Category Archives: Entertainment

You’re Having A Laugh…

George Cheyne: Glasgow, February 2022

Getting a laugh out of TV audiences has always been a serious business for comedians.

But some of them were taking the Mick in the Seventies with their stereotypical gags about the brainless Irish, the tight-wad Scots and the sheep-loving Welsh.

Back then, a comic could even throw in a close-to-the-bone racist joke if they were looking for a cheap laugh.

Sometimes they got one. But more often than not the stand-up routines on TV shows like The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club were rank.

We’re talking comedy mould here rather than comedy gold.

I say this without the benefit of hindsight or nigh-on 50 years of enlightenment because I remember not finding these shows funny at the time.

God knows I wanted to. I’d suffered through sitcoms like Till Death Us Do Part, On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Bless This House and could have done with some cheering up.

But The Comedians and Wheeltappers didn’t do it for me.

Maybe it was the crushed velvet suits, frilly shirts and big ties of the former and the annoying fire bell used for announcements by host Colin Crompton in the fake social club of the latter.

Whatever it was, there was no danger of me forming any laughter lines on my face.

There seemed to be a pool of comedians who put in a stint on both shows including such, ahem, luminaries as Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Mike Reid, Russ Abbot, Charlie Williams, Jim Bowen, Duggie Brown, Ken Goodwin and Crompton himself.

The format was to stand up there in front of the TV cameras, rattle off as many quickfire gags as possible and then giggle inanely in case the audience didn’t get the punchline.

The jokes leaned heavily towards the sexist, racist and downright offensive variety – and if you were a black, Irish mother-in-law you’d have been well advised to duck behind the sofa.

I came across a trailer for The Best of the Comedians on You Tube recently which goes a long way to proving my point about the programme being well short of quality humour.

It lasts just one minute 19 seconds yet manages to squeeze in four Irish jokes along with a Red Indian reference.

Now before I give you some examples from the trailer for the “Best Of” – their words, not mine – I think it’s only fair to warn you to hang on tight to your sides in case they split. 

Bernard Manning:

“The Irish have just invented a new parachute…opens on impact!” 
…. Badum tish!

Jimmy Marshall:

“This fella goes to a palmist in Blackpool and says, ‘I want my hands read’…so she hit him with a hammer!” 
…. Badum tish!

George Roper:

“Two Irish fellas walking along and Mick says, ‘Me feet are killing me, I just bought a new pair of wellies’…so leave them off till you get used to them!” 
…. Badum tish!

Duggie Brown:

“Kids are funny, aren’t they? My little girl said to me, ‘Dad, what would you get if you crossed Larry Grayson with a Red Indian and Tommy Cooper?’ and I said I don’t know. She said, ‘You get somebody who says Shut that door…How?…Just like that!’ ” 
…. Badum tish!

Colin Crompton:

“There’s this Irish fella goes into a hospital A&E department with blisters all over his feet and his legs and the doctor asked, ‘How did you do that?’ and he says it was opening a tin of soup…it says stand in boiling water for 10 minutes!” 
…. Badum tish!

Now, I totally get that this sort of guff was of its time, a reminder of a bygone era.

But to get some perspective, you only need to recall what else was happening on the comedy scene back then.

At the same time The Comedians and Wheeltappers were churning out their dodgy gags, there was a certain Mr Billy Connolly making a name for himself.

He’d brought out his Live album in 1972 – a mixture of songs and funny stories – and followed it up two years later with the hilarious Cop Yer Whack For This.

Here was a comedian who could give you a proper belly-laugh with observational and physical comedy – and no need to bang out questionable gags one after the other.

Timing, they say, is everything in comedy and the Big Yin proved to be a master of his craft by taking his time to get it right.

While the established Seventies TV comics were firing out their 15-second jokes, he would happily take 15 minutes to showcase his talent with something like the legendary Crucifixion sketch.

You can just imagine that work of genius in the hands of someone like Bernard Manning…

“This Jewish fella walks into a bar in the Gallowgate and tells the barman to get everyone a drink. Two old guys sitting in the corner turn to each other and Jimmy says, ‘That’s amazing, I’ve never bought a drink for anyone in my life because I’m Scottish, yet that Jesus guy’s getting a round in. What do you make of that?’…It’s a miracle!” 
…. Badum tish!

Some of the establishment comics had the temerity to have a go at Connolly’s routine but he had the last laugh as he left them eating dust on his way to the top.

He was propelled on that journey, of course, after his ground-breaking 1975 appearance on the Michael Parkinson show…and that joke. You know the one…

“How’s the wife?
Oh, she’s deid..oot the game. I murdered her. I’ll show you if you want.
So he went away up to his tenement building, through the close – that’s the entrance to the tenement. And sure enough there’s a big mound of earth…but there’s a bum sticking out of it.
He says, ‘Is that her?’
Aye, I says.
‘Why did you leave her bum sticking out?’
Well, I needed somewhere tae park my bike!”

