Maybe its his ubiquity on TV in the 80s and 90s or the repetition of those bloody Australian car insurance forms. Perhaps its the later years presenting the most baffling game show on British television or maybe its simply just the fact “The Detectives” was a bit bobbins but nobody really discusses Jasper Carrott much these days, do they?
For my generation, the appearance of Jasper on a Saturday night was always a welcome sight even if we didn’t get all the jokes. I was far too young to understand the folk culture he’d come from and indeed helped create, why being “In The Club” was so hilarious or that people only bought his 1975 hit single “Funky Moped” for the naughty B-side spoofing the Magic Roundabout (Fact Courtesy Of My Dad, My Entire Life.) I similarly, due to a lack of being born, missed the original ITV shows that made him a household name, especially 1979’s “The Unrecorded Jasper Carrott” where he brilliantly proved he was live by showing what was on the other two channels on a portable set (“Shakespeare…he’s dead y’know”). Even his transfer to the Beeb for the more topical and slightly naughtier “Carrott’s Lib” (written largely by the duo of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor before they joined the team of Spitting Image and then did something or other about space) was just that bit too before my time.
His follow up series in 1987 “Carrott Confidential” on the other hand felt hugely exciting as I’d sometimes be allowed to stop up for it (Carrott’s Lib generally started around ten to eleven, Confidential was 9:05pm, straight after Paul Daniels and Bergerac.) Ask me to tell you a joke or recall a sketch from it and I’d look at you as if made of teeth but enquire about the title sequence and the memories suddenly flood. These titles were incredibly simple – Jasper walks from his dressing room in BBC TV Centre onto the studio floor – but also unspeakably exciting for a TV spod in training like me who thought the BBC seemed the most exciting place in the world to work. Adding to the fun was a series of topical gags mostly missed by the oblivious Carrott on his way to the audience.
Lets look at those 24 walks to work, shall we? Starting with series one…
Episode 1 – January 3rd 1987
Radio Times Synopsis: “The show comes to you live from BBC Television Centre and the format is a closely guarded secret for very good reasons. ‘Because it’s so brilliantly original’, says Jasper. ‘He hasn’t got one yet’, says Michael Grade.”
Accompanied by the sounds of “Rockin’ All Over The World” by Ver Quo, Jasper takes a relatively sedate walk for this first episode, the highlight being a colleague walking by.
As a bonus, here’s the series one set, minus some odd 80’s industrial pipe things to the right. Those exciting TV screens behind Jasper are reduced to just one the following week showing the live feed of the show going out whilst are all turned off by show 3.
Episode 2 – January 10th 1987
RT: “At the time of going to press, there was no information forthcoming on the second show because the first show’s format depended upon how the second show was received.”
Another standard one with Jasp strolling onstage to the sounds of “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” by his old pals ELO. They do get more exciting, I’m sure….
Episode 3 – January 17th 1987
RT: “Reassemble these words into a well-known phrase or billing: see, watch, hear, gasp, squirm, wriggle, ludicrous, very, gerbil, bedwetter, hierarchy, commie, goose-stepping, morbid, ointment, appliance.”
“Layla” from Dad’s Big Book of Qualidee Rock this time and a bit of frost on Jasper’s sign plus a comedy c-c-c-cold sounding producer knocking indicates Britain might have been going through a bit of a cold snap. The snow covered halls and snowman adding more to this before the opening monologue mentions “so much snow” and Birmingham putting in a bid for the Winter Olympics. Arf.
Episode 4 – January 24th 1987
RT: “This edition of the series will be reviewed on See You Did Sid, Ludovic Kennedy’s special edition for dyslexic gas-share holders.”
Robert Palmer‘s “Addicted To Love” is the Brut-smelling track of choice for the walk on today and despite Jasper apparently communicating with someone off-camera, we never get to see them before he makes his way into Studio 3. Very poor.
Episode 5 – January 31st 1987
RT: “With Ian Rush injured, Jasper Carrott makes his debut as centre forward for Liverpool’s home game against Everton and Luton. Jasper will play sideways across the pitch while Bruce Grobbelaar will perform the comic routines. A live commentary can be heard next Thursday.”
