Owt Good On, Mam? – The Three L’s

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In trawling through the worst of pop culture, I always want to give my beloved Patrons their money’s worth, but often come across something which is fully on-brand yet too short or singular for a deep dive. So, I figured I’d start a series bundling some of these orphans together, like Hell’s pick ‘n mix. If this was the 80s, it’d have a trendy name like Millard’s Channel Surfing!, with a picture of me riding the waves on a giant TV remote, but it’s 2020, we’re all boiling to death on a planet full of racist thickos, and I’m calling these pieces Owt Good On, Mam? Okay, let’s dip into some horrible shit.

First up is the Boxing Day 1987 episode of Double Dare, the gameshow segment within Saturday morning’s Going Live. Weird choice during a heatwave? Sure, but stay with me. A British remake of a much more culturally iconic American show, our Double Dare‘s rep was based on host Peter Simon repeatedly slipping on gunge, with all the realism of someone ‘accidentally’ leaning back too far in a dining room chair while the wife films it for You’ve Been Framed. Decades later, Simon would go onto viral fame when he blew a big snot bubble live on Bid-Up TV, only to double down by farting, and in weird trivia, played the first British Ronald McDonald.

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Sadly, as with anything featuring gunge, like Noel’s House Party or Get Your Own Back, Double Dare will fall in the pantheon of shows which have since been reclassified for a certain group of men as Erotica, with myriad clips on Youtube channels devoted to the fetish of women (or men, or puppets) getting covered in slime. My House Party Hell series racks up higher than average hits thanks to all the chaps who’re super horny for footage of Gloria Hunniford and Gordon the Gopher sat in Noel’s gunge tank, and Slime Guys are a constant presence in the comment sections of anything involving that most 90’s of muck. Regard this pretty typical comment, when I was hunting for another game show, found beneath an episode of GYOB.

I think it would have been funny if my pretty long haired support worker [MILLARD NOTE: REAL NAME REDACTED] was sitting Above the gunk dunk and a grubby brat with scabs, tooth decay, blemishes and braces pulls the leaver and sends [REDACTED] straight into the gunge and she emerges covered in goo great stuff.”

Great stuff indeed, cheers. Double Dare opens with Peter Simon dressed like an elf, with the hat pulled down so his ears stick out like that Limmy sketch. If it’s Christmas, it must be a celebrity special, and as the show’s squarely aimed at kids, obviously the first team are a pair of actors from Carla Lane’s Bread. Yeah, that grim kitchen-sinkcom about the financial struggles of a family of cheeky roguish scousers; must’ve been real big in playgrounds. Thing is, it was. Pre-Minecraft childhoods were fucking wild; stood round the park discussing the latest Last of the Summer Wine and doing impressions of Roy Hattersley. Despite its awfulness — I’ve been putting off doing a Shitcoms of it for ages because I can’t face it — Bread‘s ratings peak was 21 million viewers. 21 million! You wouldn’t get that now if the Pope was livestreaming a wank.

Team Bread consists of Gilly Coman, who played ditzy model Aveline, and Jonathon Morris, the pretentious poet fopp, Adrian. Incidentally, one of the things on my to-do list to cover here is Morris’ run in Full Moon Studios DTV vampire series, Subspecies, as a brooding gothic Leslat type, but they’re frustratingly hard to track down.

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Celebrity Double Dare is fancy dress, with Morris as a bellboy and Coman the Sugarplum Fairy. They do the small talk of “d’ya have a good Christmas? Get lots of presents?” though it was certainly filmed in July. But then we get to why I’ve brought you here today. Hold onto your hats as their opponents are brought out, because it’s… The Lads! Yes, Little and Large, in one of the precious few television appearances preserved to the current day. Eddie’s dressed as a pirate, in a hat and stripey shirt with the word MATE across the chest, in what one assumes is a period-accurate costume, while Syd’s the captain with a tricorn hat and military jacket. It’s an appropriate choice, seeing as Syd’s been stealing a living for his whole career, and puts him in the incredibly rare position of — in costume at least — being Eddie’s superior.

