Mick McManus died this week, alas, and remember him this way with another outing for this absolutely brilliant documentary from just before Christmas about British wrestling at its earthiest. There are some hilarious bits in it, like Johnny Kincaid being told he had to pretend he was from Barbados even though he’d never been there, Klondike Kate reminiscing about the fishwives throwing foot-and-mouth-disease injections at her, an interviewee saying “excuse my language” after he’d said the obscene word “bum” and the fantastically good value Max “brother of Shirley” Crabtree, the big kahuna in the “sport” in its imperial phase, explaining how they came up with the concept of Big Daddy after Shirley complained to him that “me whole career’s gone to cock!”. Great stuff.Read More
Been a shitty week for deaths, one of the saddest being Trevor Bolder of the Spiders of Mars, which adds extra poignancy to this big new documentary. In it they’re going to take five turning points in the career of Dave Bowie of The Dave Bowie Band, and though we don’t think he’s interviewed for it, seemingly everyone who’s ever worked with him is and there are loads of rare clips.Read More
It always amuses us when we see clips of Double Your Money and notice the category board includes both “jazz (traditional)” and “jazz (modern)”, though it is true that at that point trad really was big news, the nascent Pick of the Pops spinning off from Trad Tavern being just one example of its hold on the nation’s teens in the early sixties, despite it being influenced by music some forty years old at the time.Read More
For the first time in a while, two consecutive episodes, so it’s a completely different line-up to the last time and some belated debuts for Ian Dury and Sham 69 who we’d have otherwise seen two weeks ago, in a classic Pops juxtaposition with another Cilla flop and the first appearance of a record that, even skipping all the Savile and Travis episodes, you’re going to hear a hell of lot over the next few months.Read More
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor tonight, which allows us to mention that when it got to number one, Calendar showed a clip from its Whistle Test-inspired video and captioned it “amateur video”. In fact that video was the first we’d heard of them or it, when it was shown on Popworld in fact, and we never thought the record version was quite as good because it was a bit overproduced. Anyway, it’s included here because it started bands being broken via the internet and that rather than the major labels and Top of the Pops.Read More
Doubtless Sky Arts have shown this a thousand times, and probably another channel before that, but we’re a bit quiet this week so it gets in. It’s Bing with all his mates, including Dino and Frank and Bob and of course Dame David, suitably seasonal for this time of year. We don’t know if it’s got him being impressed by Pan’s People, though.Read More
Second part of this, where our hero moves slightly more towards the mainstream and starts penning film soundtracks, including the likes of Flashdance and Top Gun, plus of course The Never Ending Story which means we get to enjoy Limahl nestling alongside the rest of the heavyweight contributors, plus another film where his soundtrack is probably about a hundred times more famous now than the actual film. It’s the title of this programme, for a start.Read More
A full house for your PoV bingo card last week with this series’ first suggestion of launching a BBC sport channel, yet again failing to explain why they wouldn’t then launch a BBC soap channel, comedy channel and everything else, and then just have a blank screen on BBC1 for most of the day. Now we’ve covered the bases, not sure where this run has left to go.Read More
Jess Cully writes, “Nicki French was certainly our singer the last time the Contest was held in Sweden, but the host city then was Stockholm. The Contest is huge in Sweden and none of its major cities would be allowed to hog the Contest by hosting it twice in a row, hence the choice of Malmo this year. If Sweden wins it again in the near future, expect us to be either back in Stockholm or in Gothenburg.” Indeed, but even though we’ve not enjoyed it quite so much since the Beeb stopped making the scoreboard and got its logo on it every few minutes, we’re still there ready to enjoy the spectacle, and it seems like Graham Norton, for our money probably the best light entertainment presenter on TV at the moment, has been doing this forever.Read More
We moan when Pick of the Pops fritters away a valuable hour on pre-Beatles pop but we’re fine with it in its place, as is the case in this new documentary which looks at the halcyon days when British artists like Cliff and Marty Wilde nicked this all-American form of music, knocked all the rough edges off it and added a bit of music hall and skiffle to create a uniquely Anglicised product. And if it’s all a bit too square for you, after it is a repeat of a documentary from a while back about the real thing as provided by Little Richard and Chuck Berry.Read More
