Bibleman and The Six Lies of the Fibbler

•August 13, 2018 • 2 Comments

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Of all the things I’ve covered on here, Bibleman may be the first actual propaganda. Though it claims to be an exciting live-action superhero story, that’s really just a Clark Kent level disguise, on something that exists solely to spread the Christian message to its audience of the type of children who’d get whipped with a belt if they were caught sneaking down to the basement to watch Batfink. There’s an inherent cheery naffness to any Christian entertainment that sticks doggedly to its core of ‘family values’, with the makers trapped inside the same tiny cultural bubble as the poor fuckers that have to watch it. Robbed of the full artist’s pallet, in an effort to sidestep the terrible sleaze of secular Hollywood, we’re left with works that seem as though they were made by an actual child, or someone who grew up in a cave with a single, tattered page from a comic forming their entire frame of reference. I hope at some point to cover Kirk Cameron’s works, and the recent trend of Christian straw-man films, where a pompous, atheist mayor bans praying, causing one brave, God-fearing man (played by Kevin Sorbo) to rise up and defend the faith. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

An effort to engage children with yer man Jesus, Bibleman arrived during that weird period when Hollywood’s notion of superhero movies was colourful — and dreadful — retro stuff, like The Shadow or The Phantom. Oddly, Bibleman fits pretty well into that feel, by virtue of its lurid 90’s colour scheme, and the fact it’s absolute toilet. Created by sitcom star Willy Aames; which sounds like what you do when you unzip at a urinal; who stars as the titular hero, Bibleman was released straight-to-video, finally giving those kids who weren’t allowed to watch the whorish deviance of network TV something to put on their empty shelves. Bibleman left parents free to leave their kids in front of the Devil’s box without fear of exposing them to the festival of murder, piss, and vigorous eating of the ass that constitutes modern entertainment. Although, nobody seems bothered about the sin of intellectual property theft, and if that turns out to be one of God’s big no-nos, the Bibleman team are in for an eternity of live hedgehogs being pushed up the shiter.

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The Six Lies of the Fibbler opens, as does each episode, with our hero’s backstory, introducing us to “Miles Peterson, a man who had it all; wealth, status, success. Still, something was lacking…” Next to what follows, the dark, rain-drenched scene is the closest thing we come to modern superhero grit, as Peterson tips out the contents of his briefcase and hurls himself into the dirt, face-down and slow-motion screaming. He finds a bible under some grass, and is illuminated by a beam of heavenly light, as “at last, Miles Peterson felt the burning desire to know God. Inspired by the word of God, and equipped with unyielding faith, Miles pledged to fight evil in the name of God, as Bibleman!” So that’s his power; faith? Good luck dealing with an armed robber off his nut on bath salts, or warring Mexican drug cartels. He doesn’t even know karate. It’s just a youth minister in a cape. He’ll be shot and killed in the first five minutes, unless the villains are as toothless as he is (spoilers: they are).

And about that costume. Even the most heavy-diapered of manbabies appreciate that the bold colours and crazy shapes of a hero’s outfit don’t translate easily from comic panel to screen. Bibleman eschews the more practical black leather (too BDSM!), leaving us with a main character that looks like he’s wandered loose from a superhero-themed stag do. These days, garish purple and yellow are strongly identified as the colours of UKIP, but if Nigel’s collection of daft racists were looking for a new mascot, Bibleman’s views would lend themselves nicely to a political crossover. The aesthetics are a stunning example of horrible mid-90’s flavour, with bad pseudo-Gothic fonts, ‘futuristic’ primordial internet displays, and enormous baggy clothes, which must be the closest thing there is to an American hauntology.

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The theme tune warns us “the Bibleman is coming, so you’d better step around; a brand new episode is coming to your town,” and promises “a whole lotta fun with the greatest book of all.” As we all know, that’s the Saved by the Bell retrospective I wrote, which I can only presume they’re going to pile up in a big bonfire to cleanse the world of its evil. There’s a supporting cast of Mouseketeer style children, who immediately break out into the first of multitude song and dance numbers. Each wears a crazed look of spiritual ecstasy, with beaming grins and eyes afire. I’m loathe to turn this into a scathing rebuke of religion itself, and would rather focus on the terrible culture produced in its bubble, but these wild displays of euphoria could be green-screened into footage from Jonestown or the Manson Family, or any such cult of your choosing, and look perfectly at home.

Opening song, Biblevision, contains such ‘this is definitely how 12-year-olds speak’ lyrics as “we have made a decided choice, to listen to the saviour’s voice,” and is backed by the sort of horrific amateur dance routine usually dredged up by parents on old home movies to humiliate grown-up children in front of their new fiancée. I’d put the odds of any of these kids surviving past their mid-20’s as zero, each having surely gone on to take their own lives out of embarrassment. For most of us, old class photos showing bad hair and metallic smiles are bad enough, but if someone dug out footage of you shimmying your outsized limbs in a passionate (but platonic!) love-song to Jesus, you’d simply have to smash your head into radiator until there was nothing left. It seems to be a conscious decision to cast kids who are at the pinnacle of their awkward phase, with the clumsy body language and stilted movement made worse by the tent-sized clothing. If this was meant to get the youth interested in Christianity, it’s a weird choice to use the kind of kids other kids would never look up to, and though I’d never condone bullying, I had to be physically restrained from climbing into the screen so I could flush their stupid little weiner heads down the toilet.

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A cynic might suggest such impressionable young minds have been brainwashed by their elders into concepts they couldn’t possibly understand, but then who am I to doubt the sincerity of a group of kids, who’re at that age when we all get into ideas, phases and ideologies we’ll definitely stick with for the rest of our lives? Hell, I’m sat here writing this in my Kony 2012 shirt and Marilyn Manson spiked collar. Wazzzzzup?!

The worst kind of musical, with each performance a full, many-versed song, Six Lies of the Fibbler sets a new record in how long it took me to watch something, having to break every few seconds to pull my fists out of my mouth. But finally, we get into the story, as an eight-year-old girl called Ashley shows up late to rehearsal. This is where we meet our villain, and as she pulls up on her bike, there’s a weirdo watching from behind a tree — “Run, run, my little late one! The fun’s about to start!” Not a neighbourhood paedo (or at least, not just a neighbourhood paedo), this is the Fibbler. Despite pretty much just being called the Riddler, the Fibbler’s literally the Joker. Green hair, clown make-up, green suit; he prances and cackles in a Joker voice. Oh, and he’s got a prosthetic hook nose that looks like a drooping penis.

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A ‘Devil on the shoulder’ villain, Fibbler loves how Ashley’s friends are mad at her, and when they ask why she was late, he demonstrates his superpower; blowing a green dust that makes its target lie. In this case, “I had to take care of my mom!” A gleeful Fibbler notes “the Master’s gonna love you!” which we can presume is Satan, who they’re too scared to actually name-check? As the children argue, Bibleman appears in a flash of light. “I was praying, and I felt led to come by…” He seems to sense the Fibbler’s evil presence, and in a beautiful example of how naturally they weave scripture into their dialogue, they ask him what’s wrong. “I’m not sure… but I do know that in Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said…

As the kids go their separate ways, one of them asks Ashley if she could bring “half the music” along to their performance later, and gives her a cassette, because I guess two cassettes are too heavy to carry by himself. The big show at the church opens with another suicide-inducing song and dance routine, performed to an audience of smiling church ladies in long dresses and their moustachioed husbands, tapping toes and nodding heads with a lack of rhythm that reflects poorly on their sexual ability. The song about “the fruit of god’s love” makes me weep for the kids who were only allowed to listen to Bibleman music, while their friends were staring at the ceiling to Gangsta’s Paradise and 311. Any childhood Bibleman viewers out there? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to get some inside perspective.

Anyway, it’s time for the Fibbler’s next lie, as he sits perched backstage, while the pastor congratulates the kids on another incredible show. “Terrific job, gang!” he says, before asking for that second cassette so they can get back out there. Of course, Ashley’s forgotten to bring it. Fibbler hits her with the lie-dust, and conducting her words like Tyler Durden — “this conversation… is over” — makes her fib that she was never given any tape, bringing the show to an end, with an angry pastor forced to go “dismiss the congregation.” Cut to the pastor sheepishly flattening down his tie and clearing his throat for an announcement. From his nervous manner they must assume it’s yet another church scandal, and he’s disclosing his imminent arrest for snorting meth off an undercover cop’s erection. But it’s worse than that, the kids can’t do the rest of their songs, so they file out, devastated. Fibbler’s bloody loving it though.

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You know who doesn’t love it? The big BM — wait, that’s pretty rude. How’d that slip by? — Bibleman spots the Fibbler and gives chase. I say ‘chase’, but the costume’s so unwieldy, he moves like a middle-manager with his legs tied together at a team-bonding seminar. In yet more disdain for intellectual property, the Fibbler draws his weapon; a cheap-looking lightsaber. Bibleman draws one of his own, cuing a lightsaber fight in front of the church. I’ve a distinct feeling whoever made this wasn’t allowed to watch Star Wars, because the force is demonic, and Yoda looks like a little Devil, but they saw a poster once when being rushed past a video-store through the gaps between their mother’s fingers. At no point during their battle does Bibleman seem strong or even heroic, and struggles to overpower what’s basically a Juggalo. It’s not until he starts the “in the name of the lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” exorcist style, does the Fibbler wither in fear and make his escape.

Bibleman’s greatest scene, and perhaps the greatest scene in all of live-action superheroes, is when we see his lair. Though they missed the opportunity to call it the Bible-Cave, it’s an incredible vista of wobbling plastic rock and $5 joke store props. Test tubes filled with coloured liquid spew dry ice, and banks of CRT monitors flash busy-looking secret agent graphics, observed by a thematically on-point stained glass window. There’s nothing suspicious about an outwardly puritanical man in a plastic cape keeping all his computers locked away in a secret cave, and he definitely doesn’t clear his browser history two or three times a day, or have Wikifeet as his homepage. Bruce Wayne in dad jeans, he tries to figure out the Fibbler’s identity, as though it’s just a regular hoodlum he once pushed into a vat filled with dick-noses. He brings up a criminal database on the computer, revealing a spectacular rogues gallery who legitimately seem like they were created via write-in competition in a children’s church newsletter. Even as the premier wordsmith of my generation, one simply cannot do justice without seeing them, though it’s clear the design process went like this:

What make-up and costumes do we have to create an array of colourful villains?

I’ve got a marker pen.

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And lastly, well…

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Now, Tayne… uh, Timid Tessie I can get into. C’mon, Disney, plump up some cash, so we can see this crew up against the Avengers. The database says nothing of their powers, but judging from the mugshots, Spider-Head’s less Peter Parker, and more likely some guy who gave (or got) head from an actual spider. Is Bibleman set in Florida? Because when you stop thinking about them as supervillains, and instead, as mugshots of sex offenders, it makes way more sense. Eventually, the Fibbler shows up onscreen, “Gotcha,” says Bibleman. “So you’re called the Fibbler, huh?” Great detective work. Looking him up in your own database, where there’s already a picture of him, alongside his name. “Thank you lord,” he says, casting his eyes skyward. Then he puts ‘Teri Hatcher + feet’ into AltaVista and spunks all over the wall. Probably.

Just when I feel like I’m getting a handle on things, Bibleman’s alter-ego, Miles Peterson, is revealed to be the teacher of the kids in the band. Now, where would a chemistry teacher with a double-life and a secret lab be getting the money to fund a vigilante war? Not that he’s a great help to his students, as his MO, and the point of the show as a whole, seems to be making children feel super sad, guilty and shitty about themselves. We’re ‘treated’ to a long montage of Ashley, now friendless and ostracised, sadly walking through the park by herself. It’s backed by the judgemental wail of a singer, castigating “I know what’s right, but I chose wrong, now my days are lonely, and my nights are long.” The little girl sobs, head in her hands, as the song whines “I’ve got no excuses,” but that “I pray out there, somewhere there’s got to be, some hope for me.” Alone on a bench, Bibleman appears, telling her she’s “just like the Apostle Paul.” Why, did he forget Jesus’s mixtape too? He cheers the upset eight-year-old by quoting scripture, asking “are you ready for the good news,” that Jesus will rescue her. “But I keep messing up,” she says. “Why would Jesus wanna rescue me?

