Owt Good On, Mam? – Su Pollard Special

[previous OGOM: The Three L’sBear SpecialWhen Game Shows Had The HornCelebrity Helpers]

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Though she’s an ever-present reference, even taking a small but pivotal role in a Patreon novella, I’ve yet to really dig into… not so much the career, but the existence of Su Pollard. The dress sense of a bird of paradise in a holding cell after a hen night got out of hand, and an energy that’s pure bedlam, Su is a cartoon character brought to life — ironically going onto voice Penny Crayon, whose magic pens did exactly that. There’s not enough server space on the internet for me to go through all her singles, adverts, and mayhem-inducing appearances, but we can look at a couple of lesser known pieces from the SuP back catalogue, starting with a co-host gig on 1980’s The Great British Striptease.

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The quality of the rip is black market, a fuzziness indicating several generations of copying, and particularly given the subject matter, it feels acquired from under the counter of a man whose penis can be smelt through his jeans. Incredibly, this was released theatrically (under an X certificate), and played as the B-picture to Dawn of the Dead for one of the great double bills. Explaining its grottily workmanlike visuals, director Doug Smith otherwise plied his trade with industrial marketing films for milk, the Post Office, and British Gas, including 1982’s Gas Engines at Shad Thames, documenting the water pumping station which sluiced London’s piss and turds. And what better practise for shooting our host for the evening, Bernard Manning?

I’d probably have switched off in rage had David Rose’s iconic The Stripper not opened the show, sleazily c’mere-ing us into proceedings with a lightbulb-shaped font which bleeds together due to the poor quality, and peppered with leering wolf whistles and cheers from the attending crowd. Notably, it’s listed as the “first annual” event of its kind, but seems to have been a one-off; no doubt due to being absolutely appalling.

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Speaking of, there he is, big Bernard; “how lovely to be in Blackpool. I’m here to tell a few nice clean stories…” A sweat-soaked bear of a man, with eyebrows and hair like something glued to a pumpkin in a village scarecrow contest, pink sleeves visible under the creeping cuffs of a jacket fighting for its life, his opener is about Johnny Rotten (“the punk rocker”) teaming up with Ronnie Barker — “it’s goodnight from me and bollocks from him.” This is classic ‘televised from Blackpool’ sub-Vegas glitz; audience sat round dimly-lit dinner tables, house band on stage, the percussionist of whom Bernard implies is fucking his own drum.

As an MC, he’s got the presence of a man who only came along to see how shite it was. He promises some nice girls for us, with jokes about “one big girl (who) doesn’t have a g-string, but a hammock,” and then the usual; Irish, Pakistanis, a man who’s banging away on some crumpet. As noted before, for a supposed master of his craft, you only need watch two Bernard Manning performances to have heard all his jokes twice, and he wheels out the “not many Pakistanis knocking about since the Chinese found out they taste like chicken,” plus one about Jimmy Savile going through a windscreen.

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But he’s not why we’re here. “You’d have to be a leper to want to sleep with this one, believe you me,” he says, by way of introduction for assistant host Su Pollard, who’s dressed as a 1920’s flapper in a blue feather hat and green boa, and waving with a cheeriness which seems out of place for such a tawdry festival of knockers; “hello everybody!” For this “great British event” (the words of Bernard Manning), 16 women will be whittled down to a Striptease Queen, who’ll receive the grand prize of £500; which Bernard, physically unable to stop bragging about his vast wealth and success, will later sneer at — “£500, I light the fire with that every morning.” Though he requests big rounds of applause for the girls “cos they’re housewives, dental receptionists, typists, goodness knows what,” half the field have acting credits in 70’s sex comedies or saucy sketches for the Two Ronnies, and one was a Hill’s Angel.

To best get through a crowded field, the ladies come out in pairs, with one of each advancing to the semis. The first twosome really lets you know what you’re in for, as Julie and Linda strip to the Pink Panther theme, one in a dress, the other in school uniform. Perhaps the latter’s in character, as she perfunctorily hikes down her skirt like changing for a PE lesson she’s been dreading. Her opponent too, takes stripping to its dictionary definition; no teasing, no dancing; just two women undressing like they’re getting into bed at the end of a long day, occasionally twirling to fill the allotted three minutes. The others do put more effort in, with audible “whooa!” hectoring when the arses come out. The first routine ends with a horrible reveal that Bernard’s been sat at the side of the stage in an armchair the whole time; the cuck position beside the bed; and most likely staying seated, hunched over and reading off a clipboard, solely because he’s got a stub on. A passing spotlight will briefly illuminate Su sat at the back too, next to the band, and getting an eyeful right up it. Her main role is to run onstage with a linen basket between dances and retrieve the discarded clothes (“me mother thinks i’m babysitting”).

