Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too
(More MasterChef Music)

As begun last week, this is the second instalment of the do-it-yourself series of compilation CDs that should rightfully put Matt Preston’s virtually foodless music compilation to shame.

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too:

  1. Muffin Man - Frank Zappa/Mothers/Captain Beefheart
  2. Meat City - John Lennon
  3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie
  4. America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic
  5. Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup) - Mick Jagger
  6. Cookin’ In The Kitchen Of Love - Ringo Starr
  7. Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector
  8. Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters
  9. The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese
  10. Sugar Sugar - The Archies
  11. Boiled Beef And Carrots - Lenny Henry
  12. Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

(Unfortunately, if you are reading this post on your Apple iDevice, you won’t see the player below; it’s encoded in flash.)

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too from standanddeliver on 8tracks.

 

 

1: Muffin Man - Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers

Muffins occupy an interesting place on the food spectrum. Or perhaps two — since on the one hand, they’re that bready substitute you toast for brekky, to have hot with butter and the spread of your choice or with sausage and egg. But then they’re also a kind of cake – sometimes with fruit, so you can kid yourself that you’re having something healthy with your coffee or tea.

Although it takes its name from an innocent nursery rhyme (“do you know the muffin man/Who lives on Drury Lane?”) Frank Zappa brings a different muffin conundrum to the fore:

Girl, you thought it was a man
But it was a muffin.
The cries you heard in the night
Was on account of him stuffin’.

What’s he stuffing, exactly? (Or, as Tom Waits might ask, ‘What’s he building in there?’)

The tack piano that accompanies the mad narrative, reminiscent of the original soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). But combined with Zappa’s declamatory narrative, it is a b-grade horror movie – about the Muffin Man in question, ensconced in his Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, working on “that prince of foods: the muffin”.

Every chef’s been in a similar situation. And not just chefs: every creative identifies with the archetypal ‘Frankenstein’ scenario of the mad scientist bringing their creation to life. Even Zappa himself – who’d use horror movie nomenclature for his work: follow-up songs and albums may be titled ‘Son of… and ‘Return of the Son of…’ (as in the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar series). He also named his home studio the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.

It’s significant that the song graces Bongo Fury, the live album commemorating the mid-’70s tour undertaken with Captain Beefheart. The good Captain – entangled in contractual purgatory at the time – was a childhood friend of Zappa’s and they shared a love of music and cinema. Indeed, early on they sought to collaborate on a b-grade movie their own: Captain Beefheart vs the Grunt People. Beefheart’s dad used to drive a bread van, which the teenage pair would break into in order to steal pineapple buns. Muffins of their time, no doubt.

So – d'ya reckon anyone in the MasterChef utility research kitchen will have a stab at ‘that prince of foods, the muffin’? Who cares. It’s more exciting when the monstrous culinary equivalent of Frankenstein rises from the slab.

Find it: closing the album Bongo Fury as well as the compilation Strictly Commercial: The Best Of Frank Zappa.

 

2: Meat City - John Lennon

There’s clearly a fine art to cooking meat well – but that has nothing to do with this song from John Lennon’s fourth post-Beatles album.

Lennon seems to be a running theme on this volume of BastardChef; in addition to this offering, from his 1973 album Mind Games, you’ll find him twiddling Mick Jagger’s knobs on ‘Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)’ and bashing Ringo Starr’s keys on Lennon’s own ‘Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)’.

The Mind Games album dates from the beginning of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’, its origins lying in Yoko Ono’s album Feeling the Space. Lennon dug the musicians her assistant May Pang had assembled. Turns out Lennon dug May Pang: by the time he’d written a bunch of songs and was ready to record, he’d split from Yoko, who’d somehow given her blessing on his taking May as his mistress. How did this affect John? Take a look at the album cover: Yoko still looms large over lonely Lennon.

So rather than wholesale butcheries with massive cool rooms featuring acres of fresh flesh on display, it would seem ‘Meat City’ is about Lennon’s visit to the world of singledom: pick-up bars, swingers parties and the massive hotbeds featuring acres of fresh flesh on display.

True to that period of unfocused rage, there are still elements of random political activism left over from previous album Sometime In New York City: that weird interlude that sounds like a synthesised chipmonk speaking alien is in fact Lennon’s own voice, sped up and run backwards, suggesting all pigs ought to be loved very much (my paraphrasing). The version on the flip side of the Mind Games single is a slightly different mix, where the synthesised chipmonk turns out to be saying “check the album” backwards.

Find it: on the album Mind Games.

 

3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie

Whomever said, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach' wasn't lying. All men are hungry men. But none more so than late-’60s David Bowie: hungry for success, and, to look at him – ‘Biafra-thin rabbit-in-the-headlights’ as one cultural commentator described him – literally hungry.

The hunger to make it as a recording artist meant the former David Robert Jones toyed with various styles and genres including cockney music hall, mod beats and whatever category this vision of a future dystopia fits into. The song opens with a Kenneth Williams impression (so it’s not meant to be taken so seriously, clearly), delivering the bleak news of over-population. Then Bowie takes on the role of a young, charismatic, crackpot leader offering more-or-less the same Modest Proposal as Jonathan Swift as a means to overcome the multitude of starving poor.

The early ‘hungry’ – or ‘lean’ period – of Bowie’s work includes a stack of songs that have been repackaged in various compilations over the decades. While the artist has all but disowned his oeuvre from that time, the collection was finally given its rightful release as a deluxe double CD collection, much to fans’ pleasure. Bowie himself cherry picked his favourites and re-recorded them for an album called Toy earlier this century – that still remains officially unavailable.

Find it: in both stereo and mono mixes on the 2-disc David Bowie [Deluxe Edition].Download it here.

 

4: America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic

Following on from the high-camp Bowie song about infantricide, ‘We Are Hungry Men’, comes the darker, down-beat bad acid trip of Funkadelic.

Are they proclaiming, on a metaphoric level, that America has failed its youth? The dark mutterings don’t quite lend themselves to transparent interpretation.

Instead, sit back and enjoy – as best you can – the grunted insinuations and squealed backing vocals as they slowly build to a grinding, faded frenzy. It helps if you imagine it the soundtrack of Matt Preston discovering the fish is still raw, the omlette contains eggshell and the rice hasn’t been fluffed; time to send the dish back, and the chef away in tears.

And if it gets too much, relax: a far more upbeat food-related funk will follow, courtesy of Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’.

Find it: on the album America Eats Its Young . Download it here.

 

5: Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup) - Mick Jagger

If it’s a Rolling Stones song about anything other than getting some nookie, you can bet that it is in fact a metaphor for getting some nookie. This is also the case with almost all of Mick Jagger’s solo oeuvre. ‘Too Many Gooks (Spoil the Soup)’ appears to be a more explicit reading of ‘Cook Cook Blues’. 'Cook Cook Blues' is an ’80s Stones blues jam that took a long time to prepare - finally served as a single flip side in 1989 (and features on BastardChef Volume 1) that uses food as its metaphor. But the funky ‘Too Many Cooks’ was not written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and its recording predates ‘Cook Cook Blues’ by about a decade – even though it took even longer - almost another decade! - to see the light of day. It has a far more interesting pedigree.