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Fibbler’s thrilled at his destruction of Ashley — though Bibleman seems to be doing a bang-up job of loading her with the kind of deep-set guilt and self-loathing she won’t shake until her thirties — giving an actual chef’s kiss to the children’s misery. But then, seeking some of that Jesus-love, she apologises to her friends, and all is well again. Oh, Master will not be pleased. This leads to a final lightsaber confrontation on the church steps, where Fibbler mocks DC’s copyright lawyers with a pointed “I was just… JOKING!” Conversely, Bibleman endlessly quotes scripture, literally fighting him with bible quotes, like the sword-fights in Monkey Island — “Proverbs 19:2… how appropriate, you fight like a cow!” Fibbler calls him out on this cheating; “You’re nothing without the bible!” “Well,” says Bibleman, “that’s the first nice thing you’ve said to me all evening!” Like your English teacher laughing at the shit ‘jokes’ in Shakespeare, you know that zinger brought the house down for the bi-weekly church video night parents.

With Fibbler defenceless against the Good Book, he accidentally hits himself with the lightsaber, causing steam to come out of his ears and blow him up. Things might’ve gone a different way if he’d used his powers on Bibleman. “Well, children, if you want to be forgiven [GREEN DUST] the bible says you just gotta push stuff up your butt. Right up your butt.” Similarly, in an episode called The Six Lies of the Fibbler, there aren’t even six lies! We certainly don’t get the Se7en-style chase as suggested by the title; no “Dang it to heck, the Fibbler’s told his fifth lie, I’ve got to catch him before he tells that final porkie! Oh no, it’s too late!” [cut to a newspaper headline, FIBBLER: IT’S ILLEGAL NOT TO FART IN CHURCH. ‘TOOT OR GO TO JAIL’ SAYS JOKER-COSPLAYING NONCE]

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Back at his lair, Bibleman piously casts a gaze to the sky with a “thanks for allowing me to be a willing vessel, Lord,” adding, “I love you, Lord.” Then, as we zoom in on a bible laying open on Proverbs, offscreen, we hear the sound of fingers typing ‘God + feet’. Oh, the Master’s going to love me. Horrendously, at this point, there are still 3 minutes left, which means another lengthy song, beginning with an eight-year-old lecturing us on God taking away our sins. Unless you’re Mary Bell, you probably haven’t done much worth forgiving at that age, but it’s cool to infect children’s fleeting years of innocence with guilt, the feeling that every movement; every thought; is being watched and judged, and a fear of Devils and Demons pulling you into the eternal fires of Hell if you misbehave.

Speaking of Hell, I’ve seen some truly atrocious performances in the course of this Patreon, but the kids in this are on another level, with all of that ‘eyes ‘n teeth’ stage school energy, but none of the precocious talent. Line-readings are fumbled, and they’re constantly checking what each other are doing during dance routines, as you can see here, with the spectacularly uncoordinated kid with glasses on the back left. There’s a very 1950’s “gee-golly!” intensity, where everyone’s happy, see, because we love God, and if you loved God, you could be as happy too! Couple this with the choreography, which in one case seems to have been done by someone who was dying of farts, and you’ve truly got one of the worst abominations ever. Mind you, this is the script they were working with:

Bibleman: Well, I’m sure everything will work out for the best.

Kid: I don’t know.

Bibleman: Well, I’m sure it will.

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Bibleman spawned a long-running multimedia franchise, with BM eventually leading a full team of sidekicks, including Biblegirl, who presumably isn’t allowed to speak. Like the TNMT’s Coming Out of Their Shells tour, there was also a live stage show, board games, a video game, and a series of action figures. Two decades after its inception, the spirit of Bibleman’s cartoon morality lives on, through Christian film-makers like Tyler Perry, whose female characters find their enjoyment of sex punished with AIDS. Meanwhile, the Bibleman empire continues to make children hate themselves with an animated series, launched in 2016. But for me, viewer of a single show, I feel the journey isn’t over. Just look at the names of the villains he has to deal with in future episodes. I must stress, these aren’t me doing a bit. Check for yourself.

— Rapscallion P. Sinister.

— 2kool 4skool

— Professor E. Meritus Snortinskoff, and his sidekick, Stench

— I.M. Wonderful

— Baron Ulysses Tantamont von Braggart

— Super Pro Gamemaster 3

Like so much of the trash I watch on here, that’s enough to make me have to go back and delve further. And maybe that’s how God gets you. Sorry, Master.

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Shaun Ryder on UFOs

•August 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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On the surface, Shaun Ryder on UFOs seems like one of those celebrity Madlibs shows Alan Partridge might pitch into his dictaphone. Brian Harvey on The Crusades, Steve McFadden Bought an Alpaca Farm; hey, what if we got that slurring chap from the Happy Mondays to figure out Roswell? Now, I’ve watched a lot of paranormal TV over the last few decades, from the hauntologically spectacular early years of Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of… and Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, to the modern ‘screaming at nothing in night-vision’ cycle of your Most Haunteds, and everything inbetween. Honestly, the entire goal of all this is to end up fronting my own show, the as-yet unmade genre classic, Millard’s Fortean Travels, where I traipse around talking to people who’ve been rained on by frogs or got off with a succubus, to take my rightful spot as the paranormal Louis Theroux. Perhaps that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by this series.

I’m Shaun Ryder. As a fifteen-year-old lad in Salford, long before my hell-raising antics in the Happy Mondays, I saw a ball of light whizzing about in the night sky as I stood at a bus stop.

Each of the four episodes open with Shaun recanting the experience which led to a life-long obsession with aliens, and as becomes clear, was a deeply affecting one. This is obviously the show he’s been wanting to make his whole life, and less a randomised Duncan Goodhew Gets Pegged, then a genuine mission to understand what he saw. But fear not, gentle reader, as Shaun Ryder on UFOs still falls firmly in that pantheon of classic weird-bad television.

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Though Ryder’s obituary will speak of his place among the icons of the Madchester scene, where everyone has that fucking haircut like a medieval serf trying to escape the ravages of the Black Death, in recent years, he’s become a battle-scarred veteran of bad reality TV. Young and beautiful millennials like myself will recall his scoffing down a crocodile’s penis on I’m a Celebrity, or starring alongside Dot Cotton and Roy Walker to have piss rubbed over his face on ITV’s recent 100 Years Younger. But no longer just a contestant, this entire show is his vehicle. He’s not just another face, but the face, and more importantly, the voice.

All of Shaun’s frequent narration sounds exactly like a stranger shouting into your ear at a party, where all you can make out above Livin’ on a Prayer are the words “controlled explosion.” Charged with voicing someone else’s script in a little booth, words tumble from his mouth like somebody trying to shoplift armfuls of apples. I don’t think he says a single ‘h’ over the entire four hours, causing confusion at the point he mentions the “owls of derision.” I’m not a snob, here to sneer at the cobble-street prose of Northerners, but you get so used to that fake newsreader accent that it’s jarring to hear something real; for example “was you there?” instead of “were you there?” But Shaun Ryder’s unnatural reading of words he’d never use leads to moments of magic, as he narrates educational clips about space, or the prehistoric shifting of tectonic plates. It’s an incredible combination; this bookish sci-babble, leaving the mouth of a man who always sounds like he’s midway through slowly falling down a flight of stairs. Regard this favourite, which is literally an attributable quote from Shaun Ryder:

One intriguing theory states contact goes back far beyond the arrival of the Conquistadors and into antiquity, a hypothesis known as Paleo-Contact.

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Anyone who’s ever seen a UFO doc will immediately feel at home with grainy news clips of Spanish-speaking people pointing at the sky. This cues Shaun’s visit to Chile, where there’s been “mysterious ‘appenings in the skies,” in particular, an incident at an airbase where a flying saucer buzzed past some planes during a military parade “six monf ago.” He excitedly watches a bunch of videos from different angles, of a silvery blob flitting about, genuinely thrilled to see UFOs embraced by the Air Force in a way the British Army never would, and, as will become the theme, he’s elated that it adds credence to what he saw at the bus stop all those years ago. Or, as Shaun puts it, “music to me ears… even in a UFO ‘ot-zone like Chile, au-fentic sightings are rare.

Next, we’re off to the foothills of the Andes, where a swaggering Shaun takes a straw poll of elderly Chilean villagers, breaking through the language barrier by miming what he saw as a teenager. In the many times this visual demonstration occurs throughout the series, he maniacally karate chops the air to mimic the alien ship’s speed and movement. It turns out about 7/10 of those polled had seen something strange in the skies, to which Shaun is sweetly happy; vindicated that “we’re all in the same club.” Like most self-proclaimed experiencers or abductees, all he’s really looking for is a connection with someone who understands; to know that, perhaps like us in the universe, he’s not alone. The constant talk about his own sighting had me wondering if this was all building to a final episode hypnotic regression, and discovering that he’d been abducted. Possibly by Bez.

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Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking “Shaun Ryder, a man who’s done all the drugs in the world, says he saw something weird?” It’s true, as far as reliable witnesses go, it’s like asking Mr. Magoo to identify the specific ant which mugged him, but on the other hand, who better experienced to differentiate the trippy shit you might see while willied out of your skull with something that’s actually real? That said, he also claims, later in life, to have seen “ ‘undreds of small lights going across the sky,” and tends to be a bit excitable. When traveling up into the mountains to do some sky-watching, his Chilean guide isn’t particularly convinced at Shaun’s casual description of seeing four shooting stars the night before, and during one stake-out, he gazes excitedly at a light, watching it change between white, red and green, “almost like, you know, when you see a plane,” he says. Yes. Almost. After hours of gazing up at an empty sky, Shaun’s guide tells him it’s his first sky-watch sesh since 2003, after an incident where he and a dozen others suffered missing time and amnesia. In a horror movie, that would be the cue for beams of light and anus probing, but here, Shaun calls it a night because it’s proper cold up that mountain.

After investigating a creepy video of ‘humanoid figures’ about 3-pixels high hanging over the city, where Shaun says the words “it’s a starship trooper” about a hundred times, while going on and on about Star Wars, it’s off to the desert to find evidence of ancient aliens. An expert explains geoglyphs to Shaun; big Earth-art, like the Nazca Lines. “We’ve got some of those in England,” says Shaun, “the man with the big willy.” They visit a giant space invader-looking design drawn on a hill with rocks, before ascending, because “it’s time to climb up and get a closer look at the giant’s ‘ead.” The three men stumble and amble around the rocky hill, baseball caps blowing off in the wind, as Shaun points out alien parts, “eyes… mouth… foot… body.” He posits that the sculpture wouldn’t have lasted a day in Manchester without being vandalised, before casually picking up one of the rocks from its eyeball, astounded that it’s been there for 1500 years, and haphazardly chucking it back.

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He then meets a man who looks like an anime Rolf Harris, who was cured of cancer by a cult of aliens called The Friendship, who live on a remote island, which involves Nazis and magic liquid and interspecies breeding, that all seems a bit much, even for Shaun. So, he brings it back to basics, interviewing an astronomer who’s using a big telescope to look for sugar, but doesn’t believe in UFOs. Shaun tries to convince him of interstellar travel, one scholar to another; “this is a fabric, can’t we just open it up and pop through it and come out at another part of the galaxy?” The professor not sold, he mimes his sighting again, which was “millions of years advanced technology, surely they can open up fabric and zip through?

The South American excursion ends with more sky-watching, on a lake where hovering UFOs have been seen stealing leccy from a hydro plant. Disastrously, having trekked 250 miles, the assembled experts forget a bunch of equipment, leaving a crestfallen Shaun, looking forwards to sifting through 9 hours of footage, now left with “9 hours of fuck all.” But when all hope is lost, one of Shaun’s crew calls him over to look at a photo — “Nuffing can prepare me for what I’m about to see.” The image of a weird streaky star traveling at a 45 degree angle has Shaun absolutely beaming. “It’s a UFO, that!” Even his sceptical manager is “visibly shaken,” and as someone who only ever wanted people to feel the excitement he felt back under that bus stop, the endearingly childlike Shaun is euphoric. On this high note, it’s time to leave Chile, a place with a large UFO culture, where he felt he truly belonged, and speaks of the comfort in feeling like you’re not alone. I too, will miss the place; specifically, I’ll miss that TV convention of not showing the part when subtitled speakers are translated, giving the impression Shaun Ryder is multilingual, as he sagely nods along to lengthy, Spanish-language monologues.

