The Accursed 90s: James Whale on Television

header

[More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad ContestsDon’t Forget Your ToothbrushTalk Show Goths]

Few things encapsulate the feel of 90’s Britain quite like the ‘tell it like it is’ tabloid columnist or DJ; beer garden philosophers ‘putting the world to rights’ who were inexplicably popular at the time; men like Garry Bushell, Richard Littlejohn, Ceaser the Geezer and James Whale. Though they’ll always exist, aggressively pointing a finger at the camera in promotional shots as if to say “you’re in my sights, snowflakes!” it was during their 90’s heyday TV channels sought to put those men on television, as with The James Whale Radio Show.

How to describe Whale to those only familiar with him from the 2018 incident where he was suspended after the studio webcam caught him laughing at a guest’s description of her own rape? Whale’s got the vibe of a teacher who was fired for drinking on the job and throwing chairs; of someone who spends all day posting “who?” in the comments under obituaries; of your mate’s divorced dad who’s got him for the weekend and takes you both to a working men’s club instead of letting you stay in and rent a film; of a cabbie who switches the radio over when Stevie Wonder comes on and who’s “not being funny, but…”; of someone stood outside a parents’ evening smoking a roll-up.

01

The James Whale Radio Show‘s opening titles give a strong flavour of who he is, a dad-rock guitar riff with wild electricity sparking across a big jukebox. I can smell the cider from here. Now loosed from the confines of a radio setting, he’s roaming free in a big studio, and along with its viewer call-ins, competitions, and cuts to music videos and live bands, it feels like a Saturday morning kids show in a mid-life crisis. We’re just ten seconds in before he’s made a mother-in-law joke, and the first pre-tape is a skit with Whale searching phone boxes for sex worker business cards, laying them out on the pavement in front of bystanders who are nowhere near as shocked as he’s making out. The only genuinely offensive thing is the filthy pair of fingerless cycling gloves he’s wearing.

First guest is pornographer David Sullivan, then merely owner of the Sunday Sport, but in our present-day hellworld, a billionaire. He shows off tomorrow’s edition, featuring columnists Whale and Bernard Manning, with “the lady off Baywatch topless,” and the front page headline “FILTHY KRAUTS SHOW DI IN NUDE,” containing a censored picture of a ‘topless’ Princess Di. He’s promoting a Best of the Sunday Sport VHS, from which they air a dreadful comedy sketch starring Neil ‘Dr’ Fox, who at this early stage of his career, has an affected cockney accent straight from Oliver Twist — “bleedin’ ‘ell!

02b

I simply cannot stress firmly enough just how terrible Whale is at his job. His rambling delivery is packed with ers and ums, and it’s rare he makes it through a whole sentence without being distracted by a noise in the studio, or pushing a finger in his ear to yell at a producer because something’s gone wrong. The whole series isn’t a car crash, it’s an endless pile-up, with a humourless presenter who acts like he doesn’t want to be there, constantly being corrected on the names or locations of callers and guests, and asking for close-ups he doesn’t get, with every cue either wrong or late, or putting him in a huff because it’s changed from rehearsal.

Also joining him is Page 3 model, Debbie Ashby, dressed in a tiny swimsuit and boots, to co-host a ‘fashion show’ where models, male and female, parade about in their underwear. The gimmick here is a ‘Thrill Cam’, which pushes in on the bums and tits while the crew hoot like wanking monkeys, and unwittingly gives a clear (and unacknowledged) shot of a shaved vagina as it leers up a pair of shorts. Most grottily of all, the ladies are from the Dreamgirls dance troupe, and were due to perform, but got banged up in a car accident, and strut through the lingerie show while covered in body make-up to hide the bruises.

03

In a jarring tonal shift, it’s straight to an interview with a urologist about vasectomies. It’s clear the doctor thought he was in for a serious show, attempting to discuss testicular cancer under duress of Whale’s insincere pratting about, and forced to draw some bollocks on a blackboard. The viewer mail section is more tedious smut, with a letter from a woman who enjoys sex, whom Whale calls “Sarah the Slut,” one bloke talking about wanking, and another asking where to buy mail-order dildos. Whale holds up an “Irish birth control device” — a plastic cock with a cork jammed in the piss-hole — with messages from a woman asking if you can try out vibrators in the shop to see if they fit, and a chap who asks “why do women take longer to cum?” These are definitely all real letters from real people, and not written by Whale and his team of snickering incel dunces.

But it’s worth sitting through the whole shit-fest for the solid gold of our final segment, where Ashby and Sullivan join Whale for callers. Sat around an old dog cage inexplicably used as a table, there’s a weird vibe from the off, with Ashby still in her swimsuit, barracked by Whale’s MRA questioning of “why should women get paid to take their clothes off?” waving an old topless shoot of hers at the camera as he suggests that it gets blokes so horny, it “encourages men to beat women up.” The whole scene descends to further bleakness with a quick flick through her wiki page, to learn she since regrets her modelling career, which was marked by bulimia and sexual exploitation, and was in a relationship with Tony Curtis when he was 58 and she was 17. But in 1991, the scowling Ashby informs Whale she’s moving on to an agony aunt column, where she’ll tell men what to do “if they had any lumps in their ballbags.”

04

The feel of a fucked up Live and Kicking reaches its apex with the viewer calls. Caller one doesn’t answer. Caller two’s a prank — “I’ve got a collection of smelly, unwashed knickers…” Caller three; another prank. Caller four’s on a bad line with an accent they can’t understand. They say they’ll ring her back, but don’t. Caller five accuses Debbie of ridiculing intelligent women, further irritating her. But she gets a break as moral adjudicator James Whale introduces a caption contest for a picture of an anthropomorphic dildo with a knotted hanky on its head. Runner up prize is a year’s supply of gin seng to make their stiffies hard, while the winner gets a “cuddly vibrator” with eyes and a smiley face, holding a vodka miniature. Next week’s prize, genuinely, is the dancers’ dirty underwear and a VHS of either the Sunday Sport tape or the Wicked Willie cartoon (a crass series of comics about a talking nob). The worst part of this journey back into cheeky 90’s perversions, giggling at mucky drawings because actual porn was illegal, is the cut back to a wide shot, revealing the old ball-doctor is now sat there too, paying grim witness.

05

By now, all the guests have given up hiding their desire to leave, with a horrible atmosphere as they take the final set of callers. One says the show’s brilliant, but accidentally gets cut off. Another tells Debbie she’s looking great. “Nice of your sister to call,” jokes James. “I haven’t got a sister?” she replies, confused. A man says it’s his birthday, and he was born on the day Kennedy was shot — “I wondered what your thoughts were on reincarnation?” The despairing James sighs, cutting him off, and describing his frustrations in never making it as a breakfast TV presenter, in a moment which feels hauntingly honest. “I’m stuck here talking to people about being the reincarnation of… Edward… mmm, what’s his name, Kennedy? Wasn’t Edward, was it?” Eventually Sullivan remembers it was John, as Debbie fiddles with her nails.

There’s another prank caller, and Whale’s not got the patience for it. One accuses him of wearing a g-string, another moans about opening the paper and seeing breasts when “me and the lads wanna see…” cutting him off before he can say “fannies.” Though it’s November, Whale randomly gives his guests an Easter egg, and the rest of the scene’s filled with the plasticy crunching noise of David Sullivan, so bored, he’s unable to stop himself taking it out of the box and eating it. For an idea of who this was aimed at, let’s take a glance at the Youtube comments for this episode.

imagine the libtard rage haha

In later series, the show was rebranded as Whale On, tackling a single topic each week, and switching to a late-night Kilroy-type audience show. In the writing equivalent of those monks who whip the flesh from their own backs, I dove straight into an episode from April 16th, 1993, where James fucking Whale tackled the subject of abortion. For once, Whale’s ahead of the curve, with that thing that’s now the basis for all current affairs television; giving airtime to marginal hate groups with dangerous fringe beliefs. Here, it’s a bunch of American weirdos who think Planned Parenthood is part of a eugenics conspiracy to “eliminate certain people” and build a master race.

06

But regardless of topic, it’s Classic Whale through and through; introducing a guest by the wrong name and being angrily corrected, left tapping his pen against the desk while fuming. Later, he segues from a talk about anti-abortion protesters throwing acid, invoking Hitler’s name before handing straight across to music from “Barbara Dickson; Easy Times.” The second the final note’s out of her mouth, he corrects the song title as “Easy Terms.” The tone swings back and forth like a dangerous dog’s clangers, cutting from morons in frumpy dresses calling women murderers to comedy sketches where Cleo Rocos tips a pint jug filled with Jane Seymour’s piss over a bald drag queen. And all held together by our hapless ringmaster with a wacky snooker tie, pathologically unable to let anybody get more than two words out before cutting them off, leaving everybody — guests, audience, host, me — simmering with rage.

The highlight here is a Q&A section, beginning with a pan to the audience that reveals one of the pieces from Whale On‘s in-studio art students; an enormous canvas of a blood-smeared sanitary towel. Star of this bit is a very nervy but opinionated pro-lifer, whose introductory exchange with Whale plays like a vaudeville routine. The kind of prick who’d spend all his time posting bad reviews for Captain Marvel in 2020, he’s involving himself with the rights of women’s bodies because “men have a traditional role of protecting women,” but further loses the room when revealed to be a virgin. Failing to win them back by mumbling “aren’t half of all aborted babies have… have… parents that are men?” he retorts to pulling out photocopies of a fetus. “I love this baby!” he implores, before he’s murdered in his seat by a heckler’s “you should learn to love a woman!

07

A real piece of work, who casts doubts on the claim of a guest who’s had an abortion, because she doesn’t fit their profile of a mad baby-murderer, a quick Google finds the chap on Quora giving Godly advice on abortions, women, and why it’s okay not to tip them, with an avatar in which — I swear on my life — he’s literally tipping a fedora. Anyway, the show goes off air with Whale mocking him for being a virgin and a studio full of frustrated guests all talking over one another. Needing a palate cleanser after the abortion stuff, I skipped forwards to an episode about the supernatural. Many’s a time in the 90s I sat up to watch the paranormal episodes of these terrible shows, and Whale On doesn’t disappoint with a wonderful selection of kooks.

First, we’ve a couple of ghost experts no-budget cosplaying Wayne and Garth, as Whale reads a true ghost story from one of their books, about a man who met a “stunning woman who looked like Princess Di” at the pub and went back to his, even though “she was quite flat chested.” Joke on jokes, the big reveal is that she had a dick, “so I punched her… she disappeared.” The other chap reveals a little sword, one of seven uncovered by his team of psychics “concealed in the foundations of a footbridge,” and somehow linked to the 1987 hurricane. But the most haunted creature on display is Whale himself, who even by his standards, has a fucking nightmare, with perfunctory descriptions of his actions reading like chapters from The Usbourne Book of The Cursed.

08

He introduces celebrity lawyer Jerry Issacs. ‘Jerry’ immediately corrects him — “Gary Jacobs.” In a chat with live band Bagatelle, he tells them they’ve not had much success, then gets the name of their single wrong. During a ghost story from camp MP Jerry Hayes, he gets bored halfway through, startled by a musician accidentally leaning on a keyboard offscreen, and tells Hayes to come out of the closet. By the Cleo Rocos skit, where she’s bending a false pair of legs over her own head, he’s stopped listening altogether, off on a tangent about Esther Ranzten, though he’s unable to remember her name, rambling on about “the one with the teeth.”

At least half the show is Whale being distracted by various banging sounds off-camera, constantly losing his train of thought and snapping his head towards the studio floor, like a dog at the rustle of a crisp packet. Though it’s ghost-themed, much of the running time is miscellaneous nonsense, like a pair of men hawking their VHS tape of a car-bonnet POV trek down the M25. They bring him a gift-wrapped traffic cone, but it gets stuck at the bottom of the bag and he starts getting antsy. At one point, the lairy art students are making too much noise in the background, so he wanders over to ask what they’re painting, finding “it’s a woman with about 12 breasts…” and, as the camera zooms in on it, a gigantic dangling cock. Even when something’s actually brilliant, like Charlie Chuck being given free rein to do his thing, Whale tires of it within seconds, walking all over his act and butting in while sighing.

09

All this leaves precious little time for the paranormal, with just a short Q&A to close. But James has the attention span of someone who’s just cum and is faced with closing down a dozen Pornhub tabs. Refusing to let anybody speak, a woman who reads auras is interrupted as he starts mucking around with the boom mic; a teacher sharing her experience of a ghost gets cut off by questions about her earrings. Would you believe it, the one person who’s allowed to get two words in is a man?

It’s clear from watching Whale chair these faux-debates, that like Piers Morgan, he holds no actual views, merely going with whatever will stir the most shit at any given time; like a teenager swearing on a packed train, the gasps and tuts making them feel alive; noticed. Today, the media’s filled with James Whales, abysmal at their job, unprepared, and disinterested in anything but the sound of their own voice, only now, they’re not broadcasting from the leper purgatory of midnight on Channel 4, but from everywhere; seething men with no insight, no opinions, and nothing to say, but unable to stop themselves talking over anybody who does.

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.

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.

~ by Stuart on March 16, 2020.

5 Responses to “The Accursed 90s: James Whale on Television”

  1. […] [More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush — Talk Show Goths — James Whale on Television] […]

  2. […] [More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush — Talk Show Goths — James Whale on Television] […]

  3. I saw an episode of this once which featured an adult baby fetishist and his pro mistress. Whale questioned them both in an unusually subdued, respectful way, to a dead silence from the audience.

  4. is this the Irish band Bagatelle? i went to school with one of their kids.

  5. […] Accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush — Talk Show Goths — James Whale on Television — Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker — The […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: