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As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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

Phil Cool

•May 8, 2021 • Leave a Comment

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When writing about a certain type of comic performer, there’s a phrase all media is obligated to use, or else the Secret Critic Police will kick in the doors and drag them off to the gulags. There’s even an ancient proverb about it — “If wild expressions you see, then ‘rubber-faced funnyman’ they be!” Putting that exact phrase, rubber-faced funnyman, into Google throws up a bunch of names; predominantly Jim Carrey, but also Lee Evans, Jim ‘Ernest’ Varney, Rowan Atkinson, Roberto Benigni, and Martin Clunes. There’s one more name, easily the most rubber-faced of all, but which hasn’t been spoken aloud in many a year.

Though a genuine mainstream star in his day, Phil Cool’s been largely forgotten in the 21st century. He occupied a rather singular space, and barring the odd Royal Variety, didn’t really mix with other shows. Once he got his own series, as demonstrated by a frugal page of credits, he never ventured outside of them as a performer, making no guest appearances, and just a handful of interview spots. Cool It was a similarly separatist endeavour, and in a run of 15 episodes from 1985-1988, there are scant few additional cast members listed; all brief celebrity cameos like Ian McCaskill and Geoff Capes, while the first series was written solely by its star.

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Perhaps this should’ve been part of my Past Laugh Regression series, considering how much I enjoyed Cool’s work as a schoolboy, with me and my young chums futilely attempting to mimic his snorting Devil face in the playground to freak each other out. Cool It debuted on BBC2 on August 30th 1985, with a budget that makes Who Do You Do? look like Waterworld. This isn’t just lo-fi, it’s the cheapest television possible; at least until the pandemic turned every channel into Celebrity Chatroulette. A true one-man show, the entire first episode is a single, 23-minute routine, with Cool in a spotlight on a spartan stage, in regular clothes, and with no props beyond an eventual pair of glasses and hook-on beard.

In settling on these for a rewatch, I had assumed that, like everything else from childhood, where bullies were ten feet tall, and everything was either the best or worst, my memories had overplayed his rubber-facedness. Surely it hadn’t been that extreme? This was the ’80s, when we were but an innocent species, wowed by commercials with talking cats and yet to discover pegging, so I’m sure everyone just got carried away. But no. If anything, it’s more impressive than I remembered. A real-life Faceache from Buster, Phil Cool genuinely seems to have no bones in his head, forming and shaping his mug at will, like one of those weird elderly man hand puppets you could buy from newsagents. Even his body, hunching his shoulders up by his ears and telescoping his neck as ET, seems unregulated by the rules of human biology. God only knows what he can do with his nob.

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But does the material match the physicality? Every impressionist is beholden to the scales of comedy, which weigh quality of voices against quality of jokes, and the ratio is typically only balanced when both are bad. The other fear is always that it’ll be the same half dozen celebrities everyone does; Frank Spencer, Norman Wisdom, Frank Bruno; Prince Charles robotically moving his arms and going “err…” I’m quite delighted when this turns out not to be the case, with Cool’s roster of voices including luminaries such as Mr. Kipling, the Pope, his old teachers, Arthur Scargill, Robin Day (a popular one, granted) and a drunken Lawrie McMenemy unable to pronounce his own name.

The material’s a pleasant surprise too, and with unexpected bite, made all the more disarming by its languid delivery, as Cool takes his time in a slow, soft-spoken Lancashire drawl. One section would incite a flood of coordinated complaints from evangelicals in 2021, where he talks about being “cheated out of an education” at his old school, “where religious instruction took precedence over every other subject… so consequently, when you left the damn place, you were thicker than when you went in.” He takes digs against nuns, walking into the jungle to convert happy, well-adjusted tribes of pagans “into a bunch of unhappy, confused, sickly, westernised Christians,” ending with a punchline where a Tarzan yell segues into Ave Maria. Then there’s an impression of a Jehovah’s Witness walking the streets like a town crier, bellowing “AIDS epidemic spreads by blood transfusion; we told you so!

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The crowd are right with him, until the question “talking about religion… what about this pope?” elicits awkward murmurs. “He’s a right little belter,” says Cool, “very cuddly,” before an impersonation where JP’s chatting to the cardinals at the bar about going to the chippy. He doesn’t hold back in his political gags either, with a Question Time skit that feels contemporary, satirising the format, guests and audience. There’s a pop at Thatcherite Tory Sir Keith Joseph (Day: “I’m not frightened, I’ve got my clove of garlic and my crucifix!”) and lines that tackle the disparity in pay rises between top civil servants and teachers, with Sir Keith blaming the top salaries review board; “and tell us, Keith, who sits on the top salaries review board?” (note: it’s him) Scargill recites a Trade Union-themed Lord’s Prayer — “…and deliver us from Thatcherism” — and there’s even stuff about climate change and fossil fuels, in 1985! Phil’s an ally, and we Stan the rubber-faced funnyman.

Although, you can’t ever get 10 minutes in these things without a Yewtree, so there is a bit with Rolf redecorating the Sistine Chapel, retroactively tainting every line with beastly innuendo about “little cherubs.” The following year, Cool would go onto release a single as Rolf, with a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water; a track filled with Rolf’s weird little asthmatic noises, taken from comedy album Not Just a Pretty Face. Probably don’t make it the first dance at your wedding. As a whole, the first episode of Cool It is a really enjoyable watch, with the 36-year-old material holding up wonderfully, as it’s not just a slew of empty references to people and things, and all coupled with the uniqueness of Cool’s absolutely grotesque Scrunges. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here.

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We skip forwards a year to the second series, co-written with Jasper Carrott. Carrott’s a looming figure in the career of Phil Cool, as a mentor of sorts, following an early bravura performance at Carrott’s folk club, The Boggery. In the 90s, they’d tour together as Carrott and Cool, but here, Carrott’s presence remains behind the scenes, other than a recognisable, uncredited cameo as an offscreen voice, yelling for Cool to get off the stage during a performance of Blowin’ in the Wind (which ends with Cool’s Bob Dylan snorting an unspecified substance off a harmonica). Carrott’s voice is heard most strongly in the material, which plays like a cover version of his folksy shaggy dog stories, in routines rescued from the bottom drawer. There’s a long section about playing rooms “full of plain clothes morris dancers” and “pigeon-chested pigeon fanciers,” and a bit about a guru, “rattling his joss stick and smoking his kaftan.” What’s Phil gonna do in episode 2, sire Dawn from The Office?