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Now back in the UK, of course, Nick Pope shows up. The former MOD in charge of UFO sightings, who sold himself in his many chatshow appearances throughout the 90s as the British Fox Mulder, in older age, has pleasingly taken on the look of Egon Spengler. For Shaun, this is like meeting a rock star, so excited, he looks to the crew as he points at Pope while mouthing “Nick Pope!like when the Queen saw those cows. He immediately brings up — and mimes — his own sighting, before accompanying Pope to the National Archives, to rifle through the government’s declassified UFO files. It’s like getting to poke around the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as they don a pair of white Mickey Mouse gloves, so’s not to damage Winston Churchill’s letter asking about flying saucers, and documents relating to the deliciously-titled ‘Cosford Incident’. Most excitedly to our presenter, the descriptions of the craft’s movement sound just like his UFO. “There’s a lot of credible witnesses there,” says Shaun, “not just a bunch of, you know, fruit cakes… bubblegum heads.

Speaking of bubblegum heads, once we’re back home in the UK, the wheels really come off the sanity-wagon, sending viewers into a ditch, and Shaun off to meet a procession of the kind of breathtaking weirdos that could only ever be produced by our wretched nation. First, he’s off to Watford to visit The UFO Academy, aka a few dozen people gawping at a series of PowerPoint presentations, which the jaunty, mocking soundtrack indicates we should be finding funny. Thankfully it is, with its montage of droning nu-Agers, who I guarantee you’re picturing correctly in your mind right now, sharing abduction experiences, while Shaun slumps in a chair wishing he’d signed up for ITV2’s Celebrity Penis Mutilations instead. “I don’t want to be rude to these people,” he says, dragging on a post-lecture fag outside, “I’m just not ‘avin’ it… I need somefing more coherent.

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Unfortunately for Shaun, his next meeting is about as coherent as one of Bob Dylan’s bathtub farts, when he visits the Aetherius Society; a 60’s style hippie spiritualist group who believe they’re working with extraterrestrials to heal our planet. They’re real big on the Billy Meier era space brother vibe, spouting that “we’re on the verge of a great change, these are dangerous times!” stuff that flakes have been saying for literally decades. If Shaun thinks he can be the oddest one in the room simply by wearing a leather jacket over a high turtle-neck, he’s wildly mistaken, as it’s explained the Society’s purpose is to discharge energy “in cooperation with beings from other planets,” and furthermore, “we keep a log of all those discharges and where it goes to and when,” which sounds like when I became unwell and started keeping all my old cum in dated jars. “Statistically,” says the priest, “it’s working.” Not to be outdone, Shaun suggests “if a human being exploded, it’d be like a million nuclear bombs going off,” inspiring a look in the priest that suggests even he, world-healing cohort to alien gods, is in over his head.

What happens next is called a ‘prayer session’, which due to Shaun’s inexperience, he cannot participate in, but is invited to watch, and which I will now try to describe to you, without going off like a million nukes. The priest takes his place at the front of fifty Society members, dressed in a long red robe; as are certain members of the congregation, presumably the ones addressed in the opening invocation — “…prayer director Pat, timekeeper John, and Pete, caretaker of the battery.” The battery?! Then the power chant begins, an eyes-closed mantra of “omm nammy pappy omm” which reverberates through the rest of the scene, as Shaun meets the lens with a withering side-eye. With great formality, a man pulls on a pair of gloves, before delicately approaching a large wooden box and removing a smaller wooden box from within. This is the battery.

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A unique piece of super-technology capable of communicating with aliens, and firing our combined healing energies into the world, surely Elon Musk would have your family killed for a mere glance at the blueprints. Hopefully he doesn’t come after me for describing it here. Imagine, if you will — if you can — an egg whisk glued to a wooden box, which has OPERATION PRAYER POWER stencilled on in time-flaked black paint. The chant now stronger than ever — “omm nammy pappy omm” — robed members of the group approach the battery, to beg of its help with outstretched hands; “flow to this world now, inner child, into the hearts and minds of men now.” Oh, and there’s Shaun Ryder, stood at the back, looking like he’d rather be at the funeral of a child he accidentally hit with his car. He points out that it’s no weirder than what goes on in a lot of churches every Sunday, though I’d probably sign up for an Alpha course if they had a special battery.

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But you can’t have a show like this without meeting proper abductees. On then, to Sutton Coldfield, for a chat with a victim of multiple snatchings, a concept Shaun finds terrifying, but “wouldn’t mind ‘aving a go at.” Aged 11, our witness was taken out of his bed by aliens that looked just like the Pink Panther, and showed him a floating severed head, and a pair of legs inside a filing cabinet. Definitely not sleep paralysis, then. His evidence it’s real is that “I’m a very sceptical person” line people like that always say, while immediately assuming every little creak is the ghost of Michael Jackson. A later, adult experience occurred when our man got up in the middle of the night and sat in the conservatory, where he saw a bright light in the garden, and a small alien which tazed him, waking him up, where he found hours had passed and his coffee was cold. I too, had a strange experience, which occurred one night when I laid down in bed and closed my eyes, and suddenly I was teleported back to my old school, to sit an exam I hadn’t even studied for. Just as I realised I was naked, I was suddenly back in my bed, and it was now daylight, while my alarm clock was making a shrill beeping noise, likely due to electromagnetic radiation from a passing UFO.

The witness takes Shaun back to the scene of the first abduction at his childhood home — or at least its chimney, as pointed at through some trees, as the current occupants clearly didn’t want them filming there. Soon, the memory of Pink Panthers and leg-cabinets becomes “too upsetting,” and the bloke has to walk away, giving us the worst cry-acting since Mick Philpott’s press conference. Even so, Shaun’s unwilling to mock, as he thinks back to his own experience, and warns us he’s about to take aim at the sceptics; “I’m off to shake Britain’s stiff upper lip!” UFO nerds will be thrilled as he enlists the help of the most famous abductee ever; the logger whose experience was adapted as the movie Fire in the Sky; Travis Walton. The final episode is like a backdoor pilot for a supernatural sleuthing show, with Ryder and Walton driving round Yorkshire to investigate close encounters before stopping off for a chippy tea.

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As I hoped they would when cruising his neck of the woods, the lads start sniffing around the famous case of policeman Alan Godfrey, who found the corpse of a supposed UFO-related death atop a coal heap, before seeing a spacecraft and being taken aboard himself six months later. For alien-nerds, seeing two powerhouse hitters like Walton and Godfrey in the same room is like when Bowie duetted with Bing Crosby, or Elvis met Shakin’ Stevens. As Godfrey sketches his UFO for the pair, I can’t help but think what a coup this would have been for Millard’s Fortean Travels. Perhaps I’ll get Derek Acorah to shake hands with Robert the Haunted Doll.

But though it’s filled with lunacy, what sets Shaun Ryder on UFOs apart from celebrity shows of its ilk is its hosts admirable empathy for those seen by the majority of the world, and particularly by the media reporting on their experiences, as eminently mockable. Like all reality TV, this was about The Journey; the journey to understand, and more importantly, to not be alone. He may not have uncovered alien bodies or put his anus through the rigours of a space-medical, but he did connect with those he saw as fellow outsiders, in a world that only wants to sneer. And what kind of a fool would put so much effort into taking the piss out of stuff; all yours for as little as $1 a month? I’ll leave you with some more genuine, attributable quotes from Happy Mondays frontman, Shaun Ryder.

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This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this 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, and all kinds of other stuff.

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Past Laugh Regression: Part Five – The Grumbleweeds

•July 27, 2018 • 5 Comments

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Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four

With the least name value of all the ‘artists’ featured on Past Laugh Regression so far, I expect this piece to get less hits than a video entitled 1 Piers Morgan 1 Cup. However, I’ve committed to rooting out the laff-makers of my childhood, so here we are, and for reasons of untoppable horrors that will soon become apparent, this is the final part. Unlike the solid structure of the double-act, or the rigid grouping of a Monty Python, historically, the Grumbleweeds’ number seems to gradually wither; at first five, then three; at times a lonely duo beneath the Grumbleweeds banner, like the Butlins performance of a band proclaiming to be The Real Original Bucks Fizz. While the line-up changes suggest a comedy version of The Fall, with a constant internal battle of artistic spats, it’s clear from the output that nobody ever raised a critical voice beyond a “yeah, that’ll do.”

The Grumbleweeds very name is a pun on the universal image for a joke landing so badly, it gets no response, and the human sound of moaning about something because it’s shit. Consequently, it’s the most apt name for an act since Little and Large. For such mooted ‘comedy legends’ (more on that later), oddly their oeuvre can’t be found on Netflix, or lovingly compiled Blu-ray box sets, with one lone episode and a bunch of scattered clips cast across Youtube in wobbly, visually-awful rips. Perhaps as a way of warding off any potential viewers, watching Grumbleweeds skits today is like being inside your own found footage horror movie, stumbling on scenes that were likely buried in a pit in the woods, or locked inside a ventriloquist’s trunk at the bottom of a lake, for the protection of the audience.

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This whole endeavour started off harmlessly enough with Gary Wilmot and chums, but the further I get into the series, the deeper and more suffocating the dread as I press play, knowing that my dealings with the arse-end of variety mean I’m in for both terrible comedy and terrible music. This has never been more true than with the Grumbleweeds, who began as an actual band, with each member taking an instrument, like a Yorkshire version of The Monkees. The most exciting thing about 1988’s Grumbleweeds Granada TV Special, ripped straight from a VHS with all the adverts intact, is that it begins with the trail for a regional kids show starring a young Doon Mackichan, as part of forgotten double act Rabbitt and Doon, which is far more appealing than anything that follows. The audio quality’s so bad, the quivering title music is straight from Satan’s carnival, with a full compliment of five Grumbleweeds strolling into frame to continue the nightmarish theme music by singing along to it live.

As they’re nowhere near as iconic as the other acts I’ve covered, I’m unfamiliar with their names and personalities. There are a pair of brothers; the sinisterly-named Sutcliffe Brothers, which sounds like a great double-bill with the Manson Twins. There’s a thin one who does all the impressions, and a short one who looks like Charlie Drake. Finally, we’ve got a big Justin Lee Collins/Bee Gees looking one, and as he’s the biggest, I’m assuming he’s the leader. Confusingly for a Bee Gees lookalike, his name actually is Maurice. Please forgive my slapdash research in not delivering five in-depth bios, but like staring too long at the sun, I want to keep the Grumbleweeds at safe distance.

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Continuing Past Laugh Regression‘s spiralling sense of each successive act as a grotesque Chinese Whisper of what came before, the Grumbleweeds yank me down the well-trodden paths of familiar settings. The pub, the doctor’s surgery, the courtroom, the chat show — I’ve a sense of having been here before; of something awful happening within these walls. I flinch at repressed memories of Bobby Davro and Les Dennis and Bobby Ball, all sat behind the doctor’s desk, like bumping into an old PE teacher and having a mental flash of of him scrubbing my back. But I’m trapped within my art, and must traipse these old backdrops one last time. The gags are the same, only the faces change, with the echo of listless laughter chasing me through another pet shop; another marital bedroom; into the thousandth identical hospital ward, where a Rabbi on his deathbed refuses to give up his fortune of cigarette coupons. The first thing that stands out is how quick everything is, with most sketches clocking in at no more than 30 seconds. A good subtitle for this piece would be ‘A Waste of Wigs,’ as every skit’s clearly more trouble than it’s worth, with costumes and sets and cameras, all for a ten second bit that asks, in one specific case:

Do you think Engelbert Humperdinck’s his real name?

Do I think Engelbert Humperdinck’s whose real name?

The rhythm never allows the audience to settle, and without exception, every joke is both confusing and dreadful. A tramp gets written up by a policeman for eating a sandwich by a sign warning ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’, until a priest turns the sign to read ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE FORGIVEN’. A character who appears to be Frank Carson, inside a ludicrously enormous fat-suit, tells a woman dressed like a farmer’s wife from the 1800s that they were sold out of 28-inch TVs, so he bought two 14-inchers. A man tries to change channels, but the cowboy in the film aims a remote at the screen and makes him disappear. There’s yet another impersonation of John Cleese consisting entirely of jumping around while saying “Right! Right!” Maybe the intention was to pump it out so quickly, the audience wouldn’t have a chance to realise how bad it was, making The Fast Show look like Andy Warhol’s Empire in comparison, with five-second quickies where a drunk Alex Higgins plays golf with a snooker cue, or a man with split a personality asks for separate rooms at the asylum.

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Truly surreal, but not in a Vic and Bob way, there’s a genuinely unsettling tone. It’s like a sketch show written by AI, or a script that’s been translated it into a dozen different languages and back into English, and they got some morons to film it. If Google’s DeepDream invented a comedy group, it would be the Grumbleweeds, with each scene the comedic equivalent of a beast with a dozen twirling eyes and a mouth where its balls should be, and in place of a punchline, there’s a goat that’s half-melded into a dishwasher, pleading for death. I came in expecting shit comedy, but ended up inside another hauntology curio. The distorted VHS wobble of their voices has a hypnotic quality, like being underwater, and with each joke, I’m dragged further into the depths and screaming bubbles. By the time I get to Big Maurice interviewing ‘Vincent Price’, who looks exactly like 2018 George Galloway, I’ve been pulled so deep, I no longer know which way is up.