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Through the night, a couple of minor moments are slotted in as added drama, presumably those credited under ‘story format’ to John Junkin. One girl no-shows, with Bernard asking for a volunteer from the audience, though from her confident, well-practised moves, including the old ‘dragging the clothes back and forth under your vag like you’re polishing it’, this girl’s a pro. Her opponent is the festival’s sole black entrant, the (incredibly beautiful) Lucienne, who walks past Bernard as he remarks “looks like Charlie Williams in drag, that one, fookin hell…

First round routines continue apace; Bobbi’s in a feather boa, smoking a cigar; Gloria and Vicky Egyptian dance to Hava Nagila as Bernard cries “oy vey,” a gold tassled bra tangles up in hair; ladies gerremoff to Tequila from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and music you remember from Back to the Future‘s prom; one does naked splits. Many have a single dance move — hips going side to side, or shifting from one foot to the other — which has to last them the entire song. Some couplings undress each other, occasionally resembling the moment Jerry Seinfeld tried to wrangle Kramer out of tight jeans, with knickers snagging on a stiletto. Bernard fist-pumps the air when two bare fannies almost touch.

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The judges seem to be random blokes in the audience, and Su wanders out to collect their cards, while the big man does more jokes — gypsies, gays, the Irish, Stevie Wonder, (“What’s it like being blind? Could be worse, I could be black”) and the Flowerpot Men if they were drunk. There’s a brief shot of Su gathering up the voting slips, and reacting angrily at one, slamming it down on the table as the camera immediately cuts away. Bernard’s wittering feels like someone filling time for technical reasons, and though the show had a live audience, and is already edited for cinemas and video, a massive chunk has everyone stood around waiting for ten minutes. Su sticks the votes in the slot of a giant prop computer, while some boffin crouched behind must be adding them up with a bookie’s pen, as Bernard takes a random dig at Max Bygraves; “he’s about as funny as bleedin’ toothache, that fella,” before a joke about an Irishman and a UFO with the punchline “close encounter of the turd kind!

Even with all the tits and bums wobbling about, Bernard crowbars his politics in at every turn, with about a dozen references to World War 2, constantly harping on about how “we” beat the Germans, and welcoming some supposed audience members — “our German friends” — by telling the “Nazi bastards” to piss off, which inexplicably fires up Su into whistling and cheering for “More! More!”There’s even a bit where one girl’s late, running out partway through and hurriedly whipping them off, seemingly just so Bernard can identify her as American, “and they were late in 1939!” Apropos of absolutely fuck all, the working class hero tells us “it doesn’t matter if you vote Labour or Liberal, it’s like changing deckchairs on the titanic.”

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Su drags out the lucky semi-finalists for a chat with Bernard — “if you’re gonna drown those two pups, I’ll have the one with the pink nose” — which he mostly uses for more jokes. From one lady, he demands a kiss (“give us one, cos you’ve got a lovely face, you”), so enamoured, outright announcing he hopes she wins, and enquiring “is there any chance of me giving you one later on?” But never remembering to put the mic to contestants’ mouths, we don’t hear a word they say, and sometimes he can’t read the handwriting on their entrance forms either. One saunters back to the line under his commentary of “she’s a gorgeous little bit of stuff, this.”

There’s a horrible knowing look off him as Lucienne comes out for her turn, and he patronisingly consoles her. “See, a lot of people like you out there?” The word ‘despite…’ must be fighting to get out, reeling measurements off her file, with an assuring “you’re very nice, my love,” before adding “and Enoch Powell says at the bottom of this… ‘bollocks!’

During the next round of voting, Su and Bern duet on The Lady is a Tramp, a song which upsettingly burdens us with the mental image of a sexual relationship between Su Pollard and Bernard Manning, and more than a hint of those inflatable bucking broncos in bars on Spanish holidays. Bernard’s got a face on him the whole way through like “fookin’ state of it,” and like all club comics, with five singles to his name, considered himself a proper singer. The performance is peppered with voyeuristic cutaways to contestants milling about naked backstage; chatting, preparing, waiting, as the screen pans down to their nude arses. All that’s left is the results, with more gags; more references to WW2; to “black bastards” and again, Enoch Powell. There’s a big whine of feedback, then Su tells a decent joke about a man who cums every time he sneezes. “What do you take for it?” “Snuff.” This gets no laugh either from the audience or Bernard, who steps over it with one of his own about a test tube baby.

