Ways You Can Support My ‘Art’

•November 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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

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

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

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

CHUCK ME SOME MONEY ON PAYPAL.

Cheers.

VHS:WTF – Barrymore’s Best Bites

•July 27, 2021 • 1 Comment

Barrymore Month draws to a close with a 30-min video essay, examining the big man through his own selection of hand-picked favourite moments. One particular song is very much not awright.

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

There’s over 500,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

You Are Haunted – Episode 7: The Lady Corrinne

•July 21, 2021 • Leave a Comment

yah

“your dad’s got himself a boat x”

Listen now on Spotify, Anchor, Youtube, or Google Podcasts.

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

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

Seaside vs. Summertime – Part II

•July 18, 2021 • Leave a Comment

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In part one, we examined ITV’s Summertime Special, so now it’s the BBC’s turn, with Seaside Special. However, I must begin on a devastating note. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, certain footage just refuses to be found. Often — like Backstreet’s Back it surfaces eventually, but on occasion, I will fail you, as I have in locating Seaside Special’s Ronnie Corbett Go-Kart Challenge Cup. Exactly what it sounds like, this was an all-star racing tournament, and what one must assume was the most electrifying sporting contest of all time, with competitors including Mike Reid, John Inman, Windsor Davies, Tony Blackburn, and most crushing of all, Noel Edmonds. I imagine this is what they based Mario Kart on, with Frank Butcher dropping a banana skin onto the track, causing little Ronnie Corbett’s car to spin round and round. But I’m afraid that’s for another day.

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We start with an episode from August 23rd, 1975, and the most British sound of all; an audience clapping along in time to a theme tune, that of Summertime City by Mike Batt. The opening sequence is a picnic basket of summery moments; a circus big top, a lovely lady sliding down a slide on a doormat, and a donkey chariot race along the beach, where the poor things are being whipped by laughing men. Inside the tent is Tony Blackburn, alongside an audience decked out in tiaras (the ladies) and feathered musketeer hats (the fellas), which he describes as a carnival atmosphere, although seeing so many people tightly crammed together like that nowadays just gives me anxiety.

First act out is New Edition, but not the R&B band, rather a troupe of a dozen dancers singing Shirley Ellis’s Clapping Song (“3, 6, 9, the goose drank wine…”), leading to close-ups of some wonderfully off-rhythm clapping from old ladies in the audience. With their bright red outfits and minute after minute of relentless hand-claps, the scene has a huge Suspiria feel, as though everything’s rising to a demented crescendo, audience hands raw and bleeding, as sound and body and will shall part the sands and summon the Great Dark God of British Seaside Variety.

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Evidently their foul beach magick works a treat, as Blackburn reveals he’s not actually the host, and roused up from Hell into the big top comes Rolf Harris. “D’ya feel like singing?” he asks, teaching the audience the chorus of his latest novelty song. As is the nature of these disgraced paeds, everything from his mouth seems loaded with perversion, and the lyrics “up a tree, fiddly-diddly, up a tree” are suggestive of a ditty about your neighbour sunbathing without her top on. Although the actual song does have a bit about a nudist camp. Young Rolf’s got a very Max Wall manner, with a lot of high-kneed marching, and has me holding my breath with the question “is there anybody here from South Africa tonight?

I’m tempted to put it on pause and do the washing up for a few years, but let’s press on. Rolf says whenever he tours a new place, he likes to create a song especially for the country. Fuck it, see you in 2055. No, come on, hear him out. In a jokeless monologue, he describes penning a tribute song to Dr Christiaan Barnard (who performed the first heart transplant), and that, to his shock, South African audiences hated it, before strapping on an accordion with a “I still think it’s a good song, let me sing it for you.” Must you? A surprisingly moving power ballad on the wonders of modern medicine — no, not really; it goes “who’s got Sidney’s kidney? Well, he said we could use it, didn’t he?” He doesn’t bounce back when introducing the next act, an impressionist, with an honest-to-God “he’ll make an impression on you!” and promising “the mad, mixed-up comedy of Johnny More.” More was a player in both Copy Cats and Who Do You Do? and my balls retract into my abdomen when I spot a table of glasses and beards, from which he’ll take props while dramatically turning his back on the audience before spinning around COMPLETELY CHANGED, now under a hat.

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This is the gold-standard of shite impressionist routines, opening with a literal “what if Les Dawson hosted Film Night?!” and running straight through the gamut; waggling his glasses as Eric Morecambe and “imagine that Kojak being in London.” In a spectacular example of awful segue plus a ‘this is who I’m doing,’ he brings up “that big fat fella, Cannon” before putting on a tash, pushing out his gut, and saying “my name’s Cannon!” Outstanding; ten Eddie Larges out of ten. After a thick Irishman joke, he ends on a high-kicking medley of Johnny Cash, Sinatra, and Rex Harrison, and you have to admire the bravery of going into showbiz with an act like that and the name Johnny More, which is practically begging for reviews of “Johnny Less, more like!”

Most interesting act of the evening is Tony Blackburn, as himself, chatting with carnival queens and princesses, taking one out of her seat by the hand — “come over here and talk to me, my darling.” He genuinely hits the young lady with “if I said you had a nice figure, would you hold it against me?” causing her to awkwardly laugh with an “I don’t know.” Mate, you know this is going out on TV? Then he gets Miss Poole to stand up, taking her hand too, and getting all coy and flirty like Partridge judging Miss Norwich, as she tells him she’s been visiting local hospitals with her princesses. “That sounds rather gorgeous, doesn’t it?” simpers Tone, still clasping hold of her, “that sounds absolutely lovely…

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Footage of Poole carnival is a nostalgic jolt back to the rubbish town carnivals of my childhood; marching bands of young cadets who all grew up to be angry at newsreaders for not wearing a poppy in September; breweries waving from the back of trucks done up like Alice’s Wonderland; scouts and papier mache, and — hang on, a load of women dressed as mermaids with crepe paper wigs and nothing covering their boobs but two seashells?! I’ve changed my mind, bring back the great British carnival! Wait, no, changed my mind again. Ban ’em.

