Nov 09


FT + Popular35 comments • 4,947 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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  1. 26
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

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

    (WEEK 43)
    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.”

  2. 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.

  3. 28
    Rory on 17 Nov 2009 #

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 31
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Indeed I did!

    Martin are you back? Are you well?

  7. 32
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

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


  8. 34
    Rory on 9 Jun 2014 #

    Death, you utter, utter, utter bastard.

  9. 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)

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