Little and Large at Christmas

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[more Little and Large: Who Do You Do?Double DareSeries 1The Final SeriesStout and Reed]

Like the inevitability of Only Fools and Horses novelty socks from the auntie you never see, once I started diving into the lads, I think we all knew this was coming. It’s December 23rd 1978, and this is Christmas alright, with a flurry of superimposed snow over the opening titles, where Syd and Eddie swoop down in a UFO, suggesting, like Mr. Bean, they are aliens in human form, which would explain why they never got the hang of that Earth thing called ‘humour’. A troupe of dancing girls sing us in with the L&L theme, giving the clearest listen yet of its lyrics about being “projected right into space, without any warning!” Deffo aliens.

The vague thread of the show is their attempts to get a celebrity guest, but it’s the same old; Syd stood nodding while Eddie runs through gags about how skinny and stupid he is. Syd played football but a dog ran on the pitch and buried him. Syd sent away for a bodybuilding kit but couldn’t open the box. Lucozade makes Syd ill. Eddie has however landed that big star, and please welcome to the stage Roddy Llewellyn! Out comes an elderly Chinese man, who Eddie says he got out of “the yellow pages.” Shall I give him the benefit of the doubt here? It is Christmas after all.

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There’s more of that out-and-about time-filler, fielding impressions from members of the public, rife with “ooh, Miss Jones!” and child Frank Spencers in berets, including a racy use of the word “bum” which gets bleeped out by a horn. One boy’s “I am Margaret Thatcher” is straight out of Eddie’s playbook. Every frame of these sections could be hung in a gallery, as flawless portraits of late 70’s British society; the background of each shot filled with either scowling mistrust or feverish excitement at visiting television cameras; 10-year-olds with haunted old faces, men in yellow-lens glasses, and every woman over forty in inch-thick specs and a coat that goes down to the floor.

It’s all the puns ‘n’ impressions you’ve already heard, only, in festive settings; plastic joke-shop ears and red circles on their cheeks in Santa’s workshop, as Eddie runs through presents for the stars. A chimney brush for Sooty (“he likes a clean sweep!”), a bra with three cups for (pointing at each in turn) Olivia Newton John, and a chocolate stocking for Danny La Rue (“he gives the chocolate away and wears the stocking!”) I must confess to being blindsided by a couple of gags; the Bionic Man wanting a new electric organ, and Henry Cooper getting an extra large toilet “to stop him splashing it all over!” Also, a Laurel and Hardy bit, where Eddie gives Syd a razor but accidentally puts the batteries in backwards, has a genuinely unexpected reveal of Syd now sporting a full beard, wrong-footing in the good way, rather than simply “that was more racist than I anticipated.” The other big surprise comes after Eddie’s Cliff impression — “hi fans” — when the virgin boy child, Mr. Mistletoe and Wine himself, the real Sir Clifford turns up in a long scarf, to give us a lovely rendition of White Christmas.

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Another musical break comes in the form of Dana Gillespie, accompanied by male dancers in tight shirts bearing the glittery words SNOW, BOOGIE, ZAP, JAZZ, YES and POW, and after Eddie’s Les Dawson impression, the real Les shows up to carry her off on his shoulder — “takeaway crumpet!” Eddie then has a big announcement, that the world’s best band have reunited just for them; “the sensational fab four, The Beatles!” Four East-Asian gentlemen walk out, and pissing himself at his own joke, Eddie informs us “they were the crew on the yellow submarine!” Yeah, think I’ll take back that benefit of the doubt. In a cancellation double-bill, Syd and Eddie dance out from behind a Christmas tree, either end of a cardboard cut-out row of celebrities, whose legs kick in time to the music, one of whom is notorious dead paedophile, Cyril Smith.

I get a terrible case of reverse deja-vu, with a Grease parody which pre-dates the mega medley I sat through from the final series by a good decade. It’s got the same opening — greaser gang clicking fingers to Summer Nights, giving us a look at the funny gang name on their backs — though this time it’s Teabags instead of T-Pots. At least it’s contemporary here, taking place in the year the film came out, but not even broken up with impressions or jokes, and just a full, straight cover, with the entire joke “haha, Syd’s in a dress!” For the sake of transparency, and in case the estate of Eddie Large takes me to court for slander, there is a dubbed on belch from ‘Sandy,’ and a boing noise when Eddie takes a comb out of his pocket.

03

Another sketch has Syd put to bed by his “mummy.” So, is he meant to be a child, or is this merely the bleak living situation of a greying and balding 36-year-old Cyril ‘Syd Little’ Mead? When mam’s gone, Eddie emerges from the cupboard as a teddy bear, which leaves him sweating buckets by the end, for more jokes about the Chinese, before dragging Syd’s sexy, lingerie clad sister Dana Gillespie into the toy cupboard with a “phwoarrr!” Honestly, they’ve got a pretty strong case against Seth MacFarlane here. But it’s not just the Chinese who get it, with Eddie as an ‘Argentinian’ in an enormous Mexican sombrero and poncho, and as a carolling Scotsman in vast tam o’shanter and kilt — “she’ll be wearing frilly knickers when she comes!” To their… credit, the only instance of blackface involves Syd throwing chestnuts on the fire, which explode, leaving him the classic shredded suit and covered in soot.

A skit titled Soopersonic in Panto Land is your standard ‘Eddie comes out in hats doing his voices’, with celebrities as famous panto characters. Harry Secombe as a raspberry-blowing Friar Tuck, David Bellamy as Baron Hardup — Syd having to bite his lips together to keep from laughing — and of course, as the fairy queen, Larry Grayson. Kojak stands in for Goldilocks, where they go with “one of the three bears (bare head)” rather than the would’ve-been-better Baldilocks. Syd’s reading his lines off a scroll, which is why he mispronounces villain as “vill-ain,” with jokes about “who’s maid/made Marian?” (“nobody yet, but we’re all trying our hardest!”) and Benny from Crossroads booking a honeymoon suite for him and Miss Diane; “’do you want bridal?’ I says, ‘worst comes to the worst, I’ll hang onto her ears!‘”

04

More impressions and jokes about Syd dressing up as a matchstick lead into the closing song, where Syd’s on a stool, choir behind him and children sat on the floor, for the full Doonican. It’s a cover of Cliff’s Christmas Alphabet (“C is for the candy, all around the Christmas tree”), and old Soopersonic manages a whole verse before losing the flow and mispronouncing cake as “keek.” When he’s done, Eddie runs through his version, whipping out hats and wigs; “I is for John Inman, I’m free.. F is for Frank Spencer, the dog’s done a whoopsie!” For Arthur Mullard, he simply squashes his nose with a finger. The final line, where they tell us “we’ve enjoyed your company on our Yuletide TV show” makes me feel guilty, because it’s very much not mutual.

Like a bloodied man who just opened a present to find it was a bomb, I’m using my remaining fingers to unwrap the Christmas special from December 23rd 1980, knowing I shall never juggle again. Second series animated credits have them climbing up ladders to screw bulbs into signs bearing their names, again with snow superimposed over the top (but no sleigh bells). From an opening shot of the audience, everyone’s in a party mood, shown throughout joyously waving coloured balloons, and wearing those fragile paper baseball caps they gave out at roadshows and county fairs, with a spiral cut in so you can push it down onto your head until it rips. Whatever we may think of Little and Large from our towering perch here in far future, have no doubt, the people of their time wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

05

Syd comes on through an entrance that looks like the Stargate, interrupted by Eddie, armed with the big red book from This Is Your Life. “What have you got behind your back?” “A big fat bum; what’ve you?” But as I’m watching, I fall prey to a sudden medical episode, where my chest goes into a spasm, firing involuntary bursts of noise out of my mouth. I’m about to call 111 when I realise — it’s laughter; laughter at the introduction “Sydney Rasputin Little, star of stage, screen and microscope,” and a line about the Queen “shaking him by the throat” at the Royal Variety. Then a double-jab of one-liners: “for the first six months of your life, you lived in an incubator, until the chickens kicked you out,” and “you were evacuated several times during the war; your mother blamed the syrup of figs.” What’s happening here?! These are good jokes, like when Eddie says Syd got a Monopoly set “and spent so much time in jail, Lord Longford came to visit him.”

But then, shunted between realities, back to the one where they were shit, we’ve returned to Eddie’s voices, where, if you turn the sound right up, you can hear him muttering “Where is it? There…” to himself (as himself) in the middle of a line, when the pages of the book (an empty photo album) get stuck together. Next is a sketch with Cliff and Olivia Newton John; Syd in a dress, Eddie resembling Carlos the Jackal. A cherry gets stuck on the end of Syd’s nose. A cracker explodes, leaving — for the second Christmas running — tattered clothes and soot-covered faces.

06

As if to punish me for laughing, a sketch set in a doll’s hospital hits perhaps their all-time career low. Broken toys sit in the waiting room; Syd as a bandaged soldier; an elf I correctly peg is there solely for a “national elf” gag; oh and a full-sized golliwog. Its visual appearance is as horrible as the politics; a misshapen nightmare with two enormous, vacant white eyes and off-centre red lips stitched onto a flopping, jet-black, felt head, with a single tuft of hair where the rest has been ripped out. It’s the outfit your dad was turned away from your birthday in, even though the invite specified ‘NO FANCY DRESS’ because he wore it last time too; every boomer nostalgia about the past incarnate, like they talked about the Good Old Days so hard, this thing manifested itself out of the remnants of penny sweets from the friendly white newsagent and an undrunk Mr. Frosty.

Eddie limps on with a crutch as another bear — “Who are you lot, the village people?” — before holding up his severed ear with a “what’s this ear?” and bending over to do a rippling big fart, which causes Syd to laugh as he wafts it away. The most festive thing here is Syd doing his lines like an innkeeper at the nativity, shouted in infants school monotone. It’s then that Eddie turns to the golliwog, putting on a Jamaican accent to ask “’ello der, chalky. How yer getting on dere, man? I told you you should never have come off de marmalade jar!” He nudges Syd with a “mind, he could always get a job with Hot Chocolate.” Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout gets pushed by in a wheelchair, and Eddie jokes it’s Sandy from Crossroads (an actor left immobile by Hodgkin’s Disease) before doing another fart, which makes Syd break again.

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Only with a segment like that can Eddie Large as Jimmy Savile — wig, eighteen-inch cigar, but giving up on the voice about two words in — seem like a palate cleanser, by way of introducing Sheena Easton. Sheena’s Scottishness allows Eddie to don the tartan, with a key sticking out of a keyhole in the sporran like a stubby little penis. He yells in a CU Jimmy accent about the singers he manages; “Barry McManilow and Angus Sinatra,” corpsing when getting in Syd’s face to call him a Sassenach. When Syd denies being a “foreign body,” Eddie counters with “You’re not blaming English workmanship for that, are ye?!” and sorry, but I did chuckle again, so just tip me into an unmarked grave when the time comes.

Speaking of death, Eddie very nearly meets with the Lord when they’re Andy Pandy and Noddy for a puppet song, with strings on their arms and a dance consisting of hopping from one leg to the other on an inflatable floor. Set to the tune of Day Trip to Bangor, it’s the kind of thing only a five-year-old might laugh at, with lines like “Winnie the Pooh was locked in the loo,” but the end of each verse sees them taking flat-back bumps on “we all fell down.” By the third verse, Eddie’s absolutely gasping for air, struggling to stay upright and missing all his lip syncing, and at the end of the fourth, surprises himself by kicking his legs up so hard, he almost does a full backflip, landing on the back of his head in a way that would’ve killed him on a regular floor, visibly having to untangle his strings after heaving himself back up.