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Following a nervous Blackburn commentating over footage of a hang glider — “ooh, I bet that sea’s cold!” — we’re treated to the debut of a brand new double act, teaming two solo performers for the first time, in a Megapowers of variety, with the combined talents of Stuart Gillies and Bernie Clifton. It’s another early days shocker, seeing Clifton without his usual partner, and I feel bad watching Gilles, knowing he’d be ditched for an ostrich. Scotsman Gilles was known as the Singing Coach Driver, a winner of Opportunity Knocks, and singer of the theme for Love Thy Neighbour (which your dad wants played at his funeral). However, paired up, the structure’s all wrong; Gilles is out first, earnestly belting out Neil Sedaka’s Sing Me all the way through, without Bernie interrupting once, like Eddie Large or Bobby Ball would do. What sort of double act is this?! Thankfully, during Gilles’ Rabbie Burns poetry, Bernie’s dicking around with a stuffed cat. But like seeing both of Rod Hull’s arms, Bernie Clifton walking about on solid legs is very unsettling, until he disappears backstage, returning with an enormous rubber fish. This is a prototype of the ostrich routine, flailing around as he tries to control it, its mouth bouncing up and down, and biting at the crotch of a woman in the front row as he takes it into the audience.

The short-lived Gillies and Clifton end on a duet of Judy Garland & Johnny Mercer’s Friendship, (“if you’re ever in a jam, here I am”), before New Edition do Sloop John B, halfway up the rigging of a ship, and Rolf gives us our second Irish thicko joke of the night while introducing the final act. “The three best known Irishmen in showbusiness… they were telling me the other day Eartha Kitt was a set of gardening tools!” God, the Irish had it as rough as the Scottish back then. It’s amazing England wasn’t just walled off by its neighbours, with Russ Abbot crucified atop Big Ben as a warning. As it’s all we xenophobic bastards deserve, we close on the blue jacketed Bachelors, singing about Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women, but no mention of the rippin’ and the tearin’.

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Compared to Summertime Special, Seaside definitely feels more, well… seasidey, having grown up on the beach myself, with memories of my grandad dressed as a pirate on the float from his working men’s club, and the marching band of Spider-Mans chasing a tattered Green Goblin into the grounds of the local convent as the nuns scattered. Although Seaside is too heavy on music, and didn’t have Barrymore Barrymoring all over the place, the nostalgia takes it. Up your arse, ITV. After ending in 1979, the BBC revived the series for a couple of summer runs through ’81 and ’82, confusingly ditching the Seaside branding for the Summertime Special title as used by ITV. For completion sake, I’m also watching an episode from this run, dating from August 22nd, 1981.

Brighton beach. Children on donkeys. Blonde models licking Kiss Me Quick lollies and munching on candyfloss. Sweeping shots of a promenade. Police horses being stroked. God save the Queen! The exuberant in-house dance group serenade us from an open topped bus, as a girl dances out of an antique shop holding a still-live lobster, and singing a plaintive prayer, which seems to cry straight from the aching hearts of every noble countryman and woman, 40 years in the future — “I’ve never needed summer more than this!” Jazz hands raised high, we end outside another massive circus tent, brilliantly listed in the credits as “the big top tent of Captain Bill Lewis.” As the show proper begins, each dancer’s got their name printed on their shirt, like the Pink Windmill kids, mugging, flexing and pushing each other out of the way as we’re introduced to our performers, who are phenomenally on-brand. It won’t make up for the Ronnie Corbett Cup, but it’s a start.

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Hosting is Paul Daniels, during the wig years, and though I normally like magic, he comes out holding a newspaper with coloured fabric threaded through it. Like the linking rings, I can’t get excited about cloth magic, unless there’s 500 miles of it being pulled out of Piers Morgan’s anus. Half the routine’s him holding the newspaper in his mouth and mumbling, solely to set up a segue into the next act, who you can understand while his lips aren’t moving! It’s ‘friend’ of the blog, Roger De Courcey and Nookie, and like the Bye Bye Man, once I summoned Roger by saying his name, he’s now in everything I watch; Royal Varieties, blueys, lurking in the background of a VHS from my 6th birthday party.

As usual, Roger’s routine is endearing in its balls-out laziness, with a fair chunk of stage-time padded by having Nookie keep saying “pardon?” so Roger has to repeat himself. There’s an admirable use of the decrepit old gag about sea weed — “did it?” — and another about Roger “going for a paddle in the water,” which the piss-obsessed Nookie rebukes as “not very hygienic!” As a commenter recently reminded me, before the pair hit prime time, Nookie was called Bollocks the Bear, and he embraces his anarchic roots by slipping in a “bloody,” plus a joke about going to the “nuddy” beach. “And what were the gentlemen doing?” asks Rog. Nookie: “Hanging about, mostly.” Lovely stuff. But then there’s this.

Roger: “Did you know, you can get iodine from sea weed?

Nookie: “I get mine from the chemist.”

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What? That’s not even a joke (until someone explains it and makes me feel stupid). But it’s hard not to warm to them, with their heartfelt, and slightly mucky sign off “we hope you live as long as you want to…” “…and want to as long as you live.” It seems like we’re in for an all-time great crossover when Nookie introduces The A-Team, but sadly it’s not Mr. T and his mates, but a load of awkward white dancers spinning round in satin shirts and tight trousers, taking the odd choice to sing Stevie Wonder’s I Wish; “looking back on when I was a nappy-headed boy…

Then Joe Brown’s marching on to sing “pop songs of yesteryear,” in an actual pearly king jacket (though they’re just white plastic buttons) and accompanied by a piano sat centre of stage, like the corner of an East End boozer. Even in his resting state, the Roddy Piper-looking Brown is exceedingly cockney, but the pearls and piano amplify his powers ten-fold, and I keep the volume low in fear of waking Barbara Windsor’s ghost, with a medley which plays like 3am ads for a compilation CD of GREATEST GOR BLIMEY COCKNEY KNEES UPS. Brown treats us to Where Did You Get That Hat, All Me Life I Wanted To Be a Barrow Boy, Wotcha (Knocked ‘Em In The Old Kent Road), Any Old Iron, and a song that teaches rhyming slang, where we learn that kippers are “Jack the Rippers.” It’s the setlist Dave Courtney polishes his knuckle dusters to, and the audience are super into it, knowing all the words to all the songs. Joe introduces the next act as someone who “walks, talks, whistles and sings.” Any ideas?

