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As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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

Cheers.

 

And There’s More…

•October 24, 2020 • Leave a Comment

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In digging around weird old shit off the telly, I spend half my time falling off the end of the pier down various light entertainment wormholes. One minute, it’s the height of summer and you’re watching the Krankies Christmas special, then you realise it’s been uploaded by Jimmy Cricket himself, as was the 1988 Children’s Royal Variety, in an admirable attempt to preserve his own legacy for the aliens who’ll eventually stumble on the ruins of our civilisation. And in rummaging through the rest of his videos, you find a sketch show you’ve never heard of — ITV’s And There’s More — and know, as is your curse, you’re gonna be sitting through it with a notepad and pen instead of hitting the casinos or (consensually) touching a butt, which is definitely how you’d have otherwise spent the evening.

Cricket was an absolute stalwart of television when I was growing up, often as an impression done by other comics, with instructions on how to ‘do’ him even featuring in Gary Wilmot’s guidebook. A ubiquitous guest spot, it never occurred to me he’d had his own show, which seems to have vanished from cultural memory. And There’s More ran for four series, with a supporting cast of aging faces and television noobs. 1985’s first series had the debut of a young Rory Bremner, with Brian Conley in the second, and Joan Sims and Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served? in series three. I’ll be watching episodes from the fourth and final series, where, who knows, we may witness the showbiz beginnings of Peter Kay or Dave Chappelle.

01

First, let’s briefly examine the character of Jimmy Cricket, which only takes its name from Pinocchio’s sidekick, and not the species’ innate susceptibility to infection by host parasites — “C’mere… there’s a massive swarm of horsefly larvae bursting out of my stomach sac!” Cricket is one big racial stereotype; a flesh and blood tulpa of every Irish joke about thickos called Paddy who sit facing the cistern. Unlike Russ Abbot’s C.U. Jimmy, he’s at least a genuine Northern Irishman, which possibly makes it less bad, and a slight level down from your dad getting all excited doing Snoop Dogg at the karaoke because he knows an n-word’s coming up. Of particular note is that Cricket’s a clean comedian with family-friendly material, which usually amounts to ‘shite you’d read from a Christmas cracker’ and a comedic death-knell, but we’ll see.

Like Norman Wisdom or Freddy Krueger, he picked a look and really stuck with it, with the too-short trousers and evening jacket, red bow tie and flower, one fingerless glove and a buckled hat; and of course, his most famous trademark, the welly boots. Labelled R and L and worn on the wrong feet, you remember them, don’t you? Ah, sure, everyone does. Google “Jimmy Cricket” + “wrong feet” and see what I mean. Except, in And There’s More, they’re worn on the correct feet. Is this a mass Mandela Effect? Or, in Jimmy Cricket canon, did he eventually learn to identify which foot was which, and by 1988 was able to dress himself (albeit requiring the R/L instructions)? In his first televised appearance, on ITV’s Search for a Star in 1980, the character’s only half-developed, with no hat or glove, but the wellies are there, and on the wrong feet, suggesting this is indeed the case. How inspiring!

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Episode one of the fourth and final series aired May 28th, 1988. As with all the videos on Cricket’s Youtube account, he’s edited a web address onto the beginning, from where you can purchase his live DVD. The And There’s More theme tune is — obviously — jaunty Oirish music, but the credits are surprisingly visually beautiful, with Jimmy animated in scratchy rotoscope, riverdancing like he’s in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. It’s not the last time I’ll be surprised by how un-terrible some aspects of the series are. Roughly half of each show’s taken up with Jimmy’s most iconic bits — letters from and phonecalls to his Mammy, which thankfully came before comedy Irish mammies were saying the proper F word and going on about their hairy old muffs. The Mammy stuff is a comedic device allowing Cricket to batter you with Irish jokes about his family’s life in Ballygobackwards; a fictional town of inbred dunces originally used by Irish comedians Jimmie O’Dea in the 1940s, and Jack Cruise in the ’60s.

The series was scripted by Eddie Braben — best known for writing Morecambe and Wise’s classic material — and seemingly while he was sleepwalking, but it’s still a step above the fuckin’ trash we’re used to on here. When Jimmy first told Mammy he was going into showbusiness, “the tears rolled down her cheeks. They rolled up ’em as well. She was standing on her head.” Then Jimmy tells us he walked out onto the stage, and “the spotlight fell on me… I was unconscious for 2 ½ hours.” It’s hard to be mad about such amiable dad jokes, which come in a gatling gun barrage that you’ve barely time to process. As the series rolls on, with the luxury of running stuff back, it’s clear that some of the lines might have the rhythm and cadence of jokes, but make no sense; quickly buried beneath the next gag and still getting a laugh because of the delivery — “I’ve got some Japanese people in tonight, Mammy. I might have to do my jokes in plastic.” What?

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I know people generally read these to see me sneering at stuff, and I frequently get recommended the worst things in the world to watch and tear apart, but it’s all so affable and innocent, on balance, I’m smiling more than I am pushing unravelled paperclips under my fingernails. Let’s be honest, half the fun with old TV is being floored by scenes that are now appalling, but And There’s More is inoffensive in a way that’s rare with comedy of this era, perhaps because Jimmy Cricket seems an entirely sexless being, who you simply cannot imagine so much as having a wank. Go on, give it a try.

Seriously, do it. Picture him there, with his trousers round his wellies, flopped back in a swivel chair. He’s typing Y in his browser bar and clicks on the autocompleted link. It’s a Youtube video; a short clip from Countryfile where Julia Bradbury’s in a one-piece swimsuit, running into a freezing cold bog with some hardy butchers. They’ve looped it so I– so he doesn’t have to keep replaying it. It’s five minutes long. Just long enough. He mutes the sound, just in case, maximising it to fullscreen, and within seconds, he’s going absolutely wild down there. Or is he? I’d wager you just can’t see it; not sweet old Jimmy Cricket. What would Mammy think? I challenged all my family to imagine such a scene, and eventually they agreed that you couldn’t, before asking me to leave without finishing my Christmas dinner.

04

Not that there aren’t glimpses of darkness inadvertently revealed in the missives from his bumbling family. Read without Cricket’s light-hearted folksiness, they’d play very differently; like the uncle who saved someone from drowning, then accidentally killed them by hanging him up to dry, or the time his dad got sacked from the battery farm by sodomising six chickens to death trying to get the AAs in. The closest we get to a cancelling is an impression of a “midget farmer milking a cow,” where he perches a little “midget farmer’s hat” on the top of his head, standing on tip-toes to mime squirting milk into his eye. Another sketch sees him judging Miss Sportswoman of the Year, with Miss Golf, Miss Football and so on, seen only as bare, slender legs, but it’s all building to the punchline where Mrs Cricket — his wife — a frump in wrinkled stockings, shows up to beat him with her handbag. Unlike your Benny Hills, all the women in And There’s More are frowning in a big overcoat and specs, berating henpecked husbands, and there’s not a single cleavage to be seen.

This series takes the list of sketch show settings and reels off the entire dang thing; hospital ward, job centre, doctor’s surgery, noir detective, library; a travel agent where he sells a trip to Australia for £10, which is a big shovel; building sites manned by Tosh Lines off The Bill, where Jimmy’s eating stew out of a cement mixer, or pushing so many wheelbarrows of bricks, his arms are comically long, like a Vic Reeves painting. Most of the sketches rely on cartoon physics and oversized props, like a wild maracas dance in a sombrero that grows in size each time he leaves the stage. By the end, the hat’s so big, it covers his entire body, with his arms poking through a little flap. I knew it was coming, but reader, I did laugh. The first episode closes with a song — Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree. As you’ll know, I’m always on the lookout for truly unhinged audience reactions, and though it’s not quite Russ Abbot’s squirter, the animalistic sounds when a giant apple falls from the ceiling are a Top 5, for sure. See for yourself.

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The audience are constantly out of control, as during a hospital skit, where the mere sight of Cricket’s wife walking in with wilted flowers sets them off in hysterics, and spend the whole series laughing like people being killed by the Joker’s gas. I guess it’s the 80’s equivalent of full theatres pissing themselves at Michael McIntyre’s observations about scissors and shoelaces. He later jokes the audience comes from “all over… Holloway, Strangeways, Broadmoor,” which suggests some of those big laughs are from Peter Sutcliffe, having a whale of a time on day release.

By episode two, the charm’s starting to wear off, and watching the Mammy routines back to back exposes their cynical construction. In the worst joke yet, his dad’s woken up in the middle of the night crying “I’ve crushed my ribs,” which turns out to be a bag of crisps in his pyjama pocket. In a tacked-on DVD ad from 2015, there’s the same gag but with a hole in his heart/polo mint. Another joke has Mammy dreaming of eating a giant wine gum, “I woke up and the hot water bottle was gone.” In the previous episode, she dreamed she was plucking a giant turkey, and woke up to find daddy was now bald.

At another edited-in Youtube ad for his new CD, where he’s pictured with a lampshade on his head, my mind’s starting to wander. Don’t the sketches, by their nature, go against canon? If he’s such an oaf, how’s he capable of acting? He’s not ‘Jimmy Cricket’ in them, just a parade of generic men. Plus the stories are all over the place. One minute his dad’s hanging curtains outside the house, the next, he’s in prison. Wait until CinemaSins hear about this! And what’s with the single glove? Is it like that lad in Of Mice and Men, who keeps one hand all smooth for touching his missus? In a sketch where he’s wearing a Scrooge sleep hat, climbing into a single bed complete with stuffed Paddington, his wedding ring’s visible. Come on, mate, commit to the character. You can see it in the next sketch too, where he’s having his first ever kiss (as judges rate him from the balcony). Then again, having never kissed his own wife merely confirms my own theory of Cricket’s celibacy.