The song was produced by John Lennon during his ‘lost weekend’ – some 18 months of separation from Yoko Ono that involved revelry, debauchery and recording with various buddies. The sessions for ‘Too Many Cooks’ must have been quite debauched indeed, since Mick Jagger claims to have had no recollection of them, unaware the song existed until an acetate of it turned up many years later (and, knowing Mick, then taken back into the studio for tweaking, polishing and finishing properly before subsequent release).

If the food-as-sex metaphor is annoying, play this song on and on; what with the strange eroticism on display when you watch Nigella Lawson taste everything she’s preparing, and Matt Preston tasting absolutely anything, the appetite may sicken and so die…

Find it: along with two other previously unreleased tracks, on the Very Best of Mick Jagger compilation.

 

6: Cookin’ (In The Kitchen Of Love) - Ringo Starr

Stepping out first with an unlikely collection of old-time crooner’s standards, Sentimental Journey (“recorded for me mum!”) and then the country album Beaucoups of Blues , by his third album Ringo the erstwhile Beatles drummer had hit upon a system that’s pretty much served him well ever since: treat each album as a party and invite all your mates to rock up with a song (or, in Ringo’s case, ‘easy listening' up with a song).

Hence John Lennon’s contribution for Ringo’s 1976 album, Ringo's Rotogravure : a party song about getting through life, with Lennon himself guesting on piano.

Initially, the ‘cooking in the kitchen of love’ metaphor sounds as though it might reside in the same region as the Stones’ ‘Cook Cook Blues’ or Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’ (and more specifically, whichever Kiss song demands “let me put my log in your fireplace”). But by the second metaphor, "truckin’ down the highway of life” and subsequent philosophical exposition “It’s got to be high, it’s got to be low/’Cause in between we just don’t go” it turns out that there's no hidden message or any depth to these words whatsoever. Lennon saved that stuff - in songs like ‘Imagine’, ‘Instant Karma’ and ‘Power to the People’ - for himself.

Don’t hold it against him. It's been noted that Lennon – and Lennon & McCartney for that matter – were, more often than not, 'dozy lyricists' when tossing off a ditty for Ringo. And besides, by this stage the working class hero was about to go into musical hibernation; he’d spent his ‘lost weekend’ being high and was about to settle into being low for the next half-decade, the sessions for this song proving his last until he started recording Double Fantasy.

And remember: Lennon’s time away from the music industry as househusband and dedicated father would be marked by such domestic activities as baking bread, about which he’d speak at length when he finally came out of retirement. Cooking in the kitchen of love, indeed.

Find it: on Ringo's Rotogravure.

 

7: Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector

51K9qnZSw1L._SL500_After John Lennon handed the hitherto ‘unreleasable’ Get Back tapes over to legendary ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector – who refashioned them into Let It Be – both Lennon and George Harrison were keen to have him produce their post-Beatles solo albums.

Sessions for a proposed solo album for Spector’s wife – and former Ronette – Ronnie Spector followed on from George Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the album was shelved after only a handful of songs were recorded, the total official result being the 1971 single ‘Try Some Buy Some’.

While that song had been demoed by Harrison for All Things Must Pass and was given the Wall of Sound treatment, the flip side, ‘Tandoori Chicken’ sounds, lyrically, musically and instrumentally, pretty much as thrown together as the dinner arrangement that gave rise to it: Harrison sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out for some takeaway during the recording sessions. Suddenly it’s a blues based b-side. It’s nice that Harrison’s Indian influences aren’t limited merely to instrumentation.

Find it: on the flip side of the ‘Try Some Buy Some’ 7-inch single; sadly not available on CD right now…

 

8: Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters

The Coasters’ ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ is another hard-to-get food hit. The original version by the song’s author, Louis Jordan, and his jump blues backing band the Typany Five, is considered by some to be the very first rock’n’roll record. It’s the story of a party that gets out of hand and ends with an arrest.

A ‘fish fry’ is a kind of poor folks fundraiser – the person throwing it will cook and anyone willing to pay for the feed (and, no doubt, sly grog) is welcome. (The song takes place “down in New Orleans”, which, enjoying an excellent fishery until the BP oil spill pretty much killed the Gulf of Mexico, had access to excellent cheap seafood.) If you can help provide the food and drink, or serve it, or present some live entertainment, you get in free. In this song, the protagonist is the singer of the song, telling of a Saturday night fish fry that was so good, it had to be shut down by the cops. Although the protagonist never wants to hear about fish again, listening to it makes you hanker for a piping hot fish burger.

Jordan’s original version was over 5 minutes long, so it had to take up two sides of a 78rpm record. The Coasters’s version lived on the flip side of the single ‘She’s a Yum Yum’, dating from 1966 so part of the material recorded when they were signed to Atco – making it harder to get your hands on.

Find it: at the end of disc 3 of the excellent and exhaustive compilation, There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco.

 

9: The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese/At Last The 1948 Show

Some people have never been subjected to the [dis]pleasure of rhubarb, but apparently it’s good for you, which is why it doesn’t taste particularly nice. And it’s used to make dessert-type foods, despite being a bitter vegetable that’s allegedly good for you. This alone makes it the perfect subject of a silly song, and who better to deliver it than John Cleese? The song gives the rhubarb tart a great deal of pomp and majesty, not just by listing great historical personages as fans of the food, but by accompanying the doggeral with one of John Phillip Sousa’s finest marches.

The song dates from 1968 sketch show At Last the 1948 Show , in which Cleese partook with fellow Python-to-be, Graham Chapman, and future The Goodie Tim Brooke-Tayler as well as Marty Feldman, with whom they’d all written for David Frost’s various satirical shows. (Frost in fact produced At Last The 1948 Show and was later slighted that he couldn’t be part of Monty Pythong’s Flying Circus.)

At Last the 1948 Show contains many elements that would go on to be seen as prime Python characteristics. Inded, The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, so beloved of Python fans, originated in At Last the 1948 Show and the fact that it is still identified as a Python sketch continues to irritate Tim Brooke-Taylor, who co-wrote it.

As opposed to parodying a popular song with a new set of lyrics, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ specifically takes a pre-existing instrumental and marries it to foolish words. This is a motif to which John Cleese would return. The song ‘Oliver Cromwell’, for example, appearing on the 1989 album Monty Python Sings, began as Frederic Chopin’s ‘Polonaise No. 6 Opus S3 in A flat’. The borrowing of a Sousa march also becomes a motif: the Pythons borrowed Sousa’s ‘The Liberty Bell’ to serve, this time wordlessly, as the theme to their television show.

Find it: ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ lives on the original album tie-in of sketches and songs from the television program, At Last the 1948 Show.