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The audience too seems far away, with their smatterings of polite chuckles as detached as the peculiar material. Oddly, I only find solid ground beneath my feet when they get to the kind of stuff everyone’s waiting for when discussing bad comedy from the eighties. Either fortunately or unfortunately, the Grumbleweeds have this comedy-of-offense in spades. One of their many musical numbers sees a supergroup of Freddie Mercury, Danny La Rue and Boy George knowingly ask the audience “What have we got in common?” They tell us “we’re the strangest group ever seen!” as Freddie sings about how the fans scream for him — “but most of the screamers are chaps” — while La Rue will “put on my manly voice, and yell to the fans ‘watch your cocks!” (or, I guess ‘whatcha, cocks’?). By the end of the sketch, they’re ready to let us in on their secret, that they’re “not just fancy toys” but Rolf Harris fans, in a punchline which, incredibly, has aged even worse than the homophobia.

Speaking of Harris, with both him and Jimmy Savile, when rewatching comedy from this era, it’s as though a time-travel prankster went back solely to insert references to them into old shows, deliberately picking the worst possible context. Savile’s a recurring figure, with one of the ‘weeds doing a really good impression, and in one scene, a schoolboy requests a Fix It of a night with Bo Derek, Raquel Welch and Samantha Fox. “If I could fix that for you, I’d fix it for myself, you jumped-up little wazzock!” says Jim, in the most sexually-bland way he’s ever been portrayed, as a run of the mill lech of sexy ladies off the telly. Their Savile shows up later with a couple of dollybirds on his arm to introduce one of the straight musical numbers, and again during at the Children’s Royal Variety Show, in a performance which is their most hallucinatory yet, with regular Grumbleweeds character, Gasmask Grimshaw. Wearing an overcoat, policeman’s hat, and WW2 gas mask that covers his entire face, Grimshaw inflates a balloon out of his eyehole, which whizzes off into the crowd, before telling a bad joke in a shrill, child-like voice. If nothing else, he’d make for a great slasher villain. By the bye, the Children’s Royal Variety clip opens with a subliminally fast freeze-frame of a smiling Bernie Winters and the real Jimmy Savile, advertising ‘the age of the train’, planting the thought in my head that I should jump in front of one rather than continuing.

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I suppose I should cover the Grumbleweeds’ music, which takes up 50% of their act, and isn’t meant to be funny, but a sincere rocker where big, handsome Maurice asks “do you wanna rock n’ roll?” This is music for those who listened to Russ Abbot and asked “too hardcore for me, can you tone it down a bit?” and for a bunch of lads who claim they want to rock and roll, it’s alarmingly white-bread, with Maurice cheerfully querying “do ya feel funky? do ya feel right?” before demanding “you gotta turn yourself on without a fight” with all the power and passion of wishing good morning to a newsagent. Rock n roll is one of the many things the Grumbleweeds aren’t, and with their Granada special coming six years after the debut of The Young Ones, it’s all decidedly limp and Kid’s-TV broad. Tramps have blacked-out teeth, farmers wear spotted neckerchiefs while holding enormous crooks, and every under-rehearsed scene has the feel of year 8 drama class, when you’d be told to find a corner for 10 minutes and come back with a sketch.

The closest to a touch of anarchy comes during their set at Live from Her Majesty’s — a series made famous by Tommy Cooper’s onstage death a few years earlier. If his ghost was watching from the wings, it’d be begging to be taken down to the tortures of Hell rather than witness the Grumbleweeds flagrant display of shambling variety. Introduced by Jimmy Tarbuck as “zany, wonderful, madcap,” like he’s trying to goad me into hanging myself, they start by squirting the audience with water, before gorgeous hunk Maurice introduces ‘Alison Moyet,’ who’s in a fat-suit about eight feet wide. They completely baffle the audience with a lengthy impression of Jim from Taxi!, and everything’s interspersed with their music, which is mimed as though they’ve never seen an instrument before, not moving their hands for chord changes, and pretending to strum without touching the strings. At one point, Stevie Wonder’s feeling his way around the stage, aka one of them with a black stocking over his head like that bit in Psychoville, and it ends with them going into the crowd like Barrymore to rifle through audience members’ handbags, pulling out booze, muscleman mags, and a potty, while Maurice sings “it’s party time!

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Thirty years on, and the Grumbleweeds are still going. Sort of. The classic quintet fell apart after the Granada special and the departure of the Sutcliffe Brothers. Maurice followed in 1998, leaving just the impressionist one and Graham Walker (the Charlie Drake one) to carry the brand, until Walker’s death in 2013. The Grumbleweeds touring Northern theatres today do so in much-reduced capacity, as a double-act of the last remaining original GW, and a new, younger sidekick. The official Grumbleweeds website claims they’ve “dominated the UK comedy scene” since the 1960s, and there seem to be more retrospective videos out there than actual footage, including a video titled ‘Neil Sean meets the Grumbleweeds’, which boasts an alarming 4-hour running time. So how did such a roundly awful act end up, not as deserved, in a skip, but held up — in some quarters — as comedy icons?

Remember the song with Boy George and friends? You can find that on Youtube under the title ‘The Grumbleweeds take on popular gay performers’, as part of that curious phenomena where similar acts, some decades later, get upheld as bastions of free speech. Just rummage about on Youtube, and you’ll find their most egregious material championed as ‘England’s better days’, with comments about how “they don’t make ’em like this any more, shame!” and how they represent the good old days before PC culture took away all the fun, and now you can’t even go to the darts dressed as Diane Abbott without getting in trouble. The unavoidable conclusion I have to draw at the end of Past Laugh Regression is that this is the comedy of Leave, getting forced yuks from the sort of people who moan about ‘SJWs’ ruining Star Wars by putting a woman in it. No matter how shoddy the material, anyone who laughed at blacks or poofs or had women as suspender-clad window-dressing automatically gets elevated to “when comedy was comedy,” because as attitudes change and television fills with libs, it’s all they’ve got left. All it takes to invoke that modern spirit of flag-fucking nostalgia-Nationalism is a handful of boot polish, especially we as take the inexorable slide towards fascism. Maybe you think I’m milking this angle a bit, but I write this 24 hours removed from a Britain’s Got Talent performance by WW2-themed choir, the D-Day Darlings, which looked like colourised footage from Triumph of the Will. Here’s a quick example from the group described by a comment section dolt as “how funny British TV used to be, talented people with a skill!

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But it’s not just the fans. In closing, let us regard the showreel put together by their own agents. Included as an example of their finest work is a Steptoe and Son parody where Albert’s got crippling bowel problems, but won’t go to his Indian doctor, because “with all that curry they eat, what do they know about constipation?” In fact, three of the first four skits in the showreel revolve around constipation, so maybe they were chasing those corporate bucks from Big Arse Medicine. But amid the quickies with a Jew talking about money and Liberace singing about flashing his ring, there’s something else, and I find I’ve stumbled upon the most culturally terrifying jump-scare imaginable. Their Savile character returns, this time with a nervous Gasmask Grimshaw, who’s about to remove the mask and reveal his true self to the audience for the first time. Go on, mate, show us what you’ve been hiding.

And that’s been Past Laugh Regression.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this 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, and all kinds of other stuff.

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The Warrior Show

•July 18, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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The last time I wrote about the Ultimate Warrior was in the 24 hours immediately following his death, which came as the sudden ending to his emotional WWE homecoming. I had a lot of feelings at the time, and a lot to say about the character that had meant so much to me as a child. Here’s me in 2014 about the Ultimate Warrior.

A startling combination of cosmic sixties beat-poetry and eighties self-help aggression, his promos involved snorting, talking into his hands, and breathlessly spouting thesauric fairytales of cod-mysticism and old gods, in one of his two speaking volumes; purple-faced yelling or a throaty stage-whisper. Should future civilisations unearth tapes of 1980’s WWF, between the acid-cowboy dervish of Randy Savage, Hogan’s bug-eyed non-sequiturs, and these three-minute bursts of biblical concept album performance art, they’ll think that Erich Von Daniken was probably onto something.”

While I did touch upon the almost entirely problematic man behind the paint, once you leave the arena of the still-warm eulogy, his various issues become unavoidable. Warrior’s run at the top of the wrestling business was brief, and by 1996, barring a short, dreadful run in WCW two years later, he was effectively retired. Having legally changed his name from Jim Hellwig to Warrior in 1993, he felt the Ultimate Warrior character was notable enough to market itself, and the nineties saw a slew of crazy, failed ventures, all with the Warrior branding, and playing like if Trump had got bitten by a radioactive ape. Along with the Warrior brand, each of these side-businesses strove to represent the fundamental tenets of his new belief system, which he called ‘DESTRUCITY’. Destrucity, as described by the man himself, was about living your life according to his eight defining principles, including Physical, Wisdom, and “Moment of Mastery.

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Warrior’s desire to spread the transformative power of Destrucity led to the formation of the mysterious Warrior University, launched with a 1995 television ad which showed him shouting in a hi-tech, expensive looking gym, bedecked with murals of himself. On his WWF return in 1996, a 90-second commercial for this “academic institution” ran during episodes of WWF Superstars, stating that its campus was an ‘in’ to becoming a WWF wrestler, and attaining one’s destiny. For $9.95, prospective students could send away for an introductory pack, containing pictures of Warrior, motivational essays, and occasionally, surprise phonecalls, where he’d yell at frightened applicants over the phone to buy more Destrucity-infused photos. Those who Warrior considered worthy of his teachings were eligible to pay the first month’s fee of $5,000, and $1,000 every month thereafter. Judging by the adverts, it seems like Warrior U was a physical place, but despite the purchase of thousands of intro packs, if anyone ever actually enrolled or stepped foot in there, they’ve kept quiet about it. Maybe he never found a worthy student.

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It was around this time Warrior published a limited-run comic, both starring and co-written by him, with one issue famously appearing to show him sexually assaulting Santa Claus. But it’s hard to motivate anyone through a comic, and in 2010, he was offering personal trainer services via something called The Warrior Workout Kit. For just $175, those wishing to make sick gains could receive a package containing a welcome letter from the Warrior, a CD of inspirational speech, a signed “frame-worthy 8×10 of your favourite Warrior quote” — plenty to choose from in the following section — and most frightening of all, “motivational phonecalls” from a man with absolutely no patience for anybody, particularly the sort of people who need to get into shape in the first place. I’m not saying the Warrior Workout Kit was style over substance, but a portion of the pitch bragged about the high quality parchment paper and printer ink on which he delivered the included ten-page essay. Once again, clearly intent on weeding out those who wouldn’t stay the course, as though clients were meddling with the dark arts, the kit came with the following warning: “DO NOT DISREGARD MY INSTRUCTION THAT YOU MUST HAVE THREE HOURS OF UNOBSTRUCTED TIME BEFORE YOU OPEN THE START Kit TO REVIEW THE MATERIALS!!”

Warrior University was relaunched in 2012, as an online service where $20 a month would get you motivational videos of him screaming at you, but why waste your time yelling at people to exercise when you can just yell at them for being gay? Where Warrior really started to find his niche was in the conservative speaking tour circuit. Pre-dating the Alt-Right, before InfoWars was mainstream, Warrior was a man tragically ahead of his time, with his public outbursts limited to websites that collated wrestling news, reporting the latest freak-outs from appearances where he threw around guff about “liberal loons” and “physically-repulsive butch-dykes slurping on one another’s tongues.” The man who’d once headlined a 67,000 seater stadium was now being laughed at by college students while rage-sweating through a tailored suit as he referred to Arab audience members as “towelheads,” and announced that “queering doesn’t make the world work.

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As a self-styled conservative commentator, he was a prolific blogger, mining that rich vein of incendiary opinion that the likes of Katie Hopkins and co have since discovered is enough to build an entire career from. When beloved manager Bobby Heenan was diagnosed with cancer, in a gloating post, Warrior could barely contain his glee that Heenan would be “faced with emptying your own personal shitbag” and that “karma is a beautiful thing to behold.” After Heath Ledger died, he rambled about “Bendover Brokeback,” and Willie Nelson’s “queer cowboy song,” before judging Ledger’s death a noble act that removed a negative gay influence from his child. He mocked the survivors of Hurricane Katrina for being fat and poor, while wearing “designer clothes made by rap stars,” and that “their lives were already in ruin — self ruin. Ruined by the bad choices they made over and over.” At every turn, he viciously maligned the business from whence he’d come, and those who’d made a living between its ropes.