06

ITV’s listings archive is almost non-existent, but I’m certain this show went out in the evening, and not — as the material suggests — between The Raggy Dolls and Count Duckula. When Jimmy got pulled over for speeding, he showed the copper his license; “he says ‘this is a dog license’, well, I’m driving a rover.” He’s playing Three Blind Mice on strings of sausages; he’s chasing a meat pie that doesn’t want to be eaten; he’s walking out of a fortune teller’s tent and leaving his hand behind, so she can “read the rest in bed.” In a bit where Cricket’s a clumsy tennis player, I have to run it back multiple times to figure out why the audience are dying as he walks onto court. In And There’s More‘s time of tiny 80’s footballer shorts, the pair he’s wearing appear comically big — like the sombrero gag — but I’ve lived through Kevin Smith’s jorts and nu-metal JNCO, rendering Jimmy’s shorts perfectly normal size, in some weird time-specific comedy colour-blindness.

As we get deeper into the series, Cricket’s modern-day trailers get more extravagant, and by episode three, there’s a full 4-minute ad — from Welly Boot Productions — for his first ever live DVD, boasting special features like, God help us, ‘Mammy’s letter rap’. Curiously, the boots are on the wrong feet here, and the lettering’s very shabbily drawn, reminding me of an interview with an aging Honky Tonk Man, where a certain angle exposed his stick-on sideburns coming away from his face. But he has updated the act for 2015, with “that all important phonecall to his Mammy” taking place over a cordless; although as he’s well into his seventies now, how old is she? They’re solid stock in Ballygobackwards. The DVD’s listed as MEGA RARE on Amazon and eBay, and you can only get it via Paypal from his own website, or by sending an actual cheque to a physical address. Shame, I only trade in crypto and furs.

07

This is oldschool variety comedy in its purest form, where every other line is that beautiful verbal tick “lay-jeh-men…” and almost every joke involves taking a word at its logical meaning, like when crooning That Old Black Magic, as a prop guy comes out and messily paints Cricket’s white suit with black emulsion. The noises the audience make here are extraordinary, shrieking like he’s being flayed before their eyes. Thankfully, though it always seems the musical numbers will take an earnest turn, the only sort-of non-jokey sequence is a pre-record involving dancing binmen, where I guess someone wrote ‘dance routine with some binmen?’ on a whiteboard, and they went and filmed it and I had to watch it.

But you’ll still mine some good material buried under all the “Daddy’s done something stupid?!” stuff. There’s a particularly great joke in “our cat took first prize at the budgerigar contest,” though it’s ruined by immediately over-explaining “he ran off with the winner!” My biggest laugh came with Cricket wearing a pith hat, named after its inventor, “Sir Basil Helmet,” but only because — like all jokes innocently unaware the word helmet would eventually become become utterly synonymous with the head of the penis — it’s since become absolutely disgusting. The end of Jimmy Cricket’s final ever solo effort has a sense of ‘last show, might as well piss about’, with additional material credits for various names, including Tranmere Rovers, Patrick Moore’s Pianist, Lionel Blair’s Auntie, Old Lady in Bus Queue, and Two Drunks. There’s also a credit of “fights arranged by Sir William Rees-Mogg”; aka father to horrible Tory Slenderman, Jacob.

08

In conclusion, it was nowhere near as bad as I feared, with actual laughs to be had, and pleasing guest appearances from the likes of Round the Horne‘s then 73-year old Hugh Paddick, Hugh Lloyd, and the bloke from those Chocolate Orange adverts that parodied Raiders of the Lost Ark. But And There’s More really emphasises Jimmy Cricket as an act that works better in the guest appearances we all remember him for, than stretched out to a series of half-hours, as demonstrated in the final episode, when Mammy’s relating another dream. This time, Daddy Cricket was Tarzan, swinging about collecting coconuts — “and when he woke up, all the brass knobs were missing from the bed!” Or to put it another way, “c’mere… there’s less!”

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.

Dream Stuffing

•October 12, 2020 • Leave a Comment

[This is Part 11 of my Shitcoms series. Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart Ten]

The latest Shitcom entry is a video essay.

This piece 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.

Our Show

•October 4, 2020 • 5 Comments

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Lasting two series from 1976-77, ITV’s Our Show was the Bugsy Malone of television, the very Our of the title a metaphorical ‘NO ADULTS ALLOWED!‘ sign swinging from the door handle. Surely intended to be a proto Why Don’t You?, using a team of child presenters the same age as its audience, the result was closer to CBS’s infamous Kid Nation, with a disjointed level of chaos not seen outside of the 1989 Brit Awards. These were not kids off the street, but from the stage school breeding grounds that filled the casts of Grange Hill and EastEnders, introducing future stars, like a young Nicholas Lyndhurst.

It’s telling that this set-up has never fully been repeated. Sure, there have been younger hosts since, but never so comprehensively or with such free rein, and on watching, it’s entirely evident why. If Our Show is remembered at all, fittingly it’s through a famous blooper, with one of its presenters reading ‘Grand Prix off a script the exact way my gran used to — Grand Pricks. But the entire series was one giant blooper, and all that remains is a lone episode which made its way online, dating from 17th December, 1977.

01

The bedlam is evident from its opening moment, cameras bent at a 45 degree angle replicating exactly the POV of waking from a fainting fit, with disorientating pans across a studio filled with dancing children and blindingly bright lights. What am I doing here? Did they kick me unconscious while stealing my wallet and mockingly calling me “grandad”? Every child is in the dead-eyed throes of that dance-style from junior school discos, where you move your arms like you’re skiing while keeping your upper torso completely rigid. This weird jigging kicks in at the start and end of each ad break, like someone dropping 50p into a slot at some off-brand theme park, and all the rusty animatronics whirring into life, limbs bucking, faces lacking any trace of emotion, barring eyes that creak and loll in your direction; “Oh, Christ, they’ve seen me…”

Our four presenters are Veronique Choolhun, Graham Fletcher (fedora-clad brother of Rocketman director Dexter), Su-Su (aka Susan Tully off EastEnders, ten years old and absolutely tiny), and the superbly named Elvis Payne, a much taller black teenager, who’s the oldest by a good few years. From the intro alone, it’s clear we’re in for a wild ride, with everyone fumbling over their words, Tully’s eyes flicking upwards as she tries to remember a complicated paragraph, and Elvis giving us three rapid greetings in succession — “hey hiya, good morning, alright?” — which is tremendous value for money. They’re bobbing up and down to Donna Summer’s Love’s Unkind the whole way through, which must’ve been the main inspiration for Nozin’ Aroun’. Even when they move to a desk like O.T.T., the audience are still ‘dancing’ in the background, marching up and down like they’re wearing in a tight new pair of school shoes on the last day of summer holidays.

02

Though nothing has ever felt as live as Our Show, episodes were recorded two days earlier, which is incredible considering. Handily, I’m watching a raw tape of production rushes, retakes included, which demonstrates the high bar on what sort of errors were deemed worthy of a do-over, in light of the stuff that did make it to air. Although if they stopped to redo everything that went wrong, they’d still be filming it today. This is absolutely top-drawer amateurishness, like public access cable on a TOTP budget, and rife with the kind of awkward pauses, stumbles, and lost, lingering eye contact that Tim and Eric would turn into a whole genre, decades down the line.

All the kids are extremely cockney, and there’s not a single aitch to be found, all with that precocious/arrogant, stage-school demeanour, unprepared for and unintimidated by the adult guests, and obviously unwilling to listen to them, with the next question always out before the previous answer’s finished. It’s impossible to refrain from Alan Partridge comparisons when watching bad light entertainment, but the host/adult interactions reek of the KMKYWAP with the American child actors. The level of disdain isn’t just reserved for guests, with Veronique falling over lines at the start, losing her place, tutting to herself, and handing over to Graham, whose eyes are in a full 360 roll.

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Graham is the strangest presence, continually gurning and showing off, adding little noises and vocalisations to his script, while simultaneously looking like he’s bored by the childishness of it all, and would rather be having lunch at The Ivy with François Truffaut and John Lennon. For those who recall series 3 of GamesMaster, he’s very much his brother’s brother. Graham’s demeanour helps with the dystopian vibe, with a 2000AD sense that kids have stormed the studio and killed all the adults, with what little over-23s survive in the outside world used as slaves to lug wheelbarrows of sweets and comics to the violent young usurpers. It’s a mere five minutes in before the first re-take, the camera woozily swinging off-frame and everyone frozen as Veronique half-whispers “what’s happened?” to Elvis. The first adult voice we’ve heard calls cut. Nobody’s laughing. The audience shuffle uncomfortably.

The first celebrity guest follows a clip from Marty Feldman’s The Last Remake of Beau Geste; a historical comedy that’s not-particularly-for-kids, as Veronique asks the others if they’ve seen any Wilder/Feldman joints. Graham states that he loved The Producers;Mel Brooks directed that one,” he says. Despite the age of its presenters, much of the content belongs on a late night BBC4 arts show, like when Beau Geste‘s co-writer, Chris Allen, comes out for a chat. How often do you see screenwriters interviewed? Especially with not much else on his CV but half a dozen episodes of The Black and White Minstrel Show. The questions are a weird mix of the sort of the inane fluff you’d get on the Live and Kicking phone lines — whether Marty’s “a hilarious character [in real life], rolling his eyes from side to side?” — and weighty topics that further bore the audience of under-twelves, as Elvis gets into contract signings and Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers.

