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As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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

Owt Good On, Mam? – Bear Special

•April 8, 2021 • 2 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.

Treasure Hunt

•March 7, 2021 • 2 Comments

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[more game show posts: Trump CardCyberzoneScavengersNaked JungleRunaroundEndurance UK]

In my gigantic list of horrible stuff to cover on here, I’d always planned on hitting 3-2-1, but I snoozed and losed, and Limmy beat me to it. So instead, let’s get into the era’s other weird as shit riddle-me-ree game show. Like Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard, Treasure Hunt is an adaptation of a French property, but the resulting series is so achingly British, it feels like something specially put together to rouse the Queen out of her room during a bout of depression. This isn’t a game show, it’s a roving Olympic opening ceremony, showcasing Middle England’s eccentricities, with Anneka Rice’s perpetually-out-of-breath, jolly-hockey-sticks dervish careening through villages and towns that haven’t had a Labour MP for 200 years, and giving them an anecdote to dine out on forever; the day a celebrity landed in a field and ran through the WI before vanishing.

I’ve never had a posh girlfriend, but watching this has the feel of being romantically involved with someone far above your grubby social standing, on the first weekend away at the future in-laws’ manor, where they pull out the family game they always play with newcomers; a game which is confusing, frightening, and ends with you running across the lawn being shot at by hunting rifles. As it’s the eighties, Treasure Hunt is a show built around exciting futuristic technology; namely, the ability to talk to someone as they whiz around the country in a helicopter. Inside the chopper is Anneka Rice, sent to various locations by studio-based contestants, as they solve a series of cryptic clues that will eventually lead to treasure.

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I’m watching an episode from January 1986, with an exciting title sequence of Anneka — called “Annie” with familiarity by the contestants — dangling from helicopters and leaping into the sea. From the opening second, it’s incredibly middle-class, and host Kenneth Kendall has the sort of clipped newsreader’s accent which makes me feel like I live in a bin. He’s joined by weathergirl Wincey Willis, with a Buck Rogers headset over Ricky Morton’s haircut, like she’s popped over on a break from Call of Duty. Incidentally, doesn’t Wincey sound like the nickname of WW1 soldier who flinches from bangs because of shell shock? — “Settle down, Wincey, lad, it’s just one of Tommo’s guffs!”

This week’s players, Val and Eira, are firmly the kind of people you’d never see on TV now, back when contestants were nervous, awkward, and clearly not at home in the studio, without years of selfies and Facetiming to get comfortable in front of the camera. She’s retired, and he’s a former veterinary surgeon and financial consultant. Both would definitely call the police if they saw me walking past their house. The studio’s set up like a spy’s lounge, in a single room lined with shelves of reference books, a fake fireplace, and everyone stood at a giant map-table. Anneka’s movements are marked by a toy helicopter, which is the most 80’s vehicle of all — Airwolf; Predator; Noel Edmonds and Mike Smith.

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Anneka’s official title is the very Star Warsy ‘Skyrunner’, and just to emphasise the toffness, she begins beside a narrow boat, quoting Ratty from Wind in the Willows (or as she calls it “The Winds of the Willow”). The camera flips round to reveal Graham the cameraman and soundman Keith, who were semi-ironic celebrities in their own right, both lumbered down with gear. The restrictions of 80’s tech are apparent at every turn, and for the next hour of frantic running, Anneka’s in an enormous pair of headphones/mic, with a sound-pack the literal size of an old car stereo hanging round her neck. The trio are wrapped in a trail of thick black wires and curly cables like goth Christmas trees, and though the studio can’t see Anneka, they can hear and speak to her. There’s £1,000 at stake, 45 minutes on the clock, and it’s time for the first clue. Shall we play along at home? Ready?

Before you come to power, halt for a run on historic lines. A coach for the track event has chocolate and cream waiting.

Oh. Val commands Anneka into the air, using shelves of reference books to figure out where to send her. A clock counts down in the bottom right, while clues loiter onscreen in a font usually seen on VHS tapes reading ‘Steve and Tanya’s Big Day, 1986!‘ The chopper circles over river cruisers like a gunship readying to cut them to shreds with high-velocity armour-piercing rounds, as elderly contestants’ voices overlap with that of Anneka, shouting at the top of her lungs over the rotors, hair billowing into her face, and clutching a folded map. Intercut with lurching zooms on the landscape below, it’s a disorientating experience, with the two groups holding unrelated, simultaneous discussions, the entire time. The studio read aloud from text books, while a yelling Anneka witters on about scuba diving, like a pair of blaring televisions tuned to different channels.

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Kendall reads aloud the names of nearby hamlets, each sounding like the setting for a mid-afternoon ITV drama where a rich old widow’s been killed by a runaway lawnmower — “Long Whittenham, Appleford, Sutton Courtney…” Everyone chatters away as Anneka screams that there are “FIVE BIG CHIMNEYS” on the horizon; “AND A VERY LONG FUNNEL,” she adds, raising an eyebrow salaciously, as if to infer that men’s stiff willies can sometimes be long too. The chocolate and cream is eventually identified as the markings of a distant train, landing so Anneka can sprint towards it in a fevered foot-chase, with Graham and Keith following behind.