 

10: Sugar Suger - The Archies

Pure bubblegum pop at its best, ‘Sugar Sugar’ is said to have been offered to the Monkees, who turned it down as being too cheesy just as they were maturing to a point of playing their own instruments on far more mature albums. Although there are rumours of Monkee Davy Jones having sung lead on an instrumental backing recorded by session musicians (as most of the earlier Monkees songs were constructed) and Mike Nesmith punching a hole through a wall in anger at being expected to record the song, nowadays both stories are considered myths. Indeed, it’s more likely the Monkees resisted recording an entirely different song entitled ‘Sugar Man’, but over the years their dummy spit at ‘Sugar Sugar’ has proven the more entertaining anecdote.

Irrespective, Don Kirshner, the producer behind the launch of manufactured band The Monkees was also behind the manufactured band The Archies, which he prefered more since, being cartoon characters, they were far more easy to control than The Monkees. The Archies were never gonna complain that they should be writing their own songs, and playing their own instruments on the recordings. Although the session musos behind The Archies might have wanted to ark up, especially after ‘Sugar Sugar’ proved a massive hit.

Although Ron Dante’s lead vocals melt in the mouth more like fairy floss, they live up to the sweetness promised by the song title. And as any chef worth his weight in… well, weight, really, will tell you: there is no substitute, in the end, for cooking with sugar. When the recipe calls for it, use it; none of that chemical substitute, thank you!

Find it: on the remastered compilation, Absolutely the Best of the Archies. Download it here.

 

11: Boiled Beef and Carrots - Lenny Henry

You most likely won’t remember him as Gareth Blackstock in the BBC show Chef! irrespective of how fitting it would be for our purposes here. And just as likely you don’t remember Lenworth George Henry – or ‘Lenny’, as he’s better known – for his daliance with the music hall standard ‘Boiled Beef And Carrots’.

Fact is, Lenny would also prefer you don’t remember it. But it shouldn’t be so surprising that he had a go with a novelty hit, given his rise to showbiz success began on a telly talent show (New Faces) and included regular appearances on kids show TISWAS. The synthesiser arrangement dates this recording but also adds to its charm.

It’s fitting that Lenny would make the cut of BastardChef given his former Missus, Dawn French, is currently appearing in ads for MasterChef sponsor Coles. Part of me is asking, does she really need the money so badly? Maybe. She couldn’t afford to get her hair cut evenly on both sides. Could it be terms of the divorce? Does Dawn need to pay Lenny off? What’s a Lenworth after all? Maybe he is back to living on boiled beef and carrots…

Find it: alongside far more novelty songs by British comedy and light entertainment types than you’ll ever consume in one sitting, entitled You Are Awful But We Like You.

 

12: Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

If food can be a tool of seduction, it can also be the cause of a break-up, as evidenced in the Newbeats’ hit single of 1964, ‘Bread and Butter’. It sounds like another bubblegum hit with its precise and economic instrumentation, but it predates that movement by a few years. Indeed, in 1964, all pop was bubblegum pop; there was no sophistication to it just yet, so rock’n’roll hadn’t given way to rock. And besides, unlike ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ and ‘Chewy Chewy’, there’s a lot more going on in ‘Bread and Butter’.

The protagonist is a simple man, given to simple needs, which his “baby” provides perfectly: “bread and butter… toast and jam”. But one day he comes home to the ultimate betrayal: his baby “with some other man”. Not caught in flagrante delicto, as such. Or rather, yes, caught in the very act: if bread and butter and toast and jam are the proof of true love, then “chicken and dumplings” with the other guy is gross infidelity.

Lead vocalist Larry Henley (who would go on to serve as a co-writer of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) has a voice so thick you’d have to leave it out a while before you could spread it on a piece of bread; brothers Dean and Mark Mathis – if aliens attempted to replicate the Everly Brothers, this’d be them – provide the perfect bed for it.

Find it: on the compilation Bead And Butter: The Very Best of The Newbeats. Download it here.

 

Coming Soon 

BastardChef III: Just Desserts


This is the comedy event of the year
that is

TW32010
 

This is a brief history of things that have been…

Here’s the deal: back in the dark ages of modernity, about half a century ago in what must have been the late 1950s, a guy called David Paradine Frost went to Cambridge University and was a member of The Footlights. The Footlights was a student club dedicated to humour, which nobody could join – you had to be invited. Other people went to Cambridge University and were members of The Footlights. People like John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle, who went on to be members of Monty Python. People like Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, who went on to be Goodies. People like Clive James, Douglas Adams, Griff Rhys Jones, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Germaine Greer, Miriam Margoyles, Eleanor Bron, Alexander Armstrong, Ben Miller, Michael Frayn, Jonathan Miller…

One of the most revered people to have been a member of the Footlights was a guy called Peter Cook. He had graduated in the years before people like John Cleese and Clive James even got to Cambridge, but he was still highly revered and spoken off respectfully by people who had known him, seen him or heard of him, who were still present. While Cook was still an undergraduate he had written professionally for established comedians. He’d written two whole shows for Kenneth Williams of Carry On infamy.

One of Cook’s creations was a character called E. L. Wisty, who essentially delivered stream-of-consciousness monologues in a lugubrious monotone – kind of a forerunner of The Sandman. After Cook graduated, he and another Cambridge/Footlights veteran, Jonathan Miller, had been recruited along with two Oxford University graduates, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, to appear in an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show entitled Beyond the Fringe. It was important because it was a new kind of revue that more-or-less launched what became known as the British satire boom – a new wave of contemporary absurdist humour, dealing with contemporary absurd life, came to the fore and, like contemporary music, fashion and art, took a firm hold. People describe the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s in England – the pre- and post-Beatles age – as being a shift from black and white to colour.

As events unfolded, the person who made the most of the so-called satire boom was not Peter Cook – even though he helped fund and launch a live venue, the Establishment, featuring live, cutting edge comedy; and came to be associated with an important satirical publication, Private Eye – but someone who bloomed later than Cook, and sustained that later bloom: David Paradine Frost. Employing the best comedy writers to follow, he established a weekly satirical show entitled That Was The Week That Was – or TW3 for short – which would provide a satirical wrap-up of the week’s events. Frost also did serious journalism. He is the same Frost upon whose interview with President Nixon the film Frost/Nixon is based. But fronting TW3 (and later, The Frost Report), is how Frost first made a name for himself.

Frost gave so many comedians their professional start – employing many as researchers on his serious show, employing many as writers in his satirical shows. He was instrumental in ensuring the Pythons – and Tim Brooke-Taylor – got their pre-Python/Goodies breaks with the shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last The 1948 Show. And when he got wind of Monty Python’s Flying Circus taking off, he apparently asked if he could be a part of it, providing the links between sketches. “Piss off, David, you can’t be in this one,” is how Eric Idle summed it up in the doco Life of Python. By Monty Python: The Complete And Utter Truth – The Lawyers’ Cut, the only reference to Frost comes from John Cleese, and it is utterly reverential.

