23
Nov 09

SPITTING IMAGE – “The Chicken Song”

FT + Popular71 comments • 8,388 views

#570, 17th May 1986, video

I wouldn’t say I was a ever a fan of “Agadoo”. But I danced to it – like “The Birdie Song” and Russ Abbot’s “Atmosphere” it was played at school discos when I was 12 or 13, to entertain the segment who were there to jump around and didn’t care about girls. I saw Black Lace as quite harmless, a thing apart from the rest of pop and not really to be judged on its terms: they were the soundtrack to marshmallow eating contests and birthday congas, nothing more. So in a way “The Chicken Song” taught me to hate them. Because “The Chicken Song” was something more: it was satire. Not only that, the B-Side was political satire.

Actually, I’m not even sure “I’ve Never Met A Nice South African” qualifies as satire – it’s just sheer nastiness and all the more effective for that. It uncovers the secret of Spitting Image – the show was all about dehumanisation: the reduction of the famous to latex tics was also a way of creating the distance needed to really lay into them. “South African” worked because it was dehumanising the dehumanisers, damning a proud and prejudiced culture as a stinking, rubber-faced joke. Unfortunately, it was only the B-Side, and the A-Side dealt far less well with a far less worthy target.

Not that I thought so at the time: I loved “The Chicken Song”. But I was wrong: it’s asking you to make a straight comparison between a record which, however dreadful, is designed to help people enjoy themselves, or a record which is designed to sneer at people enjoying themselves. Which “The Chicken Song” does, very effectively: I don’t know who sang it but his voice is a black hole of disdain. Ah, you might say, but the problem with Black Lace and their Roadshow-fodder ilk is that they were a kind of enforced fun. If you weren’t joining in you could be seen as a killjoy. And this is a good point. I would counter that if you had the good luck to be a student in the 80s or 90s the kind of tupenny-ha’penny ‘surrealism’ peddled by “The Chicken Song” was far more grindingly inescapable and orthodox than any pineapple-pushing heartiness, and makes it exhausting to hear now.

And I’d add the very obvious point that Spitting Image are destroying the charts in order to save them – all that happened was “The Chicken Song” found its way onto disco playlists and people had the same kind of inane fun they were having before, only now with added air quotes. As Nietzsche said, battle not with funsters lest ye become a funster.

2

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I hate, hate , hate this song – ‘a black hole of disdain’ succinctly sums up why

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Hurray! The first number one that I absolutely ADORED at the time. I will forever associate it with being on holiday in Hayling Island, watching my dad constantly fall over while windsurfing and being incredibly annoying to my poor sister (trying to stick deckchairs up her nose etc).

  3. 3
    Birdseed on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Fascinating stuff, another I’d never heard before.

    The double irony of a song meant to mock the charts topping the chart makes me wonder who’s playing a joke on whom. Is it Spitting Image, fooling the public into mocking themselves and laughing all the way to the bank? Is it the public, repurposing a joke at their expense and subverting it by taking it literally?

    Or is it 1986, laughing at the attempts of amateur cultural analysts in 2009 to make sense of it all?

  4. 4
    Matt DC on 23 Nov 2009 #

    This is I think the first song I ever knew all the words to. Being in primary school at the time helped, as it was pretty much everywhere in the playground. Obviously I haven’t listened to it in at least 22 years.

  5. 5
    Kat but logged out innit on 23 Nov 2009 #

    OK, listening back to it for the first time since I was 4 now.

    Oh dear.

  6. 6
    poohugh on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Listen to the b-side it’s comedy gold!

  7. 7
    will on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Whilst I loved the TV show I never saw the point of this record. Black Lace never took themselves remotely seriously and in any case Agadoo was now TWO WHOLE YEARS OLD. Dire Straits or Five Star were far more deserving satirical targets in May 1986.

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I don’t suppose they had the Match Of The Day theme vaguely in mind when composing this? It hadn’t occurred to me before tho so perhaps not.

