For yonks now, I’ve had the vague idea of doing a podcast, but have dismissed the whole idea of talking to myself as boring, both for me and for anyone else. However, after extensive negotiation, I have persuaded my good friend, the comedy writer Matt Owen (Private Eye/Joan Rivers Position/11 O’Clock Show) to join me once a week for the discussion of light entertainment, real ale, interpretative dance, politics and life in general. Here, from a recent discussion on Cook’d and Bomb’d radio, is a rough downloadable MP3-type idea of what to expect. Oh, and here is a link to Cook’d and Bomb’d.
To underline Barry Cryer’s point about the warmth of the old school light entertainment stars, have a look at this glorious clip of Eric Morecambe opening a holiday home in Norfolk for handicapped children. A class act through and through, with time for everyone. “Yeah, but he’s got a camera crew following him around,” some of you might say. Well, I’ve heard numerous reports that, camera crew or no camera crew, this was how Eric Morecambe conducted himself in public. If so, it goes a long way to explain why he and Ernie were so loved. When the reporter asks a daft question in a slightly misguided effort to be funny, Morecambe plays along. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do it.
Some interesting comments crop up in today’s Guardian interview with Frankie Boyle, comedian, Sun columnist and author of a heavily-promoted broadside against consumerism. I shall leave aside his defences of his offensiveness. I have no problem with offensive comedy, but I don’t think Boyle’s any good at it, or properly able to justify it. I might return to this issue when I’ve got less work to do and thought it through a bit more.
What really interests me is his comment about Stewart Lee being “irrelevant and flabby”. In a fit of apparent gallantry, Boyle goes on to defend Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard against Lee’s criticisms. However, I can’t believe that Boyle’s dismissal has nothing to do with Lee’s criticisms of his own work, particularly Lee’s assertion (once again in a Guardian interview) that with “most of those professionally offensive comedians…no one is ever actually offended. Everyone understands the parameters and operates within them, the audience and the performer”.
This leads me back to something that Barry Cryer said when I interviewed him for my forthcoming book The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. Baz loves everyone and is loved in turn, so he finds it distressing to see comedians trying to get at each other in public. “Writers have got more cameraderie than comics. Now it’s fierce,” he said, telling the story of a very famous young comic who rang him up for advice. “[He said] ‘They’re all having a go at me. Why? Why? Why?’ and I said ‘Lie back and enjoy it. You’ve played the O2. You’re big. It could be jealousy.’ He said ‘People can enjoy Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, they don’t have to watch me.’ I said ‘Calm down and enjoy’.”
Baz then talked of another phone call he received, this time from one of the old guard. “I was talking to Ronnie Corbett this very morning on the phone…I said ‘It’s fascinating that we remember Eric and Ernie, Frankie, Tommy and everyone. They were all friends. Competitors [but] they never slagged each other off in public. Now they’re all doing it. Are you jealous of him? What’s happening?”
Maybe it all became too calculating and business-like with aggressive management operations like Avalon, Off the Kerb and John Noel promoting a ‘kill or be killed’ attitude? I’ll let Baz have the last word. “Denis Norden, my dear old friend, said a brilliant thing. He’s like me and Ronnie Corbett, we love the young ones. I’ve just done Edinburgh. I love the young ones. Denis said ‘Comedy’s as funny as it ever was, but it’s not as much fun’. The warmth thing. There are brilliant people around now. Ross Noble’s warm. Bill Bailey’s warm. There’s a lot of IQ about now. Brilliant brains, but not the warmth.”
If I weren’t so busy, I’d be very tempted to hop on a train to Leeds and pay my respects to Sir James Savile OBE KCSG at the Queen’s Hotel. He was a fascinating figure and a shrewd old buzzard, as this previously-unpublished excerpt of the interview I did with Jim’ll Fix It producer Roger ‘Doctor Magic’ Ordish for my book Turned Out Nice Again proves:
“I didn’t have big agent struggles, particularly when Jimmy Savile didn’t have an agent, really. Bunny Lewis was nominally his agent, and sometimes he’d want him to deal with something. Jim would say things like ‘I don’t want to up my fee for two reasons: I’d pay to be on in the first place, and if you’re on a low fee, you’re not beholden to anyone’. For instance, sailing close to the wind, I remember he came onto a Juke Box Jury that I did, ’79 or whatever it was, he wore a t-shirt that said, what does it say on hoardings? ‘This space available.’ Something like that. ‘Your name here.’ Not surprisingly we were always doing things with the railways [on Jim’ll Fix It, and] we had the [British Rail] chairman Peter Parker on, and then he and Peter Parker had a serious conversation. The next year, Jimmy Savile was doing those ads – ‘the age of the train’ for years and years. He said, ‘That’s the money I want. I don’t want the Beeb fiddling around whether they’re going to pay me another £50 or not. I want millions of pounds from British Rail. That’s the means to the end’. As they used to say at the time ‘Why is this train late, Guard?’ ‘It’s the age of the train, sir’.”
Roger is a very clever chap, and it might have been easy for him to look down on the show that he oversaw for its entire 19 years on BBC television. He never did. “I really think that when I started there, most people thought ‘What I make is good, and I’m not going to make it if I don’t think it’s good’. I loved that about Jim’ll Fix It. Very lowbrow, very simple programme, but we always wanted it to be good. The attitude, I feel, now is ‘This is the sort of crap that they like, so this is what we’ll make’. But they’re saying this is crap. It may have been so, but we never made anything with the idea that it was going to be crap because that’s what the common people want. It’s very arrogant.”