Undoubtedly one of the cultural phenomenon's of our age but also the subject of much controversy. First seen on Channel 4's THE ELEVEN O'CLOCK SHOW, Curtis Walker's character involved him whiting-up to play a Haberdashers' and Cambridge-educated North West London Jew. Originally Rabbi Gee was seen only in interview segments in which the great and the good were duped into making total fools of themselves in an effort to be seen to be 'down' with the Jews but was later rewarded by Channel 4 with his very own studio based comedy show. But while the character took off with some - playgrounds were simply awash with pre-pubescent impersonators wearing Gee's trademark black yarmulka and prayer shawl endlessly repeating the line 'Is it because I'm a Jew' - others had problems with the ambiguous racial message. For example, stand-up comedian Sasha Baron-Cohen voiced concerns not only alleging that Rabbi Gee was offensive to Jews but suggesting that Channel 4 would never commission a comedy series from a genuine Jewish performer but only from someone 'acting' the part. Walker who famously shuns publicity when out of character has refused to comment on the issue. And while the controversy rumbles on Rabbi Gee himself has been laughing all the way to the bank having made a film ('Rabbi Gee In Da Shul') and recently making a series specifically for the USA.
A rare publicity shot of the normally camera shy Walker
Walker as he's known to fans - 'Is it because I'm a Jew?'
DID YOU KNOW: At the very least, Curtis Walker was indirectly responsible for one of the most toe-curlingly embarrassing and down-right amusing moments in recent television history when Richard Madeley donned a fake beard, streimel and yarmulka to do an impression of Rabbi Gee on THIS MORNING. Later that year, the clip was voted into the number one slot on Channel 4's 100 CLIPS WE COULD GET CLEARANCE FOR theme night.
DEAD RINGERS BBC TWO (2000)
David Cronenberg's hugely monotonous but curiously popular impressions show that was essentially SPITTING IMAGE on radio. Seemingly every sketch involved the lead vocal star, Jeremy Irons, inexplicably appearing in a contemporary television format to the amusement of the blue rinses crammed in the Radio Theatre. Listeners' favourites included the sketch in which Jeremy Irons takes part in BACK TO THE FLOOR, the one where Jeremy Irons threatens to stab Terry Wogan in the BBC carpark and of course the one when Jeremy Irons meets Mrs Overall in ACORN ANTIQUES. The most popular part of the show though was undoubtedly the phone calls in which Jeremy Irons rang numerous bemused receptionists and tried to convince them that he was his evil gynaecologist twin brother. What can we say - extremely repetitive and boring (why was Jeremy Irons the only impression in every sketch?!) but the plebs loved it making it a constant bestseller in the BBC Shop. Based on an idea by Bill Dare.
BBC Shop favourite
DID YOU KNOW: The show was never quite the same after the first series when Jeremy Irons left to make his own TV show, JEREMY IRONS'S BIG IMPRESSION, leaving Cronenberg to cast Jon Culshaw to do an impersonation of the former lead star.
ROD HULL'S PINK WINDMILL ITV (2000)
A mercifully short-lived folly this one. We can't fault them for effort and it was undoubtedly brave but EMU'S BROADCASTING COMPANY it certainly wasn't. After Rod Hull's tragic death erecting a new crucifix on his roof, ITV were left with a huge hole in their children's schedule. They tried everything, screen-testing a whole range of new ginger frontmen to be paired up with the mischievous Emu including Chris Evans, Forbes Masson and Paul Scholes, but none seemed capable of carrying a full half-hour. Then director Ken Loach had a brainwave - if it was impossible to find a real ginger man to operate the puppet Emu, why not try a real live emu that could carry on its back a fake puppet of Rod Hull! But while it was certainly a novel solution, the new show didn't quite match up to its illustrious forebears. For starters, the live emu proved to be even more temperamental than the old fake one. Once in front of a group of terrified primary school children, the flightless creature ran amok in the studio while the large floppy Rod Hull effigy was flung around on his back, smashing the set to pieces. The animal also never really got to grips with the fake plastic emu leg it was forced to wear to cover up that one of his real legs was operating the Rod Hull puppet. And when these problems were added to the animal's basic failings when it came to delivering gags and total inability to work to a shooting script, the grand idea was shown up to have been somewhat misguided. Indeed, it was only the bravery of the portly Grotbags, throwing herself on the beast and crushing it to death that saved the producers from a more horrific outcome. And although Whipsnade Zoo failed to see it, this was a mercy killing in more ways than one.