Fact is, some people seem to resent Frost his success. Or at least, they once did. And it’s possibly because he never seemed as talented as genius Peter Cook on campus (but then again, who did?) whereas, after university and initial success, Cook seemed to be permanently stalled while Frost was amazingly successful. Adding insult to injury by seeming to deliver every line in a kind of lugubrious, E. L. Whisty monotone. You can hear it in action in the theme song – Frost provides the ‘brilliant wordplay’. (Note use of inverted commas; also note that the youtube clip of the themesong sometimes fails to load – in which case, it lives here.)

The main vocalist was Milicent Martin, and it was produced by George Martin (any relation, I wonder?), head of the Parlophone label and producer of a lot of comedy records – Goon Show albums, as well as albums and singles by Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, albums by Flanders & Swann (who are sent up by Armstrong & Miller as ‘Brabbins and Fyffe’) not to mention the cast recording of Beyond The Fringe – prior to signing and producing The Beatles.

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Britain’s That Was The Week That Was had an American equivalent. It went by the same title. One of the regular contributors to that show was a Harvard Mathematics lecturer who had already written to volumes of satirical songs of his own. His name was Tom Lehrer. He would provide a topical song each week. At the end of the year, the best songs were compiled for an album that proved very popular indeed. It was called That Was The Year That Was. Every sophisticated Aussie household with a sense of humour had a copy. A generation or so later, Tom Lehrer proved one of the inspirations that helped launch Sammy J.

There is a new tradition of satirical shows going by the name That Was The Year That Was. It started a few years ago and is now an annual event at the Sydney Opera House, featuring a host of brilliant comics giving their take on the year that was (who better, eh?!) The third one is upon us. December 29, December 30. Go buy tickets. Then come back and read some of the interviews with comics…

Tripod; (and again; and again; and again;)
Fiona O’Loughlin
Jeff Green

 


World’s Cheapest Funniest Island
(For a Limited Time)

Funniest island discount

You’ve only got until the end of the week to buy cheap tickets. Click here to purchase through Ticketek.

But you can read these interviews any time, if you’re interested:





World’s Funniest Island

Island promo

While a multitude of comics are tense with the opening of the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s worth noting that Sydney’s just scored itself another comedy festival.

I know what you’re thinking, as you tick them off –  those Sydney Comedy Festivals of 1998 and 1999,  the Cracker Comedy Festival, the Sydney Comedy Festival that was really just Cracker under a different name, the Big Laugh Festival  that  used to run parallel to  Cracker once  Cracker was up-and-running… not to mention attempts at Sydney Fringe festivals, Bondi festivals, cabaret festivals, all giving a home to comedy… as well as festivals established or in development for the Central Coast and Bowral – pretty soon there’ll be enough for each and every comedian in New South Wales to have his or her very own festival.

Indeed, the Prime Minister got wind of it and has threatened to take comedy festivals over from the state governments, in order to ensure each adheres to a national standard of comedy. Here’s his National Address on Comedy:

Of course, in this instance, the role of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been played by comedian Anthony Ackroyd. It’s a little eerie how much he looks, having donned KRudd hair, like the bastard offspring of Graham Kennedy and Charles Firth. Kind of fitting that the Prime Minister is a cross between those two, I guess.

All righty, the important question is, what sets this new Sydney Comedy Festival apart from all the others?

For starters, World’s Funniest Island boasts “one ticket, two big days, 18 venues, 200 shows” because it is built on the rock festival template. That is to say, it’s built on a carnival template. With good reason: one of the people behind it is John Pinder, who has a long history in comedy and a great love of circus.

When Pinder was first pointed out to me at a taping of a comedy show, for which he was executive producer, he was described as ‘the Godfather of Australian Comedy’, a description he has forbidden me to use since it fails to acknowledge any of the people who broke comedy ground in this country before him. When I’d finally met him, Pinder was Director of the Big Laugh Festival. I wrote an article about him at the time. I present it here with a portrait of him, painted by Bill Leak.

Pinder


Comedy Pinderview

John Pinder has been involved in comedy, as well as music and theatre, pretty much throughout his life. In addition to managing acts, owning venues and touring talent, he has had a hand in the founding of such important institutions as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Comedy Channel. Sounds like he’s just the man to be launching a new comedy festival.

“Comedy’s a bit like pop,” Pinder explains. “If pop didn’t re-invent itself, nobody would ever write another good four-chord pop song. It’s the same with comedy. It becomes very easy after a long time to say, ‘I’ve heard that before’. You have to bite your tongue because it’s important that people actually do explore and experiment.” In addition to not wanting to over-analyse what should remain in and of its moment, John Pinder is loathe to talk about comedy because, he says, “comedy ought to be funny” and as far as he is concerned, he is not. He also eschews memorabilia. “There’s no point in keeping it; somebody has to re-invent it all again and if you collect all that shit they’ll look at it and go, ‘it’s been done it before’.” And yet, get him started, and he is a wealth of humorous anecdotes, a store of imaginative memorabilia housed in his own museum of recollection.

One of John’s tricks is to date you by the kind of comedy you first started listening to. If your first love is Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you’re in your mid- to late-30s; if it’s The Goodies you’re about 40 to 45. The Goon Show means you’re old enough to lie about your age if you don’t want to confess to being in your late-50s. “You get your comedy chops about the same age as you first start listening to music,” John explains. The Goon Show began when he was just hitting puberty. For a kid whose family didn’t have a television, hearing The Goons on radio was very ‘rock’n’roll’. “My father liked funny shit on the radio and we listened to it as a family because at seven o’clock on Sunday night we used to turn the radio on like people turn on the television. The Goon Show came along and my parents hated it.” Which succeeded in making John like it all the more – just like rock’n’roll!

Of course, John’s anecdotes and knowledge betray a much broader love of comedy. For starters, his favourite act at the recent Adelaide Fringe was, essentially, a juggler. “I’m really tired of people who say, ‘not another fucking juggler’. There’s something really astonishing about someone who hasn’t even opened his mouth and you’re wetting yourself laughing.” All the great stand-up comics, he points out, incorporate some sort of physicality in their mode of performance. A lot more “would benefit” from being able to mime or juggle. And, logically, “a lot of jugglers would benefit from having some jokes.” Pinder’s love of this other form of comedy also dates back to his childhood, when his family lived next door to a circus lot where Ashton’s and Bullen’s would set up their circuses when they were in town. “I wanted to run away with the circus from the time I was very young,” he says. Fact is, he pretty much has.

For updates and information, visit the website and follow World’s Funniest Island on Twitter.


Where to go for Tim Brooke-Taylor

This post originally contained a link to what I felt was a substandard execution of a great interview with Tim Brooke-Taylor of the Goodies. I had promised to produce a better edit of the interview, and I have. It now forms part of Episode 1 of Radio Ha Ha.

To hear it, you can click here.

To read a transcript of the interview, the entire episode can be read at the Radio Ha Ha website — as part of Episode 1.

And, if you like what you hear and read, go here and copy and paste the appropriate link into your podcastcher to have Radio Ha Ha downloaded to your computer every week.


