Ways You Can Support My ‘Art’

•November 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I’m no longer able to edit the outdated list of links on the right, I’ve compiled some ways for you to help support my pumping out of the literary gold, if you so wish. For context, in the last 7 months, since the launching of the Patreon, I’ve posted almost 80,000 words of free material on here. I hate getting into the grotty business of money, but I can’t do this if I starve to death, so here’s how you can slow my eventual descent into the skeletal realm.

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

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

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

Cheers.

 

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That Time The Waltons had a Poltergeist

•November 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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The Waltons, you ask? Wasn’t that boring as shit? Let me stop you there. Yes, it was, which makes the sudden appearance of crazy occult doings all the more wild. Forming somewhat of a cultural double-act with Little House on the Prairie, both were tales of olden-days people living through hard but good times at the family homestead, with a supporting cast of bumbling townsfolk and stern old ladies who peered over the top of their spectacles. The Waltons particularly, was an institution of family-friendly dullness, and a byword for the happy, stable family unit we should all aspire to be. President Bush Sr famously name-checked the show as the familial ideal when vilifying the Simpsons, however for viewers like myself at the time, an English child during the 80s, the only thing it inspired was a desire to psychically pull a meteor from the heavens and have it crash through the ceiling and destroy the television, even if me and my entire family was killed in the process.

Occupying that same Sunday lunch at grandma’s spot as Little House, it fell firmly in the ‘boring people talking’ genre that older relatives seemed to love, which had the young me restlessly squirming in my seat, wishing The A-Team was on. Occasionally, these shows would throw an exciting plot bone to gnaw on, like when Michael Berryman appeared in Highway to Heaven as the Devil, or the Heartbeat where a copper got abducted by aliens, both of which I will be covering here eventually. In one of those stats I find endlessly fascinating, The Waltons produced 221 episodes and a stack of TV reunion movies, and in hundreds of broadcast hours, its lone legacy is the phrase “goodnight, John-Boy!” But among these hours were a tiny handful that took jarring forays into the paranormal, back then giving me something to cling to, and today, a reason to revisit.

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I promise, unlike Baywatch, Noel’s House Party, and all the other bollocks I get into on here, I will not be falling down a Waltons rabbithole and end up compulsively dissecting dozens of episodes, because it truly is just as dreary as I feared. Visually, it’s the brownest show ever made, with everything from dying trees to clothes to the wooden buildings, the same dismal earthen hue, like a world that moved so slowly it rusted. Even the Waltons’ hair, as a family of gawky redheads, evokes a perpetual autumn; perhaps the only thing that is fitting when the show randomly decides to insert ghosts, as it did in 1978’s episode, The Changeling.

The story focusses on youngest daughter, Elizabeth, on the precipice of her 13th birthday, and struggling with the approach of ‘womanhood’ while wanting to remain the baby of the family and do stuff like talk to her dolls or play hopscotch; an act which sees her best friend drop her for being so childish. This bubbling broth of girl-hormones and angst is the classic set-up for poltergeist activity, but what’s shocking is how quickly and fully the show embraces it. From the opening scene, it swerves from its regular tales of homespun wisdom in the great depression to full-on horror. A tense discussion with Mama about not wanting a birthday party has a distinct undercurrent of “she’s not my little girl any more!” and as Mama leaves the room, Elizabeth’s long red hair starts billowing as though blown by a great wind — a recurring motif — while the piano in the corner strikes a loud, cacophonous chord all by itself.

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What follows is part Paranormal Activity, part Carrie, with each of Elizabeth’s moments of emotional turmoil physically manifesting in ghostly activity. When overhearing her siblings discuss possible birthday presents — pillow cases instead of a doll, now she’s a big girl — a vase on the mantle levitates before smashing on the floor, which she gets the blame for, and is made to sweep up. Soon, paintings are going wonky, mirrors misting over, and even the telephone becomes haunted, repeatedly ringing with nobody on the other end. Later that night, Elizabeth’s woken by the sound of pebbles hitting the roof, before a large stone floats through the window and flies across the room when she goes to touch it. Her screams cause the family to run in, giving concerned looks as she swears “I saw it, I saw it!

At this point, her parents are troubled by all the attention-seeking, having to fix a rocking chair that lost a leg when it hopped up and down, and Elizabeth’s agitation is increased by nobody believing her. The tedious b-plot sees the jug-eared brother get a job as a radio agony aunt, but when everyone sits around to listen, the radio cuts to hard static every time Elizabeth gets near, causing the family to finally put two and two together. Soon, local gossips are chattering about the “poultry geist” up at the old Walton place, even referencing a similar incident in a nearby town involving another young girl and a ghost that chucked stones and crockery about.

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The incongruity of a poltergeist in The Waltons is like having a Little House on the Prairie where Michael Landon sees a Bigfoot, or if Eastenders did my idea of a Halloween storyline where a bloodied Ian Beale wakes up in his pants on Arthur’s Bench amidst a spate of mysterious ‘dog attacks,’ leading to a live episode on the 31st, where Phil Mitchell has to flush Ian’s head down a silver toilet before the rise of the full moon. Oddest of all in The Changeling is that no alternative explanation is ever put forward. There’s no sceptical voice or suggestion she’s imagining it all, or is the victim of a prank. Poltergeists are real, and caused by moody tween girls, and that’s that. It’s science.

Once the p-word is invoked, events escalate rapidly. Mama’s taking occult guidebooks out of the library and a creepy rag doll stalks Elizabeth across the bedroom, all leading to an utterly bonkers finale at a slumber party. Throughout, Elizabeth’s ghost is seen as self-perpetuating, with Mama giving her a talk about not “sassin’ people” or keeping all her anger bottled up, and everyone blaming her for what’s happening, in turn making her more stressed, in a kind of telekinetic ‘stop hitting yourself!’ The rage-bottle explodes at the sleepover, resulting in a chaotic scene. The lights go out as a piano plays itself, a chair flies around the room, curtains billow, a glass of milk is drunk by an invisible mouth; it’s like that bit in Matilda. Huddling from howling wind and the crashing sounds of ghost jazz, Pa tells Elizabeth he can’t stop it, “only you can,” like he’s Professor X trying to talk Dark Phoenix down from psychically bisecting Jim Bob. Only when she accepts “I’m afraid” does everything fall still. Cut to her birthday, where everything’s fine, and the narrator (grown up John-Boy) tells us nothing strange ever happened again.

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Airing in ’78, it’s not hard to imagine the writer was influenced by the story of the Enfield Poltergeist, which was first reported in the worldwide press 14 months earlier, and still ongoing at the time of shooting. The notion of a pubescent teenage girl at the root of poltergeist activity had already been a popular theory, but got absolutely bolted down in the wake of Enfield, and the episode has a number of similarities, although stopped short of having Elizabeth talk in the voice of an elderly man to call someone a “fucking old sod.” There are shades of another famous case, and though not inspired by it, having pre-dated it by 20 years, as Australia’s stone-throwing polt of Humpty-Doo is echoed by the scene where pebbles rain down on the roof.

The Changeling wasn’t The Waltons‘ first venture into the occult, as four years earlier, in an episode titled The Ghost Story, America’s most wholesome family began whiling away their evenings by holding séances. By the year the episode was set, in ’34 or ’35, the spiritualism fad was running on fumes, though had it featured in Little House on the Prairie — set in the table-tapping heyday of the 1870s — the blind girl would have had ectoplasm pouring out of her mouth like the waters of the Mississippi.

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Though it genuinely starts with two blokes whittling and having a lethargic conversation about pleurisy and mutton towel poultices, Ghost Story soon kicks into gear as another super weird aberration of the Waltons oeuvre. Adult John-Boy narrates a series of unexplained events, which begin when they add to the already-crowded dinner table by fostering a little boy called Luke, while his dad’s away, after the death of Luke’s mom, who was Mama Walton’s oldest, bestest friend. At the local store, John-Boy happens on comic relief spinsters the Baldwin Sisters conducting a séance with a ‘spirit board’, which is “all the rage in New York City,” and takes it home. John-Boy gets the Ouija board out at the dinner table and starts mucking about with it, in a hilariously casual way for such a sanctimonious family, who happily start communing with the dead in a way that would’ve made Bush think twice about throwing them his endorsement.

With what follows, the episode plays like one of those creepypastas about lost TV episodes that turn the viewer mad; a Sesame Street where they find Oscar dead inside his bin, or rumours of a banned Star Trek that makes Shatner cry if you ask about it, and when you watch it on a found VHS, it’s just static, except George Takei now lives inside your closet, and he’s got no face; that kind of thing. As John-Boy gets obsessed, in each of the many séances, the board repeatedly spells out ‘LUKE’ with a warning of ‘LUKE MUST NOT’, which is interrupted by Mama bursting in and calling them all heathens.

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Mama’s been on edge this whole time, with talk of mysterious happenings at Luke’s birthday party that she doesn’t want to talk about, but eventually reveals to be the spectral stink of the dead woman’s favourite flowers, and the sense of a ghostly presence, watching. As the kids use the Ouija board for everything from finding out who’ll they’ll marry to suggesting names for the new puppy, still it keeps insisting it has a message for Luke, who’s soon to head off on the train for a new life with his dad. Another séance, revealed through a nicely voyeuristic shot through a half-open barn door, giving it a ghost’s-eye-view feel, sees the board spell out ‘TRAIN’, before the planchette falls onto the floor, and ghostly happenings conspire to keep Luke from his journey. First his mom’s photo goes missing, as does his train ticket, and finally, on the drive to the station, Pa sees something in the road and swerves into a ditch, causing them to miss the train altogether. You can see where it’s going, and sure enough, they get home to a special radio announcement that the train’s derailed, and just like that, it’s Waltons canon that ghosts are hanging around watching us all the time, probably even when we’re on the toilet.