Irreverent? Probably.
Risky? Undoubtedly.
Funny? You bet your ass!

the big yin and me.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.

Not that we’ve ever met.

I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!

It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.

You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.

Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.

There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.

Billy promoting his stint at The Pavilion.

My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.

We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.

We must have stood out like sore thumbs.

I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).

A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.

The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.

Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.

This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.

A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.

He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.

I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.

It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.

We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.

Billy takes over The Apollo.

His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.

In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.

That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.

If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.

There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.

The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).

A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.

The Glasgow Mafia – 1975

If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.

A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!

I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.

Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.

He was simply making the most of his opportunities

As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.

Billy, Robin Wlliams & Dudley Moore.

There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.

I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.

Richard Pryor doing his thing.

I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.

And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!

If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??

On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.

There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.

As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.

I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.

When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.

You’re welcome!

Radio Ga Ga

George Cheyne: Glasgow, Dec 2021

We’ve all experienced those awkward few seconds of satellite delay after being asked a question from left-field.

You know the type…
What time did you get in last night?
Where did you leave the car keys?
How much were those new shoes again?

A self-defence mechanism usually kicks in as you punctuate the silence with an “ehh…” here or an “erm…” there while formulating your response.

Now, imagine you were going to make your debut on live radio and the only brief you’d been given was never, and I mean NEVER, allow any dead air.

That was the situation I found myself back in 1977 when I was asked to cover a Clydebank-Hibs game for Radio Clyde in my days as a local newspaper reporter.

It was no biggie, they said. A wee pre-match chat with presenters Richard Park and Paul Cooney, throw in some team news, another chat at half-time, phone in any goal flashes and then a full-time wrap, as they say in Radioland.

Park
Cooney

The producer, on hearing it was to be my first time doing a live broadcast, then gave me my pep talk about making sure there was no dead air.

“Just remember, George, radio silence might be good in war-time…but it’s no effin good any other time.

Fair point well made.

I turned up at Kilbowie Park in plenty of time, got settled in to my seat in the left-hand corner of the social club – which doubled as a press box on match days – overlooking the pitch and pored over the team sheet when it was handed out an hour before kick-off.

This information would form the basis of the pre-match chat so I duly noted the changes in both sides from the week before, made a few notes and – as it was November 5 – dusted off a few Guy Fawkes Night puns.

You know the ones…the Bankies will have to light a bonfire underneath themselves if they’re going to get out of relegation trouble, Hibs have a few sparklers of their own up front today and Clydebank boss Bill Munro will be hoping he doesn’t have to give his side a rocket at half-time after falling behind to an early goal again.

Bill Munro and his team

I was ready as I’d ever be and put in the call to Radio Clyde HQ and spoke to the producer.

“We’ve got a few minutes before you’ll be on,” he said, “They’re just starting to go round the grounds just now. By the way, how do you pronounce your surname?”

It’s Cheyne, as in gold chain.”

“Really?…okay then. Stay on the line and you’ll hear a click just before you’re due to go on.”

I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to prepare for any curve-ball questions which might be coming my way – and so avoid the dreaded dead air.

Click. This was it, my live radio debut…..

And now we’re off to Kilbowie Park where we can speak to our reporter George Shyann ahead of the Clydebank-Hibs game. Tell us, George…which way is the wind blowing at Kilbowie today?

If I’d prepped for a week solid I could never have anticipated that question. Left-field doesn’t begin to cover it.

A trickle of sweat meandered its way down my back as I looked out the social club window for a clue, any kind of clue – about which way the wind was blowing.

Nothing, not a damn thing. Meanwhile, I had broken the world record for the number of times anyone has uttered the “ehh…” and “erm…” sounds on live radio.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to blurt out: “It appears to be swirling all around the ground.”

“Ah, well, and what’s the team news today, George?”

I was completely thrown by the question about the wind and went on auto-pilot to read out the teams, formations and changes.
No Guy Fawkes references, no witty chat…nothing.

The call ended, I slumped back into my seat and and said a silent prayer for a 0-0 game so I wouldn’t need to go back on to tell the waiting world about any goal flashes.

No such luck. Clydebank scored through Billy McColl before half-time and I had to put in the call.

Click. “And we’re off to Kilbowie where George Chainey has news of a goal.
Who’s it for, George?”

No dead air this time as I managed to give an account of the goal without tripping over my tongue.

Half-time arrived and, just before I checked in again, a press box pal sidled up to me with the reason behind the question about the wind.

He’d been listening to Radio Clyde on his way to Kilbowie and the topic du jour was whether games should be called off because of high winds.

That would have been handy to know, but I wasn’t able to hear the broadcast while I was waiting to go on.

No matter. I could go out in a blaze of glory with my full-time wrap peppered with references to the winds of change blowing through Kilbowie after a 1-0 win and tweak the Guy Fawkes Night puns that I never got to use.

I check in with the producer and he tells me I’m next up. “One thing,” he says, “Don’t use any references to high winds or Guy Fawkes Night…everyone else has being doing that today.”

Aaargh! That’s showbiz…

tiswas: tv hall of fame induction

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – December 2021)

Saturdays were always special for us kids in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s.

Before we were old enough or good enough to represent our school in the sporting arena, we’d possibly go swimming at the local ‘baths.’ Or maybe, with only the occasional Hanna- Barbera cartoon screened on television to entertain us, we’d be allowed to catch a train to the Saturday Club at the local pictures house. There, we’d join the throng of similarly aged kids getting high on what would later be recognised as the ‘e numbers’ hidden in cartons of Kia Ora and ice cream as we watched some swashbuckling, black and white movie produced by The Children’s Film Foundation.

That would all change mid-Seventies.

For a start, I would by then have been seventeen years old and regarded with some suspicion had I attempted admission to The Saturday Club. That aside, television companies recognised the audience potential and began to expand their model of importing cartoons and reruns of Gerry Anderson gems.

The ITV network initially trialled programmes by linking cartoons, sketches, pop music and mini-series into one long, ‘umbrella show.’

Several regionalised ITV stations ran with the idea from 1974 onwards. Over time though, they all succumbed to the show inaugurated by the Midlands station, ATV, and by 1976 children of the three TV-channel generation, benefitted from a heavyweight ratings war between the ITV network and the BBC equivalent.

As you were once ‘Stones’ or ‘Beatles;’ as you were once ‘Donny’ or ‘David,’ you were now either ‘TISWAS’ or ‘Swap Shop.’

OK, so I wasn’t a ‘kid’ anymore but there’s nothing says an eighteen year old can’t enjoy these type programmes, right? So the choice came down to watching someone on BBC have a serious discussion with David Bellamy about conservation …. or watch some Brummie lad dressed in outsize khaki shorts and sporting a ginger coloured stick-on, Bellamy-esque false beard, repeating the innuendo loaded phrase, “Well – gwapple me gwapenuts!”

It was a no-bwainer!

It wasn’t until 1977 though, that we in Scotland, served by STV, got to see the programme regularly and in its entirety. By then, Sally James had been enlisted as co-presenter with Chris Tarrant. With some sporadic appearances under his belt, comedian Lenny Henry became a regular presenter in the following year, as did former member of The Scaffold, John Gorman. It would a further year down the line before Bob Carolgees & Spit the Dog joined up, completing the team I remember most fondly.

Comedians Jasper Carrot, Frank ‘it’s the way I tell ‘em’ Carson and Jim Davidson would also pop in to the show now and then.

Reflecting the music of the time, TISWAS (This Is Saturday – Watch and Smile) was chaotic and anarchic. It was slapstick. It was infectious. Whether it be in the school playground or the office workspace, the show’s catchphrases were repeated incessantly:

“O-o-o-o-o-k-a-a-a-ay!” we’d gargle in the voice of Lenny Henry’s character, Algernon Razzmatazz.

“Com-post Cor-ner!” we’d shout in a Crackerjack style.

(Watch Chris Tarrant cringe at the even-for-Tiswas ‘non PC joke at 2’ 51″ )

“This is what they want!” we’d joyously proclaim when doing something fun.

Ccchhhhrrrrt  ….Spit!” we’d mimic when something met our disapproval.

“It’s Telly Selly Time,” we’d sing, annoying our parents any time there was an advert break in Coronation Street etc..

“Wuwal retweats, wuwal retweats, where wobin wedbweast goes tweet tweet,” we’d pwance and sing in the public pawk. (Oh –  just me, then …?)

Initially inspired by Jasper Carrot and encouraged by Sally James, we’d all roll on our backs ‘dancing’ the ‘Dying Fly;’ the Phantom Flan Flinger would push ‘custard pies’ into the faces of the children in the studio audience and big-name guests alike; kids, and in later series’, their parents, would happily be enclosed in a cage and have buckets of water / gunge / goo poured all over them.

Distinguished TV newsreader Trevor McDonald would laugh and laugh at the sketches featuring Lenny Henry’s hilarious send-up, Trevor McDoughnut.

TISWAS catered for all – boy or girl, even young-at-heart Mums …. and with Sally James as presenter, quite a few Dads too, I can imagine!

It was just genius!

What else would a youngster now want to do on a Saturday morning? Go ingest some wee-infused, heavily chlorinated water at the swimming pool where you got shouted at for ‘bombing’ your pals?

Or spend the afternoon feeling sick from eating too many sherbet dabs and Spangles as you once again watched Lassie successfully navigate her way home in those days before Google Maps?

Nope – for me and millions like me, it was a bacon roll; a plate piled high with toast and jam; several cups of coffee; turn on the telly, allowing it plenty time to ‘warm up,’ sit back in the comfy chair and completely switch off from the world of school, study and exams.