08

Straight into another song, Eddie’s plainly reading his bits off an autocue, in a comic tribute to “those good old horror movies.” Sat on a tinsel-decorated stage, the pair aren’t even in suits, just normal clothes like they’re strolling round a garden centre of a bank holiday, and with that exact energy level. “Boris Karloff, Boris Karloff, is not nice! Very ghoulish, never foolish, Vincent Price!” Yeah, Merry Christmas, mate. This decision that “sod it, Halloween’s close to Christmas innit?” continues as Orson Welles (“I’m Orson Welles”) plays clips from his own horror movies. Famed horror director Orson Welles, who definitely wasn’t picked because he’s the only director they’ve heard of and cos he’s fat like Eddie. Still, we get vampire bride Syd, the lads adjusting the bolts in Frankenstein’s neck to make The Archers come out of his mouth, and Syd incorrectly saying Van Helsing as “Helsling.”

Most terrifying sight of all is the sudden cut to a life sized golden statue of a naked Syd Little (barring a bow tie), covering his genitals with his hands, like some bootleg C-3PO figure from the market. Eddie chisels the bow tie off — “oh dear, your dickie’s fell off and got bent!” — and then a model in a gold bikini joins them. “She’s looking very Christmassy. A party hat and a pair of crackers!” But the main course of 1980’s special is a Dallas skit, whose intro alone lasts 2 ½ minutes, parodying the opening titles, and gleaning yet more laffs from Syd dragging up. A couple of wigs here elicit shrieks from one audience member which must join our collection of wild solo reactions.

As much as the audience are suffering, Syd’s having an even rougher time, almost giving himself an embolism, tasked with voices meant to be both American and female, and in the end, just goes with his own. Considering how many American characters featured on The Little and Large Show over its eleven series, it’s as though the pair have never heard one speak, using the sort of third-hand accent you get from the English voiceover bloke at Sky doing an ad for WWF wrestling, or a 90’s commercial for radical soft drinks. Accents aside, Syd comes in early on a line and has to repeat it, and when dressed as Barbara Woodhouse, looks into the wrong camera before completely blanking. But they keep going, in a skit based entirely around the conceit that Babs always wears the same skirt, so it must fucking stink; Eddie dressed as a dog with a peg on his hooter, and so on.

09

Nothing about this ‘special’ is festive, feeling like (and almost definitely) a load of offcuts from the series. After Eddie pulls a woolly hat out of his pocket to do Benny from Crossroads‘ version of D.I.S.C.O. — “B. E. N. N. Y.” — they attempt to steer it back to the season with a Christmas duet for the big closer. It’s fished straight out of the Two Ronnies bin; a traditional-sounding tune with rhyming lyrics building to dirty punchlines about boobs, bums, and unmarried mothers. In fact, there is a credit for ‘Special Lyrics’ to regular Two Ronnies writers, David Newman & Peter Osborne. The song narrates a Victorian-set story about bastard-child Syd and adopted mother Eddie the Duchess, where we get an elderly Syd going cross-eyed at the cleavage of a big-titted servant girl bent over a tray of satsumas. A running bit here has Eddie repeatedly dumped with snow from above while Syd’s left untarnished, even when he makes them switch places. In an unintentional metaphor for their life’s work, Syd’s meant to get his comeuppance in the end, but the jumbo tub of tiny polystyrene balls barely glances past him as, presumably, he’s standing off his mark.

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 videos, my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on December 14, 2021.

One Response to “Little and Large at Christmas”

  1. […] a enormous nob and repeating the “who’s Maid Marian?/we all have!” gag last seen in the Little and Large Christmas special. He gets to show his range as Dick Turpin, with a camp, lisping voice, and clasping pink knitting; […]

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