The Little and Large Show

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[more Little and Large: Who Do You Do?Double DareStout and Reed]

Since I made it my business to cover the very worst in pop culture, I’ve built up a list of Holy Grails, which have so far been impossible to track down. Bobby Davro’s Rock with Laughter. Lynne Perrie’s softcore/comedy workout video. All 27-hours of each ITV Telethon. An early 2000’s Channel 5 show which gave celebrities prosthetic make-up, to help them experience life with a facial disfigurement; Caprice with a port wine birthmark and so on. Burn victim Craig Charles misunderstood the brief, leaping out at passers-by as a slavering horror movie creep. While some lost treasures, like Keith Chegwin’s Naked Jungle have eventually shown up online, others seem destined to rot, forgotten and un-Millarded, at the back of a nan’s attic. This was particularly true of my number one want, The Little and Large Show. With just a single Christmas special finding its way onto YouTube, 75 episodes remained unseen, of what legend tells is some of the worst comedy every created.

In lieu of the proper series, I had to satiate my appetite with their guest appearances on Double Dare and Who Do You Do?, which are linked at the top, and you may wish to read before continuing. Such was my obsession, I even penned a 27,000 word novella centring on a fictionalised version of their relationship, titled Stout and Reed, for the $5 tier of my Patreon. As a consequence, like my Charles Manson, imagined versions of Syd and Eddie have been living in my head for a while, and should the series ever surface, I knew I’d have to re-separate them again. And then it happened; The Little and Large Show suddenly appeared, and I dropped everything.

01

Eddie Large and ‘Supersonic’ Syd Little previously headlined their own show on ITV, with The Little and Large Telly Show running for a single series in 1977, before the pair transferred to the BBC the following year, as an intended replacement for Morecambe and Wise, who’d jumped the other way. In a golden age for double acts, none represented their stage names so cartoonishly as Little and Large. The big, round face of Eddie, topped by a sweaty mop of Kevin Keegan curls, and a pie-built body stuffed into a creaking suit, only helped emphasise the lankiness of Syd. With limbs like broom handles, and coke bottle glasses magnifying his gormless, blank expressions, they were a perfect comic pairing, who you could’ve identified from shadows alone.

Though they began at the BBC with a special, I’m starting at the beginning of the series proper, at episode one, originally airing on Saturday 30th September 1978 at 8:30pm, between All Creatures Great and Small and Starsky and Hutch. Animated titles show the lads waving through portholes of a UFO that’s circling the planet, before parachuting into the BBC. And then Eddie’s out by himself, welcoming us to the show before he’s joined by Syd, who’s dressed as a chicken. “Hello, my little chickadee,” says Eddie, “sssssufferin’ succotash!” All the choices I’ve made over the course of my life have brought me to this moment.

02

Like all the variety acts, Little and Large have a trademark bit. Perfected during their years in the working men’s clubs, it’s this routine which brought them to the dance, winning Opportunity Knocks and landing them their own series. You know the one; Syd tries to sing or tell a story, but Eddie keeps interrupting with impressions and gags. Also used by Cannon and Ball, this is the standard skit for the era’s double acts, and it’s on full display in the opener, which functions as a five-minute encapsulation of an entire career. A best and worst of, all at once. Eddie batters Syd with a relentless series of abysmal bird puns — the Incredible Hawk, Canary Grant, George Seagull — and impressions; voices which over the course of six episodes, we will hear many, many times. There are two jokes about boobs. Syd fucks up a line. Eddie walks offstage, quickly returning in a bird costume of his own, holding a giant wishbone and singing Brown Girl in the Ring. “Who’s that?” asks Syd. “Wish-Boney-M!” replies Eddie. This is Little and Large.

03

As becomes clear very quickly, this is not simply a routine of theirs; it’s the whole act. In another skit, mere five minutes later, Eddie (dressed as the Hunchback of Notre Dame) shouts over Syd with impersonations of Roland Rat, Les Dawson, and Kerry Packer, with a routine about the Emmannuelle films, solely to get to a line about “practising yoga, bare,” allowing him to go into a “hey-hey, Boo-Boo!” and a punchline about “the biggest boo-boos I’ve ever seen.” Three minutes after that, a segment titled Supersonic Sings Sinatra has Syd sat at a bar in a fedora, mic in hand, and getting a single line out, before Eddie pops into frame; bald wig, gigantic comedy sunglasses, and biting into a lollypop as Kojak. Then there’s ping-pong balls over the eyes — “ah, glasshoppah! Confucius, he say man with Chinese cat who keeps looking through ladies windows has Peking tom!

The set-up of Syd stood or sat in front of something; a bar, wall or hedge; while Eddie pops up in different wigs, is their most frequent format, like old arcade games where every level’s the same, except this time it’s a sewer instead of a street. Here, we get Eddie’s Benny from Crossroads, his Jimmy Savile, and in a madcap run through characters after snatching the mic off Syd altogether, fifteen different celebrities. But it’s mostly worth it when Sooty pops up on his right hand, followed by Sweep on his left, and finally Soo, rising up in the middle as Eddie looks down aghast, his expression inferring “she’s on the end of me prick!”

04

In a half-hour show, and with six minutes going to guest acts, Eddie does 59 different impressions (not including recurring voices), and on paper, you may be wowed by the sheer volume. But though Eddie Large would never have claimed to be a great mimic, let’s make something very clear; they are absolutely fucking dreadful. A large percentage begin “Hi, (name of celebrity) here!” and are so otherwise unrecognisable, you wonder if he’s only ever seen a photo. Who can’t do a guessable David Bellamy? Eddie Large, that’s who. Sometimes they’re just his own voice, as with a Larry Grayson which sounds like someone reading Larry’s quotes off a piece of paper, and play like those funny videos of fusty lawyers flatly reciting rap lyrics about pooing in a policeman’s mouth as evidence in a obscenity trial.

This unrelenting barrage of impersonations leaves room for merely a handful of proper sketches over the whole series. It’s all just a vehicle for Eddie to machine gun us to death with very similar voices, using an actual, literal box of wigs and funny glasses, always within reach, to dip into like a brutal mob torturer slowly caressing a glinting array of pliers and scalpels. Characters rarely last longer than a line, and as he flits between accents and hats, it feels as though you’re watching a man with 1,000 different personalities all fighting for control. Weirdly, the comparison which comes to mind with Eddie’s frenetic leaping about is Chris Farley, if he’d come up through the northern clubs. For Syd, I can’t choose between a mop or a brick wall.

05

Eddie’s ramrodding is broken up by weekly guest artists, like the Four Tops, Charley Pride, and the Drifters, plus a regular spot for sexy dance troupe Geoffrey Richer’s Birds of a Feather (classic named-after-male-choreographer titling). In their debut routine, they’re dancing in and out of mock shower cubicles with horny plumbing innuendo like “shove more coal on the boiler” and “the radiator’s hissing, but still I need your kissing.” The absolutely demented lyrics really bear repeating, played between towel-clad showgirls with the “what do we want?!” rhythm of a protest march.

Coal in the boiler?

No good!

Oil in the burner?

No good!

Is it coal?

No!

Hot?

Yes!

Yes it is! Come on people, get hot!

What’s the allusion here? Boiler is obviously fanny, but oil and coal? Cum? A bollock? Talking of bollocks, banter aside, we have a filmed insert to fill time, where the lads lark about with members of the public. I say ‘the lads,’ but Syd’s just stood there. He doesn’t even have a mic. Eddie trades impressions with old men, children, and shirtless teens on the beach; civilians literally getting trusted to do more than Syd Little on his own show, with one lad doing a Rigsby and Norman Wisdom, and another bloke busting out proper gags as Groucho. A small boy’s Blue Peter joke — “today we’ll show you how to make a kite out of Angela Rippon’s knickers!” — gets a reaction Syd could only dream of. “I wish I was taller,” says Eddie, leering down a woman’s cleavage, and when a kid does his John Wayne, Syd’s not even in frame.

06

A lot’s been made of Syd Little’s legendary ineptness, especially by me, but in freebasing so much raw footage, one begins to feel oddly sympathetic for the author of autobiographies Little by Little and Little Goes a Long Way. Syd’s strength as a ‘performer’ is in knowing his role, which is to stand next to Eddie Large as he puts on a cowboy hat and says “I’m John Wayne.” Though there’s a loose, pissing-about feel, it’s Syd who blows his lines most frequently, relying on Eddie to improvise things back on track. At one point, Eddie teases him for coming in too early — “you nearly killed my laugh then!” — and later, Syd bumbles a line with “I was fed up with being thinny and skin...” “Thinny and skin?!” gasps Eddie, as the audience erupts, before a sudden and obvious edit.

