VHS:WTF – Football Videos

•March 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.

The 11 O’Clock Show

•March 9, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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Channel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show was one of the most reviled series of the early 21st century, by critics and audiences alike, only fading from the discussion when people forgot it’d existed. Running Tuesdays to Thursdays, smack bang in the middle of Blair’s Britain, it’s a living museum to late-90’s edgelord banter, back when everyone’s main hobby was being really rude to everyone else and not giving a ruddy shit about their feelings; you know, for a joke. Just a joke. Lighten up, mate, you old paedo. You ugly bastard. You stupid fucking twat. It’s only a laugh, not gonna cry are you, like Diana’s kids at her funeral when she died (PMSL)? Give your head a wobble. And while you’re down there…

Let’s start with the first episode, from 30th September 1998, while keeping in mind that daily satirical current affairs shows (2011’s 10 O’Clock Live; ITV’s 1997 effort, Stuff The Week) at best, take some time to find their feet. Opening theme is Morcheeba’s Shoulder Holster — “I am the news, for reasons I can never explain” — sung via animated celebrities, in a kind of Panini sticker album of the era’s news. Chris Evans, Gary Glitter, the Clintons and Monica, Gerry Adams, Saddam, Vinnie Jones, Gazza, The Spice Girls; these are the faces that flash before your eyes when you lay dying from a fatal beatdown by the U2 ‘massive heeds’ from TFI Friday.

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We open, not as history remembers; having palmed all the blame onto Iain Lee; but with the duo of Fred Macaulay and Brendon Burns. Macaulay’s opening line is immediately indicative of the show’s failure, along with its troll MO of being knowingly shit, but smugly proud of it, welcoming us with “the time is exactly 10:55, and this is The 11 O’Clock Show. On the air ten seconds, and we’ve already screwed it up!” Burns, bless him, tries ever so hard to be a punk; thinning hair gelled into spikes, tongue poked out, and lounging awkwardly on the back of the studio sofa rather than the cushions, where only a virgin would sit. Despite the anarchic air, the gags are pure Two Ronnies by way of teenage boys on Sickipedia, with the first proper joke really nailing their brand to the mast.

Macaulay: “This is the day when it was discovered that five million gallons of raw sewage flowed into the River Cray.”

Burns: “Five million gallons? That’s shitloads!

It’s a peculiar mix, tacking shit, cock and cum jokes onto the day’s headlines about trade unions and government policy, with unbearably weak punchlines; doctors forgetting what M.E. stands for; a TV show “Can Cook, But Will Vomit.” In these early days, Iain Lee’s role is roving reporter, in a jacket so big, you could unbutton it, Russian Doll style, and reveal history’s biggest suits — John Cena, Nathan Fielder, Joe Longthorne — all comfortably sat inside. Out on the street doing vox pops about community spirit, a mere 18 months after Brass Eye, from the moment he opens his mouth, Iain Lee clearly watched his copies taped off the telly until they crumbled. Aping Chris Morris with every mannerism, it’s a very Harfynn Teuport intro of “earlier today I sent out myself out to find out, and here I am now, on film.” He was notoriously quoted in an interview at the time — perhaps tongue-in-cheek — that “I take what Chris Morris does and extend it.”

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But there are no classic Morris meets man-on-the-street moments here, as Lee gets strangers to tie his shoes, pretending he doesn’t know how, telling an old man; who’s not even listening; that he’s got a very “hush hush” date with George Michael — the existence of gayness perhaps the 11OCS‘s most beloved comic motif. He tests whether people would help a criminal, asking if they’d bury his gun in their back garden, getting old women to post explicit photos of “ladies and animals” for him, and stopping strangers for a light, before revealing a comedy joint the size of a flute. Morris’s skits worked by demonstrating how people deferred to anything which was presented as ‘official’; well-spoken and armed with a mic, earnestly interpreting meaning from Morris’s gibberish — “No words, just physical action. Flatten the bugger.” But Iain Lee’s, all filmed voyeuristically from 20 feet away, often cut as soon as Lee stops talking, the second the ‘funny’ line’s out, obviously never getting the reactions they wanted.