But then, despite it all, in 2014 he was back in the WWE fold. At least for a whirlwind 72-hour water-under-the-bridge tour, taking in a Hall of Fame induction, Wrestlemania, and Monday Night Raw, and culminating in his dropping dead in the hotel parking lot before catching the flight home. Subsequently, Warrior was passed into sainthood by the company in which he’d made his name, and with whom he’d spent so long publicly feuding. Backstage footage of him in the wings at ‘mania shaking hands with Hulk Hogan — a man he’d previously accused of being a “dope head” who’d pimped out his own wife — was seemingly enough to complete the turn from hateful lunatic back into good guy. Like one of WWE’s dropped storylines, all wasn’t just forgiven, but completely forgotten, with years of insanity and shit-talking blogs from his side, and the entire DVD they put out devoted to taking the piss out of him from theirs, wiped clean, as though it had never happened.

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Now back to being an inspirational icon, he lives on in the annual Warrior Award, presented at the Hall of Fame ceremony by his widow Dana Warrior, to recipients who live life “with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of the Ultimate Warrior.” A brazen whitewashing of his past remarks, it’s like handing out the Peter Sutcliffe Award for Services to Feminism, and sits uneasily with the myriad bile he’s retched up over the years. It’s impossible not to picture the man himself looking down — or more likely, up — at those being honoured in his name, and wondering what he’d think. Having referred to Darren Drozdov, former WWE wrestler, and following an in-ring accident, quadriplegic, as “the cripple,” it’s possible he’d be shrieking at 2017 Warrior Award winner, paralysed football player Eric LeGrand, to man up and walk. As for 2018’s recipient, a black teenager and double liver-transplant survivor, given Warrior’s previous racially-charged comments about MLK, and his viewing illness as karmic punishment, it’s probably best not to think about it. Similarly, it’s pretty wild the man who took such pleasure in Bobby Heenan’s throat cancer has been posthumously made the public face of WWE’s Unleash Your Warrior campaign for breast cancer awareness.

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A fascinating game in all this is to wonder what if? What if Warrior hadn’t died? Would he still be a walking symbol of bravery and courageous spirit, or would he have blown it by writing a horrible blog about George Michael? Thankfully, an incredible window exists, in the form of a forgotten television pilot; a window into the man himself, and his weird duality of wannabe guru and hateful fascist; but also a window into possible alternate futures, where his steroid-crammed heart hadn’t popped. In 2012, two years before his death, Warrior teamed with Ash Avildsen; son of John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky, and of the greatest movie ever made, The Karate Kid; to create and produce a pilot. The Warrior Show was a perfect outlet for his philosophy of finding yourself through extreme exercise and Destrucity, and while Avildsen’s involvement suggested contestants might be waxing cars or painting the fences at Warrior University, it was all a clear extension of those Warrior Workout Kits, where he claimed to transform lives and get people fit, by yelling at them so loud, the fat literally shook off their bones.

Like any good transformative life-coach reality show, The Warrior Show sought to fix weaklings of spirit, but unlike most reality shows, it never aired on television, rather, on an official Youtube channel hilariously named Mr. Ultimate Warrior (“Please, Mr. Ultimate Warrior is my father’s name. Call me Colin Ultimate Warrior.”). An initial press release claimed the unscripted, self-produced show was made for you to be inspired, laugh, cry and make you want to change your life for the better,” which Warrior expounds upon in his opening voiceover, so typically over-wordy, that he comes across like a rampaging Will Self. When he’s done monologuing, text appears across a black screen reading “THE WARRIOR has been summoned,” suggestive of an arcane ritual to tear open a sub-dimensional portal, before continuing, “to motivate the band ASKING ALEXANDRIA”.

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My knowledge of popular music ends sometime around 2002. If I had to, I could pick Taylor Swift out of a line-up; ditto others who are more meme than musician, like your DJ Khaleds; but anything post-Durst, and I’m struggling. It’s definitely because my brain is filled with other cool stuff like literature and memories of sex with ladies, and not because I’m old. Consequently, I’ve never heard of Asking Alexandria, an English rock band with 1m Twitter followers, which is a thousand times more popular then me, and as such, an impressively big name to have been snagged for this show. I was expecting Scooch or David Van Day or something. My research led to this line on Asking Alexandria’s wiki page:

Ben Bruce has expressed the feeling that the band’s lyrical style before Reckless and Relentless was immature. According to Bruce, the band wanted to move on from yelling out lyrics like “fuck” and “you stupid fucking whore” to a more mature style with more meaning.

2012’s Warrior Show was produced right around the time of this ‘immature’ album — which presumably had a rousing anthem about a farting bum and a heartfelt ballad dedicated to poo and wee — making them the perfect foil for Warrior, as we’re told of their self-destructive, hard-partying lifestyle. There’s a terrible sense of foreboding, as shots of the band hedonistically drowning themselves in booze hard cut to a black screen carrying the angry red missive “WARRIOR will test their limits, to see if they can stay at the top, or succumb to FAILURE” It’s a smart, and definitely unintentional move, in choosing contestants so patently unlikeable, the audience is forced to side with the daft old racist before it’s even begun. Give ’em hell, big Jim!

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A load of walking haircuts in leather jackets, the yawning pricks wait around a random parking lot at 10pm for Warrior to show. They’re already whining, all shit tattoos, piercings, and ripped skinny jeans. One of them has a cigarette stuck on his bottom lip; another faux-casually swigs from a bottle of wine. Random, giggling girls loiter like comets caught in the gravitational pull of a planet-sized wanker, and everyone is trying very hard not to care about trying at all. And then, there he is; not heaving himself out of a crack in the Earth, but calmly strolling over and shaking hands, with polite nice-to-meet-yous.

Warrior dismisses the girlfriends like birds off a hippo’s back, and leads the sniggering lads into a warehouse gym for a sitdown chat. The entire thing has the feel of a movie where everyone’s playing nice, but that one guy has a look in their eyes, and there’s a terrible escalating dread while the audience is just waiting for the turn. The band, only one of whom even knows who Warrior is (from “old wrestling videos”) will never see it coming. He disingenuously praises the wine-glugging singer, daring him “take a big swig of it, man, show me you can drink it out of the bottle,” like Kevin the Teenager’s mum congratulating Perry on the grown-up beard he’s biroed onto his chin. Warrior’s scarlet complexion is symptomatic of a resting blood temperature that’s volcanic, and everything they say and do further cranks up the dial on his rage. As the wine bottle gets down to its last mouthful, the first toot of steam blasts out. “You like being fucked up all the time?

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As such a collection of hideous caricatures that I’d love to run over with a fucking lawnmower, of course, every response AA give to this seething psychopath is the worst possible choice. Sure, says the singer, he loves being fucked up, and when Warrior asks if they do any exercise, “our stage show!” In fact, when this little workout’s done, you have to come onstage with us, new friend! “No, I don’t have to go on any stage. I’ve been on stages. I don’t have to prove anything to anybody any more.” He lectures them about the runner’s high; more of a buzz than “the pot or the coke,” and the evils of fast food, which brings to mind the story about him on the road, back in the day, when he’d buy a bag of cookies, crumble them up in his hands and sniff the remains, before tossing them out of the car window.

As an ex-wrestler, he draws on his enormous collection of dead colleagues, who “dropped like fuckin’ flies,” and that being a party-boy isn’t the way to live (note: he is now also dead). Smartmouth asks if sex is exercise, only to be berated that he’s “shit at fuckin’,” which seems like a funny remark, until it cuts to Warrior literally asking their young, embarrassed girlfriends if that’s true. But finally, talk-time is over, and the workout must begin — “You gonna run in those fuckin’ cowboy boots, John Wayne?” Lined up on the floor are a series of multiple-page legal forms that, from what I can make out with a freeze frame, free WARRIOR LLC from liability in case of paralysis, total or partial disability, disfigurement or death. Of course, everybody signs, and he makes them change into Warrior-branded workout gear. All have terrible chest tattoos. One can’t operate the drawstring in a pair of shorts. Two of them sneak outside for a cigarette.

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By now, Warrior resembles that meme of the kid at the desk with the veiny forehead, and orders them into a military line, to better shout his promo about souls and formulas, and rock n rollers all being little punks. Each violently-spat syllable makes him redder and angrier, as he yells “one way to develop the fuckin’ discipline, IS BY BEATIN’ THE SHIT OUT OF YOURSELF, AND YOUR FUCKIN’ BODY!” And still, they’re all trying not to laugh, like when you got called in the headmaster’s office with your mates. Then finally, it happens. The turn. “You drank a bottle of fuckin’ wine,” roars Warrior, now so red that I’ve gotten sunburn through the TV, and prodding a pulsating finger in the chest of the singer, “that is FUCKIN’ DISRESPECTFUL TO ME, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!

Remember when you were a kid and a teacher would suddenly snap? Like, really snap? Sure, you’d heard them yell before, but now they reached a volume that makes everyone sit back in their chairs and realise “this is a real person, and we’ve gone too far.” That time for me came when a Design & Technology teacher threw my entire desk out into the hall and literally roared his desire to give me a good hiding. For Asking Alexandria, the moment should be now. But millennials, man, even though he’s bawling in their faces and grabbing them by the shirt, they’re just stood there, arms folded, rolling their eyes and trying not to laugh. I hope they checked those contracts, as there’s probably a clause where he can legally fuck them to death with a barbell.

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At this point, Warrior is the angriest human I have ever seen. We live in an era of professional shouters, like the cartoonish anger of Gordon Ramsay threatening to inject a restaurateur’s genitals with molten glass because their blueberry flan was a bit tart, but this is something else. Though I try to represent the volume of his rage using italics and caps, an accurate depiction would require a font so enormous it’d be readable from the surface of the moon. Stalking up and down, fists like hand grenades, he orders them “mind your fuckin’ manners,” and asks how many push-ups the animated monster on their merchandise could do. “Plenty,” shrugs a band-prick; “fuckin’ MILLIONS!” replies Warrior, demanding they all drop and give him fifty. This is his domain now, and we’re blessed with a speed-metal soundtrack to the visual of skinny-fat band lads really struggling to do push-ups. Next, they’re dragged into the carpark, where heavy chains are draped across their shoulders, in an over-laboured metaphor.

Forcing them to sprint up and down like Jacob Marley, Warrior turns his anger on the film crew, berating them for not being able keep up with the runners while laden with equipment, leaving everyone running for their lives, and the cameras wobbling like they’re being chased by the Blair Witch. Once his top is blown, it’s all coming out, like the final day of a gym teacher who’s no longer allowed to see his kids. He taunts the singer with “I saw that fuckin’ belly!” and yells “HERE’S SOME FUCKIN’ HEAVY METAL FOR YA!” while throwing chain on top of chain, tormenting the now-terrified band as they stagger round an abandoned industrial park at midnight. The mere sight of the girlfriends, peeking out of a door, has him furiously ejecting them; “I don’t need you around here. It’s fuckin’ silly.

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Nobody’s laughing now, with a crazed Warrior declaring “I’m the chain master!” and ordering a hundred squats, to “build up your ass, so you can get prepared for THE FUCKING you’re gonna get when you’re NOT PREPARED!” Solid logic. The thunderous assault of enforced exercise finally wipes the smiles from their faces, with the shell-shocked and broken band, barely able to stand, still draped in multiple chains, forced on one final drill; a literal hands-and-knees crawl along the concrete towards their tormentor. As he gives the inspiring speech about how exercise changed his life, and it can change theirs too, they genuinely look like survivors of something terrible, like the last man standing at the end of a Saw movie. But Warrior’s calmed now, in that post-orgasmic bliss where you’ve brutally tortured a group of unsuspecting fools and they came out the other side. He extends his appreciation for coming, while one of them vomits. Then someone asks “I didn’t actually catch your real name.” Ooh, shit. “My real name is Warrior; it has been for 20 years,” he says, striding out of frame, one last blast of disgust and murderous anger painted across his face; “that’s it, just the one name.”

As a prospective reality show, The Warrior Show contained the genesis of a good idea. It’s hugely entertaining watching a bunch of swaggering jerks being Full Metal Jacketed by a man himself lumbered with an enormous amount of issues, who barracked them into signing away the legal right to not be exercised to actual death. People love that self-help, snake-oil babble, but funnelled through the psychotic shouting of a truly insane figurehead, I could see this having been a minor hit. There is one really striking fact of its production. The entire series of events, from first meeting Warrior to saying their goodbyes, happens over the course of two hours, which for the band, must turn the whole experience into just another drinking story. “I had a bottle of wine, and some guy invited us to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere and made us run around in chains until we shat.” If it ever got to be a real series, the thought of some poor fuckers being left to Warrior’s control and whims for, say, a week, is an exciting one, though everyone involved would have been dead by the third day, Warrior included.

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The Warrior Show did tape one more episode, featuring the band I See Stars as victims of his mentorship. I’m not seeing the connection between the Ultimate Warrior and the weird niche of noisy young metalheads, but they’re a far less arrogant lot than AA, so this round of torture turns the volume down slightly. That said, it does begin with a livid Warrior hammering on the windows of their camper van with his forearms, like those people who wait outside the court for child murderers. Though there’s less puking, episode two does provide a couple of wonderful glimpses into the big guy’s life/mind. When describing his relationship with his daughters, he tells us how they’re not allowed to turn their heads or move their eyes when he’s speaking to them, having to look directly at him so he can “see inside their soul.” Then, when asking the band about their musical tastes, Warrior informs them he listens to “a variety of different stuff, and a lot of times, I just like silence… I like my own thoughts, I like my own ideas.

Warrior cuts an odd figure in these. He’s still a big guy, and vocally carrying himself like the Ultimate Warrior of old, but physically hunched and slightly buckled, with the round-shouldered posture of a clenched fist. It’s as though his intensity is so overwhelming, he’s being collapsed inwards like a dying star. He hobbles around on bandy legs, and appears to have shrunken vertically since his glory days, clearly shorter than each member of the band as he goes all crazed drill instructor in their faces. Tellingly, though his whole deal is physical fitness and big muscles, he never takes off his trackie top. If someone with that ego thought he looked good, he’d be swanning around in a little vest. Aging must be a particularly potent sting for those who’ve devoted their whole lives to sculpting their bodies, unable to stop the sagging and warping, no matter how hard they train, no matter how much ‘help’ they ingest, with workouts getting harder for less result, where just maintaining the very notion of who they are is like running up a slope that’s getting increasingly steep.

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Of course, the show happily delves into his rage issues, while swerving the more problematic areas of that anger, barring the moment two of the lads are wearing moccasins, causing him to spit “are you guys fuckin’ Indians or what?” The character of the Ultimate Warrior, particularly given his iconic WWF entrance music, seems spiritually connected to the genre of metal, but I’m curious how he’d have coped with a party-hard group of rappers. Had this somehow gotten a full series, you wonder if it would have strayed further than bands who were white hetero bros. But had he lived, allow me to mindlessly speculate how things could have gone pretty differently.

A still-living Warrior could have slotted perfectly into the current political landscape, and it’s easy to imagine him yelling about cucks and soyboys, as a right wing darling in a roster of Scott Baio’s that’s sorely lacking in star power. With Vince McMahon’s wife, Linda, part of Trump’s cabinet, the WWE continued its status as a flag-waving Republican hellscape, having previously sent out their top star to announce the death of Bin Laden to a cheering live crowd, and where revived football spin-off league, the XFL, assures viewers there will be no kneeling. Warrior’s previous rants about Katrina or gays were stuck in the shadows of his personal blog, but as a hypothetical, it’s not hard to see a mildly toned-down version of the same act, power-suited and wearing the iconic face-paint, as the WWE Network’s Alex Jones. Maybe that does exist somewhere, out there in the only timeline that’s stupider than the one we’re currently stuck in.

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Past Laugh Regression: Part Four – Russ Abbot

•July 9, 2018 • 3 Comments

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Here’s Part One. And Part Two. And Part Three.

The very title Russ Abbot’s Madhouse conjurors images of cruel Victorian asylums; scream-filled corridors, where wailing patients rhythmically smash their heads against filthy walls, their desperate pleas for mercy scrawled with human effluence. If anything, such pictures are more palatable than the truth, though by the end of this piece, we may all find ourselves yearning for the ice-baths, and the sweet liberation of being spiked through the frontal lobe.

Even when I watched as a lad, Russ Abbot had an aura of the middle-aged about him. Though only in his 30s, the long-faced, toupee-wearing Abbot seemed a different generation to the frenetic young rockstars of 80’s comedy; the Davros and Starrs, stomping around with sweat-patches to gales of laughter. He was gentler, more Beano-ish, like a 50’s rocker trapped in the first fires of punk. Oh, and he looked exactly like a clean-shaven Hulk Hogan

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I begin my reappraisal with the television special, Russ Abbot’s Summer Madhouse, which originally aired in June 1985, and I surely would have watched at the time, aged six. Of course, you don’t just get Abbot, but a veritable ensemble of 80’s comedy’s biggest names, starting with one of the most iconic, in Les Dennis. Nobody really made it through that period without becoming the punchline, did they? Perhaps Les most of all. It’s weird to think that he even used to be a comedian, and I’ll give £1,000 to anyone who can quote a single joke, routine or character of his, with small print excluding the example of “I don’t really know!

Dennis is paired here with his double-act partner, Dustin Gee. Gee, who’d die seven months after Summer Madhouse, aged 43, has somewhat of a 27 Club rep among the 80’s variety set. Taken so young, he’s spoken of in terms of unfulfilled promise, and how Dennis and Gee would have gone so much further, given the chance. I’ll be the judge of that. Also featured in the crew are Hi-di-hi‘s Jeffrey Holland, Susie Blake and Sherrie Hewson, and everyone’s favourite Grandpa Munster lookalike, the great and much-missed Bella Emberg. Oddly, the confusing theme tune — “livin’ it up, duckin’ and a divin’; living it up, wheelin’ and a dealin’!” — seems like that of a consumer rights show, where the gang run an unlicensed building firm swindling the elderly into paying for non-existent driveways. But it’s good to start as you mean to go on, in this case, scratching all the skin off your head thanks to a Russ Abbot musical number.

With the word ‘Summer’ in the title, I thought it might be like those brilliant summer specials from the British comics of my childhood, where the characters are all on the beach, as though they’re on a well-deserved holiday from their job of ‘being in comics’. Sadly, it’s just an extended episode of his regular series. I say sadly, because it’s immediately clear that this is the worst thing I’ve ever had to sit through, and that includes the Fred Durst sex tape, and that video where a diver accidentally bisects his skull on a concrete pier.

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The opening sketch really sets the level, with a boat captain dropping a big piece of wood; “What’s that?” — “Ship’s log.” Serving as a warning for the 45 minutes to come, there are a succession of terrible puns, and the arrival of a hook-handed Bella Emberg, and it’s all downhill from there. Though thankfully light on impressions, we’re still subjected to Les Dennis with a bit of black on his teeth as Jimmy Tarbuck, interviewing Dustin Gee’s ‘Silly Black’. I feel like almost the entirety of the 1980s was taken up by two things; people pretending they couldn’t pronounce Arnold Schwarzenegger’s very-easy-to-pronounce surname, and shit impressions of Cilla Black, via shrieking all of her catchphrases — “Surprise surprise, chuck!” “lorra lorra laughs!” and “I was notoriously despised by everyone in the service industry!” It’s during this horror-show that we’re greeted with the return of an old friend.

Tarbuck: I had a dream about you last night.

Black: Did you?

Tarbuck: No, you wouldn’t let me.

If you’re keeping score, not even including the time it cropped up in my Carry On Emmanuelle piece, that’s the third fucking time this joke from Carry On Doctor has come up in Past Laugh Regression. Three quarters of them. And it’s not like I’ve been extensively combing through entire series; just dipping into a couple of episodes per act. This time, I barely got seven minutes in. Is this joke in everything ever made? It’s there. It’s always there. Following me. Haunting me. Like that Jim Carrey film where he’s being stalked by the number 23. If it happens once more, I’ll have to sift through every single piece of media ever released to find them all so they’ll leave me alone. I bet it’s started appearing in things that use to be clean of it. There it is now, in Fitzcarraldo; in Derek Jarman’s Blue; in every episode of a 12-part docuseries about Auschwitz.

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One of Abbot’s best known characters is Superman knock-off, Cooperman, and he shows up in a sketch where a pub TV’s interrupted by a newsflash, reporting that General Zod from Krypton is about to destroy the world with nukes. Abbot’s straight out of his seat, declaring–

Abbot: I’m bent!

Barman: I beg your pardon?!

Abbot: Clark Bent!

A few things here. Firstly, are all of Abbot’s jokes just rhyming a thing with another thing? Secondly, Zod from Krypton? Wait, so Cooperman’s canon in the world of the actual Superman? Fighting Superman villains? It’s not General Bod, or Dodd (that could have been good; massive teeth and shooting heat-rays out of his tickle-stick), but proper Zod from Superman II? I wonder what Cooperman’s origin story is? Initially, I didn’t get what it was even meant to be a pun on, and maybe it was an obscure reference to barrel-making. It’s only when he holds his hands like how you’d mime a limp spider that I realise it’s supposed to be Tommy Cooper. You’d never know from the impression. Why not have a Fez with a Superman symbol on it? Brilliantly, they’ve clearly not even seen Superman II, as General Zod is Jeffrey Holland playing a blustering military man in army gear and an actual general’s beret, firing nukes to start WW3 because he obviously has no superpowers. Shouldn’t he should have the same powers as Cooperman? Is their Krypton full of men who talk like Tommy Cooper? “Just like that,” exchanged in passing as an informal greeting? The logic of this is breaking my mind, let alone the stress of wondering if Bella Emberg’s Blunder Woman comes from an island filled with Bella Emberg-style Amazonians.

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Another famous Abbot character, which turns up in the 1986 episode of the regular Madhouse that I also watched, is 007 parody, Basildon Bond. Like his Sherlock bit, Barratt Holmes; a pun on a well-known property developer; Basildon Bond is a delicious reference to office stationary. Oh my sides. Fans of witty names will also enjoy Bond’s secretary, Miss Funnyfanny, and Les Dennis as ‘P’. The highlight of this sketch, as in every moment she’s present, is Emberg’s Russian KGB agent. Though Bond’s told to translate as he’s bilingual — “well I do wear a dress and slingbacks, sir” — her spiky yelling of Russian-sounding phrases, like Gorky Park and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, leave both men unable to keep a straight face. Because of the way she was presented as a lumbering grotesque, as a child, I thought Bella Emberg was the biggest woman in the world. When you mimicked a fat person at school, holding your arms by your sides and waddling around with puffed cheeks, Emberg is who you said you were. But watching as an adult, just like the scary dads of schoolfriends who now seem old and small, she’s rather strikingly normal; just a woman.

But you know who’s not great? I know it’s not good to speak ill of the dead, but Dustin Gee is roundly awful, though he is trapped in a family-friendly show that seems unwilling to acknowledge the natural high camp that leaks into his every character. When he’s draped in flowers as a gardening expert, half his material is double-entendre, like “I’ve had a lot of mail this week; in fact my bag’s been full” and “I’m a fruit fanatic,” which play to the silence of an audience who clearly haven’t been cued to laugh. Unwilling to commit to such smut, but getting big laffs from words like “testimonials,” which sounds a tiny bit like testicles, the house style isn’t just toothless, but missing its gums. There is one political gag, when Neil Kinnock’s said to be looking at the papers, “looking for a nice paper to cover the cracks in his party.” Slap-bang in the heyday of Thatcher’s rotten Britain, its placement explains a lot about the quality of what we’re seeing.

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Other than its astounding unfunniness, so far it’s been pretty inoffensive, all bright colours and childish gags, like something you’d expect to see on CBBC. Cue, the Four Bottoms. Not one, not two, but three men in blackface, which, as always, is 99% of the joke (“haha, the blacks!”). In a ‘parody’ of the Four Tops, the gag here, as in Copy Cats take on Winifred Atwell, is that one of their number has turned white. How? Well…

I went out for a walk in your British rain, and this is how I looked when I got back in again!”

Yes, the dirt of his filthy blackness washed off. The song focusses on how the now-white Abbot no longer fits their colour scheme, because — “The problem is, it makes our act look wonky, you can’t have three black guys and one honky.” They sing about possible replacements — “We could try Charlie Williams, or at a pinch, there’s Trevor McDonald, or even old Kenny Lynch” — literally just NAMING black men as a punchline. Is this one of the ‘songs of joy’ referred to in the theme? Ironically the music itself is the whitest thing you’ve ever heard, and like all of the many musical numbers in the show, it’s a weedy casio-keyboard-demo, so weak, it’s like drinking lemonade made from half a teaspoon dropped into the waters of the great flood.

