The Devil’s so pissed, smoke comes out of his mouth when he admonishes Stone for his failure, turning him into a mouse (which sits on a piece of paper wishing us ‘trick or treat’), and we go out on a freeze frame of Beelzebub the cat licking his lips. What’s great is there’s no cute Louis Cypher or Del V’ile winking; just a proper horned Satan played by a horror movie icon, ascending directly into the plot from a flaming Hell. But for a less literal interpretation, we must turn to the Father Dowling Mysteries. What better choice of lead than Tom Bosley off Happy Days, whose jowly mug was made for discovering corpses? Dowling was based not on the Father Brown novels, but some entirely different books about a different crime-solving busybody of the cloth, for 43 episodes and a TV movie, mostly centering on Chicago-mob related murders. Dowling did occasionally veer into fantasy which turned out to have a rational explanation; a mummy’s curse at a museum, a parishioner seemingly haunted by the ghost of her dead father, and an episode where “a black man (very specific?) visits Father Dowling’s church claiming to be an angel.” They also did the Captain Mainwaring deal, where Dowling was framed for various crimes by his crooked identical twin, played by Bosley in split-screen.

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My prevailing childhood memory of the show is the suicidal urges from having to sit through it, and of thinking Steve was a funny name for a nun — Sister “Steve” Stephanie Ozkowski; played by George Costanza’s girlfriend who looked just like Jerry. Steve’s the focus in an episode from October 4th of 1990, clunkily entitled The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery. A title sequence Photoshop-filters the pair into stained glass windows, in a highlight reel of guns being pulled, Dowling unknowingly ducking out the way of a bullet, and Steve pointedly doing un-nun-like activities, such as flying a plane, pool hustling, and hiding inside a barrel. But for all its rote ecclesiastical silliness, one senses the opening scene is so off-tone that it must’ve really put the shits up its elderly audience.

In a club that’s just closed for the night, a man who looks like Andy Bell off Erasure wearing a red flower in his buttonhole tunelessly noodles on a piano, before disconcertingly turning right to camera; meeting our eye, to monologue directly to us. “You know what I love about the Catholic church? The candles, costumes, the music, the mass; they give you a miracle before breakfast every morning, they’ve got communions, confessions, processions, holidays, holy days, feast days. The smell of incense, and the roar of the crowd, now that’s entertainment!” With a click of his fingers, the screen goes black. The Devil are you, mate?

08

Sister Steve’s brother, Eddie, then gets followed down a dark street by a couple of mob guys before a car runs him over. Alive, but arm in a cast like out of The Beano, he informs her this was no accident — “I’m in trouble with a hood named Harry Deal.” A classic Satan pseudonym, Deal is of course our mystery pianist, and gave a young Eddie an alibi when he was caught robbing a supermarket, even paying to put him through electronics school, but now wants him to do a job; “I told him no, he’s gonna kill me.” The goons show up to the hospital, screwing on silencers outside Eddie’s room — twins called Roland and Ronald, like the cousins from Breaking Bad, but in Dapper Laughs’ black turtle-neck of contrition. Sister Steve stands them down, demanding they take her to Harry Deal.

There’s a fusty quality to the show, like visiting a great-aunt, sat through an awkward silence on furniture soaked in old perfume in a room where the curtains haven’t been opened since the eighties. And they taking no chance with their audience, literally signposting Deal’s nightclub, Six-Sixty-Six, with a neon Devil brandishing a red fork. He somehow knows Steve’s name, wondering aloud why “a knockout like you would wanna wear an outfit like that. Put on a red dress, baby!” Not especially menacing, he’s more of a generically smug, slightly handsy, close-talking mob creep, and doesn’t stink of sulphur or owt.

09

Steve offers to take Eddie’s role, suggesting nuns can get in places he can’t, and as a sign of faith, Deal has her hand over the cross she’s never taken off since completing her vows, which is removed to dramatic music. “You’ve got a deal,” he tells her, “me!” Definitely the Devil’s worst quality; his love of puns. Weirdly, there’s no subterfuge; no double cross or sting operation; she’s just a nun casually working with the mob, casing the security system of a rich guy so Deal can nick a valuable painting of Christ. Dowling’s suspicious, with Steve not sleeping at the convent last night, and there’s comic relief with a younger, balding priest bending Dowling’s ear over jealousy of another priest who’s better at theology, which plays like an unfunny Father Ted, and could do with, say, a Monkey-Priest, swinging off the light-fitting to liven it up.

Dowling meets with Deal, begging he leave Steve alone, where Deal’s true nature becomes apparent, telling Dowling “our paths have crossed, but we’ve never met,” in a spooky echoing voice. Dowling’s enraged when Deal scoffs the Eucharist — “That’s blasphemy! Deliberate blasphemy!” — and he refuses to let Sister Steve go. It leads to a kerfuffle at the robbery, with Steve and Dowling almost getting shot multiple times, and the assassin twins arrested after causing Steve to crash her car. Dowling wakes in hospital with a concussion, which the doctor (possibly Chris Benoit’s physician) describes as “nothing a good night’s rest won’t cure!” while Steve’s in a mysterious coma. Asked if she’ll ever wake up, all the doctor can do is look at his shoes.

10

Comatose in bed with just a pulse monitor on her finger, Dowling places a rosary in Steve’s hand while keeping bedside vigil, but as he starts to nod off, he notices a figure in the corner. “Come on now, father, you know me. Listen to my voice, you’ve heard it many times, whispering to you in the night…” For slow viewers, Dowling points out that Deal is the Scottish name for the Devil, and he’s here to collect Steve, whose soul is his after breaking her bargain. “Every American has the right to a fair trial!” says Dowling, as Satan whips back the bed curtain with an actual-genuine “showtime, father!” revealing they’re now in Club 666. It’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, albeit crammed into the last ten minutes, and if Satan wins, he gets Dowling’s soul too.

Having insisted on a jury of peers for the ex-juvenile delinquent nun, Dowling does an open-mouthed roll-call as an eclectic twelve shamble in; slow-walking, pale-faced ghosts of Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Babyface Nelson, Lizzie Borden, serial killer Charles Starkweather, Frank and Jessie James, Leopold and Loeb, and Barbara Graham; all presided over by stern Old West ‘hanging judge’ Roy Bean. In the show’s historical lore, each of these crims are in Hell as they too cut deals with the Devil, which Dowling’s impassioned testimony plays on — “this is your chance to do for someone what no-one ever did for you!” – and that Steve would help and pray for each of them, if she could.

11

As the jury announces their decision, sleepy Dowling starts to fade, waking up in hospital and pulling back the curtains to reveal an empty bed — that’s it, she’s dead. No, of course not. “Sleepin’ in late this morning, huh, Frank?” She was just off for a piss, and despite recently awaking from a potentially-fatal coma, is walking round all chipper, apart from “just a little headache… I had a couple of really weird dreams.” Frank tells her he took care of Harry Deal; “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,” confirming he thinks it all really happened, while the police tell him Harry skipped down. But when Balding Priest comes out of the lift, a voice calls to him, “hiya, Phil!” It’s old Deal, perhaps about to offer some luscious hair if he whacks Tom Bosley. Almost. “I’m a facilitator. I make things happen, for a price. If you have a young priest trying to edge you out, gimme a call.” His business card magics into Baldy’s pocket, and we end on Deal’s sinister, plotting gaze, before — always startling — breaking the forth wall and turning to us with an evil laugh. But these are just two examples of the many appearances Old Scratch has made on television over the years, including a run hosting every single episode of Strike It Lucky.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my videos, my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

VHS:WTF – Party at Timmy and Theo’s

•October 29, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast and videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 647,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

You Are Haunted – Interludes: Langley’s Witches

•October 22, 2022 • Leave a Comment

A little bonus video for this glorious Halloween season, where I unearth some lost media.

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as £1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast and videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 647,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

 
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