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As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish.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 – Mr. T Motivates You

•June 28, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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 videos, 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.

Royal Variety: Part II

•June 19, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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 videos, 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.

Pauline’s Quirkes

•June 9, 2022 • Leave a Comment

header

As a one-line pitch to sell me on something, ‘chat-cum-magazine-cum-sketch show hosted by a teenage Pauline Quirke’ is hard to top. The title’s even got a pun in it! Pauline’s Quirkes debuted on Thames, on November 15th 1976, for a six episode run, with Gilliam-style opening titles where Quirke as King Kong rises from the depths to devour the Thames logo with a hearty belch. Each episode kicks off with the theme — “What’s her name? What’s her game?” — belted out by energetic young pop group, Flintlock; a five-piece who’d previously been house band on kid-comedy show You Must Be Joking, in which Pauline also starred. But as it turns out, they’re more than just the Roots to Pauline ‘s Jimmy Fallon, and that initial pitch is a Pauline Quirke-shaped Trojan Horse, for one of the Top 5 weirdest things I’ve ever sat through.

The seventeen-year-old Quirke is merely a smaller iteration of the one we all know from Maisie Raine and Emmerdale, and that thing about a serial killer which was constantly trailed on ITV, with her sat behind bars threatening “do what I want or I’ll stick pins in you,” and she seems to have been born fully-formed. I feel like the teenage me would be unrecognisable, both physically and in mannerisms, from the modern Millard, but Linda Robson appears too, and you could’ve dropped the pair straight into Birds of a Feather, as-is. From the start, there’s a lot of Python-esque wall-breaking and meta stuff, getting into an argument with the announcer and then taking a pie to the face. In one episode, everyone runs out of frame cos “there’s a sketch coming!” which barges in from the left, and Pauline will open a dressing room door to nearly get flattened by a bluescreened speeding train.

01

The series’s prevailing theme is gender inequity, and Pauline does some political stand-up, all ‘how come boys can wear trousers to school while girls have to wear skirts?’ — “in the winter, the wind goes right up it!” This segues into a survey section, taken from the readers of Look In magazine, and hosted by Pauline, Flintlock drummer Mike Holoway, and Nula Conwell, who went onto play Viv Martella in The Bill. Mike’s aghast at suggestions of boys doing housework and dads looking after their babies, while Pauline reads a letter from a girl who wishes her dad would push the pram, with The Quirke calling him “a right male chauvinist pig!” She tells us that boys are shy too, and girls; “if you want your fella to be more adventurous, then tell him; encourage him, make him!

Of note here is a letter replying to the query “what would you most like to see the opposite sex doing?” from a 7 year old boy called Mmoloki Chrystie. He simply replied ‘kissing me.’” Little horn-dog Mmoloki would grow up to be in Grange Hill, and take centre stage in the Just Say No campaign. But there’s heavy focus on a very specific issue; should boys be allowed to wear dresses? In pre-Drag Race times, the very idea gets huge laughs, with Mike daring a lad who says he would to see what ‘appens, insisting that he’d never do such a thing. Asked if he can run faster in a skirt, he replies “I’d have to,” implying…? What seems like a regular opinions bit only happens once, taking on an entirely different slant the further one treks into Pauline’s Quirkes, which is thoroughly and compulsively fixated on getting Flintlock into girls’ clothes.

02

With its single-mindedness, much of the show plays like those imaginary ‘forced feminisation videos’ your Alex Jones types think are hypnotising kids into using the wrong toilets, with half the sketches building to a punchline where Flintlock are emasculated; wearing a dress, crying, or putting on a 70’s comedy homosexual voice. A classroom skit about sexist uniform rules ends with Flintlock standing up to reveal they’re in skirts, while another sees sat Mike in the audience with Linda Robson, who tells him seductively “I haven’t got a bra on today,” before turning to camera with “I have really.” Mike too, looks into the lens; “so have I!” Two of the boys are gay policemen (“Goodnight, super.” “Goodnight, gorgeous!”), cuddling up and swinging their whistles camply, and when they’re cavemen, one simpers “he loves me!” after a bandmate clubs him over the head. All these early examples of shipping send the audience into conniptions.