04

No matter how cool and like us they’re meant to be — it’s Our Show, not Theirs — these are showbiz kids through and through, showing their hand when Allen talks about acting at the Young Vic; “do you know the Young Vic?” “Oh yes,” they exclaim, “Scapino!” Then Allen’s off talking at great length about The Taming of the Shrew and the French Foreign Legion, while behind him, rows of gloomy children in their nan’s knitwear sit slack-jawed in boredom, one literally twiddling her thumbs like in a cartoon. I should note that Allen’s look is amazing; black polo neck under a leather jacket, and the hair of a Spinal Tap drummer.

One minute it’s all highbrow, old-soul takes, the next, Susan’s struggling to read her script, forced to point to a word and ask Graham “wos that say?” She introduces “some new wave to send you to the grave, it’s wiv punk rock, it’s called Wild Youth by Gerry-nation X [sic]!” As it cuts to Generation X miming live in the studio, she scalds the other kids for correcting her, with a “don’t butt in again!” And what an odd few minutes, straight from a screenwriter discussing Scapino to Billy Idol and the lads snarling and pogoing.

05

Back after a break, Graham’s wearing a Biggles flying helmet and welder’s sunglasses, while the kids have been joined by Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, “from that popular group The Monkey!” Look, just mentally insert “[sic]” after every quote. The camera pans up the steps, as though expecting the Monkees to walk down, but they’re already at the desk, so a floor manager cuts the interview with “I think they want you to walk in, actually.” Monkees superfan Elvis asks what Peter and Mike are up to; “I know Mike’s a musician now… still,” and the pair are in promoting a Harry Nilsson musical they’re starring in called The Point! I looked it up, and it’s extremely ‘here’s a failed musical from the seventies that nobody remembers’.

The Point! is a fable that tells the story of a boy named Oblio, the only round-headed person in the Pointed Village, where by law everyone and everything must have a point.”

Third billed in the cast for this run was Mr. Bennett, the caretaker from Take Hart, and further falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, I learn Bennett once wrote a play about Tony Hancock, where in its 2008 revival, Hancock was played by Benny from Crossroads! Incidentally, the clock’s ticking on my movie idea about a pair of aging hippie brothers, played by Dolenz and Terry Gilliam, on one last road-trip to scatter their sister’s ashes on the grounds of Woodstock. Let’s get it done, Hollywood.

06

But back to Our Show, Davy calls down a dog from the musical, which sadly turns out to be a freaky blue puppet that snarls at the kids. Susan asks “you were actors, so how comes you went into the singing business?!” and the lads gather round a piano for a number from the show, which confusingly, shares its opening lines with the theme from absolutely rotten sitcom, Bread — “gotta get up, gotta get out…

However, in terms of cataclysmically bad television, this is all merely the entrée, with a main course taking the form of a pre-tape at the world circus championships, in perhaps the most glorious dogs dinner ever broadcast. Elvis is the roving reporter, and it’s frankly asking for trouble having him interview Czech tightrope walker, Rudy Omankowsky. who’s clearly struggling in his second language — “…looks very problem…”And yet, he still makes far more sense than his English interviewer, who’s proffering questions like “now, this tent, it looks bigs [sic] to me, but I dunno, is it a very big tent?” Every single exchange is like this. All of it.

     Elvis: “How come you don’t seem to have more accidents than you do?

     Omankowsky (clearly offended): “What you mean accidents? We have many accident before in my family, but a thing like this, we don’t like to speak.”

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If Our Show had done their research, they’d have found that Omankowsky had lost sixteen family members due to tightrope accidents. Perhaps Elvis will have better luck meeting nine-year-old Becky, who’ll be making her trapeze debut next year.

     Elvis: “And what do you do in the circus?

     Becky: “Nothing yet.

     Elvis: “Have your grandparents been in the circus also?

     Becky: “No.

     Elvis: “What made your mum and dad wanna join the circus?

     Becky (shrugging): “I dunno.”

The highlight is Elvis asking whereabouts in America Becky’s from. “Salem, Oregon,” she replies. “Which state is that in?” asks Elvis, leading to a terrifically awkward pause which goes on forever, until her dad can be heard off camera; “Oregon. Salem, Oregon.” “Oh,” says Elvis, “Oregon.”

Remember, none of this is live. They could’ve just quickly done it again properly, but someone made a conscious decision that this was all okay; that it was broadcastable for Elvis to ask Becky’s dad “When do you first go up, is it Friday or Saturday?” and the reply to come “Tuesday.” On meeting a horse trainer, Elvis asks whether the horse is a boy or girl, and is really thrown on hearing it’s a Polish-Arab. “Polish Arab?! I didn’t know they had horses in Arabia!” Even in fucking voiceover, as Elvis promotes the circus, he informs viewers he’s forgotten the location and the date, and will have to tell us later. In voiceover! At least he had fun watching it being set up, because “everything’s dirty and messy and ‘orrible.”

08

When they cut back to the studio, Rudy Omankowsky’s joined them at the desk, for a cracking intro from Elvis, who adds the guy’s name to the list of things he can’t remember — “It’s Rudy somefing funny-surname, and here he is!” Through gritted teeth, Omankowsky breaks his surname down phonetically, and the whole thing’s conducted at crossed purposes, through pissed-off looks and “What you mean?” Still yet to remember the date of the big show, Elvis asks when it starts. Rudy sighs.

     Omankowsky: “You mean today? Or…

     Elvis: “I dunno. I dunno when it starts.

     Omankowsky: “I start when I was a small child…

Oh dear. To top off the act of pulling a man out of an incredibly busy and stressful period of work to disrespect him on television, as Rudy’s sat there, Elvis outs Graham as hating circuses, and that he’s been whispering in his ear the whole time that this is boring. Still not sure of when the circus championships are on, Elvis does let us know it’ll be live “on the telly,” but can’t remember what time. How hard is it to get a piece of paper in front of him?! Incidentally, the Omankowsky family are legendary in tightrope walking. Rudy’s father, ‘Papa Rudy’ was mentor to Philippe Petit, who walked between the Twin Towers, and was portrayed by Ben Kingsley in Robert Zemeckis film, The Walk.

09

As it’s almost Christmas, there’s a consumer spot reviewing that year’s annuals, where Graham’s absolutely raging about Valiant. “I thought this one was terrible! It’s virtually all in black and white, the whole way through! It’s just dull to look at and a very boring book.” With the switch from b/w to colour TV having occurred in their lifetimes, the kids are fixated on colour printing, and anything less is old-fashioned and boooooooring! There seems to be no script here at all, letting them riff away, with Veronique’s bits so flustered, it’s like watching someone suffer an asthma attack. It ends with some amazing maths from Susan, who tells us Rupert the Bear’s been around since 1920, “which makes it 77 years old!” Note: it is 1977.

You may imagine a show by kids for kids would be fun and laughter for all involved, and that the reason it’s such a shambles is because everyone’s mucking about, in fits of giggles and unable to meet each other’s eye without breaking, but the studio atmosphere is absolutely fucking deathly. Whatever’s happening, the audience are always visible in the back of shot, utterly silent, and gawking miserably at the camera. In the handful of times things stop for a retake, it’s got all the seat-creaking ambience of those WW2 movies where someone’s old nan’s been brought out into the town square to be shot. I didn’t expect to find much hauntology in this, but it’s loaded with it, there in the background at all times; haunted little faces that belong in urban legends about a painting that burns down the house of anyone who hangs it.

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Calamity follows calamity. Elvis reads out an ad for a local cinema, but gets the address wrong, before being corrected on the opening time too. Graham reads out a news item about a pair of rally drivers who were previous guests — “they finished fifth, that’s great!” Then we get to something which is clearly Graham’s baby, like he’s threatened to ruin anyone who opposes it, in an extremely specific weekly section of skateboarding news. Graham must say the word “radical” a hundred times, with “radical news for radical dudes,” photos of “the Slick Willies team getting radical,” in “a radical book,” and a “radical dudette” female skater being interviewed. This cues another retake, when they start the interview without giving her a mic, and Graham’s questions are hurled like tomatoes; doozies like “being a girl, don’t you get scared of mashing up your face sometimes?

The final segment is a promotion for West End musical Elvis!, putting a confusing four Elvises (or Elvii?) at the desk; Elvis Payne, plus the trio of performers portraying the man at various stages in his life. And what an eclectic cast, with PJ Proby doing the Vegas Years, Shakin’ Stevens the mid-point King, and young Elvis played by a teenage Timothy Whitnall, who’d go on to CITV’s Mike and Angelo, twelve years later. But the way the Our Show kids rudely bumble through puts everyone on edge. At this point in his career, Shakin’ Stevens was yet to hit mainstream success, while Whitnall’s sixteen and ill at ease in front of the camera, so despite looking like he’d shank you with a pissy knife behind the dodgems and think nothing of it, Proby does his best to keep it all together. That said, he does open with a joke to the black Elvis Payne of “I’m gonna take these dark glasses off. Looks like you’ve been in the make-up room too long!

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For a children’s show discussing a feel-good musical, the atmosphere is one of bubbling violence about to erupt at any second. Payne’s first faux pas is to ask Shakin’ Stevens his real name, to a terse “you can call me Shaky,” and he spends the whole segment glowering like a man who’s about to offer them outside. Coming three short years before he’d wrestle Richard Madeley to the floor, there’s a real sense that, were he of legal age, Graham’s fedora would be booted right off his head. At one point, Graham asks if there’s much dialogue in the musical — there’s not, says Shaky — before the boy states that people would probably rather hear about Elvis’s life, and instead of seeing the show, they could just go home and listen to their records instead.

