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As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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.

Liz Dawn’s House Party

•February 27, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Vera Duckworth serenades the cream of British variety with comedy and song, from her own front room, as my latest video examines the utterly bewildering mid-90’s VHS release, Liz Dawn’s House Party.

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 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.

The Accursed 90s – Endurance UK

•February 17, 2021 • Leave a Comment

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[More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad ContestsDon’t Forget Your ToothbrushTalk Show GothsJames Whale on TelevisionCraig Charles’ Funky BunkerThe WordThe Girlie ShowAn Accursed 90’s Christmas]

Before British television became uniformly embarrassing, home audiences had to ring second-hand cringe-laughs from the clip shows of Clive James and Chris Tarrant, shrieking at pre-watershed cereal ads from Europe which casually featured bare breasts, and game shows that tormented their contestants — often half-naked and crying — to physical and mental breaking point. This was the era when home-grown quizzes consisted of Lennie Bennett and Paul Daniels reading questions off cards and swapping light banter with people in lovely knitwear, pre-dating the performative rudeness of a Weakest Link or low-offer treachery of The Chase. Chief of these outrageous foreign shows was Japan’s Za Gaman, better known as Endurance; a gross-out hybrid of Jackass and The Running Man, whose Salò-esque antics boggled the innocent minds of a nation reared on Tom O’Connor’s Crosswits.

In 1997, Sky’s Challenge TV, a channel heavily centred on imported game shows, remade Za Gaman, under the title of Endurance UK. While other Japanese formats have since become popular in other countries — such as Sasuke, remade as Ninja Warrior — this would be the first to undergo a British remake. Although ‘British remake’ is perhaps an odd descriptor for a show whose tone and approach can be surmised by two words — spoken on the single surviving episode that hasn’t been put in the bin — “Lule Blitania!” They kept a Japanese theme; at least, the Japan of Batfink and Benny Hill sketches; all kanji fonts and a Japanese flag motif, in a mock-pagoda studio with demon masks on the walls and a pair of sliding paper doors for Paul Ross to enter through, along with “his crazy couple of Pot Noodle pals!” These pals are ‘Japanese’ sidekicks, Hoki and Koki.

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I generally like to let the material speak for itself, but Hoki and Koki are one of the most egregiously racist things from the last fifty years, and I say this as someone who sat through Curry & Chips. Rarely have characters so fully leapt into the bowing, “ah-so!” stereotype with both feet, and every word of the script exists solely to wring maximum laffs from switching Ls and Rs — “herro, Mistah Loss!” The concept designs appear to have been lifted from 1930’s anti-Japanese propaganda posters, hiding the white actors beneath yellow skin, enormous buck teeth, and prosthetic appliances that make their eyes all slitty. They’ve got karate headbands, glasses to squint through, and throughout the show are referred to by epithets like “yellow” and “inscrutable.”

The usual benchmark for bad yellowface is Micky Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; a character which sits in a film otherwise considered a Golden Age classic like a freshly-murdered corpse in the tub of your nice new bathroom. The only way to keep Tiffany’s from being condemned to the same vault where Song of the South and Rolf’s Cartoon Club live is to play it off as The Bad Old Days; we didn’t know any better then, but we do now. Endurance UK came 37 years later, and Challenge figured not only was it fine, but actually, Rooney’s character didn’t take it far enough — “yeah, plaster some canary-coloured paint on there too; have Paul Ross call them Pot Noodle pals…”

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Though Hoki and Koki are credited as themselves, they’re portrayed by a pair of comedians from Saturday morning kids show, What’s Up Doc?, which shares its director with Endurance. Both men were used to working under prosthetics while portraying nightmare characters, with Peter Cocks playing, among others, the genuinely terrifying Naughty Tortie, while Stephen Taylor Woodrow’s buck-toothed nerd character, Simon Perry the Cheese Ranger, would later be renamed as Norm in a series of successful Twix adverts. Though he doesn’t appear in the episode, Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom would also feature on Endurance, wearing a German SS helmet, Hitler tash and leather shorts, in the role of Gimp-Man.

Endurance UK‘s racism runs deeper than its sidekicks; it’s the core structure of the show. Unashamedly, the vibe that Challenge are going for is a cheery nod towards the Japanese reputation for committing unspeakable acts of torture on POWs during World War 2. When contestants line up at the beginning, Paul Ross describes the formation as “Tenko style,” while Hoki and Koki threateningly parade up and down, brandishing bamboo canes and yanking players out for a chat with Ross like they’re about to be sewn to a live boar with a grenade up its arse for the amusement of the guards.

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Contestants are clad in red PE shorts, with headbands and bibs bearing Japanese writing, like that tattoo you got on holiday in Ibiza ’99 which you think says WARRIOR but actually reads STUPID ENGLISH DOGFUCKER. Most hold bottles of booze which they raise in toast as the camera whizzes past, one of them crying “ah-so!” while another pushes his face into the lens, yelling “mad for it!” like the entire 90s has been manifested into a half-cut tulpa with Britpop sideburns. They’re playing for a place in the grand final, where a round-the-world trip for two is at stake, but the evening’s only actual prize is a trophy of a golden hand with two fingers up in the peace sign — you know, like Japanese people do in photos and that? Ross uses it to flick Vs at the camera while a loud fart noise is piped into the studio.

The short chats between contestant and host are a vivid portrait of a time; a time when everything and everyone was absolutely awful; each regaling with their best anecdote, as one would when finding oneself on telly. Nick showed his pubes on stage in front of 200 people, Mark likes football and drinking, while Steven “got stitched up on holiday, where I had to teach about 400 people to do the Agadoo dance!” Alastair teaches children with special needs, and asked if he could do anything for Hoki and Koki, replies “I’m afraid they’re beyond my repair.” Nicky describes herself in two words — “cheeky but probably a bit of a nightmare” — before Paul Ross asks, well, see for yourself.

The first round is Pee Wee Herman’s breakfast machine by way of Dr. Mengele, with everyone taking a “rie down for sreepy times” on their backs, legs in the air, so the “big prick” of a needle held between the thighs doesn’t drop and burst a balloon, which will empty a bucket of pig urine over their face. It goes on for fucking ages, with Hoki and Koki berating and poking them with sticks like the Russian roulette scene in Deer Hunter, and tossing handfuls of white powder in their eyes to put them off, like in the old wrestling tradition of sneaky Japanese heels blinding opponents with handfuls of salt. After endless close-ups of trembling legs, four buckets of pig-piss half the field, and plinky-plonky Oriental music plays off the vanquished as Paul Ross bids them “sayonara!

Proceedings are broken up by clips of the original Japanese show, where “rubbery rads” (lovely lads) are hogtied and covered in birdseed while pecked by chickens, holding in wee after being forced to drink gallons of water, and hanging upside down dressed as bats while covered in cockroaches. But all this, and the studio games; it’s just twee nowadays. We’ve all seen Steve-O stapling his ballbag, and we’re two decades removed from Dave England re-eating a previously digested omelette. You gasping nineties try-hards, you are babies, squealing in horror as loose chickens peck seeds from a man’s legs, while we’re casually putting Netflix on as we eat our tea, to watch a pig munching an apple right out of Preston Lacy’s anus while Bam Margera vomits.