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This is a show so grounded in folksy charm that legitimate dialogue by Grandpa during this episode includes the phrases “you young dickins!” and “darn tootin’!” But here, we’ve got John-Boy talking about ESP experiments, the mysterious apport of a dead woman’s photograph, and a moment where Elizabeth comes downstairs to announce “Jim Bob says there’s a ghost in the closet with no clothes on his bones” which is pure Candle Cove. The closing narration asks “but who is there to say that the strong bond of love that existed between a mother and her child had to be severed by death?” Perhaps most notable in their use of the Ouija board, particularly to the kind of flakes who say “I’m a sceptic, but even I wouldn’t mess with one of those!” is that nobody ever closes the séance down. No wonder they ended up having a poltergeist; that place is probably filled with wraiths.

They did have one final experiment in genre-wandering, in 1977’s The Grandchild, a double episode which took in everything from a stillborn baby prophesied by a dead bird, psychic tea-leaf reading, and Mary Ellen encountering a spook light, but you could point me to a Waltons where Grandpa whittles a Hellraiser puzzle box and the Cenobites show up to lash chains around his dick, and I still wouldn’t return to this fetid old puddle of a show.

This piece first appeared on my 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.

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

Ghosthunting with the Happy Mondays

•November 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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It’s a welcome return to this series for Shaun Ryder, who’s joined by Happy Mondays bandmates, Bez, and… two of the other ones? In this case, drummer Gary and singer Julie. We know Shaun’s got an interest in the paranormal, while Bez seems like he is paranormal, and for the research purposes, should probably be locked up inside the big red unit from Ghostbusters. I’ve previously written at length about Most Haunted in my book Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, with Yvette Fielding and husband Karl’s brief run as gothic power couple at the centre of the mini spiritualist revival in the mid-late 2000s, where stumbling round empty pubs at midnight in a ghost hunt was a popular hobby, and clowns like Derek Acorah and ‘Psychic’ Sally became minor mainstream celebrities, before the fad mostly burned itself out.

2009’s Ghosthunting with the Happy Mondays was a result of Most Haunted‘s enormous success on satellite channel Living TV, taking Yvette onto ITV, to put famous groups through the rigours of a séance. Aside from the Mondays, other featured celebs included Louis Walsh and Boyzone, the Dingles off Emmerdale, and Girls Aloud — minus Nadine Coyle, whom Wikipedia informs me bottled it because she was scared. I feel like I should go on an actual ghost hunt myself at some point, to write about it for the Patreon, if that encourages anyone to sign up and see me eat my words when I’m viciously attacked in the groin by an elemental.

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One thing I adored about Most Haunted was its gradual escalation over the years, from humble beginnings of a former Blue Peter presenter meekly asking ‘is there anybody there?’ into darkened rooms, and eventually leading to her legitimately trying to summon up the Devil on live TV. But these shows work like pro wrestling. To function as they’re intended, everyone has to be playing along, or it falls apart. The format survives on a bubble of tension, constantly riding the knife edge before a jump-scare that never comes, except as a crew member’s sudden yelp at nothing. If one member of the team starts giggling or pointing out how silly or fake it is, the illusion is broken. Sadly for viewers who wear crystals — but great for us — this whole show is basically a school trip to the museum, with Yvette Fielding as the lone, harried teacher, trying to get the kids to listen, but spending all her time telling them off and confiscating booze. Throughout the 90-minute show, Bez and Shaun will repeatedly let Yvette down, let the school down, and most importantly, let themselves down.

Bez is a fascinating character. To his credit, has anyone ever made more out of less? A dancer who can’t dance, he wears the haunted eyes of someone who did terrible things in ‘Nam, and the most frightening parts of the show are the frequent green-lit close-ups of his face. Before they set out, he assures us he’s not scared of ghosts, having gone ghost hunting in school, “but we never found one yet though…” Shaun’s likewise unafraid, sure that if he can become a pop star he can “certainly manifest a fuckin’ ghost.” Also on the crew is a psychologist and ‘body language expert,’ commenting from outside in a taxi, where he describes the band as “four extreme individuals,” and outright states at multiple points that they’re all so mentally ruined from drugs, we can’t trust anything they see or hear.

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Our first location is Lincoln Jail, said to be haunted by “countless tormented spirits” of former inmates who were hanged, or in keeping with prison policy, kept in isolation and sent mad. I’m sure they’ll be fucking thrilled to meet Bez. Unfortunately, due to the inherent flaw of these shows, we already know they won’t be seeing any ghosts. Pre-taped and edited for transmission months later, shooting was not followed by an immediate world-wide press conference, where Shaun Ryder held up a jam jar with a poltergeist in it, thus finally proving the existence of an afterlife.

The gang rock up to the jail in the middle of a beautiful summer’s day; birds singing, rooms aglow in golden sunlight. No, of course not. It’s night-time with everyone wrapped up in black jackets, as every fool knows that ghosts sleep in all day after staying up to wander about and wank themselves off watching still-living naked sleepers. Proceedings begin down in the prison chapel, which is lined with creepy mannequins in full-faced hoods, gazing blankly towards a coffin that lays at the front of the room. A female prisoner killed herself here, says Yvette, before calling out with the old “knock twice if there’s anyone here.” Sadly, ghosts never do the joke of just knocking once to show they don’t exist, but a clear pair of knocks are heard, followed by five more in answer to the question of “how many ghosts are here?” A nervous Julie asks “can we go out then?” getting a firm “No” from Yvette.

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Throughout, Jumpy Julie’s skittishness is a perfect counterbalance to the naughty schoolboys of Bez, Shaun, and Gary, forever quaking and squealing at shadows, and at one point, quitting altogether and having to be talked back in. Before even leaving the first location, she gives us the classic Most Haunted trope of the ‘standing coma,’ where a person becomes so filled with ghosts, they pass out with their eyes open, refusing to respond to their own name. In any other context, this would be a dire medical emergency, but in the setting of playing pretend, her bandmates react to their friend’s collapse with nudges and raucous laughter. Perhaps Julie’s high point is the moment she becomes so filled with fear as to scream in a panic that she’s gone blind, when someone turns out the lights.

Now well into Yvette’s Aleister Crowley period, she has the Mondays perform a séance, on top of an actual coffin in the chapel. Calling out to the spirit of a woman who was hanged there gets an immediate response, in the form of a great big fart from Gary the drummer. This sets the tone, with Yvette’s serious demands for ghosts to “vibrate this coffin… vibrate it please!” while Shaun and Bez accuse each other of moving it and continually piss about — “Lift the coffin in the air, oh great spirit one!” Another ghost hunting trope, cupping one’s ear for a sudden, distant noise, is interpreted a number of different ways. Yvette thinks it’s a dog, Bez a baby, and Shaun, “sounds like my neighbour gettin’ fucked on a Friday.” Has nobody any respect for the sanctity of the coffin-seance in an old chapel?! The scene ends with Bez fishing a bottle of brandy out of his jacket and pouring it onto the lid. Incidentally, while the coffin does mysteriously move throughout, it’s clear that Shaun’s just lifting it with his leg.

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Everyone’s then split up and ensconced into scary parts of the prison. They’ve been blindfolded, to “heighten their other senses,” and help them find ghosts, rather than say, doing it with the lights on so they could actually see them. Alone in the dark with but a night-vision cam for company, genre convention states this is the point they’re supposed to sit quietly, so’s to better yell “WHAT WAS THAT?!” at little taps and creaks. Shut inside the old condemned cell, where prisoners would spend their final night before a swing on the gallows, a jigging Bez immediately whips the blindfold off and sets about inciting an uprising in the centuries-dead prisoners. “The revolution starts in the condemned cell, man, you ready for it lads? All you fuckin’ long lost souls, we’re gonna give it ’em, man.” He tells them there’s gonna be a breakout tonight — “Doors open, I’m gonna set you all free, man. Set. You. Fuckin’ free, man. Freedom is ours!” Christ, just imagine Bez marching out of that place with an army of ghost convicts at his back like Aragon in Return of the King, ready to drown the elites in Ketamine-laced ectoplasm.

Continuing the school trip feel, “I need a wee,” says Shaun, who’s told by Yvette he’ll have to wait, and taken to “a very nasty place.” I hope it’s a toilet, or it’s about to get a bit nastier. Meanwhile, Gary’s been put in the matron’s room, though the spooky atmosphere is somewhat ruined by the sound of Bez trying to spark a spectral Attica down the hall. But not a sceptic like Bez, Gary’s soon taken by the fear, and emits shrieks of terror at the repeated touch of ghostly hands, before offering the incredibly Mancunian “nice one, Matron.” The yells of ecto-louts Shaun and Bez echo through the prison, with Bez bellowing across to Gary with a football hooligan chant of “Gary, Gary, Gary Whelan!” Eventually, with Bez still harping on about jailbreak — “escaping with me tonight, the lot of yer…” — comes the first genuinely scary sound of the night; the parental shout of Yvette telling them to “SHUT UP! STOP TALKING TO EACH OTHER! SHUT UP!

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The solo vigils end with Shaun falling off a chair after a ghost “put a cigarette out on me fuckin’ leg.” On Yvette’s demand, he drops his trousers, blaming Bez for sneaking in and burning him, though there’s no visible mark. Again pulling his trousers down, he reduces Gary to hysterics, and flashes his bare builder’s arse to camera. When discussing it with the show’s psychologist, Shaun accuses Bez of sneaking in through “a back passage,” eyes immediately twinkling with mischief, and slipping in the phrase again through barely-contained laughter. Before leaving the prison, the gang venture down to the underground cells, which Yvette describes as being too dangerous to go into alone. There’s a hole in the wall, leading to a little room, but alas Bez can’t squeeze through it as he’s wearing layers to protect from the cold – “I’ve fuckin’ got too many pairs of pants to get in there.”