My Chat with Graeme Garden, Full Blown

I’ve been threatening to publish my conversation with Graeme Garden in full for some time now, and with The Goodies about to appear in Australia any day now for the Big Laugh Comedy Festival (and with variations of the interview about to hit the stands in issues of FilmInk and Men’s Style Australia) I thought it was high time I made good with my promise.

In addition, here are a few MP3 files of permutations of the interview that have been broadcast. I’m afraid that at the time of editing, I didn’t have recourse to Goodies soundbites, so I used a lot from I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again . Unfortunately, John Cleese’s voice is instantly recogniseable, with Graeme Garden’s, none too obvious.


Demetrius Romeo: Graeme, tell me. What brought The Goodies back together?

GRAEME GARDEN: Well, the Big Laugh Festival, I guess. This gentleman John Pinder got in touch with us and said he’d been asking around for people, asking people who they would like to resurrect from the old days, I think, was perhaps how he put it, I don’t know. Our name came up on his list and he got in touch with us and said, “would you three guys like to come over to Australia and have some fun?” and I guess we said “yes!”

Demetrius Romeo: Fanstastic! Now, Graeme, is this the first reunion proper for The Goodies in a while?

GRAEME GARDEN: In a long time, yes. We’ve been together and done a couple of shows – one at the National Film Theatre here, and one in the West End Cinema – where we’ve had an audience and shown clips and chatted about the show and making it and things, and answered a few questions. The last time we did that was to launch the first DVD which sold very well in Australia, I know. And so it would be taking that kind of a show together one step further. I don’t think we can offer an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, and certainly nothing as physical as we used to do on the screen. My hip needs replacing, for one thing! But what we would hope to do is to offer some ideas of where we started out together, how we started out, what we were doing – shows before The Goodies we collaborated on – and maybe illustrate that with some of the material we used to do on radio and things like that. We’re researching that at the moment to try and find suitable stuff that we used to have fun doing, and will be fun to do again.

Demetrius Romeo: In the commentary of the DVD you released there is some talk of some of the things in some of the episodes that were with you from your earliest days…

GRAEME GARDEN: There were, yes. I think the bit you’re talking about was a bit called ‘Pet’s Corner’ which I used to do as a student. In fact, it was about the first thing I did in the Cambridge Footlights, which was to be a kind of animal expert on TV, presenting all these animals that he was a bit afraid of, which he kept accidentally killing. That sort of leaked into one or two of The Goodies’ episodes. There were sort of vampire bats and little furry things that used to crawl all over me. So there was some of that sort of stuff that certainly stood the test of time, or we plundered later on.

Demetrius Romeo: The three of you all met at the Cambridge Footlights. What are your first memories of Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor at Cambridge?

GRAEME GARDEN: My memories were that they were very funny and quite professional about the shows and things that they were doing. Far too much so for me, so I didn’t join the Footlights to begin with. I joined another organisation called the Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society, known as ‘CULES’ – which was fat better than joining the Cambridge University National Trust Society, which a lot of people did. CULES used to go around doing the sort of material that the Footlights did, but not quite so clever, and do concert parties at hospitals, things like that. But quite a few members of the Footlights were in CULES, so I met them and they said, “come along to the Footlights and join in”. Tim was the President of the Footlights when I joined, so I had to audition in front of him.

Demetrius Romeo: What was your audition piece for the Footlights?

GRAEME GARDEN: My audition was a bit like Pet’s Corner. I think I was drawing pictures or sketching silly things because they were all very clever at singing and doing word play and all that clever stuff, so I thought, “well, I’ll do something that nobody else is doing and they won’t know how to judge it. They’ll think, ‘oh well, it must be all right because we’re not doing it, and we can’t do that’.” So I drew pictures and did little odd things like that and they allowed me in. So I was quite in awe of them.

Demetrius Romeo: Working with the bigger group, how did the three of you come to break off and form a trio?

GRAEME GARDEN: We’d all been doing radio together with John Cleese and we didn’t break off in a group together, in a sense. We worked together in various other shows. Bill and I did a show together. Tim did one with John and with Marty [Feldman and Graham Chapman], At Last the 1948 Show. Eric Idle did one with [Terry] Jones and [Michael] Palin [and Terry Gilliam] which was called Do Not Adjust Your Set. And then, out of that lot, it ended up with the Pythons in one group and Tim and Bill and I in the other, not because we all sort of sought each other out particularly, it just sort of fell that way.

Demetrius Romeo: I’ve read that the proposal for The Goodies, ‘three guys who do anything, anywhere, any time’, when that proposal was put forward, the fellow in charge of light entertainment at the BBC said, “we receive that sort of proposal all the time, but we believe in what you gentlemen can do; go ahead with it.” Is that the case?

GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, that actually happened. It was a guy called Michael Mills who was the Head of Comedy. We had done a series called Broaden Your Mind which was a sort of spoof – an ‘encyclopedia of the air’, if you like – and they wanted another series of that. We said, “well, we don’t want to do sketches” – which is what that was – “because Python are doing that, lots of people like The Two Ronnies are doing that, we want to do it a bit different. We want to do it as a half-hour story line, and the idea is The Goodies,” As you say, the guy said, “that’s an idea I get on my desk every week but I think you might be able to do it.” And we got the contracts through for a show he called Narrow Your Mind! But yes, it’s quite true. That was the good old days when the people at the top wouldn’t rely on focus groups and management training and stuff like that, they’d go with their own gut instincts. I’m happy to say that he did and we ended up with a series.

Demetrius Romeo: You included some clips from Broaden Your Mind as extras on that first DVD, and it really is sketch based stuff, whereas The Goodies seems to draw from a tradition where you’re actually playing showbiz versions of yourselves, in a way.

GRAEME GARDEN: That’s a fair comment. I mean, it’s not really a very accurate picture of ourselves; Tim would be horrified if you thought he was really like the character he played. Bill is just like that in real life, of course, and I am science-based, but not quite as loony as it looks.

Demetrius Romeo: You undertook a medical degree at university.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yes I did.

Demetrius Romeo: Was that your first choice?

GRAEME GARDEN: It was, really. I came from a medical family, so most of the adults I had met were either teachers at school or were doctors, and I thought I’d rather be a doctor, really. And then when I got to university I discovered there lots of other things you could do as well, so by the time I actually qualified as a doctor, I got some offers to do some television work, so I thought, “I can’t really turn that down; I’ll give it a try.”

Demetrius Romeo: Have you ever had to fall back on your medical training and actually practice as a doctor?

GRAEME GARDEN: No, I’ve not practiced as a doctor. I’ve made quite a few medical-based videos and things like that. In fact I did a series of – I think we made about fifty – videos with John Cleese, funnily enough, explaining various illnesses to patients who might have been newly diagnosed, to help them take in what they’d heard from the doctor but probably hadn’t quite been able to remember because it came as a bit of a shock.

Demetrius Romeo: And you also worked on the early Doctor series.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, indeed. The old Doctor in the House series. Bill and I wrote loads of those, looking back.