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Barrymore’s back! Now both the ITV and BBC shows are perfectly Barrymore-balanced, they can be judged objectively. This is an early appearance for the big man, before he’d been given his own show, and was known entirely through guest spots on Who Do You Do?, Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, and Blankety Blank. Some of his standards had yet to develop, and most notably, he opens with a jarring “good evening!” rather than “awright?” But then he’s out into the audience, mic cable trailing behind, to pick on an old bloke in the front row. Standard. Things get genuinely interesting when he hops back onstage and asks us to imagine that we’re not here (inside Captain Bill Lewis’s tent), but at a place called Fawlty Towers. It’s a real college-improv-team-setting-the-scene intro — “What has happened is, the cabaret hasn’t turned up for the evening, so Basil has to cover, and it could turn out… well, we’ll see what happens!

Considering how much of the Barrymore stage persona was an unattributed Cleese/Fawlty, it’s fascinating to see him doing the same schtick as an outright impersonation, which — as with every impressionist — is just the funny walk and the “Right! Right! Shut up!” which he did for years as himself anyway. He gets huge laughs pelting back and forth across the stage with all the bandy-legged physical gymnastics, clattering himself in the head with the mic and so on, but when asking, as Basil, if it’s “alright with everyone?” it hits me that Fawlty might’ve been the genesis of “awright?” having evolved out of the recurring tic of “Right! Right! Right!

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Hoo boy, his act whole is wretched, with that joke about an astronaut landing on the sun, where he hops about like his feet are burning, and the ‘classic’ Barrymore move of throwing an audience member out of the theatre. An elderly man who laughs gets the treatment too — “You found that funny, did you, Rumpole? Come on, up you get!” — literally dragged up onstage, far too quickly for his old legs, and leaving him to try to find a way off through the wings while thousands of people shake with hysteria. As we’ve learned, “I hope that one day we meet again” was the closer throughout his career, leading the audience into a sing-along of Dame Vera’s hit, with everyone swaying their arms, though to be fair, it always brings the house down. Perhaps the only way to follow that is with another truly unhinged dance number, and an appearance by Kate Robbins, sadly from the period before she took did comedy impressions and was just a straight singer.

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We close with more of Paul’s magic, bringing up three volunteers, and unable to stop doing an accent after one turns out to be “not English.” It’s a ‘prediction in an envelope’ trick, and if he’s written “I’ll do a funny accent at a foreign woman while awkwardly holding her hand for ages,” then magic is confirmed genuine. The volunteers all have different props — coloured discs, a clock, place names — from which they’ll select one at random. The Swiss lady given the clock reveals herself to be Swiss-German, leading to a gag about it usually going tick-tick-tick, but as a German, “she vill have vays of making it tock!” Very funny and normal to bring up Nazi war crimes to a confused holidaymaker, Paul mate.

He’s usually great value, but this is Daniels at his worst, over-explaining every miniscule aspect of the props to demonstrate they’re ‘real’, and being hugely patronising, in a fucking appalling showing. He seems in a worse mood than when Louis Theroux filmed him in a huff on Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook, and when nervous Sheila’s selecting the place name, he jokingly admonishes her for sitting down without being told, ad-libbing “where I come from, women wait till they’re told before they move,” yelling to the audience “is that right, men?!” The tent fills with deep-voiced cheers, and a single, higher-pitched “no!” “That’s a woman,” says Paul, “shuttup!

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Prediction tricks like this stink, as you know what the ending’s gonna be as soon as it starts. He gets the correct answers — colour, number, place — from an envelope secured away in a magic wooden pagoda with MADE IN HONG KONG written on it, before a model in a bathing suit (wearing the right colour etc) emerges from it too, so all the lads get some magic and a look at a cracking bird. It’s weird that this isn’t Debbie McGee. Is her absence related to his rotten mood and red-pill outbursts? Next to the tiny Paul, this non-Debbie looks eight feet tall. So who takes it, out of ITV and the BBC? Perhaps it’s the coward’s route, but I declare a tie. Both series are as dreadful as they are wonderful, which is a pinpoint metaphor for summertime on these shores. It’ll either be baking hot or pissing down, and what’s more inherently British than that? Plus, Michael Barrymore will be there for some reason.

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

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

Seaside vs. Summertime – Part I

•July 7, 2021 • 3 Comments

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When clocks change and the days get longer, it’s not called British Summertime for nothing. What’s more emblematic of this sceptred isle than humping a load of sandwiches and towels down to the coast on an overly-expensive train, before having to shelter from pissing rain in a theatre playing a matinee bill of terrible variety acts? This most light entertainment of all seasons was celebrated by both main channels, with BBC’s Seaside Special, which ran from 1975-1979, and ITV’s Summertime Special, launching in 1981. But which was best? Sadly, the only real way to find out is for me to sit through them, starting with ITV’s effort, and an episode from one of the later series.

It’s the summer of 1987, and we’re coming from Bournemouth, with opening titles rich in the picture postcard charm of the British seaside; a child eating ice cream, speedboats, a dog with a frisbee, hot bikini ladies with lollies… a zoom into a crawling baby’s bare bottom? Our host at an absolutely heaving venue is Michael Barrymore — last seen in his 1996 live show — bidding us an “awright?!” Having to boil down his trademark bits to fit within the sparse stage-time of an MC really underscores how Barrymore’s act is a patchwork of pilfered material. John Cleese’s walk and voice; Freddie’s Live Aid call-and-response gibberish; the speech rhythms of Stanley Unwin; some very Cosby-like faces. It’s weird to think of Barrymore as having a ‘routine’, outside of ejecting audience members from the studio, but here, we have the rare experience of some actual Barrymore stand-up.

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In form, it’s a bit Lee Evans, using his physicality to act out the skimpy material, which is absolute nonsense about going to the football with 40 mates, all wearing Doc Martens and “parkas with The Who written on the back cos we’ve forgotten who we are,” and acting like hooligans — “throw dart in head, on floor, ahh!” His thinking is clearly “I need some local flavour. What do they have in Bournemouth? In 1987? Ah yes, Mods!” Like that one kid in your junior school, he runs round the stage making engine noises, pretending to ride a moped, kicking imaginary old ladies as he passes, and narrowly avoiding a Spinal Tap moment, when fumbling for the right venue as he acts out a ride “through the town of… Bournemouth.