The next location is Wollaton Hall, a Tudor mansion famously overflowing with spirits, and with a sordid history of debauched upper-class parties, though by now, the slurring Mondays, swigging from almost-empty bottles of brandy, and increasingly merry, probably have the horrified ghosts looking up from their orgy to call the police. In the darkness of the great hall, everyone’s hearing groans and taps. “I can hear ’em all kicking off,” said Bez, as a strange noise comes from a far corner. Gary thinks it was the Stereo MCs, while Bez offers the explanation, “it’s an owl, it’s a fuckin’ owl.” Yvette challenges him to command the ghosts, which he does with a confusing “make an owl noise if you’re not an owl.” It seems to respond, confirming itself either as an owl, or not an owl.

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A relaxed Shaun gets sent off alone to a “very violent room” containing an agitated poltergeist. With Shaun Ryder screaming and swearing at bangs, and proffering plaintive cries of “Hello? Hello?” in the darkness, truly this is the Golden Age of Television. Just him repeatedly jumping out of a chair at loud noises in the dark would be an incredible show on its own, with thirteen 1-hour episodes on Netflix of “Whoa! Fuckin’ ellllll…” When they’re later split into groups, a definitely-taking-it-seriously Shaun locks a terrified Julie in the room while taunting her with “your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” through the door, before pretending to steal a cash register from the gift shop, and then actually pilfering a Mars Bar from the counter.

But amid the farts and horseplay, in terms of the science of paranormal investigation, there is one genuinely interesting scene, when the Mondays use a Ouija board. Initially, Bez is uneasy, with protests of “I don’t like witchcraft,” which I’d love to know the backstory of, but soon relents and puts his finger on the glass. Funnily though, while everyone’s jumpy with noises and ghosts blowing on their hair, with a bunch of drunken Madchester types at the helm, the glass spells out nothing but gibberish. Weird. Though Bez does hear his owl again. Returning from a solo vigil, after calling to be let out cos “somefing’s strokin’ on the back of me fuckin’ ‘ead,” Shaun reveals a neck that’s covered in scratches from a poltergeist. “I fink it’s bullshit, mate,” says Bez, not buying it for a second. Bez’s unyielding scepticism is much of the evening’s story, with him (almost certainly correctly) pegging Shaun’s injury as a fake to try and change his mind. But then, something happens to give even the most rational of melons a proper twisting.

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They’re all below in the servant’s quarters, supposedly haunted by the ghosts of a man and woman, and the child they murdered and buried there. Things start harmlessly enough, with Bez claiming “I heard someone go ‘woo’ down there,” before they find a bricked up wall with a little hole in it. In a classic horror movie fake-out before the real scare, Bez sticks his hand in there, letting out a big scream that makes everyone jump, helpfully explaining with “I put me ‘and in the ‘ole, you know like in that fuckin’ film; what’s it called?” Fascinated by the hole, he starts chucking things in it; first stones, and then 5p coins — “Throw it back, mate.” Out of small change, he lobs in a whole pound coin. Then, it happens, a thing to finally cut through all the posturing and tomfoolery; the metallic sound of a pound coin hitting the wall. “Fucking hell,” says Bez, “that came back out again.” Even with a CV filled with wraiths and goblins, Yvette’s jaw hangs open, and everyone’s in shock, barring an unnervingly calm Shaun. Hardened cynic Bez, whom Yvette had promised would be a believer before the night was out, is shook, unable to deny what he’s seen.

The final location takes them to Lincoln Castle, and down to the old oubliette; a pit where condemned prisoners were thrown and left to die. “Stinks of piss,” says Shaun, on a solo vigil that sees him let out a shriek at his own shadow like he’s got out of the shower and slipped penis-first onto some Lego. Bez eventually has his own trip to the pit, descending the ladder with a “fucking hell, it stinks of alcohol!” Yeah, well Shaun and Gary have just been down there. The perfect narrative callback would be for an owl to fly out of a hole and scare the shit out of him, but sadly, it doesn’t. But we do get a gold star Bez anecdote of his own paranormal experience, as he jigs about from foot to foot, telling Yvette about being with some friends in an old house. “We was all sat there talking ESP to each other, having full blown conversations…” He knew it was real, because he psychically told his mate to stand up and pass him a light for his bong, and he did.

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A postscript sees the band look back on their night, with Bez, a hard man to convince, even having heard an owl, saying that “I still don’t believe it, ghost bullshit and all that crap.” For him, the scariest part of the night was “hanging about in them dark holes.” Shaun had had a whale of a time, and further expanded on his thoughts in a 2015 interview with the NME, who asked if his experience on the show had convinced him of an afterlife.

Not really, said Shaun. “It certainly convinced Bez, but I was the one lobbing the pound coins everywhere so other people would think there were ghosts there.”

Oh.

This piece first appeared on my 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.

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

Noel’s House Party – First & Last

•October 24, 2018 • 1 Comment

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[Click here for my previous piece about Noel’s HQ or here to support me on Patreon]

Of all the ways to even attempt an accurate description of the complex character of Noel Edmonds, none have so perfectly and succinctly pinned him down as Vic and Bob’s portrayal, in 1993’s Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. Their great skill is using warped non-impressions to perfectly capture a person’s essence, through one beautifully observed trait, and their Noel, mouth agape in eternal hysteria that his show is going unmissably wrong — “It’s not a cock-up, is it? I hate them!” — is one of those portrayals so cutting, it unravels the persona in a way that can never be pieced back together. Like the arrow on the FedEx logo, or noticing a co-worker’s verbal tick of starting every sentence “anyway…” Noel Edmonds is never the same once you’ve seen Bob Mortimer’s take, physically buckled with a wheezing laugh, as an old DJ friend produces an ’embarrassing’ photo of him from ten years earlier, looking “slightly different!

This is Noel, right down to the marrow of his bones, forever imparting to the audience that live television; his live television; is unfettered chaos, where anything can happen, and most importantly, anything go wrong. Bloopers, pranks, the imminent arrival of a giant pink monster to smash up the set; it’s a world inside a balloon poised above a pin, where everyone lives on edge; co-hosts, audience, the home viewer, and even Noel himself. Which brings us to Noel’s House Party, a television institution with a sign around its neck reading “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!” I’m watching House Party‘s very first and last episodes, to try and decode what was so amazing, audiences and commissioning editors alike went “169 episodes please! Just this for the next decade!” Noel originally pitched House Party to ITV in 1986, but they passed on it, and five years later, on Saturday night, November 23rd 1991, it made its debut on BBC1.

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The set-up is that Noel lives in a big country mansion in the village of Crinkly Bottom, a double entendre that forced us, week on week, to picture the rumpled cheeks of his sagging arse. Through exposition, we learn he was left the mansion by his Great Uncle, as one of two living nephews, the other being a cowboy builder. Crinkly Bottom was a character of its own, a bumpkin Beanoland filled with colourful residents, often played by minor celebrities, appearing at the door for the big Cosmo Kramer entrance. Noel’s phoney chaos is in evidence from the first ring of the doorbell, where the handle comes off as he opens it, fake-laughing and overtly clutching it like a hot potato for the whole segment, bringing to mind Rik and Ade’s scripted bloopers in the live Bottom shows. Inaugural cameo goes to television copper Tosh off The Bill, who — much to Noel’s delight — is unable to remember his lines, in a moment which is far more tragic in hindsight, after the actor’s eventual firing from The Bill and early death due to chronic alcoholism.

This sets the tone for the next hour, and eight years to follow, with Noel fake-corpsing his way through a mixture of dreadful skits, quizzes, audience participation and pranks. Much of it has the feel of a nightmare village fete. A pre-record of Noel at a pub sees him laughing so hard he can barely stand, at a couple with their hands tied behind their back dunking their faces into bowls of custard to retrieve various items with their teeth, soundtracked by Madness’s House of Fun. All the prizes seem like random tat from a tombola, with contestants playing for a novelty radio, a lucky horseshoe, and a garden gnome in medieval armour, which may sell the idea of Crinkly Bottom as an eccentric rural village, but doesn’t make for intentionally good television. Even the big finale — which proves the adage about time moving slowly when you’re having a bad time, as Eddie ‘The Eagle’ scrambles for fivers inside a glass box, over sixty seconds which goes on for five thousand years — gifts one lucky viewer the princely sum of £560.

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House Party is littered with solid-gold Alan Partridge moments, like Noel’s solemn announcement to camera that Eastenders‘ Letitia Dean fell ill this morning (though it’s nothing serious), and sending “best wishes from us all here.” He compliments Henry Cooper, telling him he’s been his biggest fan for years, despite having “never, ever been the greatest fan of boxing.” When Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, then going through a public bankruptcy, features to grab at handfuls of money for an audience member, Noel introduces him as “a chap who’s been in the news recently, if you believe the tabloid newspapers, because he’s a bit short of a few bob, so I think he’s a great sport to come on.

One quiz section sees those two from Birds of a Feather performing Abba and Doin’ The Lambeth Walk in bad karaoke; another, a “parents guess what their kids said” game, is held in a dungeon, with manacles on the wall, and Noel on a wooden throne draped in chains like Vigo the Carpathian. Like all children on these things, the self-aware little girl mugs through the twee questioning of “where is heaven?” and continuing House Party‘s preoccupation with makin’ babies, a bunch of stuff about conception and birth. His final question, “what’s the most horrible thing that ever happened to you?” results in an answer that’d get both parties put on a register these days — “my sister took a rude picture of me when I was washing my bottom.” When the mother assures him they didn’t have the film processed, with a twinkle in his eye, Noel fires back with “why, were you on it as well?