Demetrius Romeo: You mentioned that the fact that the three of you ended up in The Goodies and your contemporaries ended up in Monty Python, but there was no real plan; it was just how it happened. There seems to be a playful rivalry between the two camps. For example at the end of the episode The Goodies and the Beanstalk, John Cleese is the genie who appears at the end, declares his surroundings a ‘kid’s programm’ and disappears again.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yes.

Demetrius Romeo: Was there ever frustration that The Goodies was perceived as a more ‘kids-oriented’ show?

GRAEME GARDEN: I think there might have been. I’m just trying to remember what the dates were ’round about then. It was possibly when the BBC weren’t quite sure where to place us, and had started putting us out rather early in the evening and sort of treating us like a kids show, which had not been the way it had originally been devised. I think there might have been a little bit of rankling as far as we were concerned, that people were looking on it as a kids’ show because of the time it was going out. Eventually we settled on – or they settled on – putting it out at nine o’clock at night which was about right for us. It was opposite the BBC News on BBC 1. We were on BBC 2. Nobody had done it before, but now it’s become a sort of ‘traditional’ comedy slot, the nine o’clock slot, just late enough to be an adult program but early enough for kids to be allowed to stay up if they really want to see it.

Demetrius Romeo: Whereas, in Australia, you did go out at six o’clock for a long time, and I believe that there are some episodes that only exist in their censored-for-six-pm Australian version. Were you aware of that?

GRAEME GARDEN: The cut versions? Yeah, I’ve got a list of the cuts that were made which recently came my way. Very interesting to see what Australians were not allowed to see.

Demetrius Romeo: What were some of the things that we were forbidden from seeing in a real Goodies episode?

GRAEME GARDEN: I’m ashamed to say that most of them appear to be bosom jokes, but I don’t know why Australia was particularly sensitive about that aspect. I think some things were cut for time, but there were certainly… it’s only because the Australians were so hot on the censorship that a lot of the programs have survived because the only copies we could track down were in the Censor’s office in Australia when it came to finding the old archive material.

Demetrius Romeo: Has that influenced what you have been able to release on DVD? I notice that the first one was a ‘best of’, rather than a complete season beginning with the first series.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, I think it would be difficult to start with the first series because a lot of those shows are not available in colour anymore; they’re sort of strange pirate copies in black and white, and not great quality to work on. But we thought, there were eighty-odd shows, yes, it would be interesting to release them series by series, but probably the best shows were going out around series four or five. Five, probably. So w thought it best to make an impact with a nice representative clutch of good programs rather than what might be interesting to historians, but not necessarily to the general public. We’ve got another DVD coming out with another ‘best’ eight, or whatever it is, on them. If they’re a huge success then, yes, we might go back and do it series by series. But considering there’s been none available for about twenty years, we thought we might kick of with the good ones.

Demetrius Romeo: Fair enough; ‘the Goodies of The Goodies’, I guess.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yes, ‘The Besties!’

Demetrius Romeo: How did you come to chose the ones that made the grade for the first and second DVDS?

GRAEME GARDEN: That’s interesting, because we hadn’t seen them, as you can imagine, for a very long time, so we wrote down the ones we remembered. There were some that were obvious ones that were obvious choices, the ‘The Kitten’ [Kitten Kong] that everyone always talks about, The Goodies and the Beanstalk, that was a special that we did. And then some of the classic ones. We didn’t want to put all our favourites, or all possibly the best ones on the first DVD because we wanted to bring out two, and we thought, “better not short change people if they buy the second one.” And also, we have a huge fanbase in Australia, funnily enough. The fanclub is run from there. And they were helpful too, because we took on their suggestions, the ones that they rate. There’s a guy called Brett Allender who’s done a breakdown of all the programs and given them all ratings. So there was a lot of input from the one community in the world who remembers them in any detail, and that’s the Australian public.

Demetrius Romeo: I wasn’t aware that we were ‘up there’ amongst the fans.

GRAEME GARDEN: You’re not ‘up there among the fans’, you are the fans! You and a few London cab drivers who ask me when it’s coming back.

Demetrius Romeo: Surely you’d get a lot of people recognizing you in the streets still!

GRAEME GARDEN: Well, I look a bit different than I did twenty years ago, but still we do, yeah, we get a few people who come up and ask us for things. We’re all still working and appear on TV in various guises. Tim and I did a quiz program last year that was good fun. Tim and I do a lot of radio together. We’ve been doing a show together for thirty years.

Demetrius Romeo: Is that I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue?

GRAEME GARDEN: It certainly is.

Demetrius Romeo: Coming back to the DVDs, when you were digging out archival stuff to include with it, was providing a commentary a fun trip down memory lane, or was there stuff that surprised you or shocked you, or that you wish you didn’t have to reveal?

GRAEME GARDEN: On the first one, we did a commentary on the Lighthouse Keeping show [Lighthouse Keeping Loonies], which, literally, we had not seen for twenty years. So it was full of surprises. Quite a bit of it, we waffled on, but for some of it we just sat there because we just couldn’t remember anything about it. You know, it was like, “good heavens, did we do that?” So there were a few surprises. Some things are a bit disappoinging; they’re not as good as you think they are. Other things, you’d forgotten how funny they were or they appear to us, anyway. We suddenly found we were making each other laugh on screen, which of course we would never have owned up to in real life. And just the other day we did some commentaries for the next DVD, and one of those is a show South Africa that we did about apartheid, that was quite hard-hitting, and that the BBC tried to stop us broadcasting. It’s quite shocking stuff, to be quite honest. Certainly, it’s very dodgy as far as ‘PC’ is concerned in this day and age. But it was made at a time when the BBC’s most popular show was The Black & White Minstrel Show on a Saturday night, which had white men in black face minstrel make-up, singing to white girls, and nobody at the time thought that that was a bizarre thing to be doing, so we pointed that out in the show as well. That was quite hard-hitting, and, as I say, is still quite shocking. Partly, it has a go at the ‘catch-all’ attitudes that people had to race at the time, which were probably less shocking then than they are now. But it was interesting, yes. It always is to go back and have a look at these things.

The other thing about the DVDs is that they have been digitally enhanced and they look better now than when they were first broadcast. They’ve never looked as good as they do now, even when they went out originally. And so we were quite impressed with that, apart from anything else.

Demetrius Romeo: There was a nice little feature on the DVD that showed the ‘before’ an ‘after’.

GRAEME GARDEN: That’s right. But the ‘before’ shot is actually how it looked when it was broadcast. It hasn’t deteriorated over the years. It always looked that ropey.

Demetrius Romeo: One thing I do notice about the original Goodies shows is that part of the humour you created couldn’t be created in that way anymore because part of it comes from the fact that you had to use props and models, whereas today, so much of it would be CGI.

GRAEME GARDEN: Mm. Yeah.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that people coming through with the same sort of ideas could ever get a show with that sort of charm and humour working?