The hour finally draws to a close with Graham reading out the competition before handing over to Elvis for goodbyes, but Graham stops him as he realises he’s forgotten to give the address. Even on the retake, Graham shushes the others while he reads. Next week’s episode sounds good though, a double-length Christmas special with a bumper cast of Lynsey de Paul, Michael Aspel, Donald Pleasence, Tim Rice, and Roald Dahl; all having to sit through interrogations by kids who’ve forgotten their names. Christ, imagine famed child-hater Roald Dahl with that lot. Graham probably ended up with skateboard wheels for hands and feet while Dahl rode him home.

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.

The Accursed 90s: The Girlie Show

•September 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

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

As a frequent stablemate on lists of Britain’s worst ever television, The Girlie Show was essentially sold as The Word, except instead of Terry Christian, there were a trio of female hosts talking about boozin’ and shaggin’. Wait, that can’t be right?! That’s exclusively men stuff isn’t it? Sorry pal, this is the nineties, and the ladies — sorry, ladettes — enjoy sex now too. Subsequently, like many of the things we’ve suffered through on here, it’s firmly placed in that post-pub wanking slot. The three presenters had little to no collective television experience, especially not in the bear bit of live TV, with an initial line-up consisting of Rachel Williams, an American model with a pierced lip; journalist Clare Gorham; and Sara Cox, now a comfy face of middle-England radio, televised pottery, and tweets about parenting, but back then, a 21-year-old model in her first onscreen role. Sarah Cawood would join in the second series, some years before being used as a human shield by a panicked Eamonn Holmes.

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The show’s whole angle is a turning of the gender tide, with a vibe of “look out lads, these loud-mouthed birds will probably crush your willy like sausage meat (though it’d still be nice to have someone touch it)!” Even the pre-show bumper has Cox brandishing a dominatrix whip, complete with kung-fu style swish noises, threateningly advancing towards camera with a knowing “are we sitting comfortably?” Most likely, this show raised a generation of men who identify on Twitter as submissive PayPigs and send money to other men pretending to be rude younger women.

The opening credits are the most on-the-nose thing since Fabio met that goose, with fast-moving shots of Girl Power which can only be appreciated frame-by-frame. The titular Girlies exhale cigar smoke; poke out their tongues; cut the heads off flowers; bite the head off an action man who’s been emasculated in a pink tutu. They circle a chained, half-naked fella like predators in the wild, before tattooing the show’s logo on his chest. As Coxy rides a hobby horse in a way that insinuates if she took you home from the pub, she’d fuck your brittle pelvis into crumbs, everything’s designed to leave us chaps clutching our tiny winkles in fear, with its soundtrack of witch-like cackling, spanking noises, and lion snarls when they open their mouths. But this is female empowerment by male committee, and for all its crowing of the girls finally being in charge, it’s all just something to have a lonely toss over.

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An episode airing March 1996 opens with Sister Sledge singing We Are Family below a gigantic statue of a suspenders-clad torso, jigging about right under the fanny as the dancing studio audience hold up banners like they’re at the wrestling, one of which is a cartoon cliché made real, reading “HELLO MUM!” As the very first word is spoken, a propah lad in the crowd can literally be heard shouting “OI OI!” and it’s all so ruddy wild, Rachel makes bunny ears behind her co-hosts head as she speaks. We’re two days from Mothering Sunday, so the girls’ mums are sat front row, to be presented with flowers. Coxy thanks her mum for the genetics of big tits, while Rachel thanks hers for not giving her up for adoption, “though she could’ve and should’ve,” which is pretty awkward, coming right after Clare’s thank you speech to her own adoptive mother. There’s a nightmare candy factory-cum-cathouse aesthetic, the studio walls pink and white, with decals of big red lips, while a close-up of puckered pink mwahs kiss us between segments.

Audience participation comes with a Viewers’ Husband’s slot, where it cuts to a sent-in photo of a smiling naked bloke, hands on hips, holding up a newspaper with his erection. In a pastiche of Readers’ Wives, there’s also a lad reclining in tiny pants, and a nude bloke covering his dick with what looks to be a Toblerone. Surprise, he’s in the studio, rising from his seat to lap up the cheers with an arms out “are you not entertained?!” pose, for a 90’s hero’s welcome. Sat next to him, his shocked girlfriend’s clearly fuming, mumbling into the mic about being “extremely embarrassed,” as another picture of him wearing only his pants sends the crowd into raptures.

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If it’s remembered for anything beyond just existing, then The Girlie Show‘s most notable mark on popular culture was the Wanker of the Week segment, where a famous man was put in his place with what we’d now call a roast. Liam Gallagher’s in their sights, for a monologue of bad jokes that get lost as Sara Cox rushes through it, to call him “a professional Mancunian, a scally wannabe, and a silly muppet.” I don’t remember how history panned out, but I think Liam was so ruined by this that he retired immediately. It’s topped off by a comedy song, voiced by some guy doing a Mexican bandito voice; “well, first you smoked a spliff, then you recycle riffs…

A key component of these type of shows is the need to constantly show off how grown up they are. Regard a section about “the S-word. It’s not sex, it’s not shagging…” no, it’s shoplifting. A man in the audience gets a big cheer as Rachel shows him a pack of condoms. “Twelve in there, in’t there?” he asks, as she goads out a story about nicking some as a 15-year old, giving him the packet as a prize to big cheers — go on, mate, catch yer cum in the end of those, wahey! Take it from someone who lived through it, it was impossible to do anything below the waist in the 90s without everyone going completely wild. Even in the toilets, there were crowds of excited men cheering you on at the urinal. “Weeey! He’s got his todge out! Give us a hold of it, lad!”

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In their ‘investigation’ into shoplifting, with CCTV of pixelated thieves sticking CDs down their jeans, a Tower Records security guard notes that girls make better shoplifters, “because they’re a lot more devious… as I’ve found out in the past.” Been red-pilled have you? They bring out “Britain’s most notorious and brazen shoplifter” for a dry interview, though even the mention of her having “a store detective on your backside” gets a few laddish cheers. An actual shoplifter is about The Girlie Show‘s level of guest, also boasting a ‘psychic’ who’s been transcribing recently-deceased Patric Walker’s Sunday Express column from beyond the grave when he visits her in dreams.

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The astrology segment is notable for the hilarious anger in the community regarding Mystic Meg, whose theatrics are making those people who believe that everyone born in the same month goes through an identical day look silly. Like Posh Spice played by Fenella Fielding, Meg’s weekly appearances on the National Lottery made her a household name, and it was a very 90’s thing to rake up people’s ‘shameful’ past, so The Girlie Show takes great pleasure in exposing her as someone who once wrote pornography, with a dirty magazine spinning into frame like a newspaper in a Dick Tracy cartoon.

I immediately Googled for more info, and it appears she penned some stories for Men Only in her younger days, but there’s scant information, and one of the only links goes to a grumble video entitled Mystic Meg Doesn’t Tell Futures, She Opens Her Legs Instead. Like any good journalist, I sat though the whole thing six or seven times to confirm that it wasn’t her. Another astrologer’s ‘porn past’ is highlighted via a clip of her tits out in a Lovers Guide video, and boy the evolution of what we class as porn then vs. now is fascinating. In those days, you were a filthy pornstar if your towel accidentally slipped while you were getting changed at the pool, but today, half your street’s running an OnlyFans and nobody bats an eyelid.

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But there is one big celebrity guest, in Corrie’s Reg Holdsworth, aka Ken Morley. In 2015, Ken would be kicked off Celebrity Big Brother for being a dirty old man and using the phrase “nice, big fat negro” during a chat with Alexander O’Neal, so it’s fully on-brand when “Randy Reg” takes a good long look at Coxy’s breasts. I’m amazed his nob doesn’t go off like a rocket when they’re reading out the names of rude-sounding foreign biscuits and she says “I like to spread a bit of margarine on my Kunto.

The other celebrity bit, trailed throughout the show, turns out to be paparazzi camcorder footage of “blobby” Robbie Williams on holiday, where they rip the piss out of his weight. Barring Cox’s joke, most of the ‘outrageous’ moments come from the great British public, relying heavily on footage of 90’s clubbers, either in clips of sweaty lads dancing under scathing commentary, or in the Toilet Talk section, where women stood in the bogs give their thoughts on whether big dicks are better than small ones, or if they’ve ever been bought a dildo as a present.

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The Girlie Show‘s worst segment doesn’t feature women at all, but a group of unbearably boorish lads called the Naked Apes, who, for some reason, have been given airtime with a regular slot. Documenting their lager-soaked lives on camcorders, it’s essentially a nascent reality show, pre-dating the Osbournes, let alone the Kardashians, with a group of “loveable rogues” who ride in with frosted tips like the Four Horsemen of the 90s. There’s barman Johnny; Kevin, “who loves his beer first and women later”; Brian, “a real-life Sid the Sexist”; and Nathan, “the shy student who’s desperate for a woman.” If you’re thinking “come on, boring old Millard, give them a chance; we were all young once,” then it opens with the Naked Apes title superimposed over a fart being lit on fire straight out of a bare arse.

