Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's The Way I Tell 'Em

After a heavy lunch which prevented any further fence-building, tree-planting, hole-digging, garage-tidying or any other type of Sunday activity, my family loved nothing more than sitting down in front of the television and watching one my step-father's numerous VHS tapes. The video cupboard was full of what could only be described as "a bit of blue." Not porn I hasten to add, but "adult" comedians. Dozens of "18" rated videos lined the shelf and were always deemed to be off-limits to me. I could never understand at the time why Frank Butcher from Eastenders was not suitable for family viewing, or why I couldn't watch a performance of that nice man from Bullseye. Instead, it was usually a Candid Camera marathon that would take us up to teatime. It stayed that way until I was fifteen.

Finally, in 1995, I decided that I could not take any more hidden camera action. There are only so many times that you can see a car without an engine being pushed into a petrol station (with hilarious results) before you want to kick in the television set. I voiced my opinion and was surprised to find that they agreed with me.

"We thought we might let you watch a compilation of some of the comedians to find out if you want to see them in full" said my mother, as she inserted The Best Of The Comedians (a '70s show that featured stand-up performances from people such as Mike Reid, Frank Carson, Jim Bowen et al) into the video machine. "It might be a bit rude though!"

As I sat there listening to mother-in-law jokes and near-the-knuckle tales of fictional sexual encounters, I had to wonder when the rude bits were going to begin. What my parents didn't know was that I had been watching "grown-up" comedy in the privacy of my bedroom for a couple of years. I was particularly fond of The Day Today and was enjoying Knowing Me, Knowing You (amongst other shows) each week. BBC2 and Channel Four were my two sources of comedy and shaped much of my personality and humour. I also loved Tarrant On TV which gave an insight into the naughtier aspects of television around the world (as well as the mandatory serious bit about AIDS before the commercial break which would always be met with a solemn silence from the studio audience). In addition to this, I had been reading (and watching) people like Clive James and Stephen Fry who were not entirely wholesome.

In comparison to that lot, The Comedians offered nothing that I had not heard before. However, there was something quite appealing about the old-fashioned atmosphere that was conveyed and I eventually found The Comedians to be quite, well, pleasurable.

I never really embraced the "blue" scene as much as my parents, though. They once went on a weekend break to Bournemouth in order to catch a rare performance by Jimmy Jones. He even got them up on stage and had a drink with them afterwards. I must admit that I was quite jealous that I didn't go with them. It sounded like they had a great time. M and I were so thrilled by their tales that we even went on a little trip to Bournemouth ourselves. Unfortunately, comedy season was pretty much over by then so it was a choice between Danny La Rue and Joe Pasquale. We went with Pasquale, who disappointed us by doing the exact same routine that he had done on Des O'Connor Tonight for the previous six years (and the same routine that he still does to this day). Still, we managed to track down a rare copy of Alan Lancaster's Life After Quo in HMV, then stumbled upon a topless beach and spotted many pairs of (to quote M) "perfectly formed breasts." It was therefore well worth the trip.

However, just as I was considering crossing over to "the blue side" a major event occurred. I was dragged along to a Jim Davidson performance at Cardiff's St David's Hall. I had enjoyed Jim on Big Break but I could never identify with him as a comedian. He gave a terrible performance that saw him complain about the sound level for the first third of the show, insult people in the audience for the second third and then finish off with some ill-advised political rants. We drove home from the concert in silence. The following day, my mother asked to borrow my Alan Partridge videos "just for a breath of fresh air."

I never got them back.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Roll The Dice!

As an undergraduate student I was a lot like Garfield the cat. I ate a lot of junk food and always dreaded Mondays - the day of the most boring lecture ever written: Symbology In Media. This lecture consisted of us watching numerous episodes of long forgotten 80's Australian soap A Country Practice, listening to Professor Tulloch's bell theory and watching Eghosa writing copious notes at the front of the theatre.

To numb the boredom pains, my friend R and I created numerous little games at the back of the class. They started off on a low-key basis (making subtle changes to television programme titles to create Eghosa-style errors; Westenders, Carnation Street, Home & Further Away), grew in popularity (combining an item of food with an item of clothing to create amusing combinations like Beef Tracksuit. These would leave us breathless with stifled laughter, tears rolling down our faces until we could let it all out at the end of the lecture) and eventually left a lasting legacy.

Our final game was so big that it had to be played during the days between lectures with the results being announced (and laughed at) the following week: Book Review Club.

