BarrySo ubiquitous is he in his role as the deliverer of the pop post-mortem, one wonders who will step into the shoes of Paul Gambaccini when the veteran broadcaster shuffles off this mortal coil; within a few hours of a notable musician passing away, there’s Gambo to sum up the significance of the artist’s career on every MSM outlet. As prominent members of the 60s cultural revolution edge towards their 80s – and plenty are already there – Paul Gambaccini must be on permanent stand-by, waiting for the call and updating his pre-prepared obituaries on a daily basis. Mind you, Gambo is not the first such figure on the TV news speed-dial; different disciplines require different spokesmen. At one time, Ernie Wise appeared to be the go-to name to comment on the passing of a comedy great; as the original cast of small-screen comics began to drop like flies in the 80s and 90s, little Ern was always there to pay tribute. I used to wonder who would pay tribute to him when he died, and this was the point (there or thereabouts) when Barry Cryer filled the void. He’s performed that function admirably ever since and yet now the sad news has come that old Barry himself needs someone to sing his praises. What’s telling is that the dozens who are doing so online emanate from every comedy generation of the last half-century, for Barry Cryer’s appeal spanned those generations.

Barry Cryer was the last man standing who had cut his teeth on the post-war music hall variety circuit, present when it finally fell off the end of the pier; but were he some dim and distant Archie Rice character that only your granny could recall, it’s doubtful his passing would warrant more than a footnote. With the recent loss of the likes of Nicholas Parsons, Bruce Forsyth and Roy Hudd, Barry Cryer was the sole remaining link to a Victorian tradition that had enjoyed an extended after-life in the early years of television, when peak viewing hours were filled with comics and entertainers who had relentlessly trod the boards of British theatres, living out of a trunk and honing their craft in a punishing schedule of cross-country touring. Spike Milligan once advertised himself as ‘the performing man’ on variety bills, sharing the stage with magicians, impressionists, animal acts, acrobats – indeed, all of human life was there as such bills struggled to compete with the transformation of entertainment as the 1950s progressed.

Early tours by The Beatles and Stones, with half-a-dozen other acts entertaining the kids before the main attraction topped the bill, were rooted in this theatrical formula, yet if rock ‘n’ roll proved to be the ultimate successor of music hall as far as the nation’s theatres were concerned, it was TV that both finished it off as a live event and gave it the kiss of life as an armchair experience. Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Morecambe & Wise, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, Des O’Connor – you name ‘em, virtually every household name with their own show from the late 50s onwards was a graduate of this academy. And it was a tough school; one had to be hard as nails to make it, especially performing at that notorious graveyard known as the Glasgow Empire, which was the comedian’s equivalent of rounding Cape Horn. Those that did make it were the ones whose careers lasted, and Barry Cryer was one of them. But he didn’t simply stand still, pedalling the same old act and selling nostalgia; he moved on and found his niche in the newer mediums, only occasionally pausing to nod to his past with the odd appearance on ‘The Good Old Days’.

Barry Cryer’s career really does read like a biography of British comedy; even though he was only ten years old when the curtain came down on the Second World War, he still played the legendary Windmill Theatre, famous for never closing during the Blitz and infamous for its static naked girls that drew the wearers of macs into the venue. Following the likes of Tony Hancock in the thankless task of performing a comic routine between these artistic tableaus, Cryer seemed set to slog it on the circuit forever until his recurring eczema forced him to scale down his live appearances. Turning to scriptwriting as a means of making a living from comedy that didn’t require him to be on stage every night, Cryer was one of many comic writers recruited by David Frost in his mid-60s role as a TV comedy ringmaster, joining future Pythons and Goodies as well as Ronnie Barker on one of the most talented teams of scribes ever assembled for a series. The series in question was ‘The Frost Report’, now widely recognised as one of the seminal shows of the decade, not just for what it did at the time but how it proved to be a breeding ground for the post-variety school of TV comedy.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, Barry Cryer’s name in the credits of comedy shows seemed as much a perquisite as Ken Morse and his rostrum camera was in documentaries. Often co-writing with actor and comic performer John Junkin, Cryer could be found penning material for old-school comics like Morecambe & Wise and Les Dawson as well as impacting on a younger generation through his work for Kenny Everett. He maintained his relevance to those for whom music hall was something belonging to the history books well into the 1990s by hosting ‘The Stand-Up Show’ on BBC1, a late-night programme serving as a platform for comedians young enough to be his grandchildren. From 1969 to 1974, he was also the host of a pioneering example of the comedy panel show, ‘Joker’s Wild’, and underlined his association with the Python crowd via a cameo in Eric Idle’s unforgettable Rutles special, ‘All You Need is Cash’.