This is the era of the in-character prank interview, in the wake of both Morris and Dennis Pennis, who forwent straight-faced ironic sincerity to just hurl savage one-liners at his victims. The 11OCS packed its airtime by riding the format, which must’ve seemed an easy route to laffs. Episode one features It Girl Pandora Box-Grainger, aka Daisy Donovan’s Sloane Ranger at the West End premiere of “rubber-faced womaniser, Steve Cog-an”s new tour. But she doesn’t interact with anyone, all after-the-fact narration over footage of celebrities, confusing Noel Gallagher for “the guy from The Verve,” Gary Wilmot for Trevor McDonald, and pronouncing names wrong; “Frank Skinner and David Bad-e-yell.” It’s possible they did some interviews but got no usable responses, judging by zingers like “there’s Goldie! Apparently, he was named after that dog from Blue Peter” and “there’s that woman inside Mrs. Merton, she’s always drunk.”

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The guy who took the prank interview and ran with it makes his debut here, interviewing Lord St. John Fawsly. Though Sacha Baron Cohen had performed a similar character on Granada Talk TV, this is the first televised appearance proper of Ali G, who’d rapidly become the most country’s most imitated persona among office and classroom bores, and Richard Madeley. In this pupae stage, he’s yet to land on the iconic look, with a 90’s festival bucket hat, no glasses, and a voice that’s halfway between the proper Ali G and Sacha’s real one, posher tones occasionally slipping in when an H gets undropped. This is more low key, with a confused Fawsly rather gamely explaining who’s filling the metaphorical roles of DJ, rapper, and human beatbox during parliamentary debates,

From the birth of one of this century’s most successful comedians to more of Iain Lee’s titting about, ‘interviewing’ Mo Mowlam, via prank phone call to Andrew Neil’s Conference Talk, asking why she’s trivialising her great work in Northern Ireland “by being photographed with that ginger bloke everyone hates?” She’d recently been pictured in the tabloids dancing with Chris Evans, but joke of jokes, Lee actually means Robin Cook! They never seem to get the reaction they’re hoping for, and Mo handles it with good humour. Returning from a break, Brendan Burns welcomes us back to “The 11 O’Clock Shoe… Show… grabbing today’s news by the neck and spaffing on its back!

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Then it’s more ideas which don’t land and dated attempts to shock. Geri Halliwell gets it particularly hard, having “stopped dressing like a tart” and adopted a “Louise Woodward look, which makes it rather scary when she’s seen clasping a child.” She supports breast cancer charities, after discovering a benign lump aged eighteen; “because she can remind people what great tits she’s got.” Tommy Vance shouts punchlines over old news footage, with hacky jokes about Gorbachev’s Russia-shaped birthmark, and footage of the Pope lying in state (which didn’t half give me the horn). Clinton’s White House covered in spunk, ‘Golden Globes’ meaning breasts; this is 90’s innuendo, where you said a double-entendre about something big and hard, then muttered “I’m talking about me cock…” so everyone knows it’s not that bad 70’s innuendo; it’s ironic. Wahey! Most egregious moment comes in a bit about smoking at the 1978 Labour Party conference, included solely for the joke “are fags allowed at the conference?” and a cut to a long-haired fellow with “he is!

We skip forwards six months, for a pair of episodes from 1999’s second series, extended from a six-episode run to thirty-two. It’s now got its own theme, with cool scratchy noises and horns, and Iain Lee’s been promoted to main host, joined on the other desk by Daisy Donovan and a pre-Office Mackenzie Crook. Crook was Lee’s some-time double-act partner, and co-writer of the sadly-now-removed-from-YouTube Penis Song (“my cock’s bigger than yours…”) from the unbroadcast pilot for Crook and Lee. Lee’s Morris mimicry is amped up to eleven, with every line riding on Morrisian intonations and disdain, and his vox pops opening on Dutch angles which evoke the spirit of Ted Maul. So too, the show’s mischievous desire to shock at every turn has been supersized.

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Tommy Vance bellows at the top of his lungs; an elderly woman being rescued from a flood — “THIS OLD WRINKLY’S OFF TO GET SOME BREAD! SILLY BAT! SHE JUST FANCIES THE FIREMEN!” and footage of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton — “OLD TEAMMATES CHARLTON AND HURST SEEM PLEASED, I’M NOT SURPRISED, THEY’VE SEEN EACH OTHER’S COCKS!” There’s an insincere apology to Bob Geldof for implying he killed Michael Hutchence; that Lee conducted the interview with his trousers down and a belt round the neck, and that they in-no-way meant to imply Geldof’s a “a no-wife, money grabbing, self-promoting fucked-up old has-been, who was shit then, and even worse now.” With Princess Di a constant point of reference, Crook plays a Diana-themed arcade game, Henri Paul’s Paris Rally, with booze glass attachment, which is noticeably spelled on the prop cabinet as PARIS RALLYE.

Lee’s street bits tackle the church’s need to modernise, asking strangers “do you believe in life after love?” and focus testing a new Ten Commandments. “Thou Shall Not Bum. Do you enjoy bumming? Have you ever bummed?” Again, the public give Lee nothing, and Daisy fares no better outside the House of Commons in dry conversations with MPs. Ali G’s ‘race’ and youth made his stuffy old interviewees over-conscious of putting their foot in it by saying “hang on, that’s a bit daft…” and the conceit of Donovan’s character was that a pretty lady flicking her hair all doe-eyed could likewise get away with anything. But it’s all straight-facedly dropping in phrases like “I’ve shot my load” hoping the victim notices, like casually answering the register with a “yes, piss” instead of miss while your mates laugh into their blazers. Tony Banks’s “what on earth are you talking about?” when she asks “Glenn Hoddle… what’s the Jackanory, is it all hunky dory?” makes one embarrassed for everyone involved.

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Later, she’s off Dennis Pennising at the British Book Awards, asking Edwina Currie and Uri Geller how they write a book, with mildly-unusual turns of phrase like “do you climb the ladder of hope?” so that Alan Titchmarsh will say “pardon?” or something. It instantly falls apart with a mark who’s actually listening or experienced in tomfoolery, as with Ben Elton. Asked “where would you like to go from here?” he tells her “the bar,” and Donovan quips “do you drink a lot?” “No,” replies Elton, “that was just a whimsical comment.” As toothless as it is pointless, the bit’s saved by the eccentric presence of Geller, ignoring whether writing a book is like “being raped by an angel” to suggest four million people stare at their televisions to psychically concentrate on “the nuclear missiles in silos and submarines and moving trucks, and neutralise them… we say 1, 2, 3, disarm!

Which quip will Iain Lee make about Uri when they cut back to him? If you guessed “Uri Geller there, what a bender… of spoons!” then a full collection of Star Wars Tazos is winging its way to you. Some skits are a time capsule of the madness of 90’s tabloid culture; say, focussing on media attention around the ex-wife of Grant Bovey (Anthea Turner’s then-husband, who once boxed Ricky Gervais on TV) who’d just gotten a new dreadlocked toyboy. It almost makes you wistful for the days of no proper news. Or Iain’s line “it appears that every day, Sophie Rhys Jones (now Countess of Wessex) is appearing in the papers with her jugs out!” This refers to a Sun front page SOPHIE TOPLESS, with accompanying photo labelled “sexy fun,” of Chris Tarrant pulling up her top and exposing a nipple for a joke, taken eleven years earlier and sold to the papers by a third party. Sophie’s boobs become a running bit.

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It’s all a lead-in for Ali G speaking to royal boff, James Whitaker. G’s fully formed here; do-rag, glasses, yellow FUBU; opening with the finger snap. Amid this pile of shit, it’s clear why he became the breakout star, with lines about how “Carmella” will never be Queen because she looks like Rod Hull, and the pictures of Fergie “sucking someone’s nob or somefing.” What gets lost as Cohen riffs over him is James Whitaker emphatically agreeing that Diana was “a very tasty woman.” And it’s not all bad, though obviously dependant on contributors being given creative freedom, as Robert Popper shows up in proto Robin Cooper character, Simon Michael Simon, getting MPs to sign his autograph book as he vomits on the pavement with nerves. “Sorry, Mr. Davies, I was sick, I’m sorry.” “Yes, I can see that…”