For the first episode’s closer, Syd’s interrupted by Eddie in a mumu and false beard as Demis Roussos. And then as Rolf. And American TV detective Cannon. While the voices aren’t good, at least there’s jokes, like Eddie saying Syd knows nothing about telly — “he thinks Pot Black’s a cooking show about cannibals!” Eddie reckons Farrah Fawcett should present The Sky at Night, “because she’s a heavenly body,” as ‘Patrick Moore’ tells us when she loses all her teeth, she’ll be known as “Farrah False-set Majors!” This kind of agonised, arms length reaching to a punchline is typical of L&L’s material. In episode six, Syd accuses Eddie of being unromantic — “you haven’t got a heart!” Eddie tells him nobody has, as from tomorrow, the Trade Descriptions Act is legally changing the word ‘heart’ to ‘pump’. It’s just the pathway to more impressions, like Tony Bennett (“I left my pump in San Francisco…”) and Elton John (“don’t go breaking my pump!”).

07

Episode one ends with Eddie rifling through the dressing up box for a gauntlet of Wonder Woman, the Man from Atlantis, Karl Malden — “hi, I’m Karl Malden from The Streets of San Francisco” — the Smash Aliens, Rigsby, and for the second time tonight, Kermit and Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps the highlight is a non sequitur of chanting “Supersonic is a moron!” as himself, before they close with a ‘duet’ of Gimme Dat Thing, with Eddie trying to steal the mic.

There’s no sense in these early shows, as there is with the later appearances which inspired Stout and Reed, that Eddie might’ve been putting the boots to Syd backstage for how useless he was, and weirdly, Eddie isn’t even that large here. He’s tubby at best, incredibly energetic with it, and visually shorter than Syd, who doesn’t seem as thin as the Syd Little of legend, in comparison to a smaller Eddie. An odd foible is how they always stand with Eddie on Syd’s right, breaking the Ant and Dec rule of a double act’s onscreen positions giving a correct ‘reading’ of their names, and rendering them visually as Large and Little.

Episode two opens with Eddie in an incredible red velvet suit and Syd dressed all Shakespearean, armed with Yorick and ready to perform a soliloquy. Would you believe it, Eddie keeps butting in? He’s putting a fez on the skull to do Tommy Cooper, then Eric Morecambe, Cliff Richard III and Miss Piggy, where the mask doesn’t fit over his head, and sits halfway up his face as he sings Hey Pig Spender; then Kojack again, Henry Cooper, Les Dawson. Sid just stands there. Soon, Syd’s got a bow in his hair, singing The Good Ship Lollypop, which he grossly pronounces “wowwypop,” and you’re praying for Eddie to come out. But then he does, and you’re praying for death instead.

08

Most of the show’s surprisingly risqué — or rather, crude — for something pre-watershed, with so many of Eddie’s jokes focussing on great big wobbly jugs, and making constant sexual references to famous women. His Benny from Crossroads shows up at least once a week to brag about nobbing Miss Diane, and it’s all the exact kind of stuff we’d have done in the playground as kids. I can vividly picture me and my chums playing Ghostbusters while some third year in an unwashed parka corners us to perform Eddie’s Buddy Holly song about Robin Hood before scuttling off — “Maid Marian said, she’s sat sobbin’, nine months gone and no sign of Robin, oh boy!” You half expect him to ask Syd if he’s ever touched a BMW, before dead-legging him into eating a urinal cake. “Have you got AIDS, Syd? Are you positive?”

Though David Renwick and Eddie Braben get listed as writers (presumably with Satan going uncredited), it’s a shocker not to see the boy from your class who kept turning his eyelids inside out on there too. Truly, the Little and Large Show contains some of the smelliest, low-grade jokes ever spoken out loud; not worthy of the bin at the Christmas cracker factory, let alone television. Regard, a bit where Eddie’s dressed as a pirate, hopping on using a crutch, which is under the wrong arm because “I’m an Irish pirate!” and with a parrot on his shoulder called Starsky — “Starsky and Crutch!” He’s also pulling a plank of wood on a dog lead. You figure it out. I kept a running list of the very worst gags, and I think I’ve settled on a pretty sturdy top/bottom five.

  • Eddie, on Syd getting his acting skills from the Old Vic: “I told him to use a new jar!
  • Eddie with an Australian accent: “What do they call a happy dog in Wogga Wogga? A wagger-wagger!
  • Eddie: “Tell ’em about that film you were in, about that very tall Welshman; The Longest Dai…”
  • Eddie as Cliff Richard: “I’ve just invented a new version of the rumba with my hairdresser, it’s called the rum-barber!
  • Eddie as Brian Clough as a Red Indian: “What’s the closest thing to silver? The Lone Ranger’s botty!