First act is a singer called Grace Kennedy, accompanied by the appallingly titled Nigel Lythgoe Dancers. Like the show’s other group, Alan Harding’s Summertime Special Dancers, this thing of naming an energetic young dance troupe after their offscreen svengali is something I hope to bring back, eventually branching out into auditions for the Stuart Millard Swingers. Nige’s crew give a very upbeat, very 1980’s rendition of Dancing in the Street; big pink skirts flying and old men pulled from their seats for a ho-down in the aisle; all cut with footage of them jigging through Bournemouth highstreet while bemused shoppers look on, like La La Land directed by Su Pollard. All of Summertime‘s performers showcase the classic variety tics, and there’s a lovely one here, with Kelly arbitrarily repeating the final word at the end of the song, like a climactic full stop — “…dancing in the street. Street!

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Thank you, your grace,” jokes Barrymore, before introducing the next act by instinctively doing the arms-out mime for an overweight person, with the words “…a big man, i’m sure he’s gonna go very big with you….” Out comes Dave Lee, who you may recognise as one of the main culprits in Jim Davidson’s mucky pantos. But eight years before Sinderella, and with a strictly family audience, there’ll be no gags about fingering his arsehole here. The young Lee’s in a spectacular silver suit and tie, like something you’d read in a farmer’s eyewitness report from a 1974 book about UFOs. His opening joke is a knowing “I’ve not been well, I just got over anorexia,” and along with Barrymore’s intro, you might be imagining him to be enormous. However, Lee’s no Manning or Eddie Large, or even Peter Kay, and a routine about being big and fat plays weirdly when he’s merely Tarby-shaped. Were there no tubby comics then? Such a novelty, you could be 13 stone and build your whole act off it?

It’s a poor showing which doesn’t go down great, ending on that old gag about an elderly streaker — “whatever he was wearing, it needed ironing.” The best part is his textbook sign-off, a cheery “good night, god bless, be lucky, thank you!” Be lucky? Wish you’d told me that before I had to watch you doing a slash on Jim Davidson. Though Lee never made it on the national stage before his death in 2012, he was so beloved in his hometown of Canterbury, having raised over £2m for the disabled and under-privileged with his Dave Lee Happy Holidays Charity, that a bronze statue was erected on the bench outside the Marlowe theatre, where he made over a thousand (non-adult) panto appearances. I’ve a feeling that’s where they’ll find me dead someday, sat like Edgar Allen Poe, my cold fingers clutching a tattered programme for Boobs in the Wood.

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Tragically for the live audience, and for me, Lee is the best of the night’s three comedians by some distance, though his outfit’s one-upped by New Faces contestant Rudi West, in full gold foil suit, shoes and all. His extraordinary look’s topped off with a bleached flopping mullet and football manager tash, as he immediately takes a header off the stage, with an energetic act that’s extremely Davro/Pasquale/a Binbag Filled With Shitty Nappies. As evidenced on here many times, this was the era of pretending you couldn’t pronounce Arnie’s name for a funny joke, and Rudi adds to the list with “Arnold’s Wets-his-knickers,” before doubling down with the surely the worst gag I’ll witness this decade — “what was that Hulk fella, that Lou Fishfingero?

The rest of the act involves a literal joke shop Reagan mask, whipping off his shirt and slinging on a sash of bullets to stagger round as Reagan/Rambo, before serenading us with “a typical American song,” namely cancelled Confederate anthem I Wish I Was in Dixie. Note that West has a strong Sunderland accent, as he slowly croons out lyrics like “I wish I was in the land of cotton,” and wringing the mask’s comic mileage dry by puppeteering it into slurping up bogies. Inexplicably after all the sweaty silliness, Dixie segues into a Yarwood Earnest Finale, albeit with another beautiful example of the terrible variety goodbye; “[singing] look awaaaaay Dixiiiiiie… [speaking, in a non-silly normal voice] goodnight [singing again] …laaaaaaaaaand!

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There’s a couple more musical acts, with Chas and Dave’s Margate, over clips of them sat on deckchairs at the beach — the highlight of the show — plus Errol Brown miming to Personal Touch. As he takes his bow, Barrymore adds “Errol Brown with his Personal Touch, and very nice it is too, Errol — wahey!” flinching like Errol’s just goosed him. But soon he’s saying those magic words, “it’s off to our disco championships with Nino Firetto.” Disco championships in 1987? how long have they been going on for?! It turns out he misspoke, and this is just plain old dancing, on a bright yellow stage on Bournemouth beach. Firetto’s hair puts me off my dinner, the tousled mulled draped over the shoulders like a mink scarf which Falcon from Gladiators would take right into the nineties.

The dancing on display once again raises the question ‘was everything naff back then?’, genuinely, at a level that wouldn’t get past the pre-auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, unless the contestant had an obvious learning difficulty they could edit into a funny montage. Don’t misunderstand, most things are bad now, but never so jarringly inept as on old telly. Is it because, at some point, we begun to take everything far too seriously? Telling ourselves we need to be successful; need to hustle and grind on 3 hours sleep if we want to be the best? Because moves like these on a TikTok would never leave your drafts folder. Michelle from Scunthorpe’s curly perm bobbles along to Axel F; Douglas ‘Fresh’ does forward rolls in a Kung Fu outfit; Garry — with SGT Funk embroidered on a cheap Michael Jackson outfit — is forced to hop around the karate slippers of ‘Fresh’, who kicked them off mid-routine and just left them on the stage.

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But there’s something wholesome about the haphazard nature, with no sob stories of dead nans or dramatic zooms on the appalled/amazed faces of judges, who are merely nice and give out points, neither destroying the contestants nor informing them they’re about to become the most famous and beloved person in the world. Summertime‘s ad breaks are likewise a scrapbook of the time, filled with strong women in power suits, Morecambe’s Wild West theme park Frontierland, the Daily Mail slogan “a newspaper not a snoozepaper,” and Bobby Davro being chased by a lion while shilling Sunday Mirror bingo.

We return for more Nigel Lythgoe Dancers, prancing in old timey sailor suits onboard a ship to Step in Time from Mary Poppins, in a real sexless “this bit’s for the nans” display of campery, with an actual knees up outside an 18th century mariner’s pub while puffy-sleeved men doff their tricorn hats. In hindsight, a few more minutes would’ve been okay, as Barrymore then introduces Northern Ireland comedian Adrian Walsh, “a man with his own unique sense of humour.” I don’t know if unique’s the word, as this your basic oldschool stand-up, but it’s certainly the worst performance by a comic on these pages since the atrocity of Just Adger on Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker.