We’ve skipped another episode since we were last here, which means we’ve missed the debut of Ian Dury, we’ve got a bit more repetition, there’s a number one we’ve not heard at all before it gets to the top spot and it’s a very swift return to hosting duties for Peter Powell, though with Plastic Bertrand and X-Ray Spex the show certainly isn’t too shabby.Read More
This week it’s Are Friends Electric, which was highly influential, especially to The Human League who at that point snootily assumed their music was too exciting for the general public to take and then saw Numan get to number one in the charts with the same kind of thing and realised they should actually be having some hits.Read More
What happened to the comedy song? We don’t mean the two-a-penny pop parodies that ailing sketch shows knock out with dreary regularity, but the fully-paid-up, bowtie-wearing, whimsical ditty slotted into That’s Life! or a great big national event special. As a craft it was unfairly maligned even while it was still a going concern, and now it’s all but died out in the mainstream, we think a reappraisal is long overdue. So come with us, as we challenge the mighty titan (Miles Kington) and his troubadours (Instant Sunshine), and with a smile, we’ll take you to… THE SEVEN Cs OF WRY
As Pete Baikie pointed out, whatever the ostensible subject of a wry comedy song, the overarching message is, more often than not, a slightly self-satisfied “Clever/I’m very clever!” on the part of the singer-songwriter. Composing whimsical ditties on scientific subjects was a good wheeze for Tom Lehrer (The Elements) and Flanders and Swann (The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics – “Oh, I’m hot!/That’s because you’ve been working!/Oh, Beatles, nothing!”) to playfully show off their intellects. Stilgoe, of course, on top of his anagrammatic expertise, was a hire-a-wit par excellence, often called upon to compose an on-the-spot ode at major events, none more notable than his break-neck summary of Decision ’79, The Man Who Voted Don’t Know in the Election, a rhyming catalogue of the night’s gains and losses (“Commander Boaks got twenty votes/There were more for Hatters-ley/And Tam Dalyell did awfully well/So he can’t blame that on me!”) after which Sue Lawley marvelled “I don’t know how he manages to get his tongue round it!”
Well, you’ve got to earn a living, and what better way of keeping your oar in the public’s boat race than scoring a nice, airplay- garnering topical tune or two? It’s a grand tradition, from Flanders and Swann (“There’s a hole in my budget, dear Harold, dear Harold…”) through Cy Grant and Lance Percival’s topical calypsos for Tonight and TW3, to that man Stilgoe again. From musical musings on politics and consumer affairs on Nationwide to his own “musical satire without the nasty bits” series And Now the Good News (sample song/sketch – The Stilg as Natural History Museum attendant sings a tearful goodbye to the Tyrannosaurus skeleton – represented by a Dr Who and the Loch Ness Monster-style blue-screened glove puppet – due to be moved into storage). He even dipped a tentative toe into post- modern media analysis in the famed ‘Wide slot where he itemised the foibles of the various regions’ political interviewers, who, arranged on a bank of monitors, joined in live with their collective catchphrase – I’ll Have to Stop You There (“But Stuart Hall in Manchester, he gets the whole thing wrong/He just says “Shut up minister, you’ve gone on far too long!”)
It’s a golden rule – never use one syllable where ten will do. The very presence in a wry song of the sort of vocabulary usually given a wide berth by ‘proper’ songwriters provides – or at least ought to provide – a chuckle or two, so bizarre linguistic constructions abound. This may help contrive a tricky rhyme (Stilgoe’s Towels – “The Americans made explorations lunar/And they prayed the Russians wouldn’t get there sooner”), or create comic confusion (First and Second Law – “That you can’t pass heat from the cooler to the hotter/Try it if you like but you far better notter/’Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler/’Cos the hotter body’s heat will pass to the cooler”). But mostly it’s just the love of language for its own sake. Jake Thackray liberally anointed his earthy tunes with this sort of vocal relish (“Country bus, north country bus/Clumsy and cumbersome, rumbustious…”) and knew just when to drop the right word in for comic effect (a copulatory description in the excellent On Again, On Again – “Not even stopping while we go hammer and tongs towards the peak/Except maybe for a sigh and a groan and one perfunctory shriek”). Now, that’s verbal engineering of Kingdom Brunel proportions. Where’s Thackray’s Revolution in the Head, then?
