Jim Davidson Goes Up The Elephant

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Baby Boomers get a lot of flak for knocking today’s privilege-guzzling, smartphone-owning youngsters, while having spent their own twenties doing monstrous lines of coke off the bathroom sink of the three-bedroom house they bought for about a year’s pay. But on the other hand, look what they had to put up with.

01

Jim Davidson, there, pictured in one of the two sitcoms he starred in during the 1980s. These days, if you want to see Jim, you have to go to his Twitter account, where he’ll be making half-hearted jokes about black men, or congratulating kindred spirit Ricky Gervais on his latest Netflix special, but if you lived in the eighties, you ran the constant risk of seeing him every time you turned on the television. It must have been like cutting the wires on a bomb. Sure, we’ll never own our own homes, and have to work four jobs just to pay for the blanket beneath which we cry ourselves to sleep, but at least we’re free to merrily flick through every broadcast channel without fear of this anthropomorphised cabbie’s thumb popping up like a screamer video; barring news reports of his eventual lonely death.

This look at Jim’s 1983 vehicle, Up The Elephant and Round The Castle, isn’t part of my Past Laugh Regression series, as I can’t honestly say I’d have laughed at it as a child. In fact, when I was young, due to the similar name of cartoonist Jim Davis, I erroneously believed that, as well as beating his wives and putting on a Jamaican accent, Jim Davidson found time to write and draw Garfield. It’s definitely unfunny enough to be the work of our Jim, but as much as the titular cat hates Mondays, if he’s got similar feelings about gays or Muslims, he keeps quiet about it.

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In that period during the eighties to mid-nineties, it seems like sitcoms were infinite. It was a time filled with middling shows that ran for thousands of years, yet can’t be recalled by anyone. There were 94 episodes of The Upper Hand. 111 episodes of Birds of a Feather, with a further 26 during the explicable revival, with more to follow in 2018. Can anyone recall a single line from either?

Back when they were handing out sitcoms like flyers to your boyfriend’s terrible band, the combined series of Jim Davidson’s Up the Elephant… and its sequel, Home James, racked up 47 half-hours. That’s more than the entire TV run of Monty Python. Because I’m already in a bad place, why not drag myself further down into the depths and sit through some of them?

We begin with Up The Elephant‘s very first episode, A Cuckoo in the Nest, whose honky tonk piano theme seems designed to evoke images of Pearly Kings sat around a 1940’s cockney boozer and drowning out the whistle of Hitler’s doodlebugs with another rousing verse of Knees Up Mother Brown. And if that whole cheeky barrow boy vibe appeals to you, then you’ve probably found a new favourite. Just look at the synopsis.

Jim London is a young lovable rogue who gets into all types of problems with the law and spends most of his time getting drunk and chasing women.

Fucking hell. The name Jim London is hilariously on-point, like a show about metal fans featuring the antics of Jim Headbanger, or a Jim Davidson sitcom where the lead’s called Jim Cunt. Anyone named Jim London is made out of bacon sandwiches and flags, definitely voted Leave, and has one of those profile pictures that looks like the penis-eye-view of a sad potato. Also, Jim London is hypothetically the name you imagine Nigel Farage might sign into a motel as when having sex with a black dominatrix.

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The set-up here is that Jim’s been left a house after the death of his Aunt Min, and the first episode really sets out to establish his status as chirpy cheeky cockney jack the lad about town. He swaggers in wearing a dressing gown to shatter the forth wall and bid us “Morning, world! Jim London’s the name, champion of the free; free beer, free fags, free blind mice; free anything, me!” All I know is that literally never did anything good began with “X is the name,” usually followed with “Y is me game!” We know what your game is, mate, that’s why I’m having to review old sitcoms from thirty-five years ago to find archive footage from when you were popular. Indeed, Jim’s subsequent work makes the loveable rogue stuff impossible to swallow, with such a patently unlikeable screen presence, you’re better off rewatching old episodes of Rolf’s Cartoon Club.

So much of the show is taken with playing up the cockney credentials, with an actual non-ironic “gor blimey!” and dialogue packed with rhyming slang. It’s rare that anyone gets through an entire line without a “plates of meat,” “boat race,” or “jam jar,” or complaining about the old “trouble and strife.” Clearly this show was the inspiration behind comic character ‘Danny Dyer’. Because he’s a ruddy wide-boy, Jim’s next seen at the pub on a date with a girl called Deirdre, where he bumps into old schoolfriend, Radio Grimes, who he coincidentally just finished telling us about for no reason. Radio’s been kicked out by his wife, and tries to convince Jim to let him move in. But like a roommate ad by an incel, Jim’s got a rule that all guests must be female — “squeaky voice, wobbly bits on the front.”