Pauline makes an announcement that the sketches aren’t real, and “when Flintlock take part in them, they are only acting,” in one of a few bits which tread the line between ‘just a joke’ and something the band’s management demanded be written in, to clarify to their young, record-buying fans that they don’t really have knickers on under their flares. “If there’s anyone who’s a bit kinky here, it isn’t Derek for wearing dresses, it’s the writer” — but hee-hee, it was Bill from Flintlock who wrote all them gay skits!

03

For all the recurring talk of sexism, and despite the title, this is entirely The Flintlock Show, clearly a marketing exercise, ala The Monkees, but needing someone capable of holding everything together. You’re never more than five minutes from a (mimed) Flintlock number, drowned out by audience screams, the air thick with the hormonal violence of first love. In every thrashing row, scarves wave with band member names knitted into the design, where CAROLINE LOVES JAMIE stretches across the seats like an SOS. “Cor,” says Pauline, “you’ve gotta admit it girls, they are ‘andsome, ent they?” It’s Mike who fills the Mark Owen/Davey Jones role, of the smallest one they fancy the most, and consequently gets all the screentime. Looking like a young Tony Blackburn, he’d graduate from this to The Tomorrow People.

With an audience 100% comprised of their fans, each appearance of the boys elicits rabid screams, crushing everything under a wall of noise; the savage power of adolescent lust and longing. As a viewer, the unending sonic exhaustion feels like being sat underneath Michael Jackson’s hotel balcony (minus the threat of falling babies), and as there’s no real difference between screams of excitement and those of pain, when they sing about — say — taking you into their bedroom and turning out the light, it sounds like when that Swedish drill team supposedly bored right into Hell.

04

Where this noticeably differs from usual TV audiences is its unfiltered nature, not beholden to signs cuing applause, and absolutely refusing to quieten down when they should, leaving every reaction painfully natural. Unable to hold it in, shouts come like heckles, every sketch under fire from the shrieking of names, as though the band might step offstage into the cheap seats and sweep a fourteen year old girl onto the tour bus. Anyone who’s not part of the group feels in genuine danger, with one wrong word capable of tipping the whole thing into civil disobedience; demonstrated with the astonishing level of aggression when Pauline pretends to flirt with of “their” lads, or when it’s joked that bass player Jamie is stupid; furious ripostes cutting through the dialogue of “HE ISN’T! HE ISN’T!” Even the appearance of an actual flintlock pistol has them losing their minds in Pavlovian mania.

This demented fan energy is the juice which powers the engine, and everything in Pauline’s Quirkes is devised to milk it. Episode one starts a running bit with a shoulders-up poster where the band are shirtless, and the rumour of a full-length version “in the noddy!” which sets off an estrogenous warhead. Barely audible beneath the shrill cacophony, the band promise to bring it next week; “all of us wiv nuffink on, except our socks!” It’s here I should point out that Mike is fifteen years old, and the rest of the band not much older. Perhaps I’ll end up on the register for pressing play on episode two, which opens with a marching Pauline chanting “rudie time for Flintlock fans!” But it’s repeatedly put off until later, after another song; another sketch; with each postponement causing angry no’s and rowdy chants which quake the bleachers. If they don’t get their dicks out before the end credits, the gates of Thames Television will wear the piked head of Pauline Quirke.

05

Refusing to let them play until they’ve exposed their teenage penises, the place comes unglued when she finally unrolls the poster; but to agonised cries and a collective “NOOOO!” like they’ve witnessed someone fall to their death from a trapeze — the crotch parts have been snipped out with scissors. With the air of a pilot calling for calm during a hijacking, Pauline moans “they’ve cut out the bit we all wanted to see, ent they, girls?!” until Mike (15) announces they’ll strip off, right now, the reaction to which broke every window in my street. Of course, they’re interrupted for time, but promise that next week “Flintlock live in the studio, with nuffing on at all!” “Except our socks!