Gone is the unique voice of the first series, replaced with this Carrott-karaoke, while the delivery’s changed too. It’s all gotten faster, louder and sweatier, like those horrible VHS tapes of American comics wearing big suits in night clubs, damp mullets swinging as they mime the waddle of an overweight person they saw in the supermarket. Even the face-pulling’s massively reduced to mere punctuation on incredibly poor punchlines, like a bit about STDs in “the itchy 80s” with a rare impression of “the herpes simplex virus” as it lays dormant in the carrier’s neck. I mean, I know I didn’t want all the cliched voices, but this is some monkey’s paw shit.

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I’m assuming anything that’s… unCarrotty is Cool’s half of the writing, of a rushed quality which suggests the first series used up all the tightly-honed material he’d been doing in clubs for years. A bunch of time’s devoted to country singer George Hamilton IV [monkey paw closes another finger] and the Grand Ole Opry, before going all Rory Bremner with the old “imagine if Roy Hattersley were a country singer!” as Roy “splatters me Hattersley” spits everywhere, in that bit nicked from Spitting Image where Cool used to work. There is one great nob gag, about going “round this whole country, scouring for new talent… and I got boxcar willy!” Though it’s absolutely ruined by the follow-up “some people say it’s my fault for sleeping on freight trains!” For those who still don’t get it, willy is slang for penis, and Webster’s Dictionary defines a boxcar as…

What we really want is the funny faces, and without them, it’s Peter Kay not reminding you of things, or Chubby Brown never once mentioning his wife’s smelly fanny. Instead, we get jokes about eating chicken in a basket; “they’d finished the chicken, they were onto the basket!” C’mon, Phil, get a gurn on! Yank your foreskin over your head! Maybe things will improve by jumping forwards to 1988’s final series. Spoilers — they absolutely don’t. Though Carrott’s not providing gags, there’s additional credits for three other writers, which would explain the unfocussed, scattershot nature, and the jokes; oh, the jokes! “Anyone ever un-streaked? Ran through a nudist colony fully clothed?” and “last night, me daughter came home with a yo-yo… I think his name was Brian!

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The satirical rage, once pointed at the grand establishment, now sets its sights on stamp collectors. “How can anyone get worked up about a little piece of gummed paper?!” he rages, miming a protracted orgasm-into-heart-attack while inspecting a stamp under a magnifying glass. He talks about fashion and flared trousers; “I thought i’d go out in them, then I thought, no I won’t, I’ll go far out in them!” There are impressions, but one’s a Kinnock in a routine about deely bobbers and “what if the labour party wore one?!” In the last episode, he’ll submit to fate and do a Prince Charles; arms moving robotically, an “errr” croaking from the side of his mouth. This is Impressionist Hell; Satan in a beret going “ooh, Betty!” As every mimic risks the guillotine should they fail to bring them out, Sean Connery shows up, along with Norman Wisdom, falling over and yelling for Mr. Grimsdale. Almost a full minute goes to Cool rolling around on the floor, making the grizzling Norman Wisdom noise.

Where series three differentiates is with actual sketches, and suddenly cutting away from the stage for the very first time to an actual beach has me trying to climb into the screen for a paddle, like those audiences in 1895 running in fear from a silent train. But then, Cool’s metal detecting geek in coke-bottle glasses says “hello!” in the standard Mr. Bean nerd voice, before digging a ring-pull out of a massive hole. There’s a Parkinson skit, interviewing George Mellie in split screen, with a jarringly homophobic opening, telling his guest to “grab a seat,” as Mellie replies “so do I, Michael.” Parky keeps picking his nose, while Mellie does a squeaky fart. Rolf comes back, playing a “didgeridon’t” and turning into a werewolf. There’s a close-up of a hairy hand grasping at the set as we zoom in, and…

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First Rolf, and now this — double-Yewtree! And in four episodes, he’s the first supporting artiste to show their face. At this point, we reach the absolute nadir, as DLT selects a song on the jukebox from The Four Bottoms. For reasons of TOS, I’m limited in what I can show in illustrative pictures, but imagine as best you can, a man’s bare arse twitching in time with a “bum bum bum” backing track. More arses fill the screen, superimposed either side of Phil’s head, as he sings the delightful refrain “you may see me moving in the moonlight, tryin’ very hard to get my mooning right.” Yes, a romantic ballad about getting your arse out — “I’m mooning, mooning my way into your life” — where Phil’s face at a window dissolves into a horrible aul hoop pushed right up against the glass.

Can I point out that this isn’t even mooning? They’re just naked. Mooning’s when you pull your trousers down, say, in front of a local deputy headmaster and his wife in Sainsbury’s when they’re out doing the Friday big shop, because they left you a bad book review on Amazon, and six months later there’s a picture of you in the paper trying to cover your face with a Paw Patrol backpack outside of court, with the headline BUM NOTE BY LOCAL ‘AUTHOR’ — SUSSEX MAN BANNED FROM HIGH STREET FOR 10 YEARS. Anyway, then there’s two big twitching arses, in full side profile, with Phil’s little head inbetween, all lit like Bohemian Rhapsody. As best they can with late 80’s video effects, it ends with Phil’s head going right up one of the bums, before a parody of Smith and Jones where he’s talking into a man’s bare ricker. The remaining stand-up’s no better, and from the fun of series one, it’s now the full Geoff Tipps — “...Medusa sat there…” — with hacky routines about jogging, contagious yawning, and a trip to the swimming pool; lanes filled with slow old people, used plasters floating by, and “a verruca up the bazooka! (his anus)”

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Of course, there’s a pop at Arnie, milking the decade’s undying obsession with the comedy value of his surname; only pumping up his chest so he can fit it on a t-shirt, and “we’ve seen him as the TerminaTOR, the PredaTOR, I don’t suppose we’ll ever see him as the acTOR!” From great-ish heights, the final half-hour reduces Cool to a yell of “D’YA EVER TWIST YOUR ANKLE?!” while doing a funny walk, admittedly to massive laughter. Ironically, I can imagine it was the sweaty physical comedy which appealed to me as a kid, rather than his early work about the evils of religion. In the last episode, there’s a bit I remember stealing, in my days as irritating class clown, where he pretends to swallow a bee, eyes bugging out, tongue stabbing wildly against the inside of his cheeks to suggest it’s flying around in there. I’m racked with a horrible shiver of embarrassment, and head to YouTube’s comment section for respite.