09

This is a good time to inform you the show had fifteen million viewers at its peak. There’s little respite, even when stepping outside the banter for rare sketches. These are generally quickies, like Syd calling a depression hotline and the phone box exploding, or walking to the Mastermind chair under its ponderous theme, only for Eddie to wrap a hairdressing cape over him. The most avant-garde moment of the series sees Syd as a policeman and Eddie crawling around on the floor as a lost dog, begging for scraps — “I’m a little lost doggie and I’m starving!” But he actually is a dog, and Syd hears his dialogue as barks. Though it seems like the most obvious thing they could do, there’s just one Stan and Ollie skit, where Syd’s performance, even for him, is really something. Perhaps he’s feeling vulnerable, left blind without his glasses, at the mercy of Eddie Large, and spends it fiddling with a bow-tie while Eddie does most of the talking, nervously getting his few lines out noticeably quietly. It’s a weird routine based around a magic cabinet, building to a parody of The Fly, where Syd/Stan gets a mouse’s head and Eddie/Ollie a mouse body; and all just an unbelievably convoluted contrivance for the obviously-thought-up-first punchline “that’s another fine mouse you got me into!

10

Occasionally, we even break from the studio for outdoor sketches shot on film, which feels like being afforded yard time when you’ve been sat on death row. Crossroads Street features Eddie as various soap characters, and gifts us the brilliant visual of him sat in a wheelchair and whipping Syd, who’s pulling him like a horse, before Syd gets stabbed to death by Benny from Crossroads. In another, Supersonic’s walking through the street singing My Way, and getting abused by various bystanding Eddies; cutting through his mic wire, nicking the replacement mic (as Kojak) after mistaking it for a lollypop, popping a champagne cork into Syd’s mouth, and leaving him in rags by the end, after being blown up, with Eddie standing triumphantly on his sobbing, battered body. Maybe there’s something to this bullying theory after all.

But mostly it’s all just the exact same thing, over and over again. Syd in an art gallery, Eddie doing celebrities as paintings (Larry Grayson, “what a Goya day!”). Syd in a pith hat at the zoo, Eddie doing celebrities as animals (Kojak panda, Frank Spencer chimp). Syd in a bath, Eddie doing celebrities as fish (rubber octopus in a bald wig, “who loves ya, octopussy cat?”). Syd as a fairy sat on a mushroom, Eddie doing celebrities as dwarves. I’m 4 episodes into a run of 77. At this point, I’ve perhaps gotten too complacent. Yeah, yeah, Syd’s addressing the lay jeh-men. Eddie will come out in a costume. I get it. I’m blogging’s bad boy, and I know everything! And I’m right; he does.

11

Blacked up everywhere but the face, Eddie’s gone full comedy Zulu; armed with a spear and squeezed into a black body stocking; grass skirt, bone through the hair, and patting his stomach while singing “oh black belly, bam-a-lam!” There’s an envelope spiked on the tip of the spear. “It’s blackmail,” says Eddie, belting out King of the Swingers, but with amended lyrics of “I’ve got lots of big black spots, we’ve run out of TCP!” He reels off a list of jungle food — “boiled beef and parrots, snake and kidney pie” — however the natives; “all they eat is insects, WHAT HAVE WE GOT ON DE MENU TODEY?!” With a final joke about Tarzan slapping one of Jane’s titties flat, he mimes a tribal dance round a fire, chanting the name Showaddywaddy by way of introducing them.

Presumably when the budget allows, they venture into visual gags which are just as CBBC as the one-liners, with Eddie climbing up a ladder to an eight-foot tall can of fly spray, to render the audience unconscious, and a bit where he’s holding a dog lead that stretches offstage and about twenty feet into the air. “What’d you call it?”Sir.” “Where does it sleep?” “Anywhere it likes.” Eventually, it drags the pair across the studio floor, with Syd’s legs kicking wildly all the way. Reader, I did laugh, and I won’t pretend I don’t occasionally get blindsided by a funny line or surprising reveal. One sketch with Eddie as mayor conducting the Young Musicians of the Year pans to a load of prams with tubas and trumpets poking out, and in a grand finale with duelling guitars, Eddie’s is on an elastic strap, which is a genuinely hilarious visual. My favourite joke of the series involves Syd being interrupted by Eddie’s Columbo.

