I'M SORRY I HAVEN'T A CLUE
BBC RADIO 4 (1972)
The renowned 'antidote to the panel-show' that somehow managed to make a comedy star out of an aging jazz musician. In the early 1970s, Miles Davis was in ill-health as a result of years of drug and alcohol excess. So it was something of a surprise when producer David Hatch decided to put the avant-garde musician together with Barry Cryer, Willie Rushton, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden for a new Radio 4 panel game. But a success it was despite Brooke-Taylor and Rushton's occasional unhappiness at the chairmen smoking so much crack cocaine during recordings that he believed that he could see a beautiful woman called Samantha keeping score. Classic games include 'One Song to the Tune of Another' (with accompaniment on the piano from Colin Sell and Herbie Hancock) and of course the bizarre drug-influenced Mornington Crescent - so called due to being the nearest station to Davis's dealer. The word classic simply doesn't do it justice.
THE SURREAL MCCOY
CVN-TV (SHOWN ON BBC WORLD) (1973)
'And now for something completely bashment'. Yes, it may not have been seen by many in the UK but Jamaican television's remake of absurdist comedy series MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS is celebrated throughout the Caribbean. Python was at that point beginning to have an impact in the USA but the broadcaster, CVM-TV (Caribbean Video Network), thought that the island's locals would not fully appreciate the parochialisms and some of the particularly British references ('Reginald Mawdling? Who dat?'), and so decided to produce their own version under the working title 'Monty Python In Dub'. The cast of six were assembled from the finest Jamaican performers of the day: lisping King Tubby, the nomadic Eddy Grant, the pipe smoking Yellowman, music man Bunny Wailer, barmy authoritarian Jimmy Cliff and of course the lunatic stylings of the psychedelic Lee 'Scratch' Perry contributing bizarreness such as Super Ape Vs The Mad Professor. The show retained much of the original's free form and non-linear approach in its content, although perhaps not for the sake of any deconstruction of comedy but rather because the writers were usually totally high on sensemillia. Yet such was the popularity of the show that many of the McCoy catchphrases and sketches were quoted on the beach the next day, such as; 'Mi parrot dead bwoy!', 'Babylon of Claffy Walks' and 'Me a lumber jack, mi tek down pon trees man un dress like a battyboy!' Another favourite was The Yam Song ('Yam, yam, yam, yam, yam, gi mi som yam man fe mi brudda an mash it op sweet----rrrrrroight!' Arguably the defining moment for the McCoy gang was in 1980 when the Bob Marley financed film, 'Surreal McCoy's Life of Zion', was released to acclaim and outrage in almost equal measure. In this comic masterpiece Jimmy Cliff played a beachcomber called Brian Sellassie who people believed was the King Of Ethiopia. What offended Rastafarians most though was the final prison scene in which fifty starving inmates joined Brian in happily singing and whistling the Bobby McFerrin hit ' Don't Worry Be Happy'. Sadly, that film would spell the end for the brilliant group but their legend lives on in student halls of residence the length and breadth of the Caribbean - altogether now, 'Every man juice is sacred!'
"Nudge nudge me say no more" - the gang before their 20th anniversary show
DID YOU KNOW: The outrage regarding 'Life of Zion' was brilliantly lampooned in a sketch on the Jamaican sketch series NEBA DA NINE O'CLOCK NEWS NAH WAY in which an outraged 'Surreal McCoy' fan gets upset about a spoof film called 'Haille Sallassie's Life of McCoy'.
ON THE BUSES
Why does everything great on television have to go for on too long and get rubbish in front of our sad disbelieving eyes? This bus station classic was undoubtedly one of the greats reaching millions of homes the world over. But after 1973 it was evident that producing three cinematic spin-offs at the Hammer film studio had had an indelible effect on the TV show and things were never the same again. For example, the first episode on LWT after 'Holiday On The Buses' was completed was entitled 'Taste The Blood of Blakey' and followed a very different theme to previous shows. In this particular episode, Stan brings a young clippie home for an amorous evening only to discover that she will age horribly unless she drink the blood of the officious bus inspector ("I hate you vampire!"). And that was by no means a one-off - the next episode, 'The Sister of Butler Must Be Destroyed' involved Olive being strapped to a lightning conductor and having 4000 volts of electricity passing through her body in order to make her a better darts player and help the Luxton Town and District team to a much-needed competition victory. And when the wonderfully frumpy Anna Karen was replaced in the role by busty vixen Ingrid Pitt the nadir had been reached and the show's cancellation was inevitable. And after the abysmal Christmas special 'To The Depot A Daughter' (Butler and Nobby have to look after Natassja Kinski without coming on to her), the plug was finally pulled. If only it had happened two years earlier.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN SHOT
From Lulu's signature tune to glamorous Holly Goodhead's sterling work as hostess, this classic seventies game show was always amazingly ambitious. Hosted by total newcomer Francisco Scaramanga, GOLDEN SHOT as it inevitably became known, was both a test of aim and dueling skills that sat well alongside shows such as THE GENERATION GAME and MR AND MRS. But while they lazily plumped for cosy TV studios in West London, each round here took place in a themed fun-house on an exclusive island some miles off Phuket. And nothing as boring as making spaghetti or operating a potter's wheel for Scaramanga - a typical challenge would more likely be to assemble a 24 carat gold revolver in under a minute from a selection of items produced from the host's top pocket (almost always in fact a lighter, pen and cigarette holder!) The victor then of course had to give instructions to the midget master of arms, 'Nick Nack The Bolt' ("up a bit Nick Nack, down a bit, to the left, up again" etc etc etc). The French-born pygmy then aimed a giant solar laser beam, bizarrely housed on the summit of a two hundred foot high plinth, at a thread with a treasure chest hanging from it. If the thread were successfully severed the chest lid would spring open, showering the ground with gold ingots! (It should be noted that these gold ingots were not actually on often - more common prizes were facial saunas and Toby jugs). Sadly the series was to come to a premature end in 1974 on a day known in ATV circles as 'Black Tuesday'. Not only was the host brutally shot dead by a player in a freak accident, a crew member was to also fall into a vat of liquid helium which caused untold damage to the set. As a result, the whole show relocated to Teddington Lock with Norman Vaughn as host, but the series would never recapture its former glory.
The host shows how it's done
Nick Nack The Bolt
SOME MOTHERFUCKERS DO 'AVE 'EM
BBC ONE (1973)
Immensely popular Christmas special in which the hapless Frank Spencer along with Betty and Jessica ventured on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Los Angeles and got lost in the riot-torn streets of South Central. Inevitably things got even worse for the gormless hero as his black beret offended the local Bloods who assumed Spencer to be a member of the rival Cripps. (Who can forget the wonderful moment when a gangbanger threatens to 'blow your motherfuckin head off you dumb cocksucker' and Frank responds with his trademark shocked expression and the words 'Ooh, no need to be rude!') The oft-repeated climax of the special was of course Michael Crawford on rollerblades being pulled through the street of Compton by a stolen Buick as semi-automatic pistols are fired around him ('Betty, ma bloodclot's done a whoopsy!') If you haven't seen this clip, then you obviously don't have a television!
"I done a bad thing"
"No need to be rude!"
DID YOU KNOW: Ronnie Hazlehurst's theme tune for SOME MOTHERFUCKERS DO 'AVE 'EM actually spells out the show's title in Native American smoke signals.
THE TECHNICOLOUR MINSTREL SHOW
BBC ONE (1974)
The seventies eh? Loon pants, Soda-stream, polyester and Peter Sutcliffe. But if it's an embarrassing folly of that era that you want, then look no further than this Saturday night old time variety series. THE BLACK AND WHITE MINSTREL SHOW had been a staple of the BBC's excellent family-orientated weekend schedule for many years entertaining people of all ages, colours and creed. But then all of a sudden, a minority (and it was never any more than that) of viewers decided in their enlightenment that the idea of white actors blacking up to sing old Mississippi tunes was more than a little outdated. "It's so dreary!" said one viewer on a 1973 episode of POINTS OF VIEW while a writer to the Radio Times argued "I have a colour television license now and expect more from the BBC". Hence Auntie responded by introducing a plan of 'colouration' to help reinvent the show. Hence, borrowing somewhat from Andy Warhol, the performers were now tinted every hue of the rainbow while there was a new upbeat sound courtesy of The Mike Batt Pops Orchestra, giving songs such as 'Swannee River' and 'Roses Of Picardy' a new funky beat! The show also now featured a broader ethnic mix including such performers Lenny Henry and Ali Campbell. However, while it was a brave attempt to add some colour to the schedule the reception was never more than lukewarm and when rival LWT show, LESLIE CROWTHER'S CHINKS ON ICE trounced it in the ratings, the writing was on the wall and the show was forcibly repatriated to bowels of the BBC.