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Normal! These days, old comedy — any old comedy — has that lot latching on like a lactating breast. The Grumbleweeds and Les Dennis; even Syd Little who’s just standing there; no longer just very poor comedy acts from television past, but devastating A-bombs in the culture war. You can’t even shout “Mr. Grimsdale!” while pretending to fall down the stairs these days without getting thrown in prison! Speaking of normal, what must Phil Cool look like now? We’ve all seen those old trumpet players with sagging cheek pouches. Shockingly, having retired in 2013 after decades of deforming himself, Phil Cool looks like a regular old bloke, and not, as I’d assumed, a Dick Tracy villain called Ballbag Benson. Though he’s unlikely to show up on TV again, I do recommend revisiting the work of Phil Cool, just keep in mind the quality is like the position of his facial features, and varies wildly.

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 Accursed 90s – Beat The Crusher

•April 28, 2021 • Leave a Comment

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

My latest video essay takes us back to the era when TV shows hated their audiences, who in turn loved the abuse, as we explore the destructive chaos of late 90’s Freddie Starr vehicle, Beat the Crusher.

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.

Metal Mickey

•April 19, 2021 • 2 Comments

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Metal Mickey was a notable figure during my time as a small boy, due to his fitting solidly within that best and most formative of all categories — things I liked but was also a bit afraid of. I think it was the voice; clanging and metallic, like a ghost calling to you through the overflow, and a bit too Darth Vader-y for a child whose greatest fear was Luke’s aul’ fella. Not too coincidentally, Mickey originated as a way of pumping out novelty singles in the midst of Star Wars fever, as the brainchild of guitarist and former Bowie bandmate, John ‘Purpleknees’ Edward (I dread to think the story behind that nickname), who worked the controls and did the voice. The success of Mickey’s cover of Lollipop led to a string of guest appearances, on shows like Game for a Laugh, Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, TISWAS, and inevitably, Jim’ll Fix It, before landing a permanent gig on Bill Oddie’s Saturday Banana.

Note that Mickey is always credited as ‘himself’. In Anthony Daniels’ wonderfully self-obsessed autobiography, (which has, like, two references to Kenny Baker, one simply reading “the diminutive actor cast to animate some of Artoo’s scenes”) he complains about the way the droids were promoted in their numerous TV appearances following the first movie. While Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and even Peter Mayhew were listed under their actual names, the droids were always “as themselves,” to keep the magic of suggesting they were real. Similarly, when Mickey span off into his own series on LWT, his credit read “METAL MICKEY appears by arrangement with HOLLYWOOD ROBOTS.” Thus, Metal Mickey the sitcom isn’t the origin story and wacky home life of the Mickey from Saturday Banana, but rather, a show that he’s simply acting in, like when Will Smith got plucked from rap to do the Fresh Prince.

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The series has a weird pedigree, created by Humphrey Barclay — after spotting Mickey on Jim’ll Fix It — written by perennial 80’s gagsmith Colin Bostock-Smith, and produced and directed by Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, presumably drafted in to bring some of that wacky musical sitcom flavour. Landing his own show really solidified Metal Mickey’s role as our Robby the Robot, but unlike the sleek metal lads from Star Wars, his design has a beautifully British clunkiness, with a squat, primate’s frame, like Dominic Littlewood in a silver marathon cape. There’s nobody inside; nobody ‘wearing’ it; essentially rendering him a real robot, albeit operated with an iffy 1980’s remote control. He’s got tufts of coiled wire for hair, and chest panels with coloured lights, which flash in spacey shapes and the phrase COSMIC ZONE. Despite the name, he’s very plasticy, and moves via castors on the bottom of his static legs, though the upper body and head can spin 360 degrees independently, meaning — if he so chose, and if he’d been retrofitted with an anus — Mickey could’ve watched himself defecate.

Episode one, entitled Metal Mickey Lives, aired on September the 6th, 1980, in the Saturday tea-time slot. Unsurprisingly given its creative team, the theme tune — the buried memory of which instantly unlocked within a single note — is an absolute banger, with a chugging guitar riff and swooshy robot noises. According to the lyrics, he weighs half a ton, which must play havoc with the floorboards. As inferred by the episode’s title, Mickey’s a mere husk when we begin, yet to be sparked into life, and the first half’s all about establishing the human family, who’ve got the very sitcom name of Wilburforce. But the living arrangement’s strange, with three grown siblings — two brothers and a sister — sharing bunk beds in a single room. There’s punk teen Steve, with studded bracelet and neckerchief; bespectacled boffin and Mickey’s inventor, Ken; and sister Hayley. As with all TV, they’re clearly adults playing younger, but Ken and Hayley are meant to be doing their A-Levels, which gives the mixed-gender bunks the air of a commune rather than a family home.

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Conversely, while Ken (classic teen name) looks 35, the mum was a youthful 31 at the time of filming, and the dad looks old enough to be her father. But the thing that immediately stands out is the fucking ludicrous size of the house. As a consequence of having to manoeuvrer a lumbering great robot through it, every room’s like an aircraft hanger, with enormous spaces between the furniture. The dining table’s about 20 feet back from the wall, surrounded by a desert of empty floor, and one low-angle shot of father stood on a chair reveals infinite walls rising to the heavens. The off-kilter proportions give it a sickly vibe, like sleeping off mumps and staring at an Artex ceiling that’s a hundred miles away. Also, on closer inspection, all the ‘carpet’ is just lino patterned to look like carpeting, allowing for the roll of Mickey’s wheels.

After the opening titles end with the simply delightful words “and Irene Handl as Granny,” we begin on Ken tinkering with a dormant Mickey, while Granny plays darts with punky Steve. On rewinding, as Granny gets out of her wheelchair, it tips as she leans on the handle, almost sending the 79-year-old Handl over. They’re joined by neighbour Janey, who enters through the window, in a trait connected both with cool and quirky sitcom characters and with Ted Bundy. Highlighting Mickey‘s eclectic roster, Janey’s played by Lola Young, or to give her full contemporary title, Baroness Young of Hornsey, a life peer in the House of Lords. Is Baron Ponsonby of Roehampton about to crawl in through the catflap?

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Mickey’s being built to help mum with her chores, and good job too, as she’s a pure sitcom housewife, never without a feather duster, and living to cook, clean and pick up after her pipe-smoking, building society manager husband, who’s such an old sexist, he has to be reminded they’ve even got a daughter. Speaking of the daughter, her ‘thing’ is having small boobs, borrowing Granny’s tape measure to see if they’ve grown since yesterday, only to be burned with “I seen larger gooseberries!” This is returned to repeatedly, but — how to put this without sounding like a perv? I mean, the actress is an adult, so I’m probably fine — they’re noticeably not small, especially going by some of the YouTube comments. It’s a bizarre thing to keep harping on about; doing exercises to make them grow, while Janey cheers her on, and Steve does a tit-pun and mimes a wazzo pair of jugs. Along with everyone pretending the cast are children and the house isn’t gigantic, Metal Mickey‘s one big gaslighting experiment. I bet if you really looked, Mickey was actually made of paper.

