13
Nov 09

CLIFF RICHARD AND THE YOUNG ONES ft HANK MARVIN – “Living Doll”

FT + Popular37 comments • 5,359 views

#567, 29th March 1986, video

I was absolutely forbidden from watching the first series of The Young Ones, in 1982. I relied on awed playground rumour of its violence and uproar. I was a little scared of it. Second time around, in 1984, I could watch it but not in the living room – only upstairs on our small black and white second set, getting up every five minutes to retune. This time I loved it – what eleven-year-old wouldn’t? And then 1986 – a pantomime version of their brutal slapstick, for charity. This time the Young Ones could be on our colour television: the takeover of TV comedy by its “alternative” complete.

Perhaps some people thought Mayall et al were selling out. There was none of that at school: we felt ourselves a little too sophisticated for “Living Doll” but we appreciated the fact that it was ‘our’ comedians making the record, and we appreciated the fact that Cliff was doing his bit. There was a safe kind of naughtiness about the whole thing which would become the standard tone for Comic Relief events: a light entertainment Feast of Fools. They have become a tradition, quite deliberately but no less authentically for that – “alternative comedy”‘s most lasting legacy.

Later Comic Relief records – and we’ll be meeting plenty of them – have often taken the hilarity of “comedian meets pop star” as read and not bothered with the actual jokes. It’s a shock to be reminded of how carefully the performers constructed “Living Doll”. Not only does it have gags, it even has a plot of sorts. Young Ones help Cliff sing song – they accidentally knock him out and have to finish it themselves (though naturally he recovers to help). The attention to detail puts it above most comedy singles, though that isn’t saying a great deal.

All the banter, asides, and slapstick business push one of Cliff’s weaker hits to twice its original length – “Living Doll’s” lyrics are dim enough to incite the abuse, the tune strong enough to cope with it, and Cliff is – naturally – a trouper. (This was the first time, I think, his record of No.1 hits in every decade was widely discussed.) It wasn’t meant to age well, and it hasn’t, but it’s a happy memory. There are two bits that can still make me smile – Neil’s “I feel sorry for the elephant” (the only joke on the record you actually had to ‘get’) and the best part of the song, the very genuine glee in the massed backing vocals. Cliff sings “Gonna lock her up in a trunk” and the boys all cannon in with “TRUNK!”, sounding all of a sudden like friends having a laugh, not characters trying for one.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 13 Nov 2009 #

    Is this the first #1 example of the eventually ubiquitous “featuring” in an artist credit?

  2. 2
    punctum on 13 Nov 2009 #

    If the alternative comedy movement was supposed to be the equivalent of punk, then there seem to have been an awful lot of Boomtown Rats and precious few Pistols. Aside from the early stand-up work of Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton (listen to the latter’s splenetic, fearless 1987 live album Motormouth to demonstrate just how close he came to being a British Bill Hicks, mullet and sparkling suit notwithstanding) – both of whom have long since abandoned any outward traces of radicalism – the reaction seems to have been purely aesthetic; a sweeping away of porcine, frilly-shirted, middle-aged chaps telling stock gags about mothers in law, women, blacks and gays. Certainly in the seventies of Richard Pryor and Steve Martin it is scarcely credible that Britain still flew its flag with Bernard Manning and Little and Large.

    The differential between alternative comedy and its Goons and Python antecedents, however, was that it ended up being about the spectacle only. The Young Ones was essentially broad slapstick, a tradition which in Britain goes back to Dan Leno and beyond, and whose obvious immediate precedent was The Goodies; young(ish), dissatisfied misfits trapped in a room together capable only of defiantly anti-meaning capers, though the traditional family sitcom template was present and correct, if heavily disguised; dad (boring straight man Mike), mum (hippy Neil) and problem kids (failing anarchist Rik and six-years-after-the-event punk Vyvyan). It was attractive to those easily satisfied by loud noises and primary-coloured bangs alone. Yet both the Goons and Python contained a deeper subtext; the seemingly random, spectacular FX in The Goon Show were a direct reference to the war through which all three main players had suffered as combatants and a howl against the slow stolidity of the abject British fifties. Similarly Python played a very shrewd, simultaneous game of derailing and deconstructing the meaning and purpose of sketches and continuity while subtly demanding the viewer: “don’t just sit there and take it.”