However, it is perhaps radio rather than television for which Barry Cryer’s immense contribution to British comedy will be eternally enshrined. He was in on that immortal antidote to panel shows, ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ from its inception in 1972; although he actually chaired several early editions before making way for Humphrey Lyttelton, it was his part as a panellist and his banter with ‘Humph’, Willie Rushton, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor that made this Radio 4 mainstay comedy gold. Cryer later admitted the deaths of both Rushton and the chairman (1996 and 2008 respectively) made him doubt whether or not the series should continue, yet it prospered into the 2010s with Jack Dee at the helm and both Cryer and the two old Goodies still forming the core of the team. Indeed, as the latter trio aged their veteran status proved to be a rich source of comedy itself, with Cryer in particular playing the part of a bewildered dirty old man. Alas, the demands of performing live eventually began to take their toll as younger comics plugged the gap in the occasional absence of the older hands; the irreplaceable loss of Tim Brooke-Taylor in 2020 seemed to suggest the end of era was nigh – and today is sadly the day it officially arrived.

I had the good fortune to see Barry Cryer live on two occasions. The first was ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ around ten years ago. Although this was post-Humph, Jack Dee was comfortably embedded in the chair and the line-up still included Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor as well as Barry; it remains one of the most entertaining nights out I’ve ever experienced. The second time I saw him live was in 2015, one of those ‘evening with’ events, located in the unlikely environs of an old church, albeit one in his hometown. He was a superb raconteur and in possession of a comic sharpness that belied his age. That turned out to be a memorable night for reasons unrelated to Barry himself, though it’s nice to think of him as a positive force pulling strings that enabled certain stars to fall into place. Even today, when I was struggling with something to write about, Barry came to the rescue again. I only wish it had been another subject to inspire me, but I guess I owe Barry once more. Nice one, old pal.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


NightingalesThe senile old man, the young idiot, and the pompous fool – that was the template Jimmy Perry confessed he seized upon when putting together the genesis of ‘Dad’s Army’ in his head over 50 years ago. He’d drawn inspiration from an old Will Hay movie, the kind that was once a staple diet of Saturday afternoon cinematic interludes on BBC2, and the kind that has now sadly been largely forgotten. Will Hay was one of Britain’s most popular comic actors between the wars and his 1937 film, ‘Oh! Mr Porter’, set in a rural railway station, established the three-way dynamic of the archetypes mentioned in the opening sentence that proved so influential on the formulation of the nation’s favourite TV sitcom. Hay had played the pompous fool that could be seen as a prototype for Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring, and it was the amusing interaction between his character and his old and young subordinates respectively that has continued to echo down the years as comedy alchemy, perhaps reaching its comic peak with ‘Father Ted’ in the 1990s.

However, five years before the priests of Craggy Island debuted on the one-time risk-taking innovator known as Channel 4 in 1995, the same station had aired a sitcom that utilised the same basic formula of the archetypal trio in a completely different (albeit similarly restrictive) setting – and one that remained far more under the radar than Ted, Dougal and Jack. ‘Nightingales’ first appeared at the beginning of 1990, hidden away well after the watershed, which was apt scheduling for a series based around the activities of three nocturnal security guards stationed at a dreary city centre office block. Entirely studio-based, ‘Nightingales’ never saw daylight and was perhaps the last TV sitcom to have the look and feel of a stage-play, eschewing location filming and relying instead upon the inventively funny storylines, the well-drawn characters, and the comic charisma of the small cast to deliver the laughs in the same way ‘Steptoe and Son’ often did in the 60s and 70s. As with Galton & Simpson’s creation, the simple premise of characters trapped in a depressive, claustrophobic environment with no escape is a classic trope of the best British sitcoms, and ‘Nightingales’ is no exception.

The titular head of the ‘Nightingales’ trio was the old man character known only as ‘Sarge’; he was played by ‘Z Cars’ veteran and acclaimed dramatic actor James Ellis. The young idiot character was ‘Ding Dong’ Bell, played by David Threlfall, who later went on to achieve cult status as Frank Gallagher in ‘Shameless’; and the pompous fool was Carter, played by Robert Lindsay, whose sitcom CV stretched back to the 70s with ‘Citizen Smith’. Although there were a handful of minor characters that appeared periodically, the main focus of the series was this three-headed acting powerhouse. Given the soul-destroying boredom of the setting, it was perhaps no surprise that the series routinely ventured into the surreal and the strange, almost as though it was accessing the imaginations of the characters by blurring the lines between the uninspired reality of such a workplace and the fantasy reality its workforce must regularly inhabit simply to endure working there.