DID YOU KNOW: Truth is often stranger than fiction. Some months after the demise of ROD HULL'S PINK WINDMILL, it was ironically revealed that Bernie Clifton had never existed and had always been a puppet in control of a hyper-intelligent ostrich that had been created by a Nazi scientist in the early 1940s. The bird had sought to use his Clifton dummy and charitable works (running countless marathons) in order to stay in the country and not be tarnished by his roots in war crimes.
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? ITV (2001)
The entertainment behemoth that changed the face of the game-show forever. Such was the genius and total simplicity of the format, the producers were able to cleverly readapt the series when the single player shows had got boring. Cue such spin-offs as Husband and Wives editions, Parent and Child specials and even Lecturer and Student week. But undoubtedly our favourite was the wonderful Siamese Twins episodes in which 10 conjoined siblings from around the world competed for £1million. Compelling television.
"I'm sure it was Eleanor of Aquitane"
DID YOU KNOW: Ever the poor relation, the BBC's THE WEAKEST LINK hit back with a special 'Brain in a Jar' episode. Needless to say it wasn't a ratings winner.
RALF LITTLE AS PAUL MERTON IN GALTON & SIMPSON'S... CARLTON (2001)
The nerve of it!! Paul Merton's interpretation of Galton and Simpson's Hancock scripts was nothing short of definitive, forever etched in the public's collective memory. His interplay with his gruff friend and room-mate Sam Kelly was the stuff of comedy legend and his timing was impeccable. So it was no surprise that the young up-start Little's attempts to take on the Merton role in such classic episodes as 'The Eye Donor' should fail dismally. A sad tale then for Ralf Little but even more so for the writers who believed that their scripts were so great that they would be the same without Merton. Eggs on faces all round we think.
"That's very nearly half my eyes"
THE MAJOR LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN HBO (SHOWN IN THE UK ON PARAMOUNT) (2001)
The highly successful feel-good American version of the cult British comedy show. Set entirely in the sleepy town of Roystonville, Tennessee, the show focused on the divorced vet Dr Chinnery as he adapted to life in the south having moved from New York in search of a new start. Unforgettable characters included the owners of the local convenience store Crockett and Tubbs ('Say what's with the hollering already? We'll have no hi-jinx here'); Hilary, the owner of the deli with its 'special' pastrami; the Denton family who shared their home with a 7 foot wisecracking toad from outer space ('I'm not a frog - I'm a toad godammit') and of course the hip-hopping black clown Rapper Lazerou. Starring Arty Gillespie, Earl Stevens and Henry Winkler.
After various attempts to get the series off the ground, German television producers finally managed to reinvent the legendary British comedy series FAWLTY TOWERS for a Teutonic audience. Basil Fawlter is the eccentric proprietor of Fawlter's Turme hotel in deepest darkest Bavaria where not only does he have to contend with difficult guests but is also cursed with being the employer of Manfred, the hotel waiter from Kazakhstan. Inevitably the greatest problem for the show's new writers was how to rework arguably the most famous of all episodes, 'The Germans'. However, a brilliant answer was found when he hit upon the idea of renaming the episode 'Der Englishe' and having the eponymous hotelier scared of mentioning the World Cup in front of his English guests ('Nicht mention der World Cup!') Inevitably the German audience absolutely loved it and people everywhere were doing their own versions of Fawlter's impression of the Gareth Southgate run-up in the hotel restaurant. It remains to be seen as yet whether this will result in a German version of Michael Barrymore making a career out of copying this precise routine as well!
The sequel to Perry and Croft's holiday camp masterpiece. With the British seaside holiday dead forever, the whole gang jetted off to Faliraki on the Greek island of Rhodes, to take over Maplins' newest venture - a Club 18-30 resort. It goes without saying that despite the location, very little had changed with Ted Bovis and Spike running the weekly Booze Cruise ('First rule of the 18-30 holidays Spike - always do the full frontal moonie at the Olympic size swimming pool'); ballroom dancers Barry and Yvonne performing a live sex show at Manumission; and Peggy still desperately trying to realise her dreams ('When can I be a lapdancer Miss Cathcart?')
Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves gets it on with a holidaymaker
RUSSELL GRANT'S IMPORTANT STAND-UP COMEDY EXPERIMENT BBC TWO (2002)
A peculiar idea this one. Famed camp rotund astrologer Russell Grant undertook to live his life for forty days based entirely on the advice of stand-up comics whose acts he'd seen on TV and in clubs. As a result the roly poly star found himself trying desperately to get a double seat whenever he got on a train, living with a pack of wolves for a night and eventually arrested and imprisoned for putting a cake-knife through a man's heart. The studio show then worked out if he was better off as a result when compared to his actor namesake Richard E. Needless to say, he wasn't.
AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET SOUNDS BBC ONE (2002)
Yet another comedy reunion as the nation's favourite brickies headed over to America to build a new studio for former Beach Boy auteur Brian Wilson. Undeniably contrived but worth the watch for the moment Bomber refused point-blank to work barefoot in Wilson's sandpit and the final scene when Oz head-butted interfering-cousin Mike Love.
Among the numerous disappointing projects that Dom Joly made after his switch from Channel 4 to the BBC, the nadir was surely this abysmal remake of the classic 1950s-based Milwaukee sitcom. Despite playing the lead role of the Fonz himself and being packed with all those indie riffs that 'ver kids' love, the series never got going and was dropped after three episodes. The less said the better.
DID YOU KNOW: The BBC are still developing a similarly indie-music filled spin-off from the show - 'Laverne and Shirley' - in which ex-Kenickie singer turned TV presenter Lauren Laverne forms a new duo with Garbage's Shirley Manson.
Dismissed by some perhaps as merely a kid's show but for many aficionados this slightly surreal genre-busting comedy series was cutting edge stuff. Fronted by the eponymous Baddies themselves - Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat - the show revolved around the sig tune's claim to perpetrate evil acts 'anytime, anywhere'. That essentially allowed the threesome to go anywhere on their three-seat trandem and get up to anything they fancied no matter how implausible (attempting to defeat the Coalition forces!!) The 'characters' were really no more than exaggerated versions of the cast - Bin Laden was the mad intellectual scientist always trying to come up with a new formula for anthrax; Hussein was the slightly effeminate patriot totally devoted to his flag and standing up to attention every time he saw himself on the television; and Arafat was the grubby little agitator who was always looking to start an argument if he could. Too many classic episodes to list but arguably the most popular was the brilliant 'Kitten Kong'. In this Montreux Golden Rose-winning masterpiece, Bin Laden realises that hijacking planes in order to fly them into skyscrapers was impractical since so much could go wrong on the way, so sought an alternative - to breed a radical Muslim cat so large that if it were let loose in London it would be able to topple a large building all on its own. Indeed, the final shot of the Al Qaida Cat toppling the Telecom Tower and crushing the infidel Michael Aspel below, is one of the most indelible comedy images of all-time. Sadly though, despite the popularity of the show on the Al Jazeera network, the series in unlikely to ever be seen on the BBC as Jane Root apparently dislikes The Baddies for some unknown reason.
The Al Qaida cat does his worst
"Just a kids' show?!"
The infidel Aspel is destroyed and Allah smiles
DID YOU KNOW: THE BADDIES turned out to be literally too funny for one viewer who died laughing while watching the episode 'Kung Fu Capers' in which Saddam Hussein demonstrates his Middle Eastern martial art of Iraqi Thump.
Gor Blimey's inferior spin-off featuring a white Anglo-Saxon family living in Southall who for some unknown reason have a chat show studio in their back room in which they only ever interview Asian stars. The backstage shenanigans were heavily influenced by Frank Skinner's debut series PACKET OF CONTRACEPTIVES but the series has been sold around the world including an Indian version currently in production under the working-title 'The Patels At Number 42'.
FINDING NIMMO DISNEY/PIXAR ANIMATION (2003)
From the makers of TOY STORY and MONSTERS INC. comes this brilliantly funny ecclesiastical animation based around the exploits of the accident-prone buffoon Father Nimmo and his flock of anthropomorphised village parishioners. Among the numerous star voices were John Goodman as the officious Bishop Sully, Tom Hanks as the lazy Archdeacon Woody and of course Jimmy Carr as the pudding-bowl haircut-wearing eponymous Nimmo. Think computer-generated clerical cartoons are just for kids? Don't believe a word of it!