DID YOU KNOW: One staunch opponent to adding colour to the series was controversial MP Enoch Powell who expressed his fears about Warhol's tinting techniques coming to the UK in the first place even predicting 'rivers of blood' in the country's post-production suites.
LAST OF THE SUMMER OUZO
BBC ONE (1974)
Disappointing and slightly implausible Christmas special in which the Yorkshire trio go on a Summer holiday to Greece and end up riding a bath-tub through the streets of Athens. Don't ask! Also featured a cameo from Demis Roussos as Compo's unlikely cousin Costo.
PACMAN ABOUT THE HOUSE
Hard to believe now but this early-CGI sitcom was controversial stuff back in the mid-seventies. Then the idea of two girls (Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett) sharing an Earl's Court flat with a low-resolution computer generated yellow disc was unheard of. But flat share they did and the audiences came to love it whether it was the girls' embarrassment at Pacman seeing their underwear hanging on the line or Chrissy and Jo bringing boyfriends back only to find their flatmate swallowing pills and fruit as fast as he could while claiming he was being pursued by four malevolent ghosts. In time the series would spawn a series of spin-offs (MS PACMAN ABOUT THE HOUSE and BLINKY AND CLYDE) but nothing would match that glorious first incarnation.
DID YOU KNOW: Such was the success of PACMAN ABOUT THE HOUSE, Japanese company Namco launched an arcade game version of the show. Needless to say it was a total flop and was always in the shadow of the era's mega-popular game - Konami's OH NO - IT'S SELWYN FROGGER in which players had to guide Bill Maynard through the traffic on a busy road.
DES O'CONNOR TONIGHT
Poor old Norman Collier - if there is an unluckier stand-up comedian then we are unaware of him. Collier was booked to appear on Des's hugely popular ATV show on five occasions in the 70s and, being an extremely diligent performer, spent days writing and honing a top new set of outstanding material. No regurgitation of old gags for Norman. Yet such was his run of bad luck, on every single appearance on the show, Norman had to contend with a faulty microphone meaning that half his words were inaudible. The pro that he was, Collier ploughed on, but it goes without saying that it was impossible for the audience to actually follow the set or understand the jokes the comic was telling. However in 1975, Collier finally had enough and brought a landmark case to the high court when he sued both the producers of DES O'CONNOR TONIGHT and Technics, the manufacturers of the microphones used on the show. In the case (Collier v. Technics, 1975) the comedian argued that he had lost thousands of pounds in earnings that would have come from more successful appearances on the show and after a long hearing, he eventually won and received damages of £5000. Still, that was scant recompense for both the humiliation and the knowledge that he would never know just how far he could have gone. Sadly, none of us will ever know.
"See you in court!"
DID YOU KNOW: Following the outcome of the test case, Collier was booked again for the show. However the night before he was due to appear, the comedian had a malaria jab for a forthcoming tour of Pakistan and as a result suffered severe mania climaxing in the belief that he was a barnyard chicken clucking and strutting around the stage. This led to the 1977 case Collier v Glaxo.