It’s wild how long they milk it, with half the entire run devoted to the promise of Flintdick, and show three opens with the threat “they’ll rip off a lot more than just your clothes,” implying cannibalised genitals. Edging fans to the brink, a fake-out where they start unbuttoning is only watchable with the volume down, as a girl in the crowd audibly demands “get ’em off!” Eventually, Pauline forces them to strip or be fired — “no more excuses! Strip, strip now!” as teens who must’ve been coughing up blood when they got home are rendered more beast than girl. The trousers come down, then the pants, but revealing disconcertingly tiny chroma-key underpants, leaving the band with invisible groins, like the poster. Rather than laughing, the audience are deflated, shouts of “no!” and “off!” heard under the groans.

06

Aside from the nob-stuff, sketches are the usual; ad parodies for cat food baked into a husband’s pie; a big girdle; even a bit where someone’s blown up and left black-faced in ragged clothes. Most are hung up on a few recurring motifs. A prop gun gets a good innings; used by Pauline to kill one of Flintlock as way of a break-up, before another shoots himself in the head. Teacher Ali Bongo guns down Pauline, frustrated he can’t cane female pupils, while Pauline-as-a-burglar gets shot to death by Mike, even though “she’s a girl, burglars ain’t girls!

Almost every sketch is made weird due to their ages, filled with nudge-nudge allusions to sex, like Linda buying a manacled and nude-but-for-shorts Mike in a slave auction, and excitedly pulling him into bed, and by the time the titles roll, you half expect a writing credit for Everyone Who Got Collared by Yewtree. Many bits exist purely for the band to get a pie in the face, or soup or spaghetti or custard tipped over their heads, which I know is a staple of kid’s shows, but in this tawdry school disco atmosphere, with the 17-year-old Quirke casually chatting about booze and fags, feels like somebody shoe-horning in a fetish. Perhaps a credit for the “would you get gunged in jeans for charity” Twitter pest too?

07

The sustained delirium inadvertently turns a guest role for real-life president of the Flintlock fan-club into a very funny moment, playing to genuine silence at the appearance of the plain-looking and elderly 31-year-old DJ Tony Prince. He chats about the psychology of girls screaming at bands; a phase they’ll grow out of — to a loud, impassioned “NOOOOO!” — as Pauline invokes the legend of Adonis. “Women were driven mad with love for him and tore him to pieces, so it’s nuffink new, girls!” Although he pours tea over his head for no reason at all, and takes a custard pie to the face, continuing the wet and messy theme.

The real treat comes in episode five, where parody girl-band The FlinTarts (Pauline, Linda and Nula) guest on the show of “a couple of loony disk jockeys, called Mike Read and Steve Wright.” Punch the air? Mate, I pretty much fucked it. Sadly Ready doesn’t get up and join Flintlock for their final number, and the DJs of course nail Mike and Jamie with custard pies. But half the runtime of every episode is taken up with Flintlock’s songs, and the amount of numbers they get through — 3 or 4 a show — must’ve burned through their entire discography. Occasionally bonkers creative choices keep things interesting, like green-screening the lead singer really tiny, perched on the keyboard like a pixie, or a cover of Whiter Shade of Pale which plays under half-faded shots of hands dealing tarot cards.

These songs, like everything, are dominated by screaming, in a show held hostage by its audience of teenage girls, always hysterically into it, until they’re not; until a sketch where Linda asks “how’s it going with you and Derek?” and they react like they’ve been spat on. Near the end of the run, Pauline lines up alongside Linda and Nula, to let everyone know they’re only acting when they play Flintlock’s girlfriends. Again, this feels less a joke than something mandated in case it turned off the fanbase, with Robson clearly stating the (still romantically available!) band are too busy travelling and performing to have girlfriends anyway. “So you see girls, you can ‘ave em, cos we don’t want ’em!