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This week’s story is Kevin moving out of his parents’ into his own place, and the subsequent flat warming party. It’s standard blokeness for the time; posters of big-titted women, a joke about a toothbrush that’s covered in shit, and using the kitchen sink as a punch bowl, to huge cheers from the audience. There’s talk of bringing “some slapper back” and the “damp settee” the next morning, footage of toenail eating, and a party piece where one pulls down his jeans to set his pubes ablaze, wafting away the stink in the packed living room with a laugh. “Good harmless fun,” says his mate, “next time you’re at a party, just whip your wotsit out, get a lighter…” Nah, you’re alright. Next week will see them off to Amsterdam’s red light district, because of course it will. I actually found one of them on Twitter, where — presumably approaching his 50s — his posts are all about Cage Rage, gambling and boobs.

Sister Sledge play us out with another run through of We Are Family, and in case you hadn’t made your mind up about the decade, there’s a post-show trailer for a Tony Parsons show called Big Mouth. Though that’s the only full Girlie Show to have made it online, unfortunately it’s joined by a scattered handful of clips, which are at least interesting in trying to figure out what deemed these moments to be worth saving in someone’s eyes. Ten minute highlights from a football special are noteworthy for once again exposing the supposedly-unashamed 1990s as a real missionary position of a decade, collapsing into faints at stuff us 21st century kids got bored of years ago.

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Here, they give a female fan the “Millwall ta-oo” she’s always wanted, live in the studio, with Sara Cox biting her nails in fear at the shocking television moment of a tattoo being put on. Why, it’s virtually a snuff film! There’s real audience unrest, with everyone giddy that a human being’s going to be STABBED WITH INK right in front of them, mouths agape, shrieking in shock, and leaning forwards to get a better look like they’re at the Roman colosseum. The drill-like buzz of the ink gun elicits screams of horror, while Coxy commends the woman with an “oh my god, you’re so brave!” Later in the show, we actually see some go on live, as the tattooist dots it once with a full stop’s worth of ink, and Cox screams “gor blimey, I feel sick!” Meanwhile, the audience gives the sort or reaction usually reserved for walking into a public toilet to catch someone spraying diarrhea right up the ceiling. There’s also a viewer letter, signed “from two proper lads,” rebutting complaints to the show, a section of which is transcribed below.

only men with little willies,

who only pull with dirty mags,

could be afraid of lovely fillies,

discussing sex and jammy rags

Who were these mysterious lads, John Betjeman and Ted Hughes? Also deemed worth saving, and giving a window into the exact target demographic, is an interview with a female jockey, which ends with Cox riding on a practise horse; a kind of low impact bucking bronco; frantically riding up and down — like in sex!!! — and having to cover her cleavage. Thankfully the Naked Apes’ visit to a gay bar did not make the cut. Elsewhere, a visit from the Spice Girls has survived. Interestingly, the Girlie Show‘s producers claim the very term “Girl Power” was invented by the show and pinched by the Spice Girls — like Fash nicking Awooga off Craig Charles — after their very first televised appearance on there. They bring the cartoon anarchy familiar from all their interviews of the time, with the best bit when invocation of Thatcher has Mel B lifting up her bum to mime a blow-orf. Plus, it’s always funny to remember how comically h-dropping Victoria was for the one who got labelled Posh.

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But we must end at the very bottom, with another visit to the Naked Apes, in a segment someone liked enough to preserve as its own thing. This one follows them on a night out in Newcastle, described ideally as pints, puking, “and getting a shag at the end of the night. Except Nathan, he goes home and has a wank!” For some reason, there’s copious footage of one of them naked in the shower, including spreading his cheeks to spray water directly up his anus, all intercut with his mum moaning about getting him up in the mornings and finding random girls in his bed. The whole segment is a 90’s nightmare, with Britpop over a montage of the city centre on a Friday night; dirty ashtrays and broken glass; a drunken homeless man singing; a women pulling a moonie; a lad gobbing down himself for bants.

The extremely straight lads enter a club yelling how they are “shaggers,” before pretending to bum each other, and pulling down their trousers to show off their holes. Is this how everyone else’s twenties went? Did I miss out on all the alcohol poisoning and sucking my mates’ dicks for a laugh? The lead lad gives his philosophy on pulling, which may surprise you, as he doesn’t consider looks to be important, “so long as she’s got great big tits.” Luckily, they all like the same type of women, “just easy ones.” It’s then that he looks to camera to give an address to the watching ladies, speaking as representative for his entire gender. “All you girls at home, spoutin’ on about equal rights in your boiler suits and shaven head, lighten up. All you need’s a good shaftin’, and we’re the guys to give it to yer.

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What follows is an egregious shot of one of them sloppily getting off with a random girl, as the others pump their fists in celebration. Soon, they’ve got their fingers down their throats like they’re puking; “she were fucking rotten, face like a blind cobbler’s thumb!” The clip ends with a lovely group chant of “get your tits out for the lads!” as the rampantly hetero fellas segue into “get your bollocks out,” pinning one of their mates down and pulling his trousers off. Funny, but while The Girlie Show is (rightly) remembered as one of television’s worst, as a showcase for ladettes proving they could be just as crass as the lads, in hindsight, the thing that really stands out, from conception as pseudo-feminist fiddling-fodder to content, is the rancid behaviour of the men. Oi oi!

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.

Owt Good On, Mam? – The Three L’s

•September 13, 2020 • Leave a Comment

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In trawling through the worst of pop culture, I always want to give my beloved Patrons their money’s worth, but often come across something which is fully on-brand yet too short or singular for a deep dive. So, I figured I’d start a series bundling some of these orphans together, like Hell’s pick ‘n mix. If this was the 80s, it’d have a trendy name like Millard’s Channel Surfing!, with a picture of me riding the waves on a giant TV remote, but it’s 2020, we’re all boiling to death on a planet full of racist thickos, and I’m calling these pieces Owt Good On, Mam? Okay, let’s dip into some horrible shit.

First up is the Boxing Day 1987 episode of Double Dare, the gameshow segment within Saturday morning’s Going Live. Weird choice during a heatwave? Sure, but stay with me. A British remake of a much more culturally iconic American show, our Double Dare‘s rep was based on host Peter Simon repeatedly slipping on gunge, with all the realism of someone ‘accidentally’ leaning back too far in a dining room chair while the wife films it for You’ve Been Framed. Decades later, Simon would go onto viral fame when he blew a big snot bubble live on Bid-Up TV, only to double down by farting, and in weird trivia, played the first British Ronald McDonald.

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Sadly, as with anything featuring gunge, like Noel’s House Party or Get Your Own Back, Double Dare will fall in the pantheon of shows which have since been reclassified for a certain group of men as Erotica, with myriad clips on Youtube channels devoted to the fetish of women (or men, or puppets) getting covered in slime. My House Party Hell series racks up higher than average hits thanks to all the chaps who’re super horny for footage of Gloria Hunniford and Gordon the Gopher sat in Noel’s gunge tank, and Slime Guys are a constant presence in the comment sections of anything involving that most 90’s of muck. Regard this pretty typical comment, when I was hunting for another game show, found beneath an episode of GYOB.

I think it would have been funny if my pretty long haired support worker [MILLARD NOTE: REAL NAME REDACTED] was sitting Above the gunk dunk and a grubby brat with scabs, tooth decay, blemishes and braces pulls the leaver and sends [REDACTED] straight into the gunge and she emerges covered in goo great stuff.”

Great stuff indeed, cheers. Double Dare opens with Peter Simon dressed like an elf, with the hat pulled down so his ears stick out like that Limmy sketch. If it’s Christmas, it must be a celebrity special, and as the show’s squarely aimed at kids, obviously the first team are a pair of actors from Carla Lane’s Bread. Yeah, that grim kitchen-sinkcom about the financial struggles of a family of cheeky roguish scousers; must’ve been real big in playgrounds. Thing is, it was. Pre-Minecraft childhoods were fucking wild; stood round the park discussing the latest Last of the Summer Wine and doing impressions of Roy Hattersley. Despite its awfulness — I’ve been putting off doing a Shitcoms of it for ages because I can’t face it — Bread‘s ratings peak was 21 million viewers. 21 million! You wouldn’t get that now if the Pope was livestreaming a wank.

Team Bread consists of Gilly Coman, who played ditzy model Aveline, and Jonathon Morris, the pretentious poet fopp, Adrian. Incidentally, one of the things on my to-do list to cover here is Morris’ run in Full Moon Studios DTV vampire series, Subspecies, as a brooding gothic Leslat type, but they’re frustratingly hard to track down.

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Celebrity Double Dare is fancy dress, with Morris as a bellboy and Coman the Sugarplum Fairy. They do the small talk of “d’ya have a good Christmas? Get lots of presents?” though it was certainly filmed in July. But then we get to why I’ve brought you here today. Hold onto your hats as their opponents are brought out, because it’s… The Lads! Yes, Little and Large, in one of the precious few television appearances preserved to the current day. Eddie’s dressed as a pirate, in a hat and stripey shirt with the word MATE across the chest, in what one assumes is a period-accurate costume, while Syd’s the captain with a tricorn hat and military jacket. It’s an appropriate choice, seeing as Syd’s been stealing a living for his whole career, and puts him in the incredibly rare position of — in costume at least — being Eddie’s superior.

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Eddie jokes “I’ve always wanted a Cindy doll,” pulling Syd close with an arm round the shoulder, and Christ, he’s going to force feed him gunge, isn’t he? Putting a funnel in Syd’s mouth and making him drink the entire BBC supply; saying “oh dear, you’ve slipped again” while pushing him over and putting the boots in; pulling Gordon the Gopher out of his pirate slacks and forcing it all the way up Syd’s arse. Note that there’s a live audience of children in party hats, giving deafening, high-pitched cheers throughout the games, but deathly quiet during the talky sections, with not a single laugh.

Round One’s a Pin the Tail on the Donkey of gluing Christmas card ephemera onto a board, meaning Syd and Gilly are blindfolded. I’m genuinely in fear of Syd’s life here — “it’s a cucumber Syd, I promise, now open wide!” Christ knows how long the elastic is to even fit over his glasses. The general knowledge bits give plenty of opportunity for Eddie to stretch his comedic wings, straight into a Frank Bruno voice for a “know what I mean, ‘arry?” with a question about Boxing Day, and on Santa Claus’ nationality — “It was me Uncle Charlie when I were a lad!” The questions themselves — for a show aimed at ten-year-olds — are a strange mix of “pick a number between one and ten” and stuff that begins “in 1699, the Frenchman Henri Misson…” or where the answer is “Franz Xaver Gruber.”

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Team L&L’s strategy sees a clueless, shrugging Eddie throw a “you tell em, Syd,” with each question, and when the wee man guesses correctly, it’s his finest hour, with even Eddie letting out a fist-pumping “woo!” But then Syd lets himself down. Years later, he would — genuinely — convert to Christianity in Cannon and Ball’s dressing room (Jimmy Cricket was also present), when Bobby Ball encouraged him to pray. The beginnings of Syd’s yearning for a connection with the Almighty can be glimpsed here, tackling a question about the robin redbreast’s colouring with uncustomary confidence — “it’s the blood of Christ, off the cross.” Merry Christmas, kids! “What’s that to do with Christmas?” asks Peter.

By now, I’m a bundle of nerves. The winning team gets to run the obstacle course, and Bread are currently in the lead. If I’m robbed the sight of The Lads scaling up nets, I’m walking straight into the sea. Breaking up the questions are physical challenges, like building a snowman out of ice cream. Eddie will have Syd’s hand off if he’s not careful. In an interesting moment background moment, as Jonathon Morris tries to get the ice cream out by banging the tub on the table, he accidentally brings it down on Coman’s thumb, causing her to jump back in pain. Alas, the sight of Syd Little mashing handfuls of ice cream together has probably got this video stuck on another fetish playlist. In another game, Syd’s throwing Christmas cake ingredients for Eddie to catch in a bowl. Instead of tipping the raisins into his hand, Syd chucks the whole glass at him, no doubt with headlines dancing in his mind of “Much-loved comedian killed in tragic glass-throwing accident. ‘I’ll persevere solo’ Says Sad Syd.” At the end, Eddie jokes “for another 50 points, you have to eat it, Syd.” Yeah, bowl and all.

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Each time he’s tasked with something, Syd’s nervy indecision is palpable. In a game where Christmas decorations are laid out on a table, and he’s told to decorate Eddie, who’s got his arms outstretched and will act as the tree, Syd can be heard mumbling “what have I got to do?” Fucking hell, lay one in backstage for me, Eddie. But as the final whistle goes, I am crestfallen. Bread are victorious, meaning no obstacle course for comedy’s finest. They pick where their charity prizes are going — or in Eddie’s words, “all the pressie-wessies” — and when it cuts back, Peter’s armed with a pair of custard (or more specifically, shaving foam) pies. “I’m starving,” mutters Eddie.

What follows, on poring over the footage like Costner in JFK, is Classic Syd. Let’s break it down.

Peter dishes out the pies, one in each face, but on rewinding, we can see Syd’s got his own pie waiting under the desk; a surprise to be thrown at Peter. However, the master of comic timing, Syd Little takes it out too early, and after they get pie-faced, Peter’s already moved onto the next link. Shy Syd, seemingly too embarrassed to do it himself, or once again confused at a simple cue, just sits there. Eventually, he passes it to Eddie, who saves the moment by nailing Peter. Then Syd pretends his fingers are windscreen wipers, cleaning his glasses.

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I couldn’t give a fuck about the final obstacle course, mate. It’s heartbreaking, like watching the only person you ever loved walk the aisle with someone else. There’s slides, climbing ropes and even a big chimney to clamber in. Just imagine them doing this; Eddie getting stuck in the chimney; Syd all tangled up in the net, pleading for help as Eddie stamps on his glasses. When it seems like we’ll have to make do with Eddie licking his lips at a big Christmas pudding prop, they’re invited to “cheer them on,” meaning L&L still get to do the gungy stuff. Also, it quickly becomes clear this was all a fix, and the chance at witnessing the athletic prowess of Syd Little was never on the table. The young and spry Jonathon Morris flies through the course, with Coman down the chimney like a rocket, saving the BBC what could’ve been an insurance nightmare. The show ends with Eddie going arse over tit, and everyone rolling around in a big custardy human pile, for what must’ve led to the most distressing shower since American History X. “Scrub my back, Syd, there’s a good lad.”

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Next up, seeing as my entire life’s work has somehow evolved into painstakingly covering the most cursed of light entertainment, I figure should take a perfunctory gander at Joe Longthorne. Though he sat firmly on the B-List, Longthorne was solidly A-List both in having a name which seems inaccurately Native American, and in showcasing all the classic British variety tics; Impressions; earnest songs; constantly addressing the audience as “lay-jeh-men…” Joe was in that Daniel O’Donnell demographic, beloved by mums and nans, and one of the many stars of that era to have arrived via televised talent shows, first — as a 14-year-old — on Junior Showtime, and later on LWT’s Search For a Star. After a spot as a player on The Les Dennis Laughter Show, his solo vehicle The Joe Longthorne Show would run for three series on ITV. It’s an episode of that, circa 1989, which I’ll be sitting through.

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The opening titles are very Dallas, with Longthorne in triple split-screen, jigging about like he’s in residency at Vegas. It’s pure cruise ship, as he comes out fingers clicking, surrounded by a troupe of dancing girls in fedoras and stockings, for the Everly Brothers’ Crying in the Rain. Joe does all his numbers on a mini stage which looks exactly like a big reflector from a BMX. Speaking of big things, we need to talk about his suit. This thing is enormous; it’s Talking Heads; it’s Nathan For You; it’s Andre the Giant’s hand-me-down; it’s Slimming World ‘after’ photos, holding up trousers they could now fit three of their arses in. You never get used to it, and every time it cuts back to him, it seems as though he’s shrinking; like by the end, there’ll be a squeaky ant-voice blasting out Mustang Sally from an empty pile of clothes.

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Though it’s Joe’s name on the banner, magician Wayne Dobson gets a lot of screentime. Dobson was an onscreen regular in the 80s and 90s, before a diagnosis of MS. His suit’s enormous too, with shoulders so big, he’d have to turn sideways to get through a double door, but it’s cut off at the wrists, either to show there’s no cards up there, or because The Joe Longthorne Show caused the world to run out of fabric. The patter between them makes me yearn to be cut in half, but by Jeffrey Dahmer. Wayne’s “gonna try some mental telepathy.” Joe: “that’s because I’m telepathic.” Wayne: “no, I think you’re mental.” He pulls out LPs for a trick, cuing Joe’s impressions of Elvis and Cliff Richard — “hi folks, got myself a cryin’, walkin’…” — and gags like “Eartha Kitt? I know her brother, First Aid!

When Joe’s own LP comes out, it gets a sustained round of applause. “If everyone else can plug their albums, I can plug mine, is that right, lay-jeh-men?” Audience: “Yeeeeah!” After Joe leaves, Dobson does a hacky old Find the Lady bit, and later a gothic routine in an expansive cemetery set; cobwebs, candles, a hooded organist in Satanic red robes. The voiceover must’ve had Joe’s bussed-in nans coming over all funny, with a sinister baritone opining about “swirling mists of time and space,” and human sacrifice, as Dobson emerges, with his bleached hedgehog haircut, to get levitated by a pair of druids, as “the dark one’s prize!” The gothic aura’s punctured somewhat as Dobson ends his routine with the magic words “and here with some great music from the seventies, Joe Longthorne!” In 2015, Dobson would divorce his wife after alleging best mate Bobby Davro fucked her in the kitchen after she’d showed him her boobs on Skype.

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Unbelievably, Joe’s 70’s medley sees him changed into even bigger clothes, with the waist of his jacket now almost knee length. All the variety cliches are on show; “here’s a little song you’re going to enjoy… it goes like this,” and seguing into impressions with “the one and only,” or “keep clapping; David Bowie!” His Bowie impersonation stretches to him holding the mic stand, while for Barry White, he’s waving a fistful of handkerchief, which he occasionally dabs at his face. The numbers as ‘himself’ are proper “baby bay-BEH!” club singing, and back from the break, it’s a third costume change, with a bow tie and shoulders that, even in medium shot, practically extend beyond the edges of the screen. And all for an introduction to “a young man that’s really making a big name for himself here in the UK. He’s from the US of A…” An American, how exciting!

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Darryl Sivad is the perfect picture of late 80’s American stand-up, with observations you wouldn’t smile at if a minicab driver made them, and the opening gambit “you know what’s nice about this town? You got so many women!” After Joe and Wayne, the bar’s on the floor, but Sivad somehow manages to limbo under it with a hacky routine about how men and women be different. The most notable moment is the blowing of a punchline about his wife’s chihuahua, which only eats sausages; “I’m thinking if we snap his legs off, honey, he’ll be a snausage! [sic]” Disappointingly, Sivad doesn’t take out the two Alsatian hand-puppets he’s seen wearing in the opening credits.

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Then Joe’s back out, in his forth enormous suit of the night, for another medley, with a huge 27 piece orchestra stood behind him on balconies. Every show devotes a segment to a single performer, and this week’s is “the one and only Freddie Mercury!” As the opening bars to Bo-Rap kick in, immediately it becomes clear that Joe has neither heard Freddie perform, nor even seen a picture. Most likely, standing in the wings as the intro played, he asked a runner to describe him and they shouted “er.. gay, big gnashers!” and does the whole thing in a silly voice, pulling open-mouthed faces to show off a set of false teeth, which aren’t even that big, to the point I didn’t notice until he triumphantly removed them at the end. Trying to imitate music’s most charismatic frontman really highlights how Joe should only be on television as someone being interviewed by the local news outside Poundland about the rampant amount of dog dirts in the high street.

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Our closing number — please, God, let this be the last one — is Let the Heartaches Begin, with Joe Longthorne performing as the one and only Joe Longthorne. For me, the heartaches began about 20 minutes ago. But on the final line, “I can’t hold back on the tears any more,” the camera zooms in to reveal two wet streams on his cheeks. Have I been harsh? Is this the kind of artiste that’s capable of conjuring such emotion, he’s able to cry on command? On closer examination (i.e. sitting through the fucking song twice more), it’s nothing more than sweat, from standing underneath baking studio lights and weighed down in about six stone of linen. The whole fiasco was produced and directed by ‘Nasty’ Nigel Lythgoe of Pop Idol, who’s worth hundreds of millions now, in an egregious demonstration that crime does pay. The tape cuts off with a trailer announcing Michael Aspel will be hosting Central’s “murder weekend,” which sounds like The Purge. Sign me up, I’ve got some got some terrible stuff I suddenly need to forget.

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.

Wacaday

•September 4, 2020 • 1 Comment

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Wacaday‘s something which crops up a lot in suggestions, but like much of the stuff I cover, very little footage has survived. In this case, that’s not surprising, given even even The Upper Hand would slink off defeated at Wacaday‘s genuinely incredible tally of 455 episodes. Barring all those creepy drama series from the 70s and 80s which got rebranded post-millennium as hauntology, there’s a real dearth of old kids TV online. I’ve always wanted to do a run on the Saturday morning shows, but even full episodes of the big boys like Going Live are digital gold dust; partially because of their length (a whole tape in SP), but also due to their throwaway nature. Nowadays, it’s all just weightless data, but back when Timmy Mallett was pumping out half-hours every weekday when school was off, nobody thought to preserve it for future generations. And any kid who did press record on Mallett arsing around would’ve grown out of it, eventually sacrificing the contents for an episode of Eurotrash where you could see actual German fanny lips.

Confusingly, Wacaday takes its name via spinning off from the Wide Awake Club, and not the word ‘wacky’ — five letters which run through its hosts bones like a stick of rock. Timmy Mallett is the absolute King of Colin Hunts, jigging round in bermuda shorts and oversized Elton John specs, his top and bottom lip always off in different directions, and never not cementing how loud and bloody bonkers he is. He’s less Mr. Rogers than the adult victim in a body-swap comedy, approaching forty, and switching souls with an eight-year-old boy who’s been mainlining sugar with a dirty needle. A clown without face paint, even for the 90s, Mallett’s is the most extreme case of kee-rayzee ever recorded.

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During Wacaday‘s run, Mallett’s persona and the house style intersected with mainstream kids fashions, when ‘loud’ clothes were in, with everyone in bermuda shorts and neon pink socks, five pairs a pound from the market. But like a Hulk Hogan or John McCririck, he lived that character onscreen and off, and still rocks the shorts in modern TV appearances. It was strange to see him pared down to the default khaki of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, and trapped with only other adults for company, he turned out to be weirdly passive aggressive and insincere, at one point, cheating during a race to down a crocodile-bollock milkshake by roughly pinching another contestant’s arm.

One of Wacaday‘s trademarks was the Wac-a-Wave, putting the tip of your thumbs together to form a W shape and waving your fingers, like the kind of thing a wrestler would do at the crowd before hitting his finishing move. I’ve a strong childhood memory of sitting up the front on a coach trip with my cousin and Wac-a-Waving through the big window to oncoming traffic on the motorway, feeling like a ruddy anarchist. We must’ve brought into Wacaday‘s cult-like brainwashing, as, like the wave, almost every word is front-loaded with Wac, reminiscent of 1960’s Batman, as calls come in on the Wac-a-phone, and even a entire continent is rebranded into WacAfrica.

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Remember British television’s great catchphrases? “Awright at the back?” and “nice to see you, to see you…”? Well Timmy’s is “blurgh!” — the noise one makes while being violently sick — accompanied, as is everything he does, by a poking of the tongue, and gesticulating his arms like he’s trapped in a burning building. The look of the show is the most early 90’s thing imaginable, all neon colours and pulsating, broken shapes; Saved by the Bell‘s opening titles but with a child-man bouncing off the wonky walls. The custard-yellow set is emblazoned with red dots and green stripes, like ITV’s carpenters were handed instructions which simply read ‘build a headache’.

Keep in mind, this show was very much just for kids, and as kids, I probably speak for most of us who lived through Wacaday, in having spent every school holiday glued to it. Mallett really got what made children tick, and he’s the reason it’s remembered so fondly. But with no double-entendres for the adults in the room, and no hot lady co-presenters for the dads, perhaps it would be disingenuous for me, a grown man, to pick it apart, thirty years on. Still gonna do it, mind. I’ll be sampling episodes from Wacaday‘s final year, 1992, which had a world tour theme, with each week focussing on a different country.

First up, it’s Scotland, which should set every alarm bell ringing itself to pieces, if you recall our growing catalogue of televised brutality suffered by the Scots at the hands of the English. And indeed, we open with Timmy emerging through a revolving wall, clad in kilt, sporran, and t-shirt of the Loch Ness Monster, ‘singing’ Scotland the Brave in blurghs — “blurgh blurgh, blurgh-blurgh-blurgh, blurgh blurgh…” under a constant background dirge of tuneless bagpipes.

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Timmy bids us welcome to an “utterly, utterly brilliant McScottish McWacaday” in a Maynards Wine Gums accent, before being interrupted by Pinky Punky. An anthropomorphised foam hammer who speaks in Timmy’s sped-up voice as it’s waved in front of camera, Pinky Punky’s catchphrase “Mr. Mallett, Mr. Mallett, can I go to the toilet?” infers that it’s got a urethra and/or anus. However, it manages to hold in the piss and shit long enough to tell a joke. “I done A. I done B. I done C. I done D. Dundee!” Yes, that is a place in Scotland. Well done. “Who has done de washing up?!” jokes Timmy.

His other sidekick is “wee timourous beastie,” Magic the cockatiel, who’s pretty well trained, and spends most of the series sat on children’s heads or on Timmy’s shoulder, as his master skips about, screaming. “He’s gone nuts this morning!” cackles Timmy, as Magic flits madly around the studio after being let out to see a cockatiel-sized kilt and caber sent in by a fan. There’s a horribly sad note at the end of Timmy’s wiki page, noting that Magic now resides in a grave in his garden, though at least he probably went of natural causes, unlike Koko B. Ware’s parrot, Frankie, who died in a house fire while screaming the words “help me!” Sorry, but if I have to live with that trivia, so do you.

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With no co-hosts, presenting duties are shared out between pairs of children appearing as guests-slash-contestants, giving an air of the amateur when tasked with reading out names and addresses or fielding callers. The English kids are cosplaying as Scottish, in fancy dress kilts, and one in a tartan Tam o’ Shanter about two feet wide. The little girl is very nervous, introducing herself in a flat tone with “och aye the noo, I’m wee McSamantha from Chingford,” but the next child is an exuberant ginger boy, confidently announcing “och aye the noo, I’m James wee Mc… um…” and forgetting where he’s from. His hobbies are watching Wacaday, playing football, and making models. Models, that’ll be planes and stuff, yeah? “Houses, out of paper and sellotape.” Right you are. His sporran is from “my dad’s mate, Bill,” and he’s borrowed his father’s socks. “Poo! I can tell, it’s a bit pongy round here!” shrieks Timmy, holding his nose and staggering from the stench.

I am — as should be patently obvious by my work and the photo of my face — a single, childless man, and during Covid lockdown, there were a lot of assumptions from people trapped indoors with small children, that the likes of me, free to watch Netflix and defecate in peace, don’t know we’re born. Trust me, I got months worth of grizzling toddler energy from a single episode of Wacaday. Timmy’s a 37 year old baby, and worst of all, he’s a baby with all the power. Were he an actual six-year-old, running round with his tongue out, jumping on the furniture, he’d be getting a clip round the ear, but this is decidedly his show, and every squeal is met, not with threats of the naughty step, but loud offscreen laughter from the crew. The vibe of a pre-school Noel’s House Party or Big Breakfast is no coincidence, as Chris Evans considers Timmy a mentor, getting his start in showbiz as one of Timmy’s on-air radio posse and general dogsbody. Consequently, there’s that same sense that anyone caught failing to add Wac to a word — “here’s your coffee… I mean Wac-coffee, Mr. Mallett!” — faces being bludgeoned with a real hammer.