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An opening routine about asking “lovely ladies” to dance at the ballroom plays to polite chuckles, before a man who’s been paid to perform on television, and whose job description is ‘comedian’ says this; “Is it any wonder our kids are confused? Have you looked at the pop charts recently?! We’ve got two footballers… Hoddle and Waddle. I thought it was two ducks!” Sorry, but I’m not having that. Waddle, yes, but have a little self-respect. And what’s something you’d say if you were playing the comedy character of a hacky out of touch old stand-up? I’d wager something like: “have you heard the names of these pop stars these days? UB40? I thought that was a German submarine!

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it gets worse — “Feargal Sharkey. Have you ever had that on your feet?” You what, mate? Walsh’s other examples of the wacky names young pop kids have these days are Boxcar Willie (b 1931) and Julio Iglesias, of whom he does that most rancid of dullard’s punchlines, “that’s worth 7000 points in Scrabble!” As a high-level Scrabble player myself, let’s finally put this hoary old chestnut to bed. At 8 points, the J is the highest value tile, on what’s such a low-scoring selection of letters, you’d be better off skipping a turn to risk a swap, plus you can’t lay two words at once, and you’re not allowed to put names down anyway. In a selection box of rank jokes, here’s a few more Walsh bangers.

At least in the 50s and 60s our pop stars had proper names, right? Earth, Wind & Fire, what a wonderful name for an Indian restaurant!

On the notion of Samantha Fox doing Romeo and Juliet: “she’s not much of an actress, but boy can she hang over a balcony!

And on Richard Branson: “Would you fly in a balloon called Virgin? He should’ve known it wasn’t gonna go all the way!

07

Then we return from another break and something… happens, which I was not prepared for. Barrymore’s back out, but sans jacket and mic, and he’s dancing; gangly body flailing, polo shirt tucked into his trousers, and miming to a backing track of his own singing. What I said before about naffness, if your neighbour got up and did this at a BBQ, someone would be leading them back to their seat within seconds. What’s he miming to, you ask? I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves. “There’s a crab called Valentino, he really knows how to dance… a little quickstep down by the ocean, with a sexy sideways motion...”

Recognise it? One of Jay-Z’s isn’t it? Or something from The Fall’s extensive back catalogue? No, this is Michael Barrymore’s own novelty single from that very summer, Doin’ The Crab, which sits in the song category of ‘doing The X’, with lyrics comprised of instructions for the dance moves – “you move to the right, then to the left and you wiggle your toes…” Popularised by The Time Warp, it’s a well-trodden format for the pop culture cash-in, like The Bartman, The Urkel, and The Office‘s parody of the trope, The Scarn, plus — once I get that troupe trained up — The Millard Shuffle.

08

Note that the single’s sleeve gives Barrymore’s catchphrase the official spelling of a hyphenated “al-wight!” As he’s joined in doin’ the crab by a group of backing dancers, we should all be overwhelmed by the deepest collective shame at having slept on this, especially after the long-fabled gospel cover of I’ll See You When You Get There and his Backstreet’s Back both recently resurfaced. It’s a long ol’ song though, joined by a row of children — “1,2,3,4, walkin’ sideways ‘cross the floor” — and with a dance breakdown that’s punctuated by Barrymore’s rather un-crablike cries of “Yo!” As soon as it’s over; signalled by him triumphantly hoisting a small boy into the air; it veers into familiar Barrymore territory, with characteristic crowd bants and directionless piddling about. He gives a copy of the Crab 7 inch to an old lady in the front row, before making her pay for it, and squatting down to count out the change. Then he asks “by the way, have we got any ladies in tonight?” and on a response in the affirmative, excitedly thrusts his dick at them, with a horny “awright!

But banter with the gals in the balcony doesn’t work, ruined when they have to repeat where they’re from three times and he still can’t hear, soberly blaming it on a perforated eardrum. In his prime, big Michael Barrymore was considered one of those talents, like Robin Williams, where you’d give them a mic and stand back to watch ’em go, but in hindsight, this is just poor quality time-filling; the mortifying sight of somebody unable to stop showing off. He serenades a pensioner in the balcony with Are You Lonesome Tonight — “would you like some tonight?” — with another hip thrust and three quick little awrightawrightawrights like he’s just fired a volley of cum into his slacks. The lyrics get changed to Strike It Lucky references, before he’s anarchically ripping up the flooring, and pointing out someone in the audience as “Odd Job” — though as they’re not shown, you couldn’t convict him in a court of law for being racist.

09

After pretending to be a child doing a shit, in what’s his trademark closer, as seen on his live tour a decade later, he leads everyone through an arm-waving sing-along of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, repeatedly and very sincerely, sharing his hopes that we all do (meet again). We might have started out in the summer of ’87, but the ending feels like we’ve gone back four decades, especially with such a strict rationing of jokes. How can the BBC possibly counter this? As it turns out, the only way to retaliate against Michael Barrymore… is with more Michael Barrymore, inadvertently turning July’s blog content into a themed month. I hope that’s awright.

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

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

Saturday Morning Archaeology: Saturday Superstore

•June 28, 2021 • 4 Comments

A dense 23 mins, my latest video essay takes in frustrated rockstar Mike Read, the role of Saturday morning shows as analogue social media, and the wistful sight of David Icke laughing with friends.

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

There’s over 500,000 words of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

The Little and Large Show

•June 17, 2021 • 8 Comments

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[more Little and Large: Who Do You Do?Double DareStout and Reed]

Since I made it my business to cover the very worst in pop culture, I’ve built up a list of Holy Grails, which have so far been impossible to track down. Bobby Davro’s Rock with Laughter. Lynne Perrie’s softcore/comedy workout video. All 27-hours of each ITV Telethon. An early 2000’s Channel 5 show which gave celebrities prosthetic make-up, to help them experience life with a facial disfigurement; Caprice with a port wine birthmark and so on. Burn victim Craig Charles misunderstood the brief, leaping out at passers-by as a slavering horror movie creep. While some lost treasures, like Keith Chegwin’s Naked Jungle have eventually shown up online, others seem destined to rot, forgotten and un-Millarded, at the back of a nan’s attic. This was particularly true of my number one want, The Little and Large Show. With just a single Christmas special finding its way onto YouTube, 75 episodes remained unseen, of what legend tells is some of the worst comedy every created.