GRAEME GARDEN: I don’t know that they could. You’re quite right, because some of the fun was that you could see that if somebody fell off a cliff, it was just a dummy, and when they hit the ground, it was replaced by somebody else, and you laughed if it looked reasonably good because you thought, ‘well, they got away with that, that’s very funny!’ Now, as you say, it would be incredibly elaborate with flying cameras and god-knows-what, and CGI stuff. I don’t know if it would be more expensive, but I think you’re right about the charm of it, that you would lose that home-made feel that it had.

There are people who still do that sort of comedy – people like Harry Hill, who has fun with very sill props. If you wanted to fool the audience you could do it much better with CGI, but he chooses not to. And that’s still quite amusing.

The other thing, I think, that would stop it being made today is the insurance, because every show that you do now, you have to fill out elaborate forms about health and safety and you have a risk assessment for every single shot. If you have a shot of somebody walking down the street, somebody has to fill in a sheet with the risks involved: “may step off curb and twist ankle; may be hit by passing car,” and all that sort of stuff. Every single shot of The Goodies would have had a risk assessment that would have made it impossible to do. I’ve just been doing the voice-over for an animated series where I just provide the voice for a character and we were solemnly handed a sheet of risk assessments for that: “may trip over cable”.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s incredible.

GRAEME GARDEN: It is bizarre. I just think the bureaucracy would stifle it. I don’t know how they get away with doing stuff anymore.

Demetrius Romeo: You brought up animation; there is one product I would love to see on DVD. Will we ever see Banana Man on DVD?

GRAEME GARDEN: Yes. It’s just been released. Probably not in Australia yet, but in the UK it was released – or rather, is released – about now.

Demetrius Romeo: Do the three of you provide commentary for that?

GRAEME GARDEN: No, no. We were nothing to do with that. No, we were just hired for the voices, and it was what’s called a ‘buy out’, so we have no participation in the DVD or anything like that, financially or any other way, just because animations of that sort of thing at that ime, were just horrendously difficult to work out how to pay people apart from just paying them a flat fee for just for doing it. So I don’t know anything about it except that it has just been released on DVD, so it should be coming your way. If we can smuggle a couple of discs down with us, we will do so.

Demetrius Romeo: Do it! Sell it at a profit. Make some money out of it.

GRAEME GARDEN: You may think that, I couldn’t possibly comment!

Demetrius Romeo: And I won’t broadcast that, so your secret’s safe with me.

Now, as time has passed, do you have any regrets? Do you have any dirt you want to dish up after ten years of eight seasons of the show?

GRAEME GARDEN: We covered, essentially, the 70s, really. It was the social commentary of the 70s. Regrets? Not really. I’m sorry that we didn’t do a movie of it ever. That would have been fun. We did try, and we got a couple of projects sort of almost going, but for one reason or another, they never came to anything. But I think a movie of it might have been a good thing to do. But then again, it might not.

Demetrius Romeo: Yes, well, not many British sitcoms or comedies made the grade as films; if you look at the track record…

GRAEME GARDEN: Absolutely true. That’s quite right. Although I suppose our ‘influences’, if you like, were somewhere between Buster Keaton and Tom & Jerry, which are cinematic, at least, historically. We might have had a little more going for it, in that we weren’t a sitcom where you had to open it out from three people sitting no a sofa; we were already thinking in terms of big locations and stunts and things like that for television. But as you say, it’s that switch from thirteen minutes to ninety that finds a lot of them out, doesn’t it.

Demetrius Romeo: Although, a lot of what you did, particularly with the bits that begin as flights of fancy that are realised for the screen, were fantastic send-ups, take-offs or homage to cinema and cartoons, vintage and otherwise. You had it all in there.

GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, well on the second DVD we’ve got the show where we did our own movie in one of the episodes which conjures up all sorts of recreations of old slapstick routines. We actually have Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton and people appearing on screen. So that was our homage to the cinema then. We did a commentary for that the other day, and that stands up pretty well, and even the effects, even though you can tell that they’re not CGI, they’re intriguingly impressive enough to make you wonder how we did them.

Demetrius Romeo: I always go back to the dog singing – in The Goodies & the Beanstalk and Kitten Kong – I know that it’s chewing toffee and that the film’s been edited, but today you wouldn’t go to so much trouble. You’d do it with a computer, rather than someone working really hard to capture that effect.

GRAEME GARDEN: That was Jim Franklin who directed and produced the series who did the singing dogs. He was a film editor who’d done a lot of work for David Frost and people like that. When we did the first series of The Goodies, knowing that we were going to be using a lot of film and film trickery, we persuaded the BBC to let us have Jim Franklin for the series. He later went on to direct the whole thing. But he was brilliant, and as you say, like a good film editor, he was dogged and would sit down – ‘dogged’ is a good word for it – and would sit down and go through that stuff frame by frame and created the singing dog, like Aardman Animation or something like that. Somebody who’s got the patience and the vision to see what he wants and how to get it, and to spend the time doing it.

Demetrius Romeo: Another beautiful moment is in The Goodies and the Beanstalk, when the three of you do your Marx Brothers impressions – the three of you as an ensemble just having fun, doing comedy about comedy.

GRAEME GARDEN: That was just a bit of self-indulgence, really. But it was good fun to do and it just looks so silly, doesn’t it.

Demetrius Romeo: Yes, but it looks as though you’re having fun, and if you’re making each other laugh, you’re pretty much assured of making us laugh.

GRAEME GARDEN: Well, we usually made Bill laugh, on screen and on camera. But it’s the principal that we use on the radio as well. We’ve been doing I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for some thirty years now, and our audience always amazed us because they’re all age groups and from all walks of life, and all we’re doing is trying to make each other laugh because it’s an allegedly ad lib’d kind of a show. We make sure we don’t know what everybody else is going to be doing – we might have an idea of what we’re going to be doing ourselves, but we try and surprise each other and make each other laugh. That’s a pretty good principal to work off, really.

Demetrius Romeo: Well, I hope it’s the same principle that pervades your Australian tour.

GRAEME GARDEN: I hope so. We’re looking forward to it, and we’re looking for bits and pieces that will hopefully tell the audience what sort of stuff we used to do, which we used to enjoy doing, and which we still do. We’re looking forward to having a good time, and I hope the audience makes us laugh a lot.

Demetrius Romeo: Fanstastic! Graeme Garden, thank you for your time.

GRAEME GARDEN: It’s been a pleasure.


Podcasting Marty

Martycover

This is quite a long-winded introduction, but the point is the comedy that you can download as MP3 files, if you are so inclined, so stick with it.

For the last little while, Richard Fidler has been hosting radio shifts on ABC 702 during holiday time when regular hosts are on vacation. During these periods, he gets me in to talk comedy. In addition to having a general discussion about trends and developments, it’s an opportunity for me to raid my own comedy archives.

This time around, for example, I took the opportunity to play a bit of Bill Hicks, justifying it with not just the recent release of a performance DVD, Bill Hicks Live, but also because 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of Hicks’s passing. Carefully removing the cussing (“scumsucking fucks”, I believe, was the offending phrase, for the free-thinkers and free-speakers amongst you), I edited together two excellent little bits on the American Presidency. In addition to whichever albums they originally featured on, they may be found on the excellent compilation entitled Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks.