Anneka’s breathless running is show’s trademark, along with the passing shrieks of “HELLO!” thrown at bystanders like hand grenades. Treasure Hunt‘s overpowering middle-classness is evident as she hops on a steam train, where passengers scoff cream tea elevenses. There are moments the series feels like a video game; particularly in Anneka’s interactions with the people she meets, never sure whether they’re ‘in on it’ and awaiting her arrival, primed to aid in her quest, or merely regular folks who are silent, not because they’re banned from giving too much help, but because they only popped out for a pint of milk, and now Anneka Rice off the telly is rifling through their pockets, looking for an envelope. Luckily, the waiter whose trousers she investigates isn’t an NPC, but part of the show, and we find our next clue.

04

To Peter Cook’s alma mater’s bank, where you’ll need to shell out for the wet bobs’ Hero.

Anneka scrambles back over the tracks, past railway workers in period costumes, while singing Happy Birthday to the Great Western Railway, in a ‘sending get well cards to Boris’ way — then it’s back to the air. Let’s examine this clue. Wet Bob? Is that not just the name of a local weirdo your parents warned you about as a kid? “Don’t go down the arcade, that’s where Wet Bob hangs out…” – half a dozen stories for how he got his name; his wife drowned so now he lives in the sea, or “you know that’s not tea he keeps in that flask?” Turns out, ‘wet bobs’ are Oxford rowers, as opposed to the hockey-playing ‘dry bobs’, which sends her up the river to a boathouse.

Barring ad-breaks, every segment is an exhausting single take, now sprinting from train to chopper, out onto a pontoon, and leaping into a boat, to row up to another boat that’s waiting upriver. Poor Graham, shouldering a camera the size of a golden retriever, has to keep pace by running alongside, before scrambling into a third boat to follow. A posh rower called Tim reads out the next clue, which is full of words he can’t pronounce.

Look in on the bibliographists opposite the Encaenia location and ask for a note on Dodgson’s Liddell account.

Oh, just… just fuck off. Though I’m left feeling like a gutter-scum thicky, Eira proves social class doesn’t necessarily represent smarts by having to look up the word bibliographist in the dictionary. Anneka whirs off towards Oxford, landing in the grounds of St. Hilda’s college, where four butchers are standing outside, exclaiming “You smell of blackjacks!” at them. But their target is miles away, so she accosts some students and borrows their bikes — which just happen to be there — everyone loading their equipment into the baskets and taking off. The camerawork, in a pre-GoPro world, is like a magic trick, continually filming while cycling along a busy road and panning to the sights, even looking down to show both his hands on the handlebars.

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Tragically, it’s here I become a Facebook boomer, reminiscing about penny sweets and blacking up, as I get swept into the nostalgia of 1980’s Britain’s sun-drenched pavements, back when there was still hope. Lockdown III is getting to me. It’s seven full minutes of top-speed cycling, taking them across busy roundabouts and veering dangerously through traffic, with Anneka yelling at the top of her lungs the whole time, or breaking into song, as Eira tells her “good girl.” A pan to the sound man reveals he is sweating profusely, gripping a thick white cable between his teeth like a horse. Journey’s end is an enormous bookshop, with dozens of customers milling about, and amid all the outdated technology, the most jarring sight is the now-lost tableau of bustling British retail. Anneka finds the clue in a window display about Lewis Carroll. “Good girl,” says Kendall.

Fair Rosamund’s tomb and a Schubert quintet bring you to a bunch of cuporus fagus

“Bunch of cuporus fagus” sounds like a Tweet that’d get olden times Kevin Hart kicked off Ye Oscars. They’ve bombed back to the chopper by car in the ad break, with the girls’ bikes presumably never to be seen again, while the studio thumb through Latin dictionaries. Wincey warns there’s only five minutes left, as Anneka pelts past ancient stone walls and Pimm’s-sipping picnickers, before fishing the final clue down from a beech tree, apologising to the branch as she does, as though it might reply “that’s quite alright!” in an Enid Blyton voice.

06

Connect Southey’s old Kasper and a proposal to Miss Hozier, then use a communications room to come face to face with Mrs Freeman’s father-in-law

Miss Hozier is Churchill’s wife, but the clock runs out on the way to Blenheim Palace, so they fail to win the ‘treasure’ of a toy soldier, or the £1000. They do get a rather generous half that for losing, which Eira explains they’ll give to charity; some to guide dogs for the blind and more sketchily, “some will possibly go to the St. Peter’s Church, which my wife attends.”