In lieu of the proper series, I had to satiate my appetite with their guest appearances on Double Dare and Who Do You Do?, which are linked at the top, and you may wish to read before continuing. Such was my obsession, I even penned a 27,000 word novella centring on a fictionalised version of their relationship, titled Stout and Reed, for the $5 tier of my Patreon. As a consequence, like my Charles Manson, imagined versions of Syd and Eddie have been living in my head for a while, and should the series ever surface, I knew I’d have to re-separate them again. And then it happened; The Little and Large Show suddenly appeared, and I dropped everything.

01

Eddie Large and ‘Supersonic’ Syd Little previously headlined their own show on ITV, with The Little and Large Telly Show running for a single series in 1977, before the pair transferred to the BBC the following year, as an intended replacement for Morecambe and Wise, who’d jumped the other way. In a golden age for double acts, none represented their stage names so cartoonishly as Little and Large. The big, round face of Eddie, topped by a sweaty mop of Kevin Keegan curls, and a pie-built body stuffed into a creaking suit, only helped emphasise the lankiness of Syd. With limbs like broom handles, and coke bottle glasses magnifying his gormless, blank expressions, they were a perfect comic pairing, who you could’ve identified from shadows alone.

Though they began at the BBC with a special, I’m starting at the beginning of the series proper, at episode one, originally airing on Saturday 30th September 1978 at 8:30pm, between All Creatures Great and Small and Starsky and Hutch. Animated titles show the lads waving through portholes of a UFO that’s circling the planet, before parachuting into the BBC. And then Eddie’s out by himself, welcoming us to the show before he’s joined by Syd, who’s dressed as a chicken. “Hello, my little chickadee,” says Eddie, “sssssufferin’ succotash!” All the choices I’ve made over the course of my life have brought me to this moment.

02

Like all the variety acts, Little and Large have a trademark bit. Perfected during their years in the working men’s clubs, it’s this routine which brought them to the dance, winning Opportunity Knocks and landing them their own series. You know the one; Syd tries to sing or tell a story, but Eddie keeps interrupting with impressions and gags. Also used by Cannon and Ball, this is the standard skit for the era’s double acts, and it’s on full display in the opener, which functions as a five-minute encapsulation of an entire career. A best and worst of, all at once. Eddie batters Syd with a relentless series of abysmal bird puns — the Incredible Hawk, Canary Grant, George Seagull — and impressions; voices which over the course of six episodes, we will hear many, many times. There are two jokes about boobs. Syd fucks up a line. Eddie walks offstage, quickly returning in a bird costume of his own, holding a giant wishbone and singing Brown Girl in the Ring. “Who’s that?” asks Syd. “Wish-Boney-M!” replies Eddie. This is Little and Large.

03

As becomes clear very quickly, this is not simply a routine of theirs; it’s the whole act. In another skit, mere five minutes later, Eddie (dressed as the Hunchback of Notre Dame) shouts over Syd with impersonations of Roland Rat, Les Dawson, and Kerry Packer, with a routine about the Emmannuelle films, solely to get to a line about “practising yoga, bare,” allowing him to go into a “hey-hey, Boo-Boo!” and a punchline about “the biggest boo-boos I’ve ever seen.” Three minutes after that, a segment titled Supersonic Sings Sinatra has Syd sat at a bar in a fedora, mic in hand, and getting a single line out, before Eddie pops into frame; bald wig, gigantic comedy sunglasses, and biting into a lollypop as Kojak. Then there’s ping-pong balls over the eyes — “ah, glasshoppah! Confucius, he say man with Chinese cat who keeps looking through ladies windows has Peking tom!

The set-up of Syd stood or sat in front of something; a bar, wall or hedge; while Eddie pops up in different wigs, is their most frequent format, like old arcade games where every level’s the same, except this time it’s a sewer instead of a street. Here, we get Eddie’s Benny from Crossroads, his Jimmy Savile, and in a madcap run through characters after snatching the mic off Syd altogether, fifteen different celebrities. But it’s mostly worth it when Sooty pops up on his right hand, followed by Sweep on his left, and finally Soo, rising up in the middle as Eddie looks down aghast, his expression inferring “she’s on the end of me prick!”

04

In a half-hour show, and with six minutes going to guest acts, Eddie does 59 different impressions (not including recurring voices), and on paper, you may be wowed by the sheer volume. But though Eddie Large would never have claimed to be a great mimic, let’s make something very clear; they are absolutely fucking dreadful. A large percentage begin “Hi, (name of celebrity) here!” and are so otherwise unrecognisable, you wonder if he’s only ever seen a photo. Who can’t do a guessable David Bellamy? Eddie Large, that’s who. Sometimes they’re just his own voice, as with a Larry Grayson which sounds like someone reading Larry’s quotes off a piece of paper, and play like those funny videos of fusty lawyers flatly reciting rap lyrics about pooing in a policeman’s mouth as evidence in a obscenity trial.

This unrelenting barrage of impersonations leaves room for merely a handful of proper sketches over the whole series. It’s all just a vehicle for Eddie to machine gun us to death with very similar voices, using an actual, literal box of wigs and funny glasses, always within reach, to dip into like a brutal mob torturer slowly caressing a glinting array of pliers and scalpels. Characters rarely last longer than a line, and as he flits between accents and hats, it feels as though you’re watching a man with 1,000 different personalities all fighting for control. Weirdly, the comparison which comes to mind with Eddie’s frenetic leaping about is Chris Farley, if he’d come up through the northern clubs. For Syd, I can’t choose between a mop or a brick wall.

05

Eddie’s ramrodding is broken up by weekly guest artists, like the Four Tops, Charley Pride, and the Drifters, plus a regular spot for sexy dance troupe Geoffrey Richer’s Birds of a Feather (classic named-after-male-choreographer titling). In their debut routine, they’re dancing in and out of mock shower cubicles with horny plumbing innuendo like “shove more coal on the boiler” and “the radiator’s hissing, but still I need your kissing.” The absolutely demented lyrics really bear repeating, played between towel-clad showgirls with the “what do we want?!” rhythm of a protest march.

Coal in the boiler?

No good!

Oil in the burner?

No good!

Is it coal?

No!

Hot?

Yes!

Yes it is! Come on people, get hot!