James Ellis’s Sarge is a passive, pliable and rather naive avuncular figure, the kind that sees the good in everyone and consciously evokes ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ characteristics when delivering the occasional end-of-show summary, even concluding with an ‘evenin’ all’; it seems too coincidental that the writers didn’t play upon this even further once the former Sgt Bert Lynch from rival cop drama ‘Z Cars’ had been cast in the part. David Threlfall’s Ding Dong is an aggressively childish, thuggish dimwit whose stupidity forms the basis of numerous gags throughout the series, and though he enjoys winding-up and mocking the pretensions of his colleague Carter, Ding Dong simultaneously admires Robert Lindsay’s character in the same way a relentlessly teasing little brother sees in his elder sibling everything he himself secretly wishes he could be. Carter has echoes of Hancock or Harold Steptoe in that he evidently regards himself as far superior to both his surroundings and those surrounding him, forever hankering after a higher aesthetic existence – ‘I wonder what Harold Pinter’s doing tonight?’ is the kind of yearning question he has a habit of posing without receiving a reply. At the same time, his awareness of his actual limitations is exposed whenever promotion within the security business presents itself to him. In fact, Carter’s real dream job is to be a security guard at Heathrow Airport, which he regards as the pinnacle of the profession.

Although it has the conventional look of all the old sitcoms played before a live audience that would be rendered antiquated overnight once the likes of ‘The Royle Family’ and ‘The Office’ changed the game, the magic-realism elements of ‘Nightingales’ don’t take long to show themselves. In the very first episode, a medical student joins the team for one night only, failing to last the course on account of it being a full moon and him being a werewolf. He returns a few episodes later to perform a heart bypass operation on Sarge in the workplace, with Carter and Ding Dong vying for the honour of being able to pass instruments to the amateur surgeon during the procedure. The surreal boat is pushed out even further in an episode in which another addition to the workforce turns out to be a gorilla who wins over the initially hostile team to the point whereby they christen him Terence and are crestfallen when he leaves to accept a position as a security guard at Heathrow.

The Heathrow factor resurfaces again in an episode that sees Carter and Ding Dong competing against each other in the hope of winning a prestigious post at the airport; in order to scoop the prize, they first have to undergo a written examination of the kind we all endured at school (which Carter smugly sails through), followed by the building of a dry stone wall, which the far more hands-on Ding Dong has no problem with. The writing and staging of a one-act play completes the test – and all three sections of the exam are completed in one evening. My own personal favourite episode is one in which Sarge and Carter discover Ding Dong has been up in court for having sex with a horse; a shrink visits the premises as part of his psychiatric assessment and proceeds to hypnotise all three members of the workforce, uncovering several buried secrets along the way. Another classic is an episode in which Peter Vaughan guest stars as a sadistic inspector whose persona is so Captain Bligh-like that the story mutates into a pastiche of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. If that sounds weird, by the time the episode comes around such flights of fancy are well-established.

In the best sitcom tradition, there’s even a Christmas-themed episode. A pregnant woman by the name of Mary turns up and begs to have her baby on the premises; despite signing a contract drawn up by the suspicious team to swear she’s not an allegory, she then proceeds to give birth to a succession of consumer goods. It’s quite unlike any other Christmas episode of any other sitcom you’ve ever seen. I did actually catch a small handful of ‘Nightingales’ episodes in the early 90s (it only ran for two series), and though I found it funny I’d all-but forgotten about it until a friend bought me it on DVD three or four years back. Not having any idea of my past acquaintance with the series, she figured it might be something I’d like. Revisiting it 30 years after the event, I was pleasantly surprised at how much funnier and innovative it seemed than first time round. I now place it high in my own personal list of favourite sitcoms, even though so few are aware of it. If you’ve never seen it, check it out and join a very small albeit passionate fan-club for an overlooked and underrated gem capable of brightening-up the kind of nights that can make anyone feel as trapped as a nocturnal security guard in a dreary city centre office block.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


It’s access all areas when you’re the guv’nor – stats galore behind the scenes here at Winegum Towers; a recent glance at the viewing figures for one random day included not just the UK and Ireland, but the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Russia, Iceland, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Nigeria. A league of nations indeed! Sifting through stats is actually a good way of measuring how far one’s meanderings are journeying and gives the author a real sense of having a global reach; the daily graph of how many views one receives is another handy yardstick. Some days without a new post have higher viewing figures than those with one, but it’s understandable that it can take a day or two for a post to attract attention beyond hardcore regulars. Example: The last post appeared on the 24th – 58 views on the day, 64 the following day, and 68 the day after that. Moreover, the amount of ‘likes’ a post receives can often be disproportionate both to the views it amasses and the number of comments accompanying it. I’ve long since given up trying to second-guess what kind of story will generate the most feedback, which is why I usually just put out whatever I feel like writing about and see how it goes. You can hardly ever predict these things.