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But there is a genuine air of danger in the studio, of unpredictability, with everyone on edge, and a sense that even the audience aren’t safe, pulled into participation sections, like a bit with a puppet ‘Japanese fighting cock’ — “you rike-a cock?” — where Hoki and Koki hurl eggs into the crowd. Of course, the puppet violently mauls Ross like Emu, and later they’ll take it into the stands with a fiver in its beak for anyone brave enough to try and grab it. The female volunteer’s asked “have you ever had an encounter with a one-eyed cock before?” before the bird attacks. She screams like she’s being murdered, pulled around by the hair and dragged to the floor, and laughing with a shocked “oh my god!” as she’s finally let up, looking like she’s just fallen out of a passing tornado.

Like the Carry On films, rounds are initiated with the banging of a gong, by an outrageously dated sexy nurse in suspenders, whom Paul Ross saucily instructs to “bang for us.” I don’t know if you’re aware, but ‘bang’ is occasionally used as slang for intercourse. What is he like?! Other introductions include “some people say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, personally, I prefer a pear (of great big tits!!!)” and a simple “in lovely, wobbly action; bang away, babe!

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Round two has contestants wrapped in bin-liners to hang from a bar with an egg in their mouth. It’s massively overbooked, with hissing cockroaches down their tops, rats running over their hands, fake shit smeared on their faces with a mop, a boxing glove on a broom punching them, and wax strips (clearly just sellotape) being ripped from their thighs. Everything takes longer to explain than do, which is still ages, and it all feels like the ‘initiations’ a school bully makes kids do under the presence of joining a fake gang, where 20 years later, he lives off cup-a-soups in a hovel because all his wages go on a crippling addiction to bespoke S&M pornography. Though it’s all basic I’m a Celebrity stuff, I did grip the edge of the desk when they pushed the whole egg right inside their mouths, having flashbacks to that bloke whose act was swallowing a billiard ball.

At the start of the third round, stood at his ‘sushi bar’, Hoki greets Ross with a “herro, Paul” instead of the subservient “Mistah Loss” — an infraction which usually earns a slap round the face as punishment. But he doesn’t do it here, perhaps as a result of the incident in this clip where Hoki bundles Ross to the floor in retaliation and legitimately kicks the shit out of him. Ross can be heard grunting in pain and calling for a Stanley(?), before they get back into character and carry on; “harmony has been restored.” “I ruv you.”

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The third round is more stuff that would get crossed off Ant and Dec’s whiteboard for being too boring, with everyone getting pig brains, dead cockroaches, and smelly old eggs dropped into their mouths via a feeding tube. Beforehand, they give one of the eggs to a middle-aged bloke in the audience to sample, which he calmly nibbles like he’s eating a digestive. Contestants also have live chickens pecking seeds off their legs, and we go to an ad break with Hoki turning his back to camera and pretending to show the audience his dick, although judging from their reaction, it seems like he actually got it out. The final game has the last surviving pair attached to a winch by the ankles, pelted with lumpy gravy and maggots, with the loser whoever lets go first and gets yanked into a pile of manure.

A shit-covered winner is crowned, earning a cigar and the chance to do it all again in the final, as Hoki and Koki fulfil another stereotype — love of karaoke — and sing us out with Endurance UK‘s anthem, which is rife with kung fu sound effects and lots of Ls and Rs they can swap around.

beat me, whip me, cover me in jam,

flog me, snog me, I don’t give a damn

tweak me twang me, make me eat lard,

but you know you’ll never break me cos i’m too flippin hard!

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Endurance UK ran for, well, I’m not sure. Though it’s vividly remembered by its target demographic of ‘people who were in their 20s in the 1990s,’ almost everything about the show has been scrubbed from the internet, to the point I can’t even discern how many episodes occurred in its run from 1997-98. Challenge’s other big Japanese import was Takeshi’s Castle, dubbing footage from the original version with ‘funny’ English voiceover from Craig Charles, and his catchphrase “happy clappy Jappy chappies.” While Takeshi’s Castle went through a number of revivals between 2002 and 2013, jumping to Comedy Central in 2017, and is still running today, funnily enough, Endurance UK has stayed in the late 90s where it belongs. It’s for the best, considering the torture gimmick has since been adopted by television’s cosy mainstream, robbing it of that precious shock value. Also, you know, cos of all the terrible, terrible racism.

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 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.

The Larry Grayson Show

•February 7, 2021 • Leave a Comment

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Larry Grayson is another performer who exists in my mind, and perhaps in modern pop culture, more defined by other people’s impressions of him than his actual self; an entire historic essence boiled down into the catchphrases “shut that door” and “what a gay day!Mike Yarwood and co drained a great many hours of mileage from Larry, sucking in their cheeks and cocking their wrists, but outside of clips, the man himself is a bit of a blank spot in my knowledge base. It’s time to rectify that. Sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it? Like ‘rectum’? Please yourselves.

Grayson’s fame came during the period when you could be both super gay on TV, but also not actually gay at all. Comedy of the seventies was loaded with homosexual characters, albeit mincing comic grotesques (see Carry On Girls‘ Cecil Gaybody), along with those made palatable to, shall we say, less-enlightened audiences, by being couched in labels like ‘confirmed bachelor’ and ‘light in the loafers’ or hidden behind sexless mummy’s boy archetypes. Sexuality escaped via relentless innuendo and campery; a hangover from when just being yourself as a gay man could get you locked up, and your life — let alone reputation and career — utterly destroyed as a result, famously exemplified by Round the Horne‘s Julian and Sandy, and their use of Polari.

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Though people loved to laugh at/with gay characters, if any had kissed another man onscreen, or even confirmed that’s what they did in real life, punters would have burned the studio down. Although even today, a certain brand of idiot are still having conniptions at the first same-sex dance coupling on Strictly. When The Larry Grayson Show first aired in 1975, homosexuality had only been decriminalised in the UK for eight years. To put that in perspective, it’s currently eight years since Thatcher died and Jennifer Lawrence tripped up the stairs at the Oscars. I’ll be starting my watch with episodes from that first series.

Larry came to success later in life, aged 52 at the launch of his solo series. This gives me hope, now in my 40s and still yet to host a revival of Fortean TV or be identified as ‘mystery hunk’ in a tabloid photo of Anna Kendrick coming out of Superdrug. Its opening is the purest, most powerful of 70’s variety glitz, with Larry’s name appearing in a literal golden shower of sparkles, etched onto a starry sky, before emerging in a suit so dazzlingly white against the fuzzy period cameras, the resulting flare surrounds him in an angelic glow. To a big band soundtrack of trumpets; chandeliers hanging from the ceiling; he saunters down a blue-lit marble staircase, lined by men doffing their top hats as he passes, with such a tumbling cascade of dry ice, it looks like the building’s on fire. As the curtain drops, he takes his place centre of stage, alone, with the single chair that would become one of his many trademarks.

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The opening monologue really establishes the time period, its attitudes, and the comedic style which arose, with anything even vaguely suggestive eliciting peels of shrieking laughter, setting the audience off with mere mention of making a tea cosy. This is 1970’s high campiness that could make a double-entendre out of anything, perhaps in part due to the general public’s lack of understanding of that mysterious species, The Gay, and what they even got up to. It’s this which renders a seemingly harmless statement like “which hole shall I put the side for the spout?” (potentially) absolutely disgusting. Coming out of Larry Grayson’s mouth, anything could be rude, getting laughs from whelks, winkles, rhubarb tarts, and the act of riding a bicycle. But he also nails that perfectly constructed innuendo; “I shall miss the doctor, he gave me something to cling onto. [looks straight down the lens, inferring it was his penis] I’ve been under him for years.

