VHS:WTF – Gulf Aid

•July 28, 2022 • 2 Comments

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch 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 videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 622,000 words 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 or some PayPal cash.

Cursed Kids TV: Allsorts

•July 19, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch 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 videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 500,000 words 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 or some PayPal cash.

Owt Good On, Mam? – Su Pollard Special

•July 9, 2022 • 1 Comment

[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.

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 or some PayPal cash.

VHS:WTF – Mr. T Motivates You

•June 28, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch 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 videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 500,000 words 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 or some PayPal cash.

Royal Variety: Part II

•June 19, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This video first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could watch 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 videos, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s over 500,000 words 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 or some PayPal cash.

Pauline’s Quirkes

•June 9, 2022 • 1 Comment

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As a one-line pitch to sell me on something, ‘chat-cum-magazine-cum-sketch show hosted by a teenage Pauline Quirke’ is hard to top. The title’s even got a pun in it! Pauline’s Quirkes debuted on Thames, on November 15th 1976, for a six episode run, with Gilliam-style opening titles where Quirke as King Kong rises from the depths to devour the Thames logo with a hearty belch. Each episode kicks off with the theme — “What’s her name? What’s her game?” — belted out by energetic young pop group, Flintlock; a five-piece who’d previously been house band on kid-comedy show You Must Be Joking, in which Pauline also starred. But as it turns out, they’re more than just the Roots to Pauline ‘s Jimmy Fallon, and that initial pitch is a Pauline Quirke-shaped Trojan Horse, for one of the Top 5 weirdest things I’ve ever sat through.

The seventeen-year-old Quirke is merely a smaller iteration of the one we all know from Maisie Raine and Emmerdale, and that thing about a serial killer which was constantly trailed on ITV, with her sat behind bars threatening “do what I want or I’ll stick pins in you,” and she seems to have been born fully-formed. I feel like the teenage me would be unrecognisable, both physically and in mannerisms, from the modern Millard, but Linda Robson appears too, and you could’ve dropped the pair straight into Birds of a Feather, as-is. From the start, there’s a lot of Python-esque wall-breaking and meta stuff, getting into an argument with the announcer and then taking a pie to the face. In one episode, everyone runs out of frame cos “there’s a sketch coming!” which barges in from the left, and Pauline will open a dressing room door to nearly get flattened by a bluescreened speeding train.

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The series’s prevailing theme is gender inequity, and Pauline does some political stand-up, all ‘how come boys can wear trousers to school while girls have to wear skirts?’ — “in the winter, the wind goes right up it!” This segues into a survey section, taken from the readers of Look In magazine, and hosted by Pauline, Flintlock drummer Mike Holoway, and Nula Conwell, who went onto play Viv Martella in The Bill. Mike’s aghast at suggestions of boys doing housework and dads looking after their babies, while Pauline reads a letter from a girl who wishes her dad would push the pram, with The Quirke calling him “a right male chauvinist pig!” She tells us that boys are shy too, and girls; “if you want your fella to be more adventurous, then tell him; encourage him, make him!

Of note here is a letter replying to the query “what would you most like to see the opposite sex doing?” from a 7 year old boy called Mmoloki Chrystie. He simply replied ‘kissing me.’” Little horn-dog Mmoloki would grow up to be in Grange Hill, and take centre stage in the Just Say No campaign. But there’s heavy focus on a very specific issue; should boys be allowed to wear dresses? In pre-Drag Race times, the very idea gets huge laughs, with Mike daring a lad who says he would to see what ‘appens, insisting that he’d never do such a thing. Asked if he can run faster in a skirt, he replies “I’d have to,” implying…? What seems like a regular opinions bit only happens once, taking on an entirely different slant the further one treks into Pauline’s Quirkes, which is thoroughly and compulsively fixated on getting Flintlock into girls’ clothes.

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With its single-mindedness, much of the show plays like those imaginary ‘forced feminisation videos’ your Alex Jones types think are hypnotising kids into using the wrong toilets, with half the sketches building to a punchline where Flintlock are emasculated; wearing a dress, crying, or putting on a 70’s comedy homosexual voice. A classroom skit about sexist uniform rules ends with Flintlock standing up to reveal they’re in skirts, while another sees sat Mike in the audience with Linda Robson, who tells him seductively “I haven’t got a bra on today,” before turning to camera with “I have really.” Mike too, looks into the lens; “so have I!” Two of the boys are gay policemen (“Goodnight, super.” “Goodnight, gorgeous!”), cuddling up and swinging their whistles camply, and when they’re cavemen, one simpers “he loves me!” after a bandmate clubs him over the head. All these early examples of shipping send the audience into conniptions.