08

The last of the series begins with a final battle-of-the-sexes monologue from Pauline — “we’ve tried to say a few fings about the relationships between girls and boys… but mostly what we’ve said has been drownded [sic] out by the noise of girls screaming at Flintlock!” A reminder they’re just normal boys who get spots, and that “there’s probably better looking blokes sat in the audience tonight,” sparks grumbles of consternation and livid howls of “NO!” and “WHERE?!” and extra riled, the next song can scarcely be heard. When Mike takes lead vocals atop a camera rig looking down on the audience, it ignites perhaps the wildest frenzy yet; three solid minutes of screaming and crying, with security guards lined along the front row, to stop anyone hurling themselves over.

We close on an emotional Pauline, sat on the edge of the stage bidding the series goodbye. Someone heckles “I’m gonna cry,” and Pauline replies “so am I, girls, so am I.” It’s a customarily odd speech, tearfully letting us know (in case we were worried?) that she’s got loads of work lined up with Thames and the BBC, and giving that old celebrity pep-talk “the fact is kids, and girls especially, you can get what you want from life if you’re prepared to work hard enough for it.” Derek and Mike, the two most fancied Flintlockers, surprise her with a little present, clearly expecting a custard pie, but getting jewellery. The caterwauling as they take a fumbling age to clasp it to her wrist reaches its terrifying apex; equal parts libidinous, jealous and rageful, with one of the band having to shush them with a finger. And fittingly, that’s how Pauline’s Quirkes goes off air.

09

There’s a rather pertinent observation in the last show, of “boys may be useless but where would we be without em, eh girls?” Though this was sold as a vehicle for Pauline Quirke, with its entire theme the rebuffing and subverting of gender roles and sexism, its female star was reduced to an ornament, in what’s nothing more than the Corey Hotline with comedy sketches. What really marks this out as a both a curio and a failure is the career of Flintlock. I’d assumed, due to the fan behaviour and amount of screentime, they were a gap in my cultural knowledge, whose many hits had passed me by. But in a four-year span of releasing music, only one single reached the top 40, with none of their four albums cracking the top 75. Not even a one hit wonder. Every Flintlock fan must’ve been in that studio, and only once the stabbing pangs of erotomania had faded, may it have hit them that they’d been living witness to a truly baffling, truly dreadful piece of television.

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 videos, my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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

Owt Good On, Mam? – Celebrity Helpers

•May 29, 2022 • Leave a Comment

[previous Owt Good Ons: The Three L’sBear SpecialWhen Game Shows Had The Horn]

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 videos, 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.

Sunday Night Dread: That’s Life

•May 19, 2022 • 3 Comments

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 videos, 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.

Brian Conley

•May 9, 2022 • 1 Comment

header

Brian Conley’s another of those cultural oddities who were massive for years, endlessly quoted in classrooms and offices, yet never deemed worthy of a DVD release or even repeats, outside of minor satellite channels. The Brian Conley Show ran for 53 episodes over a full decade, taking us from the neon and knitwear of 1992 to television’s post-911 trench warfare, and all powered by hand-clapping holiday camp confidence. Like Shane Richie hurled at Jack Nicholson, Conley’s passport probably read “actor, comic, West End star, cheeky boy!” And how to even define his act? It was a bit of everything; sketch comedy, physical flailing, impressions, variety, song and dance; the jack of all trades club style which dominated TV for decades, but never made it out of the 90s. Sketches with a sing-a-long catchphrase? Of course. Slapstick pratfalls? Also yes. The serious song? I’m afraid so. And now, barring “it’s a puppet!” every minute has all but been forgotten.

A career represented in digital dregs, there’s just two episodes available to look at, so we’ll begin chronologically, with 1992’s first series. This isn’t a great way in for a reappraisal, with a feet-finding and very slight show, sharing the sub-30m screentime with guest acts. Brian’s in a leopard skin, fedora and shades ensemble, opening with a thunderous “do you love me?” by The Contours — I can mashed potat-er! I can do the twist! But at least it’s not the Blues Brothers. One day, we’ll get to the bottom of that era’s obsession with 1950’s and 60’s Americana. From Davro, Abbot and Dennis to Little and Large, and every lay-jeh-men act between, they bloody loved their teddy boys and greasers twirling big-haired diner waitresses over their shoulders.