    But comedy, by definition, has to have a target; consensus comedy is practically an oxymoron. And with Comic Relief we come to the same paradox which crippled pop after Band Aid; to use comedy for meaningful purpose and yet still remain comedic. With the numerous Secret Policeman’s Balls for Amnesty International, the Pythons, the Not The Nine O’Clock News team, Peter Cook and others had no trouble with this – but then Amnesty International is by its own definition a cause which demands confrontation. What is to be done about Comic Relief, a charity set up actively to aid child poverty, not only in Africa but also domestically? It has very noticeably retained an apolitical stance, perhaps fittingly so since by existing it relieves Governments of the burden of carrying out actions which should be basic actions to be carried out by any Government worth having.

    Few of the Comic Relief fundraising records are of much aesthetic value, but the remake of “Living Doll” is particularly depressing. With, say, the Goons’ 1955 demolition of “Unchained Melody,” we manage to get both anarchy and poignancy in that it is simultaneously a hilarious debunking of a hallowed song but also an affecting portrait of what are essentially a couple of ageing buskers, marooned somewhere in a pre-Hoxtonite Shoreditch High Street, trying to keep in touch and keep the pennies coming in to warm their cryogenically freezing toes. But with “Living Doll” we simply get a rather listless reading of an already unpleasant song (“gonna lock her up in a trunk” etc.) by an audibly disinterested Cliff while the Young Ones cast shout noisily and unfunnily around him and go through dull vaudeville routines (“which instruments do you want us to break?”). In the show Cliff is set up as Rik’s unlikely idol, and this species of horseplay also helped set the scene for the Guilty Pleasures nightmare; as if anyone who didn’t truly love pop didn’t instinctively know that “Devil Woman” is a great record. From this distance the whole phenomenon seems like an abstract of sound and fury, signifying surrender.

  3. 3
    punctum on 13 Nov 2009 #

    #1: no, the answer is “I’m Walking Behind You,” credited on the original 78 to “Eddie Fisher featuring Sally Sweetland.”

  4. 4
    MikeMCSG on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I have to admit the appeal of The Young Ones pretty much passed me by and I found this merely tedious. Brownie points to Cliff for being a good sport but as Tom says it wasn’t built to last.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I was just really surprised to find how much earlier Neil’s ‘Hole In My Shoe’ had preceded this tho – probably the worst case of time being skewed in my memory wrt what happened when in the 80s. My Mum had a fairly relaxed attitude to letting me watch funny but rude stuff on TV – I recall being allowed to watch Kenny Everett one time after having woken from a bad dream ha.

    So obviously I thought this was hilarious at the time but that’s where the love stayed. Still better than the Bad News cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ tho eh.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2009 #

    although I find it hard to actively hate intensely – except for being the template for a series of fading copies (see♯2) – it’s the musical equivalent of a Friday late night dodgy kebab – appealing at the time, yet regrettable in retrospect

  7. 7
    Jungman Jansson on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I missed out on The Young Ones in the 80’s, as I was just too… young. My mother had a very liberal stance towards what I watched (or read), so I could most likely have watched it had I wanted to – but I assume I was simply unaware of its existence.

    I did watch it sometime in the mid-90’s though, when one of the then-newish commercial TV channels broadcast it. And at least found it amusing enough to follow it – I can’t say I remember too many details, but my overall memories of it are fond. I’ve actually been pondering whether to watch it again, but maybe it’s better just to let it be a fond memory.

    However, it did leave at least one enduring mark. The Young Ones is more or less single-handedly responsible for my impression of Cliff Richard – that is, as a laughing-stock. While several of his songs are part of the “background radiation” here, Cliff himself isn’t really a household name, so I haven’t had too much input in the matter otherwise. And it’s just not somebody who I’ve had enough of an interest in to actively research.

    As for this single – well. It’s not particularly funny, and it’s not much of a song, as Cliff’s performance mostly serves as a backdrop to various gags. I guess it could have been amusing at the time, if you were there, but it just isn’t the kind of humor that lasts. And trying to listen to it as a song is just annoying – this isn’t really music, it’s comedy set to music and distributed in a 7″ format. I honestly had to force myself to listen to it twice.