Unusually, contestants are listed in the credits under their full names, which is a GDPR nightmare these days. Imagine thirsty Twitter with this kind of information when they’re leching over girls off The Chase. The second episode comes from the following year, 1987, and the players are markedly less posh, rocking some incredible looks, with Jim, a computer repairman who resembles Will from Stranger Things as a medieval peasant, and his boss; big, tall hoss of redhead called Mike. Wincey’s dressed in the flowing blue robes of a 1960’s sex cultist, while Anneka’s halfway up a mountain on the Isle of Skye. The setting inspires a ton of classic-period Scottish references in her; adding Mc to the crew’s names, asking where their kilts are, referring to “The Scotch,” and filling the airtime with shouted variations on “och eye the noo!” — peaking with “och aye the clue!” Over the course of this Patreon, I’ve acquired a real admiration for the Scots, and their phenomenal restraint in not going to war with us in the eighties.

07

North of the Gavin Maxwell shore, pitch at a palindrome. Check the MacLaine colours and it’s in the bag.”

C’mon, that first clue’s actually doable! Bag; so it’s in a sporran, hanging on some MacLaine tartan, and she’ll have to root around in there while pulling a face that says “oo-er, I’m right by this fella’s wee chap!” Who’s Gavin Maxwell, though? Someone who manages a call centre and has the words ‘season ticket holder’ in his social meed bios, no doubt. Dropped off at the highland games, Anneka does indeed grope around in an old piper’s sporran, before saying “Och aye!” and kissing him on the lips. Sadly, cum doesn’t shoot out of the end of his bagpipes.

MacKenzie’s coat of mail was constable where three lochs meet. A fourth lock — the young Chevalier’s — is your key

The lads get really excited about a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, as Anneka’s sent to a castle. “YOU SOUND DEMENTED!” she screeches. The hair’s located in the banqueting hall inside a case, which she mishears as “cake,” wasting lots of time. Eventually, after no help at all from Treasure Hunt‘s waiting plants, all stood silently with their arms folded, like when Chris Whitty was shouted at by that teenager, the next clue is finally located.

08

On the way to the sororial quintet, take the high road and alight on a mixed-up Bob Cage for a face-saving exercise

“Mixed up” clearly implies Bob Cage is an anagram. So… babe cog? C bae gob? See bae’s gob?! Anneka, you need to find a mural of Anna Kendrick, the clue will be hidden in the (lovely) mouth. Turns out, it’s not that at all, but a mountain called Boc Beag, where she spots a “pin prick of a man” atop the mountain, silhouetted through the shaky-cam like a Yeti; “what’s he doing?” asks Kendall. “He’s taking off his trousers,” replies Annie. The unfortunate man is not part of the show, and presumably got the shock of his life when about to take a dump 1500ft above sea level and turned to see a helicopter with a film crew hanging out of the door.

The path to the clue is a cracking example of 80’s television’s approach to health and safety; the decade where Noel pissed himself laughing as untrained volunteers drove over ramps at 100mph. Dumped onto a precipice, a reticent Anneka’s left to slide down slippery slopes to a mountain rescue team, before being strapped into a stretcher and slowly scaled down the cliff-face, by men with no safety ropes, blindly backing towards a fatal drop. It’s all shot from above like arms-length news footage of the SAS storming a terrorist embassy, taking the clue from a man literally hanging half-way down a sheer mountain.

09

Towards the northern welkin crossing, stand at bay by Inverewe’s counterpart, and embark on a venture to find a cocktail element

Och aye!” says Anneka. She accosts a man in a row-boat, pulling us into that videogame feel, asking for a lift, and metaphorically mashing every button on the controller, yet to hit upon the key phrase which triggers his help, and leaving him unable to respond with naught but confusing and obstinate silence. Is he part of the game, or just a prick? Keith’s corralled into a Loch-side highland fling, before the boatman finally rows them out to his trawler. It takes him ages to row all four of them there by himself, and Anneka finally clambers aboard the trawler while he awkwardly tries to help whilst neither touching nor getting his face too near her bum. The final clue’s in a prawn trap.

Off the rails! A semblance of Scottish liqueur is left, but a little port looks right. A green gate leads to a palmy point.”

10

But there’s less than four minutes on the clock, a quarter of which is wasted trying to get the clue out of the basket, before a genuine moment of panic when climbing back down into the row boat, and snagging her ankle on the side of the hull, almost breaking it. It’s all too late, as a maudlin piano note signals defeat, and the end of another round of Waitrose Tomb Raider. From a channel that, thirty years later, would bring us Naked Attraction and Benefits Street, Treasure Hunt is a curio of a lost time; a lost Great Britain which never really existed, but happily whiled away its weekday hours in antique fairs or stately gardens, secure in the knowledge that Diana would one day be its queen. However, reboots of all existing properties are inevitable, and every passing minute inches us closer to Kenneth Kendall’s place being taken by Joe Swash, watching the clock run down as Gemma Collins refuses to get in the helicopter because it’s the wrong colour.

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 – Liz Dawn’s House Party

•February 27, 2021 • 5 Comments

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 • 1 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…”

02

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.

03

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.

 
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