There’s a strong parallel with Saved by the Bell and Screech’s robot, Kevin, in Ken’s project, which in a Woolworths take on the Frankenstein myth, sparks into life when Janey pops a sherbert-filled sweet into its mouth. Even now, I can see why the voice frightened me so as a child. It’s all done with vocoder like Peter Frampton, but with an utter lack of intonation; every line completely flat, and making Stephen Hawking sound like Matt Berry. Half the time, you have to run it back to decipher what he’s saying, while the other half, no clue. It sounds like someone banging two metal pipes together.

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Declaring “Metal Mickey lives!” as the puny humans back away in fright, his first act as a self-aware entity is to return Hayley’s compliment with “you’re not so bad yourself, stringbean,” and scanning his eyes up and down her breasts. “Oh, you’ve noticed,” she says, once again sad about her tits. Mickey recommends “comfy sweaters and tight cords” before winking, the steel paed. There’s a debate about gender which inadvertently feels quite modern, with the kids asserting that smooth-crotched, nob-less Mickey is “not exactly male, is he?” which he counters with simply knowing that he’s a male. Although it then dates itself with a gag about the shame of being born to an unmarried mother.

So’s not to freak out the parents, the kids pretend Mickey’s being controlled by Ken, during a dinner scene where everyone’s crowded round one side of the table like the last supper. After Mickey almost ploughs through the patio doors, dad orders him to leave, because “it’s a small bungalow, and there’s not enough room for a robot.” No room? Your house can be seen from space! You need a week’s supplies to walk over and switch the telly on! They plan to impress dad into letting Mickey stay by having him clear up all the “choss.” I’d not heard that word before, but dad says it about a hundred times — “it’s choss in here, absolute choss, get it cleared up!” — and it seems to mean general untidiness. Mickey wins him over by telekinetically floating “two buckets of choss” (specifically, laundry) off the floor, before accidentally wrecking his beloved greenhouse for the classic sitcom ending. Your man from the Monkees is credited here as Michael Dolenz. Very grown up, mate.

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Metal Mickey is typical of shows from that awkward tea-time slot where adults will be watching but it’s ostensibly aimed at kids, in that its jokes are abysmal, like when Ken’s tinkering with Mickey and told to “watch the oil,” replying with “why, what’s it doing?” Most of the dialogue’s people being snippy at each other, especially the grown-ups, who communicate entirely in passive-aggressive sarcasm.

Dad: “Look, it’s Ken’s robot.”

Mum: “No dear, it’s the abominable snowman.”

Dad: “Silly me!

In another episode, mum asks Hayley if she’s packing her suitcase (while watching her do just that), and dad responds “no, Marjorie, she’s making a collection for one-legged refugees!” Yeah, alright; you haven’t exchanged a tender touch in 15 years, and he only built that greenhouse for the privacy of a much-needed wank. Thankfully, there’s a ton of robot insults to be found, which long-time readers will know of my love for, racking up quite a list. Bionic dustbin, disaster on castors, iron deficiency, scrap metal on wheels, titanium twerp; it’d almost be worth sitting through all 41 half-hours to make a supercut. But three’s probably enough, and I jump forwards to episode 8, Music Man.

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This is the old ‘character becomes famous pop star in Faustian deal with evil showbiz agent’ plot, when Mickey’s song Come On Boogie attracts pop manager Jake Jason, an American in a fringed leather jacket whose every other word is “baby” or “man.” Granny gets a bit Brexity, suggesting “all those with American accents should be sent back to America,” and Jake promises to give the family “something up front,” leading to another joke about Hayley’s sad jugs. Mickey’s meteoric rise is shown via black and white stock film of stream trains, passing exotic place names such as SWINDON, BASINGSTOKE and WIGAN, and spinning magazine headlines, like the Rolling Stone‘s HE’S TOP OF THE ROBOTS (and not the more phonetically pleasing “BOTS”).

Now on the A-list, in Elton John glasses and an earring, Mickey wishes his loser family an arrogant goodbye in a Mid-Atlantic accent, rebuffing Hayley’s pleas to stay — “But we love you!” “Everybody loves me. I am a star, bay-bee!” There’s a genuinely funny moment where he makes a chatshow host’s wig fly off, before realising the agent’s ripping him off. Mickey’s revenge? To telekinetically make Jake Jason’s trousers disappear — which he did to Steve in episode 1, suggesting it’s more of a fetish than anything. But Mickey’s also got the power to vanish people entirely (when he sneezes), and atchoos Jake out of existence, presumably into some sort of limbo Hell-dimension. Possessing dad’s body and forcing him to join a celebratory dance-off when he returns home, it’s clear that Mickey is more God than robot, able to do his own snap, without a single Infinity Gem. It’s likely he appeared on so many shows because everyone was terrified of him, and one wonders if the Saturday Banana gig came about when he threatened to magically fill Bill Oddie’s cock with Lego.

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My final episode jumps forwards to series 3’s Mickey and the Future, where Mickey’s projecting Ken and Janey’s future from next week onto the telly, in one of those gags where someone’s describing what could be a sexual act, but turns out to be completely innocuous. “It is fun. She’s very good at it, she always takes control” — making it sound like Janey’s paddling his bollocks bloody. But ho-ho, they were just playing tennis. Then we forget Mickey can see through time for a plot where dad’s annoyed at Hayley taking so long in the bathroom that she must be “nice and pink and glowing now.” Janey (who’s black) opens the door with a “not quite!” An argument results in Hayley leaving home, and in a real sign of the times, the 16-year-old casually wanders off to rent a flat with her pocket money.

Now in a manky bedsit with urine-coloured tap water and resident cockroaches, the family concoct a plan to get her back home by having everyone else leave too, causing lonely old dad to beg them all to return. With the kids all gone, he calls his wife “the most stupid woman in all the world,” and she takes off too, with suitcase and feather duster. There’s no Granny this week, “on holiday in Devon,” apparently, and Handl only appeared in roughly half the episodes.

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Now homeless, everyone’s crammed in Hayley’s flat and getting no sleep because Mickey keeps needing “to go wee wee,” while dad’s loving the bachelor life, boozing it up on the sofa all day. Mickey goes all Ghost of Christmas Future, showing him ten years from now if he doesn’t change his ways, living in a rat infested hovel with a filthy second wife, while his kids are off being professors (Ken), in jail (Steve), and in Hayley’s case, working as a model, for suspiciously lingering shots of her wearing a bikini. Sure, Steve’s locked up, but the others seem better off without him, and future-mum’s in bed with a hunk, so if anything, this should redouble his commitment to drinking himself to death.

