And There’s More…

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In digging around weird old shit off the telly, I spend half my time falling off the end of the pier down various light 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 Children’s Royal Variety, in an admirable attempt to preserve his own legacy for the aliens who’ll eventually stumble on the ruins of our civilisation. And in rummaging through the rest of his videos, you find a sketch show you’ve never heard of — ITV’s And There’s More — and know, as is your curse, you’re gonna be sitting through it with a notepad and pen instead of hitting the casinos or (consensually) touching a butt, which is definitely how you’d have otherwise spent the evening.

Cricket was an absolute stalwart of television when I was growing up, often as an impression done by other comics, with instructions on how to ‘do’ him even featuring in Gary Wilmot’s guidebook. A ubiquitous guest spot, it never occurred to me he’d had his own show, which seems to have vanished from cultural memory. And There’s More ran for four series, with a supporting cast of aging faces and television noobs. 1985’s first series had the debut of a young Rory Bremner, with Brian Conley in the second, and Joan Sims and Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served? in series three. I’ll be watching episodes from the fourth and final series, where, who knows, we may witness the showbiz beginnings of Peter Kay or Dave Chappelle.

01

First, let’s briefly examine the character of Jimmy Cricket, which only takes its name from Pinocchio’s sidekick, and not the species’ innate susceptibility to infection by host parasites — “C’mere… there’s a massive swarm of horsefly larvae bursting out of my stomach sac!” Cricket is one big racial stereotype; a flesh and blood tulpa of every Irish joke about thickos called Paddy who sit facing the cistern. Unlike Russ Abbot’s C.U. Jimmy, he’s at least a genuine Northern Irishman, which possibly makes it less bad, and a slight level down from your dad getting all excited doing Snoop Dogg at the karaoke because he knows an n-word’s coming up. Of particular note is that Cricket’s a clean comedian with family-friendly material, which usually amounts to ‘shite you’d read from a Christmas cracker’ and a comedic death-knell, but we’ll see.

Like Norman Wisdom or Freddy Krueger, he picked a look and really stuck with it, with the too-short trousers and evening jacket, red bow tie and flower, one fingerless glove and a buckled hat; and of course, his most famous trademark, the welly boots. Labelled R and L and worn on the wrong feet, you remember them, don’t you? Ah, sure, everyone does. Google “Jimmy Cricket” + “wrong feet” and see what I mean. Except, in And There’s More, they’re worn on the correct feet. Is this a mass Mandela Effect? Or, in Jimmy Cricket canon, did he eventually learn to identify which foot was which, and by 1988 was able to dress himself (albeit requiring the R/L instructions)? In his first televised appearance, on ITV’s Search for a Star in 1980, the character’s only half-developed, with no hat or glove, but the wellies are there, and on the wrong feet, suggesting this is indeed the case. How inspiring!

02

Episode one of the fourth and final series aired May 28th, 1988. As with all the videos on Cricket’s Youtube account, he’s edited a web address onto the beginning, from where you can purchase his live DVD. The And There’s More theme tune is — obviously — jaunty Oirish music, but the credits are surprisingly visually beautiful, with Jimmy animated in scratchy rotoscope, riverdancing like he’s in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. It’s not the last time I’ll be surprised by how un-terrible some aspects of the series are. Roughly half of each show’s taken up with Jimmy’s most iconic bits — letters from and phonecalls to his Mammy, which thankfully came before comedy Irish mammies were saying the proper F word and going on about their hairy old muffs. The Mammy stuff is a comedic device allowing Cricket to batter you with Irish jokes about his family’s life in Ballygobackwards; a fictional town of inbred dunces originally used by Irish comedians Jimmie O’Dea in the 1940s, and Jack Cruise in the ’60s.

The series was scripted by Eddie Braben — best known for writing Morecambe and Wise’s classic material — and seemingly while he was sleepwalking, but it’s still a step above the fuckin’ trash we’re used to on here. When Jimmy first told Mammy he was going into showbusiness, “the tears rolled down her cheeks. They rolled up ’em as well. She was standing on her head.” Then Jimmy tells us he walked out onto the stage, and “the spotlight fell on me… I was unconscious for 2 ½ hours.” It’s hard to be mad about such amiable dad jokes, which come in a gatling gun barrage that you’ve barely time to process. As the series rolls on, with the luxury of running stuff back, it’s clear that some of the lines might have the rhythm and cadence of jokes, but make no sense; quickly buried beneath the next gag and still getting a laugh because of the delivery — “I’ve got some Japanese people in tonight, Mammy. I might have to do my jokes in plastic.” What?