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The podium finishes come in, with third place getting fifty quid, although “the money really makes no difference, as she’s a gorgeous bit of stuff.” Second place weirdly refuses to tell Bernard her hobbies, while he admonishes a woman in the audience with “I bet your mouth bleeds every 28 days, dunnit?” Each placed contestant strips again, cuing the film’s first use of slo-mo, five minutes from the end, to enliven a shot of some boobs bouncing up and down. Lucienne deservedly takes the top slot — up your hole Bernard — as he merely proffers a quick “the number one in Great Britain,” before waddling offstage, having gushed over the others with “if I could’ve fiddled it, you really are a lovely girl” and such. He pretends to strip during the end credits, coquettishly pinging loose a brace, before being swarmed by the contestants who try to wrestle his trousers down. This too is under The Stripper, but with monumental laziness, reuses the audio track from earlier, complete with Bernard’s instructions about voting before the interval.

Mercifully Bernard-free is Su Pollard vehicle, 1988’s unbroadcast HTV sitcom pilot, According to Daisy. When I hear the words ‘Su Pollard sitcom’, I’m thinking ultra-wacky; something suiting her personality, like Su in space or at the circus, or a trickster type travelling through time to interfere in history while wearing massive glasses. Sadly, Daisy is perhaps the least original pitch ever floated, with the class collision from 90% of all sitcoms, where a flighty loudmouth is forced, through circumstances, to live with an uptight posho, along with the “Male nanny?! Are you out of your tiny mind?” trope from The Upper Hand etc.

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Daisy was written by Jan Butlin, who penned a raft of improbable-sounding ITV sitcoms, including That Beryl Marston, Two D’s and a Dog, and the Derek Nimmo triptych, Hell’s Bells, Third Time Lucky, and Life Begins at Forty, boding badly that not a single living soul remembers these shows existed. Su — of course — sings the theme tune, over credits of her pestering strangers in an extremely Su Pollard way, bothering a street juggler and pushing a cake into a lady’s face. The outfit is phenomenal, with a hat that would fly about 100 miles if you slung it like a frisbee, while her quirky personality is represented by a fried egg dotting the i in the logo.

Su’s character is a journalist, tapping away on a computer so comically ancient, she probably prints her pieces on stone tablet. The enormity of the set dates this as one of those shows where a single monthly newspaper column pays for a six bedroom house, though we learn she’s a celebrity columnist, akin to an Eve Pollard/Carole Malone type, seen on the cover of the TV Times and fresh off an appearance on Wogan. The plot kicks off with a furious nanny storming into the home office. “I’ve had it up to here with your terrible kids, goodbye,” plus the classic sitcom padding “adieu, adios, cheerio, ciao, ta-ta, toodle-pip, fare thee well!

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The segue to scene two reveals what makes Daisy so special, as even the incidental music is sung by Su. Big, camp musical style, this is initially confusing, like ‘are we hearing her thoughts?’ and the lyrics provide abstract narration for what we’re seeing, in a one-woman Greek chorus. It’s rather apt for a Su Pollard sitcom to never give you a second’s quiet, with every moment between the action rattling your speakers as she absolutely belts it out. As her voice destroys your ears, so her clothes will wreck your eyes, never not spectacular, and in the most visually lurid of decades. She’s got the style of an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon about a 40’s noir detective, with zoot suit colouring and shoulders to match; big headwear, lobe-stretching earrings, and eyeshadow like Pattison’s Batman, all weighed down with bangles, Swatches and pearls.

There seem to be hundreds of kids milling about the house in fancy dress; horse riders, boxers, American footballers. There are punks and a boy in an army helmet, a girl in a business suit, plus a real dog and tortoise. The décor’s like someone using every cheat on The Sims, with bikes and skateboards being ridden across crazy tiled floors, a jukebox in the corner, bunting on the walls, and mad hamster runs stretching out of frame. We’ll later find just four of these are her children. Twice divorced, she’s got two pairs of kids; an older son and daughter — him a punk with a big mohawk and a LEAVE ME ALONE shirt, and her dressed like Cindi Lauper — and a younger brother/sister pairing. It’s in this maelstrom, Su running round with burning toast going “oh god!” that she takes out an ad in The Times for a new nanny.