A real highlight is Chris Morris radio show alumni, Paul Garner, doing his man on the street routine, in the wake of Vanessa Feltz being busted for fake guests, convincing members of the public to lie so he can interview them. Big laughs at the cut to a middle-aged man in a ludicrous wig which straps under the nose, playing a government minister with information about UFOS, followed by a lady “pretending to be a prostitute” reading cue cards of her movements on the night she saw a flying saucer — “2 Hand Shandies, 2 Dick Turpins, 7 Ring-Stingers” — a throwaway joke which is inexplicably referenced in Goldie Lookin’ Chain song The Maggot. The bit culminates in dressing some bloke up as a bishop.

Anything half-decent plays in stark contrast to another directionless Iain Lee segment, surveying people on whether sex is the key to eternal youth, “or if it’s just an excuse to shoot your load over a lady’s knockers.” Though it’s here I must confess to my first actual laugh at his nonsense, as he reels off a list of sex acts, ranging from “touching the booby” to a pearl necklace, before unexpectedly producing a picture of Bill Maynard. “If it was scientifically proven tossing off Bill Maynard added ten minutes to your life, would you toss him off?” Man in Street: “I would never toss him off, no.”

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At this point, I jump forwards to the forth series, from March 30th, 2000. By now, Ali G’s popularity has rocketed, having left at the end of series three for the solo Da Ali G Show, which would debut on Channel 4 the following night. Curiously yet to land his own series, Iain Lee’s gone full Jay Leno, with an opening monologue about British paras caught taking drugs — “Welsh inbreds” becoming a “crack squad,” and “they thought the paras were the wheelchair regiment [doesn’t get a laugh] think about it…” A routine piss-taking the army, with a sarcastic “our brave boys,” could only fly in a pre-911 world, and one wonders if a certain someone was taking notes backstage on with Lee’s riff about the TA. “ Every morning I erect a tent with me bedsheet, and I’ve used my bayonet in plenty of trenches! It’s a euphemism, I’m talking about me cock…

Yes, for a “fuckwit’s guide” to the internet, here’s Ricky Gervais, with entrance music of The Stranglers’ Nice and Sleazy, and a floppy Hitler fringe. The 11OCS website had just launched, getting 10,000 hits, deemed such an enormous number in 1999 that it’s worth mentioning, with Gervais putting on a Mr. Bean nerd voice to imitate pathetic web surfers. It’s a segue into reading out ‘favourite facts’ he’s found online, “all absolutely true, apparently,” and all to eventually become material for his 2003 Animals tour; Koalas fingerprints are similar to humans; elephants being “caught” swimming two miles offshore; and a bit about inflatable sheep in sex shops. “How fucked are you if you can’t get a real sheep? Not even an ugly one?” Amazing to think a few years later, he’d be doing these bits on the West End. Naughty Ricky closes with a bit about Quincy, calling him “a nosy fucking cunt,” leaving Iain Lee shrieking “GERVAIS!” and Daisy covering her mouth in shock.

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An interview with two actors from The Bill has the expected quips about Anne Summers uniforms, furry handcuffs and cavity searches, and a very contemporary-feeling gag about real coppers teaching them to beat up suspects in the back of the van with steel toe-capped boots. Weirdest note is when DC Danny Glaze says he’d most like to arrest David Jason, for “impersonating Del Boy, badly impersonating Peter Falk playing Columbo… it’s terrible, isn’t it?” which lands gasps from hosts and audience alike. The requisite joke about being good with truncheons and polishing their helmet results in a Photoshopped picture of PC Michael Barrymore.

I’ve not seen so much humour wrung from the concept of ‘being gay’ since my schooldays, with a real “backs to the wall lads!” outside of double Design and Technology energy. Whether it’s Iain saying “ET, GO HOMO” in an ET voice over a picture of ET in a Village People hat and moustache, or a joke conflating gay policemen and bent coppers, you’re never more than 30 seconds from a suggestion someone might, hilariously, be a bummer. One episode opens on Daisy reading from then-chancellor Gordon Brown’s diary — “what the hell am I going to tax? Need ideas. Well, at least I’m not gay,” while another other closes with a joke about his budget freeze on booze and ciggies “proving he’s not a gay.”