It was Saturday after all, and boy, did I indeed watch and smile!

________________

Old Grey Whistle Test (OGWT) 72-79: TV Hall of Fame Induction.

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, November 2021.

Back in the early seventies there was only one provider of contemporary music to the masses – The BBC.

Radio One ruled the airwaves unchallenged from 1967 until the commercial radio stations came along in the mid 70s, although to be fair if you could get a decent signal, Radio Luxembourg was a reasonable late night alternative… until you got fed up listening to adverts for Timotei Shampoo and Aqua Manda cologne.

In terms of TV, the Beeb had it all sewn up with its weekly chart show aimed at the teenage market – Top of the Pops, which launched in 1964.
Seven years later the OGWT came along and focused on the more discerning album buying audience.

TOTP had its moments of course, but epiphany’s like Starman or Virginia Plain were rare and for every ‘Jeepster” there was a ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’

The OGWT on the other hand, was a voyage of discovery, it wasn’t always great but it was always watchable.
The truth is that we rarely knew who was going to be on the show, but it mattered not, we just tuned in and went along for the ride, building our musical knowledge and refining our tastes as we went along.

The OGWT became a weekly ‘event’ and a post-mortem of each episode was mandatory.
I can still remember an attempt to describe the debut performance of Focus to a mate at school who’d missed the show.


“They’re a Dutch quartet with an amazing drummer, an unbelievable guitarist and a guy who looks like Archie Gemmill on keyboards…. who yodels a lot”

I’m not sure he rushed out to buy the album based on my summary.

The show was famous for its live studio performances, but in the early days tracks that couldn’t be performed live were usually accompanied by old black & white film footage, compiled by film archivist Philip Jenkinson.
A couple of those home-made videos left a lasting impression.

The first time I heard Queen was on the OGWT in 1973.
A rendition of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ soundtracked over a vintage black & white movie clip.

My favourite though was the footage that accompanied Led Zeppelin’s – Trampled Underfoot. I’ve no idea how they synch’d a 1920’s silent movie clip so seamlessly with Zep’s homage to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, but they pulled it off.

I have too many great memories of the show to mention and have spent many an hour disappearing down OGWT, YouTube rabbit holes but when I reflect on what made the show special, there are a few elements that spring to mind….

1) The OGWT excelled at introducing us to new artists:
Putting aside the broadcasting monopoly that the Beeb enjoyed I still have to credit the show for introducing me to – Neil Young, Queen, Robin Trower, John Martyn, Bill Withers, Joan Armatrading, Talking Heads, Lynyrd Skynyrd, New York Dolls, The Wailers and many more.

2) The show wasn’t just electric, it was eclectic:
If you happened to tune in when – Dr Hook, Rick Wakeman, John Martyn and Mike Oldfield were all featured you could have been forgiven for thinking that the majority of the acts mirrored the presenter, i.e. white men with beards and long hair…. but the show was actually a lot more diverse than that.

Nice!

For instance, it was perfectly normal to have Bill Withers on the same show as Tangerine Dream or Curtis Mayfield with Captain Beefheart.
BB King would feature alongside Kris Kristofferson and Joni Mitchell could be on the same bill as Roxy Music.
It’s fair to say that every musical genre was given a fair crack of the whip on a show where the only criteria was quality.


3) The show produced seminal performances that live on forever:
At the end of the day it was the live studio performances that we all talked about and they remain the iconic moments of the show.
It’s difficult to cherry-pick as there were so many classic OGWT moments, but a few favourites that spring to mind are….

Bowie – Queen Bitch
Little Feat – Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor
Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Faith Healer
Roxy Music – In Every Dream Home a Heartache
Gil Scott-Heron – Johannesburg


The OGWT of course was synonymous with whispering Bob Harris and his reign as the main presenter from 1972-79 covered the golden-age of the show.
Nothing lasts forever though, and as the punk movement gained momentum Bob started getting a bit grouchy and wasn’t handling the change of the guard very well…..

Bob and his ‘mock rock’ quip at 4:42

Bob had ‘previous’ of course, labelling Roxy Music as a triumph of ‘style over substance‘. And goofily described The New York Dolls as “mock rock” at the conclusion of a blistering rendition of ‘Jet Boy’….

Harris, subsequently became a target for New Wavers and Punks and narrowly escaped serious injury when Sid Vicious tried to ‘glass’ him in a London nightclub.
Rescued ironically by a team of Procol Harum roadies, Bob escaped relatively unscathed, but suffered cuts, bruises and a damaged ego.

Worn down by the abuse and feeling that he was swimming against the cultural tide, Bob would step down from his OGWT duties soon-after.

The show ploughed on for another 9 years post Bob, with a revolving door of presenters but by then there was bona fide competition from other channels and shows, like C4’s The Tube.

Gone but certainly not forgotten…. Fortunately we can still relive some of the shows iconic moments via clips from the vaults, many of which have millions of views.

So it’s this prime-time OGWT – the ‘Bob Harris years 72-79’, that helped to shape my musical tastes as a teenager that I would propose for the TV Hall of Fame….

A pre-Ziggy Bowie on the cusp of greatness

Ripping Yarns: TV Hall of Fame Induction

Joe Hunter: Crieff, November 2021

Monty Python’s Flying Circus is of course a benchmark for comedy and an example of 70s television at its finest.
A collective that spawned countless TV and cinematic moments of gold and inspired endless playground retellings and re-enactments… from ‘The Ministry of Funny Walks’ to ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’.

John Cleese and Fawlty Towers apart however, the rest of the Python’s solo work tends to fly under the radar.
In comparison, it’s similar in many ways to the Beatles solo projects, which rarely got the appreciation they deserved…. step forward ‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison.

Take Eric Idle’s excellent Rutland Weekend Television, although it hatched the excellent Beatles parody – The Ruttles, it was cut short after two series and was never truly appreciated in the UK.
Likewise, Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones was restricted to 8 episodes after the initial pilot… the hilarious ‘Tomkinson’s Schooldays’.

If you’ve never seen it, Ripping Yarns was a shameless parody of British culture. To be fair it could be a bit hit or miss, but when it hit the sweet-spot it was as funny as anything that’s ever been on TV.
There were nine 30 minute episodes  presented in the style of Boys Own adventure stories, set in an era when all a chap needed was a stiff upper lip and a healthy dash of derring-do.

The series was tucked away on BBC2 at 9pm on a Friday night but once discovered, it became an essential part of my weekend.

In 1977, Joanna’s Night Club in Glasgow was my Friday night destination of choice, so as part of my weekly ritual I’d get spruced up, go round to my partner in crime Paul Fitzpatrick’s house and we’d watch the latest episode of Ripping Yarns before heading into town, armed with quips from the show still in our head.
Quips I hasten to add that confused the hell out of anyone that hadn’t seen the show (about 99.9% of the population), but would amuse the hell out of us.

My brothers George and David were also big fans of the show and we used to have some very surreal conversations in front of our bemused parents about Spear & Jackson shovels and black pudding (in Yorkshire accents) – as an homage to our favourite episode, ‘The Testing of Eric Olthwaite“.
There are too many great comedy moments in this 28 minute masterpiece, to break down, but the opening 3 minute sequence (below), will give you a taste.

“Black pudding’s very black today Mother – even the white bits are black”.


A Yorkshire banker, Eric was sooo boring that his Father pretended to be French to avoid talking to him whilst his mother would feign bilious attacks or even death.
Heartbreakingly, Eric’s family run away from home to avoid further contact with him, he was just that tedious.

A confused and devastated Eric can’t understand why people find him so dull and you can feel his pain as he protests in his thick Yorkshire accent….
“It were hard to accept I were boring. Especially with my interest in rainfall”

Eric’s obsession with precipitation and shovels drive his family to distraction and ensure he’s friendless but like all good tales there’s a twist… if you’re interested to find out what it is, you can catch the full episode below and become like me… a fully paid-up member of the Ripping Yarns fan club.

The Testing of Eric Olthwaite

making a hash of things.

Silence.

Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.

And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:

“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”

“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”

My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.

“That sounds like fun, dear.”

And it was.

For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.

It was the era for making everything.

From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.

We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.

I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.

Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’

With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end.  Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.

‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.

To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.

Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.

I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.

My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!

It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.

And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.

My effort was dismal.  

“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.

Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.

I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.

Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.

It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.  

For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.

The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.

I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.

“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.

“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.

I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?

At least they still got a surprise of sorts.

Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.

Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.

I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,

“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.

Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.

Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!



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Sidekicks

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, June 2021

The Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Dorothy… fictional characters I grant you, but all universally feted and admired.

But they didn’t do it alone, and although we all know who their sidekicks were, no one talks much about them, because at the end of the day, they’re the flunky’s, and who’s really interested in the support act? Unless its Queen supporting Mott the Hoople at the Apollo…. and that was nearly 50 years ago!

The sidekick’s are the perennial betas to the main event’s alpha’s… the show-stoppers who always seem to have greater powers, more charisma, and most importantly, bigger ego’s, than the supporting cast.
Like a beloved pet the sidekick’s greatest attributes are typically noted as being devotion and loyalty.

Spare a thought then for the Tonto’s, Doctor Watson’s, Robin boy wonder’s and Scarecrow’s. In other words, the Diddy Kong’s of the world…..

There’s an old (and now probably, un-PC) saying that ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’ and the same can be said with sidekick’s, think about it for a second…. as great as he was, would Bowie have been as good and as cocksure in the Ziggy era without Mick Ronson?
Likewise, would Ricardo Montalban’s, Mr Roarke have been as suave and sophisticated without Herve Villechaize’s Tattoo ringing the bell tower whilst bellowing “The Plane, The Plane!” in Fantasy Island?  

As this is predominantly a 70s blog the aim of the exercise is to identify the most impressive 70s sidekick, fictional or otherwise, so I’ve listed 5 nominees below which you can vote for on our Facebook page as well as putting forward any of your own nominations…..
https://www.facebook.com/groups/onceuponatimeinthe70s

1) Kenickie Murdoch (Jeff Conaway) Grease, (sidekick to Danny Zuko)

In Grease, the movie, Kenickie was played by Jeff Conaway of Taxi fame and was part of the original Broadway cast of Grease – where incidentally he played the lead role of Danny Zuko whilst his good mate Travolta played Doody, one of the putzy T-Birds.

Although Kenickie was cast as the sidekick it could be argued that he was cooler than Zuko… borne by the fact that not only was he the proud owner of Greased Lightnin’, but he also didn’t mope about a kids swing-park greeting about getting chucked by someone who must have repeated 4th year 5 times!

Plus with a name like Murdoch he obviously came from good Scottish stock! 

2) Igor (Marty Feldman) Young Frankenstein (sidekick to Dr Frederick Von Frankenstein)

Played by the brilliant Marty Feldman, Igor was the hunchbacked, bug-eyed servant who when asked by the good doctor why his hump kept changing sides, answered “what hump?”.

‘Eye-gore’ as he liked to be known was Dr ‘Fronkenshteen’s’ hapless assistant and was responsible for the mayhem that ensued by collecting a brain labelled ‘Abnormal’ rather than the brain of the revered and brilliant historian, he was sent to secure.

If his star turn in one of the funniest movies of the 70s wasn’t enough, Feldman’s further claim to fame was that his ‘Walk this way’ line from the film was adopted by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who saw the movie, went back to the studio and wrote a song…. the rest as they say is history.

The Movie
The Song

3) John Oates Singer/musician in Hall & Oates (sidekick to Daryl Hall)

Hall & Oates were often described as…..
‘the tall, blonde, good looking one with the unbelievable vocal range and the wee guy with the curly hair and moustache’.

There’s no doubt then that Oates played second fiddle to Daryl Hall, but as sidekick’s go it was a pretty decent fiddle.
 
Oates wrote or co-wrote many of the pairs big hits including She’s Gone, Sara Smile, You Make my Dreams and I Can’t Go for That, and whilst he didn’t have Hall’s vocal range or stage presence, his harmonies, co-vocals and guitar playing were key to the band’s success (see clip below).

Hall & Oates may not have been equals in terms of talent and their partnership wasn’t as egalitarian as Lennon & McCartney, but Oates was certainly no Art Garfunkel.


4) Dennis Waterman Perennial sidekick: to Jack Regan in The Sweeney and Arthur Daley in Minder.

A seasoned thespian who performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company at 13. Waterman was 27 when he appeared in The Sweeney as Detective George Carter, the hard-drinking, brawling, womanising, good-cop to John Thaw’s caustic Regan.

Waterman’s next big role in Minder, as a brawling, womanising ex-con who becomes a personal bodyguard wasn’t too much of a stretch then.

In a cruel twist of fate, Minder was actually devised post-Sweeney as a star vehicle for Waterman who relished the chance to shine after three seasons of playing the sidekick in The Sweeney.
Cole’s part as Arthur Daly was meant to be a secondary/supporting role, however after a few episodes it was evident that Daly’s character was playing big with the audience, so the scripts and storylines were revised, leaving poor Dennis to fall back into his customary role as a sidekick once again.

5) Chewbacca Wookie (sidekick to Han Solo)   

Enforcer, body guard and loyal soldier, Chewie is Han Solo’s co-pilot and best buddy.

The character was inspired by George Lucas’ dog so it’s no surprise that one of Chewie’s greatest attributes is the talent most associated with sidekick’s – loyalty.
Although he enjoys bringing the cocksure Solo down a peg or two every now and then, prompting the “Laugh it up fuzzball” retort, he is a faithful companion and would lay down his life for Solo…. a true sidekick!

Why are there no female sidekicks on the list??
I tried really hard to think of some but in almost all cases…. Sonny & Cher, Ike & Tina Turner, The Krankies, it was the bloke who was the sidekick!

I did think of one….. Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell but that was made in 1924.

teen heartthrobs – the page niners.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021)

Views expressed in this article are of the author himself, founded more on observation alone and with no forensic analysis of statistics whatsoever. Please don’t send abusive letters and dog poo through the post, should you be offended by the non-inclusion of your favourite ‘Page Niner’- or indeed by the inclusion of one you consider a Front Pager.


(Other Teen Heartthrobs are – or at least, were – available.)