Pauline makes an announcement that the sketches aren’t real, and “when Flintlock take part in them, they are only acting,” in one of a few bits which tread the line between ‘just a joke’ and something the band’s management demanded be written in, to clarify to their young, record-buying fans that they don’t really have knickers on under their flares. “If there’s anyone who’s a bit kinky here, it isn’t Derek for wearing dresses, it’s the writer” — but hee-hee, it was Bill from Flintlock who wrote all them gay skits!

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For all the recurring talk of sexism, and despite the title, this is entirely The Flintlock Show, clearly a marketing exercise, ala The Monkees, but needing someone capable of holding everything together. You’re never more than five minutes from a (mimed) Flintlock number, drowned out by audience screams, the air thick with the hormonal violence of first love. In every thrashing row, scarves wave with band member names knitted into the design, where CAROLINE LOVES JAMIE stretches across the seats like an SOS. “Cor,” says Pauline, “you’ve gotta admit it girls, they are ‘andsome, ent they?” It’s Mike who fills the Mark Owen/Davey Jones role, of the smallest one they fancy the most, and consequently gets all the screentime. Looking like a young Tony Blackburn, he’d graduate from this to The Tomorrow People.

With an audience 100% comprised of their fans, each appearance of the boys elicits rabid screams, crushing everything under a wall of noise; the savage power of adolescent lust and longing. As a viewer, the unending sonic exhaustion feels like being sat underneath Michael Jackson’s hotel balcony (minus the threat of falling babies), and as there’s no real difference between screams of excitement and those of pain, when they sing about — say — taking you into their bedroom and turning out the light, it sounds like when that Swedish drill team supposedly bored right into Hell.

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Where this noticeably differs from usual TV audiences is its unfiltered nature, not beholden to signs cuing applause, and absolutely refusing to quieten down when they should, leaving every reaction painfully natural. Unable to hold it in, shouts come like heckles, every sketch under fire from the shrieking of names, as though the band might step offstage into the cheap seats and sweep a fourteen year old girl onto the tour bus. Anyone who’s not part of the group feels in genuine danger, with one wrong word capable of tipping the whole thing into civil disobedience; demonstrated with the astonishing level of aggression when Pauline pretends to flirt with of “their” lads, or when it’s joked that bass player Jamie is stupid; furious ripostes cutting through the dialogue of “HE ISN’T! HE ISN’T!” Even the appearance of an actual flintlock pistol has them losing their minds in Pavlovian mania.

This demented fan energy is the juice which powers the engine, and everything in Pauline’s Quirkes is devised to milk it. Episode one starts a running bit with a shoulders-up poster where the band are shirtless, and the rumour of a full-length version “in the noddy!” which sets off an estrogenous warhead. Barely audible beneath the shrill cacophony, the band promise to bring it next week; “all of us wiv nuffink on, except our socks!” It’s here I should point out that Mike is fifteen years old, and the rest of the band not much older. Perhaps I’ll end up on the register for pressing play on episode two, which opens with a marching Pauline chanting “rudie time for Flintlock fans!” But it’s repeatedly put off until later, after another song; another sketch; with each postponement causing angry no’s and rowdy chants which quake the bleachers. If they don’t get their dicks out before the end credits, the gates of Thames Television will wear the piked head of Pauline Quirke.

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Refusing to let them play until they’ve exposed their teenage penises, the place comes unglued when she finally unrolls the poster; but to agonised cries and a collective “NOOOO!” like they’ve witnessed someone fall to their death from a trapeze — the crotch parts have been snipped out with scissors. With the air of a pilot calling for calm during a hijacking, Pauline moans “they’ve cut out the bit we all wanted to see, ent they, girls?!” until Mike (15) announces they’ll strip off, right now, the reaction to which broke every window in my street. Of course, they’re interrupted for time, but promise that next week “Flintlock live in the studio, with nuffing on at all!” “Except our socks!

It’s wild how long they milk it, with half the entire run devoted to the promise of Flintdick, and show three opens with the threat “they’ll rip off a lot more than just your clothes,” implying cannibalised genitals. Edging fans to the brink, a fake-out where they start unbuttoning is only watchable with the volume down, as a girl in the crowd audibly demands “get ’em off!” Eventually, Pauline forces them to strip or be fired — “no more excuses! Strip, strip now!” as teens who must’ve been coughing up blood when they got home are rendered more beast than girl. The trousers come down, then the pants, but revealing disconcertingly tiny chroma-key underpants, leaving the band with invisible groins, like the poster. Rather than laughing, the audience are deflated, shouts of “no!” and “off!” heard under the groans.

06

Aside from the nob-stuff, sketches are the usual; ad parodies for cat food baked into a husband’s pie; a big girdle; even a bit where someone’s blown up and left black-faced in ragged clothes. Most are hung up on a few recurring motifs. A prop gun gets a good innings; used by Pauline to kill one of Flintlock as way of a break-up, before another shoots himself in the head. Teacher Ali Bongo guns down Pauline, frustrated he can’t cane female pupils, while Pauline-as-a-burglar gets shot to death by Mike, even though “she’s a girl, burglars ain’t girls!