R2 BEING SERVED
NBC (SHOWN INFREQUENTLY ON BBC TWO) (1976)
The hit American version of Croft and Lloyd's ARE YOU BEING SERVED, written and directed by a young George Lucas. Set in a rather threadbare department store on the dusty planet of Tattoine, the show was a predictable innuendo fest based mostly around the rival Sith and Jedi counters. Most of the comedy revolved around the outrageously camp Mr Threepio (catchphrase 'I'm C-Three!!!), the blue-rinse bunned battleaxe Mrs Leia Organa (catchphrases 'I'm not giving away the location of the secret rebel base and I am unanimous in that' and the cheeky 'It was so cold on the planet Hoth I had to thaw out my vagina'), and the seemingly ancient Young Master Yoda (catchphrase 'Very well have you all done'). Classic episodes include 'Rodian Week' (Young Master Yoda forces the department to sell only Rodian goods with hilarious consequences) and 'Dear Sexy Lightsaber' (a letter from Mr Luke-as gets passed to the wrong person with hilarious consequences). Always fondly remembered though for the seminal cash-register theme tune ('Ground floor Mandalorians, Wookies and Gungans. Hutts, Toydarians, Kaminoans and Geonosians. Going up!')
Spin-off from the kids variety sketch show YOU MUST BE JOKING in which school friends (and later BIRDS OF A FEATHER co-stars) Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke took top billing while still just teenagers. In this show, the two teens, along with Flintlock, constantly chased boys while each week joined by an adult guest star whose surname was Robson (including Bobby, Bryan, Mount). The adult themes and general anarchy of the shows made it very popular with children who got to see it. However, that didn't include all after Tyne Tees and Yorkshire refused to air the series following one particular episode in which Linda and Pauline tried to attract boys by each getting their clitoris pierced. Hard to believe the northern regions were still so prudish back then!
THE GOOD LIFE
BBC ONE (1977)
One of the undisputed Britcom classics due not least to script-writer Anthony Shaffer's talent for revealing totally unexpected macabre twists. For the first two series the viewers were led to believe that this was a traditional safe domestic tale of neighbourly rivalry as Tom and Barbara Good dedicated themselves to self-sufficiency. However at the start of series three the crops failed and the Goods decided to take drastic measures to ensure that they did not fail again - a pagan sacrifice to the old gods of the sea and the land. It was in this and the next series that Shaffer pulled out all of the stops and delivered one great scene after another - Felicity Kendall writhing naked against the bedroom wall to lure Paul Eddington from next door; Richard Briers singing 'The Tinker of Surbiton'; and of course the amazing moment when Margot and Jerry first saw the immense wicker gazebo packed with the Goods' piglets. Powerful stuff!
"And now for our more terrible sacrifice!"
"Oh Christ Jerry! Oh Jesus Christ!!"
BBC ONE (1978)
Phil Redmond's ground-breaking ever-controversial children's drama set in a comprehensive school in the fictional north London suburb of Benny Hill. Prudish parents and old-fashioned teachers hated it but the kids loved its mix of gritty issue-led soap opera and saucy seaside postcard humour. Undoubtedly well past its prime now but in its heyday gave us such treats as P.E. teacher 'Bullet' Baxter being constantly patted on his head by his pupils; speeded-up smack addict Zammo chased throughout the school by police to Yakety-Yak music; and of course sexy Hill's Angels Tricia Yates, Pamela Cartwright and Annette Firman distracting teachers by bending over in their tiny bikinis. The show even produced a number one single - 'Roly (The Fastest Milk Monitor In The South)' and it's own slightly more adult short-lived spin-off series SCUTTLE'S LUCK. There were some bad times - Imedla Davies just didn't look right in a swimsuit - and when Dennis Kirkland took over directorial duties, the show became even more racy and school-related issues were forgotten altogether. But let's just wallow in nostalgia for those glory days. Altogether then, 'Oi! Chow Mein! You're a nutjob!'
The fastest milk monitor in the south
TOP OF THE POPS
BBC ONE (1978)
Not strictly comedy its true, but I challenge anyone to watch this particular incident and not piss themselves laughing. Yes, we refer to the much-repeated cringingly-bad appearance in the studio by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Why they did it we'll probably never know. Maybe someone told them they could perform comedy for a joke. But there on our TV screens were the two 'Grease' stars performing scenes from NEAREST AND DEAREST and YUS MY DEAR. If there is such a place as TV Hell then this clip resides in its hottest corner - the phrase toe-curling simply doesn't do justice to the moment Newton John tries to pull off the catchphrase 'she knows you know'. Poor couple, they never really got over it.