  9. 9
    punctum on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Though not directly aligned with the alternative comedy movement, the Central TV puppet show Spitting Image could be said to have shamed most of it from the point of view of political polemic; yet, as with TW3 a generation previously, the programme eventually demonstrated how any protest, if sufficiently popular, can be assimilated and nullified by any Establishment. The voice characterisations for the likes of skinhead biker Norman Tebbit, besuited cold rationalist Thatcher and the ventriloquist act of Davids Owen and Steel, were provided by the youthful likes of Rory Bremner, Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Steve Coogan. The caricatures and schematas were frighteningly spot on (and continued to be such into the nineties, with John Major literally The Grey Man), and few who witnessed it are likely to forget the 1987 election special which ended with the Thatcher puppet, hissing spite and sputum at the camera below, chillingly singing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”; it remains one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen on television, and only slightly less terrifying than the resigned horror that the majority of British people were about to want it for the third time.

    The downside of this type of satire, as always, lay in the easier targets the show found to pillory, particuarly in the light entertainment arena. “The Chicken Song” was written as a parody of the group Black Lace, erstwhile underperforming Eurovision entrants (“Mary-Ann”, 1979), who subsequently specialised in cheesy snare-the-tourists-at-the-airport Eurotack dance routine knees-ups, the most successful of which were “Superman (Gioca Jouer)” (#9, 1983) and the dreaded “Agadoo,” which stopped just short of becoming 1984’s eighth million-selling single and was kept off number one only by “Careless Whisper.”

    However, Black Lace were perhaps too easy a target for a series which had set its main targets so high, and as with the continued jibes at punk rock in David Nobbs’ Perrin novels – but didn’t the writer realise that Reggie Perrin WAS punk? – there is a slight air of condescension in “The Chicken Song,” which adopts the standard Black Lace template and then becomes the Club 18-30 equivalent of “Imagine” in its dance instructions; starting off with “Hold a chicken in the air/Stick a deckchair up your nose,” it then progresses through ever unlikelier steps (“Form a string quartet,” “Learn to speak Arapahoe”) before culminating in the bloodied cheer of “Casserole your gran/Disembowel yourself with spears,” all delivered as a jaunty singalong. But its irony, almost inevitably, worked against it; despite its inbuilt warning of “Though you hate this song/You’ll be humming it for weeks,” that is exactly what its public did, sending it speedily to number one and clapping along to it on the dancefloor in complete ignorance of what the song was saying.

    The other half of the “double B-side,” namely “(I’ve Never Met A) Nice South African” – and both were listed on the charts at the time – unsurprisingly received little airplay; another list song in the Lance Percival topical calypso/”I’ve Been Everywhere” mode (with more than a touch of Squeeze’s “Cool For Cats”) which again deliberately lurches toward the absurd (“I had lunch with Rowan Atkinson when he paid and wasn’t late,” “I’ve danced with ten-foot pygmies in a Montezuma ball”) until it gets to its payoff chorus of “But I’ve never met a nice South African…/’Cos we’re a bunch of arrogant bastards/Who hate black people.” It is unknown how many, if any, of the 800,000 people who bought the single gave this half any serious thought, or even listened to it; but bonus points to lyricist John Lloyd and colleagues for at least attempting a Trojan horse, and indeed making this the only chart-topping song to namecheck Breyten Breytenbach.

  10. 10
    MikeMCSG on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Tom – I think Phil Pope is the lead vocalist on this. I remember the South African song was actually broadcast on the show much earlier (autumn 84 IIRC). The common room audience was laughing along with it until the third chorus where an exception is made for white dissident Breyten Breytenbach of whom only 0.0000001% (being generous) had heard and the joke was killed stone dead.

    #3 Birdseed yes you can tie yourselves in knots pondering the multiple ironies of releasing this as a single. I don’t recall it being a charity single so the moral value of satirising a process you’re taking part in is dubious.

    I didn’t mind it without finding it remotely funny and wished it had hung on given the horror that came next.

  11. 11
    Alan on 23 Nov 2009 #

    the lyrics were by the creators of Red Dwarf

  12. 12
    Erithian on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Can I get in and be the first to say it’s written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, later best known as the creators of “Red Dwarf”?

  13. 13
    Erithian on 23 Nov 2009 #

    In the words of Unlucky Alf: “Booger!”