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Eddie jokes “I’ve always wanted a Cindy doll,” pulling Syd close with an arm round the shoulder, and Christ, he’s going to force feed him gunge, isn’t he? Putting a funnel in Syd’s mouth and making him drink the entire BBC supply; saying “oh dear, you’ve slipped again” while pushing him over and putting the boots in; pulling Gordon the Gopher out of his pirate slacks and forcing it all the way up Syd’s arse. Note that there’s a live audience of children in party hats, giving deafening, high-pitched cheers throughout the games, but deathly quiet during the talky sections, with not a single laugh.

Round One’s a Pin the Tail on the Donkey of gluing Christmas card ephemera onto a board, meaning Syd and Gilly are blindfolded. I’m genuinely in fear of Syd’s life here — “it’s a cucumber Syd, I promise, now open wide!” Christ knows how long the elastic is to even fit over his glasses. The general knowledge bits give plenty of opportunity for Eddie to stretch his comedic wings, straight into a Frank Bruno voice for a “know what I mean, ‘arry?” with a question about Boxing Day, and on Santa Claus’ nationality — “It was me Uncle Charlie when I were a lad!” The questions themselves — for a show aimed at ten-year-olds — are a strange mix of “pick a number between one and ten” and stuff that begins “in 1699, the Frenchman Henri Misson…” or where the answer is “Franz Xaver Gruber.”

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Team L&L’s strategy sees a clueless, shrugging Eddie throw a “you tell em, Syd,” with each question, and when the wee man guesses correctly, it’s his finest hour, with even Eddie letting out a fist-pumping “woo!” But then Syd lets himself down. Years later, he would — genuinely — convert to Christianity in Cannon and Ball’s dressing room (Jimmy Cricket was also present), when Bobby Ball encouraged him to pray. The beginnings of Syd’s yearning for a connection with the Almighty can be glimpsed here, tackling a question about the robin redbreast’s colouring with uncustomary confidence — “it’s the blood of Christ, off the cross.” Merry Christmas, kids! “What’s that to do with Christmas?” asks Peter.

By now, I’m a bundle of nerves. The winning team gets to run the obstacle course, and Bread are currently in the lead. If I’m robbed the sight of The Lads scaling up nets, I’m walking straight into the sea. Breaking up the questions are physical challenges, like building a snowman out of ice cream. Eddie will have Syd’s hand off if he’s not careful. In an interesting moment background moment, as Jonathon Morris tries to get the ice cream out by banging the tub on the table, he accidentally brings it down on Coman’s thumb, causing her to jump back in pain. Alas, the sight of Syd Little mashing handfuls of ice cream together has probably got this video stuck on another fetish playlist. In another game, Syd’s throwing Christmas cake ingredients for Eddie to catch in a bowl. Instead of tipping the raisins into his hand, Syd chucks the whole glass at him, no doubt with headlines dancing in his mind of “Much-loved comedian killed in tragic glass-throwing accident. ‘I’ll persevere solo’ Says Sad Syd.” At the end, Eddie jokes “for another 50 points, you have to eat it, Syd.” Yeah, bowl and all.

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Each time he’s tasked with something, Syd’s nervy indecision is palpable. In a game where Christmas decorations are laid out on a table, and he’s told to decorate Eddie, who’s got his arms outstretched and will act as the tree, Syd can be heard mumbling “what have I got to do?” Fucking hell, lay one in backstage for me, Eddie. But as the final whistle goes, I am crestfallen. Bread are victorious, meaning no obstacle course for comedy’s finest. They pick where their charity prizes are going — or in Eddie’s words, “all the pressie-wessies” — and when it cuts back, Peter’s armed with a pair of custard (or more specifically, shaving foam) pies. “I’m starving,” mutters Eddie.

What follows, on poring over the footage like Costner in JFK, is Classic Syd. Let’s break it down.