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This is the tip of the iceberg concerning Noel’s continually… odd manner with women. He suggests an audience member get in a glass box and stand over a giant fan, to prove that she’s not wearing any knickers, before suggestively asking a Catholic mother who’s had lots of babies “What’s the best part of the process?” He also tells a 7-months-pregnant Linda Robson that she could be “adding a bit of spice to the game tonight!” in a bit which is, I guess, supposed to infer how exciting it would be to see a withered premature baby suddenly drop onto the studio floor, but under the filter of 90’s banter comes off a bit like “Someone likes sex, eh? Luck might be in, lads!” Incidentally, a £1m Patreon tier wouldn’t be enough for me to hear Noel Edmonds utter the phrase “mummy’s tummy” ever again.

Soon, it’s time for the first NTV, perhaps House Party‘s most famous segment, as Noel clicks his fingers and cuts to the living room of a viewer, where he’s installed a hidden camera — in Crinkly Bottom, television watches you. You can’t mention NTV without the urban legend of Chris Evans’ appearance, which went unbroadcast when he started having a wank over Baywatch. Another variation has Carole Smillie caught interfering with herself in the dressing room during the secret filming of a Gotcha, footage of which doesn’t exist no matter how many times you’ve searched Pornhub for it every single day over the last decade. This likely stems from the airing of Carole’s Gotcha, when they paused the tape at the moment Carole began to undress, with a big CENSORED bar, having legitimately filmed her getting changed with hidden cameras, and then had a big laugh about it, with Noel acting disappointed we didn’t see anything. Although if Evans was filmed masturbating, they should have aired it, as karma for the time he played hidden camera footage of his female producer urinating on the final episode of Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. Good old nineties.

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Another notable NTV was the week they went to a guy eating a ready meal, who sternly said something along the lines of “no thank you, Edmonds” and walked out of the room, with a flustered Noel quickly moving onto the next segment. Except, viewers of Grange Hill will have recognised the actor who played similarly uptight teacher Mr. Parrot. Presumably there’d been a technical issue with that week’s victim and quickly shot this replacement in a nearby studio, as Noel reacted like it was genuine, and it’s even referred to as such in the final episode. Without the foresight to protect themselves, as the young me did by holding up a piece of paper with SHIT written on it, the first NTV cuts to a family in Essex, with about a dozen people crammed in the room like they were expecting it. Noel pokes fun at their décor and clothing, then pulls up an ’embarrassing’ home movie of the lady of the house performing in a school play. Classic Edmonds, the office dullard for whom there’s no bigger laugh than shaming someone with evidence of them wearing the fashions of ten years ago, looking “slightly different!

House Party‘s other most famous brand also makes its debut in the first episode, the Gotcha, or as it’s clunkily titled here, the Gotcha Oscar. Noel’s strictly from the “annoy the shit out of someone” school of pranking; Jeremy Beadle in all but name, down to disguising himself with a false beard on top of his real beard, and doing the reveal with that look on his face like winding someone up is the pinnacle of comedy. Under the pretence of filming a golf instructional video, Henry Cooper, along with Noel’s patsy Keith Chegwin, both dressed in cartoon old timey golf gear, get interrupted by a string of idiots, including Noel Two-Beards pulling double duty as a bumbling hunter, and a gardener fucking about on a lawnmower. Absolutely excruciating, it’s probably no worse than Ant and Dec auditioning for X-Factor under 50lbs of latex as a pair of Chinese rappers to prank their mate Simon Cowell, or whatever bollocks passes for Saturday night TV these days.

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Of course, there is a gunging. What’s more 90s than gunge? Noel spent a career being obsessed with it, while we, as an audience, all behaved like gunge tanks (an actual thing for some reason) are both hilarious, and a terrible fate to be avoided. It’s not a guillotine, just have a shower after! Something a middle-manager would put himself through at a charity fun day to show that he’s one of the team, Noel brought the gunge tank over to House Party from The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow. Its first victim is a woman pulled out of the crowd, to be punished with a gunging for always taking ages to do her hair. Though, in something I’d love to hear more about, she was lured onstage with the cover story of “my mum wrote a story about my dog?

These days, gunging has become legitimately gross, but for reasons other than intended. With the internet making us painfully aware of people’s disgusting fetishes, and the propensity for rank dudes to masturbate over anything, we now know, during all those countless gunges, where Ian Beale, or Su Pollard, or some grotesque politician got locked in that little box and covered in the stuff, out there at home, dozens, maybe hundreds of men, were merrily wanking away. Any minor female celebrity on Twitter will have no doubt encountered the prolific pest who’s racked up tens of thousands of tweets over the years, each with the simple plea “would you get gunged in jeans for charity please answer me”. In fact, when I was hunting for Carole’s Gotcha on Youtube, the top comment was “Why the he’ll didn’t Noel Edmonds send Carol smiley on a trip round the great house and cover her In gunge completely coating in goo.” Noel Edmonds; innovator, philanthropist, mogul; provider of thousands of powerful slime-fetish orgasms for generations of men. Give that man a knighthood.

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The first House Party went off the air with Noel threatening “if you don’t come to the House Party, the House Party might just come to you,” confirming the series as an extension of a career-long power trip, where co-hosts and audience members were pulled into the spotlight to be humiliated while he wheezed, bent double in hysterics, and now, aided by the future-tech of 1991, not even home viewers were safe. Effectively holding the nation hostage, the God of his own studio floor had finally become omnipotent.

Though nobody watching today would ever guess such a mess could have lasted beyond a single episode, House Party‘s reign of terror ran for eight demented years. Successful from the off, 13m tuned in for its first episode, leading to a banner year in 1993, with viewers peaking at 15m, Mr. Blobby hitting #1 in the music charts and turning £8m profit for the BBC, and Noel signing a four-year deal worth £20m. But in 1994, a franchised Blobby, running amok during a promotional event at an ice rink, broke a bystander’s nose by smashing their face through a trophy case. The resulting lawsuit, and a separate incident where a Blobby was punched by an angry father after destroying a child’s birthday cake, caused the BBC to ban outside use of rogue Blobbies for public appearances. Meanwhile, ratings had begun to slip under 12m, and in January 1998, a New Year edition of House Party was suddenly pulled from transmission on 24 hours notice, according to a mysterious BBC statement “due to circumstances beyond our control.”

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With both the BBC and Noel declining to comment on whether or not it had been permanently cancelled, a best-of aired in its place, sparking a tabloid frenzy of speculation and leaked internal memos. Unhappy with the tumbling quality of the show, Noel had simply refused to go to work. Chris Evans kindly offered to take over House Party until its host returned, which the BBC didn’t even grace with a reply, however Noel was back the following week, to front a highlight show of old Gotchas. But the creative power dynamic was clear from the off, with captions of “WHERE IS HE?” followed by Blobby cartwheeling across the stage, to raucous chants of “Blobby! Blobby! Blobby!” Blobby gave a (subtitled) statement, mimicking that of the BBC’s the previous week, that “due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, Noel Edmonds will not be appearing tonight,” before Noel appeared behind his back, the returning hero, to chuckle uncontrollably at the blobby-speak.

Unsurprisingly, by October, Blobby had been written out altogether, with Noel publicly disavowing his monstrous creation; the golden egg that’d plainly overtaken him in both popularity, and in association with the House Party brand, and in the process, reduced his highbrow festival of gunge and audience degradation into dumbed-down monosyllabic slapstick. Now in a creative abyss and with ratings having slid below 8m, Noel’s obvious frustration began to manifest onscreen. Just four weeks before the end, when cuing Gotcha footage of Lisa Riley trapped in a cab with a half-naked man, the clip he’s expecting to run doesn’t materialise. Casting side-eye off to the crew, Noel witheringly asks “what happens next?” before shrieking “is anyone in the gallery listening to me tonight? It’s my show!” When it finally plays, we return to a smiling, yet clearly seething Noel, muttering “I dunno what’s happening,” before joylessly mashing a banana into the lens of a camera as it swings in for a close-up, with a barbed “I hate it when you do that.”

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A month later, the BBC had had enough, and finally dropped the axe. Noel was initially magnanimous, calling it “the perfect time to say goodbye,” and releasing a statement that read “I am delighted this decision has been made. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. History will prove that House Party was one of the most successful entertainment shows of all time” Though he still wasn’t quite willing to accept that the British public had simply gotten tired of the increasingly desperate format, putting the blame on, of all people, Ronan Keating, whose talent show, Get Your Act Together, had been the lead-in for House Party‘s final series. “We have suffered very badly,” said Noel, “because the Ronan Keating show on before us has turned out to be a disaster. That’s dragged down our figures.”

And so, we come to the final episode, which aired on March 20th, 1999. By now a shorthand for bad TV, House Party and its host were routinely slaughtered in the press, who considered both to have long-since outstayed their welcome. Consequently, I’d expected a passive-aggressive atmosphere, as Noel is famously unable to stop himself raging against the haters. During one particularly spectacular showing of the thinnest skin in showbiz, Noel used his stroke to spend 40 seconds of prime Saturday night airtime directly addressing a “so-called TV critic” who’d given the show a bad review, greeting them by name in his classic ‘I’ve made you part of the show’ style. Noel’s public take-down of someone who “knocks success,” and “quite enjoys knocking popular TV shows” by bragging about his big ratings, was surely the moment which inspired Alan Patridge’s televised dig at a critic who referred to his show as moribund.