Larry’s stock in trade is rambling whimsy, like a gay Dave Allen, regaling us with the doings of an unseen cast of acquaintances and neighbours, like Apricot Lil, Slack Alice, Everard, Brenda Allcock, Non-Stick Nell, Pop-it-in-Pete the postman and Rodney Ramshaw the retired navel stoker (who comes out when Everard’s boiler goes funny). The delivery is absolutely impeccable, a note-perfect mix of faux innocence and knowing looks, peppered by weird little asides. The neurotic character of Larry is constantly distracted by drafts and dust, by dirty microphones and the state of his hair; attention span wavering to minor medical issues like verrucas, with the recording of a television show taking second place to life’s niggling minutiae. Who else would stop a pianist mid-song to ask “did you post that letter for me?

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It’s also plump with that brilliant comedy of specificity — as put to great use by Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, and The League of Gentlemen — all gypsy creams and sitting in front of the immersion heater, or being given “an umbrella with an unusual handle.” As you can probably tell, from the off, I’m fully onboard. I’ve become accustomed to almost all comedy from this period being a horror show, but Larry’s one of those wonderful surprises, and at points, I’m shaking with laughter, having to pause to gather myself. He’s such a joyful performer, it’s impossible not to get swept along.

One thing people loved back then was seeing gay behaviour in decidedly ‘normal’, non-gay settings, like a sketch on a building site, where Larry saunters in with his brolly to a bunch of gruff builders in flat caps. He’s dancing his way up a plank like Mary Poppins, he’s making scones in a cement mixer; just wishing them “good morning, lovely day!” gets massive laughs. The thing that really takes me aback is a barely-bleeped “what the fuckin’ hell’s been going on here, then?” from an enraged foreman. Episode six will have him at army training, struggling to shoulder his rifle — “mine’s pointing back and theirs is pointing forward!” — handing a fashion mag to a solder who asks for another magazine, and falling off the rope swing, though we only see a splash, as he clearly didn’t want to go in the water for real. Also, there’s this exchange as they lay in wait.

     Larry: “Why did you join the army?

     Soldier 1 “To get away from the wife.

     Larry: “Why did you join the army?

     Soldier 2: “To get away from his wife.

     Soldiers 1&2 (to Larry) “Why did you join the army?

     Larry: “Please, we have a family audience!

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This is endemic of how the subject of Larry’s sexuality is tip-toed around in a pair of hobnail boots. Comedically, it’s the flirty couple at the office, both enjoying the frisson of an unspoken mutual attraction, which will be ruined the moment one of them comes right out and says it. Back to the studio for a Treasure Island sketch, Larry’s dressed as a pirate, on one wooden leg (that’s nailed to the floor), a crutch that’s too short, and no parrot. “I wish I were dead,” he mutters, before his promised bird comes out from the wings.

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The indignant Larry is the perfect Emu foil, flinching from its bucking head, which, with a tilt, seems to gesture to Rod “ooh, get her!” Of course, they all end up rolling round on the floor like they’re doing UFC, a tangle of limbs and blue raffia, with the audience in absolute mania as a beak rises between Larry’s legs and a floor manager runs on to get Emu’d in the knackers. Honestly, it’s better than anything I’ve seen on current-day TV in the last 12 months.

There’s a requisite News at 10 sketch about a lost explorer, where intrepid reporter Lawrence Grayson is “up the amazon” in a pith helmet, swishing at flies. “Where are we staying? ‘Montezuma’s camp’. Well, I can’t help that…” I suppose your enjoyment will depend entirely on your tolerance of innuendo, because that’s it, that’s the act; only, it’s the best-delivered innuendo of all time; Olympic standard suggestiveness straight from God’s pouting mouth. The unrelenting barrage of double-meanings reminds me of my late grandad’s favourite anecdote, from back in 1949 when he was working on the bins, and sliced himself open on a broken toilet at the rear of a lady’s house. He’d tell it with a twinkle in his eye, always trying — and failing — to keep the corners of his mouth from curling, to play innocent on what he’d written on the council’s accident form. “I cut my hand up Mrs. Geer’s back passage.

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Incredibly for something from the seventies, there’s almost nothing that would get Larry a pre-titles warning of “this show reflects the attitudes of its time” were it repeated today, with the only slightly questionable moment when a shirtless black man runs on dressed as a Zulu (in South America). Grunting and waving a spear, Larry quips “he comes from the Isle of Wight,” though a bit where he says the Zulu’s been watching him through the flap of his tent gives the fabulously evocative line “I haven’t been able to have an all-over wash for the last two days!

The innuendo keeps coming thick and fast [glance to camera], with a sketch at a computer dating office, where the manager promises “I’m going to show you my supplementaries,” and a look off Larry that leaves me choking on my own spit when asked “how long is it?” (since he first applied) Where has this show been all my life?! Each week’s finale is a closing song, with our boy accompanied by the piano. The tragic clown archetype is overplayed when discussing the offscreen lives of dead comedians, but there’s something undeniably melancholic about these closers, with Larry in a tux, singing Patsy Cline’s Have You Ever Been Lonely, and lyrics that plead “take me back in your heart” to a backing troupe of comically surly men in top hats and tails who turn their backs on him, with one peeling away quickly when Larry threads his arm through his — “how can I go on living, now that we’re apart?

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With routines based around a roster of imaginary friends, and the double-entendres of a swinging dandy about town, in truth, Larry had no close romantic relationships, spending his final years living with adoptive older sister, Flo. By all accounts, the love of his life had been an old schoolfriend, killed in battle during WWII, a loss from which he never recovered, carrying a poem about him written by the chap’s sisters in his pocket at all times. But this is telly, and the whole thing’s infused with his comedic beats and deft physicality; a clumsy twirl back to the piano leaving him dizzy. By the end of the song, he’s won them over, with an upbeat key change, and being lifted into the air for the big finish where the men kneel before him adoringly. Larry only truly drops the act to say goodbye, with a sign off of “I love you all very much,” where it’s obvious that he really means it.

A later episode in the first series opens with the words “what a gay day!” before he’s forced to sit down because “my legs are swelling.” Just from his mannerisms, when asking if we’ve had a nice week, a woman can be heard pissing herself, and every scene’s filled with that high pitched “wooohf!” noise by old ladies that used to permeate television tapings like the mating call of a garden bird. With audiences now skewing far younger, no longer comprised solely of coach trips from the clubs, it’s become a sadly extinct sound, like old British police sirens, or a politician’s apology. Series two will give a rare over the shoulder shot, with a glimpse into the seats, and even shrouded in darkness and neon purple lighting, it’s a sea of identical white perms; the rounded heads of elderly ladies laying before him like a cotton field. The enamoured audience give us two brilliant solo reactions for our collection, one after the other.