  14. 14
    thefatgit on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I had instinctively resisted Black Lace’s “Agadoo”. Not because I was a miserable git at parties (I WAS a miserable git at parties btw), but I felt that it’s chivvying “this is FUN! You should be JOINING IN!” message was anathaema to me. This reeked of the kind of Butlins/Pontins “organised” jolly-up, that I never ever felt comfortable with. Maybe it was a half-hearted attempt to “act cool” or perhaps more likely it was fear of assimilation. An attempt to resist, like Picard against The Borg and their imperative to homogenise the universe into cyber-zombies. Without our uniqueness, our individuality, who are we? It’s the same reason I resist Line Dancing, simply because it’s a calculated form of control, a rigid, structured exercise in dancehall totalitarianism…but more on that at a much later occasion.

    The Spitting Image parody did nothing more than make me shudder in bleak recognition of a joyless experience where everyone else was “having fun” except me.

  15. 15
    lonepilgrim on 23 Nov 2009 #

    re14 Picard and the Enterprise are the forces of blandness – viva la borg!

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 23 Nov 2009 #

    #10 It certainly sounds like it could be Philip Pope – much respect for this guy and his best works so a shame to realise that this is also on his CV!

  17. 17
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 23 Nov 2009 #

    if the borg did line-dancing it would be AWESOME

  18. 18
    ace inhibitor on 23 Nov 2009 #

    direct oughties descendant = that peter kaye cross-dressing x-parody christmas song

  19. 19
    ace inhibitor on 23 Nov 2009 #

    noughties?

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Maybe I should have used The Amnion in Stephen Donaldson’s Gap series as a comparative, rather than The Borg.

  21. 21
    Birdseed on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I have to say, though: as a Swede, the nonsensical humour appeals to me a great deal. Come on, “Behead an Eskimo”, that’s funny. Ha ha. Isn’t it?

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 23 Nov 2009 #

    The singer sounds like one of Crass, who usually picked more deserving targets at least. Middle class whey-faced types pointing and sniggering at poor people on package holidays. They went on to write a sci-fi series? Coo, what a shock! Stones and glass houses aside, this is truly nasty nerdwork.

    Those well known satirists The Shadows released a double B-side of The Dreams I Dream/Scotch On The Socks in 1966 (quite beautiful – red B’s on a white label, just like the regular Columbia A-label demos, for those into less spiteful nerdwork).

  23. 23
    Pete on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I think there is a lot of the Police in the backing in I’ve Never Met A Nice South African, which I think a lot of people listened to a bit more than the a-side because, well the a-side grates quite quickly.

  24. 24
    Garry on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I prefer “Checkout the Chicken” by Grandmaster Chicken and the DJ Duck for silly uses of chickens in songs.

    There’s a deconstruction of South African here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3700234

  25. 25
    Jungman Jansson on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I had never even heard of “Agadoo” until now, and the same goes for “The Chicken Song”. Hence no unpleasant memories of being tormented by a song that (wittingly or unwittingly) became the very thing it set out to mock.

    And while I’d say it isn’t very nice to sneer at people for their taste in musical entertainment, I’m also not saintly enough to be above a good sneer every now and then.

    So – slightly funny the first and maybe the second time I heard it, but definitely not enjoyable as an actual song, only as cheap shot comedy.

    SwedenWatch: No trace of it. To the best of my knowledge, Spitting Image never aired here – whether it was thought to be “too British”, too rude, or if it’s simply coincidence, I don’t know. Not the Nine O’Clock News was, for instance, shown on national TV and that seems British enough – so it’s anyone’s guess.

  26. 26
    col124 on 23 Nov 2009 #

    With all the cheap novelties and irritants that filled up the top of the ’86 charts, the George Michael track sounds like Schubert by comparison.

    “Spitting Image” had a mild vogue in the US around this time. I think there were a couple of made-for-America specials, unless I’m remembering wrongly (one had Reagan and Stallone heavily featured, and one amusing bit about Roger Moore praising Leonard Nimoy’s acting versatility). The “jump the shark” moment for SI came when they did Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” video, at least for my sullen teenage friends..

  27. 27
    swanstep on 23 Nov 2009 #

    Seeing this title coming up, I’d assumed that someone had got to #1 with, say, a dance/silly costumes video to the old Chicken Dance polka (which often shows up in sloppy drunk settings in the US, and which did get some Pabst-swilling, hipster attention in the ’90s). Alas not. Next.