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Even now, it’s easy to see why the latter-day House Party seemed a living relic, existing in the fratboy ’99 of Jerry Springer and South Park, of Britney and Napster, and Austin 3:16. Twee, jumper-wearing Noel is in the middle of it all, like a dad picking up his kids from an illegal rave, his last hurrah before the wilderness years. By now I, along with millions of others, had long since stopped watching, so I had no idea what to expect. Even so, I was surprised to be immediately confronted with a Yoda-looking talking door knocker, and dancing frog puppet who sings “I love my Noely!” before tears shoot out of its eyes. In startling comparison to the village green whimsy of ’91, a group of athletic young dancers intro the show, aggressively thrashing under strobes with wild eccie-eyes, and singing “we’re having a party!” as the audience throw shapes in their seats. Noel enters the sexed-up Crinkly Bottom in an enormous explosion of pyro, wading through smoke beneath a spotlight, cut between swooping close-ups of the rabid, markedly younger audience, in camerawork made popular by TFI Friday. In fact, the spectre of Evans’ influence, via TFI and Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, hangs heavy over the later House Parties. Gone are the polite clappers from episode one, and in their place, an audience that seems untamed; wild; a crowd of 90’s lad’s mag readers with frosted tips, tribal tattoos and nob piercings, who might rush the stage at any moment to force a bottle of alcopops up Noel’s arse while yelling “oi oi, saveloy!”

It takes them forever to quieten down enough for Noel to speak, which he says makes him suspicious. This is merely the first of many allusions to, what he suspects, is a series of end-of-term pranks that are coming his way. Desperately on edge the whole way through, the eternal jester is convinced the crew will show him love the only way he knows; by dropping a piano from the ceiling or having Dave Lee Travis nail him to a burning crucifix. His eyes shifty yet knowing, he makes constant reference to being nervous; to the inevitable upcoming prank; like someone who’s yet to be wished a happy birthday and keeps hinting about the surprise party they’re certain is waiting.

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A scattershot highlight reel of the worst of Noel’s instincts, its opening segment introduces a pair of viewers who won a contest to sit on the balcony above the stage; a teenage boy who built a lego replica of the house, and a woman whose boyfriend sent in a poem about her. At least, that’s the cover story. Later in the show, a phone-in contestant turns out to be the boyfriend, and the lady looks utterly mortified as he proposes on air, taking an age to give her answer beneath Noel’s pestering. Eventually giving a yes like she’s got a gun to her head, the boyfriend appears with flowers and a ring, and she’s trapped on live TV beneath a rain of confetti, holding her head in her hands as he kisses her awkwardly on the cheek.

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Festivities begin a proper with Noel’s shout of “LET’S PARTY!” with the terrifying air of a recently-fired man who’s still not been home to tell his wife, just about to snort a massive line of heroin off the floor before the last pub closes. As you’d expect, there are plenty of montages of all the House Party ‘fun’ over the years, with celebrity guests, Gotchas and gunge, and the audience forever dancing with the kind of mania that seems like the police are about to rush in and break it all up. But that’s mistake number one. You can’t relax around Noel, as demonstrated when a random explosion of gunge in the audience goes off like a nailbomb. There’s an overwhelming ambience of mistrust, both in the host and his guests, ever wrong-footed by constant bluffs and double-bluffs, and now paying the price, a distracted ball of paranoia, looking over his shoulder for the prank that’s definitely going to come.

The final NTV is a brutal example of the nasty edge to Noel’s pranks, and the way his over-complicated deceptions see any remaining humour completely lost to confusion. Even describing this turn of events is going to be tricky. We begin with Noel bragging that, in all those NTVs, nobody’s ever spotted the hidden camera, and he references the time somebody walked out of the room. Wait, so has Noel convinced himself after all these years that the Mr. Parrot episode was real, or have I uncovered the great lost BBC lying scandal? Anyway, would you believe it, he’s just filling time because the final ever victim of NTV isn’t in their living room, which Noel seems to think is part of a set-up, and that he is about to get punked. While we wait, we go to a lengthy Surprise Surprise segment, where an old lady is flown to America to meet with a friend she hasn’t seen for 15 years. As it turns out, the ‘missing’ victim, and even Noel’s mistrust about it, is just the beginning of an elaborate, and deeply peculiar ruse.

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Walking among the audience members, to ask if they think they’d ever spot the hidden camera, they eye him with intense mistrust. Correctly, it turns out, as he informs a lady she’s had hidden cameras in her house all week. Covering her mouth in shock, she’s thinking what we all would in that moment. “All week? Has he seen me getting dressed? Having a shit? Saying the n-word?” His hand on her shoulder, Noel scans through various cameras in the house to find her husband, who’s in the bath. The studio fills with screams of laughter, as Noel calls the house phone, and the man clambers out to answer it, bending right over, his genitals and gaping anus protected only by the House Party logo. But… this is live? Noel puts on a shit Italian accent to pretend he’s from a pizza restaurant, while sending an accomplice up a ladder to pour live crabs into the bath through the open window. The wife has the choice of £250 to end the prank, or £1,000 to let him get in the bath. On live TV. With his dripping dick and arse hanging out. She takes the grand, and he leaps out of the water in terror, before eventually being wheeled into the studio, still inside the bath, to reveal the prank was on her this whole time. Exhausting. And weird as hell. Presumably she, and everyone in the audience, thought Noel was broadcasting a naked man without his consent, and was fine with letting millions of people potentially see right up his hole, and it was very normal television? Though as is apparent, this is the decade “haha we secretly filmed you naked” was considered a great and perfectly legal jape.

And in case you did need reminding of the year, five precious minutes of the final show are eaten up by Martine McCutcheon miming her one hit, before Paul Ross and his wife try to guess what wacky answers their children gave to Noel. The frog puppet comes out and gets horny for Paul Ross’s wife, and Noel makes their little girls choose from lame forfeits like wearing school shoes at the weekend. Sadly, there’s no forfeit that says in 18 years, they’ll have to read news of their dad snorting meow meow off some old bloke’s face in the bushes.

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But as we wind down towards the closing act, there’s one House Party hallmark yet to put in an appearance. In the lead-up to the final show, Noel and the BBC had refused to say whether or not Blobby, still a pariah, would even be involved. No worries, as he smashes through the door during Sofa Soccer, with Noel apoplectic with laughter as he acts the fool, putting a football down his shorts and knocking the goal over, and so on. He slaps Noel about a bit, forcing him to admit that he wouldn’t be in this mess if he hadn’t sacked him, and perhaps it’s my imagination, but there seems to be a little too much fire in those slaps. Certainly, the way he bundles Noel to the unforgiving studio floor seems to reek of payback. After one final montage, featuring celebrities who’ve since been lost to Yewtree, the end credits roll, with a shell-shocked Noel standing thoroughly unpranked. Is it even a prank if you’ve been waiting and hoping for it the whole time, dropping hints backstage for weeks? “I hope nobody gunges me, that would be so embarrassing!”

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Post-credits, under a standing ovation and chants of his name, an emotional Noel says his farewell, and hops up the stairs to the exit one last time. Freddie Starr’s waiting with a fire extinguisher, and sprays him from head to toe in white foam, in a shitty, joyless, no-imagination prank that perfectly encapsulates his oeuvre. “You love me,” his face seems to say, “you really love me.” He takes a final bow, looking like Winston at the end of Ghostbusters. However will he live it down?! A final post-credit sketch has him wake in the Swap Shop studio in the 1970s with John Craven and Cheggers. It was all a dream? Or was it… as a distressed Noel weeps at realising Blobby’s there too.

But it turns out the victim of the grand prank was me all along, now realising that week after wretched week, House Party was the weirdest thing ever, and that many, many hours of my future involve combing through them to uncover horrible TV gold. I found that each episode, when broken down to its component parts of naff cameos, Noel pretending it was all going wrong, and moments of Partridge gold, was so hauntologically fertile, I had to preserve them. So, here’s the first House Party Hell.

If you click on my Youtube page, there’s more of these. Oddly, without even publicly linking to the videos, I noticed each House Party Hell would immediately get hundreds of hits. So, I went into the stats to see where they were coming from. To a (dirty, wanking) man, the search terms were of a theme — ‘gunging’, ‘girl gunge’, ‘female gunge tank’, ‘girl slimed’. As least when I get totally desperate, I know where the real money is.

This piece first appeared on my 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.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

Uncool Runnings

•October 16, 2018 • 2 Comments

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There’s a particular cliché in film and television that rings truer than the rest, that is, the social hierarchy of the highschool male. Almost always, unsporty, flailing nerds fester at the bottom, as the popular jocks spit at them from the top, with that Venn diagram of ‘sporty kids’ and ‘bullies’ usually a perfect circle. It’s true in The Breakfast Club, and it was true for my schooldays in Sussex, albeit without America’s weirdly fascistic worship of its school sports teams. Maybe things have changed now, and social currency’s accrued with Instagram followers or retweets, or how many wins you’ve notched up in Fortnite. But for my generation, if you were fat or weedy, clumsy or shy, the kids who were giving you dead legs or taunting you over a dead parent were the kids from the school football team.

It won’t surprise you, dear reader, to learn I was not a superstar athlete. Of course, now I’m a strapping warrior poet hunk, doing kale-scented belches on a yoga mat, but I didn’t hit my growth spurt until just before my GCSEs, and was a short, fat, clumsy child, with a mop of curly hair that couldn’t be teased into the trendy curtains cut of the day, and was likened on a daily basis to Nigel off Eastenders. For the lads like me, PE lessons were Lord of the fucking Flies, with but two variations. Either the unsporty types would left to piss about in a quiet corner, as a tacit acknowledgement from teachers that it was a waste of time us being there, or be forced into a team game, where you’d get yelled at “LEAVE IT!” if the ball came anywhere near. On occasion, you might get a kick in, and actually connect with the ball and have it go in the right direction, where you’d spend the next week getting sarcastic cheers of “Weeey! Here’s fuckin’ Gazza!” every time you entered the room.