01

Halfway through the show, he’s joined by the Singlettes, a kitsch Australian comedy group in beehive wigs, performing covers from that exact genre, doing dances where you pretend to be going underwater and shit. His coming out in a vest, pants and helmet during Leader of the Pack, covering his genitals with a hand, sends the live crowd unglued. Whatever’s been lost in the intervening years, it’s clear that in his time, the people loved him. He has a real connection with the audience, imbuing shoddy gags with an infectious sense of “we’re only mucking about!” and big on the aura of chaos, perpetually glancing offscreen with a laughter that suggests this isn’t how it went in rehearsal.

It’s a fast moving show, with onstage costume changes before the previous punchline’s dry; assistants running on to slide jackets over his arms or help shed tearaway trousers as the next set’s wheeled in behind him. Keeping the energy level high helps distract from the quality of material, like Brian’s gardener character, running through lines about “the hanging gardens of Basildon,” suggesting the use of a corset to “lift the begonia without getting a big ‘ernia,” and implying his penis has gotten hard from drinking fertilizer. At one point, a Red Indian dances out from the wings — “I said have a ho, not Navajo!” There’s enough dad jokes in these 24 minutes for a thousand bastard sons.

02

Both Dangerous Brian and Nick Frisbee are present from the beginning. Frisbee; psychotic children’s presenter parodying CBBC’s broom cupboard; runs through jokes about big tits, ear wax, and the Chinese eating animals, while Dangerous Brian hypnotises a real elephant, saying “poppadom, poppadom” in its ear because it’s Indian. Even with the professional presence of Nick Owen, the elephant upends the sketch by repeatedly reaching for Brian’s cock with its trunk, though after that recent video of an elephant pretending to eat someone’s hat for a joke, perhaps it’s deliberate, with the good old nob-gag transcending species. We go out on a real Butlins closer, curtain raising to reveal all the dancers and guests, everyone clapping along to a jolly sing-a-long of Enjoy Yourself, in the TV equivalent of a stranger in the street telling me “cheer up, might never happen!”

Next, it’s a stage show from 1996, which went out live on ITV, and became Brian’s only VHS/DVD release, with promised ‘extra bits’. The title Alive and Extra Dangerous plays into his rep, which was not quite in the Freddie Starr/Barrymore league of “anything might happen!” but sneaking up just behind, with vague threats of going into the audience. This is a weird thing to be watching in 2022, but especially when you’re running a fever from the booster shot, and spent all night looping one line from a Mitski song in your head while tumbling in and out of recurring dreams where Neil Buchanan built a proton pack so heavy, you couldn’t stand up while wearing it.

03

Surprisingly modern opening titles switch Brian between wigs, glasses and smiles on a computer screen, in a techy take on the classic Davro’s Sketch Pad “man of a thousand comedic faces” format. We begin with a cameo from the real Mystic Meg, at the height of her fame, alongside Brian’s parody character, Septic Peg. This lays the table for what’s to come, with jokes which genuinely take me aback with their Christmas cracker rankness. But the audience are fully onboard, roaring as he quaffs whiskey and makes one eye look massive through a magnifying glass. As usual with a stage version, there’s more of a rock concert feel, with everyone just wanting to see all the classic bits in person.

Cut to Brian dressed like a giant orange, accompanied by flamenco dancers, and singing in a Spanish accent — “you can keep your peach or mango, cos you know when you’ve been tangoed!” The suit could easily be resprayed for a bollock cancer awareness campaign, and it feels like scenes in biopics where the price of fame has our protagonist sign up for a humiliating advert, like Rocky as the caveman. Brian bangs out an Oriental riff on a steel drum, before pushing the sticks into his eyes to make them go slitty, with a buck-toothed “aah, glasshoppa!