Eddie: “By the way, my wife thinks you’re terrific!

Syd: “Oh, is she a fan?

Eddie: “No, she’s stupid.”

12

When I’m watching stuff for these pieces, the general rule is that footage takes four or five times as long to get through while taking notes, with all the rewinding and transcribing and whatnot. Consequently, there might only be three hours of this, but I’ve been marathoning it all day, leaving me near delirium by episode six, with moments coming at me like trucks, barrelling into my exhausted body as I stagger across the motorway; Eddie at the wheel and Syd locked in the boot. Eddie as a pirate, singing “fifteen men on Cyril Smith’s chest, twelve down his shirt and three up his vest!” Eddie as Norman Wisdom and Emu; “Mr. Grimsdale! Stop it, Emu!” Eddie singing a frenetic Shake, Rattle and Roll, and telling Syd it was written “the day after the girls burned their bras.” Needing two guitars for the big finish, Eddie calling off-frame, “Hey, the Fonz wants a guitar! Hey, sit on it Cunningham!

Eddie’s Elton John. He’s Bobby Ball. He’s Liberace, making a joke about Raquel Welch’s massive knockers. Syd’s about to sing, but Eddie’s butting in as Rigsby; he’s rooting around in the hat box. Now he’s Benny. Top Cat. Norman Wisdom. It’s terrible and depressing, and unbelievably repetitive. And yet. Even with the rancid material, it’s hard not to get swept up in how much fun they’re having. Eddie’s face lights up on every punchline, his chubby cheeks curling up into his ears, eyes flitting about the studio to catch everyone’s reactions, and like Cannon and Ball, they’re battling through corpses all the way.

13

Though I wouldn’t recommend sitting through this in big doses (or even at all), the whole teetering structure is almost propped up by its endearing naffness, and though you definitely won’t be laughing, there is a certain joy by osmosis to be had. I don’t know if this sense of fun held up over the years, with the show incredibly having spanned three decades, lasting from 1978 to 1991. Against all good judgement, I’m really curious to what that final series looked like, being that the format wore itself out before episode one was over. After years of citing The Little and Large Show as one of my televisual Holy Grails, and now languishing in the post-Eddie exhaustion of having experienced it, two things have become clear. The first is to be careful what you wish for, followed by the terrible feeling that I’m far from finished with the lads.

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.

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~ by Stuart on June 17, 2021.

9 Responses to “The Little and Large Show”

  1. I think I made it through about 30 seconds of episode 1 before I bailed.

    I know you probably know this, but there’s at least one episode of their final series on Youtube, and several others dotted around from late in their run (a 1990 episode with Bonnie Langford and Living In A Box, for example). Plus, their pre-series special from 1977. I will not be watching any of these.

    • This is a spoiler for future content, but I’ve actually sat through the entire final series (which is a different beast entirely) already, and the resulting piece is about 1500 words longer than this.

  2. Re: Eddie as a pirate, pulling a plank of wood.
    I am slightly embarrassed to tell you that before I worked out the obvious punchline, I was convinced that the exchange went as follows:
    Sid: Your dog is very quiet.
    Eddie: Yes, he has no bark.
    I am aware that this has no connection to pirates.

  3. Stuart, Your reviews of lowbrow, end-of-the-pier TV comedy of the 80’s are amusingly articulate and nonchalant, unlike the material you bravely force yourself to sit through which was ancient even then, wearily crawling along like a crippled tortoise on valium. And remember, such shows as L & L, Cannon and Ball, Russ Abbot and The Grumbleweeds were being shown in the same era of Alternative Comedy at its peak, proving it was a myth that so-called non-PC mainstream comedy was forced off the air in this period, and indeed often had larger viewing figures than Elton, Atkinson, Mayall and co.

  4. I took the liberty of uploading that cache of early Syd and Eddie goodness onto YouTube, and I’m glad you found something to enjoy among all the nonsense. Must admit that the elastic guitar strap had me chuckling too.
    Love your blog, by the way – even though I don’t always agree with you!

    • Thanks, Inspector! (for loving the blog; not so much for begriming the internet with footage of Syd and Eddie – that should be a criminal offense)

  5. […] putting on a tash, pushing out his gut, and saying “my name’s Cannon!” Outstanding; ten Eddie Larges out of ten. After a thick Irishman joke, he ends on a high-kicking medley of Johnny Cash, Sinatra, […]

  6. […] Little and Large: Who Do You Do? — Double Dare — Series 1 — Stout and […]

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