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Though one of my PE teachers was a genuinely great bloke, the rest fell into that cliché, like Brian Glover from Kes, of being unable to hide their disdain for the last-picked, who they’d probably bullied themselves, twenty years earlier. I vividly remember the first PE lesson of big school, where the head of PE informed us of his hatred of boxer shorts, which “let your dingle-dangle dangle where it shouldn’t dingle.” Consequently, boxers were banned, and would have to come off if he saw them, forcing you to go commando. If he spotted a pair during a game, you’d have to run back to the changing rooms and take them off. Looking back, you know what really makes your dingle-dangle dangle out of the leg-hole of those little football shorts? Not wearing any underwear at all. Weird.

But in of all of PE’s sadistic obsessions with jumping over things, having balls pelted at your face, and making really sure that teenagers were showering, there’s one that seems most Dickension of all through adult eyes. Oddly, its where I found my lone moment of unlikely personal triumph. I’m talking about the cross country run, or in our school’s local parlance, road running. Though we had a massive field, road running sessions involved pegging it all the way around and out of the gate, and then along a busy main road and back through residential streets, until we reached the finish line at the rear entrance of the school. Every winter (it was always fucking winter), we’d be put through this Hell, where me and my fat mates would hobble over the line some 20 minutes after everyone else, limping into the changing room still in our sweaty gear, soaked with rain, clutching at the stitches in our abdomens, while the other kids were already showered and back in their uniforms. Whatever lesson was next, we’d be late for it.

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Back then, naturally, what I really wanted was to be good at sport, which was virtually the only way to measure success among your peers, especially at the age when academic achievements were something to be hidden behind your back. I was forever chasing the notion of getting better, getting fitter; of becoming good and becoming valuable. Girls like you if you’re good at sport, and most of my heroes were athletes — footballers and WWF wrestlers. I went to a weekly ‘soccer skills’ class at the local sports hall, and every Saturday night for years, played in a five-a-side league, into which the only qualification was showing up with 50p. My team was notable for losing every single game throughout every season, and any errant touch of the ball, other than to pick it out of the net, was met with that familiar, sarcastic “weeeey!” During one summer tournament, a player from a team of older lads prodding at my red bibbed-belly with a “Don’t he look like Pavarotti?” cuing insincere cheers of faux-encouragement — “Go on Pavarotti!” — as a soundtrack for every match. I sought my physical salvation in home fitness video, Fighting Fit with ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, making a nightly routine of its circuit of bizarre kid-cardio, though fast-forwarding through the anti-paedo self-defense section, where Roddy taught the best and loudest ways to yell “That’s not my dad!” when being snatched by a street-nonce.

Of all the pointless facets of PE, I was always particularly determined to do well during road running, talking myself up as I ran, to not give up and to keep going, dreaming of the day I’d not be stuck right at the back, finally able to earn a modicum of earnest respect from my peers, and my teacher. But no matter how hard I tried, I was always trapped in that last pack of stragglers. Then it got to year 9 or 10, and suddenly, all the cool kids discovered smoking. As we slogged it through town, with the staff waiting at the finish, those who were usually first over the line now had something better to do with all that freedom; smoke breaks. Out of the teacher’s sight, there were bushes and bus stops to stand; there was an auntie who lived along the route, where they could pop in for a cup of tea and a fag, while the rest of us pounded the pavements. Like the 1980 Summer Olympics boycott, this had a drastic effect on the field, and by the time they’d all stubbed out and rejoined the race, I’d already gone over the line. A hollow victory, sure, but my name was the highest it’d ever been on the time-sheet, by a mile. I was so buoyed by this; by the feeling of having achieved something with my terrible body; that I found myself actually looking forwards to the following week, vowing to try even harder, and to finish even quicker.

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It was the same story as the week before, where the sporty lads couldn’t be arsed, but I gave it everything I had. I finished with my personal best by some distance, and a genuinely respectable time by anyone’s standards. It turns out, the only encouragement I ever needed was simply to taste what it was to not be a failure. Having been trapped as this clumsy, perennially last-picked mess, and like all boys, always dreaming of sporting glory, I finally felt like I might not be so wretched after all. Look what happens when you apply yourself! Soon after that, the teams were being picked to represent the school for cross country, and by virtue of my most recent performances, I was eligible to be at the meeting.

Maybe I was being unreasonable, my ego inflated by flighty notions borne out of one good run amid a lifetime of last places. But if the other clichés are true, why not the underdog sporting victory? We’d all given up our lunchbreak to be there; me, wondering if this might be the start of something, and the sporty lads, who smelled of polos and smoke. The PE teacher clocked me as soon as he walked in. Maybe he sensed I was hanging loose and free in a pair of contraband boxer shorts. It was his duty to select the team, but he began with a speech, during which he never took his eyes off of me. Twenty-five years later, I’d wager this is verbatim. “Obviously some people deserve to be here, while others are treating it like a joke and just want to get out of lessons. Some ridiculous faces here today.” I didn’t run for the school, and from then until the day I left, I never put another atom of effort into PE. What’s more, I write this from the comfort of a pair of well-fitting boxer shorts, and am I egregiously exposing myself? No more questions!

This piece first appeared on my 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.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

Danny Dyer Has a Butcher’s at Aliens

•October 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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It’s a miracle I’ve gone this long without tackling the works of Danny Dyer, who’s one of those celebrities that embraces their stereotype so hard, they’ve become an actual cartoon. I’ve often wondered what genuine Italians make of Gino D’Acampo’s Super Mario accent — “Mama mia! I’ve dropped-a the spaghetti!” but speaking as a real British person, Dyer seems like the offensive creation of an enemy nation trying to bait us into war. It’s been grimly fascinating to watch, in real time, Dyer’s transformation from the swaggering prick who once told a reader of his advice column to cut their ex’s face so nobody else would want her, into a swaggering prick who’s a national treasure; and all by taking his terrible acting to Eastenders. If that’s what it takes to rehabilitate your image, Ian Brady should have put in a stint behind the bar at the Vic before he snuffed it, and his obits might have looked back kindly on the loveable rogue who sang karaoke with Ian Beale and come off the Walford FC subs bench to replace an injured Ricky Butcher and score the winning goal, turning a blind eye to all that nasty business with the murdered kids. It worked for the cabbie killer.

(Note: I originally penned this piece before Dyer’s recent TV appearance, where he referred to David Cameron as a twat, and to his feet as ‘trotters’, and was promptly carried aloft through ticker tape parades beneath impassioned cries of “Danny Dyer for PM!”)

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Not that Danny Dyer’s a murderer, but since his recent teatime turns on the BBC have put him on the path from gutter-dwelling punchline into nan-friendly icon, it seems unlikely we’ll get another moment of foul-mouthed accidental-art, like he and Nick Love’s DVD commentary for the abysmal Outlaw, or more of his documentaries. For a while, Dyer was the face of docs for morons about hooligans and gangsters, riding his rep of having played a hooligan in a film once to hang out with ‘hard’ and ‘dangerous’ men, and react to them in a really cockney way. Why fanny about with private school ponces like Broomfield or Theroux when you can have a real life Jim London, stone the bleedin’ crows me old china, off for a cheeky Nandos, oi oi saveloy, look at the milkers on that right sort, and so on? But Dyer’s journalistic back catalogue doesn’t consist entirely of debt collectors with bent noses, as he once put aside the jellied eels for long enough to go looking for aliens.

Danny Dyer – I Believe in UFOs opens on Dyer telling us that “every six minutes, someone somewhere on Erf sees a UFO.” Sadly, it doesn’t go the whole ‘Bono clicking his fingers when a child starves’ and cut away every 360 seconds to show him violently nutting someone from a rival firm. “See that UFO did ya? Ur Fuckin’ ‘ospital bill!” I do feel at home here, in another alien doc that begins with montages of people pointing at out of focus lights in the sky, and a narrator that wants to believe we’re not alone. Consequently, like every celebrity doing a shit investigation, he’s “going on a journey,” which sadly doesn’t refer to an actual ride inside a barrel over the edge of a cliff, but a journey of belief and self-reflection. As we must, the first step of such a pilgrimage is to share one’s mission statement — “My name’s Danny Dyer, and I believe in UFOs.” While Shaun Ryder definitely believed in what he was talking about, the only thing I’ll wager Dyer believes in is making a few bob to play the wideboy while talking to a few damaged eccentrics, and he sets out on his quest with all the sincerity of a bully calling you ‘mate’ while putting his arm around your shoulder so tightly that it hurts.

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Our first interviewee is, as we’re told by Dyer from the back of a minivan, is “a very, very intelligent man.” By his standards, that could be an actual scarecrow, or someone who thinks it’s “could of,” but in a further clue, it’s “a man I was brought up watching… a very old man now, unfortunately. I fink he’s 86 years of age.” As a sidenote, ‘of age’ always makes me laugh for some reason. “An old man of 86? 86 what? Hands high? Penises? Ah, years of age, why didn’t you say?” Anyway, it is of course Sir Patrick Moore, and chances are, on meeting Danny Dyer, Moore’s going to assume the BBC have brought him a primitive alien lifeform. Danny gets off to a bad start, confused by the artwork on the walls of Moore’s country cottage, like a picture of a palm tree, “these caricatures of ideas… what does it all mean? What does it all mean?

But Moore’s an old hand with this alien line, and politely fields the questions with characteristic bluster. Asked if there’s intelligent life out there, Moore responds with an immediate yes. He believes that we have to try and find it if we’re ever to discover life in the vastness of the universe, which is music to Danny’s ears, glad that Moore didn’t say “there’s nuffink going on, boy” and “shattered me dreams,” but given him hope. It’d be remiss of me to not mention how much Moore enjoyed a high trouser in later life, with the waistband almost up under his chin. If he’d lived another five years, he’d have been eating his dinner through the fly.