04

Out of the orange and into a shiny black jacket for one of many stand-up sections, which set lofty new records for hackiness, with fellas walking into bars and doctor’s offices, Germans reserving deckchairs, and did you know Brian’s got a black belt in karaoke? Plus there’s willies. Lots and lots of willies. What I didn’t remember about Conley’s work was the incessant references to penis. In a hundred-minute show, you’re lucky to find a 60-second stretch without either talking about, miming, or touching his own, or orating about phalli in more general terms so frequently that even I, the master of nob comedy, end up thinking “turn it in, mate!” Small willies, big willies, hard willies, soft willies; Brian Conley is utterly fixated on willies. Balls rarely get a look in, although there is a fair bit about arses.

Admittedly, it’s a bit rich me knocking anyone for being puerile, and I did laugh when he pulled a “Tarzan in the jungle with a belly ache, wants to do a toilet, [fart] too late,” but whenever he’s straight gagging, it’s a compilation of every joke you got told in school. Nick Frisbee reels off strings of laffers about bogies and farts, and condom lines Mike Reid used in his panto. He even nicks one of my personal favourites, with a letter from Spanish viewer Señor Willy (in mine, he’s author of the book Spying On You in the Bath), although Brian’s is a fireman with two sons, “Hose-A and Hose-B!” Obviously we can’t judge these by modern comedy standards, as this was simply the way back then, taking ownership of a gag, not by writing, but by performing it to the largest audience, and there’s nothing you won’t have heard on the playground or from uncles at Christmas.

Doctor, I’m suffering from incontinence.”

Where are you (w)ringing from?

The waist down!

Though the material’s stinky, Brian kinda sells it on enthusiasm alone, and it’s not even bad per se, just weird that it went out in a juicy live evening slot, and not 9am of a half term. Likewise, you can set your watch by the topical references, with two jokes about Linford Christie’s lovely big dick and bollocks, Madonna being a slag (“why does she wear knickers? To keep her ankles warm”), Skodas being rubbish, Fatima Whitbread’s hairy armpits (“nah, she’s a nice bloke”) and Camilla looking like a horse. The French are frogs, and the Welsh sheep-shaggers, while accusing audience members or dancers of being gay is an easy laugh. We all get that standards change, and I’m not about to drag him to the gallows, but it’s all so lazy. Perhaps we’re more attuned in the Twitter era, where you can watch a topical joke burn itself out from fresh to hackneyed in the span of a day, before hearing it on HIGNFY a fortnight later.

05

Breaking for a whistle-stop tour of his career, he’s laughing at an old picture from 1978, and running a clip of a debut TV appearance with Bernie Winters in 1982. “If they were brains, you’d be Prime Minister!” says young Brian, pointing at an audience member’s large tits. Then it’s back to the present, where you can’t diss the gag-rate, in a show which runs an hour and forty minutes, but won’t let you catch a breath. Yes, they reek — “Lone Ranger and Tonto came across a bacon tree… it was a ham-bush!” — but they never stop. Dangerous Brian beats up goons in a cartoony fight scene; there are numerous magic tricks; there’s even a rap, marching round to a quasi hip-hop beat and grabbing his cock, though rap skits are outdated by 1996, and he confuses it with acid house, repeatedly screaming the word “acciiiid!

Personal highlight is a Devil Went Down to Georgia bit, appearing to play the fiddle, until a finger suddenly emerges from his open fly, moving back and forth in time to the music like a knuckled penis. It’s a genuinely funny visual, particularly when it casually grips the bow, but the absolute gall to do on television what didn’t get a laugh when I did it in GCSE drama. What’s next, turning his pockets inside out and saying “now for my elephant impression”? Throughout the show, he’ll randomly revert to a rotten American accent, which we get a lot of in a film noir skit, acting out a radio drama with an onstage Sound FX Department adding slide-whistles and gunshots to jokes about trusses and gay snakes. He’ll pull the soundman out to grope at his chest, informing him his nipple’s gone hard, in a routine he’d recreate years later, without the patsy’s consent, with a female Big Brother contestant.