Sometimes, an old post can accrue a remarkable – and, to me, inexplicable – amount of views. This week there’s been an upsurge of interest in a quite early (2015) post called ‘Video Killed the Video Star’ – 24 views in total. Mind you, I took a look at it and I thought the theme was quite relevant to the here and now; it was an embryonic critique of big tech policy on YouTube and seemed highly prescient in its predictions. The closing statement – published on 17.12.15 – reads: ‘The way things are going, YT could end up as bland and predictable as MTV within five years, completely negating its initial intent. It wasn’t supposed to be one more promotional juggernaut for record companies or movie studios, but that’s what it’s on the road to becoming.’ Interesting that I was able to foresee at least one technological and cultural development before it became the norm, probably because YT was the platform I had the most online experience with at the time and therefore could sense which way the wind was blowing. Wish I’d been wrong, mind.

Perhaps that particular post attracted unexpected attention due to something that happened this week to my YT channel that has caught me genuinely by surprise. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason over the past seven days, a platform I walked away from almost two years ago has suddenly ‘gone viral’, and I’m not being liberal with hyperbole there either – the stats speak for themselves. On one day last week, one specific video received a staggering 49,568 views in the space of 48 hours; in just one sixty minute period the day after, my channel received 6,060 views – in just a single hour! Believe me, these kinds of figures are unprecedented for me, and they’re the last thing one expects when the most recent video posted on there appeared in July 2019 – and even then, that had been the first one I’d uploaded to YT since the previous October. Therefore, it’s pretty accurate to say this isn’t a medium I’ve devoted much time to of late, and it’s somewhat disarming to be showered in euphoric praise for something I can barely relate to anymore.

At the moment, I feel like someone who was in a band that never made it, a band that split after releasing a couple of universally ignored albums, with its individual members moving on and putting the past behind them. And then one of their old numbers is used on an ad or in a movie and it suddenly starts to sell, ending up a massive hit. From getting no more than a dozen comments on videos a week, this past few days has seen me receiving upwards of 40-50 comments a day, so many that I haven’t actually got time to reply to them all and thank people for their kind words. And, it has to be said, 99% of them are kind. Sure, there are one or two compelled to express their distaste/disgust with either too-close-for-comfort satire or bawdy ‘Derek & Clive’-style humour, and these tend to divide into two camps: the ‘analytical critic’ who spends several paragraphs emphasising how much more cleverer he is than you, and the blunt grunter who keeps his opinion to a minimum of words, one of which is usually ‘shit’. I’ve been called a lefty communist and a Daily Mail reader, which is quite an impressive combination. But these are very much the exception to the rule, however.

‘OMG. This has made my stomach hurt. Absolutely brilliant’; ‘My face is hurting’; ‘Funniest things I’ve watched in a long time, possibly ever’; ‘This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen’; ‘This is quality material the likes of which we have not seen in a very, very long time. Absolutely magic’; ‘Did want to comment, but can’t stop laughing; ‘What a find’; ‘I think you may well be a comic genius’; ‘First time I’ve ever watched these. Never laughed so much’– yes, I know that sounds reminiscent of Eric Idle’s door-to-door salesman with his range of joke-shop goods – ‘Denmark never laughed so much’ etc. – but these are merely a tiny snippet of the kinds of comments I’ve been getting and am still getting. Several have put their appreciation in the context of the zeitgeist. The majority of these videos may be old, but it would appear they’re serving as some sort of contemporary panacea when people are approaching lockdown breaking point, desperately searching online for something to take their mind off 2021 and cheer them up in a way the sterile excuse for TV comedy is incapable of in this oversensitive age. Why so many have stumbled upon my channel simultaneously is a mystery to me, but I can only put it down to communal cabin fever.

The video that seems to have become the introduction to the oeuvre for most is one called ‘Dumpton’, a pastiche of the Gordon Murray trilogy that I put together and posted three years ago, placing the characters and setting in present-day Britain. Judging by the comments of those who’ve just discovered it, my take on the series appears to be more relevant in 2021 than it was in 2018. Hot on the heels of ‘Dumpton’ is our old friend ‘Buggernation Street’. The durability of this 28-part saga never fails to stagger me, considering it ended six years ago. These days, I can often watch an isolated episode simply as a viewer, completely detached from wherever I was when I produced it in the early 2010s – and whatever I was on (WTF was I on, I often ask myself). I can laugh along with everyone else who finds it funny and I also find it amusing that many new viewers are so thrown by the multitude of potty mouths on these instalments that they assume a team of experienced comedy writers and voice artists put them together; it almost feels like too much of an ego trip to let them in on the secret that I’ve always been a one-man band.