An aggressive off-camera “Come on Carrott, shift yer backside!” (Carrott‘s retort: “Oh that’s a sign Alasdair Milne’s gone, isn’t it?” referring to the resignation of the BBC Director General that week) suggests we’re in more interesting territory than the previous few weeks although Jasp nodding at a few genuinely confused looking people in the corridor is the limit for this episode, other than the fact that we’ve moved from Studio 3 to Studio 6 which seems a much nicer walk all in all. Music is back to Status Quo but “Caroline” so that’s….something.
Here’s that week’s Question Time discussing Milne‘s resignation…
Episode 6 – February 7th 1987
Before this episode began there was an upheld complaint about the previous week’s programme. It would be remiss of me to say what the grievance was about but needless to say the Rt Hon Denzil Davies MP was clearly not pissed up at any point when he had to leave the House of Commons early so….oh wait, he’s dead now. Never mind.
RT: “Live from Television Centre, J. Carrott will expose the New Statesman’s expose on government plans for a Cardiff/Dublin tunnel….”
Oh thank christ, its “Hocus Pocus” by Focus leading Mr Carrott out of his dressing room this week, where he is immediately met by a policeman laded with tapes, reels and important looking documents. Several more pepper the journey along with a mass flinging of more papers catching Jasper before making a police guarded Studio 6. This is likely a direct reference to Special Branch heavy-handedly raiding offices at BBC Scotland the previous week in regards to material worked on by journalist Duncan Campbell about a secret British spy satellite. (For more: read the HANSARD transcript of the House Of Commons discussion on the subject here.)
Episode 7 – February 14th 1987
RT: “Dear Bunny Wunnies – I’m still glowing from our weekend in Chernobyl. Watch prog tonight for special Valentine’s woggle. Signed Periscope.”
A female voice at the door this time to knock Jasper up, leading to the reply “coming Madam Cyn”, referring to alleged “luncheon vouchers for sex” brothel keeper Cynthia Payne who had been acquitted of nine charges of controlling prostitutes in her home on February 11th 1987. Obviously the idea of two human beings having sex is exceptionally hilarious to British audiences so the reference gets a huge laugh as does the vicar in suspenders and ladies in lingerie out in the corridor celebrating her release. “Down Down” by Status Quo soundtracks the BBC filth.
Episode 8 – February 21st 1987
RT: “Live from the BBCtv Centre, this is the last show in the current series…. Brian.”
Jasper is roused from his room with an offer for £36,500 which turns out to be from an estate agent. “Rockin’ All Over The World” returns as we see FOR SALE signs on every room in the BBC and an incredibly well timed gag with a lift door opening to show another tenant in his pyjamas. No doubt hilarious referencing the price of living in London in the 80s, the jokes is now a bit sour when the iconic Television Centre has now actually being converted into wanky over-priced housing.
Continuing the Carrott Confidential TV Centre hi-jinks with series 2 (as I sadly don’t have access to June 1987’s “Election Confidential” one off special) from January 1988 which moved back by about an hour in the schedules, just after Cagney and Lacey. But first a word from erm…
Ah proper new-material trailers for comedy programmes, you really don’t see those anymore. Nor to mention it, many comedy programmes…anyway, its Saturday night, its 10:10 and its time for..oh, whatsisname…?
Episode 1 – January 16th 1988
Radio Times Synopsis: “Jasper’s back with his live show, taking his usual quirky look at news of the week, with social comment and political satire – even.”
A swankier door sign in Jasper‘s own hand greets us to series 2 but is it Quo or ELO on the soundtrack? Well done if you said the latter whose “Do Ya” plays behind a series of rapid jokes which kicks off the real era of pre-recorded topical nods including a Mike Gatting lookalike having an argument with an umpire, some BP workers having hung themselves,some men in classic BBC brown coats removing a painting of Michael Grade (who had just left the BBC in order to become chief executive at Channel 4) and a chap in an Australian hat selling copies of the controversial Spycatcher in front of a disgusted Thatcher impersonator. And that’s all before a Reagan and Gorbachev lookalike get to stab each other (literally) in the back and ‘a jockey’ in comedy prisoner clothes on a horse is lead away. It could be anyone! Phew!