  28. 28
    Billy Smart on 24 Nov 2009 #

    This is the third and final disc on Popular that my father ever bought – after Jailhouse Rock and Two Little Boys!

    I must say that in the context of being performed by puppets of Douglas Hurd and Archbishop Runcie, and then within the context of a half-hour Sunday night show, I did find this – and do now – funny. Divorced from the visuals though, this did become a bit tiresome. And listening to it again now, overwhelmingly sour.

    Yes, there were a couple of US specials, which suffered from being extended and carrying a plot, instead of quickfire sketches and songs. My feeling about Spitting Image as a show is that it stopped being funny once Ian Hislop and Nick Newman stopped writing the bulk of it in 1989.

    Agadoo I like though! Something to do with the tinkling structure of it that seems to turn in on itself.

  29. 29
    Billy Smart on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Number 2 watch: Three weeks of Patti LaBelle and Michael MacDonald’s ‘On My Own’. Certainly not to the taste of my 13 year-old self.

  30. 30
    TomLane on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Happy to say that here in the U.S. we passed on this one.

  31. 31
    LondonLee on 24 Nov 2009 #

    For some reason I have a 45 of Black Lace’s “I Speaka Da Lingo” which I assume I must have bought in a fit of studenty ironic japery. I think it made me laugh more than this did though, and I loved the TV show.

  32. 32
    weej on 24 Nov 2009 #

    So who actually sung this song then? Some people above are saying Philip Pope, but all the information I can find has him as composer / producer rather than singer. The only actual claim I can find on the internet is this – http://www.inthenews.co.uk/comment/entertainment/tv/interview-remembering-spitting-image-$1338336.htm – in which the singer is named as one Kate Robbins. But it really doesn’t sound like a woman to me. Anyone have any better evidence?

  33. 33
    weej on 24 Nov 2009 #

    …or was it Michael Fenton Stevens? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Fenton_Stevens

  34. 34
    Tom on 24 Nov 2009 #

    I cannot believe that the voice of kindly Mr Beakman from Third And Bird was responsible for this horror :(

  35. 35
    Izzy on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Spitting Image was always very ropey as I recall – I’d feel I’d seen a good episode if it had two good gags. More likely it would have an excellent opening skit followed by an entire show of filler.

    I speak as a (pre) teenager though – I suspect the show pitched itself differently at different audiences and that others will have got more out of it. Even so, as a kid I felt caught between two versions of what it imagined its audience to be, so that the wordy stuff was usually too obvious and the puerile stuff just plain not funny. I was always happiest to note some minor gag going on off-centre, which at least speaks of attention to detail. Probably I was just oblivious to much of it – it seems like the kind of show that’d lend itself to the kind of public-school-type humour for which I would be no ready audience.

    I’m amazed it aired at all outside the UK, to be honest. I’ve seen a French version of the idea and had not one clue what was going on, who the characters were, or even which bits were the jokes (and my French is pretty good, it’s a cultural reference problem). Even the British characters didn’t necessarily translate, at least to me – although, like the single, the show did accord a sort of cachet to those it sought to lampoon. I still would have little idea who John Selwyn Gummer was, for example, had I not frequently passed his house in Queen Anne’s Gate to see his puppet on display in his front window. At least I think that’s his house – it’s a bit try-hard, whoever it is.

    The idea was revived with a fanfare about two years ago, with computer animation rather than puppets – which did seem to be missing the point rather. I presume that version sank without trace.

  36. 36
    Rob Brennan on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Absolutely loved it at the time. I remember Smash Hits doing an illustrated lyric page with which I did an evening’s work of memorising the chorus for later bellowing in the playground. We’d do Snooker Loopy as a encore. I have no desire to hear either now.

  37. 37
    Billy Smart on 24 Nov 2009 #

    TOTPWatch. Spitting Image performed The Chicken Song on the Top Of The Pops of May 22 1986. I remember that as being a cumbersome appearance, featuring Ronald Reagan on drums.

    Also in the studio that week were; Jaki Graham, Billy Ocean and Simply Red. Peter Powell was the host.

  38. 38
    Mark G on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Rory McGrath singing?