It’s fair to say I’ve been more than a bit taken aback by this overnight interest and enthusiasm for creative projects I was most productive in between, roughly, 2012 and 2017. I may have migrated from mainstream YT to the obscure wilderness that is Vimeo, but I still produce videos of this nature every few months, generally if a funny idea comes to me – only if a funny idea comes to me, however; trying to be funny on demand would result in below-par entries in the series – besides, there aren’t enough hours in the day, lockdown or no. There’s the Telegram to attend to, I’m currently writing my first novel in two years, the odd poem is coming to me every few days that will eventually form part of a fresh collection, and it’s nice to have a little leisure time as well. I’m stuck as to how I can capitalise on this unanticipated flurry of interest when I’m not really operating in that specific creative field much these days, but it’s still gratifying to be drenched in gushing appreciation, I can’t deny it. Yet again, the consequence of shutting down society and isolating the population behind closed doors has prompted some strange and surprising developments. As Albert Tatlock might have said, ye can shove yer sea shanties up yer arse.

© The Editor


It must be a relief being Ricky Gervais, still able to express a ‘controversial’ opinion yet be insulated from cancel culture by wealth; wealth is the one thing that can save you – so what’s new? JK Rowling may have become a recent target, but when a handful of anonymous authors sharing her publisher threatened to walk unless the Harry Potter scribe was dismissed, the publisher unsurprisingly stuck with their cash cow. The fact Rowling is a profitable industry in her own right spared her the fate awaiting those bereft of such a safety net, the less fortunate upon whom the pitchfork mob descends. No wonder so few dare speak out; there’s too much at stake – livelihoods to lose, hungry mouths to feed. Harder to sympathise with those who are in a position to stand up to the bullies but bottle it. They have no excuse.

Halle Berry, for example; she went for a part where she played a ‘trans’ character – cue outrage and then shameful withdrawal; cue grovelling, cardboard sign-slung-around-the-neck/hands-behind-back/please-forgive-me-my-sins apology before the Red Guard of Twitter. She’s a ‘Woman of Colour’, FFS; surely that itself should render her immune? Not so – the positions of competitors on the Oppression Olympics league table change on a virtually hourly basis, and one can’t expect a 53-year-old to keep up. Take this to the logical conclusion and picture reopened theatres staging a run of ‘Romeo and Juliet’; every night of the run features different actors playing the leads on account of them having to commit suicide for real in the final act. It wouldn’t happen, naturally, because acting is pretending, innit – like being a real woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. Shakespeare did that kind of thing a lot, and all the girls were played by guys first time round.

Ricky Gervais this week admitted ‘The Office’ wouldn’t be commissioned by the BBC today. Imagine any genuinely funny BBC series of the past that would be, though. David Brent as a character was drawn from the real world; anyone who had ever worked in an office environment had met a David Brent, just as anyone who had ever done time had met a Norman Stanley Fletcher and a Mr Mackay – or anyone who had been in the Home Guard during WWII had met a Captain Mainwaring and a Corporal Jones. All the best sitcoms ever made drew from the real world. Even a character as mad as Basil Fawlty was famously based upon a genuine Torquay hotelier whose outrageous behaviour had captured John Cleese’s imagination when the Pythons had stayed at his hotel during location filming.

But the real world is no longer the basis of comedy produced by the BBC because the people making today’s excuse for it don’t live in the real world. They live in the Woke parallel universe they imagine is the real world because every member of their clique lives in it too. They’ve yet to twig that they inhabit a little bubble that the actual real world beyond it looks at with a shake of the head and utter bemusement. ‘Woke comedy’ is a misnomer because Woke is ultimately humourless. It can no more be funny than Matt Hancock can be taken seriously. Yet it continues to be thrust upon a viewing public whilst the comedy the viewing public actually finds funny is branded as beyond the pale; if it makes people laugh, it’s evidently problematic and therefore the audience has to be re-educated and its source of laughter denounced.