Almost every sketch is made weird due to their ages, filled with nudge-nudge allusions to sex, like Linda buying a manacled and nude-but-for-shorts Mike in a slave auction, and excitedly pulling him into bed, and by the time the titles roll, you half expect a writing credit for Everyone Who Got Collared by Yewtree. Many bits exist purely for the band to get a pie in the face, or soup or spaghetti or custard tipped over their heads, which I know is a staple of kid’s shows, but in this tawdry school disco atmosphere, with the 17-year-old Quirke casually chatting about booze and fags, feels like somebody shoe-horning in a fetish. Perhaps a credit for the “would you get gunged in jeans for charity” Twitter pest too?

07

The sustained delirium inadvertently turns a guest role for real-life president of the Flintlock fan-club into a very funny moment, playing to genuine silence at the appearance of the plain-looking and elderly 31-year-old DJ Tony Prince. He chats about the psychology of girls screaming at bands; a phase they’ll grow out of — to a loud, impassioned “NOOOOO!” — as Pauline invokes the legend of Adonis. “Women were driven mad with love for him and tore him to pieces, so it’s nuffink new, girls!” Although he pours tea over his head for no reason at all, and takes a custard pie to the face, continuing the wet and messy theme.

The real treat comes in episode five, where parody girl-band The FlinTarts (Pauline, Linda and Nula) guest on the show of “a couple of loony disk jockeys, called Mike Read and Steve Wright.” Punch the air? Mate, I pretty much fucked it. Sadly Ready doesn’t get up and join Flintlock for their final number, and the DJs of course nail Mike and Jamie with custard pies. But half the runtime of every episode is taken up with Flintlock’s songs, and the amount of numbers they get through — 3 or 4 a show — must’ve burned through their entire discography. Occasionally bonkers creative choices keep things interesting, like green-screening the lead singer really tiny, perched on the keyboard like a pixie, or a cover of Whiter Shade of Pale which plays under half-faded shots of hands dealing tarot cards.

These songs, like everything, are dominated by screaming, in a show held hostage by its audience of teenage girls, always hysterically into it, until they’re not; until a sketch where Linda asks “how’s it going with you and Derek?” and they react like they’ve been spat on. Near the end of the run, Pauline lines up alongside Linda and Nula, to let everyone know they’re only acting when they play Flintlock’s girlfriends. Again, this feels less a joke than something mandated in case it turned off the fanbase, with Robson clearly stating the (still romantically available!) band are too busy travelling and performing to have girlfriends anyway. “So you see girls, you can ‘ave em, cos we don’t want ’em!

08

The last of the series begins with a final battle-of-the-sexes monologue from Pauline — “we’ve tried to say a few fings about the relationships between girls and boys… but mostly what we’ve said has been drownded [sic] out by the noise of girls screaming at Flintlock!” A reminder they’re just normal boys who get spots, and that “there’s probably better looking blokes sat in the audience tonight,” sparks grumbles of consternation and livid howls of “NO!” and “WHERE?!” and extra riled, the next song can scarcely be heard. When Mike takes lead vocals atop a camera rig looking down on the audience, it ignites perhaps the wildest frenzy yet; three solid minutes of screaming and crying, with security guards lined along the front row, to stop anyone hurling themselves over.

We close on an emotional Pauline, sat on the edge of the stage bidding the series goodbye. Someone heckles “I’m gonna cry,” and Pauline replies “so am I, girls, so am I.” It’s a customarily odd speech, tearfully letting us know (in case we were worried?) that she’s got loads of work lined up with Thames and the BBC, and giving that old celebrity pep-talk “the fact is kids, and girls especially, you can get what you want from life if you’re prepared to work hard enough for it.” Derek and Mike, the two most fancied Flintlockers, surprise her with a little present, clearly expecting a custard pie, but getting jewellery. The caterwauling as they take a fumbling age to clasp it to her wrist reaches its terrifying apex; equal parts libidinous, jealous and rageful, with one of the band having to shush them with a finger. And fittingly, that’s how Pauline’s Quirkes goes off air.

09

There’s a rather pertinent observation in the last show, of “boys may be useless but where would we be without em, eh girls?” Though this was sold as a vehicle for Pauline Quirke, with its entire theme the rebuffing and subverting of gender roles and sexism, its female star was reduced to an ornament, in what’s nothing more than the Corey Hotline with comedy sketches. What really marks this out as a both a curio and a failure is the career of Flintlock. I’d assumed, due to the fan behaviour and amount of screentime, they were a gap in my cultural knowledge, whose many hits had passed me by. But in a four-year span of releasing music, only one single reached the top 40, with none of their four albums cracking the top 75. Not even a one hit wonder. Every Flintlock fan must’ve been in that studio, and only once the stabbing pangs of erotomania had faded, may it have hit them that they’d been living witness to a truly baffling, truly dreadful piece of television.

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