From what I read in my sister’s copies of Jackie magazine, my sister told me about Jackie magazine, I believe the most popular teen heartthrobs of the early to mid Seventies would have been, in no particular order: Donny Osmond; David Cassidy; David Essex, Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and each of the individual Bay City Rollers.

A weekly magazine featuring only those stars would still have sold in tens of thousands.

Who, though, were the others? Who were the stars that didn’t make the front, back on centre pages so often? Who were more likely, the Page 9 ‘fillers?’

OK – so we’re almost fifty years too late, but let’s show some love for the Teen Heartthrob ‘also rans.’

You can comment and vote for your favourite from the following list of ‘second division stars’ in the poll which features on the

Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s Facebook Group

DAVID SOUL

Attracting fame for his starring role in the hit Seventies TV series ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ he actually set out to be a musician. He first came to the attention of American TV audiences as ‘The Covered Man’ – a 1966 ‘Masked Singer’ feature on The Merv Griffin Show.

The TV detective series quickly established itself in USA and UK, and his partner in (anti) crime, Paul Michael Glaser also became a bit of a pin-up in girls’ magazines.

However, it’s David Soul’s additional musical output that sees him make our poll.

In total, David Soul spent fifty-six weeks in the UK music charts, hitting Number One in both the UK and US with ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’  and matching that in the UK with ‘Silver Lady.’ Both were released in 1977. In the same year, ‘Going In With My Eyes Open’ reached number two, and ‘Let’s Have a Quiet Night In’ managed number eight. The following year, ’It Sure Brings Out The Love In Your Eyes’ was held up just outside the Top Ten at number twelve.

PETE DUEL & BEN MURPHY

Ben Murphy (Kid Curry) (left) and Pete Duel (Hannibal Heyes.)

Pete Duel (Hannibal Heyes) and Ben Murphy (Jedediah ‘Kid’ Curry) were the stars of the hit TV comedy / western, Alias Smith & Jones. The series ran to fifty episodes over three series, though the final seventeen saw the character Hannibal Heyes recast after Pete Dual had sadly taken his own life at the end of 1971.

Merely watching the introduction in the following video reminded how much I loved this programme – I still knew it almost word for word.

Like ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Happy Days,’ ‘Alias Smith & Jones’ succeeded in harnessing cute looking actors to a dynamic and entertaining story-line, thereby appealing not only to teenage girls but to action focussed boys and adults alike.

Pictures of both actors will have adorned the bedroom wall of many a young girl. I may be wrong here, but my perception was that Ben Murphy slightly edged it in the ‘hot’ stakes?

SCOTT BAIO

Having already played the lead role (alongside Jodie Foster) in the film version of the hit kids’ musical, ‘Bugsy Malone,’ the now sixteen year old Scott was introduced to fans of the fantastic ‘Happy Days’ television series as Chachi Arcola, the young cousin of The Fonz. He then went on to star in the spin-off series, ‘Joanie Loves Chachi,’ in the early 80s.

It’s for the former role that I remember Scott … and why his Jackie or Look-in magazine photo adorned the bedroom wall of many a young girl in the Seventies.

PAUL NICHOLAS

Straight outta left field, this one! Although he had toured with Rocky Horror Show and appeared in ‘Tommy’ as Tommy’s vicious cousin, ‘Cousin Kevin,’ Paul Nicholas was largely unknown in UK … until he set out to conquer the UK music charts in 1976 with three single releases: ‘Reggae Like It Used To Be,’ ‘Dancing With The Captain’ and ‘Grandma’s Party.’

I suspect it was more his smiling, cheeky-boy looks than delivery of cheezy Seventies pop songs that prompted the swooning and cut-out photos stuck onto school jotters. For eight months in 1976 though, Paul Nicholas owned the pre-mid / post-mid pages of Teen magazines everywhere.

(Greater fame was of course to follow though, in the Eighties, when he concentrated on acting, starring first in the short-lived TV sitcom ‘Two Up, Two Down,’ and two years later in the hugely popular ‘Just Good Friends.’ And more recently, of course, ‘Eastenders.’)

BARRY BLUE

It’s very easy to be dismissive of Barry Green (real name) as a bit of a watered down version of ‘he that shall not be named.’ His two biggest hits, ‘(Dancing) On A Saturday Night’ and ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ were both from 1973, his three other lesser successes coming the following year. Resultantly, he would have hovered around Page Nine of Jackie etc, for only a short period of time.

However, prior to that he had co-written ‘Sugar Me’ with Lyndsey de Paul and played bass in the rock band Spice … which later morphed into legends, Uriah Heep! And then, subsequent to all that, he wrote a million seller for Brotherhood of Man and penned hits for artists as diverse as Diana Ross and Andrea Bocelli.

ALVIN STARDUST

He may have been a good deal older than your average Teen Heartthrob of the time (thirty-one, when he scored his debut hit ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo’ in 1973) but as I recall, he was all over the popular magazines throughout 1973 and ’74.