03

I know people generally read these to see me sneering at stuff, and I frequently get recommended the worst things in the world to watch and tear apart, but it’s all so affable and innocent, on balance, I’m smiling more than I am pushing unravelled paperclips under my fingernails. Let’s be honest, half the fun with old TV is being floored by scenes that are now appalling, but And There’s More is inoffensive in a way that’s rare with comedy of this era, perhaps because Jimmy Cricket seems an entirely sexless being, who you simply cannot imagine so much as having a wank. Go on, give it a try.

Seriously, do it. Picture him there, with his trousers round his wellies, flopped back in a swivel chair. He’s typing Y in his browser bar and clicks on the autocompleted link. It’s a Youtube video; a short clip from Countryfile where Julia Bradbury’s in a one-piece swimsuit, running into a freezing cold bog with some hardy butchers. They’ve looped it so I– so he doesn’t have to keep replaying it. It’s five minutes long. Just long enough. He mutes the sound, just in case, maximising it to fullscreen, and within seconds, he’s going absolutely wild down there. Or is he? I’d wager you just can’t see it; not sweet old Jimmy Cricket. What would Mammy think? I challenged all my family to imagine such a scene, and eventually they agreed that you couldn’t, before asking me to leave without finishing my Christmas dinner.

04

Not that there aren’t glimpses of darkness inadvertently revealed in the missives from his bumbling family. Read without Cricket’s light-hearted folksiness, they’d play very differently; like the uncle who saved someone from drowning, then accidentally killed them by hanging him up to dry, or the time his dad got sacked from the battery farm by sodomising six chickens to death trying to get the AAs in. The closest we get to a cancelling is an impression of a “midget farmer milking a cow,” where he perches a little “midget farmer’s hat” on the top of his head, standing on tip-toes to mime squirting milk into his eye. Another sketch sees him judging Miss Sportswoman of the Year, with Miss Golf, Miss Football and so on, seen only as bare, slender legs, but it’s all building to the punchline where Mrs Cricket — his wife — a frump in wrinkled stockings, shows up to beat him with her handbag. Unlike your Benny Hills, all the women in And There’s More are frowning in a big overcoat and specs, berating henpecked husbands, and there’s not a single cleavage to be seen.

This series takes the list of sketch show settings and reels off the entire dang thing; hospital ward, job centre, doctor’s surgery, noir detective, library; a travel agent where he sells a trip to Australia for £10, which is a big shovel; building sites manned by Tosh Lines off The Bill, where Jimmy’s eating stew out of a cement mixer, or pushing so many wheelbarrows of bricks, his arms are comically long, like a Vic Reeves painting. Most of the sketches rely on cartoon physics and oversized props, like a wild maracas dance in a sombrero that grows in size each time he leaves the stage. By the end, the hat’s so big, it covers his entire body, with his arms poking through a little flap. I knew it was coming, but reader, I did laugh. The first episode closes with a song — Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree. As you’ll know, I’m always on the lookout for truly unhinged audience reactions, and though it’s not quite Russ Abbot’s squirter, the animalistic sounds when a giant apple falls from the ceiling are a Top 5, for sure. See for yourself.

05

The audience are constantly out of control, as during a hospital skit, where the mere sight of Cricket’s wife walking in with wilted flowers sets them off in hysterics, and spend the whole series laughing like people being killed by the Joker’s gas. I guess it’s the 80’s equivalent of full theatres pissing themselves at Michael McIntyre’s observations about scissors and shoelaces. He later jokes the audience comes from “all over… Holloway, Strangeways, Broadmoor,” which suggests some of those big laughs are from Peter Sutcliffe, having a whale of a time on day release.

By episode two, the charm’s starting to wear off, and watching the Mammy routines back to back exposes their cynical construction. In the worst joke yet, his dad’s woken up in the middle of the night crying “I’ve crushed my ribs,” which turns out to be a bag of crisps in his pyjama pocket. In a tacked-on DVD ad from 2015, there’s the same gag but with a hole in his heart/polo mint. Another joke has Mammy dreaming of eating a giant wine gum, “I woke up and the hot water bottle was gone.” In the previous episode, she dreamed she was plucking a giant turkey, and woke up to find daddy was now bald.