What’s the allusion here? Boiler is obviously fanny, but oil and coal? Cum? A bollock? Talking of bollocks, banter aside, we have a filmed insert to fill time, where the lads lark about with members of the public. I say ‘the lads,’ but Syd’s just stood there. He doesn’t even have a mic. Eddie trades impressions with old men, children, and shirtless teens on the beach; civilians literally getting trusted to do more than Syd Little on his own show, with one lad doing a Rigsby and Norman Wisdom, and another bloke busting out proper gags as Groucho. A small boy’s Blue Peter joke — “today we’ll show you how to make a kite out of Angela Rippon’s knickers!” — gets a reaction Syd could only dream of. “I wish I was taller,” says Eddie, leering down a woman’s cleavage, and when a kid does his John Wayne, Syd’s not even in frame.

06

A lot’s been made of Syd Little’s legendary ineptness, especially by me, but in freebasing so much raw footage, one begins to feel oddly sympathetic for the author of autobiographies Little by Little and Little Goes a Long Way. Syd’s strength as a ‘performer’ is in knowing his role, which is to stand next to Eddie Large as he puts on a cowboy hat and says “I’m John Wayne.” Though there’s a loose, pissing-about feel, it’s Syd who blows his lines most frequently, relying on Eddie to improvise things back on track. At one point, Eddie teases him for coming in too early — “you nearly killed my laugh then!” — and later, Syd bumbles a line with “I was fed up with being thinny and skin...” “Thinny and skin?!” gasps Eddie, as the audience erupts, before a sudden and obvious edit.

For the first episode’s closer, Syd’s interrupted by Eddie in a mumu and false beard as Demis Roussos. And then as Rolf. And American TV detective Cannon. While the voices aren’t good, at least there’s jokes, like Eddie saying Syd knows nothing about telly — “he thinks Pot Black’s a cooking show about cannibals!” Eddie reckons Farrah Fawcett should present The Sky at Night, “because she’s a heavenly body,” as ‘Patrick Moore’ tells us when she loses all her teeth, she’ll be known as “Farrah False-set Majors!” This kind of agonised, arms length reaching to a punchline is typical of L&L’s material. In episode six, Syd accuses Eddie of being unromantic — “you haven’t got a heart!” Eddie tells him nobody has, as from tomorrow, the Trade Descriptions Act is legally changing the word ‘heart’ to ‘pump’. It’s just the pathway to more impressions, like Tony Bennett (“I left my pump in San Francisco…”) and Elton John (“don’t go breaking my pump!”).

07

Episode one ends with Eddie rifling through the dressing up box for a gauntlet of Wonder Woman, the Man from Atlantis, Karl Malden — “hi, I’m Karl Malden from The Streets of San Francisco” — the Smash Aliens, Rigsby, and for the second time tonight, Kermit and Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps the highlight is a non sequitur of chanting “Supersonic is a moron!” as himself, before they close with a ‘duet’ of Gimme Dat Thing, with Eddie trying to steal the mic.

There’s no sense in these early shows, as there is with the later appearances which inspired Stout and Reed, that Eddie might’ve been putting the boots to Syd backstage for how useless he was, and weirdly, Eddie isn’t even that large here. He’s tubby at best, incredibly energetic with it, and visually shorter than Syd, who doesn’t seem as thin as the Syd Little of legend, in comparison to a smaller Eddie. An odd foible is how they always stand with Eddie on Syd’s right, breaking the Ant and Dec rule of a double act’s onscreen positions giving a correct ‘reading’ of their names, and rendering them visually as Large and Little.

Episode two opens with Eddie in an incredible red velvet suit and Syd dressed all Shakespearean, armed with Yorick and ready to perform a soliloquy. Would you believe it, Eddie keeps butting in? He’s putting a fez on the skull to do Tommy Cooper, then Eric Morecambe, Cliff Richard III and Miss Piggy, where the mask doesn’t fit over his head, and sits halfway up his face as he sings Hey Pig Spender; then Kojack again, Henry Cooper, Les Dawson. Sid just stands there. Soon, Syd’s got a bow in his hair, singing The Good Ship Lollypop, which he grossly pronounces “wowwypop,” and you’re praying for Eddie to come out. But then he does, and you’re praying for death instead.

08

Most of the show’s surprisingly risqué — or rather, crude — for something pre-watershed, with so many of Eddie’s jokes focussing on great big wobbly jugs, and making constant sexual references to famous women. His Benny from Crossroads shows up at least once a week to brag about nobbing Miss Diane, and it’s all the exact kind of stuff we’d have done in the playground as kids. I can vividly picture me and my chums playing Ghostbusters while some third year in an unwashed parka corners us to perform Eddie’s Buddy Holly song about Robin Hood before scuttling off — “Maid Marian said, she’s sat sobbin’, nine months gone and no sign of Robin, oh boy!” You half expect him to ask Syd if he’s ever touched a BMW, before dead-legging him into eating a urinal cake. “Have you got AIDS, Syd? Are you positive?”

Though David Renwick and Eddie Braben get listed as writers (presumably with Satan going uncredited), it’s a shocker not to see the boy from your class who kept turning his eyelids inside out on there too. Truly, the Little and Large Show contains some of the smelliest, low-grade jokes ever spoken out loud; not worthy of the bin at the Christmas cracker factory, let alone television. Regard, a bit where Eddie’s dressed as a pirate, hopping on using a crutch, which is under the wrong arm because “I’m an Irish pirate!” and with a parrot on his shoulder called Starsky — “Starsky and Crutch!” He’s also pulling a plank of wood on a dog lead. You figure it out. I kept a running list of the very worst gags, and I think I’ve settled on a pretty sturdy top/bottom five.

  • Eddie, on Syd getting his acting skills from the Old Vic: “I told him to use a new jar!
  • Eddie with an Australian accent: “What do they call a happy dog in Wogga Wogga? A wagger-wagger!
  • Eddie: “Tell ’em about that film you were in, about that very tall Welshman; The Longest Dai…”
  • Eddie as Cliff Richard: “I’ve just invented a new version of the rumba with my hairdresser, it’s called the rum-barber!
  • Eddie as Brian Clough as a Red Indian: “What’s the closest thing to silver? The Lone Ranger’s botty!