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Not that the non-homophobic stuff’s any better, now a hundred-plus episodes into honing their brand, and proudly belching out piss-weak lines like “they say that life is all swings and roundabouts, but not if you’re a paedophile under a restraining order!” or that Britney’s starring in a remake of Dirty Dancing, “and in a tit-for-tat move, Patrick Swayze’s had a boob job!” Or simply a joke about France being smelly. Credits roll over Gervais asking a member of the public if they’d rather stab a fish to death or “get caught wanking by a girl you quite like?” This moment notwithstanding, the 11OCS credits are the most interesting section, perhaps giving the inadvertent sense of a fertile breeding ground for comedy’s new class.

Among obvious names like Cohen, Gervais and Crook, there are writing credits for Charlie Brooker, Stephen Merchant, Jimmy Carr (also the warm-up man), and Rhys Thomas and Tony Way, while among the directors, James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords, Muppets Most Wanted), and Simon Staffurth (Rio 2016’s opening and closing ceremonies). One episode lists Leigh ‘Keith Lemon’ Francis as a performer, but I didn’t spot him, so presumably a pre-record got cut for time.

Iain Lee would quit the show less than a week before its fifth and final series was due to air. Thrust into a smarmy, sneering role as a 25-year-old with no TV experience, he struggled to shake the persona, having received his first death threat a year into the 11OCS from a fan of Danniella Westbrook, after referring to her onscreen as a “coked-up slut,” and constantly battling Ofcom complaints over wilfully-tasteless jokes. As Cohen, Gervais and Crook became genuine Hollywood stars — and with the latter penning some of the most beautiful television in recent years, in Detectorists and the Worzel Gummidge reboot — Lee floundered, until finally finding a home, and his own voice, on call-in radio. After a run on I’m a Celebrity, he hit the headlines in separate incidents where he pretended to fall down a well and get attacked by an owl, having decided he’d rather be Andy Kaufman than Chris Morris.

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The first time I knew I wanted to write comedy — aside from scribbling “Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday” at the top of a blank page, only to add nothing but an underline — was the moment the credits rolled on the first episode of The Day Today. It’s only the slimmest hyperbole to say that Chris Morris’s aggressively wayward inflections, wielding language as a deadly weapon, were a life-changing revelation, and immediately I began crafting my own “old woman killed by little glass planet” style headlines, no doubt the exact moment I became truly insufferable to my classmates. That’s The 11 O’Clock Show; a schoolboy imitation, like all those Jackass videos kids made with their mates, jumping into hedges and licking sun-dried dog mucks; except the cast and crew here went out into the highstreet to do their own Brass Eye.

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.

Saturday Morning Archaeology: Motormouth

•February 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.

The Great British Beauty Contest: Part II

•February 18, 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.

Whodunnit?

•February 9, 2022 • Leave a Comment

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After my piece on Cluedo, I was recommended Whodunnit?, ITV’s previous murder mystery quiz, which aired from 1972-78, and entirely passed me by. Going in blind to old telly is like launching yourself off a high building, but at least with this, there’s a visible crash pad waiting below, in the pedigree of its co-writers, Jeremy Lloyd (‘Allo ‘Allo; Are You Being Served?) and beloved comedy performer Lance Percival. Like Cluedo, each episode is a self-contained playlet about a ghastly killing, which celebrity contestants have to solve. I’m starting my watch with an episode from 1973, fittingly for 2022’s first post, titled A Happy New Year.

We open at a country manor on New Year’s Eve 1899, as a grandfather clock strikes thirty to midnight, at which time the elderly Sir Gerard will be signing a new will. As he announces to his family they’re getting “not a damned penny,” he’s bitten by a deadly snake that’s been planted inside a safe. With exactly half an hour before the venom finishes him off, he has the butler lock the doors until they figure out the murderer, with whoever solves the case getting his entire fortune. Goddamn, what a set-up! They should buy the rights for Knives Out 3.