EYES DOWN BBC ONE (2003)
Why oh why oh why? Hugely popular comedienne Lily Savage had been a consistently funny performer on our screens ever since breaking through at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993. But then the busty star made the extraordinary move to start cross-dressing in order to play the character of the chronically piss-poor and unfunny actor 'Paul O'Grady'. The voice of Savage's comic creation was actually exactly the same as her normal feminine Birkenhead accent but she did go so far as to don bandages to flatten her fulsome breasts and a prosthetic penis to give the illusion of crotch bulge. Stick to playing yourself in future luv!
DID YOU KNOW: When the first two shows failed to draw in the viewers, the BBC pulled the series from its primetime Friday night slot and aired the remaining four episodes back-to-back at 3am on BBC Pakistan.
JEWS AND PALESTINIANS CHANNEL 4 (2003)
The show Channel 4 would rather forget and the series that finally proved Chris Evans to be yesterday's man. Having returned from a self-imposed American exile, Evans was greeted as a televisual messiah and his first big entertainment commission was trumpeted as the natural successor to TFI FRIDAY, THE BIG BREAKFAST and DON'T FORGET YOUR TOOTHBRUSH. The premise was simple - a hundred Jews and a hundred Palestinians compete in the studio for a hundred miles of disputed Israeli territory. However it became evident after the first week that the show had fatal flaws as host Vernon Kay appeared totally incapable of controlling the centuries-old hatred in the studio. He certainly wasn't helped by having to remember intricate Israeli dances but questions had to be asked when he failed to stop one of the Arab contestants detonating a suicide bomb during the Babe of Minger game (contestants must guess if an Arab woman covered by her yashmak is attractive or ugly). So convinced that the show would be a hit, Channel 4 even commissioned a digital companion on E4 entitled JEWS AND PALESTINIANS DO IT WITH DOUGIE in which the viewers got to see how the winning contestant had used their 100 miles of land. The following week, the winner would then return to play again in order to see how many of the homes they built on their land they would actually be able to keep. Confused? The audience certainly were and it was no surprise when the channel announced there would be no second series. An embarrassment for all concerned!
DID YOU KNOW: Evans maintains that the show's failure was merely the result of scheduling and that it would have been a huge success had it been on Friday night. Sadly, this was prevented by Jewish laws which meant that the series could only be filmed on Saturday evening after the Sabbath had gone out.
NEVER SAY NEVER THE TWAIN ITV (2003)
Poor old Windsor Davies. No sooner had he retired from acting, vowing never to work again, that he found himself taking part in a reality TV show. Following Ronnie Barker's example, the former actor quit the business to run an antique shop in a quiet country village only to find by a million to one chance that Donald Sinden owned the antique store opposite. Inevitably, as soon as word had got out about the amazing situation, the TV crews were down to film their antique shop rivalry for the purposes of a reality series and Windsor unwittingly found himself doing exactly what he had claimed he would never do again. That said, surprisingly entertaining especially the episode in which 'Bomber' from AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET SOUNDS made a cameo, chucking a bottle full of piss in Donald Sinden's face. Not to mention the great sig tune from Lani Hall ("Never, never say never the twain! Never, never say never the twain!" etc)
JIM HENSON AND JOHN SULLIVAN'S PECKHAM BABIES BBC ONE (2004)
No new strong sitcom ideas? Friday night comedy failing? Then why not just revisit the past! That's what the BBC were thinking when they recently commissioned this animated prequel to ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES set in the 1950s when Del, Boycie, Denzil and Trigger were all babies. And who better to co-produce than the team behind the brilliant MUPPET BABIES? Prepare for the moment the toddler Del falls through a stair guard, his attempt to clean an antique mobile and his continuous demands for a cocktail umbrella in his gripe water. And from the early teaser tapes doing the rounds, we here at TV Dregs Towers can't wait!
"This time next year we'll be on solids!!"
THE LAST OF THE SUMMER SUSTENANCE PILLS BBC ONE (2054)
Recently sent back in time by a future editor of TV Dregs, this series follows the continuing escapades of Compo, Foggy and Cleggy. Now all well over 150 years old, the three never-say-die northerners survive as cryogenically-frozen brains carried around by robots in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Yorkshire. Will the brain of Compo be able to order the service androids to construct him a go-cart from several bits of decayed timber? And stripped of his unappealing old body will he finally be able to woo the floating brain of Nora Batty? Only those that live another 51 years will be able to find out.