Since George Formby elbowed Frank Randle out of the limelight and shoved his little banjulele in the nation’s chops, the cheeky chappie persona has been a staple of that sector of the whimsical song contingent that doesn’t hail from within the M25 or have access to a piano stool. Formby begat, by some tortuous conjugal process, Doc Cox, but never mind him, Mike Harding’s our main candidate for this category. Stripy, stripy blazer, funny face, funny face, big glasses. And, unlike Simon Fanshawe, some laughs into the bargain. OK, haunted curry house humour like the accordion-backed Ghost of the Cafe Gunga Din may not cause the shade of Noel Coward much concern, but sheer jauntiness makes up for the comparative lack of sophistication. And when he delivers the line about King’s Cross’s “street of a thousand norks” in Aussie expat picaresque She’ll Be Right, Mate… well, you’ll have to trust us that it’s with the ultimate “ooh, crikey!” expression all over his silly old face. Moving up the taste ladder, the sainted Jake Thackray wasn’t above some superbly stylish sauce. Sister Josephine detailed the life of a big burly crim hiding out in a convent (“Oh, Sister Josephine/Founder of the convent pontoon team/They’re looking through your bundles of rare magazines…”) while North Country Bus was sung with a crafty emphasis on, well, certain syllables. And Bantam Cock is a great album title. And lest we give the impression this is a purely male ballpark, there were also Fascinating Aida (and, er, Hinge and Brackett) and of course Victoria Wood, whose “beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly!” shtick may have been dulled by over-familiarity, but still, we love it.
With a small “c”, we hasten to add. While Stilgoe visibly grinned when crooning of Callaghan’s defeat, he also trilled with some relish – “One more thing to add – what was it?/Oh, the National Front lost its deposit”. Then again, any hoary old observational cliché was grist to his mill – Towels was a tower of fancy built on the ancient made-up phenomenon of Germans colonising sun-loungers, which he was still doing in the late ’80s. Similarly, a wistful air of longing for a more innocent past informed Richard Digance’s infamous Spangle-mentioning verse list of lost ephemera. And with its roots in folk and/or Noel Coward’s tinklings, the musical accompaniment of choice for all our acts is unashamedly old hat. We’ve no idea why this should be the rule, but there it is. However, if anyone knows of a whimsical Trotskyite songwriter who had a stint on The Braden Beat or some such, do let us know.
6. CLOSE HARMONY
We never understood why The Simpsons writers thought the idea of a wave of topical barbershop quartets in the late ’80s was so hilarious. Over here we’d already had over a decade of Instant Sunshine, the medically-qualified purveyors of harmonious sideways looks. Even solo performers managed to double up via studio trickery. Peter Skellern’s wry lovelorn paeans often found him accompanying himself on the multitrack in a twenties crooner style, none more liltingly than on his Me and My Girl theme. But top of the tree is, yet again, Stilgoe, for his superlative performance of Statutory Right of Entry to Your Home, a song composed in honour of a Nationwide consumer unit viewer who enquired after which authorities possessed the titular trespass entitlement. Not only did Dickie act out the part of his astonished self returning home from work to find his domicile infiltrated by an ever-increasing mob of state-sponsored snoopers, he used the wonders of colour separation to impersonate each of the unwelcome governmental gatecrashers (the Customs and Excise clerk, for instance – “Where’ve you stashed the stolen jewels?/Do you take us all for fools?” – was appropriately rendered in piratical cod Cornish). Truly, this was the apotheosis of the genre. And all to placate some miserable old sod who objected to his gas meter being read. That’s value for money!