    Just sounds like him…

  39. 39
    lonepilgrim on 24 Nov 2009 #

    re37 that sounds like one of the dullest TOTP line-ups ever – with PP the tasteless icing on the cake.
    That reminds me that for some reason he was championing an up and coming b(l)and (possibly called Rouen – but I may be wrong) and appeared at a gig they did at the University of London Institute of Education Student Union some time in 1986 – which in turn triggers memories of seeing Sonic Youth being photographed for the NME just outside the building on another day.

  40. 40
    wichita lineman on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Re 35: I remember the French version being little more than a non-satirical, gentle jog around the French political scene with only the puppets as a common link. Don’t recall Le Pen at all.

    I always watched SI (wonder if that was intentional?) but often felt it was too Steve Bell-ish in its heaviness of touch. D Steele as a pocket-size figure – great! Douglas Hurd’s 99 flake hair – great! But not at all consistent. Having said THAT I don’t think for a minute that if it was a brand new idea anyone would broadcast it in 2009.

  41. 41
    Steve Mannion on 24 Nov 2009 #

    There was talk of the show returning to ITV a few years ago (strangely around the same time of satirical animation sketch show 2DTV) but this seems to have come to nothing. If it had I wonder how many of the original puppets could’ve been re-used.

    It’s weird to think that it was actually still going right up until the arrival of Tony Blair (initially they portrayed him as a hyperactive schoolboy but only after he became the new Labour leader did they add the super wide smile iirc). Perhaps he was the one of the last puppets to have been made.

  42. 43
    thefatgit on 24 Nov 2009 #

    SI didn’t always hit their targets dead on, but as it became more news-driven and writers had to script on the hoof, it had a freshness of feel for a while at least.

    Thatcher’s voice was by Steve Nallon (as was Major’s) and I think it’s that vocal caricature that endures in my mind more so than Janet Brown’s which was, at the time heralded as the definitive Thatcher Impersonation.
    Nallon could absolutely turn soft tones (used particularly effectively when Thatcher was being patronising) into a harsh guttral roar (used when bollocking her cabinet) at the drop of a hat. Skinhead Tebbit in his biker jacket stroking a cosh was pretty much bang on as well.

  43. 44
    LondonLee on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Lord, imagine the “fun” they could have had with George W. Bush.

  44. 45
    ace inhibitor on 24 Nov 2009 #

    #36 – Snooker Loopy, much more memorable than this one. the Edinburgh-Dundee train stops at Cupar, (and then) Leuchars before crossing the Tay. A friend can never hear the station announcement at edinburgh waverley without mentally triggering chas & dave

  45. 46
    Izzy on 24 Nov 2009 #

    #45: quite magnificent!

  46. 47
    Billy Smart on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Funnily enough, I always think of Chas & Dave’s ‘Margate’ whenever I pass through Moorgate.

  47. 48
    AndyPandy on 24 Nov 2009 #

    the rather unpleasant and unfortunately not uncommon sound of middle class often Oxbridge educated members of the alternative comedy “establishment” taking the piss out of the working class rather ironic when I should imagine most of them liked to identify with the left.

  48. 49
    pink champale on 25 Nov 2009 #

    this was the second single i bought (i never much got the single-buying habit though and i’m pretty sure the next 7″ i bought after this was pavement’s “trigger cut”) and we all thought it was hilarious at the time. in retrospect it is unpleasantly sneery (the involvement of the loathsome r mcgrath would make absolute sense) but i’m pretty sure that nearly everyone buying it did get the joke, and unlike, say, frank zappa’s “satires” it does at least have the grace to be as good at the thing it is sneering at*.

    i think the b side lasted a bit longer in our affections and i remember trying but failing to cause an outrage by playing it in the ‘bring in a song’ bit of a school music lesson. actually, we all had to note down and give a score to whatever was played each lesson in our music books – i’d love to see this now as a bit of cultural history. the other record i remember taking in was queen’s ‘stone cold crazy’. this received much awestruck praise for how fast freddie was singing iirc.

    *(my views on zappa consist entirely of what i remember myself to have thought one night fifteen years ago when a z-loving mate played me some of his stuff, and so i admit they may be open to a degree of challenge)

  49. 50
    Izzy on 25 Nov 2009 #

    I reached a similar view on Zappa after equally brief exposure to him: a version of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ where a horn section plays the guitar solo note-for-note; and John Lennon doing ‘Well’ with the Mothers of Invention, where beforehand Zappa tells the crowd to ‘cool it you guys’ and they do. I would normally admire those kinds of confidence, but (as you say) there’s something that goes beyond into sneery territory – on the latter clip he comes across less leader-of-the-gang, and more like a humourless Fonzie.