06

Switching styles again, there’s observational humour; “Why do women pluck their eyebrows? Remember playing kiss chase at school, lifting up girls skirts? Why are the windows in plane toilets frosted? What’s the deal with old men wearing their trousers so high?” Then impressions; an ice cream man having a poo, an Eskimo going for a wee (flicking ice cubes out of his crotch into the crowd), and a gay chicken; “any cock’ll do!” There’s Barrymore style audience interaction, ordering women in the front row to close their legs and not fold their arms — “you’ll curdle your milk” — and pretending to polish bald men’s heads, although he doesn’t eject any elderly. And more jokes; about wanking, about grandad’s willy going hard, and the expiry date on condoms.

As a willy-fanatic, Brian’s obviously well into condoms too, evidenced by the show’s most baffling section, announcing in a dramatic movie trailer voice “we now live in the age of the condom!” Ah yes, the mid-90s, when they first came in. A musical number replete with swirling spotlights and a big band voice, if you take out his comedy thrusting, the lyrics are straight off an 80’s government flyer about the threat of AIDS.

Sex today is filled with many dangers,

going to sleazy bars and picking up strangers,

for every thrust you make, another chance you take,

if you go down, you may go down forever…

He gets the men in the audience to sing along with its anthemic chorus “yes, I’m a condom man, I’m a condom man!” while pointing at his penis for the thousandth time, with a call for “the lads with small willies” leading to predictable silence, while the men with big willies are raucous, and my, couldn’t the final scene of Scrooged have been very different with Brian in the lead? He takes a huge bow at the finish — “I’m safe as can be, cos I put on thirty three!” — like he’s just closed on Broadway rather than being a 35-year-old little boy giggling through the first sex education module.

07

Other than the subject of rubbered-up boners, Brian’s favourite is undoubtedly what appears to be the Yarwood Earnest Song, but gets subverted by say, accidentally backhanding a woman into the piano, or when “I believe that children are the future,” a tiny trombone poking out of a pram for a solo. “Do you fancy a bit of Elvis?!” he yells, before tossing a prop of Elvis’s arm into the crowd, and in a blast of Yesterday, on “there’s a shadow hanging over me,” a cut-out of Hank Marvin descends from the ceiling. Consequently, when he is being sincere, you’re waiting for the turn, like a number off his upcoming album, which is dedicated to his wife. Fool me once, Brian; I know the stool’s gonna break and send the pole up your hole, or the harmonica player’s trousers will fall down! But it’s played straight, with impassioned crooning to the end, soaking in applause with a look of pride.

The big show closer involves special guest “Mister Al Jolson!” where Brian showcases his Olivier nominated stage role. Thankfully he’s not in blackface, but is in slick West End performer mode, singing about that Swanee River properly, with nobody chucking a bucket of water over him from the wings, or pretending a carrot is his winkle. The accent still honks though. ‘Al’ does three numbers, including a bullfighting themed routine, which feels like the worst bits of the Royal Variety, and comes across as pretty self-involved after a preceding 90 minutes about bogeys and farts. But everyone’s up for a standing ovation as he takes his final bow, with a clapping which could be described as ‘violent’. The advertised ‘Extra Bits’ on the VHS take the form of Conley’s Cock Ups; minor bloopers we’ve either already seen, or which couldn’t possibly exist if the show actually went out live as purported. To no great shock, the script’s attributed to Brian, plus a pair of writers who’ve credits for — brace yourselves — Little and Large, Russ Abbot, Davro, and The Les Dennis Laughter Show.

08

Jumping forwards ten years from his first TV series to July of 2002, this is a different format in a different world, and comes from the final run, three years into the revamped Brian Conley Show. Doubled in length from thirty mins to the full hour, no longer a sketch show, we’re in capital-letters Late Night, with Brian as Carson or Letterman — at least, in his mind. The continuity announcer warns guests will be “braving” him, as Brian tells us “it’s party time,” rearing into camera to yell “HIT IT!” like he’s The Mask or something. The set’s cavernously noughties, evoking Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush with swirling shapes and a staircase which takes guests roughly twenty minutes to descend. Brian bursts out of the wings through smoke, swinging Sinatra voice belting out “baby, let the good times roll!” and gone are the silly wigs, replaced — again, in his mind — with a Rat Pack cool. This is simply Conley as Conley, barring a lone skit, satellite interviewing a racing driver who’s sponsored by Vicks and Anasol, played by himself in grotesque joke shop teeth and a nerd voice going on about skidmarks.