There’s more joy in that twenty seconds than you’ll find in most entire series, and more smutty allusion packed into the following line than in a Carry On box set. “I’m going to camp. And they told me to rise early, be prepared for anything, and three cheers for the Queen.” Lovely stuff. A chunk of the episode’s taken by a variety act, in a French outdoor cafe set, with Larry in a stripey shirt and beret, pushing on a bike that’s draped in onions. Credited as Yvonne Michel & Erik, it’s uncomfortable entertainment in 2021; a mixture of dancing and domestic violence lucha libra, where they slap each other about, and he shoves her across the studio floor. At points, he’s dragging on her hair and kneeing her head, while she kicks him in the face, slapping the thigh for impact noise like a WWE wrestler. For that full 90’s Hardcore Title vibe, there’s even a headshot with a drinks tray; with Larry catching it in the temple when she rears back, occasionally getting pulled into the fray, and lifted into an aeroplane spin by the muscular male dancer. It ends with them shooting each other dead, while Larry reapplies his beret with a “I never asked them if they wanted any onions!

He brings out his own group for the closing song — The Takeaways; a pair of glamorously dishevelled old ladies and statuesque drag queen Jean Fredericks — with the audience howling the whole way through. There’s not a fraction of a second free of the sounds of people dying, with uncontrollable laughter from the bleachers, and even his band gone, their shoulders shaking. Skipping forwards to series two, the runtime’s been doubled to an hour, and there’s a change of format to full-on variety. Larry’s opening monologue takes in a Christmas morning cramp, before a drink down at the Cock and Trumpet, where someone stood on the landlord’s Brazil nuts, and there was a raffle to “raise something for the vicar.”

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He’s interrupted by magician David Nixon, who does a trick involving a flying banana, presumably because it’s the most willy-like of all the fruits.“I like to do it the hard way,” says Nixon, while Larry scalds a laughing audience with a look that reads “don’t be so disgusting!” Unfortunately, the other acts see him pushed to the side-lines, with singing slots from Vicky Carr and another trick from Nixon (accompanied by an out-of-character Ali Bongo), where Nixon talks about “half inch slots” and a load of spikes you could get poked with, and Larry’s nowhere to be seen. It really is the living end! Incidentally, the trick’s some real Hellraiser shit, wielded by the bald and bulky Nixon who resembles a dress rehearsal Pinhead. He ends up sticking Carr inside the box, and not the audience volunteer, but judging from the massive Cuban heels under his flares, he wouldn’t have fit anyway.

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When it goes to some hand-bell ringers and Larry’s still nowhere to be seen, I’m ready to riot. Literal bell-ends being waved about! Shiny clangers! But then, sing Hosannah, there he is, telling the leader he seems like a nice boy, with a “very few people know that I’m a campanologist...” And we’re back, baby! Straight into my top 10 sketches of all time, it’s a delightful masterclass in withering looks and coy aspersions, with Larry holding up his bell to reveal it’s tiny with a floppy handle, complaining that he can’t hear his “tinkle,” and demanding to be given a big one, which he can’t even lift off the table. In a moment I never saw coming, as he takes a bow, a gigantic bell falls from the ceiling and crashes down over him. Five stars, get it on Netflix.

More variety breaks come in the form of a tumbling act called The Veterans, vaulting over an old pommel horse like in PE, to a raucous soundtrack of slide whistles and cymbal crashes. It’s the Grumbleweeds if they took up gymnastics instead of music. There’s a sketch starring a young Vera Duckworth, and Nixon does another trick, involving the loading of a blunderbuss with the remains of Larry’s favourite broach before firing it at him — “the only thing left to do is cock it.” — a request which gets this look.

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I know Oliver Hardy was doing it first, and that culturally, the straight-down-the-pipe reaction shot has since been claimed by both versions of The Office and its many gifs, but let’s acknowledge the absolute master, who perfected the artform decades ago. The final number, wearing a suit the colour of summer skies, is Irving Berlin’s All Alone — “all alone, I’m all alone, and there’s no-one else but you…” Constantly interrupted by a ringing phone — wrong numbers and perverts — Larry segues into Berlin’s What’ll I Do, aka the theme to Birds of a Feather, with a fantastic bit of business where he hops on the piano but can’t get up unassisted, having to slap away the handsy pianist who heaves him up.

We end on Larry’s head framed in a spotlight against the encroaching darkness, wondering aloud “if you are all alone too.” Knowing of his life, and the abrupt end to his career, there’s something unspeakably sad about these musical numbers, and as he earnestly thanks — at length — each of his guests, and everyone involved in the show, signing off with another “ta-ra, and I love you very much; ta-ra, I love you,” I don’t know if it’s just this Hell-world we’re trapped in, but I’m fucking sobbing.

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The following year, Larry would land the plummest role on the box, as host of The Generation Game, after Bruce jumped to LWT for his own disastrous variety show. When the pair went head to head, Brucie got trounced by his successor’s wildly popular run, but in 1981, Larry quit too, citing a desire to go out on top and not wanting the show to become stale. But by then, the march of alternative comedy had broken over the horizon, and his winking allusions were considered old hat. Depression set in as the work dried up, limited to little more than a few scattered guest spots, pantomimes, and in 1987, a failed ITV gameshow titled Sweethearts, which was sacrificed in a death-slot against the juggernaut of EastEnders.

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Two months before he died, Larry made one last appearance, at the 1994 Royal Variety Performance. Now seventy, emerging from the wings with the trademark chair, his opening line is a catty and self-effacing “I thought I was dead!” Sadly, history recalls this as a bad performance, which fell apart and played to silence, but that doesn’t bear out from watching it. Yes, his timing’s not quite what it was, and he loses his place a couple of times, but it’s all there. The rambling whimsy; the intentional disarray; there’s a mention of Slack Alice, and asides about “my leg’s giving me ‘ell,” moaning about a draft, and getting fixated on something he’s trodden in. As the short routine comes to a close, he jokes (or not) that “I’ve only come out so you can see i’m still alive,” and that he’s doing it for all the letters he gets, “from the lovely people at home. I’m alright, you see. So here I am. It’s lovely being with you.” And with a “shut that door,” blowing kisses to the audience, Larry Grayson’s final “I love you” is almost lost; drowning beneath the applause.

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 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.

Jim Davidson’s Adult Pantos: Closing the Cursed Trilogy

•January 21, 2021 • 4 Comments

[Part I: SinderellaPart II: Boobs in the Wood]

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 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.

An Accursed 90’s Christmas

•January 11, 2021 • 3 Comments

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[More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad ContestsDon’t Forget Your ToothbrushTalk Show GothsJames Whale on TelevisionCraig Charles’ Funky BunkerThe WordThe Girlie Show]

It somehow feels dirty letting the horrible 90s get their lager and spunk-covered hands on Christmas, but I regret to inform you there were at least ten of them held in that decade. To get a sense of what a 90’s Christmas was truly like, I’m afraid we must return to some of our previous haunts from that most desolate period, beginning with the televisual stylings of James Whale.

If you read the original piece, you’ll recall Whale’s presenting style is that of a man who neither knows nor cares what’s happening on his own show. Every cue, every link, is either late or incorrect; he can’t make it through three words without getting distracted; and spends his time glancing off-camera to ask what’s happening or to berate the crew. Over a soundbed of awkward silence and people loudly talking over one another, Whale’s onscreen excursions are some of the worst television ever made. 1993’s Whale On Christmas Party takes that atmosphere of perplexed disorder, and adds even more bodies to its eclectic crowd of chuntering gobs, along with copious amounts of booze.

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We open with Whale in a carpark, flanked by models in Christmas robes which hang open to show their underwear. Marching everyone inside, he dicks around with a control panel for the cameras, erupting into a cheer when it lands on a close-up of a cleavage. There’s a full party in swing on the studio floor, packed with revellers in a Mos Eisley Cantina of Whale’s in-house tabloid tribe. Underwear models stand side-by-side with panto dames, civilians in fancy dress and feather boas, and Beano-style punks with foot-high mohawks, all with glass in hand and mingling with the great and the good of British showbiz’s basement.