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A later musical sketch aged badly in a different way. I almost wept when The Neverly Brothers began droning another of Abbot’s fetid wine bar cabaret numbers, with the joke that one stayed home “doing sums,” while the other lived the rock and roll lifestyle. While providing no intentional laughs, it is a wonderful demonstration of the ever-evolving use of language.

One played cool, didn’t act the fool,

And tried to live his life right,

Yes, one looked after his money, baby,

And one got bummed every night.

Then it’s onto more racial stereotyping with C.U. Jimmy. If you’re unfamiliar with the character, it’s a ginger-wigged, tartan-clad, violent alcoholic, who spits pseudo-Scottish gibberish at 100pmh and is tight with money. Abbot may have only taken existing “och aye the noo!” stereotypes, but he certainly popularised them. I wonder what actual Scots thought of this character, which genuinely seemed to shape the English idea of what a Scotsman was, in the vein of Harry Enfield’s later public image dehabilitation of Liverpudlians. I went to Scotland as a kid, where the gift shops were full of Tam ‘O Shanter hats with ginger hair attached, and bought a joke book containing howlers like “Why are all Scottish churches round? So there’s no corners to hide in from the collection plate!” The shop-keeps probably want to spit on your foul English money when you’re buying that tin of authentic shortbread with a little white dog on the front. Jimmy’s skit begins with him reaching under the covers after a nightmare, thinking he’s pissed the bed. “It’s worse than I thought,” he says, taking out a three-feet-high whiskey bottle that’s half-empty, which made me wish Abbot would make a dark, post-modern comeback as C. U. Limmy.

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Madhouse is a weird combination of the kind of punchlines you’d read on the back of a chocolate bar, which seem like they’re aimed at children, and stuff that’s so overly wordy, you have to run it back a couple of times to make sense of it. In the same sketch, you get a weather girl giving it the old “It’s raining cats and dogs, so remember to wear your wellies, or you might step in a poodle!” and then this, from Gee’s gardening expert: “I’ve had a letter from Mr. Banks again. Do you remember he won, when he put up his root veg at the Super Swede Show in Buckingham? Well, he’s won again; that’s a turnip for the books.” Hello, BTW, if you just woke from your surprise nap after reading the previous line.

The gardener section is a succession of truly piss-weak jokes, like on the suggestion of planting some onions, “it’s a good idea, cos I know my onions,” and when he tells Jimmy he’s off home, “I’ve got an ‘ome. It’s at the bottom of the garden. It’s a garden gnome.” Yeah, thanks for explaining. I’d been struggling since the beginning, but really hit the wall during the Three Musketeers sketch, which featured Abbot as ‘Fartanian,’ and dick-drivel such as: “You once saved a friend of mine. His name was Luca, you went to his aid” — “ah yes, Lucozade!” All the ensemble sketches feel exactly like the final round of The Generation Game, where contestants had to put on a costume play, and of all the Past Laugh Regressions so far, this is the one that most pushed me into fantasies about mutilating myself.

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It’s just endless misery; endless. Yet another fucking song, from Cooperman’s Christmas album during a summer special; a ski-lodge where Abbot refuses to evacuate during an avalanche as “we’ll ‘ave our lunch later.” Please, I beg you to end my life. And then, in the flesh, in its natural habitat, Les Dennis does his Mavis Riley. After all these years, it’s like only ever having seen pictures of it, before finally visiting the Louvre to stand in front of the original Mona Lisa. You know, if the Mona Lisa was shit. But we’re even robbed of an “I don’t really know,” as it’s all just the lead-in to Russ Abbot’s new single, All Night Holiday. As Abbot earnestly jigs about in his hairpiece and big suit, the summertime special feeling hits, when I finally feel beach-body ready — ready for my body to be found washed up on the beach.

The ’86 Madhouse is no better, with the lone positive that nobody’s dressed as Hitler. Still, the songs keep coming, this time, a 1920’s PG Wodehouse setting, for Whispering Hubert and the Constipated Seven, and his new dance craze the Gosh It’s Really Hurting Me Rag. Something happens to me during this, perhaps an unconscious psychological survival technique of blocking out trauma, because on the lyrics “bend your knees and turn your toes, feel that snap as the tendon goes,” I find myself transported back to the late 80s.

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I’m performing the Dopey Disco Rap, a parody of barn dance callers, alongside my mate Matt – who gives an accompanying back-beat of monkey noises — at the end of term junior school talent show. Following from the aforementioned previous years’ Cannon and Ball and Jonathan King skits, this was a showcase for Millard-penned lyrics such as “grab your partner’s greasy hair; throw your partner in the air,” and “now here comes the funny bit; throw your partner in a pit,” which I’ll be honest, brought the fucking house down. Though it did result in me, many years later at senior school, being punched by some bigger boys for refusing to recite it on command as they stood around smoking by the tennis courts, but such is the price of fame. Anyway my point is, a thing I did when I was ten holds up way better than this. Incidentally, that was my first experience of creative censorship. As we stepped onto the stage, Mr. Saunders asked what we were called. “The Dopey Disco Rap, sir,” I told him, only to hear us introduced as as “Paperchase” because he felt DDR was too rude. I’m basically Kanye before Kanye existed.

Alright, back to this excreta. There’s a telling blooper at the end of a sketch featuring Les Dennis explaining to hypnotherapist Heinz von Meatball that he’s in love with a duck, where Abbot accidentally spits something out onto the desk as he’s yelling. It’s most likely a mint, or a false tooth, but possibly a real tooth, as if the terrible material is rotting him from the inside. Each sketch physically degrading him further; a Cooperman where his anus falls out, and he has to kick it out of frame; a Tarzan parody ruined by Abbot’s dessicated skin falling from his flesh, unravelling from the helmet. By the time we get to the big final number, he’ll just be a loose pile of meat, with a single eyeball that fixes the camera with silent pleas to finish him off. That would’ve been preferable to what we do get; yet another joke-less, tuneless song, this time about a vain Frenchman, which gets no laughs, except for the one first that fills my room, and then the hall, and finally the street outside, as I walk into the path of oncoming traffic. I’ll leave you with one final thing. Les Dennis played Uncle Fester in the Addams Family Musical.

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Goodnight!

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Great Moments in Pop Culture – Jimmy Stewart Smuggles a Yeti’s Finger

•July 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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As much as this is a story about Jimmy Stewart, more than that, it’s the tale of oil magnate, adventurer, and heist-architect, Tom Slick. An oil man literally called Tom Slick is so on-the-nose, it sounds like something from The Dandy, but Tom Slick was real, and exactly the sort of man I want to be. That is, super rich, and spending my time and resources on crazy shit. Slick’s money, aquired through his status as heir to his daddy’s oil fortune, was used to establish a number of research institutes, investigating topics like astrophysics and human consciousness. He was fascinated with the idea of mental powers, perhaps sparked by a meeting with an Indian mystic who claimed he could levitate; something Slick envisioned could save a lot of resources when applied to the construction industry. Although he never did figure out telekinetic brick-laying, in 1984, Slick’s Texas Biomedical Research Institute did perform the first successful transplant of a baboon’s heart into a human body. But Slick also self-funded various expeditions in search of legendary mysterious creatures, such as Nessie, Orang Pendek, the giant salamander of Trinity Alps, and the Yeti.

Though its mythos is of a living survivor from prehistoric times, the Western notion of a Yeti only really became a thing in 1951, with a photograph taken by mountineer Eric Shipton. Known as the Shipton Footprint, this was my own introduction to the Yeti, via the ‘Unexplained Mysteries’ series of trading cards you got inside Brooke Bond teabags. An evocative image, Shipton’s black and white photograph shows an enormous, sunken footprint pushed into the snow, primate-like with a fat toe bent off at an angle, and measuring the full length of the pickaxe which lays beside to give a sense of scale. Like the Surgeon’s Photograph of Nessie, this was the kickstarter to Yeti mania. The Daily Mail — as when they embraced the Loch Ness phenomena in 1933, with front page coverage that effectively birthed the very idea of Nessie into public consciousness — funded an expedition to locate the creature.

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The Mail‘s 1954 ‘Snowman Expedition’ saw a team of scientists, zoologists, biologists, anthropologists, mountaineers, and over 200 Sherpas, trekking up Everest and around the Himalayas for six gruelling months. This hunt for the newly-named Abominable Snowman found little but unexplained footprints, though locals did allow the team to view, for the first time, sacred relics of supposed Yeti remains, which included bones and scalps, and at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, an entire mummified hand; the Pangboche Hand. Incidentally, it’s odd to think the of Daily Mail, a maligned rag that exists solely to stir up racially-motivated fear in your dad, and to ogle “busty displays” from teenage celebrities, having played such a formative role in two of cryptozoology’s greatest legends. It’s like if The Sun had invented Mothman.

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Whereas modern Bigfoot culture is primarily associated with rednecks stumbling around the woods, back then, hairy manbeasts were considered fringe-science candidates for the Missing Link; a speculative half-man, half-beast evolutionary midpoint. Though the idea of a catch-all Missing Link has fallen out of favour, for a while, it served as a scientific El Dorado; everyone chasing the discovery of this thing, to have their name forever linked with the find of the century. In such a climate, rumours of a large, gnarled, hairy hand was like spotting flakes of gold in the river, especially to a man like Tom Slick.

In 1956, Slick announced plans for a trip to Katmandu to capture the creature, which he’d track with a pack of bloodhounds while observing from above in a helicopter, but was scuppered when the local government refused permission. The following year, a bill was passed, legally prohibiting foreign visitors from killing any Yetis. The American government followed suit in 1959, issuing a memo entitled “Regulations Governing Mountain Climbing Expeditions in Nepal – Relating to Yeti” with three regulations.

— Permits for Yeti searches have to be purchased from the government of Nepal.

— Yetis must not be killed, but can be photographed or captured alive, with all photographs immediately submitted to the government. And no shooting at a Yeti, except in self-defence.

— Evidence of the Yeti must be immediately submitted to the government, and not released to the press without express permission.

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Despite enough red tape to give Noel Edmonds an aneurysm, Slick wasn’t perturbed, particularly as one of his team of adventurers, Peter Byrne, had personally observed the Pangboche Hand during a Slick-sponsored expedition in 1958. Displaying spectacular white-tourist privilege, Byrne had asked the monks if he could just have the sacred relic, but they refused, as removing the hand was thought to bring bad luck on the temple. On Slick’s urging, he returned the following year, to request just a single finger. But this time, Byrne was armed, so to speak, with a finger of his own. The digit had been provided by William Osman Hill, a London professor of primatology and associate of Slick’s. Eager to find proof of the Yeti, during a meeting with the pair, Hill had dumped a severed human hand onto the table, and suggested they lop off a finger and make the switch.

Byrne returned to the monastery in 1959, where he swapped out one of the Yeti’s fingers for the human one, although there are differing stories of how this went down. In one, Byrne explained the plan, and bartered a donation of $160 before cutting off the finger and attaching the replacement with the monks’ permission. In the other version, he got the monks drunk before sneakily swapping the fingers over, like when Indy steals the idol at the start of Raiders, and scuttling off into the snow. From there, Byrne and the finger travelled to India. But as I found once when looking on eBay for legitimate shrunken heads because I’m a ghoul, British customs frown upon the importing of human (or manbeast) remains, leaving Byrne with the problem of getting the finger back to London.

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Luckily, Slick had connections. Namely, friend-of-a-friend, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who was holidaying in India at the time with his wife, Gloria. Incredibly not weirded out by some guy traipsing around with an illicit mummified body-part in his backpack, and with a keen interest in natural history, Stewart promised he’d get the finger back to London, where Tom Slick was waiting. Knowing that British customs officers were too polite to go rooting around in a lady’s underwear case, Stewart hid the dead finger among his wife’s knickers. The plan was a success, and finally reaching random-hand-procurer Osman Hill for analysis, Hill declared it the bone of a legitimate Neanderthal. Following Slick’s death in 1962, when the plane he was travelling in “disintegrated mid-flight,” the hand became another forgotten relic.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the Pangboche Finger made its reappearance, when a fragment was tested by the television show Unsolved Mysteries, which tissue sampling intriguingly concluded was “near human.” Unfortunately, Unsolved Mysteries roused a little too much interest, as the original Pangboche Hand was promptly stolen from the monastery soon after the episode aired, disappearing into the underground black market of antiquities, never to be seen again. The Pangboche Hand on display in the monstary today is a replica, put together by special effects workshop Weta — of the LOTR films — based on the original photographs taken by Peter Byrne.