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Cut to Gordon Jackson in a bowler hat, newspaper under the arm, receiving a respectful applause of recognition. With a Harvey Denton-level fixation on cleanliness, ironing the newspaper, he exposition-ly moans about being “thrown on the scrapheap after 35 years.” Just as Dusty Rhodes warned, a computer took his place, daddy. Also, the whole time, he’s addressing a silent, offscreen Clara, eventually revealed to be a stuffed, dead canary. He applies for the ad, and is soon stepping off the train, umbrella crooked over an elbow, under a Su soundtrack of “I’ve got a feeling there’s a miracle due! It’s gonna come true! It’s coming to meeeeee!” It’s almost a complete song, over shots of the city of Bath and Jackson making his way to Su Towers, a full-on country mansion; three floors, dozens of rooms. What the hell has she been writing; the one true name of God?

The opening credits really wrong-foot the viewer, with an immaculate Jackson solemnly moving through a vast estate, while mad Su slides down the bannister and pulls a face like you’re gonna get a song about a ruptured minge. Yes, of course, she’s the commoner with a skiddy toilet and he’s the lord of the manor; but no, it’s Daisy letting him into her luxury life. On Jackson’s arrival, mouths agape; his at the son fixing a motorbike outside; Su’s at the very idea of a male help. But he uses Su’s famed views on equal opportunities against her, winning her over by slinging Punk Son’s blaring record out of the window, and when the lad discovers Jackson will be cooking, he asks “are you gay or something?” “Gay? I rarely even smile.” Here, the Su-track kicks in — there may be trouble ahead…

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Along with all the culture-clash, there’s some classic sitcom farce, as Su’s Tory nobber ex-husband turns up right when her date’s due, forcing Jackson to keep ’em distracted so they don’t meet. This is when the soundtrack really shines, with Su making her way downstairs in a date outfit to “I like dressing up, for an evening ball or a special brawl, in a panty shawl and my silly, silly frock! And I go nicky-nacky-knock, nicky-nacky-knock!” Then when returning well-after midnight, a bracing Mad About the Boy. By the close of the episode, they’re already halfway to the inevitable ‘they might be opposites, but Su and Gordon Jackson grow to love each other,’ though with the age gap I’d imagine it would’ve been a father/daughter relationship had it gone full series. The final line gets a big cheer, as she says she never imagined he’d be looking after her as well as the kids; “well it’s a funny thing, madam, but… I did.” They continue to chat amongst themselves under the deafening credits song (singer one S. Pollard), like newsreaders.

Su’s chaotic energy renders her inherently watchable in absolutely anything, but According to Daisy is pure stinky 80’s MOR sitcom, where in lieu of jokes, everyone spends thirty minutes trading weak insults and similes, and occasional wordplay like this:

Oh ‘eck, it’s he

He, who he?

You can speak Chinese!

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The most interesting aspect by far is the music, and had this become a proper show, an album or two certainly would’ve emerged. But Gordon Jackson died soon after filming, and though there were plans to restart with Jeremy Brett taking the role, it never materialised. Unsurprisingly, given it evokes the West End, with a big closer “he took me as he found me, and I found I took to hiiiiim,” the main theme’s composed by the team of Stiles and Drewe, known for their work on stage musicals. Oddly, given its pedestrian trappings, there’s really been nothing like this, before or since; Pebble Mill Flight Of The Conchords, and fronted, as the best things always are, by Su Pollard.

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 July 9, 2022.

One Response to “Owt Good On, Mam? – Su Pollard Special”

  1. I very briefly came across Su Pollard, in Blackpool believe it or not, decades ago in my youth, around the time of the above described. I didn’t even in fact recognise her as she had her hair very long and wore glasses that were not designed to attract attention, and was reticent-seeming and softly spoken, proving perhaps that her public persona as an extrovert, loudly dressed and voiced comic performer was mere shadow boxing, as her dream to become a lead in her own sitcom-type show, as it was with her best known role as Peggy the chalet maid wanting to be a Yellowcoat in the now dated and rather forgotten 80’s sitcom Hi-De-Hi, was destined to end in failure.

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