  50. 51

    If I am not busy at the weekend, I may attempt a critique of Spitting Image thru the radical lens of my old pal-foe B.Watson’s Adornoid reading of Zappa.

    LUCKILY FOR ALL OF YOU I AM VERY LIKELY TO BE BUSY AT THE WEEKEND.

  51. 52
    Billy Smart on 25 Nov 2009 #

    The best Spitting Image song pastiche was in the summer of 1985, The middle-aged Who singing;

    “We used to be on LSD!
    Talkin’ ’bout our generation.
    Now we’re in the SDP!
    Talking about proportional representation.”

  52. 53
    LondonLee on 25 Nov 2009 #

    My opinion on Frank Zappa was formed while on a five hour drive across Florida with a Zappa nut and having to listen to several of his albums. Unfortunately it wasn’t my car so I had no choice in the musical selection. Believe me, your first impression was right, he’s bloody awful. By the time we got to Miami I wanted to rip my own ears off.

  53. 54
    thefatgit on 25 Nov 2009 #

    Zappa was the most Marmite of artists. Either inspiring love or hate. My Dad brought home a Zappa album after one of his “lost weekends”, where he would end up round a friends house smoking dope and watching Cheech and Chong videos. The album in question was “Sheikh Yabouti” which really only had 2 memorable tracks on it. One was “Dancing Fool” and the other was “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes”. I got the feeling that Mr Zappa was a cynical old misogynist who should take a good long hard look in the mirror. The same could be said for my Dad at the time.

  54. 55
    Erithian on 26 Nov 2009 #

    #48 – Andy, I have to take issue with you a little concerning “middle class Oxbridge educated” types taking the piss out of the working class. What about those members of the working class who hated “Agadoo” and the like as well? – there must have been a significant number of those buying the record, not thinking they were having the piss taken out of them but enjoying the pisstake of an irritating record.

    As I write this I’m thinking of the scene in “Educating Rita” – by Willy Russell, no middle-class type himself – where Rita’s family is singing along to a Black Lace-type song in the pub and her mother moans “there must be better songs to sing”. Not everybody buying the Chicken Song will have had aspirations to an Open University degree, granted, but what you’re saying still seems “classist” in itself.

    Having been subjected to mass breakouts of dancing to Agadoo, the Birdie Song etc as I was preparing to leave the nest (ha!) I enjoyed the Chicken Song and still do from time to time. It’s the inventiveness of the “instructions” (e.g. form a string quartet and pretend your name is Keith) which makes it listenable more than a couple of times, and although I wouldn’t defend it as a great record, it’s better than the average comedy hit.

    These were politically fraught times which brought about harsh responses in comedy, which is why Spitting Image was so vituperative during the high summer of Thatcherism. It was also around this time that “When Saturday Comes” and “Off The Ball” were launched, the harsh Private Eye-style response to the state of football at the time.

    It became received wisdom that Spitting Image’s puppets were of a rather higher quality than their scripts, and a lot of the time this was true. Nevertheless the final series included some of its sharpest material: Major and Lamont as layabout workers who greet every enquiry as to when the recession will end with a dismissive “Dunno mate”; and the advent of New Labour.

    If the ratings had been as high as in its heyday, the portrayal of the relationship between Blair and John Prescott would have entered the public consciousness as surely as that of Steel in Owen’s pocket. One sketch showed Prescott getting up every morning thinking THIS will be the day the traditional values of the Labour Party come to the fore. He spends the day being foiled at every step by Blair and goes to bed every night thinking TOMORROW will be the day… etc. Another was a parody of Supergrass’s “Alright” video showing Prescott, Blair and Margaret Beckett on those bikes, with Prezza singing “shut me gob… zip it tight… while ‘e talks shite…”

  55. 56

    I remember the original Fluck and Law maquettes from the sunday glossies long before the show started, and looked on wikipedia to fnd a little more about F&L, then and now. Very thin etry — somehow they’ve fallen out of (internet-generated) history — except that, to my baffled delight, Roger Law has (apparently) moved to China, to the legendary Jingdhezen*, the “porcelain city”, were he makes ceramics!