Screaming Lord Sutch, in full regalia as ‘celebrity floor manager’, mingles beside Irish singer Rose Marie, camp MP Jerry Hayes in a ballgown, and Doc Cox off That’s Life. “I see Tony Blackburn over there!” yells Whale, pulling weathergirl Sian Lloyd out of the crowd and ordering a close-up of her sexy mouth. She helps him read out a competition, where he tells us to “ring that nimber… number.” It’s clear from the off Lord Sutch is massively sozzled, and in the night’s worst decision, he’s been given a megaphone and head-mic. Subsequently his drunken witterings permeate proceedings like a neighbour’s fucked car alarm. Wobbly as he is in the beginning, as the show progresses, he’ll give Charlie Drake a run for his money.

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Whale moves everyone back, for Charlie Chuck’s outsider art cover of Tommy Cooper’s bottle routine, ending abruptly with Chuck swinging a plank and sending glass flying into the crowd. “He’s a walking haystack!” bellows Sutch into his megaphone, again and again, until Whale orders he calm down. “Alright,” shrugs Sutch. Not even ten minutes in, Tony Blackburn looks shell-shocked. You don’t get this on Noel’s House Party. Perhaps that’s why he steps in to calm the mood with his party piece, a song familiar to me from many guitar-toting Christian youth leaders, in a childhood spent on the fringes of the church, which goes thusly — “there’s a worm at the bottom of the garden, and his name is Wiggly Woo!

Blackburn is a doe-eyed innocent in Whale’s sordid carnival, joyously leading an acapella sing-a-long of a ditty of which nobody (at points, not even him) knows the words, with the shambolic, embarrassing energy of a teacher standing up at Christmas assembly to serenade the room with a sea shanty. Inexplicably, Whale invites Rose Marie to help Tony perform the entire song again; Sutch stood swaying with his microphone, and Blackburn kicking his legs with such ferocity, if a shoe flies off, it’ll bring down the ISS. After agonising minutes of Wiggly Woo, Blackburn’s push for a second encore is mercifully shut down.

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In more banter, a drag queen tells Whale she hopes to get stuffed, and Doc Cox gives a quick Wiggly Woo on his uke. Whale pushes past, over to porn star Linzi Drew. What would she like for Christmas? “Me two front teeth… I’ve already got them… um, I dunno…” As a bored Whale leaves, she yanks him back to add “a long, big and thick surprise!” (she means an erect penis) “Okay, fine,” he huffs, informing us a now distinctly queasy-looking Sutch is “not so well at the moment.” An absolutely hammered Sutch assures us “I’m alright, I’m… I’m doin’ alright, I’m working it out,” while in the background, Tony Blackburn can be heard singing Wiggly Woo.

The Whale On party serves up cursed moments like a rotten buffet; a prolonged dance number from male strippers the Dream Boys, shagging at the air, floor, and faces of women sat front row; Peter Straker with a warbling O Come All Ye Faithful, where even the word “Ye” has fifteen syllables; a troupe of Page 3 girls flashing their bras and knickers in another ‘dance’ routine which devolves into a giant conga. Perfectly capturing the grotty office party vibe, the conga line weaves in on itself on the cramped studio floor like Snake on an old Nokia; a kicking flesh sandwich of underwear-clad girls and middle-aged men; Tony Blackburn, porn star Charmaine Sinclair, Doc Cox.

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As Whale wanders the studio like an elderly dog searching for somewhere to die, Sutch is at his side, slurring nonsense about drinking a cup of tea; “I, I, I… dunno what’s happening?” Me either. At this point, everyone’s had a few, and our host has terrible trouble corralling them onto their marks for the panto finale. For maximum 1993 laffs, their Cinderella’s set in Chigwell with Shazarella (another 6’1” drag queen), but everyone’s so pissed-up and boisterous, Whale’s witticisms about Essex girls being thick slags are lost beneath a barrage of restless shouting and breakouts of Wiggly Woo. To make everyone feel better about our current-day world, we close with Whale telling us he’ll be back in the new year with a show about “political correctness,” as everyone; half-naked Page 3 girls, towering drag queens, Screaming Lord Alcohol Poisoning, and Tony Blackburn, gather round the piano for another go at O Come All Ye Faithful.

But at least ITV knew how to do a proper Christmas, following tradition with cosy trailers of their most bankable faces in festive jumpers under superimposed snow, and idents with holly and robins, and Victorian boys sledding down a hill. Channel 4 on the other hand, chose a more… eclectic flavour, filling schedules with stand-up shows from brash Americans, and films your parents wouldn’t want you renting from the local Video Paradise. Viewers who didn’t fancy the Queen’s speech could flick over at 3pm for an alternative message, exemplifying the channel’s dual personality, with a mix of right-on politics and contentious figures from the year’s headlines. In its 90’s airings, the platform went to names like Quentin Crisp, Ali G, Rory Bremner (impersonating Princess Di), and the parents of murdered black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. It was precious rare grandparents who’d let that on in place of Her Madge, in the boomer TV equivalent of “foreign muck.”

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As the channel most likely to put a great big dildo in the office secret Santa, it’s appropriate that one of its biggest brands, The Word, had its own seasonal special, airing on actual Christmas Day, 1992. So, while the BBC were pressing play on Victoria Wood and Shirley Valentine, over on Channel 4, The Word‘s opening titles were kicking off, where a man burst a rubber glove over his head and a young Max Beesley frantically banged on a set of bongos, with everyone looking like they’d quaffed a bucket-load of E’s. At least there’s no tit-sucking, as would feature in the 1995 intro.

For tonight’s panto theme, Terry Christian infers two ladies in the crowd are ugly sisters, and yanks a bloke out to get “a lad in… Aladdin, get it?” as Katie Puckrik tells him “Yule never improve!” Is this The Word, or Chucklevision? Come on, someone drink from a still-warm condom! First guest, described in his intro as “the strangest accent in movies today,” is Dolph Lundgren, and sat on the sofa with Terry, it looks like Gandalf and Frodo at breakfast. Terry has not an ounce of creativity in his bones, opening with the dullard’s ‘wrestler/boxer/big guy interview’ standard “I’d better be nice to you, or you’ll beat me up!” Later, when name-dropping the director of Gandhi, he’ll utter the words “Richard ‘luvvie darling’ Attenborough.” The highlight of a terrible interview is when Dolph pretends to throw a punch at Terry, causing him to flinch wildly.

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Mostly, it’s business as usual, with the true Christmas meat found in their celebration of panto, following an open invite to the stars of every theatre in the country. Consequently, backstage looks like the Garden of Earthly Delights as painted by Christopher Biggins; mince pies, mulled wine, a terrifying cat-beast from Puss in Boots, Simon Groom from Blue Peter; multiple Nolan sisters from multiple pantos, CBBC’s Simon Parkin, and dozens of little people in elf outfits. The American Puckrik’s deeply confused, with interviews conducted at cross purposes, drowned out by the carols of drunken revellers. A car pulls up containing Carmel off EastEnders and Sabra Williams from Ghost Train, and as a pantomime cow tumbles out of the back seat, they break into a rap.

     “We’re MC Rapper and Pinocchio,

     we’re here from the shore, dontcha know?

     we’re on until January nine,

     so come along, and you’ll be fine; YO!

Biggest takeaway here is what a fabulously lazy name MC Rapper is, like Dr Doctor. Next guest is Milla Jovovich, dropped into the carnal fight club of The Word having turned 17 the day before. “Seventeen and never been kissed,” says Terry. “Not by you!” she zings. Evoking memories of Liv Tyler’s appearance, his opening question is whether she’s attracted to older men; say, ten or twenty years older? I can’t hear what Dolph says, but Milla jokingly slaps and shoves him, with a “your girlfriend’s gonna kill you!” But Milla’s more then they can handle, armed with a plastic yellow hammer with which she beats Dolph over the head. “Jesus Christ,” he says, “all because of last night?” licking his finger and striking an imaginary point against the air as the audience bray. Even in the Word’s anything goes atmos, Terry knows he’s lost control, pleading she “please behave yourself,” before squealing in pain/fright as she smashes him in the knee. In the chaos, Dolph hands Terry a fruit flavoured condom, which he gives to the 17-year-old.

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Later, Milla accidentally says “fuck,” covering her mouth as the audience ooh like someone dropped a glass at a pub, and we cut back from the final ad-break to find Terry in a Dolph headlock; a bit that’s broken up by Milla cracking Terry over the head with the hammer, really, really hard. Final guest is boxer Nigel Benn, who they immediately humiliate by showing a Playgirl shoot where he’s got his arse out and naked cock covered with a boxing glove. “That’s very nice, isn’t it, Milla?” asks Terry. “I wouldn’t know,” she says, “I’m just 17.” At this point, someone in the production booth obviously realises it all looks a bit noncey, as Terry pushes a finger in his ear, trailing off with “I don’t know,” and moving on very quickly. Benn’s an ill fit for the show, with a dour interview playing to silence, until he calls Chris Eubank “a pig,” inciting cheers.

Back in pantoland, they’re joined by Kodi from Neighbours, Tony Monopoly (me either), and Bucks Fizz’s Mike Nolan. Christ, a fire in the studio would’ve devastated the British Christmas industry for a good decade. Barbara Windsor’s the Fairy Godmother, leading everyone in a sing-along of Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song, where a self-conscious Nigel Benn, arms folded, gets through his solo line like a man pleading not guilty to a string of child murders. A flurry of fake snow falls from the ceiling, but far too aggressively and straight into people’s mouths, and as Babs gives it large, Mike Nolan can be seen retching at the edge of frame, batting it away like he’s being attacked by wasps. We go off air to the sound of Carmel from EastEnders‘ voice, heard above the carolling, with a half-laughing, half-revolted “I can’t breathe!

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As a horrid 90’s stocking filler bonus, let’s drop in on another infamous Channel 4 show, and a frequent point of reference on here, Eurotrash. Despite 153 episodes in the can, online footage is rare as angel cocks, as I doubt you could find a full thirty seconds which didn’t break YouTube’s rules on nudity. For the generation of British men who spent their early teens in the pre-internet dark ages, back when actual pornography was literally illegal in the UK, the post-parents’-bedtime borderlands of Eurotrash were many chaps’ first proper exposure to actual fannies and that. More kitsch than perverse, it was tongue in cheek and knowingly, joyously garish; a high camp Mondo, celebrating the wonders of the continent, before everyone got online and became as deviant as each other. That said, the show mostly consisted of naked foreigners dubbed with funny voices and men who painted portraits with their own shit.

The Eurotrash Christmas special dates from 1997, opening with German musical group Die Jacobs Sisters, a trio of older ladies in Santa suits holding sleepy poodles and singing over techno. Hosting solo after Jean Paul Gaultier moved on, is its creator, Antoine de Caunes, one of the early 90’s most impersonated men, thanks to easily-copied attributes of speaking with a French accent with his arms behind his back, on BBC2 yoof show, Rapido. Though fluent in English, de Caunes flowery, alliterative dialogue for his “gullible British chums” took the form of swipes at our uptightness and “terrible sexual reputation,” which considering the whole ‘grot was illegal’ deal, was well deserved.

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Dressed as a reindeer and pulling a sleigh filled with underwear models, we’re straight into a gift buying guide with French model, Lova Moor, as an excuse to show to her rolling on the grass in the nip. Moor’s emblematic of Eurotrash‘s role as spiritual predecessor to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, with a supporting cast of oddballs from the fringes of European showbiz, their awkward pauses, asides to the crew — “that was okay?” — and goodbye waves that go on far too long, all kept in the edit. Featured Whack Pack member this week is elderly Belgian singer Eddy Wally, shilling his CD of Chinese-language songs, and looking like ‘Fluff’ Freeman with jet black printer ink slicked through his hair.

It all feels like you’ve been dropped into the after-hours of a weird 60’s euro cartoon, with puppets, wonk-angled, lurid backgrounds, and extremely Carry On voiceovers rambling on about “hard willies.” It tears through segments with the speed of a schoolboy flipping through his dad’s jazz mags before he gets back from the shops, with roughly the same amount of bare flesh and pubes. There’s a nude pseudo-aerobics video, with flopping tits and great big wangers, a naked hippie with his balls out, and an Austrian inventor who made a spinning coffee table with a hole in the middle you can do sex through.

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Even a Santa convention — filled with requisite jokes about coming down chimneys or only once a year — has Mother Christmases hiking their skirts, a pink-bearded Santa distributing condoms in the street, and a beach Santa, giving the opportunity for zooms on thonged bottoms and oiled boobs. Covering the scatological, there’s the Catalonian tradition of pooing in nativity scenes, with one featuring a human pooer; a bricklayer “who’ll be laying bricks of a different kind!” Antoine closes by interviewing a female director/star of amateur pornos, back in prehistoric 1997, when people taking nudes of themselves were still a wild phenomena, and not a daily occurrence for half the population. Her responses are dubbed with a Thatcher-esque voice by Kate Robbins; bons mots like “English guys have thinner dicks than French guys,” and as it’s Christmas, she’s wearing a Santa hat, with one of her nipples hanging out.

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We’re played out by Die Jacobs Sisters, as the models toss fake snow out of buckets, a plucked turkey is puppeted into a high-kicking jig, and de Caunes pretends to bum a pantomime cow. Honestly, it seems rather quaint now, and even considering all the dicks and tits, oddly innocent.

In terms of sheer faux-casual gratuitousness, it doesn’t touch fellow 4 show Naked Attraction, or men getting out their glistening micropenises for the Embarrassing Bodies doctors to bend over and sniff, in glorious HD. I was out walking a dog the other evening, and while he weed against someone’s gate, I glanced up at the window, where an enormous 4k TV, with the Channel 4 logo in the corner, had its entire screen filled with an erect woman’s nipple, individual bumps on the areola visible from my position on the street — and it’s all perfectly normal. What cruel irony. No sooner did we finally start fitting in with our European brothers and sisters, than we have to leave.

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 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.

The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show

•January 2, 2021 • 1 Comment

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In the history books of light entertainment, the name Mike Yarwood is invoked almost entirely as an example of being massively famous and successful before suddenly disappearing, never to be seen again. I’ve only the vaguest memories of watching at the time, aware of his work mostly through retrospectives, which cover the swiftness of his retirement, peppered with clips of him taking off now-long-dead politicians. In my head, Yarwood’s is the beige coloured comedy of centrist dads; a torch picked up off the floor by Rory Bremner, whose shows I sat down in front of as a kid, expecting laffs but finding stuff about interest rates and “imagine if Paddy Ashdown did a rap! (about interest rates)” For a proper reappraisal, I’m watching a pair of Yarwood’s Christmas specials, beginning with a show dating from Christmas Day, 1977.

We cold open on a message from Prime Minister James Callaghan, in a bit most notable for digs at Thatcher, with a joke about whether he’d kiss her under the mistletoe — “I wouldn’t kiss her under aesthetic!” Six years later, this gag would be reused on the Krankies Christmas special, but with Wee Jimmy’s teacher and chloroform. As becomes really clear if you watch enough of this stuff, it was a period when nobody owned a joke, and comedians on TV were just like the comedians in pubs, offices, and playgrounds; everybody repeating stuff they’d heard from someone else. Plagiarism didn’t exist until the 1990s, and even then it was copied from somebody who did it in the 80s.

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Yarwood as Yarwood enters onto a barren stage with a backdrop of bare white tinsel trees, which give a strong ‘stumbling through the poisoned woods during a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter’ aesthetic. He’s got tremendous Lego hair, and looks very pleased with himself over a joke about Callaghan cooking a Christmas cake — in the oven for six hours but only rising 10%. Somewhere, a young Rory Bremner was laughing heartily. Now, as regular readers will know, I’m fascinated by the creative decisions impressionists take to ensure the audience knows who they’re doing. It’s tantamount to an admission of failure, with the most egregious the good old opener “my name’s…” Many of these signposts are on hand in the first big sketch, showcasing a number of Yarwood’s take-offs, via clever — at the time — use of split screen, allowing him to interact with himself.

It’s the textbook setting of a celebrity party, which illustrates how the country’s most famous mimic really struggled with the easy ones. John Cleese is a standard of every comic’s arsenal; exaggerated leg movements and going “Right! Right!” while bouncing up and down on your heels. But Yarwood’s silly walk isn’t remotely silly, and his Cleese ‘thing’ is speaking through clenched teeth like a ventriloquist dummy. Without the signifier “welcome to the party, Mr. Cleese!” you’d have no idea. Even Davro’s is better. Even Davro’s! His Brian Clough’s less bad, but still requires a trackie with NOTTS FOREST on the front in big letters. Then Frankie Howerd says “ooh!” and whatnot, before introducing the star guest, “Mr. Sammy Davis Jr!

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Oh. Yarwood then does a duet with himself as a blacked-up Sammy. As the other characters join in, there’s no joke, other than I Could Have Danced All Night being sung in approximations of celebrity voices. Then we’re straight into a panto sketch, with the title card JACK AND THE PAY TALK, where 70’s comedy bit player Jenny Lee Wright welcomes us to Union Land. This is Bremner Defcon 1! I mean, Wright’s listed in the cast as Local Union Negotiator, and the wicked baron is “evil Enoch Powell,” although to give Yarwood credit, he’s probably the only impressionist to jump straight from Sammy Davis Jr. to Enoch. Rather than going for, say, the fascism, Yarwood plays him like a generic money-hungry politician, slagging off Labour, and with the catchphrase “Enochy nick-nacky, nicky nacky noo!” so it’s like stumbling across a skit from a 1940’s comedy troupe that focusses on Hitler kissing his niece.

With Enoch putting up the rent, trade unionist Jack Jones rides in on a pantomime cow, with gags about striking, withdrawing labour, and time-and-a-half. With the weird non-humour, bad acting, and constant references to workers’ rights, it feels more like a workplace training video than a sketch show, and I’m half expecting Scargill to wander on and show me how to use the clocking-in machine. Michael Foot shows up, bragging that he’s “one of the idle rich.” Asked if he’s a landowner, Foot replies “no, I’m on the dole!” which gets a very aggressive round of applause from a handful of audience members, no doubt very keen on bringing back National Service. The cherry on the cake is the giant on top of the beanstalk; Yarwood in a fat suit as Cyril Smith. Or to give him his full title, notorious dead serial paedophile, Cyril Smith. It’s shocking to me we’ll get through the two shows without Savile putting in an appearance.

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There’s a welcome break from the murderer’s row of voices, as Yarwood introduces some very special guests with their new hit record, Wings, and — oh, it’s actually Paul, Linda, and Denny Laine (the latter in a Rodney Bewes tuxedo shirt), singing Mull of Kintyre for real, and not Yarwood willying about with a prop guitar and Joey Boswell accent. I know Linda got a lot of shit over a perceived lack of contribution to the band, but someone made the decision to have her sit between the other two with a mic on her lap, not doing or saying a thing for the whole first two minutes of the song. They stick around for a sketch with Yarwood’s Denis Healey — then chancellor — who’s dressed as a punk; studded collar, denim jacket with a patch of Karl Marx, safety pin through a bushy eyebrow; “I got tired of being a silly billy, so I decided to become a chunky punky!

I’m no political history buff, but I reckon that must’ve brought the entire dang system down. Incidentally, “silly billy” as a Healey catchphrase was entirely a Yarwood invention, but it took off so much that Healey started working it into his speeches for real. Anyway, he sits backwards on a chair like A.C. Slater and says he’s changing his name to Johnny Rotten, while Callahan is Sid Vicious, which all gets big laughs, as Never Mind the Bollocks only came out two months earlier. Though modern day Paul McCartney resembles the confused King of the Wood Elves, in 1977, he at least looks as much of a comedian as Yarwood, with a rotten gag about writing Healey some “eyebrow (high brow?) music.

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Of course, Big Mike does bust out his most famous character, Prince Charles, which stood out as the Charles amid a landscape of Charlie Windsor impersonations; everyone moving their stiff hands up and down and going “errrr” from the sides of their mouths. It’s a topical routine which must’ve taped close to transmission, with jokes about Princess Anne’s new baby — Peter, born on Nov 15th — with a line “for Pete’s sake” which gets an actual aww from the audience, like they’re watching The Big Bang Theory. What’s probably the show’s best gag is hiding in here; a line about decorating the tree by giving it a knighthood, and one about the baby, who’s “only a few weeks old, he knows all about the Royal we(e).”

A final song runs us through a gamut of of voices; Perry Como, Dave Allen, Eddie Waring, Bruce Forsyth, Frank Spencer, Frank Spencer doing John Wayne; confirming again that he can’t do the easy ones (and perhaps not the less obvious ones either, who I’m unfamiliar with). Honestly, all of us could do much better Brucies. Come on, Mike, it’s the easiest one! “Thththththth, good game, good game!” His Frank Spencer’s shit too, while Dave Allen’s portrayed via the tic of constantly brushing fluff off his trousers, and tells a joke about the Irish being thick. Ending an exhausting routine, he sings a Christmas carol as Ted Heath, My Way as Harold McMillan, and bids us “tatty bye!” as Ken Dodd.