09

This is a good time to inform you the show had fifteen million viewers at its peak. There’s little respite, even when stepping outside the banter for rare sketches. These are generally quickies, like Syd calling a depression hotline and the phone box exploding, or walking to the Mastermind chair under its ponderous theme, only for Eddie to wrap a hairdressing cape over him. The most avant-garde moment of the series sees Syd as a policeman and Eddie crawling around on the floor as a lost dog, begging for scraps — “I’m a little lost doggie and I’m starving!” But he actually is a dog, and Syd hears his dialogue as barks. Though it seems like the most obvious thing they could do, there’s just one Stan and Ollie skit, where Syd’s performance, even for him, is really something. Perhaps he’s feeling vulnerable, left blind without his glasses, at the mercy of Eddie Large, and spends it fiddling with a bow-tie while Eddie does most of the talking, nervously getting his few lines out noticeably quietly. It’s a weird routine based around a magic cabinet, building to a parody of The Fly, where Syd/Stan gets a mouse’s head and Eddie/Ollie a mouse body; and all just an unbelievably convoluted contrivance for the obviously-thought-up-first punchline “that’s another fine mouse you got me into!

10

Occasionally, we even break from the studio for outdoor sketches shot on film, which feels like being afforded yard time when you’ve been sat on death row. Crossroads Street features Eddie as various soap characters, and gifts us the brilliant visual of him sat in a wheelchair and whipping Syd, who’s pulling him like a horse, before Syd gets stabbed to death by Benny from Crossroads. In another, Supersonic’s walking through the street singing My Way, and getting abused by various bystanding Eddies; cutting through his mic wire, nicking the replacement mic (as Kojak) after mistaking it for a lollypop, popping a champagne cork into Syd’s mouth, and leaving him in rags by the end, after being blown up, with Eddie standing triumphantly on his sobbing, battered body. Maybe there’s something to this bullying theory after all.

But mostly it’s all just the exact same thing, over and over again. Syd in an art gallery, Eddie doing celebrities as paintings (Larry Grayson, “what a Goya day!”). Syd in a pith hat at the zoo, Eddie doing celebrities as animals (Kojak panda, Frank Spencer chimp). Syd in a bath, Eddie doing celebrities as fish (rubber octopus in a bald wig, “who loves ya, octopussy cat?”). Syd as a fairy sat on a mushroom, Eddie doing celebrities as dwarves. I’m 4 episodes into a run of 77. At this point, I’ve perhaps gotten too complacent. Yeah, yeah, Syd’s addressing the lay jeh-men. Eddie will come out in a costume. I get it. I’m blogging’s bad boy, and I know everything! And I’m right; he does.

11

Blacked up everywhere but the face, Eddie’s gone full comedy Zulu; armed with a spear and squeezed into a black body stocking; grass skirt, bone through the hair, and patting his stomach while singing “oh black belly, bam-a-lam!” There’s an envelope spiked on the tip of the spear. “It’s blackmail,” says Eddie, belting out King of the Swingers, but with amended lyrics of “I’ve got lots of big black spots, we’ve run out of TCP!” He reels off a list of jungle food — “boiled beef and parrots, snake and kidney pie” — however the natives; “all they eat is insects, WHAT HAVE WE GOT ON DE MENU TODEY?!” With a final joke about Tarzan slapping one of Jane’s titties flat, he mimes a tribal dance round a fire, chanting the name Showaddywaddy by way of introducing them.

Presumably when the budget allows, they venture into visual gags which are just as CBBC as the one-liners, with Eddie climbing up a ladder to an eight-foot tall can of fly spray, to render the audience unconscious, and a bit where he’s holding a dog lead that stretches offstage and about twenty feet into the air. “What’d you call it?”Sir.” “Where does it sleep?” “Anywhere it likes.” Eventually, it drags the pair across the studio floor, with Syd’s legs kicking wildly all the way. Reader, I did laugh, and I won’t pretend I don’t occasionally get blindsided by a funny line or surprising reveal. One sketch with Eddie as mayor conducting the Young Musicians of the Year pans to a load of prams with tubas and trumpets poking out, and in a grand finale with duelling guitars, Eddie’s is on an elastic strap, which is a genuinely hilarious visual. My favourite joke of the series involves Syd being interrupted by Eddie’s Columbo.

Eddie: “By the way, my wife thinks you’re terrific!

Syd: “Oh, is she a fan?

Eddie: “No, she’s stupid.”

12

When I’m watching stuff for these pieces, the general rule is that footage takes four or five times as long to get through while taking notes, with all the rewinding and transcribing and whatnot. Consequently, there might only be three hours of this, but I’ve been marathoning it all day, leaving me near delirium by episode six, with moments coming at me like trucks, barrelling into my exhausted body as I stagger across the motorway; Eddie at the wheel and Syd locked in the boot. Eddie as a pirate, singing “fifteen men on Cyril Smith’s chest, twelve down his shirt and three up his vest!” Eddie as Norman Wisdom and Emu; “Mr. Grimsdale! Stop it, Emu!” Eddie singing a frenetic Shake, Rattle and Roll, and telling Syd it was written “the day after the girls burned their bras.” Needing two guitars for the big finish, Eddie calling off-frame, “Hey, the Fonz wants a guitar! Hey, sit on it Cunningham!

Eddie’s Elton John. He’s Bobby Ball. He’s Liberace, making a joke about Raquel Welch’s massive knockers. Syd’s about to sing, but Eddie’s butting in as Rigsby; he’s rooting around in the hat box. Now he’s Benny. Top Cat. Norman Wisdom. It’s terrible and depressing, and unbelievably repetitive. And yet. Even with the rancid material, it’s hard not to get swept up in how much fun they’re having. Eddie’s face lights up on every punchline, his chubby cheeks curling up into his ears, eyes flitting about the studio to catch everyone’s reactions, and like Cannon and Ball, they’re battling through corpses all the way.

13

Though I wouldn’t recommend sitting through this in big doses (or even at all), the whole teetering structure is almost propped up by its endearing naffness, and though you definitely won’t be laughing, there is a certain joy by osmosis to be had. I don’t know if this sense of fun held up over the years, with the show incredibly having spanned three decades, lasting from 1978 to 1991. Against all good judgement, I’m really curious to what that final series looked like, being that the format wore itself out before episode one was over. After years of citing The Little and Large Show as one of my televisual Holy Grails, and now languishing in the post-Eddie exhaustion of having experienced it, two things have become clear. The first is to be careful what you wish for, followed by the terrible feeling that I’m far from finished with the lads.

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

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

 
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