BBC ONE (1978)
It might have been revived in recent years, but nothing will replace our nostalgia for the glory days of Saturday evening interviews before the old MATCH OF THE DAY. Again lots of favourites and many great moments but none will ever top the time that Parky was brutally savaged by Rod Hull's Doberman Pincher. Poor Michael - he was never able to wear short-sleeved shirts ever again.
The last bastion of the old style joke-telling comics before the advent of 'alternative comedy', THE COMEDIANS did showcase one of the greatest TV moments of all time amid the Reid, Carson and Bowen mediocrity. The man in question was the brilliant Charlie Williams and the year was 1978. Having become sick of being the sole black face on the show and tired of abuse he had received from Bernard Manning, Williams was driven to convert to the radical Black Muslim religion and join the Nation of Islam. Having become a fervent follower of the Honourable Elijah Mohammed and now performing under the name Charlie X, the Barnsley-born comic made one final appearance on the Granada show. Wearing a black suit, red bow tie and red fez Charlie performed an entirely new set that shunned mother-in-law jokes and focused instead on the black power Muslim teachings of Louis Farrakhan. Sadly after this appearance, Charlie never appeared on THE COMEDIANS ever again.
Williams (left) leads his Hundred Man March through Pontefract
DID YOU KNOW: Charlie Williams did go on to briefly present 'The Golden Shot' but was soon sacked after aiming Bernie The Bolt at so-called 'white devils' among the audience.
THE JOYRIDER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
BBC TWO (1979)
Gritty scouse sci-fi masterpiece from the joint pens of Messrs Bleasdale and Adams still quoted in student unions the length and breadth of the country. The highly imaginative plot revolved around the tracksuit-wearing Arthur Dent stealing a Ford Prefect car and joy-riding around the streets of Toxteth in an attempt to research a computerized guide to life in Thatcher's Britain. The series, famed both for its fake CGI effects and Elvis Costello sig tune, spawned a number of spin-offs including the mega-popular novels 'The Ram-raid at the End of the Universe' and 'So Long and Thanks For All The Hubcaps'. What more can we say - simply the most wholly remarkable book in all of known Merseyside.
"Mind your car mate?"
"Get out, it's the bizzies!"
ONLY WHEN I BARF
'I'm d-o-w-n! I'm d-o-w-n! I know I am. I'm sure I am. I'm d-o-w-n!' Three stand-ups spend five years in a comedy club even though there is blatantly absolutely nothing funny about them. The comics in question were predictably contrasting stereotypes - Peter Bowles played a posh after-dinner comedian, James Bolam played the right-on alternative comic and Christopher Strauli was the bland inoffensive hack who was roped into their comedy club capers. The owner of the club of course was the pre-ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE Richard Wilson who spent his life booking the three comics even though they were evidently not funny in the slightest and shouldn't have been there. If anything, considering how ill they were, the trio should have actually been in hospital. The cast was completed by the club's Indian bouncer, Guptah. Not that many great moments spring to mind apart from the episode when the socialist Figgis is told he is actually going to have to use one of Glover's jokes in his set!
Four years in a comedy club despite not being funny!
NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS
BBC TWO (1979)
Legendary quick-fire topical sketch show that provided too many great TV moments to list. Our favourite though has to be the much-repeated "darts sketch" in which arguably the team's finest performers - Eric Bristow and John Lowe - brilliantly satirised the new wave of Oxbridge-educated comedy writers and performers. Recorded in a wonderfully realistic set based on the Cambridge Union debating chambers, Bristow and Lowe (who of course went on to make their own series ALAS BRISTOW AND LOWE) purport to be performing comedy in the background while in the foreground they are only really concerned with knocking back the headache pills. Priceless!
Taking another Nurofen tablet
A MANUEL FOR ALL SEASONS
BBC ONE (1979)
The short-lived FAWLTY TOWERS spin-off in which the hapless Manuel inherited his own hotel in Barcelona complete with its own inept Portuguese handyman who as part of the terms of the lease could not be fired. For some reason that shall remain forever unknown, the hotel only ever had British guests including the regular Keith Barron.