    *This place pops up in my day job fairly often, as the craft of ceramics is a regular feature.

  56. 57
    Izzy on 26 Nov 2009 #

    #55: those Prescott ideas absolutely scream ‘missed opportunity’. Why did Spitting Image eventually fail? It can’t have been for want of material* – think what you could do with a Vladimir Putin puppet. The only reasons I can think of are bad writing, and the rise of the much sharper Have I Got News For You?. Or maybe it just got old – but then there’s always some kind of political satire thing kicking around to some kind of acclaim, even if it’s really poor like the political bits of Mock The Week.

    * that said, I do remember reading that the ill-fated recent computer-animated revival deliberately cut out Jack Straw for fear that the audience wouldn’t know who he is. That’s a shocking lack of faith in the medium right there.

  57. 58
    ace inhibitor on 27 Nov 2009 #

    Are HIGNFY, mock the week etc sharper than spitting image, or just cheaper?

  58. 59
    Erithian on 27 Nov 2009 #

    I wonder in which sense of the word you mean “cheaper”? Cheaper to make, no doubt – but in the case of Mock the Week in particular some of the humour tends to be pretty cheap – you laugh but feel slightly dirty about it afterwards! Of course as Billy pointed out upthread, Ian Hislop was a major scriptwriter for Spitting Image in its early days, and with his bursts of outrage and Merton’s flights of surrealism HIGNFY is still going strong. (Not to mention Hislop’s startling version of an upcoming number one…)

    But there’s a definite backlash underway against “edgy” humour – Mock the Week v Rebecca Adlington, Jimmy Carr on injured soldiers and of course Sachsgate being cases where they’ve gone a step too far. And it’s curious to note how some of the arguments in defence of those cases could have been made for Bernard Manning in the 70s.

    BTW Punctum #9 – “the majority of British people were about to want [Thatcherism] for the third time” – not quite. The Tories got, as I recall, some 60% of the seats in 1987 with 42% of the vote; and with a turnout around 70% that means that fewer than three people in ten who could have voted for them did so. Still more than any other party of course, but not a majority of us – it rarely if ever is.

  59. 60
    Izzy on 27 Nov 2009 #

    Jimmy Carr absolutely didn’t go a step too far. The backlash came from professional offendees only. The actual targets of the joke no doubt go in for exactly that sort of humour among themselves. Not that the soldiers actually were the targets, of course – the whole thing is exactly what political humour should be about, and I’m delighted that Carr came out fighting.

    Edit: I’m not getting at you, I know you were only noting the backlash – it’s just that the whole cheapening of debate and the elevation of ‘offence’ to the worst of crimes really gets to me. Comedy may not be a very important manifestation of it, but the same process threatens sensible treatment of other public issues and that is important. Such is fertile soil for ‘edgy’ humour in future, I guess, so maybe the rest of them will have to sharpen their acts up.

  60. 61
    Pete Baran on 27 Nov 2009 #

    The irony of the Jimmy Carr gag was that the paralympics was initially designed for injured servicemen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralympics

  61. 62
    Erithian on 27 Nov 2009 #

    Thanks for saying that Izzy, and no I didn’t take it personally. Listening to the debate on the radio between a Carr fan and the mother of a maimed soldier, I could see elements of both viewpoints. As someone was quick to point out, that gag is just the kind of one soldiers would make amongst themselves (my dad was in Italy at the end of WW2 and told me some gags I’d hesitate to reproduce here), but maybe the point is that as a non-soldier Carr wasn’t entitled to tell it himself – is it analogous to a white comic telling gags black comics can tell about black people, or is that a dangerous route to go down?

    I hear what you say about professional offendees too. It’s noticeable how when this sort of thing arises the media know exactly who to contact for an outraged response. Similar to the fuss the other week about £47m being paid in bonuses to MoD staff – it’s just part of the kind of pay package that thousands in the public sector are on, but it’s easy to contact bereaved families, spin it as outrageous and exploit their grief for the sake of a two-day story.

    Can you not imagine a point, though, at which you yourself would say someone has gone too far? I enjoyed Billy Connolly for years, give or take a Lotto ad or two, but the Ken Bigley joke was hard to stomach.

