Past Laugh Regression: Part Three – Bobby Davro

01

Part One is here. Part Two is here.

It was inevitable in writing this series that I’d end up covering Davro, king of the eighties; our Eddie Murphy. While many of the comedy faces from that era were double-acts, Bobby Davro walked alone, and those two words were more than just a name; they were a brand. In Bobby Davro On the Box, Bobby Davro’s TV Weekly, Davro’s Sketch Pad, the titular Davro, and finally, Bobby Davro’s Rock With Laughter, he was fronting solo series on ITV for seven years. Imagine the extraordinary combination of prodigious talent and prolific output that must have garnered such a consistent and long-running amount of prime television time. No seriously, you will have to imagine it.

Sadly, nothing from the height of his popularity, nor Rock With Laughter, has made its way online, so I devoted precious time I could have spent skipping through a meadow or searching Web MD for ‘phimosis’ to watching episodes from 1989’s Sketch Pad, and 1991’s Davro. They’re best discussed together, as they’re essentially the exact same format, even sharing their title music. Unless Bobby Davro has his own theme like a WWE wrestler, which plays every time he enters a room to do a shit Robin Williams. The opening credits of neither bode well, with Davro‘s depicting him dressing in the guises of other, funnier comedians; Dame Edna, Julian Clary, Harry Enfield’s Stavros, Ray Alan and Lord Charles; while the title sequence of Sketch Pad contains a still of Davro dressed as Hitler in the literal opening frame, setting a new “there’s Hitler!” record of 0 seconds.

02

Almost immediately, two things become manifestly clear. Bobby Davro can’t do accents, and rather crucially for a comedy impressionist, Bobby Davro can’t do impressions. Possibly the biggest television comedy star of the period, a modern rewatch reveals the people of the eighties to be trapped beneath the glamour of a fairy’s spell, laughing at performances on the level of your dad, who’s forgotten his glasses, reading a Christmas cracker joke. There’s no point pretending I didn’t go into this expecting it to be a bit naff, because that’s where the writer’s comic mileage is, but I’m continually floored by how desperately unfunny it all is. When going back over what I scribbled as I’d been watching, halfway through I found a suicide note. Alright, let’s hold our noses and dive in.

Sketch Pad‘s linking device shows an animated Davro channel-surfing on the remote, which was a thing back then, with four glorious analogue channels of content, and sets out its format-stall as ‘quick-fire’ comedy, one of those phrases — like “sideways look at the news” — which turns my stomach. Consequently, we’re taken on a tour of all the perfunctory sketch show settings; a shop, a doctor’s surgery, a hospital, with a weak opening joke where Davro’s roadside assistance man uses a hammer to smash the window of a car with its keys locked inside. Davro meanwhile, opens with a monologue, like he’s Jay Leno. Also like Jay Leno, the jokes are atrocious, with winners like “our local cinema’s so small, the choc ice lady comes round on her hands and knees,” — jokes that make you want to drag the audience out in the street and beat them until they can explain why they were laughing. Not that they’re killing themselves, offering only slipshod chuckles, rather than the crazed reaction of his Copy Cats clowning only 3 years earlier. Did his star burn out in those intervening years? What clues could be found in the lost Davro On the Box episodes? Presumably it contains material so sensational we’d be sent mad if we saw it, leading him no choice but to tone it down here, for the safety of his audience.

03

The first impersonation is Julian Clary, back in his glam PVC days, working in a shop, because of course he is, in a classic example of “here’s a funny thing you like, but less good,” before cutting to a sketch where John Cleese is a doctor. I genuinely didn’t realise who he was supposed to be until he began jumping around saying “Right! Right!”, and I could do a better Cleese while I was being kicked to death. Oddly, the whole sketch is a comment on rising doctors’ fees under the looming threat of NHS privatisation, with Dr. Cleese taking every bit of money the patient has, to upgrade him from “dead” to “in perfect health.” The last thing I expected was Woke Bae Bobby, but this is the Davro of Thatcher’s Britain, and there’s a later skit with doctors frantically rushing a bed through the corridor, eventually right through the exit, telling the patient not to come back until they can pay. Things take an even further agitprop bent in another sketch, when passers-by administer first aid to an unconscious woman in the street, before realising it’s much-loathed Tory health minister Edwina Currie, and immediately deciding to lynch her.

But it can’t all be kicking against the pigs, though we do kick against the hippo and the whatever the fuck Zippy is supposed to be, with a Rainbow parody, where Davro’s market-stall knock-off puppets trade rude nursery rhymes, like a Pontins Andrew Dice Clay. It’s all top stuff, such as “Mary had a little lamb…” “That must have been a surprise to the midwife!” Curiously, they also use this one: “Mary had a little lamb, she tied it to a pylon, 10,000 volts went up its bum and turned its wool to nylon!” Now, that was a regular around the playground when I was a lad. Did we get it from this, or was Davro using popular schoolboy jokes on TV? I suppose it’s nothing the cast of The Comedians didn’t do in the 70’s, appropriating well-worn pub gags, but if he starts harping on about his friend Billy getting hit with a rake, I’m suggesting a class-action lawsuit for lost royalties. The frightening Bungle who arrives to end the sketch has a gigantic head on top of a much smaller body, giving him the look of an emaciated prisoner, chained by Zippy inside the mysterious shed Rod, Jane and Freddy aren’t allowed to go near.

04

Also baffling, also frightening, is the parody of TV show Beauty and the Beast, with Davro in the Ron Perlman role, which you’d think is a great excuse for some silly monster costuming. Not so. The make-up is genuinely decent and expensive looking, with a horrifying half-lion, half-Bobby Davro that looks like that weird little ginger gremlin in the Masters of the Universe film. Not worth the hours in the make-up chair, it’s an excuse for bad Tommy Coopers and jokes about other man/animal hybrids, like “Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid… Michael Fish,” before Davro comes crashing through the wall dressed as Eddie The Eagle.

As is the point of impressionism, much of the show is taken up with “what if X were to do Y?!” scenarios, that really highlight how absolutely god-awful Davro is at doing other people. There’s Claire Rayner, making innuendos about “big ones” in a monstrously oversized fat suit, and flashing her big knickers as she tries to cross her legs; there’s Barry Norman, unrecognisable but for his false-catchphrase of “and why not?” which also crops up with Michael Caine’s “not a lot of people know that.” Not that we don’t need these cues, as the dire quality of these impressions is legitimately shocking; each about 95% Davro and 5% whoever it’s supposed to be, and all so thin and lazy, after the first line, he ends up doing the rest of the joke in his own voice. Something which really stands out is that he clearly can’t do an American accent, at all, (or indeed, any accents) which is a problem when half his take-offs are American film stars, so the majority of the skits end up as a bloke saying stuff in a home counties voice. And of course, every character has to be introduced before they speak, or do the old “my name’s…”, or you’d never figure out who it was supposed to be.

05

Even when it couldn’t be more clear who he’s being, as when wearing a Spurs kit and saying “why-aye” in a Geordie accent, at the absolute A-List height of Gazza’s fame, he has so little confidence in his own ability that he can’t refrain from the opener “Gazza’s the name and footie’s me game!” Sadly for me, the Gazza sketch went on for ages, with Davro in shorts so small that I’m pretty sure I spent five minutes staring at a little bit of bollock.

06

Let me ask you something. What’s your nightmare of a shite impressionist? I’d wager it’s this: “Look over there, it’s Sean Connery — my namesh Bond, Jamesh Bond…” This actually happens. Go on, Bobby, throw in Frank Spencer while you’re at it. Honestly if you have to introduce your Sean Connery impression with “Hi, I’m Sean Connery” on the two separate times you do him in the same show, you should probably get a job on the bins. It’s Sean Connery, for fucks sake; people’s nans can do that. The skit, Sean Connery’s Guide to Acting, is based on Sean’s inability to do different accents, which is like if I’d written a piece mocking someone for spending years on a Charles Manson novel that sold really badly. Davro has him using the Connery voice, regardless of the nationality he’s playing (“The name’s Bond, Yuri Bond” as a Russian and so on), leading to a sharp intake of breath when Chinese comes up. Cut to Davro as Connery, with a lampshade hat on his head, plinky-plonky Oriental riff, eyes squinting and hands clasped together in an “ah-so!

A segment that really underpins his fundamental weakness has Davro dressed in army fatigues and headphones, and standing in front of an American flag to yell “Good Morning Vietnam!” Trying to do Robin Williams’ 100mph hurricane of jokes and voices is like doing an impression of Geoff Capes by attempting to lift a real 800lb barbell. With material like this — “What’s black and white and got three eyes?” “Sammy Davis Jr and his wife.” — an over-lifting Davro puts his metaphorical back out. Throughout both shows, he’s just dreadful, with terrible impressions, and material that’s the Simpsons Mr. T + ET = Mr. ET, “I pity the fool that don’t phone home” bad stand-up, but for real. It’s no exaggeration to say his Dustin Hoffman as Rainman wouldn’t get a laugh from your mates in the pub, and his act as a whole is on the level of the “let’s laugh at mentals” sections on Britain’s Got Talent. There’s nothing there. No merit. No skill. No laughs.

07

Impressions aside, both shows are crammed with pre-taped sketches that don’t fit at all, other than they also aren’t funny. Isaac Newton gets a load of apples crashing on his head, which spell out ‘GRAVITY IDIOT’ when they land. There’s the funeral of a bobsledder who’s slalomed into the hole, complete with cameo from Ainsley Harriott, a regular Davro background player. Harriott appears again as Man Friday to Davro’s Robinson Crusoe, carrying Davro on his back with a questionable “yea mon!” accent. But the absolute nadir is a pub-set sketch, which clearly had pretensions of that great Two Ronnies wordplay. Just look at this absolute toilet of a script.