After the standard opening topical monologue, he bids us welcome in one of his American accents, before bantering with the band leader like Partridge and Glen Ponder — “he’s ad-libbing now, ladies and gentlemen!” This is notably trippy because the band leader is Steve Brown, aka the actual Glen Ponder, giving a real multiverse Knowing Me, Knowing You vibe. Will we close on him fatally shooting Michael Winner with a pair of antique duelling pistols? Brian’s definitely moved with the times, as this runs on the blithe cruelty of the fresh millennium, when every TV doc was titled Britain’s Fattest Pieces of Shit: Look at These Dick-Ugly Bastards. There are constant digs at other celebs; Martine McCutcheon for missing West End shows through illness; Angus Deayton for doing cocaine; while Rik Waller’s a fat bloater and Jade Goody should move to “the Isle of Dogs.” Even Todd Carty gets it, in a routine about his EastEnders sacking for being part of the furniture — “Wooden. He is putting on a brave face, the only face he can do!” Is there Conley/Carty heat?! In 2014, they starred together in CBBC’s Celebrity Driving Academy, but any scenes of Carty forcing him to suck on a hot exhaust pipe for penance never made it to air.

09

Some segments are oddly Barrymore in both tone and content, coming just a year after the death of Stuart Lubbock and the big man’s subsequent television exile. A skit where he’s on the street, auditioning members of the public with his catchphrases, is fully just My Kind Of People, with Brian laughing at accents and asking an old man “was it cold in the ground this morning?” Conley’s Kids puts him in an infants school, dancing with children who say the funniest things, and making them laugh in yellow tights with an enormous gold codpiece, which honestly seems a bit penisy for under-sevens, thrusting it at the camera to S Club’s Reach.

Let’s be very clear; this is a truly appalling show, and I would kill for a whole series of it. The celebrity interviews are somehow worse, and first is Emily Symons — Marilyn from Home and Away — who as one-time fiancée of anti-vax goblin, Matt Le Tissier, sees him holding the all-time punching above your weight championship. As an Australian, she gets all the gags about barbies and Kylie Minogue’s arse, and accompanies Brian blowing across the top of a bottle for a duet of Tainted Love, before he pretends to eat a live cockroach, like they do in the bush — “that was tasty, but not as tasty as you!

10

Brian interviews like he’s writing for the school newspaper, asking Natalie Imbruglia “do you miss being in Neighbours?” and “was it difficult going from acting to singing?” leaving his guests reeling off dead-eyed press junket auto-replies. As Natalie stretches out on the sofa, Brian calls it “my little casting couch,” and makes a joke about going down on his wife, before leaving her shrugging to a punchline about Jeremy Clarkson, having to gamely laugh at gags about Michael Jackson being white and George Michael being gay. Enrique Iglesias fares no better — “why’d you think you’re so popular?”is there anyone special in your life?” — and forced to identify funny plastic fish props. One with big ears? Herring aid. Candles in it? Fish cake. And so on.

Final guest Phillip Schofield pisses himself during an anecdote about a dead scuba driver, then plays Russian Roulette with Brian, using bottles of champagne, where they’re strapped in an office chair while Glen Ponder furiously shakes the bottles at their faces like he’s at a swinger’s party and realises he’d better get home soon if doesn’t want to miss The Apprentice. It’d be unfair to judge Brian’s work solely on the latter series, as everyone came out of the era looking like a horrendous cock, but like the music of Madonna, Brian’s surviving work shows that whatever era he was in, he was a man of the times. These days, he’s acting in EastEnders as Sonia’s estranged dad. If he gets fired, I hope Todd Carty’s got a nice zinger lined up.

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 videos, 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.

 
%d bloggers like this: