The Accursed 90s: Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker

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[More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad ContestsDon’t Forget Your ToothbrushTalk Show GothsJames Whale on Television]

This is going to be unpleasant. Take the nightmare of 90’s ITV’s post-pub programming — Get Stuffed, The Good Sex Guide, Carnal Knowledge, James Whale then throw in the era’s most irritating screen presence in Craig Charles, and cut him loose from the binds of the watershed. 1997 was his year; for six weeks, anyway, dominating the Friday night schedule with ITV’s Funky Bunker, BBC2’s Red Dwarf, and on Channel 4 with pirate sitcom, Captain Butler; a monopoly which landed him The Girlie Show‘s coveted Wanker of the Week. Incredibly, Bunker and Butler opposed each other in the 10:30pm slot, giving thirty minutes when 50% of all British television contained Craig Charles.

Funky Bunker ran for 13 episodes, each with a budget of £8,000, which seems a bit of an overestimate, if anything. It was directed and produced under the production company of the man who developed Channel 4’s Minipops, seemingly to fill his resume with something so bad, it would finally distract from his past. The opening titles show Craig running through empty backstreets at night, stalked by a magician, before raising a finger to his lips with a “shh!” and disappearing down a green-smoke-belching manhole into the Funky Bunker, as a clockwork rat runs across the screen.

01

He emerges through one of those gold tinsel curtains newsagents used to have over the door to the back room, into a bar with steel-effect walls and no windows. There’s a drag queen hiding against a brick pillar; a man in a Fez and sunglasses; enormous plastic mushrooms on the tables. Everyone’s holding a drink, and half of them are smoking. The atmosphere’s like TFI Friday if they’d piped sleeping gas through the vents, with a quiet audience of 90’s clubbers just standing around, the women in strappy crop tops, the men with gelled hair in giant shirts or mod tees. The whole thing feels like Jabba’s Palace, with its cast of disparate characters, and with Craig Charles as Salacious Crumb, sweatily bouncing up and down, doing his fake Ernie from Sesame Street laugh — “chhh chhh chhh!” Viewers will hear that a lot, in its role as verbal tick, insincere response, or merely to fill the many horrible silences that permeate the Bunker.

Welcome,” bids Craig, “to the Funky Bunker, going out for all you spunky funsters!” The opening monologue treats us to some classic Craig Charles stand-up, about the sort of “jammy bastards” that get six numbers on the lottery — “the kind of little kid who opens his mouth for his first feed and goes ‘oh wow, Pamela Anderson’… he’s got a really big willy… he’s on TV with his hand up Anthea Turner’s skirt, getting a check for £14m!” But now, he says, it is us who is jammy, as it’s time for house dancers, the Funki Feathers. Each week, the troupe dress to a theme, and tonight, grinding along to Shake a Tail Feather, they’re… sexy chickens? In feathered bras and those 90’s bikini bottoms that go right up, the choreography and lusty camerawork is very much ‘did I just see an actual anus?’, for a full 2 ½ minute routine that doesn’t cut away once. That doesn’t sound like long, but set up a timer and see how it drags out, while trying not to think about how it’s probably the perfect amount of time for Craig to take a wank to completion.

02

Stuff going on too long is the Bunker’s rule of thumb, with unsigned bands doing five-minute songs — “this is rock n roll, these are The Rhythm Conspiracy, AND THIS IS HEART AND FIRE!” — and competition clips from Withnail and I or Men Behaving Badly playing so fully, you wonder if you’ve sat on the remote. Their competition’s brought up between almost every segment, with Craig waving £500 at the lens to try and rake back some of that eight grand with a premium rate phone line.

In the first chat, Craig introduces “one of the finest comedians of his generation,” Rowland Rivron, in an awkward interview punctuated by lots of “chhh chhh chhh!” and ending with Craig bringing the dancers in and telling Rowland to “take your pick.” But all the interviews are awkward, with his technique of waiting for the guest to stop talking so he can ask the next question, or just butting in when he gets bored. Later, he talks to an author with bleached hair like Jambo off Hollyoaks, who’s featuring in a-then upcoming anthology called Disco Biscuits, an unbelievably 90’s sounding “collection of outrageous short stories about sex, DJs, drugs, dance floors and dealers.” They’ve not got a copy, but he holds up a folded photocopy of the cover, asking “what’s that about?!” and getting esoteric answers about rewiring consciousness with words like “framework,” leaving him unable to respond with naught but a “chhh chhh chhh!” and rubbing the copious forehead sweat into his hair.

03

Incidentally, I remember when a friend from junior school likewise adopted the Ernie laugh, but eventually stopped because his mum said it would give him mouth cancer. If Mrs. Charles had doled out such a warning, half of Funky Bunker would be dead air. Furthering the Jabba’s Palace vibe, the Bunker’s got a live-in roster of comic characters, most regularly, Dr. Destiny. Played by Craig’s co-writer, Russell Bell — former member of the Gary Numan Band — Destiny’s a Mystic Meg parody, surrounded by tarot cards and a skull, and reciting ‘funny’ astrology, like telling people their plane’s going to crash and “everybody will decide to eat you first, because you’re fat and useless.” Most interesting is how he signs off.

04

A year before Robot Wars, that’s Craig’s famous kiss-salute. Hope he asked permission, or he’s got no right to still be mad at Fash for stealing awooga. Always a welcome bonus, whoever uploaded this left the adverts in, which are a rather savage indictment of a decade. There’s phone dating lines, claymation Rice Crispy lads voiced by Chris Evans, a polo mint voiced by Danny John Jules, Nick Hancock narrating for a ska compilation — “the rudest sounds around!” — and a nagging wife who’s mad at a dad for buying a new football top, but soothed when he brings home some good value washing powder.

Back from the break, Craig says we’re gonna play a game to win £50, pulling a man and woman from the audience as volunteers. They’re blindfolded and sent behind the privacy of a blue tarpaulin, where they’re given two minutes to swap clothes. As soon as they get in, the tarp’s quietly dropped, revealing a transparent sheet, so we can all see them undressing. They’ve no idea they’re stripping down to their underwear on television, with Craig pushing his face into the camera and complaining “she’s cheatin’, she never took her pants off!” As is the Bunker’s way, two minutes is a really long time, and about halfway through, even the audience have stopped cheering, leaving just Craig Charles audibly enjoying himself as the woman pulls a sweatshirt down over her bra. When the clock runs out, he has them take their blindfolds off to reveal they were being watched, with a brusque “that was the end of the curtain game!” No interview, no prize; we’ve seen your bodies, now piss off.

05

Little did I know, all that was like watching The Wire compared to what follows. Comics have died onscreen before, but never like this. Craig introduces “a fantastic stand-up” by the name of Just Adger, which is rather exotic for a balding Essex wideboy, who opens by telling the dancers their costumes are “very becoming on you. And if I were one of those costumes, I’d be cumming on you too!” This is seventies style stand-up, cuing gags with “one or two quick one-liners for you…” and with an opening zinger about a dyslexic devil worshipper who sold his soul to Santa. In response, someone shouts out “dyslexics rule, KO!” — an old and terrible joke in itself, but one that sets his sights on the ‘heckler’. “Save your breath for blowin’ up your girlfriend, mate! (“chhh chhh chhh!”) It’s a shame your prick ain’t as big as yer mouth, you’d be with one of the dancers, wouldn’t yer, mate?

06

On and on it goes, with burns straight out of the Big Book of Heckler Put-Downs; assuring the crowd “I love when they have a go! When cousins marry and have kids, look at what we get!” With each new line, there’s growing bemusement that he’s still not letting it drop, wearing a big stupid grin, but obviously seething. “He’s confusing me with someone who gives a toss,” says the guy who won’t shut the fuck up about it. Finally, he gets back on track with this cracker — “What about the dyslexic gynaecologist? Stayed up all night looking at a woman’s vinegar!” Let’s examine this. Why did he stay up all night? That’s well outside a doctor’s working hours. Unless you’ve got confused with the more famous joke about the insomniac dyslexic agnostic who stayed up all night wondering about the existence of dog; the joke which you obviously used as a template for your fresh takes on dyslexia. Is that what happened, mate? Has the heckler thrown you?

I’m sorry to devote so many inches to this, but it’s a fascinating spectacle. Now he’s on a roll, switching to classic wife material — “we’re going through a divorce on religious grounds; I’m a Jew and she’s a pig” — and a water bed that froze when she got on it. His delivery is unconfident; half-bumbling, and he even does that one about going to the doctor with the world’s biggest haemorrhoid and they think he’s sitting on a beanbag. By now, the polite laughter has died out, and Adger turns on a silent crowd with “he thinks I’m gay, don’t you? I’m not even happy, mate!” At a loss, he asks “am I facing the right way?” Someone heckles with a cry of “sexist!” which he seizes on with the glee of Ricky Gervais sniffing out a snowflake who was triggered into not laughing at one of his attack helicopter jokes — “I’ll do a sexist one if you like, am I allowed to? What’s the difference between a clitoris and a golf ball? Craig Charles claps, and starts talking us into the next segment; “well, there you go…” and it’s finally over.

07

Except, it’s not. Adger doesn’t realise, and keeps talking. Inexplicably, as though the Funky Bunker is powerless to stop him, or simply too embarrassed, the camera cuts back, and he just continues with his act, going into a minute-long joke about the Kama Sutra. By now, he’s drenched in sweat, returning to some crowd work, “I can see why you’re smiling, mate, she’s got small hands…” and leaving us with a final “rib-tickler,” which is a long story about having a wank on bull Viagra. We cut back to Craig Charles, this time with his finger in his earpiece like he’s being berated by a producer — “I tried to get him off a bit earlier, but he just kept going.”

He does the Johnny Carson deal and invites Adger over for a chat. Craig “she never took her pants off!” Charles says he tried to cut him off “because I thought he was a bit sexist,” as Adger complains that everyone’s too PC these days, acting like the gallant White Knight of free speech, while playing pubs, restaurants, and hotel bars. “End of the day, there’s too much sufferin’ in this world, so why not go out and have a laugh?” Incredibly, Craig asks if he has writers. More incredibly, he’s still working today, as Adger Brown, described on his own website as “one of the UK’s most sought after mainstream comedians.” And this paragraph, on a website for booking ‘elite’ entertainers, may be the most haunting collection of words since M.R. James went in the ground.

Despite Adgers’ many T.V. appearances, his most recent being on Granada T.V.s “The Comedians” & Channel 4s “The Big Breakfast” he remains very affordable and extremely good value for money.

08

After the five longest minutes of my life, surely things can only be on the up? “Cartoon time!” announces Craig, “this has got nothing to do with Pluto, it’s much closer to your anus!” In a corruption of the animated segments in Saturday morning kids shows, it’s random a clip of an anime where some bloke gets shot in the arse and blood gushes out of his cheeks. “There ya go, weird cartoons from manga, but this is a weird show!” He’s right there, as we come back from another unsigned song, featuring a literal 2 ½ minute guitar solo, to Deric Cantona, a lookalike in a Man United kit who walks on, says “a wise man said it is better to have loved and lost than to microwave your ‘ead” in an appalling French accent, then leaves. Then there’s Abdul Fez — sunglasses and a fez — who tries to get Craig to snort some camel dung, before singing a country song about the Northern Line.

Events close with a visit from resident gossip expert, David Wigg. “How ya doin’ Wiggy? Wiggy, what’s hot and what’s not?!” I’m sure they got on fine, but the effete, much-older Wigg’s presence alongside a now-very-sweaty and loud Craig has the air of a school bully sitting down at the soft lad’s lunch table. “It’s action time, Craig; Bond is back!” — with the incredible Wiggy exclusive that it’ll be shot in exotic locations. “I’d love to be a Bond villain,” says Craig, headbutting the desk, and asking why Timothy Dalton stopped doing it. According to Wiggy, it’s because “Tim” wanted to wear jeans. Craig makes a joke about a big dick before getting sidetracked — “who’s the smallest actor you’ve met?” Wiggy says it’s Hoffman; “his nose is bigger than his height.” Craig does an anecdote about working with Janet McTeer, who’s 6ft tall, and his mate telling her he wanted to “make love to her, standing on a bucket.” When she said he couldn’t, he told her “I wouldn’t stand on it, I’d put it on your head and swing off the handles!” which leaves him chhh chhh chhhing and banging his fists on the desk. With Wiggy’s final exclusive that Nicole Kidman is taller than Tom Cruise, it’s time to go, “and I want you to join us again next week when we say Awooga! Awooga!” Take that, Fashanu!

09

My second episode opens with Craig reading out the most asked questions they get sent in, which are one-liners like “can an amateur footballer do a professional foul?” and “why do they make toasters with a settin’ that burns the toast?!” The drummer from that week’s unsigned band provides actual rimshots, but Craig deems him to have come in too early or too late — “Jesus, keep up, will yer?” — so strides across the floor, calling him a wazzock and snatching the sticks out of his hand. Craig’s doing his own hits now, getting louder and wetter with each line; “Why do world heavyweight champion boxers have bodyguards?! If crystals have healing powers, why are they so bleedin’ hard to swallow?!” Vibrating with excitement, he promises “this is a good one, this is a good one… where do female to male sex change patients get their dicks from?!” which he punctuates with a cymbal crash.

This week, the Funki Feathers are gyrating to Labour of Love by Hue and Cry, wearing safety helmets and jorts. Craig announces a competition winner called Jackie, weirdly referring to them as “he” and “kid” before it’s time for the first interview, with a pair of special effects artists who worked on Hellraiser III and Nightbreed. They’re surrounded by prosthetic monster heads and grotesque creatures, and Craig spends his time draped in the arms of a hairy troll, casually playing with its fingers, and at one point, gnawing on his own thumbnail. He interviews like a child granted a Jim’ll Fix It to present TV — “what’s the favourite thing you’ve made?” “what’s the most gruesome thing?” “what’s the silliest request?” He butts in over an answer to point at a rubber monster with a “what’s ‘e from?” A yet-to-be-released Samantha Janus film, they say. Craig’s eyes light up; “you mentioned Samantha Janus,” dropping to a hushed tone to ask “if you could do a nude cast of any actress, who would it be? Chhh chhh chhh!” “My girlfriend,” comes the reply, inciting Craig’s yell of “OH, LOOK AT HIM, AFTER BROWNIE POINTS OR WHAT?!

10

Next, a bad stand-up does an agony uncle section, opening with another fucking joke about dyslexics, and reading out letters from “Miss P. Brain” and “Dan Druff.” Every few seconds, it cuts back to Craig stood in the front row laughing. Craig tells us they get a lot of letters about Bunker character Nanny Whip’s big tits, so they play a clip from Russ Myer’s Faster Pussycat, which also has big tits in it. It’s after this that Funky Bunker pulls off it’s most astonishing feat, producing a comedian so bad, he makes Just Adger look like Stewart Lee. It’s a bad sign from the off, with Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey vibes from Craig having met the guy at Edinburgh, and given him a slot after he pestered him for it.

Roger D’s first gag is the old “I’m mixed race. My dad’s Scottish, my mum’s African, which makes me a comedian.” You know the routine; leopardskin kilts, and taking up boxing because “I figured if I was half black, I’d be half good.” He meets the horrible silence with a knowing look, but ploughs on. “White people, what is it about the mountains you gotta climb them? See a black guy climbing a mountain? He’s on the run!” Even the “chhh chhh chhh” is muted, as he goes into an extended routine about collecting his dole money, and shouting “Yo!” at the workers who are all drinking tea (“like this…”). As he mimes answering a mobile phone (in 1997, so he’s actually rich!!) a woman’s voice breaks the silence with a “get off!” forcing him to cap the routine with a sad “you had to be there…

11

He slinks over for an interview, where Craig consoles him by saying there were a lot of French people in the audience, and Roger D jumps in fright at a rubber severed head moving around on the bar. Despite the material, Craig suddenly notices “you’re a black comedian!” and ends the interview by stroking Roger’s goatee, “cos there’s no toilet paper,” and Roger totally blanks when Craig asks where people can see him perform. I Googled Roger D to see what he’s up to these days, and found a video from 2011, almost 15 years later. First gag; “my dad’s Scottish, my mum’s African…

There’s then an interview with The Man in Black from Enigma Magazine, a very short lived Fortean Times rip-off during that X-Files era when the paranormal went mainstream. The solemn MiB’s in a bowler hat, sunglasses, and pale face paint, and Craig’s completely unable to shut up and let him speak about crop circles, repeatedly butting in with witticisms about finding a one in his Weetabix — “but I’d just left me spoon on it for a while!” — or asking “why can’t the aliens get in touch by fax?!” MiB, who’s being pawed and stroked by Nanny Whip the whole way through, looks like he’d rather be getting his colon cored out by the greys, and Craig ends the interview by asking if he can have a kiss, and leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek.

12

With the cry of “we’re gonna play Egg in Your Face!” it’s time for a game, requiring 6 volunteers. He shoves some lads on without much thought, but takes the women by the hand, all flirty — “ooh, lovely orange top, I love your navel!” The game involves breaking eggs on people’s foreheads, with one containing £50, and the other just yolk n’ shit. “GOD, I LOVE EGG ON YOUR FACE!” he yells, as shells shatter messily on foreheads, jumping up and down; “IT’S EGG IN YOUR FACE!” The winner’s a woman he tells “you’re far too cute to do this to,” but the £50’s not actually inside the egg, so he fumbles £40 out of his own pocket, promising to give her the rest later. Yeah, I bet he will — “Come to me dressing room and I’ll have a look for it, chhh chhh chhh!”

13

Into the final 15 minutes, Craig is half-leprechaun, enveloped in an enormous, damp suit, gurning and twitching and stamping his little feet, poking his fingers towards the lens, and scratching at the side of his neck like a rodent. He pisses himself at Jo Enright’s bit as a comedy make-up lady, her jokes about perms and scrunchies causing his chhhs to go off like a factory whistle. So too, he’s loving Deric Cantona, and Dr. Destiny’s gags about flatulence. When Destiny does the kiss-salute, his ring gets snagged in the tablecloth. In a film review section, they go with weird-as-hell choice, The Boy From Mercury, described on Wikipedia as a “nostalgic Irish Film, which concerns the science-fiction daydreams of a young boy in 1960 Dublin.” Craig’s first comment after a clip is a confused “black and white, wan’ it?!

As Funky Bunker has the feeling of a nightmare house party, it ends in the only appropriate way, with Craig Charles staggering onto the studio floor repeating “we’re gonna do a song, we’re gonna do a song, we’re gonna do a song,” and pulling out an acoustic guitar. He’s joined by Dr. Destiny with a guitar of his own, as Craig’s gonna sing a song he wrote, called Everybody Knows. Despite all that I’d seen, I still thought this was the start of a comedy skit, but no, it’s Craig earnestly singing a self-penned number, while we have to listen. “Everybody knows, I love you so… everybody knows, I can’t stand still…” Yeah, I had noticed, mate. “Everybody knows, you know you’re my best friend… everyone knows, my soul’s on fire…” Remind me, did this win an Ivor Novello?

14

Craig’s guitar playing is on a par with Dave Lister’s, as it reaches a sudden crescendo with a big, clanging chord and a mournful “oh, I get lonely cos I hide, don’t ask me to go public cos I’ve TRIED!” But like Just Adger, there’s no end, and he merely loops back to the start, playing the whole song in full twice, and then a third time, as the camera pans to faces of the audience; faces of rubber monsters with pointy fangs, until finally, a thousand years later, the credits roll. In one last bilious example of the grotty 90s, the uploader taped Funky Bunker over the top of an episode of Baywatch. But it’s over, and you can all move on. Not me. I’m still trying to shake that sound, etched on my brain like the dark scars across your vision when you’ve been staring at the sun; “chhh chhh chhh!

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 April 27, 2020.

2 Responses to “The Accursed 90s: Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker”

  1. […] One thing you can say about The Word, is that its haphazard interviews have no sense of the PR-approved backslapping you get with a Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross. Craig’s brutally honest, talking a mile a minute about his time on remand, where murderers were spitting in his coffee and banging on his cell door shouting “beast!” and “nonce!” Note that his accuser was an adult woman, and back then, ‘nonce’ just meant general sex-past. Heck, when I was at school, it was a generic insult, like prick. The governor offered to put him on Rule 43 with the vulnerable prisoners, but “I wasn’t havin’ any of that. I wanted to go out on the landing where the real people were.” This is Craig’s big comeback, having spent “3 ½ months in a cell and 4 ½ months in exile,” and he must be taking it serious, as he barely does the fake Ernie laugh. Little did he know, in two short years, he’d be dominating Friday nights. […]

  2. […] Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush — Talk Show Goths — James Whale on Television — Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker — The […]

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