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Now, I know what you’re thinking; Jim Davidson being sexist?! Don’t worry, because he does buy the lady a drink, with the barman lasciviously pouring a pina colada and telling Jim he’ll be thanking him later “when you’ve got her on the couch,” and offering his money back if he lets him come round and watch. Jim says he’ll think about it, which doesn’t even get a laugh, except maybe from Bill Cosby. It’s then that Jim’s approached by an older woman who’s looking for a Jim London. He throws her off by putting on a bad Irish accent, with a “Murphy is the name, digging is me game… top o’ the mornin’” What did I tell you? Turns out she’s a debt collector with two thuggish sons, looking to collect on a loan Jim guaranteed for his mate, Mad Dog Morgan. With family in Jamaica and the real name of Winston, Jim assures her that Mad Dog will settle up; “He’s good as gold. He’s a white man… in a manner of speaking.

Needing to find £100 before the loan-sharks break his legs and throw him in the canal — finally giving me something to root for — Jim’s forced to move Radio in for the rent money. Having nailed on that basis for 99% of all sitcoms, with unlikely roommates contrived into living together, all we need now is some sweet misunderstanding. Cue a thrilled Radio, who tells Jim that he loves him, kissing him on the cheek and throwing an arm around his shoulder. A furious Deirdre spots this from across the room, and stands up to announce to the entire pub “I’m 21, single, incredibly beautiful, and normal, and I’ve been stood up by a poof!” Normal! Unlike the gays. Of course, this gets a huge laugh. Click here and see for yourself. As a palate cleanser, there’s a nice bit of set decoration, with a poster on the wall advertising DICK SHACK AND HIS DISCO BAND. Dick Shack sounds like what yer dad calls his wanking shed. “Just off to the Dick Shack to watch Lorraine Kelly, son.”

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It seems the entire plot of this episode is ‘Deirdre confuses Jim and Radio for a right pair of woofters,’ but then she turns up at Jim’s to apologise for her outburst, “even if it takes all night” to earn his forgiveness. She’s brought a suitcase containing “a few peace offerings” of various sexy lingerie, and Jim frantically unfolds the futon as he’s clearly in for a wild night. But then she hangs a negligée around his neck and tells him he’ll have to let the bust out. You see, it was all an apology gift, as there’s nothing gay men like more than wearing women’s lingerie. “I know we can never be more than friends,” she says, “but we’re all god’s creatures.”

While it’s unclear whether noted loudmouth homophobe Jim Davidson harbours any deeply repressed homosexual tendencies, the fictional Jim London reacts by trying to prove his straightness with a kiss, advancing lips-first at Deirdre as she nervously backs away. Just then, a tearful Radio emerges from the spare room, missing his wife and unable to sleep, and throwing his arms around his mate. Obviously, hugging is strictly for the gays, so Deirdre storms out in a huff, before she has to watch the big pair of Sallys drop their trousers and start docking. The next morning, Radio’s nursing a black-eye, courtesy — we’re told — of an off-screen right hander from Jim, for messing up his love life, but for all we and Deirdre know, it could well be the result of an S&M bedroom dynamic. Thinking of it, ‘Up The Elephant’ does sound like slang for a power bottom. Anyways, Radio phones his wife, who wants him back, and judging from his side of the call, is proper horned-up and looking for some roleplay; “…phwoar… the see-thru cowboy outfit… and I’ll be Hitler!” This gets a big ‘Jim reacts’ shot, as he’s likely wildly excited by the thought of fucking someone while dressed as Hitler. Also, though it’s only a verbal reference, I’m counting that as a ‘Where’s Hitler?’ at 19 minutes in.

06

We cut to the pub one week later, with Radio handing over the £100 rent, to keep off the loan-sharks. Jim’s cleared up the confusion with Deirdre, who wants to kiss and make up, giving them both a peck on the check. As soon as she touches Radio, she seems oddly enamoured with him, describing him as “a bit,” and loving Jim’s story of Radio eating a frog in school. Alas, his wife’s booted him out again, but Deirdre offers to let him stay at hers; “it’s only a small flat, so long as you don’t mind a squeeze!” A panicked Jim tells her that Radio ate a newt once in school too, to which she replies “yum yum,” clearly one more story about chewing on a wasp from having to violently masturbate where she stands. She drags Radio back to hers because “he looks like he could do with an early night,” leaving Jim all alone. Ladies, I ate some dog-dirt as a teenager. Not intentionally. It got in the tire of my bike, and when I was cycling home along a busy main road, it flicked up and rained down into my hair, face, and open mouth. No? Fine.

So, the debt collectors show up, and as Jim counts out the money, he realises Radio short-changed him. On hearing the word Radio, the goons inexplicably think it means Jim’s an undercover cop wearing a wire, yelling “it’s the fuzz!” and making a run for it, scattering the money into the air as they flee. I guess this solves the mystery of why you’d name a character Radio Grimes. He was probably called Ian until the writer realised he didn’t have an ending. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of Jim London, who went on to star in enough episodes that could fill up an entire day of watching nothing but Jim Davidson’s sitcoms. I know what you’re thinking, you sick shit, and I won’t do it. But one episode at a time? Probably, cos Millard’s the name, and punishing myself with dreadful television for coins is my game.

[More Jim Davidson here. More horrible old British comedy here.]

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

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~ by Stuart on August 22, 2018.

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