At another edited-in Youtube ad for his new CD, where he’s pictured with a lampshade on his head, my mind’s starting to wander. Don’t the sketches, by their nature, go against canon? If he’s such an oaf, how’s he capable of acting? He’s not ‘Jimmy Cricket’ in them, just a parade of generic men. Plus the stories are all over the place. One minute his dad’s hanging curtains outside the house, the next, he’s in prison. Wait until CinemaSins hear about this! And what’s with the single glove? Is it like that lad in Of Mice and Men, who keeps one hand all smooth for touching his missus? In a sketch where he’s wearing a Scrooge sleep hat, climbing into a single bed complete with stuffed Paddington, his wedding ring’s visible. Come on, mate, commit to the character. You can see it in the next sketch too, where he’s having his first ever kiss (as judges rate him from the balcony). Then again, having never kissed his own wife merely confirms my own theory of Cricket’s celibacy.

06

ITV’s listings archive is almost non-existent, but I’m certain this show went out in the evening, and not — as the material suggests — between The Raggy Dolls and Count Duckula. When Jimmy got pulled over for speeding, he showed the copper his license; “he says ‘this is a dog license’, well, I’m driving a rover.” He’s playing Three Blind Mice on strings of sausages; he’s chasing a meat pie that doesn’t want to be eaten; he’s walking out of a fortune teller’s tent and leaving his hand behind, so she can “read the rest in bed.” In a bit where Cricket’s a clumsy tennis player, I have to run it back multiple times to figure out why the audience are dying as he walks onto court. In And There’s More‘s time of tiny 80’s footballer shorts, the pair he’s wearing appear comically big — like the sombrero gag — but I’ve lived through Kevin Smith’s jorts and nu-metal JNCO, rendering Jimmy’s shorts perfectly normal size, in some weird time-specific comedy colour-blindness.

As we get deeper into the series, Cricket’s modern-day trailers get more extravagant, and by episode three, there’s a full 4-minute ad — from Welly Boot Productions — for his first ever live DVD, boasting special features like, God help us, ‘Mammy’s letter rap’. Curiously, the boots are on the wrong feet here, and the lettering’s very shabbily drawn, reminding me of an interview with an aging Honky Tonk Man, where a certain angle exposed his stick-on sideburns coming away from his face. But he has updated the act for 2015, with “that all important phonecall to his Mammy” taking place over a cordless; although as he’s well into his seventies now, how old is she? They’re solid stock in Ballygobackwards. The DVD’s listed as MEGA RARE on Amazon and eBay, and you can only get it via Paypal from his own website, or by sending an actual cheque to a physical address. Shame, I only trade in crypto and furs.

07

This is oldschool variety comedy in its purest form, where every other line is that beautiful verbal tick “lay-jeh-men…” and almost every joke involves taking a word at its logical meaning, like when crooning That Old Black Magic, as a prop guy comes out and messily paints Cricket’s white suit with black emulsion. The noises the audience make here are extraordinary, shrieking like he’s being flayed before their eyes. Thankfully, though it always seems the musical numbers will take an earnest turn, the only sort-of non-jokey sequence is a pre-record involving dancing binmen, where I guess someone wrote ‘dance routine with some binmen?’ on a whiteboard, and they went and filmed it and I had to watch it.

But you’ll still mine some good material buried under all the “Daddy’s done something stupid?!” stuff. There’s a particularly great joke in “our cat took first prize at the budgerigar contest,” though it’s ruined by immediately over-explaining “he ran off with the winner!” My biggest laugh came with Cricket wearing a pith hat, named after its inventor, “Sir Basil Helmet,” but only because — like all jokes innocently unaware the word helmet would eventually become become utterly synonymous with the head of the penis — it’s since become absolutely disgusting. The end of Jimmy Cricket’s final ever solo effort has a sense of ‘last show, might as well piss about’, with additional material credits for various names, including Tranmere Rovers, Patrick Moore’s Pianist, Lionel Blair’s Auntie, Old Lady in Bus Queue, and Two Drunks. There’s also a credit of “fights arranged by Sir William Rees-Mogg”; aka father to horrible Tory Slenderman, Jacob.

08

In conclusion, it was nowhere near as bad as I feared, with actual laughs to be had, and pleasing guest appearances from the likes of Round the Horne‘s then 73-year old Hugh Paddick, Hugh Lloyd, and the bloke from those Chocolate Orange adverts that parodied Raiders of the Lost Ark. But And There’s More really emphasises Jimmy Cricket as an act that works better in the guest appearances we all remember him for, than stretched out to a series of half-hours, as demonstrated in the final episode, when Mammy’s relating another dream. This time, Daddy Cricket was Tarzan, swinging about collecting coconuts — “and when he woke up, all the brass knobs were missing from the bed!” Or to put it another way, “c’mere… there’s less!”

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 October 24, 2020.

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