Davro’s Mate: “I’m browned off. Everything looks a bit black.

Davro: “It’s browning you off, is it? Everything looking black?

Davro’s mate: “Yeah, I s’pose so, if you wanna put it in black and white.

Davro: “S’pose that makes you blue, don’t it? You know, everything looking black and you being browned off?

And on and on it goes; “but last week, you were in the pink” — “I was in the pink. I was in a bit of a purple patch,” just naming colours for endless minutes as the audience laughs like they’re witnessing actual jokes. But this; all of this; is just the prelude to an extraordinary pair of set pieces, both as baffling and aberrant as the other. I’ve made no secret of how much of a struggle this has been to get through, but I need you to believe me that this segment isn’t a boredom induced autoerotic-asphyxiation death-vision, or wildly exaggerated for that sweet Patreon buck. This is real, and I saw it with my own eyes.

08

We open on Victorian London, with Russell Brand-voiced prostitutes squawking that “these streets ain’t safe!” Bobby Davro suddenly rears up out of an alleyway, dressed like a magician, and breaks out into a rap. He’s Jack the Rapper, see? As we know when comedians do raps, the word ‘rap’ or ‘rapping’ will 100% make an appearance within the first two lines. What do we reckon, “I’m Jacky Rip, and I’m here to say, gonna rap about killin’, in a London way” — something like that? Let’s see…

Well you heard of me, well you must’ve done,

when it comes to rappin’, I’m the number one!

Ah yes. Yes, yes, yes. Clearly with his finger on the b-boy pulse — “gonna party down, gonna groove ya hot” — what follows by ITV’s great bard is a full-blown Jack the Ripper rap and dance number, with back-up dancers, location shoots, and lyrics such as:

I slay ’em here and I slay ’em there,

with a dance that makes even Fred a-stare!

09

During an excruciatingly long dance sequence, one of the prostitutes gets a few verses in:

well I ‘eard of you, and it ain’t a lie,

when it comes to rap, you’re the only guy,

but you cut a throat when you cut a rug,

so I’m getting out cos I ain’t a mug!

It’s then that Davro appears as, well…

I’m Sherlock H, out of Baker Street,

and I’m getting down to the hip-hop beat!

Is this canon?! I never thought I’d see a body-popping Sherlock Holmes played by Bobby Davro pointing a gun at Jack the Ripper, also Davro, but here we are. For a sketch show, it’s quite admirable in scale, with a lot going on, especially in having to cut between the two Davro roles, when Jack pulls out a ghetto blaster for a big dance-off between the Davros, the prostitutes, and the rozzers. Even so, having to watch it was worse than what Jack’s real victims went through. There should be a tableaux in London Dungeon of me sat in front of it, with frightened tourists listening to the howls of unimaginable agony from my waxwork as they echo down the corridor. When I saw the final minute was just credits, I wept with relief.

10

The other big finish takes us, via a Rapido parody of all things, to “the new video from New Whimps (sic) on the Block.” A NKOTB parody, it’s probably easiest if I just describe what I’m seeing. Davro sits next to a girl, serenading her. “I really like the older woman, and you’re nearly 17,” he sings, as she then sucks on her thumb. Then comes the chorus — “Got an eye for, eye for, adolescent love, and no other love could ever feel like this…” Oh, Bobby, is that why you ended up in the stocks? It was quite a ways in before I twigged that Davro and the New Whimps were supposed to be young too, and not out-and-proud paedos, dancing in playgrounds and hitting on a girl who’s sucking on a giant lollypop. Though the lyrics speak of bumfluff and braces, the band are all clearly played by and dressed like thirty-somethings, so the full-length pop song Adolescent Love just seems like an anthem for nonces. In case it wasn’t nightmarish enough, when Davro references his teddy bear, the scary Bungle costume from 2 years earlier makes a reappearance, likely freed from the shed to procure fresh victims.

As is probably clear by now, there were no legitimate laughs to be had in this reappraisal of Davro. Is this the work he spent the next 30 years trading off? I got more enjoyment out of the time he was on Celebrity Come Dine With Me and tucked his winkle between his legs to pretend he had a fanny. Should there be a time we’re forced to pick a side between the eighties’ Bobbies — Davro or Ball — though I may have struggled to choose thirty years ago, today there’s only one winner. Team Ball, all the way. And I don’t mean the one that was hanging out of Gazza’s shorts.

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

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

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~ by Stuart on June 6, 2018.

2 Responses to “Past Laugh Regression: Part Three – Bobby Davro”

  1. […] Here’s Part One. And Part Two. And Part Three. […]

  2. […] One — Part Two — Part Three — Part […]

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