Peter dishes out the pies, one in each face, but on rewinding, we can see Syd’s got his own pie waiting under the desk; a surprise to be thrown at Peter. However, the master of comic timing, Syd Little takes it out too early, and after they get pie-faced, Peter’s already moved onto the next link. Shy Syd, seemingly too embarrassed to do it himself, or once again confused at a simple cue, just sits there. Eventually, he passes it to Eddie, who saves the moment by nailing Peter. Then Syd pretends his fingers are windscreen wipers, cleaning his glasses.

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I couldn’t give a fuck about the final obstacle course, mate. It’s heartbreaking, like watching the only person you ever loved walk the aisle with someone else. There’s slides, climbing ropes and even a big chimney to clamber in. Just imagine them doing this; Eddie getting stuck in the chimney; Syd all tangled up in the net, pleading for help as Eddie stamps on his glasses. When it seems like we’ll have to make do with Eddie licking his lips at a big Christmas pudding prop, they’re invited to “cheer them on,” meaning L&L still get to do the gungy stuff. Also, it quickly becomes clear this was all a fix, and the chance at witnessing the athletic prowess of Syd Little was never on the table. The young and spry Jonathon Morris flies through the course, with Coman down the chimney like a rocket, saving the BBC what could’ve been an insurance nightmare. The show ends with Eddie going arse over tit, and everyone rolling around in a big custardy human pile, for what must’ve led to the most distressing shower since American History X. “Scrub my back, Syd, there’s a good lad.”

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Next up, seeing as my entire life’s work has somehow evolved into painstakingly covering the most cursed of light entertainment, I figure should take a perfunctory gander at Joe Longthorne. Though he sat firmly on the B-List, Longthorne was solidly A-List both in having a name which seems inaccurately Native American, and in showcasing all the classic British variety tics; Impressions; earnest songs; constantly addressing the audience as “lay-jeh-men…” Joe was in that Daniel O’Donnell demographic, beloved by mums and nans, and one of the many stars of that era to have arrived via televised talent shows, first — as a 14-year-old — on Junior Showtime, and later on LWT’s Search For a Star. After a spot as a player on The Les Dennis Laughter Show, his solo vehicle The Joe Longthorne Show would run for three series on ITV. It’s an episode of that, circa 1989, which I’ll be sitting through.

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The opening titles are very Dallas, with Longthorne in triple split-screen, jigging about like he’s in residency at Vegas. It’s pure cruise ship, as he comes out fingers clicking, surrounded by a troupe of dancing girls in fedoras and stockings, for the Everly Brothers’ Crying in the Rain. Joe does all his numbers on a mini stage which looks exactly like a big reflector from a BMX. Speaking of big things, we need to talk about his suit. This thing is enormous; it’s Talking Heads; it’s Nathan For You; it’s Andre the Giant’s hand-me-down; it’s Slimming World ‘after’ photos, holding up trousers they could now fit three of their arses in. You never get used to it, and every time it cuts back to him, it seems as though he’s shrinking; like by the end, there’ll be a squeaky ant-voice blasting out Mustang Sally from an empty pile of clothes.

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Though it’s Joe’s name on the banner, magician Wayne Dobson gets a lot of screentime. Dobson was an onscreen regular in the 80s and 90s, before a diagnosis of MS. His suit’s enormous too, with shoulders so big, he’d have to turn sideways to get through a double door, but it’s cut off at the wrists, either to show there’s no cards up there, or because The Joe Longthorne Show caused the world to run out of fabric. The patter between them makes me yearn to be cut in half, but by Jeffrey Dahmer. Wayne’s “gonna try some mental telepathy.” Joe: “that’s because I’m telepathic.” Wayne: “no, I think you’re mental.” He pulls out LPs for a trick, cuing Joe’s impressions of Elvis and Cliff Richard — “hi folks, got myself a cryin’, walkin’…” — and gags like “Eartha Kitt? I know her brother, First Aid!