I also played yet another excerpt from the interview conducted with Graeme Garden in honour of the impending Goodies tour of Australia. This Goodies bit opens with the the show’s signature call-out, followed by discussion with Graeme of the perception of The Goodies as a ‘kids’ program’, and the censorship that resulted. It serves as a great reason to segue to a skit about censorship from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, a radio show that featured, amongst its cast, The Goodies and John Cleese, prior to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies coming into existence.

My favourite artifact was a recording of the old Pete ’n’ Dud sketch ‘One Leg Too Few’, as performed by Kenneth Williams. This requires a bit of context: prior to Peter Cook graduating from Cambridge, and indeed, the university club that proved a training ground for many English comedians-to-be, the Cambridge Footlights, he was recognised as a talented writer and was commissioned to write some sketches for Kenneth Williams, already established by that stage as a comic performer. The ‘One Leg Too Few’ sketch went on to appear in Beyond the Fringe, the show commission for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, featuring OxBridge graduates Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, (Dr Sir) Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Pete ’n’ Dud went on to perform the sketch as a duo. The interesting thing about Kenneth Williams’s version is the existence of a tag that was later dropped.

These older recordings are always a bit of a hit, as the following unsolicited e-mail shows:


Hello

I was listening to you the other night on Radio 702, so I thought (and would appreciate) if you may be able to answer this question:

I've been chasing for some years the classic Marty Feldman sketch in which he plays a ballet dancer being reprimanded by the theatre manager for a drunken performance of the Nutcracker ballet on the previous night, and it being re-counted the disgraceful things he did in performance.

Do you know of the sketch and what show it originated from (I thought it's maybe from At Last The 1948 Show)? And do you know if it is available in any current recorded medium?

Thanks for your time


I must admit that I have had trouble locating any sound recordings from At Last the 1948 Show, a program that featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman before Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Tim Brooke-Taylor before The Goodies and Marty Feldman before he emigrated to Hollywood and became a regular in Mel Brooks films. The only At Last the 1948 Show material I've found from that time is the stuff that the Pythons re-hashed either on record (the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch comes to mind - the Secret Policeman’s Ball version is the only one I have a recording of – or ‘The Bookshop’ sketch that appears on the Monty Python Contractual Obligation album) or in print (John Cleese gave a couple of the sketches a run in his book entitled The Golden Sketches of Wing Commander Muriel Volestrangler – in which, I notice, the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch is entitled ‘The Good Old Days’.)

I know that huge swathes of At Last the 1948 Show were wiped rather than retained; at that time it was believed that the cost of videotape was great and the chance of comedy being of interest decades down the track, minimal; a great book on the topic exists, called Missing, Presumed Wiped and covers comedy as well as drama and science fiction. Thus, not much of the mere thirteen episodes remains.

However, the ‘Ballet’ sketch comes from Marty Feldman’s follow-up show to At Last the 1948 Show. Entitled Marty, it featured Tim Brooke-Taylor as a regular contributor and performer and, significantly, Terry Gilliam provided animated opening credits. A record of this was released, also entitled Marty, a very scratchy copy of which resides in my record collection.

The ‘Ballet’ sketch is excellent, but I particularly like ‘Bishop’. “You what?!” Feldman’s cockney, workingclass Bishop of No Fixed Abode reacts to a train passenger (played by Brooke-Taylor) who has admitted to being agnostic. “You stupid git! You try telling Him that you’re agnostic when you get up there and He’ll smash your teeth in… in His infinite mercy.”

There are two other sketches I’ve decided to include. The first is entitled ‘Weather Forecast’, which is a bit unfortunate, as it gives away the punchline. (This sort of titular cock-up, when presenting comedy, should probably be defined as a ‘to get to the other side’ error!) It has a similar feel to the apocalyptic sketch, ‘The End of the World’, that first appeared in Beyond the Fringe and was featured in The Secret Policeman’s Ball.

The other is a cute little bit of nonsense entitled ‘Salome’.

In all, Marty is a great album, and, I assume, a great comedy series, if, indeed, it is still in existence in somebody’s archive.


Goody Goody Yum Yum

I spent a fantastic (by my standards - he may beg to differ!) half hour this morning chatting to Dr Graeme Garden, formerly of The Goodies. Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie will be coming to Australia to undertake a tour as The Goodies once again, kicking it off in Parramatta as part of the Big Laugh Comedy Festival.

I haven’t sat down and edited a proper version of the interview yet, but m’colleague John Barron has already edited down a version to play as part of ABC NewsRadio Breakfast this week. Here’s the snippet he excerpted to be broadcast Wednesday morning - it follows on from the question (that he will no doubt paraphrase as part of a live-to-air introduction) “How did this Goodies reunion come into being?”

GRAEME GARDEN: This gentleman John Pinder got in touch with us and said he’d been asking around for people, asking people who they would like to resurrect from the old days, I think, was perhaps how he put it, I don’t know. Our name came up on his list and he got in touch with us and said, “would you three guys like to come over to Australia and have some fun?”

Demetrius Romeo: Now, Graeme, is this the first reunion proper for the Goodies in a while?

GRAEME GARDEN: In a long time, yes. We’ve been together… we’ve done a couple of shows – one at the national film theatre here, and one in a West End cinema – where we’ve had an audience and shown clips and chattered about the show, and making it, and things, and answered a few questions, and the last time we did that was to launch the DVD, which sold very well in Australia, I know. And so it would be taking that one step further, that kind of a show together. I don’t think we could offer an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza; certainly nothing as physical as the stuff we used to do on the screen. My hip needs replacing for one thing. What we would hope to do is offer some ideas of where we started out together, how we started out, what we were doing, shows before The Goodies that we collaborated on, and maybe illustrate that with some of the material we used to do on radio. Things like that.

Demetrius Romeo: One thing I do notice about the original Goodies shows is that part of the humour you created couldn’t be created in that way anymore because part of it comes from the fact that you had to use props and models, whereas today, so much of it would be CGI.

GRAEME GARDEN: Mm, yeah.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that people coming through with the same sort of ideas could ever get a show with that same sort of charm and humour working?

GRAEME GARDEN: I don’t know that they could. You’re quite right, because some of the fun was you could see that if someone fell of a cliff it was a dummy, and then when they hit the ground it was replaced by somebody else, and you laughed if it looked reasonably good because you felt, “well, they got away with that, then! Very funny.” Now, as you say, it would be incredibly elaborate with flying cameras and god knows what, and CGI and stuff, so it would be… I don’t know if it would be more expensive; I don’t know. But you’re right about the charm, that it would lose that sort of ‘home made’ feel that it had.

I will get around to posting the full thing - and its various permutations - up here, along with supporting stuff from the Big Laugh Festival (including an interview with its founder and mastermind, John Pinder).