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Though this is my first time properly covering Mike Yarwood, I’ve referred quite frequently to the “and this is me” moment at the end of each show, where he drops character to do a song as himself, in what can most politely be described as earnest yet terrible club singing. The “and this is me” is the standard by which all earnest songs by comedians must be judged, and they all did it back then, with TV’s comics coming up through the working men’s club scene, meaning if you did comedy, you sang too. Even Bernard Manning had a single, while Jim Davidson released two albums and seven singles, including White Christmas — sung in his Chalkie voice — and Much Too Late For That (The Nagging Woman Song). As recently as the nineties, Jim was ending shows with a heartfelt duet with his own son, which left him dabbing at his eyes like he’d just had to toss out a whole fortnight’s worth of grocery shopping because the Tesco delivery man was black. For Christmas Day 1977, Yarwood, mask off, exposed and raw, croons a rather unfestive Sunshine of My Life.

Though the truth of Yarwood’s withdrawal from the limelight resulted from a number of factors, including stage-fright, alcoholism, and the changing tastes of the audience, when seeing a roster so heavy with blustering old male prime ministers, you can understand the theory that he jacked it in when he realised he couldn’t do a good Thatcher. Speaking of witch… sorry, which, the VHS rip containing 1978’s Christmas special confusingly opens with live footage of BBC’s election coverage from the night she was first voted into Number 10.

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A young, dark-haired David Dimbleby, under a backdrop reading DECISION 79, informs us that, as nothing much is happening while the votes are counted, they’re cutting over to a Mike Yarwood Christmas Special — in May, mind you. That would be unthinkable nowadays, when you could fill all that precious dead time with endless speculation and waffle. Weirdest of all, the footage on this tape dates from mere hours before I was born, making all of Yarwood’s references to “this very special day” seem like he’s on about the momentous occasion of my birth; the fulfilling of a great prophecy about a boy who would grow up to save the world by crowbarring dick and spunk jokes into essays about shit old telly.

Fittingly, the setting for our first sketch is the door of Number 10, with Callaghan poking his head out with the security chain on to tell some carol singers “go away, I’m not coming out!” and “I might’ve known you’re not from the conservative party, you’re all singing the same tune.” But with the looming ghoul of Thatcher so unavoidable, Janet Brown was drafted in to play The Hellbeast, opposite Yarwood’s Parkinson. Parky (quite correctly) refers to himself as “a male chauvinist pig,” and his wig’s very ‘middle-aged Paul Weller fan only has access to the kids every other weekend’. The whole routine’s about Thatch being domineering, with a simply awful gag-quality, like this one about being the proud mother of twins; Parky: “And what did you call them?” Thatcher: “Children.”

06

A satellite link sketch gives Yarwood the chance to do celebrities from the US, all the while holding onto his American accent like a man whizzing down a Slip ‘n Slide with a bowl of fruit. His Sinatra looks like Sluggs from This Country, while his Bob Hope is a textbook example of impressionists telling bad jokes through the mouths of other, better comedians — “…all those Arabs are causing problems for your traffic wardens in London, I mean, where do you stick a ticket on a camel?” The Arabs get a rough ride in these shows, and later there’s a joke about an Arab prince who bought a dairy and became “the world’s first milk-sheik.”

A news review of 1978 sees him struggling to get through the hilarity of sub-Two Ronnies gags about a round the world yachtswoman taking a lap of honour, striking bakers who “(k)need the dough,” and an Irishman eliminated from the Best Butcher contest after spending eight hours trying to hang up mince. A bit about manure and Big Ben going “DUNG!” has him properly corpsing, and I’m glad someone’s laughing. Who knows, maybe that was the one to break my mum’s waters? There’s also a headline about British TV programs having been “sold to red China.” Red China? Alright, Trump. If it’s comedy from the seventies talking about China, we all know what’s coming. And those shows are… “The Two Lonnies, The Lag Trade, and of course, Rittle and Rarge.” Yarwood’s so amused by this, he breaks character.

07

Special guests this year are ABBA — “ladies and gentlemen, two girls, two boys, a phenomena in pop music…” But I’m dying of shame when they join him for a Generation Game sketch, in Britain’s worst crime against another nation’s people since the days of the Empire. Yeah, Larry Grayson was camp, but Yarwood might as well just have him cottaging, the way he plays it; leg cocked and wrists limp, sucking in his cheeks, all “what a gay day!” like Ricky Gervais’ panto genie in Extras. He hits on ABBA’s Benny — Larry: “What songs have you done?” Benny: “Take a Chance On Me.” Larry: “Oooh, ain’t he forward?!” — eyeing him up with an “ain’t he big?” It goes on for ages, bantering as ABBA get laughs doing Larry’s catchphrases, which feels odd because it’s not Larry, it’s Mike Yarwood; a real band playing with a covers act.

The last big sketch is a crossover with my blog, in a parody of the disastrous Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night. His Brucie hasn’t gotten better in the intervening year, although he has glued some pubes into a wig/tash formation, with corpse-like make-up which resembles a sickly Keith Lemon. Mimicking Big Night‘s amateur jokers section, politicians tell boring, meandering gags that go on forever, quickly becoming the very thing it’s satirising, with Michael Foot played as Max Wall, Harold Wilson as Max Miller, and Enoch Powell as Groucho Marx. The latter’s joke isn’t racist, but does fill over a full minute’s screentime, and with this year’s show running 15 minutes longer than 1977’s, you can see where the padding is.

08

Even Brucie’s disco dance contest gets a kicking, with Yarwood jigging around in a fat suit as jumbo-nonce Cyril Smith, then as Patrick Moore, copying my pinpoint boyhood impression by closing one of his eyes. Moore’s joke is a truly shocking “better be careful, or I could end up on my Aurora or my Bore-e-anus!” That’s not a thing. How long do you think the writers tried to make Uranus fit there, but couldn’t make it work? Office full of cigarette smoke and screwed up paper — “But it’s not your anus, it’s his… fuck!” It’s a powerful example of the law to which all comedy impressionism is beholden, where even the most accurate voice can’t elevate shoddy material.

The final section nicely sidesteps that rule, by having the voices and jokes be equally shite. I mean, he outright tells us he’s about to do Tom O’Connor, perhaps aware that he could start killing audience members one by one until they identified who he was meant to be, and there’d be nobody left standing. It’s a quickfire flit through characters; O’Connor tells a gag about Jews and Scots being tight; Dave Allen brushes his trousers; Frank Spencer’s “got a boil in my botty!” Max Bygraves is there; the same Max everyone does, shaking your hands like the dryer’s bust in the bogs. Frankie Howerd shows up, along with Eric Morecambe, Prince Charles, and Eamonn Andrews, who’s presenting the Big Red Book to Sammy Davis Jr. Thank God there’s no time to get the boot polish out, and he makes do with a pair of prop glasses, behind which he squints, hunched and pushing his chin out, before pretending his eye’s fallen out, “and it’s the good one!

09

With a final “and this is me,” he sings us out with Swinging on a Star, pointedly belting a very self-satisfied “you have been swinging with the stars!” That’s got a very different connotation these days, mate. Maybe the Krankies pinched that too. Though this originally went out on Christmas Day, it’s find myself hanging on the historical weight of the repeat, and the VHS tape which preserved it. Not long after the end credits rolled, Thatcher would ascend to her dark throne, while some miles away, a small baby was born — much like that other famous baby born on the first-run date of December 25th. I’m not saying that post-election child was a saviour, but I am implying it. Though I love the cultural archaeology in digging out these forgotten works of TV-stink for a new generation, there’s a horrible circular feel to this one, like time travel stories about men who accidentally become their own grandfather. “…and this is me!” [pull back to reveal I’m the midwife at my own birth, except I’m dressed as Sammy Davis Jr.]

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