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The severed finger re-emerged in 2011, among a number of items bequeathed to the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum, from the private collection of Osman Hill, literally inside a box labelled ‘Yeti Finger’. It was tested once again, this time with more advanced DNA sequencing, which revealed the finger to be… human. Though it’s disappointing it didn’t turn out to be the bones of a legendary monster, on the other hand, this means Jimmy Stewart once smuggled a human finger into the country by hiding it in his wife’s bras. Jimmy Stewart; beloved gentleman actor of Hollywood’s golden age; confirmed smuggler of human remains. Speaking of movies, this whole tale is crying out for an adaptation starring Tom Hanks and Jack Black as Stewart and Slick. Incredibly, a movie titled Tom Slick: Monster Hunter was once greenlit, with Nic Cage attached as the lead, but fell into development hell, most likely after they realised I’d drop dead from excitement if it ever went ahead.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this 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 and forgotten Forteana.

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One World Over – The Day that Davro Died

•June 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

one world over

In this series of fictional pieces, we’ll look at the moments that almost happened, but didn’t. At least, not here. Take 30 seconds to familiarise yourself with how it went down in our reality, before we move one world over, on the day Bobby Davro was put in the stocks.

…comedian and entertainer Bobby Davro, who died today, at the age of 33.” Lionel Blair reached across to the remote and flicked off the TV. His wife had been watching from the door-frame, and padded across in her carpet slippers to sit beside him on the sofa.

“You can’t blame yourself, love,” she said.

“No, no… what a day though. Poor Bobby…”

“At least they weren’t specific. ‘An accident during the filming of a show,’ that’s all they said.” She gave him a loving pat on the thigh, while Lionel nodded. A small mercy indeed. That was the part of Bobby’s death that really hurt. Not that he was so young, or that he was a friend; it was the sheer… indignity of it all. As his showbiz career approached its fortieth year, Lionel found interviewers’ questions more frequently moving towards topics of retirement and mortality, and he was often asked how he’d like to go, if given the choice. “Dancing on the table during my hundredth birthday party” was his pat response. But Bobby, poor Bobby, he’d met his maker while trapped inside a BBC prop, falling face-first to a broken neck with his trousers down.

That had been Lionel’s doing; the trousers. It’s funny, isn’t it? The most British joke there is. A teacher or a priest, or a mayor cutting a ribbon, and then – a flash of falling cloth and a bare pair of legs, often accompanied by the sound of a slide-whistle. It’s funny because it robs the victim of their dignity. He’d done it on instinct, just leant over and gave them a tug, and down they came. Fifteen seconds later, Bobby was dead. Lionel had watched from a distance when the paramedics came in; though it was clear by then he was already gone; as they lifted him onto a stretcher and took him away. His trousers were still at half-mast, exposing a pair of white boxer shorts dotted with little red hearts. At that moment, Lionel had found himself picturing Elvis, old and fat, and keeling over while in the midst of a big shit.

“I’m going up to bed,” said Mrs. Blair, “you coming?”

“In a bit. I think I’ll just sit for a while.”

“Alright, love.”

When he was finally alone, Lionel put his head out into the hall and waited for the whir of the extractor fan on the landing, signalling his wife’s night-time bathroom routine. He quietly closed the living room door and moved into the centre of the room, opposite the large mirror that hung above the mantle, deliberately avoiding his own gaze. Lionel unbuckled his belt. He was still in good shape after all these years; a dancer’s legs, his wife would always say; which he accentuated with tight-fitting trousers. They didn’t start to come down until he unpopped the top three buttons of the fly, sliding past his knees and onto the floor. He held his arms out by his sides, crooked at the elbows, and hunching forwards slightly, as Bobby had. Then, he tried to move, just a little; a small rocking motion, like being bumped into on an escalator. Before he could stop himself from toppling, he was on the rug on his hands and knees.

“Bloody hell, Lionel,” he said, in a soft voice, “what have you done?”

lionel

“We’re talking to Jim Bowen. Friend, colleague; Jim, what are your memories of Bobby?”

“He was such a great lad. Real family man. Could make anyone laugh, he really could. Drive you crazy sometimes when you were stuck in a dressing room with him pratting about, but that was magic in front of the lens, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

That was the fifth interview Jim had done that morning. Or was it sixth? Some local radio stuff and a couple of the big papers. He’d said things about dead friends before; even about some who were still with us, for those obits they recorded years in advance for the stars who were really famous, or really old. Seemed daft to him, like an accident waiting to happen. Some poor bugger presses the wrong button and suddenly the whole world thinks the Queen Mother’s fallen off her perch. Jim remembered the time he reeled off a solemn anecdote about the sad passing of Frankie Howerd for Radio 4 while the very-much-alive Frankie was stood next to him at the bar, trying to put him off by miming a stiffy with a bottle of Cola. But he’d never done one that felt like this before. Poor Bobby.

The oldest cliché was true, and the show must go on, with Jim in the back of a taxi, on his way to another taping of Bullseye.

“Here,” asked the driver, meeting his passenger’s eyes in the mirror, “how’s old Cheggers taking it? Them two were mates weren’t they? Did he see it?”

“Oh, Keith? He’s alright. Yeah… he’s doing alright.” Keith wasn’t doing alright, not at all. Over a phone call they’d had last night, it was clear that Keith had taken it very hard, and was back on the bottle. He kept going on about that German footballer who broke his neck, but held it in place with his hands and finished the match. “You’re not supposed to move them, are you?” he’d said, then the line went quiet like he’d dropped the phone. Jim could hear him stumbling around in the background, and listened for a bit at Keith’s distant cries of distress, which were incoherent but for an alarmingly clear “why’d you have to touch him?!” followed by what sounded like an enormous bookcase crashing to the floor. He’d tried calling back later, to tell him he mustn’t blame himself. Things happen, and there’s no point dwelling on the whys. Laying awake at night won’t help you change the pa—

“Turn that shit off, will yer?!” yelled Jim, with a sudden volume that even made himself jump.

“Soz, mate,” said the driver, so startled that he didn’t just change channels from the Simon Mayo show playing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, but switched the radio off altogether. He drove in silence for a few minutes, before a voice came from the back seat.

“Sorry, son,” said Jim. His legs were shaking.

One World Jim small2

“Lovely speech by Les.”

“Beautiful, very moving, wouldn’t you say, Keith?” Keith was already looking unsteady, and scanning the room for a reason to excuse himself, as though he was worried anyone seeing the three of them stood in a group would piece it all together. They had this bond now; this unspoken connection, like survivors of a traumatic event. Except they weren’t survivors, thought Keith, they were perpetrators, as he pushed past Christopher Biggins towards the bar.

“Were you… with him when it happened?” asked Biggins.

“No,” said Jim, almost too quickly. “We were in the studio, but not with-him with him. Terrible business.”

“Quite,” said Biggins. “So young; such a loss. He was our Peter Sellers.” It’s then that their attention was grabbed by the sound of a glass smashing against the wooden floor at Chegwin’s feet, followed that automatic cheer that goes up in a pub whenever someone drops something — “Weeey!

“Yeah, yeah. Fuck off,” said Keith, altogether without humour, glaring down at the remains of a wasted pint. Jim exchanged a look with Biggins and made his way over, putting an arm around Keith.

“Keep it together, Cheggers, for God’s sake. Here are, look, it’s the entertainment.” Jim nodded towards the front of the room, where a TV was being wheeled in on a stand. Someone pressed play on the VCR, treating mourners to a selection of highlights from Bobby Davro’s career. Don’t mourn the death, they always say, but celebrate the life. And what a life. There he was, impersonating Freddie Starr’s impersonation of Hitler, and as Sean Connery running a car wash, and at the Children’s Royal Variety show, in a Thunderbirds sketch with Billy Pearce.

But Keith couldn’t take his eyes off Bobby’s widow, who was firing off machine-gun laughs between hysterical, anguished wails, which reminded him of the time he’d had a sneezing fit while vomiting.

“Poor lass. I don’t know how the pair of you have got the nerve to stand here and watch that.”

“You’re the one who moved him, Keith,” said Lionel. “Broken neck, and you just heaved him straight up off the floor.”

“Well, you pulled his fucking kecks down. How’s he supposed to balance with his trousers round his ankles?”

“At least I didn’t start can-canning,” said Lionel. “That’s what made the pedestal wobble. What a moment for Jim Bowen to audition for the Folies Bergère…”

Will you keep it down?” said an angry Russ Abbot, through a teeth-gnashed stage whisper, “this is a bloody wake. Take it outside if you can’t behave yourselves.”

“I can’t go on like this,” said Keith, with the three of them now sat on patio chairs in the beer garden, beneath a light drizzle. “Funerals are supposed to help you move on, but where’s the peace of mind after something like this?”

“You know I’m doing Run For Your Wife at the Chichester Festival?” said Lionel. “I heard the understudies talking about how Bobby had died.” He adopted a gutter voice, imaginary roll-up pinched between two fingers – “’I heard he slipped on dog muck and cracked his head open. What a way to go!‘ Not saying how it happened makes it even worse. People’s imaginations run wild.”

“Worse than what did happen?! And what might that be?” said Keith.

“Everyone thinking he died having a wank or summat.” said Jim. At this, Keith stood up and kicked over his chair, his face wet with tears.

“What do you want us to do, tell everyone we murdered him?”

“Steady on,” said Jim. “I’ve got an idea.”

keith

Even irregardless of what happened there, there was always something eerie about an empty studio. Robbed of their usual life and laughter and bustle, they revealed themselves as vast, brutalist spaces, with echoing footsteps and darkened edges, particularly when you’d snuck in at 1am after bribing a security guard with autographs.

“Have you got it?”

“What do you think this is,” said Jim, “box of bloody Coco Pops?” He reached into the carrier bag and pulled out a Ouija board. It was wooden and vintage, borrowed from a magician friend, with its surface wearing the scuff marks of many uses. “Bugger. Forgot to bring a glass.”

“Here,” said Keith, pulling a shot glass out of his pocket.

“Figures,” muttered Lionel.

“Alright,” said Jim, “this is the spot where he died, isn’t it? I think it were right here.” He looked out into the darkness, where row upon row of empty seats faced the trio like an audience of ghosts. “Let’s get on with it.” He turned the glass upside down and placed it on the board, touching the point of his finger on the bottom of the glass and motioning for the others to do the same. Keith’s finger was noticeably trembling.

“Is there anybody there?” Nothing. Just the silence of the studio. He asked again, this time louder, playing to the cheap seats. “Is there anybody there? Anyone who’d like to make contact?” Again, all was still. And then, the glass began to move, sliding slowly across the board to the word–

YES

“Can you give us a name?”

BO

The glass stopped for a moment.

“Maybe it’s a different ghost telling us we stink,” said Lionel.

BBY.

“It’s him,” said Keith, “it’s Bobby!”

“Aye,” said Jim.

“Oh, Bobby,” wailed Keith, “can you ever forgive me? I wasn’t thinking, I just wanted to help. It all happened so fast, and maybe if I’d let the St Johns deal with it, you’d still be with us. I’m so sorry. We’re all sorry, aren’t we, lads?”

“Very sorry,” said Lionel. “Sorry for pulling your trousers down. Jim? Do you want to apologise?”

“Of course. Bob, I’m really— ey up, fellas, he’s on the move again.” And it was; the glass moving faster now, sliding from letter to letter with precision, like it really had something to say.

NOTHING TO FOGRIVE

There was a collective sigh, like the lifting of a crushing weight that finally allowed them all to breathe.

“You have to close it down, or he’ll be stuck here,” said Keith, “I read it in a book. I don’t think he’d want to trapped as a poltergeist at Going Live for the rest of eternity.”

“We’ll say ta-ra now then, Bob. All the best. See you again someday, I hope.” The glass slid to GOODBYE, and then whatever life had been within it was gone.

“He’ll be getting off with Marilyn up there now, eh?” said Lionel, looking up at Keith, who was using his sleeves to dry his face.

“I need a fag. You guys coming?”

“Be with you in a bit, Cheggers.” They listened to the tap of his shoes across the floor of the empty studio towards the exit, until he was gone.

Fogrive. Bloody hell, Jim.”

“I’m a comedian, not an English teacher.” Suddenly, Jim shivered. “Cold breeze went right up my back. Come on, let’s be on our way.” As the two of them headed out of the studio, carrier bag swinging gently with each step, perhaps just to fill the silence, Jim found himself whistling.

Always Look on the Bright Side…

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this 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, including plenty more about terrible British variety.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, like my new novella, Jangle. Please give my existing books a look too.

 
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