There’s a lot to be said for the leather and studs look, I guess.

SLIK

Formed initially as Salvation in 1970, they played the local clubs and bars of Glasgow, before changing some personnel and name to Slik around four years later.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one reading this who saw them play a least once in the famous Clouds Disco, above The Apollo venue.

Probably more famous now for being Midge Ure’s first band of note, they never-the-less scored a Number One hit with ‘Forever And Ever’ in 1976, followed later in the year by ‘Requiem.’

They were quite obviously targeted for the teenage girls market, but though I didn’t stare longingly and doe-eyed at a poster on my bedroom wall, like many lads of my age, I harboured a grudging admiration for Slik.

And there you have it – the Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s list of Teen Heartthrob also-rans. Is your second, third or even fourth favourite in there?

**JOIN OUR FACEBOOK GROUP TO VOTE IN THE POLL FOR YOUR FAVOURITE, ALMOST-FAVOURITE.**


(POLL CLOSES MIDNIGHT WEDNESDAY 23rd JUNE.)

the games people play

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)

There was a time Angry Birds was the squabble for peanuts in the feeder hanging from the washing line and Super Mario was the compliment you gave the waiter as he waltzed from table to table with his oversized pepper grinder at your favourite Italian restaurant.

Every camping holiday the Allan family had in the late 60s and early 70s was accompanied by that Scottish summer dependable – rain and lots of it. As the constant drumming of water on canvas lulled you into a near stupor, Mum would bring out the entertainment.

A pack of cards.

Rummy, Vingt-et-un, Trump (long before any insurrectionist US president) and if no-one would play with you Patience. I don’t know if these names were genuine or if we made them up but Solitaire, the game lurking behind the main screen of many an office worker’s computer, is the same deal (pun intended).

Another family outing to a cottage on the bleak east coast, where the rain off the sea was horizontal, the only saving grace was a copy of The Beatles white album and a well thumbed box of Scrabble. While George’s guitar was gently weeping we were holding back tears of desperation as my Dad, openly scoffing at our 3 and 4 word attempts, would place his 7 letter blockbuster utilising both J and X on a triple word score. He always won. He was a former English teacher, we had no dictionary and he was the self appointed adjudicator. I didn’t know there was a specific word for a Moroccan goat herder’s assistant.

Joint holidays with my cousins brought out the more mathematical puzzles like  Yahtzee. 5 dice and a scorecard basically. The more cerebral Mastermind tested the code breaking skills of the potential Turing’s among us (Enigma at Bletchley Park where my Mum worked during the war and couldn’t talk about until the 90s !)

Various school chums had convoluted puzzles like Mousetrap where you built up the contraption as you went along or Operation where removing tiny objects from an electrically charged cadaver with tiny tweezers was the macabre objective.

My brother, who was in his school’s chess team, tried to introduce me to the noble game. I figured out how all the pieces moved but struggled beyond that. Bro, much to my annoyance, could stare at the board for minutes on end before making a move. A skill he perfected a decade later playing Trivial Pursuit. As fellow participants we sighed and shuffled in our seats at big brother’s slowness. He eventually picked up a card and proclaimed, 

“Just to be different I’m going to tell you the answer and you have to give me the question. OK, the answer is ‘cock robin’ ”

We of course were stumped. After another lengthy delay,

“What’s that up my arse Batman ?” You had to be there !

My uncle claimed that when he took the bus to work he sat next to a gentleman and they would exchange instructions like ‘bishop to queen 4’ to which my uncle would reply ‘knight to kings 3’. On arriving at his office, he would set up a small chess set and periodically phone up his opponent, who presumably had a similar arrangement, with his next move. This was how he spent his day as a professor at one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities. That’s were your hard earned taxes went if you are to believe him !

There were always dominoes to hand in their custom made wooden box courtesy of No.2 brother’s woodwork project. In later years I never plucked up the courage to gate crash the old regulars playing at my local with all their secretive masonic tapping of tables going on.

I obtained travelling sets of both cribbage and backgammon in my later teens. One late evening in a Parisian hotel room I was playing backgammon with my girlfriend (well, what else would you be doing at that time in the city of love ?) who in her excitement mistook her rum and coke glass for the dice tumbler. Luckily she stopped herself casting the contents over the board.

Then there was the game that launched a thousand capitalists Monopoly. My game plan was to get the motor car or the Scottie dog and not suffer the indignity of the iron or the thimble before passing go and collecting ₤200.

A sailing weekend in Lochgilphead turned into a game of  Risk  in the boat shed as conditions outside were not navigable. This is a game of world domination which brings out the megalomaniac in anyone. I’m sure Hitler gave this the thumbs up before invading Poland.

The only domination now is from the onslaught of mindless adverts while flicking through the myriad of games apps on your mobile.

Anyone for a game of cards ?

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