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Danny needn’t have worried about Patrick Moore taking offense at the low-brow subject of aliens, as he’s got a storied history of his own. In 1954, while holidaying in Scotland, a man named Cedric Allingham witnessed a flying saucer, and began telepathically communicating with its Martian pilot. Allingham’s book about his experience, Flying Saucer from Mars, was a fairly major hit, even covered by TIME magazine, at the height of 1950’s space-brother mania. Allingham was a mysterious and elusive figure, and with a single known photo that showed him stood beside an enormous telescope, investigators found him hard to trace, with rumours that he’d died from TB in a Swiss clinic. But there was one person who claimed to have met him; Patrick Moore. In 1986, Moore was revealed as the true co-author, along with friend, Peter Davies, who’d donned a false moustache to portray the fictional writer, in an early version of the JT LeRoy scam. The big telescope was recognisable as one of Moore’s, though he’d heaved it out of his garden shed, to throw friends off the scent. He strenuously denied his involvement in the affair, threatening to sue accusers, though he never did. Around the time of the Allingham hoax, Moore also starred in Them and the Thing, a flying saucer b-movie directed by Desmond Leslie, who’s otherwise best known for punching theatre critic Bernard Levin in the face on live TV for giving his wife’s play a bad review.

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Invigorated by the hopeful message of Patrick Moore, Danny’s “on my way to look at a very British phenomenon, that’s been causing a bit of a rumble for years.” It better not be that fucking ‘is Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?’ shite. Thankfully, it’s crop circles, and eager to run around with a few hippies, Danny gets his wish, wandering through an intricate crop design with a bunch of Nu-Agers, where all sorts of energies are being felt. “Wow… feel somefing special’s ‘appened here, din’t ya?” he says, as experts stress that something so incredible couldn’t possibly be man-made; harping on about otherworldly intelligence and energy fields, leaving Danny convinced “a bunch of blokes larkin’ about couldn’t’ve done all this.” It must have been “from that mob up there.

Ah, the eternal battle between believers and sceptics. Now within touching distance of a real breakthrough, and perhaps imbued with galaxy-brain crop-magic, Dyer rages at the sheeple who don’t give any serious thought to life’s mysteries; something he admits to being guilty of in the past, having seen pictures of crop circles in the paper and thought “‘that looks a bit mad’; turn the page, have a look at a pair of tits.” Then he meets some circle-makers, who are alas, just human beings, though one of them’s wearing a flame-shirt which Danny compliments. High on the alien theory, and planning to rush them with “who the fuck do you fink you are?”, Danny’s brought back to Earth with a Roswell-sized bump, when he realises all those power-infused interstellar messages, which could never be made by a man, had been in fact literally been done by a couple of blokes with a plank and a piece of rope.

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But still clinging to hope, having heard about “summink so mysterious, even UFO sceptics struggle to explain it,” it’s onto that boring old chestnut, cattle mutilation. If he happens upon a cow that’s had her face slashed with a stanley knife, I’m gonna need a little more proof. Out in the sticks, he meets the Animal Pathology Field Unit, which turns out not to be a government organisation, but just some men who’ve formed an official-sounding club, like when I lead the Mr. T Bully Defence Force as an eight-year-old. The APFU — never good letters to end an initialism on — turn up at farms unannounced to show off their binder of mutilated cattle porn, and give subtle warnings about “something that is aerial” butchering their livestock. The farmer greets it with the weary side-eye reserved for door-to-door Jesus enthusiasts, before surprising them by emerging with his own album of decapitated sheep, causing an elated Dyer to exclaim “I feel like a Ghostbuster!

Now woke to the real alien presence, Danny’s on a plane to America to meet someone with first hand experience of ETs. But first, he visits a genuine American diner, to exclaim “fahkin’ hell, Jesus Christ,” at an enormous breakfast, while wearing a t-shirt that reads ‘SMUT’, where the M is a silhouette of a naked lady with her legs spread. Dyer’s contactee is the infamous Stan Romanek, who claims multiple visits from aliens, and a body that’s riddled with off-world implants. He plays Danny the famous video, which shows Romanek tip-toing towards his kitchen window like a Merry Melodies burglar, before an abysmal-quality CG alien head peeks through the glass. All Danny can do is drop an f-bomb, and accuse Romanek of mincing too camply in the footage. But the evidence keeps coming, in x-rays of his hip, where a little alien implant is visible, and a picture of him holding a test tube containing a colour-changing “nanobiological organism.” Although, I was distracted by his choice of t-shirt in the photo, which reads ‘I’M A NAUGHTY BOY (can I go to YOUR room?)‘. Most damning of all is Romanek’s ‘leaked’ letter from the Pentagon about Project Romanek, which has been sending alien visitors to his home.

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It’s almost too much for our host, left rubbing his eyes and unable to comprehend, “why is that not splashed over every news channel, all over the world?” For all its blasé beginnings, this simple documentary has shaken Danny Dyer to the core. “Some of the shit he’s shown me in there is unbelievable. He’s got evidence of aliens pokin’ their ‘ead round the fuckin’ windah and havin’ a pipe at him.” He feels like he’s losing the plot, physically shaking and unable to tell if Romanek was just taking the piss, or if his entire world-view just got shredded. In a rare moment of insight, Danny notes that Romanek’s got an agent, who demanded $50k for the alien footage. But now obsessed, he worries he’s caught UFO fever, desperate for something tangible. It’s not for me to judge if the guy was on the level, but since the filming of this interview, Stan Romanek has talked about fathering multiple alien-hybrid children, admitted to faking footage of a poltergeist, and been found guilty on possession of child pornography.

It wouldn’t be a UFO doc if we didn’t go up a hill — “Another hill? Why is it always hills?” — to attempt telepathic communication with them lot up in space, with a bloke called Phil who plays a dictaphone filled with alien languages down a walkie talkie for the aliens to hear. “Could either be genius real,” posits Danny, “or a complete load of bollocks.” Phil plays the alien noises from the movie Signs and everyone looks hopefully towards the sky, while a caption explains that any radio message would take 4 years to reach the nearest star. At this point, Danny’s increasing UFO madness and growing paranoia manifests in getting freaked out by the clouds, which he deems to be scarily spaceship-shaped. But there’s no response from the ETs, as everyone stands around flashing torches into the sky. It’s not even dark, and Danny worries they’re all lunatics. “We’ve got a young cockney, who wants to believe… but nuffink. Not a fuckin’ thing.” Empty handed once more, he suggests the government chuck a few coins Phil’s way, though he’s worried once the aliens land “…and start shaking everyone’s hands, they’ll probably blank Phil… that’ll be the irony.”

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By this point, Danny’s restless, having met countless people who’ve had their experiences, but yet to have his own. Getting desperate, he needs summink to get him excited again, so it’s back on a plane, this time to Washington State, home of the first famous UFO sighting in 1947. A hippie commune at a UFO hotspot seems like his best chance for finding answers, plus there might be “free love and all that.” The same ranch that Robbie Williams stayed at in that period he wasn’t well and got obsessed with aliens, the head hippie informs Danny the overlooking mountain’s got a door in it, where the spacecraft fly in and out. But he can’t just look at the sky here, and first must participate in group spiritual activities, where a nervous Danny, having to open his mind and let go, is afraid of “mugging meself off.”

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As the group opens their chakras with dumb hippie exercises, they start laughing with the mass hysteria of a religious revival. Meanwhile, he’s laughing like he’s just seen someone slip in dogshit, winking at the camera, and makes his excuses before leaving. But outside, he feels drunk and disoriented, “suh-ink’s happened to me, but I dunno what.” For the first time, he’s truly afraid, because when you open up spiritually, “all you got is your brain, and your fuckin’ thoughts.” Everything culminates in a final skywatch, where Danny immediately sees something. “Get on that,” he cries. The old hippie sees it too. Everyone cheers. “Fuckin ‘ell,” says Danny, finally vindicated, “that’s massive, innit?” Now they’re all seeing things; lights, a ship powering up, a doorway to the inner Earth. There are shrieks and woos, and Danny’s seen four or five alien craft. At last living up to the title of his show, Danny Dyer finally believes. “I’ve done it,” he laughs triumphantly, “I’ve done it. That is a fuckin’ UFO.”

This piece first appeared on my 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.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

The Other Time Roseanne Got Cancelled

•September 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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Whoopi and Ted. Bruce and Demi. Gareth and Norman. But amid the early 90’s landscape of wonderful celebrity couplings, there were none quite like Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold. In many ways, they were the Kim and Kanye of their time, a true Hollywood power couple virtually printing money, and wearing their brashness like wrestling heels, as exaggerated versions of their true selves that, in hindsight, was just who they really were. Though perhaps a better comparison is Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers, with a reputation as tyrant backstage leaders of NBC’s Roseanne. A genuine classic, which had the young me wanting nothing more than to marry Darlene, the sitcom was almost as notorious for its behind the scenes politics as it was for its jokes. Even now, with the revival pulling monstrous ratings, Roseanne‘s biggest story is the ousting of its creator and star, after the kind of racist tweets you’d expect from that uncle who always cocks a leg when he farts. But imagine if she’d hit back by producing a cartoon, starring herself, entirely devoted to burning the network execs who fired her. Even in this gibbering nightmare timeline of 2018, that’s too wacky. Well, she did it once before.

First, we need to go back a couple of decades. BBC documentary, Feeding the Monster: A Week in the Life of Roseanne, aired on 13th December 1992, and was shot in November of the previous year, during production of the Roseanne Christmas episode. Its opening gives us the single most encapsulating portrait of Roseanne Barr as viewed by the culture of the time, that is, trolling America by screeching a purposely horrendous rendition of the national anthem at a baseball game, beneath a rain of furious booing. Capping the performance by grabbing her crotch and spitting on the ground, national reaction was immediate disgust at the flagrant disrespect of such a holy sacrament, with then-President Bush Sr declaring it “disgraceful.”

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Barr (“I think I did great, and people wanted more”) and Arnold (“she sang the best she could”) sidestepped the usual apology tour, as was fitting with their image as a pair who wallowed in their obnoxious personas, and could get away with anything. Ironically, 25 years on, she’s a free-speech darling of the flag-hugging conservatives that shit their pants when a black football player dares sully their precious anthem by taking a knee to protest police brutality. Anyway, that unrepentant fuck-em attitude was familiar to a nation drowning under gossip column inches about Barr and Arnold’s behind the scenes dictatorship at Roseanne, then in its forth season.

Tom Arnold was a former meat-packer and prop comic who’d been hired as a writer on the show, quickly writing himself in as an onscreen character, and getting married — offscreen — to its star. Arnold was promptly elevated to creative co-head, alongside his new wife, which led to a purge behind the scenes, during which the entire production team was ousted. Feeding the Monster beautifully captures the terror of a group of frazzled writers trying to appease the twin gods of Roseanne and Tom Arnold, particularly head writer Bob Myer, in a position Arnold describes as “the job with the highest turnover.” There’s a sense of banana republic in Roseanne‘s crew, with two of the writers Tom’s old roommates, one the boyfriend of the wardrobe designer, and of course Tom himself, a mediocre comic who’d be creatively out of his depth in a cup of tea, having married his way in.

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Appropriately, each day is marked by a Shining-style caption, in a week-in-the-life doc laden with a growing sense of impending doom. The BBC, whose classic sitcoms were written solo or in pairs, seem intoxicated by the concept of giant American writing teams, punctuating its opening with “FEED ME!” soundclips from Little Shop of Horrors, with the monster of the title, of course, Roseanne herself. So stressful that merely watching turned all my hair white, it starts with a bad table read that leaves Barr and Arnold with faces like thunder, and follows the increasingly exhausted writers as they try to nail down a funny draft, bleary-eyed beneath humming lights in all-night scramble sessions, while the clock ticks towards Friday’s shoot. “We are in hell,” says one, slumped on a couch, exhausted and desperate, though most of them are making $45k a week in 1991 money, and for that amount I’d let Tom Arnold funnel his cold piss directly up my nostrils while I typed.

Aside from the scene where they show off their tattoos — him with Rosey’s face on his chest and name on his arse, and her with ‘Property of Tom Arnold’ across a buttock — the most telling moment comes when Barr discusses the writers. People from NY and California, she says, have no idea about Mid-Westerners like the Conners, viewing them as a “sub-class of people,” and have only experienced working class families through television. Backstage, the trailer park girl made good barks orders with pointing fingers clad in 10-carat diamond rings. In another apposite comment from Rosey, Roseanne is not just “a show about fat people,” but it’s a show that’s “anti-television… anti-media,” and she hates TV because it ruined her whole generation. As for the troubled script, it all comes together in the end, though an end caption states Bob Myer is no longer head writer, and out of the writing team of ten, only one remains. An additional caption informs us the syndication rights have just been sold for $180m.

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Roseanne‘s enormous success gave its star the power to do whatever she wanted, which at the time, was her own cartoon. Forget your weird-arse manga about Japanese girls going to school inside a giant alien penis, everyone knows the best cartoons came out of the early 90’s fad for animated shows based on real celebrities. There was Camp Candy, featuring John Candy running his own summer camp; Hammerman, where MC Hammer got superpowers from a pair of magic shoes; and 1990’s Gravedale High, which will sound like I made it up, but I promise, really did star an animated Rick Moranis, working as the principal of a highschool attended by teenage versions of famous movie monsters. But within this genre was the even smaller sub-genre of autobiographical cartoons based around child-versions of celebrities, like Louie Anderson’s Life with Louie, and the show that chose to put Roseanne Barr’s foghorn personality in the body of a eight-year-old, Little Rosey.

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I hope one day to have an animated series depicting my own childhood adventures, such as the day I met Bill Oddie, or the time me and my friends went to look at a dead body before Kiefer Sutherland pulled a knife on us. Little Rosey aired in the autumn of 1990, a generic ‘kids getting into hijinx’ toon, as an effort to expand the Roseanne brand, by introducing her to a younger audience. The main character was voiced by an impersonator giving it her best Barr shriek, though the actual Roseanne intended on taking over the role for the second season. But ABC wanted other changes, such as adding more boys to Rosey’s gang, and they were unable to come to a compromise. Along with its low ratings, and perhaps due to the weirdness of having Barr’s parents feature as characters, having since been publicly accused by her of childhood sexual abuse, Little Rosey was cancelled after a single season. As the queen of a sitcom empire, not used to losing fights with network heads and tired of their meddling, the decision was not easily swallowed. It’s this retching that spat out The Rosey and Buddy Show.

Self-financed by Barr and Arnold, the 23 minute pilot had 11 credited writers, including two of Tom Arnold’s, a couple from Roseanne, and the guy who’d go onto write Shrek 2 and Daddy Day Care. Consequently, it’s not hard to imagine it was penned under the same strain as your typical episode of Roseanne. Though its cheap animation style seems made for the young Saturday morning audience, The Rosey and Buddy Show aired in prime-time, likely hoping to emulate the success of The Simpsons. However, as is clear from the very beginning, it’s less a cartoon than one giant diss-track against television and its interfering bosses. Incidentally, Roseanne and Tom do the voices, but while she’s playing herself, drawn as an obvious likeness, Tom is ‘Buddy’, a freckled child-looking character with a mullet. I’d loved to have seen the meeting where it was decided poor old Tom wouldn’t get to play himself.

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Playing on their real-life reputation as troublemakers, we begin in Cartoonland, where news of their arrival incites panic in its residents. An anthropomorphised fire hydrant gasps; a gorilla faints; a talking cab, just like the one from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, makes a run for it. The bad guy is a giant purple weasel; the network head of Cartoonland, which I guess is a place and a TV channel? Furious that Rosey and Buddy will “warp the minds of children all over the world!” he vows to stop them, “or I’m not an important guy with a really big office!” That’s the entire plot, as the evil bosses try to no-platform a pair of creative geniuses, in the 23-minute equivalent of those photoshoots where a comedian who swears has got a piece of tape over their mouth.

Roseanne’s earlier admission that she hates television emerges in a slew of digs about the crass, money-obsessed nature of a business that stifles her simple desire to make people laugh. They’re informed “there are ways of doing things in Cartoonland!” and shoved into a giant limo for a meeting, despite protests they’ve not got time as they’re trying to put on a show. Tied to chairs in the office of the Powers That Be — literal weasels, each with the surname Powers — they’re told they don’t belong in Cartoonland. “Cartoons are supposed to be cute!” yells a weasel, demanding they be more like the Care Bears, or big and tough like Transformers. When Rosey plays them a skit, hoping to get a few laughs, “cartoons aren’t about laughs,” spits the boss, “they’re about selling commercial airtime when little kids are glued to their TV sets!

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By now you’re thinking ‘okay, point made,’ as they’re forced into a show where talking lunchboxes push a sponsored snack product, before being sectioned at the Betty and Veronica Clinic. There’s a brief reference to the national anthem incident, before they walk into a padded cell filled with old cartoon characters, locked away because “all we wanted to do was get a few laughs.” Even Tom and Jerry are there, with Jerry hitting Tom with a hammer, and a sarcastic Rosey asking “but where are the redeeming social values?” Those aren’t the only ‘celebrity’ cartoon cameos, with appearances from Beetlejuice (voiced by his regular actor, but oddly green-skinned, for copyright reasons), Droopy, and even the Care Bears, with a “there goes the neighbourhood!” as Rosey and Buddy’s caravan crashes through their picnic.

After a couple more terrible sketches — Rosey as a lawyer for female fairytale characters, suggesting to Alice that the White Rabbit “forced you to take diuretics” to fit through a tiny hole; Buddy reporting on a palimony suit by a fox who had an affair with a duck — the end credits are finally within sight. Rosey breaks out all the old characters from the asylum, and they come for the Powers That Be with massive cartoon hammers, leaving her and Buddy free to spread their laffs and artistic genius all across Cartoonland like a malfunctioning sewage pipe.

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It won’t knock you off your feet to learn the pilot aired to terrible reviews, and was not picked up as a full series. Amid the bitter personal snipes, there were some valid, if hoary old points about the commercial nature of kids TV, with fake commercials where sickly green kids are revitalised by sugary cereal, and a throwaway line about a Desert Storm Barbie. As such a singly-focussed product, it’s hard to imagine where The Rosey and Buddy Show would have gone if it’d been gotten more episodes, with barely enough mileage in the meta angle for 23 minutes. If comics should always punching up, they were punching sideways at best, taking aim at the Powers That Be, while simultaneously welding huge amounts of stroke themselves; enough to get this abomination produced and onto screens. This is even alluded to in a gag which seems to reference Roseanne‘s charges of nepotism, when a terribly drawn stick man lumbers into frame, which Rosey blames on Buddy hiring his brother as an animator.

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Roseanne and Tom went through a caustic public divorce in 1994, and he promptly left the show. These days, she’s using that loud-and-proud outrageousness to be racist and believe everything she reads on Infowars, while he’s on the other side, pretending he’s going to bring down the government by finding tapes from his time on The Apprentice of Trump saying the n-word, as if President Pissbaby couldn’t just say it live on Fox News right now with zero consequences. With Roseanne reeling from another battle with the weasels, getting ousted from the wildly successful revival of her own show, maybe she should take aim at all those network heads and triggered snowflake libs with another cartoon. Picture this; it’s Scooby-Doo, except with Roseanne in a van, trying to stop Hillary Clinton from performing Satanic blood drinking rituals that turn our frogs gay, while also battling a team of Soros-funded Antifa goons. Roseanne, you in? I want an exec producer credit, but I’m not willing to marry for it. Unless Darlene’s interested.

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

There’s tens of thousands of words worth of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British light entertainment-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

 
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