Somebody made the point recently that the BBC almost appears to be committing suicide rather than waiting for a Government to put it out of its misery. It certainly seems to be bending over backwards to destroy what remaining shreds of affection the public still have for it. The Antifa/BLM riot in Central London described as a ‘largely peaceful protest’; the now-deleted video in which a couple of posh white Woke women informed their pleb sisters how racist they all were (the so-called ‘Karens’ lesson); recruiting a drag queen to dispense advice to parents on how to educate their children on LGBTXYZ issues; playing down any Islamic angle of a terrorist incident whilst simultaneously bigging up a ‘Far Right’ angle; Emily Maitlis’ address to the nation on what it should think about Dominic Cummings; announcing £1000s to be spent on even more ‘BAME programming’ whilst axing regional output that people (AKA bigoted racists) actually watch – and that’s not even mentioning the relentless Identity Politics propaganda that has infected so much of the Radio 4 daytime output. Alas, this is what happens when the gene pool from which the BBC draws its employees is so narrow as to be practically incestuous. Auntie doesn’t so much need to be defunded as completely fumigated.

The dire ‘comedy’ output from the Woke fun factory rightly dies on its arse, but the approach has been different in other areas. Creatively bankrupt because it has nothing other than its Identitarian ideology, Woke has been unable to devise its own sci-fi or fantasy franchises and perhaps sensed all would be expensive failures if it tried; therefore, it took control of the existing ones – the superhero genre, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Doctor Who’ – because it knew there was a devoted audience who would devour all product regardless. The fact that these franchises have swiftly turned to shit once touched by Woke has resulted in the devoted audience quickly realising it is regarded with utter contempt and then rapidly deserting its beloved franchises in droves; these movies bomb at the box-office and these TV shows provoke plummeting viewing figures. Woke has drained the fun from all of them because it’s a fun-sucking parasite, yet the problem is with the audience, apparently.

Personally, I don’t give a shit if you’re male, female, black, white, gay or straight – what matters is a) Are you a good person? b) Are you good company? and c) Have you got something original and interesting to say? Promoting poisonous dogma that pits people against each other and groups us all in boxes based on irrelevancies like race, sexuality and gender is an effective way to divide and rule under the guise of ‘diversity’ (another misnomer); but some of us are averse to being segregated by minor aspects of our personas that have no bearing on the people we happen to be, so this cancerous critical race theory-inspired groupthink has to be resisted. It’s hard, though, when it controls so many of the platforms that facilitate social interaction.

Whilst reluctant to venture into conspiracy theory territory, I can’t help but wonder if a certain virus was conceived to complete the control process. The post-lockdown excuse for a life is one in which our every move is monitored and regulated with the kind of Project Fear efficiency Stalin would have enthusiastically endorsed – from mandatory mask-wearing in public to social distancing, from providing bank details if buying a drink to limiting the amount of people we can meet and mingle with; the compliant comply whilst we who instinctively resist are quietly losing our marbles behind closed doors. And I think to myself…what a horrible world.

JACK CHARLTON (1935-2020)

Ah, Big Jack. 23 years at Leeds United, over 700 appearances for his only club, England debutante at 30, World Cup winner, the most successful manager of the Republic of Ireland ever, and not averse to the odd fag before a game – blunt and opinionated, but passionate and committed; a man from a different and superior era. I got his autograph when I was a kid, holding his pint of Guinness as he signed my match-day programme. He seemed huge, like a Geordie giraffe. At the time, he had already retired from playing and had a show on TV where he coached kids without the use of cotton wool; he shouted at them like they were fully-grown professional footballers; no doubt today their parents would sue Charlton for not telling their precious little babies they were all winners. Big Jack would never have taken the knee; he’d have taken out a few players with his knee, though. RIP.

© The Editor


Anyone ancient enough may find the title of this post evokes misty memories of a half-remembered comedy series from a good 35 years ago; the truth is I nicked the title from the programme, though the title sticks in the head more than the content. From what I can remember, the satirical sketch show in question starred Robbie Coltrane before he became a ‘serious actor’, and followed a similar path to a predecessor called ‘A Kick up The 80s’, which had given an early break to Tracey Ullman. These BBC2 shows from the first half of the 80s essentially revamped the format of mid-60s TW3 sequels like ‘Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life’ and ‘BBC-3’, produced at a time when Alternative Comedy had gatecrashed the Light Entertainment fortress. TV welcomed it with open arms and an open mind.

If you perused yesterday’s post, you may have also viewed the video tagged onto it, which was my ‘satirical take’ on the upcoming General Election, using the well-oiled vehicle of the party political broadcast. Some of the comments that accompanied the video on YouTube repeated a complimentary phrase I’ve received on previous occasions, one I mention not to boost my ego, but because it has a relevance to this particular post – ‘You should be on the telly.’