Instead, he vows to change his ways, reuniting the family. It’s not clear if that was the real future, or if Mickey’s abilities include the construction of flawless deepfakes, which is a terrible notion considering how dang horny the Wilburforces are. From Mickey asking Hayley if she thinks he’s sexy, to Granny flirting with Jake Jason, to Steve’s rage when he realises there’s just next week’s tennis on the telly, and not hot footage of his brother getting pegged, along with everyone’s endless obsession with Hayley’s knockers, it’s shocking that Mickey wasn’t constructed with a fleshlight for a mouth.

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Initially, this was intended as a Shitcoms piece, but it’s not quite bad enough, with the defining quality of being another kids show which was frequently inappropriate for its intended audience. At its peak, Metal Mickey pulled in 12 million viewers, which is really just demonstrative of the lack of options back then. Running until January 1983, by the time 20 hours of hijinx had aired, the magic seemed to have worn off, and Mickey disappeared from our screens. Around 2008, old Purpleknees tried to relaunch him as a Basil Brush style evergreen brand, passing the duties onto a younger team, like Sooty had been, for a series of corporate gigs, but it fizzled out. An official Twitter account with 106 followers has lain inactive since 2015, with a handful of tweets offering personal appearances, and tagging Derren Brown in a hopeful suggestion “Metal Mickey meets the Miracle Maker!!” But I wouldn’t count him out yet. All it takes is for some creative young go-getter to snap up the rights and reboot Mickey for modern audiences, perhaps in a horror-action franchise, pitting childhood nightmare icons against each other. Mickey. Blobby. Whoever wins, we lose.

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.

Owt Good On, Mam? – Bear Special

•April 8, 2021 • 4 Comments

[previous Owt Good Ons: The Three L’s]

As I try to find my way back home, wandering lost through the ill-lit subterranean tunnels of British variety, it’s clear the 1980s were a boom period for puppet sidekicks, and 40 years on, the big boys of felt ‘n’ stuffing remain household names; Orville and Cuddles, Emu, Basil Brush, Sooty’s gang, the lads off Rainbow. Slightly less culturally significant but firmly atop the B-list is Nookie Bear. “Haha,” you’re thinking, “nookie is another word for sex! You know; when a man’s nob gets bigger!” Yes, you oaf, you are correct, and just imagine how embarrassed ventriloquist Roger De Courcey was when he realised. Roger’s another star from the talent show breeding grounds, as winner of the 1976 New Faces, and his double-act with Nookie rode the usual carousel of chat shows and Royal Varieties, even releasing a single in 1978, with Nookie’s Song.

The three-minute novelty record functions as an origin story, with Roger “just about to rise” one Sunday morning (I bet you were, you dirty old bollocks), to see a bear “peeping round the bedpost.” Admirably, Nookie’s lines still have that clipped ventriloquist impediment, pronouncing my as nigh and the like. Roger, mate, nobody can see your lips on a seven inch, just go nuts. He dubs the nameless bear Nookie, thus setting up a long showbiz career based around intercourse innuendo, exemplified by lyrics like “take a look around, you’ll see Nookie everywhere” and “we all love a little Nookie bear (bare)” Though there is a cracking gag about doing farmyard impressions. “Noises?” asks Roger. “No,” says Nookie, “smells.” The pair landed their own series aimed at children on Southern Television in 1981, the first episode of which I’ll be watching.

Nookie has a distinctly Five Nights at Freddy’s look, with big boggle eyes perpetually crossed in befuddlement, and no articulation beyond his head, leaving Roger’s spare hand to idly fiddle with and rearrange the lifeless limbs. Its chest is covered by a giant rosette for Crystal Palace football team — of which Roger is a fan — though this was changed to a rosette of Nookie’s own face for the range of replica toys. Speaking of those, here’s your cursed item for the next Conjuring sequel.

It’s funny to think this is who Fred Durst has been doing it all for. Watching him as a child, I found Roger De Courcey an intimidating figure, who seemed not to bother with that social norm of adopting a different, more jovial tone when speaking to kids, and coming across like he was ordering a pint. I’d always assumed this an act which had been honed in the rough working men’s clubs, with a tight ten minutes of swearing, filthy jokes, and ducking bottles of hot piss, before children’s television came calling, and all the blue bits had to be binned, but I’ve no idea if this is the case. Footage of the pair is incredibly sparse, barring a New Faces routine where Nookie’s talking about booze. I mean, the puppet is named after fucking. Like Keith Harris, did Roger have a stable of B-players; Shagger the Monkey and a dormouse called Little Felch? Joking aside, he really did have a dog puppet called Boobsy, with an MP character in the show named Ivor Bentwhistle, which is almost rude.

But as a consequence of Nookie, everything’s a double-entendre; badges with his face on, declaring I LOVE NOOKIE, and especially the title of his show — Now For Nookie — which is what 1970’s men said to their wives at bedtime, as they emerged tumescent from the bathroom, hands on hips, pipe in mouth, and wearing only their socks. Even the logo, to my foul toilet of a mind, seems slightly tit-like, with two googly irises inside the double OO of his name, like a pair of dark nipples. Now For Nookie began on June 15th, 1981, with Roger singing the theme; “together we laugh at trouble, we’re a perfect double, Nookie and me…” Right away, I’m struck by Roger’s look. Pale and red-headed, but bald on top, he’s grown the rest out long, like an egg wearing a grass skirt. With sideburns and a tash; shiny watch sat on a hairy arm; it’s halfway between Shakespeare and a truck driver.

If Tommy Cannon looked like he could knock the turds straight out of you, Roger’s the guy even Tom would back down from; stood at the pub urinal, stubbing a rollie out on the end of his own cock. He’s got the air of that teacher you had who clearly didn’t care about the job or expanding young minds, but gladly picked up a paycheck for sitting with his feet up, nipping out for a fag every ten minutes, only looking up from the Racing Post to laugh at some first year getting smacked in the face with a football on the playing field outside.

At the close of the opening titles, he emerges in beige slacks and a brown polo shirt with the words Roger De Courcey, Bena Golf International on the pocket, bidding us welcome but interrupted by various crashing noises, revealed to be Nookie and some smashed crockery — “you said I’d have a big break on television!

