The Krankies at Christmas

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For non-Brits or millennials unaware of the Krankies, how best to describe them without seeming like I finally ran out of material and made up the sickest thing imaginable? A wildly popular double-act throughout the 1980s, the Krankies were a real-life married couple from Scotland, Ian and Janette Tough, with Ian playing ‘himself’, and his wife as naughty schoolboy, Wee Jimmy Krankie. Jimmy was a genuine icon to their demographic of children, with the pair headlining a number of TV series, including The Krankies Club, K.T.V., and in a title that can only be read in a staccato robot voice while moving your arms stiffly up and down, The Krankies Elektronik Komik. Jimmy’s catchphrase was a double-thumbs-up cry of “Fan-dabi-dozi!” which — of course — resulted in a surprisingly rockin’ 7-inch; one of many Krankie musical releases, among 9 singles and 3 albums, making them more hard-working, and one might argue, better, than lazy artists like the Sex Pistols or Lauren Hill, who only bothered with the one.

The Krankies at Christmas went out over Christmas 1983, though it was shot in the first week of October, adding another disconcerting nightmare element to those trapped in the audience, draped in tinsel and party hats, but still some weeks from Halloween. As a show which shares its writer with Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, Copy Cats, The Les Dennis Laughter Show, and Little and Large, I’m expecting some big things. And boy, do Ian Krankie and his small wife disguised as a child deliver.

01

After an opening disco theme, Ian emerges from behind a cheap-looking Christmas tree, in a lovely Pringle jumper, falling over his first line as he promises “a super show tonight, we’ve got some super g-rests! (sic)” The Krankies are yet another double-act predicated on that struggle between the parental one, with frustrated pretensions of singing or acting, and the flighty, child-like one, who keeps interrupting. Here, it’s Ian’s serious rendition of White Christmas that’s ruined by Wee Jimmy — supposedly locked backstage for misbehaving — being lowered from the ceiling on a rope, and tossing handfuls of snow out of sack literally labelled SNOW. Ian looks like a slightly pixelated Kevin Keegan, while Janette’s only 36 here, and not quite at the frightening wizened-schoolboy stage of their later years, which always seemed like a visual tribute to the ending of Don’t Look Now. And yet, there’s still a hint of that scene in The Passion where Satan was doing the school run.

02

Even in the 1980s, this feels like a gimmick out of its time, and more fitting with the postwar Britain of Billy Bunter or The Clitheroe Kid. What school uniforms had a little red cap in the ’80s? Does that imply Wee Jimmy goes to public school? Any why’s he always in his uniform when it’s not school hours? It’s the Christmas holidays, but he’s still wearing his school clothes. Has he not got any gear of his own? Is that how Ian pays for the tuition fees? Scrimping on basics like trousers and heating, just to give the poor lad a better start? And what is the manner of their relationship? They’ve got the same surname, but Wee Jimmy doesn’t call him dad. Are they siblings? Was he a ‘surprise’ baby of older parents, with Ian taking guardianship after they died? Or did Ian, as a single man, adopt Jimmy, who took his new pappy’s name? In the closing song, they hang on the line “I’m so sorry for this laddie, he hasn’t got a daddy,” confirming they aren’t father and son.

Following a brilliantly shonky reference-for-the-sake-of-it — “beam me down, Mr. Spock!” — the show kicks off with a barrage of jokes, all of them fucking rancid. Wee Jimmy’s school dinners are so bad, “even the dustbins have got ulcers,” and on whether he’d kiss his teacher under the mistletoe, “I wouldnae kiss her under chloroform!” When Jimmy says he wants a new dog to replace the old one, which is “ready to snuff it,” a horrifyingly dessicated mutt rolls across the floor on wheels, covered in bloody bandages, with one eye hanging on a spring. The stuff that doesn’t just seem weird for an audience of 8-year-olds is merely clunkily worded, with ungainly set-ups like “D’you know what Cinderella sang when the chemist mislaid her photographs?” and “What pantomime was staged in a chemist’s shop?” If you’re keeping count, that’s three chemical-based gags in the opening sketch. Very festive! But the kids are lapping it up, shrieking with glee at Wee Jimmy’s every line or cheeky gesture. That sound, which is very prevalent here, of high-pitched children’s laughter in a live TV audience, feels very retro now. Maybe it’s still a thing on CBBC, but it feels like once we hit the 90s, that was the end of playing to kid-only rooms.

03

Sadly, this isn’t a pure Krankies show, as they’re mostly just bookending a series of variety acts. Barbara Dickson does Stop in the Name Of Love, in what must’ve been an excruciating 3 ½ minutes for a crowd of fidgeting children, while a young David Grant, two decades before he was a judge on Fame Academy, mimes to his pop single, with hair like nuclear fallout. These Krankies-less segments take on a different undercurrent following revelations in their autobiography of being swingers, and taking their sexual adventures into various dressing rooms (which perhaps explains the time I was perusing their official website, and spotted a picture of them on the beach, where a smiling Janette’s exposed breast could be seen hanging out of her bikini top). Armed with this knowledge, as the audience squeals through a performance by the band Modern Romance, current day viewers will be horribly aware Wee Jimmy was likely getting nobbed by his ‘father’ up against the back of the set; little shorts pulled to one side; Dennis the Menace fan-club badge rhythmically clinking, faster and faster.

As it’s Christmas, we’re gifted a bunch of celebrity cameos including Jimmy Cricket, who’s been singing carols with Jimmy — “disgusting, like begging!” derides Ian — and made £1.10 ½p. Who gave them the half-pence? “They all did!” — which is a clean rewrite of a joke that’s usually about sucking dicks. They change the words to well-loved songs, with outrageous stuff about Good King Wenceslas’ central heating, and in Deck the Halls, “there’s tears in the eyes of a girl named Molly… I filled her knickers with jagged holly!” A Youtube commenter notes that these disgusting ‘blue’ carols ruined the show for them, but in the most incredible nugget of trivia, it was Jimmy Cricket himself that uploaded this show, though he left 40 minutes of blank screen at the end, which is testament to his commitment of the dunce character. “C’mere, there’s more… empty runtime!”

04

How do the Salvation Army save souls?” asks Wee Jimmy. “They walk about on their heels!” I hope you laughed at that, because it’s the last smile you’ll ever do after what comes next. Inside a shimmering Santa’s grotto, the Krankies open a big present, revealing a horrible puppet with a swollen head and a pair of gigantic swivelling eyes. Inexplicably, the audience does a loud “aww!” rather than run for the exits. We cut to a stage shrouded in the kind of all-devouring blackness familiar from the room in Under the Skin where Scarlett Johansson pulls those horny lads inside out through their boners. There, a boggle-eyed mouse marionette hammers away on a piano, in a raucous cover of the Rolling Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. A squirrel shambles on with unnatural bucking movements; its dead, musty body jerking as it performs a cursed solo, where the sounds of guitar come from the end of its saxophone.

05

Again, the camera cuts to blackness, but penetrated by two spotlights. Beneath the first, are three giant birds dressed like Vegas showgirls, each in feathered headdresses the same colour as their plumage, like wearing a hat made from your own skin. They kick and wave their wings in time to the beat. To their left, our eyes are drawn to the hypnotic sway of a blue, sequinned robe. With its back turned, we do not see what vile creature lurks beneath. Until we do. A big chicken wearing a yellow bra but no knickers; its black eyes all iris, like it’s fucked out of its mind on ayahuasca; deadly beak emitting shrill vocals of River Deep Mountain High; lizard feet mashed into a pair of stilettos. Wee Jimmy runs onstage to kneel beside it, perhaps to pay reverence; to beg for a quick death. They’re joined by another string-lurching fowl, with a face I recognise. It’s Dooby Duck, six years before breaking out into his own show with the Disco Bus. Dooby wears a rain mac, and the most warped part of my brain goes right to “gonna flash us that corkscrew duck-dick, you dirty old shit?” Then he does. Kind of. There’s no dick, and he’s got an old-timey striped swimsuit underneath, but Jimmy covers the chicken’s eyes as Dooby gleefully open and closes the mac like a carpark masturbator.

06

This horror show is credited as Pepe & The Gang, which in 2019 sounds like the roll-call of incel weirdos at a Straight Pride march. The Krankies try to steer us back from Hell with some gags, and as always, they want to make real sure that you get the joke. Jimmy has come out dressed as a pirate.

          Ian: “What are you dressed like that for?

          Jimmy: “I’m just going round to my pals to watch a video.

          Ian: “And why are you dressed like that?

          Jimmy: “Well, he told me it was a pirate video!

There’s more variety with The Flying Rollers; a pair of French male/female roller-skaters, whose act involves spinning round and round on a platform really fast while he swings her by the ankles. For a kids variety show, she’s shockingly underdressed, in a borderline pornographic see-thru bodystocking, with her boobs and junk barely covered by a splash of sparkly sequins. In the many side-on shots, she’s effectively naked, and one can sense an uncomfortable shifting in the seats of the audience dads, especially when she’s bent inside out, with every rotation giving a drive-by look right up her. “Oh, there’s her fanny. And there it is again. Good day once more, madam!” It’s almost certain the Rollers were specially selected by the Krankies, so they might be invited back to the dressing room for post-show ‘drinks’.

07

After Wee Jimmy gets the bloke to spin him round, Jimmy Cricket comes out for some stand-up, reading aloud a Christmas card from his mammy, for more homespun gags about how fucking thick his fellow countrymen are. The big finale is a panto, with a classic double-act set-up, where Ian’s written the script, and begs Wee Jimmy not to muck about and ruin it. As a musical sketch, between each scene, the characters perform a ditty — “pantomime, pantomime, magic words, songs sublime…” It’s exactly as you’d expect, with Jimmy Cricket as the Fairy Godmother, Melvin Hayes as either Cinderella or Mother Goose (it’s unclear), and now-dated pop culture references to Dallas. And then a young woman in knickers comes on as Aladdin, who “in China spied a sweet princess, to be her boyfriend he was seeking…

08

Naughty little Chinaman, no Peking!” Oh, Jimmy; cancelled for Christmas. Things get even worse with Bernie Winters in a Mystic Meg wig, skipping around in a cape as Baron Hardup. I know appearance-shaming’s not on, especially from someone who resembles a homeless Yorkshire Ripper, but Christ alive, Bernie Winters looks like some bog-hag granted a troll’s wish to be human for a day. Jimmy almost gets off a joke about beans making you fart, but Ian covers his mouth, and finally, it’s over.

Ian closes the show by wishing the audience a Merry Christmas, but hold on — where’s Wee Jimmy’s present?! Krankie Sr breaks the news that he’s not got the boy anything, and the audience heckle him with abuse. Jimmy starts crying in a piece of acting which is far too good for the show, brewing up actual tears. It’s unbelievably jarring amid the silliness, like if you saluted a colleague with finger-guns from across the office, only to blow the skull clean off their fucking neck.

09

I suppose I’m just the wee boy that Santa Claus forgot,” sobs a devastated Jimmy, as — terribly inappropriately — Ian bursts into song, with The Little Boy That Santa Clause Forgot. A tear-streaked Jimmy gazes down at the floor, weeping, before Santa shows up to save the day. I say Santa, but it’s Bernie Winters in the red and white, accompanied by Schnorbitz, who’s pulling a sleigh crammed with presents for an elated Jimmy. It should be noted, Ian still didn’t get him anything. We go off air full of the joys of Christmas; even me, old Ebenezer Millard, the 21st Century Grinch, jigging round the bedpost in relief, as the sight of Bernie Winters’ face is safely shielded behind a beard. Fan-dabi-dozi!

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

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~ by Stuart on December 13, 2019.

4 Responses to “The Krankies at Christmas”

  1. […] be able to make his eyes go slitty. Although Cuddles does do a Jimmy Savile impression, and we get our second Peking/peeking gag of the Christmas season. Most distressing here is when Keith picks up Cuddles to move him, revealing him as flat and limp […]

  2. […] its sequel, Boobs in the Wood. Though he shares a script credit with Bryan Blackburn; a writer for the Krankies and Cannon and Ball; Boobs in the Wood is a 105-minute ode to Jim’s absolute fucking loathing […]

  3. […] ago, are never not horrifying, but I’m sure it can’t be as bad as the hellscape on the Krankies’ Christmas special, right? What’s that? They’re from the same puppeteers? […]

  4. […] entertainment wormholes. One minute, it’s the height of summer and you’re watching the Krankies Christmas special, then you realise it’s been uploaded by Jimmy Cricket himself, as was the 1988 […]

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