The telly’s comedy schedule the day I posted this video on YT consisted of Keith Lemon and Paddy McGuinness on ITV, whereas BBC1 offered Michael McIntyre and Mrs Brown. Of course, comedy is subjective; what causes one person to soil their Y-fronts causes another to reach for the remote, but the view I personally have of these comedic offerings from the mainstream is that they are today’s equivalent of the Bernard Manning/Jim Davidson/Frank Carson working-men’s club school that Alternative Comedy reacted against at the turn of the 80s. If ‘comedy on the telly’ is what ITV and the BBC were serving up on Saturday evening, and that’s the company I’m supposed to crave, I’d rather not bother.

It’s hard enough trying to get a book published, so I’m certainly not prepared to promote what I consider to be a sideline by bombarding TV producers and then having to be funnelled through focus groups and committees; neither am I prepared to go to the Edinburgh Festival and spend a fortune playing to three or four people in a tiny theatre. The comedy circuit in terms of live performance remains a provider of new faces for television, but those who make up the numbers on endless panel shows are the Ed Sheeran’s of comedy; their ultimate aim is to play arenas, and it’s evident in their routines. For Irishmen and mothers-in-law as subject matters, substitute ‘My girlfriend/boyfriend said to me the other day…’ It’s what Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer referred to as comedy for parties of office workers – comedy intended to make the audience echo George Osborne’s belief that we’re all in it together.

This is the kind of comedy TV commissioners want. Nobody in their position today would commission something as alien to the ‘communal comedy’ mindset as ‘Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out’, let alone Spike Milligan’s ‘Q’, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ or even later ventures into the surreal such as ‘The League of Gentlemen’. Every generation once had its comedy series, though just as the music scene seems to have abandoned its old practice of ripping it up and starting again, the expectation that each decade would produce one defining comedy series no longer applies. And the reason appears to be that television has lost its bottle. Even when it tries to do something moderately daring, such as the ‘Real Wives of ISIS’ sketch that appeared on the BBC’s ‘Revolting’ earlier this year, the conservatism of an audience raised on the lame comedy of the last ten years produces a hostile reaction that causes commissioners to stick to playing it safe. The fact that an established home for unconventional comedy such as BBC3 is now solely online speaks volumes.

Yet this situation has only really arisen in the past decade or so. As recent as 2002 and 2005, BBC2 produced ‘Look Around You’, the brilliant parody of firstly 70s schools programmes and then early 80s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. I can’t remember the last time I saw either on mainstream TV; but they’re active online. Another occasional compliment I’ve received in the comments section on YT has been ‘Are you Peter Serafinowicz?’ – which is incredibly flattering, but perhaps reflects the fact he and I are operating in a similar area, the area being not merely making videos cut from the same cloth of humour, but the fact we’re online and not on TV.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many amateurish and pretty unfunny attempts at comedy on YT as there probably are on the telly, if not more; but at the same time, there are some very talented comic performers whose work is only available online; you rarely, if ever, see them on the goggle box.

Steve Riks is an impressionist who specialises in impersonating rock stars and putting them in unlikely situations; one of the most recent videos of his I watched was a short sketch in which Jeff Lynne rings up both Roy Wood and Noddy Holder, neither of whom want to speak to him. It was funny and simultaneously supremely silly, and Riks played all three parts. He’s also a dab hand at John, Paul, George and Ringo; but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on TV and I don’t really expect to. How would he even pitch a premise like that to a TV commissioner looking for the next Michael McIntyre? The days when Galton & Simpson would be offered 13 weeks in a prime-time slot to write whatever they wanted are long gone.

Opinionated news reporter Jonathan Pie, who launches into a rant on politics when he imagines the camera has been switched-off, is another comedian whose work is only known to me via YouTube. The Russia Today/RT logo always appears on his videos, so his shorts may well be broadcast on the channel; but it’s not exactly the mainstream, is it? As with music, I no longer believe television is the definitive showcase for comedy today; by relying on the tired modern-day music hall-in-its-death throes vacuum of the comedy club, TV commissioners are looking in the wrong place.

© The Editor


chaplinLong-term followers of my ‘oeuvre’ may recall a weekly YouTube series of mine that spanned a year from the spring of 2014 to 2015; called ‘25 Hour News’, it parodied rolling news channels by presenting a satirical spin on the headlines of the preceding seven days. Although most episodes have since been deleted on account of their irrelevance to the here and now (not to mention a few ‘copyright’ issues), there are still a small handful of specials available, including my takes on both the Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2015 General Election as well as a compilation review of 2014. Revelling in freedom from the permanently anxious censorship committees that police the potential for offence re most television comedies these days, I viewed everyone as fair game for having the urine extracted from them.