What I found most unsettling about the duo as a kid, as I do now, is that Nookie pretty much uses Roger’s normal voice. The voice of a balding middle aged-man. Same bored-sounding intonation, same rhythms. He does drop it about a quarter of an octave and go slightly more common, but if you called their house phone, you’d have no idea who’d picked up. The back-and-forth that’s at the core of every vent act has never come across more like a man arguing with himself than with Rog and Nook, and I can’t decide if this is lazier than not bothering to do any voice at all, like with Sooty or Spit the Dog. Plus he’s clearly grown a tash specifically to hide the way his mouth moves the whole time, and even as a child, I thought “he can’t be arsed.”

Indeed, as ventriloquists are wont to do, the pair get in a squabble about Nookie using the coarse word “ain’t,” leading to that grammar/grandma joke so popular back then, and even referenced in Inside No 9‘s incredible Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room. The audience laughter is very young, but the kind where they’re shrieking because they understand the rhythm of a joke, and not necessarily the content, with Roger’s routine about linguistic syntax — “I have no tellies, we have no tellies, they have no tellies,” as Nookie replies “who’s got all the tellies?

Nookie ends up insulting the crew, and they cut to a test card, before a fortune teller sketch in a tent with Gypsy Lil, “Romany Clairvoyant, home-made pegs for sale.” It’s all spooky green lighting and dry ice — “don’t like it here, guvnah” — as she comes out in a veil, swinging an incense burner. “Blimey,” says Nookie, “it’s Danny La Rue!” It’s not; it’s Pat Coombs in a rubber witch nose, moaning occultishly and taking out a crystal ball for the honestly-pretty-great punchline “I think her goldfish are dead.” We zoom in on the ball to reveal a waving Anita Harris, performing a very sedate version of Can’t Smile Without You, at least until music’s best key change, when Nookie pops up to pull faces over her shoulder. With Anita squirming, and Nookie rolling his eyes ecstatically, it seems he’s living up to his name. Perhaps in the clubs, he’d have ducked down behind her with “I’ve never seen a neater harris!

After some hi-jinx with a clay ‘trained frog’ jumping through a hoop, which shoots past Anita at a speed which legitimately would’ve been lethal if she’d been stood a few inches to the left, she and the lads duet/trio on Froggy Went a-Courtin’. Nookie’s got his own stool between the humans, but it’s so high, Roger has to adopt a strange one-leg-up position to keep his hand in the back, like he’s posing for Victorian pornography.

It’s just hit me how weird this song is, centred on a frog who’s in a — presumably sexual — relationship with a mouse, and rides to her house on horseback, which must be quite a sight. Maybe that’s why Roger’s actually smiling all the way through, while Nookie interjects with borderline smut, like Missy Mouse opening the door to Mr. Frog with “I know what you’re here for.” The show ends with Rog revealing a new tiger puppet called Ozzy, who’s got a very different voice, a posh “how do you do?” But as Roger finishes with a “goodnight, God bless you, take care,” I fear I’ve previously judged him too harshly. This is much better than the sickly emotional blackmail of Keith Harris and Orville, and he’s less gruff than I remembered; although today, even at 75, he still looks like he’d make you bite the doorframe before kicking it shut.

We’re keeping the puppets and bears theme going with the next curiosity, for reasons that will soon become clear. Taking the Prince Among Men titling system of the good old surname pun, we’re onto the only surviving episode of ventriloquist Dawson Chance’s 1980 vehicle, Take a Chance. Dawson was a familiar face on very Millard-centric series of the era, pulling impressions on The Krankies Club, Who Do You Do? and Crackerjack. A kids show where he’s running a boarding house, Take a Chance has one of those squelchy-sounding theme tunes, like Roobarb and Custard, and its opening titles showcase a varied cast of puppets, from foam pigs and cutesy creatures to one of those haunted looking old-style ones with the bow tie and clacky jaw.

Incidentally, what a fantastic name Dawson Chance is; like a mormon-turned-pornstar. There’s big, high-pitched cheers as he comes out in a dentist’s smock, with cuddly turtle puppet, Willy. Visually, it’s a bit odd, as he’s not supporting Willy like how Keith gently cradled Orville, so there’s no way to interpret this other than it being held aloft by the anus. There’s a recurring bit when he ducks into his shell, as Dawson and the audience cry “Willy!” and honestly, most of my childhood was spent running around shouting about willies, so I’d have loved this. Though there is a weird moment where he ‘hypnotises’ Willy by tickling him, and the audience of kids goes dead quiet when he can’t find a pulse — “he’s stopped breathing!” The threat of a kiss of life rouses him back, and by the end of an energetic sketch, Dawson’s very sweaty.

It’s when Dawson takes delivery of a parcel and we meet the hotel’s owner, Stanley, that we get to why we’re really here, as his voice is instantly recognisable as Bungle off Rainbow. Note that Stanley Bates was the good Bungle, and not that horrible The Shining bastard they started with. But even stripped of the giant head, I feel like you’d have known. His hangdog expression seems like Bungle’s merely been run through a human filter on a photo app, and even his mannerisms; hands planted on hips, fists in balls, elbows at perfect 90-degree angles; are exceedingly Bungle-esque. Every moment he’s onscreen is an absolute joy; camp and expressive; and it’s a real shame his most famous role required his face to be covered. Watching him, I can’t help imagining there’s an alternative universe out there where Stanley Bates was inside C-3PO, and it was fabulous.

The story this week is Dawson’s off to a fancy dress party, but Stanley’s going to the circus instead. When the circus animal trainer turns up, seeking a lost gorilla and python, it turns into the Rainbow version of that KISS album where they took the make-up off, as he’s played by Roy Skelton, aka the voice of Zippy and George. It might not be clear at first, as Skelton’s Claude Bottoms (Bottoms and a Willy?! Did I write this show?) has a blustery old military voice, but when he’s chasing the gorilla — “stop monkeying about!” — it’s far more recognisable, with bits of Zippy and George in there, and sometimes a hybrid of both.

As Dawson’s fancy dress is a gorilla costume (identical to the ‘real’ ape), it’s a masterclass in classic farce — people going in and out of a room to look for each other; mistaken identity; characters just missing each other; lots of double takes. All we need to complete the tropes is a pair of trousers falling down (that’s enough willy. Ed). As evidenced by the sudden audience quiet when it walks in, the gorilla outfits are genuinely pretty frightening, and closer to a Bigfoot, and when the two bump into each other, for a second I worry it’s gonna go all Trading Places and get Dawson bummed. Thankfully, there’s just a terrific Marx Brothers gag with an empty mirror frame (or for a less-refined reference, Crush and the two Doinks at Wrestlemania IX). Added points for the bit they put a wicker bowl on their heads and the jaunty music subverts all expectations by not going into a Chinese motif. But then, Take a Chance is miles better than the usual swill we suffer through on here, even beyond the novelty of seeing the Rainbow animals do an acoustic set. Conclusion: telly bosses, more bears please.