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From the first minute, this is several bleeding cuts above Cluedo, and our host, rather than Chris Tarrant obviously wishing he was dead, is a young, bearded, and extremely hunky Edward Woodward. It’s incredible this is the same year he was stumbling round Summerisle a blushing virgin, and yet sits here capable of stealing our mums and turning our dads. The audience too, as always in this era, is an incredible sight. Tear down the portraits and statues, and fill our galleries with screencaps of those applauding Bullseye and Whodunnit; brown suits, enormous glasses, and hairstyles you’d get prison time for today. More than just passive observance, the audience are playing along, given cards to fill out with a pen.

Then we meet our panel of sleuths. “She is delightful, she is delicious,” she is Barbara Windsor, along with actor John Woodvine, crime reporter Tom Tullett, and the man last seen trying to get off with every contestant at the Miss Nightclub contest, Patrick Mower. What’ll become clear through these is that Mower’s behaviour wasn’t a one-off, and he’s the only man horny enough to be fooled for real by a Bugs Bunny pile of fizzing bombs tied into the shape of a lady. He probably calls an ambulance if he’s got an erection that lasts less than four hours — “get here as quick as you can, something’s terribly wrong with my dashed old chap…”

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We’re given scenes from which to root out clues and motivations for our killing, and Woodward warns us not to believe anything we see or hear, as at least one person will be lying. The play’s a terrific collection of haughty archetypes, with everyone pitched at just the right level; not quite tongue-in-cheek, but hammy enough to have fun; all enormous sideburns and “you insolent old devil!” The stories are surprisingly complex, told non-linearly with completing flashbacks and unreliable narrators, and shot on visually gorgeous period cameras, leaving light trails daubed across the screen as it pans past flickering candles.

Clues and red herrings abound. Motoring clothes and a riding cape. A pair of gloves. The sudden zoom on a shocked brother caught sneaking into a room he thought to be empty. A “very puzzling swishing sound” heard by the butler, hidden behind curtains while stealing a sip of the master’s brandy — “damned cheek!” At three minutes to midnight, Peters the butler scribbles the killer’s name on a napkin, handing it to a sweaty, near-death Sir Gerard. For his prize, Gerard amends his will, leaving Peters everything, keeling over onto the desk as the clock strikes midnight, pen in hand like Chris Feather — “Sir Gerard, are ya dead?” Peters mocks the stunned family; “it does rather look like I get everything… by the way, Happy New Year.”

It’s back to the studio to figure it out, and like Cluedo, the suspects (including Roy Barraclough) are in person to be interrogated, in nineteenth century clobber amid everyone else’s 70’s funk clothing. Celebrities can each request twenty seconds of replayed footage, and Babs asks for the butler poking the fire, instinctively giggling with a “pardon me,” having been ruined by years of Carry Ons, and explaining she means his putting the coal on, and not giving it a good seeing to with his willy. During questioning, as Patrick Mower chews thoughtfully on a biro, there’s some lovely in-character touches. The butler stands when he’s addressed, and one of the ladies raises a shocked handkerchief to her mouth at Barbara’s mention of loose bodices, as if keeping the horrid stench of commoners at bay.

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With none-more-analogue tech, Woodward thumbs through literal cards filled out by contestants, while the audience winner selects a prize off a table of show-used props, including a silver tray and old books, but sadly no rubber snake or sideburns. Dear Sir Gerald returns to announce the killer; albeit not covered in talcum powder and chains as his own ghost, earning correct guesser John Woodvine an incredibly measly £25 cheque for the charity of his choice; which is still only about £310 in today’s money, like heroically dropping a penny’s change into the little blind boy on the newsagent counter.

Jumping forwards a couple of years, an episode titled Too Many Cooks has a farcical quality, with secret identities and foreign accents straight from Lloyd’s ‘Allo ‘Allo. The murderous beginning sees a chef locked inside a meat freezer by an oven-mitted hand, gazing out of the porthole like when Charlie died in Lost. After an opening theme heavy on funk flute, Woodward is out, replaced by Jon Pertwee; and the best Jon Pertwee of all; the one who’s dressed in his own clothes in the 1970s, looking like Mid-Atlantic era Ric Flair, and busily taking notes beneath the opening credits. In a brilliant choice, everyone’s placed within the kitchen set, with the panel seated at kitchen tables, giving the unusual sight of everyone’s legs underneath, as though manning the tombola at a summer fete.

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Celebrity cops are Julie Ege, Anouska Hempel, a returning Patrick Mower, and Rodney ‘The Beast‘ Bewes, who’s wearing the very tuxedo shirt that’d be referenced on Inside No 9 some decades later. Taking place at Hotel United Nations, the chef was whacked for refusing to aid an assassination plot against Nosdrovnia’s visiting president, with a cast of suspects including Stephanie Beacham and Clive Swift (aka Richard Bucket, and subject of the most arsey interview ever) as the brilliantly named Commander Blade. They pack it with intrigue — Dracula-accented chef Count Igor turning out to be plain old Stanley Brown putting on a voice, a French chef that’s undercover Special Forces, and Blade accidentally blowing the cover of a CIA operative; [Hyacinth voice] “Richard! Mind the CIA man’s secret identity!”

Even the blocking’s on point, everyone arranged in casually perfect Baroque tableaux, with suspicious facial expressions and Judas-like posture. The clues take in long-lense photos of Nixon, secret documents stashed in a saucepan, a discarded cigarette butt, and a secret message slashed in a block of ice during the victim’s final moments; the letter B, which rather unhelpfully, is an initial of every character. “Perhaps even B for Bewes,” suggests Pertwee. Yes, or Beast. Bewes lives up to his rep, pointing out his own shirt in case nobody spotted it — a shirt only someone who’s really funny would wear — before ‘accidentally’ addressing the character of Lazlo Bretz as “Mr. Breast.” He’ll repeat the gag later, to mortifying silence, and throw in a line about “getting the hump” at the subject of camel racing. Mower meanwhile, treats the show like Tinder, praising the chef’s “impeccable taste in women” after he takes Stephanie Beacham to dinner, and resting his head simperingly on a fist to opine “isn’t she nice?” I think the long white scarf Mower’s wearing is for mopping up all the spunk which must bubble out of his flies at all times like a flooded drain.

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Most shocking revelation on a replay is cigarettes and a lighter falling out of the non-smoking Beacham’s handbag, which pegs her as the killer for everyone except Mower. “You’re far too lovely to have done it.” It’s just left for Pertwee to collect and mark the answers like a teacher, and announce the audience winner, one Doris Perks, an era-classic old lady in horn rim glasses and pearls. She gets a round of applause — including from a 17-year-old Peter Capaldi sat in the row behind — plus a framed magnifying glass, having to smile and nod as Pertwee mistakenly calls her “Mrs. Martin.” As it turns out, Beacham did do it, though Mower probably fancies her even more now, like when your dad went off Foxy Knoxy when she was found not guilty.

Things get real weird when we skip forwards to 1976; or rather, 2076, in an episode titled Future Imperfect. The set design is exceptional, with shiny metal walls and everyone in big-sleeved white jumpsuits and bright white hair. The men’s long wigs last came out of the props cupboard when an impressionist said “now then, now then,” and visually, this is Planet of the Saviles. They cram in a ton of world building for London 100-years-from-then, which is a patriarchal society (or as Pertwee puts it, “women’s lib has been successfully checked”), where husbands have two wives. The Chinese took over Britain, lead by a regime called the Circle of Power, and having discovered the secret to long life, the planet’s so overcrowded, people can’t leave their homes. The only way to vacation is via a “hallucinatory device;” a VR which mainlines a week’s holiday in six hours, and is basically what Arnie plugs into in Total Recall, except just big headphones and a sun lamp, loaded with a film cannister.

06

Setting the sun to “Ultraviolet 3,” dad’s off to Majorca, but starts moaning in agony, crying out “no, no, God help me!” before dropping dead. They revive him by pulling up the wig of their android, Mr. Seven (a 5ft human actor), and shooting his battery power straight into dad’s heart. It turns out someone switched films, sticking a Majorca label over a black market thrill-tape of a savage tiger, inducing a heart attack due to dad’s fear of animals. He accuses one of his wives, even though they’ve just celebrated their plantonium anniversary, but as to the true guilty party, that’s for the celebrities to solve.