  62. 63
    Izzy on 27 Nov 2009 #

    Funny you should mention that: I was actually at the Apollo the night of the Ken Bigley joke (one of about four comedy gigs I’ve ever been to) and feel Connolly’s been misrepresented. As I recall it, the immediate context was what bastards the kidnappers were for putting him through the ordeal of pleading for his life every night, as if they were ever going to let him go. i.e. ‘just put him out of his misery’ rather than ‘come on, don’t make us wait’.

    It’s a really risky line to go down and I totally understand why he got pilloried – I suspect principally because at least part of the public was equally strung along into getting its hopes up every time a new video appeared – but it wasn’t the malicious one that got reported. As things panned out, it was even arguably right on point.

  63. 64
    Erithian on 27 Nov 2009 #

    You’re right, that is a subtly different spin on it, and one which might have eased the public outrage which ensued (I think the execution happened within 48 hours of the controversy over the joke, didn’t it?) Connolly didn’t seem to be trying too hard to defend himself, though (perhaps he was weary of dealing with the press), and his career did seem to take a knock.

  64. 65
    Izzy on 27 Nov 2009 #

    I’d call it a ‘murder’ rather than an ‘execution’ myself.

    I don’t think it would have eased the outrage. The joke was undeniably in terrible taste, if by bad taste one means things unpalatable to the majority – even if the point was a good one. It would have taken some effort to change the zeitgeist on that one, and I think anyone would duck that challenge. (I think Boris Johnson was next into that hot water, wasn’t he? He didn’t have the option of sitting it all out.)

    Normally everyone does duck out, hence the insincere, meaningless apologies that clog up too much coverage – leading to more and more of the same tactics. This is why I was so pleased to see Jimmy Carr come out swinging, I wish people would do it more often (where they have a good case that is – it didn’t do Carol Thatcher much good!)

    The stuff you say at #62 is an education in how the media works. Not just offendees but all sorts of pressure groups influence the way a story is reported. I’m not sure it’s the media pushing it all the time, I think the pressure groups are feeding these stories a lot of the time. I think you see this particularly with a scrupulous organ like the BBC which tries hard not to impose a narrative of its own, but ends up having its context set for it by whoever has the loudest mouth bellowing in its ear. I saw this myself when something I’d been working on hit the BBC website during the week – there was an accurate story with the unadorned facts for the first couple of hours after the story broke, but thereafter the context got filled up by interest groups getting their quotes in, until by the end of the day you can get something quite distorted. That didn’t actually happen too badly this time around because there were voices on both sides, but on a previous occasion only one side were interested in lobbying for coverage, with the result that the story did a full 180° during the course of the day – what had started as a victory for one side ended the day being reported as a victory for the other!

  65. 66
    ace inhibitor on 29 Nov 2009 #

    well actually, I just meant cheaper to make, but interesting subsequent debate…My thought was that HIGNFY-style ‘quiz’ shows are the comedic equivalent of reality TV, an interesting idea to begin with that becomes ubiquitous, lazy programming (according to which analogy HIGNFY is the original Castaway, and Argumental is something like Celebrity Love Island). You don’t have to spend months making puppets and thinking up songs that may or may not fall flat.

  66. 67
    lonepilgrim on 30 Dec 2009 #

    I seem to recall that the Chicken Song featured in the BBC history of comedy pop that was shown (again) recently and which is featured here: http://tinyurl.com/ybyqopz

  67. 68
    Tom on 8 Feb 2010 #

    Know this was mentioned in the thread but I can’t remember whether it was linked: the 87 “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” election special http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReIAna459sg

    (thanks @danhancox on Twitter)

  68. 69
    Steve Mannion on 8 Feb 2010 #

    I saw Prezza retweeting it the other day so did the same (er, not that i RT everything he does).

  69. 70
    benson_79 on 22 Sep 2020 #

    This was the song that got me into watching TOTP and following the charts properly, for better or worse. Found it hilarious at the time, but Tom’s review is alas pretty much spot on. I’ve much more time for Black Lace these days – teaching a motley bunch of Germans the moves to Agadoo remains a fond memory of mine.

  70. 71
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    4/10 for the A-side, but I think the B-side is terrific.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page