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.

VHS:WTF – Jeremy Beadle’s Guide to Practical Joking

•March 26, 2021 • 5 Comments

In my latest video essay, a Satan-like Jeremy Beadle stalks unseen through the home of a family in utter crisis, tampering with their food and booby-trapping the toilet. You know, for a joke.

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.

Great Moments in Pop Culture – “David’s Dead!”

•March 16, 2021 • 2 Comments

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[Previous Great Moments: “I’m Not a Real Witch”Jimmy Stewart’s Yeti FingerJames Cameron Digs Up ChristMr. T Thanks His MotherRicky Gervais Has a FightByker Grove Nukes the Fourth Wall]

David Gest first attracted the attention of British audiences through his status as former Mr. Liza Minnelli, as seen in their all-time great wedding photo, where the happy couple stood alongside Liz Taylor, best man Michael Jackson, and Martine McCutcheon. As a nation, we all judged the book by its cover when Gest was announced as a contestant on 2006’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, as his look at the time was… shall we say, rather ‘Hollywood alien’. Look, I’m not throwing stones; if I had the cash, I’d be straight off to get my gnashers done, before figuring I might as well do something about my great big hooter while I’m at it.

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As a complete unknown, joining a cast of big names such as Dean Gaffney and Toby Anstis, the images of Gest’s clay-like, simpering gazes at Liza — from whom he’d separate a year after the wedding — informed everyone’s assumptions that he’d be a prissy nightmare. Every year had a jungle diva, screeching in fright because they touched a tree, and boring fellow camp-mates with impotent, hourly threats to walk off the show. But Gest turned out to be a self-effacing, playful delight, who spent his time confusing dim-bulb D-listers with deadpan tall tales about his cleaner Vaginika Semen, and how he and Michael Jackson spent hours following spiders to see where they went. The Baron Munchausen via Carry On films raconteuring enamoured him to viewers, elevating Gest to one of those Americans who effectively become culturally adopted as British in the wake of a good showing, like Ashley Roberts would six years later. As a now-established face on our screens, it was inevitable David Gest would eventually sign up as a housemate on Celebrity Big Brother.

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Channel 5 were asking for a bout of shrieking drama that year, with a perfect storm of the kind of tabloid types Gest was assumed to have been a decade earlier. Gemma Collins had herself been I’m a Celebrity‘s jungle diva, walking out of the show two years earlier after only 72 hours in camp, and more recently could be seen on the Crystal Maze, stopping mid-game and demanding to speak to the producer. Still, it’s good that TV continues to hand opportunities to someone whose entire brand (and skillset) is behaving like someone who’d be caught on CCTV doing a massive slash on your driveway of a Friday night, while swanning around expecting subjugation like she’s the Queen of England.

Danniella Westbrook had been a fixture in the redtops since her nose fell out in 2000, from hoovering up so much beak, and fell into a cycle of public relapse and redemption, including a brief period as a born again evangelical Christian in LA. Similarly obsessed over by Fleet Street was Darren Day, branded a tabloid “love rat” early in his career, and unable to shake the tag, perhaps due to a crippling addiction to becoming engaged to actresses. Though I couldn’t dig it out, I vividly recall a big Sunday exclusive about a lifetime of coked-up sex having left him punching himself in the penis “just to get some feeling in it.” Also in the house was Christopher Maloney, a losing X-Factor contestant whose admitted self-esteem issues manifested in a string of public cosmetic surgeries, with each new eyelid lift definitely the final key to happiness and self-acceptance. Following the show, he and Westbrook would become besties, even flying to the same surgeon in Poland for dual procedures, like you and a mate would a trip to the pictures, posting a video of the pair sat in bed eating crisps, while done up in bandages like the invisible man.

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Though it was a full cast of sixteen — including Angie Bowie — the final housemate relevant to our story is Tiffany Pollard, aka ‘New York’ from VH1’s Flavor of Love; a show best remembered for the time a women pooed on the floor of Flavor Flav’s mansion while he was giving a welcome speech. The 17th series of Big Brother begun airing on January the 5th, 2016. Remember 2016? The year whose mere mention formerly made everyone do a sharp intake of breath, but now we’ve been through 2020, just seems like a right fucking laugh? Together, all these elements combined to form, arguably, the single greatest moment in the history of television. Occurring over a wildly chaotic yet brief seven minutes of airtime, its sheer historical weight requires it be broken down at a microscopic level, second by second.

It begins on January the 10th, with the tragic death of David Bowie. News breaks the following day, to both the world at large, and to Bowie’s ex-wife — and mother of their film director son, Duncan Jones — Angie, who, cut off from the outside, is called into the diary room and privately informed by Big Brother. What follows is classic British farce, where a grieving woman, still catching her breath from devastating news, is inadvertently pulled into a 1970’s sitcom. Angie is wet-eyed and clearly reeling as she wanders into the kitchen, and asked by Tiffany if she’s okay. Led into another room so they can talk, a distraught Angie begs “you gotta do me a favour, you can’t say a word.” As Tiffany assures her she won’t, it’s then that Angie says it. Two little words in a hushed whisper — “David’s dead.

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The sounds that Tiffany makes in response are akin to someone seeing a ghost over their shoulder in the bathroom mirror; a series of instinctual belly-deep howls and a panicked “NO HE’S NOT!” As though drowning, she flails an outstretched arm towards Angie; herself a woman in the first flush of grief, and now forced to restrain ‘New York’ in a half-hug, half-choke hold, as she goes off like a burglar alarm. “You can’t,” begs Angie, “you can’t, you can’t do that.” What is not known to Angie at the time, is that Tiffany has interpreted ‘David’ to mean David Gest, a housemate she has spoken to less than an hour ago.

Tiffany’s every outward breath is a loud cry of confusion and despair, and the sound arouses the garden crew, a posse of Day, Maloney, and Westbrook, sat on benches on an astroturf lawn in smoker’s corner, overflowing ashtray at their feet, arms folded to protect from the chill winter air. It’s the gossipy table at school lunch, reeking of Polo Mints to cover up the Silk Cut, and Darren wonders aloud “what the fuck is that?” though they do not get up to investigate.