    SwedenWatch: #8. The Young Ones aired here in 1985, and whatever was on national TV at the time had a huge impact since the two public service channels were the only ones available to the vast majority of people. So presumably the timing was good for this. #7 on the Tracks chart.

  8. 8
    LondonLee on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I was just the right age for The Young Ones (20 and thinking I was a rebel) and ate it up at the time, it wasn’t just the noisy slapstick but they had great bands on the show too. It did seem all very “punk” at the time but it hasn’t aged well and now seems merely juvenile (though some of Rik’s lines like “Pop music! Let’s go!” still make me chuckle). After living abroad for several years I was shocked on one trip home to find Ben Elton with Ronnie Corbett as a regular guest on his show. Hang on Ben, weren’t your lot supposed to wipe out people like Ronnie?

    The record? I hate to think that I ever found that funny, I was 4 years older by then and far more sophisticated don’t you know.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I have a good deal of affection for this one. The “alternative comedy” movement came around at just the right time for me. Still young enough to laugh at the toilet humour, still teenage enough to feel “right on” and not old enough to see that it was all a bit “emperor’s new clothes”.
    Watching “The Young Ones” clips it feels very much “of it’s time”. Comedy after the likes of Mayall and Edmonson, Sayle and Elton has taken 2 routes.

    Route 1…transfer radio panel shows to TV. Create laughs from quiz formats and shovel in the satire.

    Route 2…get lucky in Edinburgh, then take your material on a National Tour performing at traditonal rock and pop venues.

    Alternative comedy pretty much coincided with the death of traditional variety shows on TV. Within a few years, they were gone.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2009 #

    sadly – and in a spooky instance of synchronicity – tonight I was told I was dressed like Rik from TYOs.

    perhaps, time to rethink my wardrobe

  11. 11
    swanstep on 13 Nov 2009 #

    Record/vid’s worse than I remember it…. so that leaves the underlying phenomenon. I think the shows’s aged pretty well (about as well as much of the music from the time – I heard Edgar Wright dir. of Shaun and the Dead/Hot Fuzz describe the Young Ones as ‘Year Zero’ and as ‘an extinction level event’). Like Fawlty and the (UK) Office and Conchords, and unlike, say, the Goons or Seinfeld or Cheers, the Young Ones is a radically finite experience – just two short seasons, very expressive of a particular time (it’s always half-past 1978 on Fawlty for example), just as a lot of terrific music is. That’s dated in one sense (it concerns the past), but not in another (we’ve put everything it concerns behind us). The fact is we’re never (at least in the span of a human life-time) ever really done with the past, at least not with the bits of it that really *did* *feel* some particular way (as the Early Thatcher/Reagan period surely did):
    2 (for the song. 9 for the underlying phenom.. I swear, I did expect someone to sign in to the ‘the Biggest brain in pop’ debate the other days as Lord Snot with, ‘It’s me, isn’t it?’ Up scumbag!)

  12. 12
    Rory on 14 Nov 2009 #

    Mike: If we want this record to make number one, we’ve gotta rig the charts … There hasn’t been a genuine number one since the Beatles split up.
    Neil: Oh, wow – have the Beatles split up?

    In my first Popular comments I noted that I wasn’t a big pop music buyer or listener before the age of fifteen, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening to music. Apart from the usual parental, peer and sibling influences, I was exposed to masses of it on television – in particular, the collected works of Bill Oddie, repeated on a six-monthly cycle throughout my childhood. The Goodies, along with Doctor Who, were the backbone of many young Aussies’ TV viewing in the ’70s and early ’80s, thanks to the ABC showing them back-to-back from 6.00 to 7.00 each evening. I know most of Oddie’s songs better than the number ones of the time.

    The Goodies were also an effective gateway to their influences and peers: to the Goons, repeated endlessly on Radio National every Saturday lunchtime, and eventually, around the time I started buying pop records, to Monty Python, through the medium of the LP. (They were long gone from the box, and this was a good five years before the series were released on VHS.) And then there was Dad’s old Songs for Swingin’ Sellers LP, still the gold standard of comedy albums in my book, which even has some relevance here (as in here at Popular, and this here single), with one sketch taking off the British rockers of the late ’50s and another that no fan of Lonnie Donegan should miss.

    Then in my mid-teens, just as I was discovering the joys of Another Monty Python Record, along came these guys, screened somewhat belatedly on the ABC but an instant hit with me and my friends. The Young Ones felt like they were ours: our Goodies, our Python and our Goons all rolled into one. I was mad for them, flawed production values and all, and consumed anything to do with the show that I could. In a mid-80s VCR-less household, this meant: watching the show when it was screened on actual television; buying the Bachelor Boys book as soon as it came out; buying “Hole in My Shoe” on 7″; listening obsessively to a tape of Neil’s Heavy Concept Album (another of my landmark comedy albums – among other things, its lounge cover of the Sex Pistols anticipated the brief career of the Mike Flowers Pops); buying a prized copy of Neil’s Book of the Dead at Foyle’s on my visit to London; and, a few months after getting home, buying this on glorious 12″ vinyl.

    Neil: So here we are in the middle of the twelve-inch. Just the same as a seven-inch, really, except you get five inches of nothing in the middle.
    Mike: Oh, mind you, it does cost an extra quid.
    Rick: Yeah, that’s a point. So listen, listeners, we got a quid off you for
    nothing.
    Vyvyan: It’s still boring. I was looking forward to some raunchy guitar licks.
    Rick: All right, matey, lick this raunchy guitar.
    Vyvyan: All right, I will. [Zzzzztttt] Oh bum, I’ve electrocuted my tongue.
    Rick: Brilliant! Stick him in a coffin before he realises he’s not dead.

    It would be nearly twenty years before I saw the twelve episodes of The Young Ones again on DVD, and although they had of course dated, they still made me laugh. Intervening exposure to Bottom helped keep my inner-teenage-Mayall-and-Edmonson-fan alive, but it wouldn’t have if I still hadn’t found Mayall’s shameless mugging amusing. In Rick, Mayall created one of the great sitcom characters, one whose juvenile behaviour was precisely the point (“I hate old people!”) and whose try-hard anarchism was just the right degree of unsettling for any nascent lefty viewer.

    Rick, of course, was most memorable for his particular musical obsession, one that you could only assume must be leaving the target squirming – so it was a source of great delight to see the target go along with the gag. Cliff immediately became a Good Sport in the eyes of the teenage Aussie Young Ones fans who helped send this to number one for six weeks. “Devil Woman” and “Wired for Sound” were all well and good, but taking the piss out of yourself was true class. And there can’t be many piss-taking moments on record as delicious as the transition from Rick’s hysterical build-up for “the total and utter king of rock ‘n’ roll, CLIFF RICHARD!” to “Got myself a cryin’, talkin’, sleepin’, walkin’, livin’ doll”. The record was worth it just for that.

    The song itself was pants, of course, and not worth returning to more than once every twenty years, but I’m still finding plenty to laugh at now that I do – possibly because I’m listening to the twelve-inch version, which has lots of extra Young Ones banter to leaven the dulcet tones of Cliff, like the bits I’m quoting here. The comedy side of it doesn’t match up to the shows themselves, but I’d still rate it an affectionate 6; the music would be a 3 or 4. Logic would dictate averaging that to a five, but I didn’t buy this for the music – did anyone? – so I’m going to stick with 6.

    The record has another place in my affections: that twelve-inch single was the very last I bought that helped send a song to number one. I’ve acquired other number ones since, but they were either bought after the event or as part of albums rather than as chart singles – another reason this doll is locked in my trunk of special Popular memories. As for Cliff’s trunk, I don’t want to know what kinds of dolls he keeps there.

    Rick: Oh, ha ha ha, Vyvyan, how very clever, I’m sure. Oh yes, let’s end this wonderful project on a silly little meaningless innuendo.
    Vyvyan: All right.

  13. 13
    swanstep on 14 Nov 2009 #

    Don’t forget the Young Ones’ _Book of the Worst_, which has a page entitled, ‘The Worst Things About Americans’, with 3 entries:
    1. Everything Americans say.
    2. Everything Americans do.
    3. That’s about it, isn’t it?
    (I love all the US-UK-France badinage in Python, all the Canada-US stuff in South Park, and all the Australia-NZ-US stuff in Conchords. Quasi-nationalistic, stereotype humor makes me larrrff and larrrff.)

    Rick: Okay! Pop music! Let’s go! Anyone here like the Human League?

  14. 14
    TomLane on 14 Nov 2009 #

    The original 1959 version of this charted at #30 in the U.S. Needless to say, this version never charted. And until now I’ve never heard this, but then I don’t remember the show airing in America. Maybe someone can tell us if the show was on in the U.S. in the 80’s.

  15. 15
    swanstep on 14 Nov 2009 #

    Youtube has a 1985 MTV ad for the Young Ones here. MTV had Young Ones weekend (every episode) marathons in 1989 – they were widely cited in fact as evidence that MTV had lost its way at that time, that it no longer played music etc…. little did anyone know how far the trend away from playing actual music on MTV would go through the 90s and 00s!

  16. 16
    wichita lineman on 14 Nov 2009 #

    My new year’s resolution to plough through every ’00s no.1 before Xmas has led me to conclude that Comic Relief is much more of a soul enema than X Factor/Pop Idol.

    This is where the fun began? As a one-off it would have worked pretty well, scripted and “actually funny” in places. But by the time you had Bananarama claiming French & Saunders had nixed all their best lines and ruined their cover of Help! you were jealous of American charts that are sloooow enough to keep seasonal/novelty hits at bay.

    Rory, lovely post on the Goodies. Last night I was reminded by someone in the same boat that my first brush with Wild Thing was on the Goodies, as sung by Graeme Garden, and I assumed it was a self-penned novelty song. The Troggs (though still a novelty of sorts) took a while to win me over, via K-Tel’s Goofy Greats.

    Errr… Lenny Henry? Has he ever been “actually funny”? Or just an irksome Lord Smuggington, who thought Rockit was edgy in ’86?

  17. 17
    weej on 14 Nov 2009 #

    I apprecitate that this isn’t a very good record, and it’s probably deserving of a ‘4’, but I actually owned it, at the age of 7, and I still enjoy it, stupid jokes especially. I can’t have even heard of The Young Ones at that age, but I suppose the humour was exactly on my level.
    The b-side is actually much better, in that it’s just a (slightly toned down) mini-episode of the show.

    I think it should also be noted that however bad this may be it’s still probably the least horrific comic relief record.

  18. 18
    Tom on 14 Nov 2009 #

    #17 one of the factors behind the mark was to put a bit of clear water between this and some of the subsequent CR efforts.

  19. 19
    Rory on 15 Nov 2009 #

    #13 – ah yes, Ade Edmondson’s Complete Bastard books were also part of the collection. The first of those came out in 1986 too.

    #16 – Wichita, spot on about “Wild Thing”, I thought it was a Goodies original too when I was 11-12… “grrrrr”.

  20. 20
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Re: 2 Aha! One of the rare posts where I’m confident that I know as much about the topic as Punctum does. For me the definitive view of the ‘Alternative Comedy’ movement came from Jerry Sadowitz: “In 1979 Keith Allen, Tony Allen and Alexei Sayle opened the door to a whole new way of thinking about comedy. And in 1981, Ben Elton closed it.” Documentation of the very early years of possibility is scant, but I’d recommend reading Roger Wilmut’s ‘Didn’t You Kill My Mother-In-Law’ and William Cook’s Comedy Store book, for an idea of what it achieved and why it couldn’t last.

    As far as records go, the Comic Strip album is interesting in having a record of what Keith Allen’s stand-up was like, and the Alexei Sayle material both here and on the ‘Cak’ LP is still genuinely really funny. The other Lp to look out for is by the ‘Alternative Cabaret’ group, the more radical wing of contrarians from about 1981; Tony Allen, Jim Barclay, Andy De La Tour and Pauline Melville. Heard almost three decades on only Melvile is amusing, in part because she’s adopting a character, but the Jim Barclay routine is interesting in understanding what these people were attempting to achieve.

    As for ‘Living Doll’, the absence of Alexei Sayle by this point is crucial. Even to a comedy-besotted 13 year-old boy the transplantation of The Young Ones to a seven inch single was a bit thin.

    ‘Hole In My Shoe’ still stands up really well, though – A lot more care and thought seemed to go into that. And Alexei Sayle’s ‘Ullo John Got A New Motor’ is (especially on the 12″) a really rather astonishing single – and one of the most exciting Top Of The Pops appearances of the time, too.

  21. 21
    Rory on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Yeah, I really love the Neil single and album still. Half the album even works as music, not just as comedy; the Donovan cover, for example.

    I’m going to have to amend the closing claim in my comment #12: the last single I bought that helped send a song to number one was actually the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in early 1989, which spent four weeks at the top in Australia. But that didn’t reach the top in Britain in its original incarnation, so this was the last where Popular is concerned. Too many views of this page must have clouded my thinking.

  22. 22
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Those other eighties Alexei Sayle non-hits in full;

    Alexei’s Midnight Runners – Pop Up Toasters
    Albania 1982 World Cup Squad – Albania! Albania! (“Not nearly as repressive as Romania)
    Alexei Sayle – Didn’t You Kill My Brother?
    Alexei Sayle – Meanwhile

  23. 23
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Nov 2009 #

    The other ur-text, for what it’s worth* — don’t know if it’s mentioned in Wilmut or Cook — is Trevor Griffiths’s mid-70s play Comedians, which was a high-profile BBC Play for Today in 1979 (I had a plan to post about on an earlier thread abt alt.com, and wrote notes but not I think the post itself… unless anyone remembers different)

    (haha yes not only am I unable to recall actual pop with the precision and exhuastiveness you guys manage, but i need your memories to pin down my OWN POSTS ON POPULAR)

    *A lot! It covers the entire territory surprisingly presciently, igven that it actually hinges on a “punk” (or anyway skinhead) performer, played by Joathan Pryce, who’s more interested in confrontation and catharsis than success — it’s actually particularly subtle on the downside of this, in its quiet way

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 16 Nov 2009 #

    I remember that broadcast of ‘The Comedians’ very well. Jonathan Pryce’s stage act in it made Alexi Sayle look like Ronnie Corbett. Also memorable for cuddly old Bill Fraser screaming about how he got an erection at Auschwitz.

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

    I had a high old time at the revival of Comedians at Hammersmith last month. Made me reflect that it seems like a formally perfect play to me; something evidently at stake for all characters at all times, a clear and relevant dialectic. And a favourite three act play, too; both thesis/ antithesis/ synthesis and a riotous middle act that’s bookended by the other two. Something I hadn’t realised before was how funny the caretaker and club secretary are, and Challenor’s report to the comics, particularly as played by a very dapper Keith Allen (ironic because in his day Allen was the closest that we got to a real-life Gethin Price). Critical response was been a bit grudging, I thought, largely due to the awkward age of the play – now historical and presenting a disappeared world, but not quite old enough to be a period piece.

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

    And lo! I present to you the BBC Audience Research for that 1979 Play For Today;

    AN AUDIENCE RESEARCH REPORT
    (WEEK 43)
    PLAY FOR TODAY: COMEDIANS
    By Trevor Griffiths
    Directed by Richard Eyre
    Thursday, 25th October, 1979. 10.05-11.35pm, BBC-1

    Size of audience (based on results of the Survey of Listening and Viewing).

    It is estimated that the audience for this broadcast was 2.6% (1.4 million viewers) of the United Kingdom population. Programmes on BBC-2 and ITV at the time were seen by 8.5% (averaged over Circuit Eleven Miami and International Snooker), and 13.1% (averaged over various programmes).

    Reaction of audience (based on 66 questionnaires completed by 4% of the Viewing Panel).

    The reactions of this sample of the audience were distributed as follows:-
    A+ A B C C-
    % % % % %
    13 23 34 14 16
    giving a Reaction Index of 51. The current average for the Play for Today productions this year is 61, with indices ranging from 33 (The Last Window Cleaner by Ron Hutchinson, Week 7) to 79 (the Spongers, by Jim Allen, Week 36).

    This play, which centred around an evening class for aspiring comedians, evoked a reasonably strong response from the sample audience. One third of those reporting found the production totally unappealing (‘absolute rubbish’, ‘if this is modern theatre then let it expire’). They disliked the constant coarseness of the dialogue and could see little point in the play as a whole. A typical comment was: ‘unworthy of the BBC’. Others who were less vociferous thought the basic idea sound, but felt the storyline somewhat shallow, failing to clearly bring out the author’s message. Nevertheless, a substantial minority were enthusiastic. These viewers considered the play a thought-provoking and ‘powerful’ drama which dealt with an unusual angle of comedy, making for compelling viewing. They considered that as well as showing the hard slog behind comedy, the exceptionally good script also successfully highlighted the prevalence of ‘cheap laugh gags’ as opposed to ‘truthful comment’ as a release of tension in society. In fact one respondent remarked: ‘It’s a long time since a TV play impressed me so much’.

    For the majority of reporting viewers, though, the play was disappointing. When asked why they watched the broadcast most respondents replies ranged over: ‘I thought it would be funny’, ‘I like plays on TV as a rule’, and ‘the publicity generated interest’ (only a few said ‘there was nothing better to watch’), but apart from the minority who enjoyed the play, the audience’s expectations were largely unsatisfied.

    Only a small section of the sample audience found the play totally inoffensive (17%). These viewers thought the racist and sexist jokes, together with the bad language, completely relevant ant justified within the context of the play’s message. For the remainder of those reporting the dialogue was in bad taste to some degree. One third felt very strongly about ‘the constant barrage of barrack-room language’. They considered that the ‘singularly uncouth speech throughout the play’ was unnecessary and not germane to the plot. This factor led several to switch off before the end. The largest section of the sample audience (49%) were less vocal in their criticisms. A few said that the ‘constant stream of bad language’ became boring rather than shocking while others admitted that they had found the dialogue slightly offensive even though they realized it formed an integral part of the play.

    Although some respondents allowed their adverse views on the play to colour their opinions, the acting was generally considered to be convincing and of a reasonably high standard. A few viewers were extremely enthusiastic, remarking that the whole cast had been superb – particularly Jonathan Pryce and Bill Fraser, both of whom were felt to have given ‘outstandingly sensitive performances’. Nevertheless, there was a fairly wide-spread feeling that the cast were deserving of better material.

    The production on the whole was well received, though there was little spontaneous comment on this aspect of the play. Viewers who were well disposed towards the work commended the realistic sets and felt the atmosphere of the school-room and nightclub had been excellently captured. Others, however considered all aspects of the play unappealing and were unable to single out any redeeming feature.”

  27. 27
    Snif on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Rory, The Goon Show is still being played on Radio National every week – they canned the Saturday broadcasts a few years back (amidst much howling from fans) and relegated it to 5.30am every Friday.

  28. 28
    Rory on 17 Nov 2009 #

    “Henry, we’ve been relegated to the graveyard shift.”
    “We’re falling to bits, Min!”

  29. 29
    Garry on 18 Nov 2009 #

    One of the first songs I ever played on radio back in 1997. It was with much glee I discovered the battered vinyl single in the record library, and played it as a shout out to a sick friend.

    I also remember finding a couple of Alexei Sayle singles as well – I loved his TV shows, but thought the singles were a bit rubbish. I think one of them was “Didn’t You Kill My Brotha” or something like that.

  30. 30
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Mark, you wrote at some length about The Comedians in an ILX post in your ‘teach Mark S a lesson’ series – mine was the alleged lesson, the subject being Louis Prima.

  31. 31
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Indeed I did!

    Martin are you back? Are you well?

  32. 32
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    A rather generous history of Comic Relief singles, from this great site;

    http://www.offthetelly.co.uk/?page_id=431

  33. 34
    Rory on 9 Jun 2014 #

    Death, you utter, utter, utter bastard.

  34. 35
    hectorthebat on 13 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch (for the original):

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1950s (2008)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  35. 36
    Lazarus on 10 Sep 2018 #

    Watching this again on TOTP it occurs to me that I never did ‘get’ the elephant joke – anyone care to enlighten me? Was there one in the original film? It can’t be the ‘gonna lock her up in a trunk’ line, surely – though I suppose that’s no less achievable than sticking a deckchair up your nose.

  36. 37
    Mark G on 10 Sep 2018 #

    Yes, that’s the joke.

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