At the time when ISIS decided American journalists would function better by having their heads removed, I recall concocting a spoof on a certain 70s game show called ‘Muhammad Forsyth and the Decapitation Game’; I only put together the opening titles and a description of what the programme consisted and that was that – job done. The audience was in the thousands rather than the millions, so I didn’t have to respond to the kind of ludicrous Twitter outrage that this week greeted a rare comedy parody of our friends in the Middle East.

The blurb in the Radio Times accompanying the new BBC2 series ‘Revolting’ painted it as a hidden prank show, to which my reaction was ‘just what the world needs – a hipster Beadle’s About’; it wasn’t until the online serial offence-takers kicked up a fuss yesterday over a sketch from the show spoofing those horrific reality TV ‘rich wives’ programmes that I realised the series apparently amounted to more than a ‘Candid Camera’ for the Instagram generation.

The skit in question was called ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ and was, I thought, a pretty funny piss-take of both a nauseating television genre and the equally nauseating principles of those stupid enough to seek salvation by selling themselves into Jihadi slavery. Lest we forget, British Muslim women who have made the journey from the UK to Syria haven’t been kidnapped; they volunteered. And if they’re dumb enough to fall for the ISIS PR, they’re worthy of ridicule, as is the organisation nobody forced them to join. Considering the absence of sensitivity to non-believers and infidels that the ISIS philosophy promotes, why should anyone spare them the deserved scythe of satire? According to the ISIS apologists on the left, however (those for whom Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation that has blood on its hands), this sketch was beyond the pale.

‘Real Housewives of ISIS? Wow, the BBC got some explaining to do’; ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS is so distasteful. Lowest of the low from BBC2’; ‘Sick, you are truly sick in the head and morally bankrupt’ – just a small selection of the Twitter comments that followed the programme’s broadcast. I suppose the ‘morally bankrupt’ accusation is the one that stands out; morally bankrupt by taking the piss as opposed to the unimpeachable morality of the suicide bomber? One can’t help but think that the same voices would probably have reacted in similar fashion to ‘The Great Dictator’ had Twitter existed in 1940. ‘Chaplin, you are morally bankrupt 4 attacking Nazis and Hitler’!

To be fair, Chaplin himself later admitted that had he known of the Final Solution when he made ‘The Great Dictator’, he wouldn’t have poked fun at Adolf in quite the same way, but by making a movie satirising Hitler in the US at a time when America had yet to enter the Second World War, he was putting himself out on something of a limb. The great exodus of European Jews from the continental film industry to Hollywood bore fruit for American cinema in the years to come, but the stories they told upon arrival were ones Chaplin absorbed when formulating the concept of ‘The Great Dictator’; he’d also viewed Leni Riefenstahl’s grandiose Nazi propaganda movie, ‘Triumph of the Will’, and had apparently found it unintentionally hilarious. The end result of these influences was one of the first comedic takes on Hitler and the Nazis, but not the last; as the conflict escalated, Chaplin was hardly alone in mocking the Führer.

Cartoons and comics aimed at children were crammed with humorous interpretations of Hitler and Mussolini throughout the war years; wartime strips in The Dandy and The Beano included ‘Addie and Hermy, the Nasty Nazis’ (Hitler and Goering reborn as archetypal DC Thompson dimwits) and ‘Musso the Wop (He’s A Big-A-Da-Flop)’. It’s an age-old truism that one way an enemy can be belittled by those not in a position to take them on with force is to laugh at them; just look at James Gillray’s caricatures of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, whereby the physically inaccurate portrayal of Bonaparte as a short-arse literally belittled him and established the myth of the French Emperor’s size that still lingers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this image contributed towards Napoleon’s eventual overthrow, but it definitely served to make him less of a bogeyman in the popular imagination and defused the fear of him that he undoubtedly drew strength from.

It’s a measure of how effective the PC intelligentsia have been in dictating to TV companies what we can and can’t laugh at that something such as the ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ sketch is seen as outrageous. A fashionably dismissed comedy from the 70s like ‘The Goodies’ had a dig at Apartheid in an episode simply called ‘South Africa’, one scene of which features a spoof travel ad for the country wherein the Black & White Minstrels act as salesmen for the system that had its fair share of appeasers in Europe at the time. It all sounds very radical and daring by today’s standards, but this was a pre-watershed mainstream series that was even regarded as lightweight back then.

There are so many aspects of contemporary life that often seem more like parody than the real thing, and I sometimes think the architect of the present day’s culture is not some great political thinker, but Chris Morris. And, as the old adage goes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Laughter is an essential salvation at times like these, and the BBC should actually be applauded for allowing ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ to air; they’ve nothing to defend or apologise for.

© The Editor