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The kids are made to yell “Wac aye the noo,” as Timmy warns us a painted-on spill of crude oil is about to live up to its name; specifically by saying “Spotty botty!“OH MY GOODNESS ME!” shrieks Timmy, absolutely unable to contain himself, “COVER YOUR EARS!” You homeschooling parents fancy a swap? Thought not. He introduces his “utterly brilliant cousin, Hamish McMallett,” who’s Timmy in a big ginger beard and hot water bottle sporran, pratting about with Scottish dancers in a school hall. In staggering creativity, minutes later, someone dressed in tartan and the same beard, also called Hamish (the Haggis), will prance into the studio covered in viewer’s drawings. While most pictures are of Pinky Punky, one child’s sent in a really detailed rendering of an oil rig. We go to a break with a chant of “Wac-a-haggis, Wac-a-haggis,” as I start petitioning neighbours to add me to the 8pm clap for heroes, especially after the ad for a disturbing doll called Baby Alive, where a child examines its nappy and excitedly exclaims “ooh, she’s dirtied it too!

The thing everyone remembers is Mallett’s Mallet, a word association game where repetition or hesitation earns players a bash over the head with his foam mallet, and “the one with the most bruises loses!” Except, by 1992, TV bosses are worried impressionable viewers might batter each other for real, so infractions are now scored by Timmy swinging his tool at a contestant’s mascot on the desk; hats with googly eyes, representing someone from the contestant’s life. In this case, “my cousin Nestor, because he’s an absolute twit!” There is a dark, gritty remake to be made of Wacaday, with Timmy stoving in heads as a deranged hammer-wielding killer, and Pinky Punky a sexy Harley Quinn type in a crop top. I do feel we need to address how the constant references to Mallett’s mallet sound really phallic. Like Rod Hull’s Pink Windmill and Paul Daniels’ magic wand, I refuse to believe Timmy never used Mallett’s mallet as euphemism for his penis, if one can ever picture Timothy Mallett doing something as grown up as sex — “Cor lummy, there’s white stuff coming out of my Wac-a-willy!”

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Instead of filling time with real cartoons, Wacaday breaks for daily visits to a home-grown ‘cartoon’, consisting of felt-tip drawings of Timmy and Magic (weirdly depicted as a fat grey pigeon), slowly zoomed in and out of to give a sense of movement. We do get some VTs filmed in Scotland, cued by Timmy walking across the studio without realising his mic pack’s fallen out, dragging it clattering across the floor. He visits an earthquake measuring system in the highlands, and comically bashes the ground with a hammer, inducing a “10.9 on the Wac-tor scale!” before visiting the headquarters of The Beano in Dundee. This inspires a comedy skit, where Timmy the Terror picks on lisping softy, Olly the Wally (“gis yer lolly, you big fat wally!”), and gets chased by lollypop man, Jack McWhack. It ends with Timmy directing schoolkids across the road with his mallet — which sounds disgusting — with perhaps the worst punchline I have ever witnessed, “is this what you call Crocodile Dundee?!” (especially if you’re unfamiliar with ‘crocodile’ as a term for a long line of children)

Running a tight second is Pinky Punky’s “Mr. Mallett, Mr. Mallett, is a cartoon a song about a car? You know; car tune?!Wacaday finishes on phone-in game, Chat and Splat, where Wee James can’t read the autocue, so Timmy has to painstakingly stage-whisper every question for him to repeat. Notable here is the kid puts one hand in a small bowl of gunge, and even when scalded by Timmy “you don’t need that,” spends the next five minutes at the side of frame frantically wiping at unseen gunge with a towel; fingers, legs, face, stomach, back; clearly suffering a dirt phobia and no longer paying attention to the show. We play out with a montage of viewer-submitted photos of Wac-a-Waves; pictures of kids by funny street signs or buried up to their necks at the beach; which under the sombre drone of Mull of Kintyre, especially following all the preceding silliness, feels like a memorial for children who’ve died.

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Sadly, tomorrow’s show isn’t available online, where Timmy promises we’ll meet “Robert the Bruce Springsteen.” Of interest in the credits, Jack McWhack is credited as ‘wactor’ Andrew Wightman, who’s now a Scottish MP for the Green Party. But anyone homeschooling their kids could land the little fuckers an A* in GCSE Geography by sitting them down in front of Wacaday‘s impeccably researched week on South Africa. Timmy enters pretending to fly and bawling the Batman theme — “nana nana nana nana, Wacaday Man!” He’s in a cape, you see, as they’re going to Cape Town, and I’m sure, like me, you’re very excited at the prospect of Timmy Mallett tackling apartheid.

What about the kids; will they somehow be dressed South African? No, just capes, as well as two baseball caps each, one on top of the other. This “twin peaks” was one of Wacaday’s fashion trends, pushed on the audience each summer, along with rolling up a single trouser leg; which I definitely remember doing. Timmy himself is wearing two pairs of glasses; one on his eyes, the other on his hat(s). But today is a special day, as our sweet little bird boy is turning seven, and Magic gets a cake and a round of Happy Birthday from Timmy, children and crew. The latter are far louder than the Scotland shows, oohing and laughing in all the right places, and parroting the host’s chant-a-longs, where he could be wearing six pairs of glasses and still not hide the megamaniacal glint in his eye. “Completely bonkers!” yells Timmy. Everyone laughs.

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Disconcertingly, the loud sound of children’s cheering is occasionally piped in to sweeten a punchline or a correct answer, giving the impression there are hundreds of kids just off camera, and inviting questions of why they remain unseen. Squalid conditions? Frightening deformities? Are they all chained together like in Temple of Doom, begging Magic to pick the locks with his beak? I know it’s a thing now where we pick any pop culture headline — ‘Six9ine Calls Out N-Word Fortnite Streamer Who Catfished Jake Paul With Hot Faceapp Pic; President Trump Must Condemn!‘ — and say you couldn’t explain it to someone from 15 years ago, but honestly, stuff from 1992’s no better. I mean, there’s a game where the kids fish small items like sunglasses out of a bowl of very watery custard while blindfolded, which is called Wac-Columbus, because, I guess, they’re discovering the things, where the winner gets a load of Matey bubble bath.

But the meat of this is South Africa, and Timmy’s a schoolboy who’s giving a ten minute book report having only glanced at the cover. What have we learned about the country so far? Well, there’s capes, aren’t there? And there’s Cape Town, “with its table cloth on top of its table mountain.” Yes, I’d say my favourite chapter was when all the flies made that one fly the Lord. When we finally visit South Africa — sorry, WacAfrica — Timmy’s on the beach in a massive Dracula cape, running away from the tide. I should note the full ensemble; cloak, billowing white mumu covered in stars, glasses with lightning on the frame, fingerless neon green gloves, rainbow striped parachute pants, and two multicoloured baseball caps. This is our cultural envoy. If he meets an actual South African while dressed like that, I’ll simply die.

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No, come on, let’s give him a chance. He’s out there now in Cape Town, pointing out Table Mountain (which you can’t see behind clouds), “and the other thing it’s famous for is its capes!” Just to be clear, it definitely isn’t. The naming of Cape Town is completely unrelated to capes, but he fills airtime by wittering on, “in summer you wear a cape to keep the sun off, and in winter you wear a cape to keep the rain off, and it’s also brilliant for flying with” before yelling “Wac-Cape-Cadabra!” and spinning around on the sand. Well, that’s me applying for Mastermind with South Africa as my specialist subject. Fifteen hours of flight time to get him there for this, by the way.

Then it cuts to him in front of a Wac-a-windmill, or to use English, a windmill, before — I’m afraid to report — chatting to a local, stood in his fucking two hats and a cape. Hearing about all the different races and cultures, Timmy skips over the whole racial segregation stuff to declare “it’s a great, huge, massive melting pot!” before being handed an actual melting (cooking) pot. Now here’s the opportunity for a child-friendly analogy about apartheid. This might be tough with the subtlety of a host who plays up Cape Town’s variety by skipping past a row of black children and cheerily commenting “the people are multicoloured, even the houses are multicoloured…

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Soon Timmy’s strolling through a shanty town, the only white face — and the only one in a cape and rainbow Hammer pants — with his melting pot, containing items he’s collected from Cape Town, for a wonderful metaphor about the way seemingly-disparate elements can blend together for something magical and unique. Except all he’s got is one cupful of spice and a single block of cheese, mixed together with some water he’s scabbed off a passing and highly confused lady. “Not perfect by any means,” he says, swirling the gunk with his bare hands, “but it’s getting there, slowly,” and then he’s pushing this disgusting concoction into children’s faces on the end of his finger, while dressed like a vampire at a Pride march. The sight of everyone retching doesn’t make a particularly great analogy for the benefits of multiculturalism, but we cut back to the studio as he opines “yeah, it is getting there, isn’t it, Magic?” and like that, Timmy Mallett has fixed racism.

(As an addendum, between writing and posting this piece, I became aware of another clip from the South African series, where a much more sedate Timmy properly explains apartheid in a rather lovely, non-patronising way, and fully redeems himself)

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With that out of the way, there’s more hijinx, like the Mallett’s Pallette [sic] art section, where the kids help him sponge the letter W on a cloth with “really good African colours” under a backing track of chirping crickets, and a VT where he’s riding on the back of a Wac-ostrich, while pretending to be an old lady for some reason, barely avoiding getting kicked to death after being bucked off in a paddock while doing a Hinge and Bracket voice. But after everything we’ve seen, I’m gutted the next episode’s not online, which sounds like it may set new standards of problematic, as he’ll be meeting up with “the Zulus, who are terribly scary!” That definitely ends with him inside a giant cauldron, doesn’t it? We close with Pinky Punky chanting “Zulu! Zulu! Zulu! Can I go to Zu Loo (the loo) please?!” Bloody Eurotrash. I’d much rather see Timmy and the Zulus than a great big muff.

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.

 
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