Whether in concert, in the Nationwide studio or (in Instant Sunshine’s case) on the hard shoulder of the M1, it’s the mirthful minstrel’s job to inject an atmosphere of classy bonhomie, as if a well-appointed cocktail party or cabaret evening were just getting underway. The ironic donning of the dinner jacket (The Sunshine, Stilgoe), the bowtie (Stilgoe again) or the straw boater (Sunshine, Mike Harding) was the first step. Second, jolly musical syncopation – the chirpily-strummed banjo, the hoppity squeezebox refrain, the bouncy “ba-dum-bum-bum” of The Sunshine’s double bass. Or a bit of dainty ivory tinkling, utilising the full range of the keyboard for comic effect, punctuating the gaps between each jokey line while the audience takes it in with a brisk plonk-plink, and of course, augmenting the final punch line with a showy glissando up the keyboard, ending with the right hand pertly raised above the head in a fey lampoon of the concert virtuoso. Thirdly, the vocal delivery should feel free to waver in between ‘proper’ singing and, when the comedic moment arises, a sort of staccato spoken delivery accompanied by a sly twinkle in the eye. In fact, Keith Michell went the whole hog and delivered the Captain Beaky songs – surely the very definition of whimsy – entirely in this manner, archly twisting his tongue round that final line about “a flying um-ba-rella” while the brass band backing came to a respectful halt. That’s the classic whimsical song payoff – never knowingly undersold.Read More
The fun fact about Eurovision this year is that the last time it was held in Sweden, we sent Nicki French, whose biggest hit was a cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart, and now we’re back there and sending the other person who had a hit with it. To be honest, much as we enjoy the night itself, we’re never excited enough to sit through both of these as well, with the other on Thursday, but here’s some contractually-obliged fun anyway.Read More
We’ve now had three of these documentaries, where it turns out Dave invented the whole genre and was responsible for all its finest moments, but with a contacts book like his, we’re not moaning, as it means the likes of Michael Palin turn up to mull over the art of the comic sketch. Of course we saw plenty of The Frost Report with that one-off a few years back, though the vintage episode they showed made Frost seem a rather smug and resistible figure, a kind of sixties Jimmy Carr.Read More
Not sure where this has come from, but apparently this film documenting Wings’ 1975 tour is all new, to BBC4 anyway. This is after the university tour where they just turned up and asked to play and when they were a bloody massive band playing to packed houses. And pointing out the grammatical error in Live And Let Die wasn’t very interesting the first time, before you start.Read More
Robbie Coltrane more or less got co-opted into the alternative comedy scene as while never a stand-up he appeared in all the big shows of the genre, from The Young Ones to, as we see at ten, Blackadder, via stints on the likes of Alfresco and A Kick Up The Eighties, though by the end of the eighties he’d more or less given that up to concentrate on his serious acting in which he was equally acclaimed. His biggest cock-up, no doubt, was when he was asked to do some stand-up at Glasgow’s Hogmanay celebrations for 1989-to-90 and wrote a ten minute routine but went on too late and was still doing it at midnight, ensuring the Beeb missed the whole point of the programme, but you’d think he’d have had the wit to look at the great big huge clock he was standing next to. Apart from that it’s been a triumphant career as this show will illustrate.Read More
The Children’s ITV anniversary weekend back in January was seemingly enough of a talking point for Challenge to snap up the rights to two of the Twitter hits, schedule them in suitable post-pub timeslots and apparently they’ve even engaged Pat Sharp and Hugo Myatt to knock off a few new links for them as well. But never mind that, the answer to the question you’re all asking is… yes, we do believe the mullet is present and correct.Read More
“That’s a terrible question, Pete!” Sadly the episode on bridges ended up giving us nightmares, not just for that bizarre Joan Bakewell-fronted schools programme but also Toni Arthur’s rather unsettling stare down the camera while Brian Cant did his London Bridge song. Brrr. This is about factories and it’s the last in the series, but let’s hope for a second run as soon as is humanly possible from Dan, who incidentally also started following TV Cream on Twitter this week and therefore made us admire him even more, and we already admired him enormously.Read More
Thatcher’s death has doubtless spurred many people to read again the late and much lamented Tom Hibbert’s interview with her for Smash Hits in 1987, where along with her enthusiastic patronage of the day’s modern pop stars (“My goodness ME, we’ve got some smart ones!”), she was also invited to select her favourite pop songs and rather oddly expressed a liking for Telstar by The Tornadoes. That’s the subject of this show but it’s less about its appeal to Thatcher and more to do with how in 1962, at the height of the space race, it sounded like it came from another planet.Read More