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Back in the house, there’s a long back and forth of Tiffany freaking out while Angie tries to sooth her before she draws too much attention, all with the vibe of a movie set during the Holocaust; trying to quiet a crying baby while the floorboards above creak with Nazi footsteps. Clasping her disorientated housemate by the hand as she circles the room, Angie leads the pair in an unconscious Tudor dance, admonishing in a stage whisper — “Stop it, they’re all gonna know!” But Tiffany squirms out of a matronly hug, now struck by the stage of grief where you start laughing hysterically. “We gotta get everyone together!” she says, staggering off as Angie tries to shush her, and we cut to a close-up of Chris Maloney idly clacking his teeth. The conversation, which plays out over a few minutes of television, was edited down from 45 minutes, during which the producers, presumably like Angie, couldn’t believe how much of a hardcore Bowie fan Tiffany Pollard had turned out to be.

With a shambling run over to smoker’s corner, a sobbing, hysterical Tiffany is ensconced by Day and Maloney. “What’s the matta, babe?” asks the former. She babbles about Angie telling her a secret; a secret she cannot keep in — “I hope she’s just jokin’, but she says she’s not…” Big Chris Maloney is beside himself with curiosity, as he’s informed in a wobbly voice; “they told me David is dead!” Maloney’s eyes pop out of his face like two boiled eggs — “David? David?!” and the virus of Tiff’s hysteria instantly infects everyone within reach. Man of action Darren Day is off the bench like a shot, pelting towards the house in his cowboy boots, with the others following behind. In an empty room, Angie pleads, perhaps to Big Brother, perhaps to God himself, “you gotta help me… I fucked up.

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The other housemates burst into the bedroom, with Tiffany wailing “OH, GOD!” — ironically in the exact manner of a graveside widow — and an angry Westbrook demanding to know “where’s David?” The answer to that is ‘taking a nap’, but in truly incredible comic providence, specifically, a nap where he’s flat on his back, arms folded on his chest, with the duvet pulled right over, leaving a very still, very corpse-like shape on top of the bed. For a small moment, perhaps the greatest moment in all of recorded human civilisation, Gemma Collins watches open-mouthed from her bed, as Darren Day, Danniella Westbrook, Christopher Maloney, and New York from the show someone shat on the floor, genuinely believe that David Gest — who barely an hour ago was walking around chatting — has very suddenly died of an undiagnosed cancer, and that they’re about to pull back the duvet and reveal his corpse, which had been casually left there by producers as the show trundled on.

There seems to be a mass exhalation as Day whips the covers off to reveal a confused but alive David Gest, before the mood immediately shifts, not to relief, but anger. “SHE TOLD ME THAT DAVID DIED!” yells Tiffany, now furious at what she assumes is a horrible prank on Angie’s part, and sprinting off to confront her. Maloney follows behind, begging her “chill, chill, chill!” and a bewildered Angie watches through the window, as Stephanie Davis from Hollyoaks needlessly puts a hand up to hold her back, like a pissed-up brawl outside a kebab shop — “what did I do?” The penny doesn’t drop until Westbrook strides in to accuse her, in her Don Henderson voice, of telling Tiffany “that David was dead from cancer.”

     Angie: “Yes, he is!

     Westbrook: “He’s in there, asleep!

     Angie: “David. My ex-husband!

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As Angie cries in the diary room, Tiffany; used to the American reality television on which she made her name; interprets the whole thing as Angie’s prank; as psychological gamesmanship; and is absolutely raging — “why the fuck would she get in my head like that?!” Inexplicably, even as the simple confusion is ironed out, the Smoke Crew now start arguing about Bowie. A furious Westbrook spits “David Bowie ain’t dead neither!” and that Angie, “she needs to be taken out of here, man… that’s fucking sick… speaking ill of other people like that is sick, and I can’t speak to her no more.”

At this point, the story very clearly switches to the idea that Angie did this deliberately, just for the fuck of it, and that nobody is dead. Tiffany starts misremembering, convincing herself Angie specifically said “Gest” and that he “died in the diary room,” presumably before C5 dumped his body in the bedroom like fucking Threads. Housemate Jonathan Cheban, mate of Kim Kardashian and “founder of thedishh.com” (thanks Wikipedia) paces the plastic lawn, aghast at Angie’s actions; “I’m not well with crazy people, I don’t have that in my life.” Westbrook takes the playground gossip into the bathroom, informing a wet and naked John Partridge through a crack in the shower door that “she told Tiff it was David Gest that’s died of cancer in the diary room or something.” “David Gest has died?” asks Partridge, whose soggy cock and bollocks are shielded only from the camera by the fumin’ figure of Danniella Westbrook.

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With everyone now baying for Angie’s blood, Partridge emerges into the garden in a towel to play peacemaker, albeit in a needlessly mysterious ‘I know something you don’t know’ way — “Angie has had some news… she’s misunderstood the name, that’s all i’m gonna say,” and hushing a still furious Tiffany with a pointed “it’s the wrong David, honey.” We end with Angie Bowie crying in the diary room, and Tiffany alone at the end of the garden, silently squatting on the astroturf, almost nose to nose with her own reflection, and staring blankly ahead like a dog that’s really contemplating itself for the first time in the family glass cabinet. In 2020, people kept saying how no generation had ever lived through as much history as we did that year, but keep in mind, this incident happened in the same week as Come Dine With Me‘s what a sad little life, Jane.

One thing that’s been lost in analysis of all this over the years is how it must’ve appeared from Angie’s side, having never crossed her mind that Bowie had been confused with Gest. Tiffany first wildly over-reacted as though she’d lost a member of her own family, before switching to disbelief; the belief that Angie must’ve been set a secret task by Big Brother to make housemates falsely believe her ex-husband had died; and finally that she’d done it out of spite. And all while trapped in a TV studio surrounded by cameras, with nowhere to hide, reeling from bad news she was desperate to keep quiet. Weirdly, Angie telling Tiffany in the first place was also symptomatic of the harsh competition of Reality TV, as Angie didn’t want her housemate to think her eyes were running because she had a cold, and was therefore weak.

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Following the fiasco, two of its main players really leaned into it, with Gest promoting a touring music show entitled David Gest Is Not Dead but Alive With Soul, the poster of which showed him emerging from a coffin like Dracula, with the date of his premature BB death emblazoned on the lid. Tiffany Pollard, who to this day gets “David’s dead!” shouted at her in the street, begun selling a range of t-shirts, bearing the words DAVID IS DEAD. Sadly, just a week after the shirts went on sale, and three months after Big Brother, David Gest unexpectedly died for real. Along with a series of ludicrous anecdotes, he leaves behind a legacy as centrepiece in one of the funniest things that ever happened, and all while taking a nap.

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.

 
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