Among this week’s detectives is nutty professor and professional eccentric, Magnus Pyke, forever waving his arms and poking out his tongue, with different strength lenses in his glasses rendering just one eye enormous. Though I don’t wish to looks-shame, the gaze inevitably falls on a front tooth which is distractingly the colour of dark chocolate. Joining him is Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner; in the unfortunate seat next to perma-engorged Patrick Mower, who must live in that studio; and a member of the public who won their spot in a TV Times competition, and clearly went to the hairdressers with a picture of Mike Reid in his dirty panto wig. Though Pertwee tells us this Paul is “only 16 ½ years of age,” because of the decade, he looks like a 45-year-old chartered accountant.

07

This is pretty fitting, in an episode dominated by age-related weirdness of a society which cured growing old. The ‘adults’ in the story look to be in their thirties, but dad’s 140, and his wives 101 and 92, while grown up twin boys, Anagram and Po, are both 70. Makes sense, but then the daughter Crystal, played by a 23-year-old, is meant to be seven. “I wonder what the age of consent is?” jokes Pertwee, which even in the Yewtree hellscape of 1976 doesn’t get much of a laugh. As the Savile family join the studio for interrogations, the permanent lockdown of 2076 is so boring, they spend their time fiddling with little objects. One wife’s constantly knitting, while the other sticks paper-clip chains to a magnetic rock, and Anagram’s never seen without a drooping pair of metal balls, which he rubs and clinks together obsessively. They’ve basically predicted the fidget toy.

Further flashbacks help piece together, not just the complex murder mystery, but this utopian/dystopian future. Three course meals are served in pill form by Mr. Seven, who speaks like the guy that channelled aliens to Louis Theroux, and reminds you he’s a robot by his arms always gently swinging like he’s on the way to Amarillo. Crystal asks daddy about the olden days, “before the Chinese came,” which was a time of wars and a sinking economy; “£100 for a loaf of bread.” And now, England’s in permanent winter “after the ice caps changed,” while Iceland’s so hot, everyone lays around under the sun all day with no clothes on. That’s Patrick Mower straight off to the travel agents.

08

Flashbacks show Mr. Seven taking meals to Chinese neighbours Mr. Lim and Mr. Sung (“one of their top men in electronics”), who don’t have Savile wigs but get the plinky-plonky Chinaman soundtrack, and in a manic final five seconds, dad’s accidentally killed a second time, while re-enacting how he was murdered. A dervish of limbs, Magnus Pyke bellows questions at Po, while Mower says he’s forgotten how to be a policeman as “I’ve been playing lots of lovers lately. I’d be better off asking Lindsay a few questions…” Directing his query to “pretty Crystal,” you can forget horny jail; if there’s a horny death row, get him in cuffs. I mean, the next thing out of his mouth is a lusty “you’re seven years old? Good job she’s sitting over there; I might get arrested!

09

Even Magnus is at it, gesticulating like he’s on fire and raving how food will never be in pill form, adding “I can believe in Crystal. Girls are maturing younger, and by that time, they may be on the go at seven!” The android improvises a line about a “bionic headache,” which gets a big laugh, used as cover by Mower to needlessly paw at Lindsay’s shoulder in amusement. It’s revealed Mr. Seven was hacked by the Chinese lads, (or as Pertwee says “the cunning Chinese”) because dad was putting “reactionary views” in his newspaper. When fingered, Mr. Seven self-destructs in a pop of sparks and smoke, and of note, the actor under Seven’s wig, Paul Marten’s IMDB page contains the following catchphrases under ‘trademarks’: “I say, what a smasher!” and “Wotcher, Tosh.” The former could rightly describe Whodunnit?, which turns out to be one of those things which is really great rather than terrible, albeit with Patrick Mower’s insatiable drive to fuck everything in sight. And where else could you see a thirteen-year-old competition winner sat next to Yootha Joyce, who’s puffing away on a cigarette, as they attempt to ascertain which monk slaughtered his fellow brother?

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.

Saturday Morning Archaeology at Christmas

•January 24, 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.

 
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