When Joe’s own LP comes out, it gets a sustained round of applause. “If everyone else can plug their albums, I can plug mine, is that right, lay-jeh-men?” Audience: “Yeeeeah!” After Joe leaves, Dobson does a hacky old Find the Lady bit, and later a gothic routine in an expansive cemetery set; cobwebs, candles, a hooded organist in Satanic red robes. The voiceover must’ve had Joe’s bussed-in nans coming over all funny, with a sinister baritone opining about “swirling mists of time and space,” and human sacrifice, as Dobson emerges, with his bleached hedgehog haircut, to get levitated by a pair of druids, as “the dark one’s prize!” The gothic aura’s punctured somewhat as Dobson ends his routine with the magic words “and here with some great music from the seventies, Joe Longthorne!” In 2015, Dobson would divorce his wife after alleging best mate Bobby Davro fucked her in the kitchen after she’d showed him her boobs on Skype.

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Unbelievably, Joe’s 70’s medley sees him changed into even bigger clothes, with the waist of his jacket now almost knee length. All the variety cliches are on show; “here’s a little song you’re going to enjoy… it goes like this,” and seguing into impressions with “the one and only,” or “keep clapping; David Bowie!” His Bowie impersonation stretches to him holding the mic stand, while for Barry White, he’s waving a fistful of handkerchief, which he occasionally dabs at his face. The numbers as ‘himself’ are proper “baby bay-BEH!” club singing, and back from the break, it’s a third costume change, with a bow tie and shoulders that, even in medium shot, practically extend beyond the edges of the screen. And all for an introduction to “a young man that’s really making a big name for himself here in the UK. He’s from the US of A…” An American, how exciting!

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Darryl Sivad is the perfect picture of late 80’s American stand-up, with observations you wouldn’t smile at if a minicab driver made them, and the opening gambit “you know what’s nice about this town? You got so many women!” After Joe and Wayne, the bar’s on the floor, but Sivad somehow manages to limbo under it with a hacky routine about how men and women be different. The most notable moment is the blowing of a punchline about his wife’s chihuahua, which only eats sausages; “I’m thinking if we snap his legs off, honey, he’ll be a snausage! [sic]” Disappointingly, Sivad doesn’t take out the two Alsatian hand-puppets he’s seen wearing in the opening credits.

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Then Joe’s back out, in his forth enormous suit of the night, for another medley, with a huge 27 piece orchestra stood behind him on balconies. Every show devotes a segment to a single performer, and this week’s is “the one and only Freddie Mercury!” As the opening bars to Bo-Rap kick in, immediately it becomes clear that Joe has neither heard Freddie perform, nor even seen a picture. Most likely, standing in the wings as the intro played, he asked a runner to describe him and they shouted “er.. gay, big gnashers!” and does the whole thing in a silly voice, pulling open-mouthed faces to show off a set of false teeth, which aren’t even that big, to the point I didn’t notice until he triumphantly removed them at the end. Trying to imitate music’s most charismatic frontman really highlights how Joe should only be on television as someone being interviewed by the local news outside Poundland about the rampant amount of dog dirts in the high street.

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Our closing number — please, God, let this be the last one — is Let the Heartaches Begin, with Joe Longthorne performing as the one and only Joe Longthorne. For me, the heartaches began about 20 minutes ago. But on the final line, “I can’t hold back on the tears any more,” the camera zooms in to reveal two wet streams on his cheeks. Have I been harsh? Is this the kind of artiste that’s capable of conjuring such emotion, he’s able to cry on command? On closer examination (i.e. sitting through the fucking song twice more), it’s nothing more than sweat, from standing underneath baking studio lights and weighed down in about six stone of linen. The whole fiasco was produced and directed by ‘Nasty’ Nigel Lythgoe of Pop Idol, who’s worth hundreds of millions now, in an egregious demonstration that crime does pay. The tape cuts off with a trailer announcing Michael Aspel will be hosting Central’s “murder weekend,” which sounds like The Purge. Sign me up, I’ve got some got some terrible stuff I suddenly need to forget.

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, early access to my podcast, 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 September 13, 2020.

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