This game had many rules. The first rule was, of course, that you didn't talk about Book Review Club. It was 1999, we were students, Fight Club had just been released. What else would you expect?

The rules then went on to state that the participant(s) must:

-Think of the most unlikely celebrity.

-Go to the Amazon website and find either a biography or a book based on the chosen star.

-Write a review in formal style but with many subtle, intentional inaccuracies and comedy references.

- End the review with the words "Roll The Dice" or "Best Of Order Please." Don't ask me why, it was R‘s idea.

- Get as many "this review was helpful" stars as possible.

Every week, lectures were spent thinking of the chosen celebrity for the following seven days. Within six months, we had built up quite a portfolio of celebrity reviews. It was such fun that R’s brother LH even started playing the game.

Nine years later, those reviews are still on the Amazon site and are accumulating helpful votes from the biography-loving population.

Tom O'Connor

The famed presenter of ITV's Cross Wits. He used to be a teacher, you know...

Des O'Connor

No relation to Tom - just a happy coincidence. However, if you will call your autobiography Bananas Can't Fly! you're asking for trouble. LH's is the review at the top of the page.

Jimmy Hill

Famous for his chin. And a bit of football apparently.

Uri Gellar

Concentrate! I'm not sure who wrote this - it wasn't me - but it's the one that begins with "Johnathon Margolis" and ends with the brilliant "this is even more convincing than the book Uri wrote about himself."

Eric Hall

Eric Hall is a sport agent with a very outgoing personality. His catchphrase is "Monster!"

Greg Martin

Greg Martin is the son of Beatles producer George Martin. He's quite the playboy. Unfortunately, somebody called Juan has since added a review, although I have a very strong suspicion that he was inspired by our Book Review Club style.

Michael Crawford

There are quite a few genuine reviews here too. However, LH's is the one that refers to Mr Crawford as the British Sammy Davis Jr.

Ronan Keating

One of LH's later efforts. He constantly refers to Roland Keatings.

Peter Stringfellow

Ah, Peter Stringfellow - King Of Clubs. Again, a couple of people have posted reviews since (and they actually enjoyed the book). My review contains one of my favourite pieces of criticism: "I received the book as a gift after gaining a place at university, as somebody thought that it would be useful for my degree." Scathing words indeed.

Lenny Henry

Arooga, Arooga! Oh no, that's John Fashanu.

Angela Lansbury

Good old Angela Lansbury. Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris was one of my favourite films when I was younger. I therefore had plenty of ammunition for this one. However, I think R has to take first prize with his introduction: "I was guided to this biography by a fellow fan who goes to the same church as me."

Joan Sims

Ah, Joan Sims. The star of so many Carry Ons and the video for Morrissey's Ouija Board, Ouija Board.

Bob Monkhouse

Bob Monkhouse is genuinely one of my all-time comedy heroes. That didn't make him immune though. R seemed to have a bit of theme running through his review: "If worshipping Bobby Monkhouse was a religion than this text would be the bible" and "Three Hail Mary's and a read of Crying With Laughter later, I am truly a convert to the church of Monkhouse."

Bruce Forsyth

Brucie wasn't safe either! His career was in a bit of a trough when these reviews were written, so a few serious reviewers have come along since his Strictly Come Dancing comeback. Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

Jeremy Beadle

This is the only book from the above list that I have actually read. I found it for 50p in The Works and thought it would pass an hour. It is very similar to Alan Partridge's Bouncing Back in that nearly every anecdote ends with the phrases "needless to say, I had the last laugh" or "needless to say, they were one of the nicest people I ever met." For some reason, only my review survives (the other one is genuine) - it wasn't even particularly funny. Not even Beadle's untimely death earlier this year could bring in the reviewers, so I'm guessing that my copy has not yet risen in value.

Jim Davidson

"It's only a game so put up a real good fight" sang Captain Sensible in the theme tune to Big Break. I hope Jim had his boxing gloves on (or at least a snooker cue) because these are three of our best reviews. "Too many people get hung up on political correctness, but if you ask any of the boys down at my local Social Club who they would rather see out of Jim Davidson and Alan Davies, you will hear a resounding chorus of JIM! JIM! JIM!"

An attempt to revive Book Review Club was made in 2006. Unfortunately, Amazon have tightened up their admissions policy since the late nineties and only LH's critique of Eamonn Holmes made it through the net. However, it's a fitting end (and tribute) to a game that did a lot to brighten up cold, dark Monday mornings a decade ago.

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