Here’s Mike Gatting behaving appallingly to umpire Shakoor Rana in a move that stopped England facing Pakistan for over a decade…
And here’s the rather awful new set…
Episode 2 – January 23rd 1988
RT: “‘Confidential’ – Webster’s Dictionary definition: ‘containing information whose unauthorised disclosure could be prejudicial to the national interest’. Carrott’s Dictionary definition: ‘sneaky, irritating muck-blending’.”
Show 2 and blimey the door sign’s changed again! Made of money these BBC lot! This one actually stays for the rest of the series so god knows why last week’s was different, perhaps the starry hand-signed nature belied the “man of the people” stance Carrott took in this shows in order to remain an outsider. On today’s show, Jasper is greeted by a “royal highness” who gets his sandwiches brought by a woman in a green wax jacket towing a corgi, presumably referencing Prince Edward‘s desire to work in the media. Elsewhere in the corridors of the Beeb, a Ronnie Barker (who had just announced his retirement on “Wogan”) lookalike (Ronnielike?) shakes Jasper’s hand after putting a “Vacant” sign on his dressing room as “Keep On Running” leads Carrott to Studio 8.
Episode 3 – January 30th 1988
RT: “Live, live, live, live, live, live, live from Television Centre.”
American Footballers fill the corridors of the Beeb as Jasper leaves his room ahead of the following night’s Superb Owl between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos which Channel 4 would show live. There’s also tribute to all things antipodean as “Down Under” plays over a Dame Edna lookalike with a birthday cake marking Australia’s bicentennial on January 26th, plus a Paul Hogan expy wrestling a croc, “Rolf” doing a mural and a kangaroo. Just because.
Oh and this tribute to Royal sperms proving the British fascination with the Windsors sticking it in a bit has never even slightly wavered…
Episode 4 – February 6th 1988
RT: “In association with Radio Times, Carrott Confidential announces an exciting new competition giving you the chance to win Robert Kilroy-Silk’s suntan! For full details, just lie naked in front of your TV and tune in to Jasper this week – live!”
The Eagles sing “Life In The Fast Lane” whilst Peperami get a free plug as Jasper is greeted by a surgeon holding the meat-esque product. We soon learn it is being dragged out of a nearby patient…for some reason. (Possibly it being linked to salmonella that week….) Then he bumps into two people with bandaged shnozzles and a third having their nostrils squeezed – baffling until you realise the previous day was the first ever Comic Relief telethon on the BBC. Geddit? Red Nose Day. Ba-boom Tschh. (Jasper had appeared during the show doing one of his…ahem…classic bits, which you can see here) There’s also some young women attacking two judges which I’m less sure about. If you do, drop me a line…
Episode 5 – February 13th 1988
RT: “Jung or Freud? Dialectical Marxism or Free Market Capitalism? Darwinian Evolution or Creation Theory? Who gives a monkey’s? Well, Cheetah for a start! Live from Television Centre.”
A knock up from the Speaker of the House…who immediately goes into a song and dance routine for a nearby camera….must be the televising of parliament for the first time (February 9th to be precise), something every comedy shows of the era seem to have a take on. Van Halen‘s “Jump” kicks in as a woman buys a drink from a tea lady in full Nazi uniform (a nod to an enquiry into Nazi war criminals supposedly hiding out in Britain) before a storm starts up hitting Jasp and a delighted nearby Ian McCaskill.
Episode 6 – February 20th 1988
RT: “This week Jasper attempts to impersonate Phil Cool, Mike Yarwood, Rory Bremner, Bobby Davro, Chris Barrie, Jessica Martin, Faith Brown and Janet Brown juggling.”
There’s a bob sled team in the corridor so it must be Winter Olympics time! (Sadly its not the Jamaican team.) There’s some bot fondling by some rich looking young men that positively screams “Bullingdon Club!“, some terrorism funnies with a kidnapped Arthur Scargill‘s ransom being repeatedly reduced and a “snooker player” snorting some chalk (Kirk Stevens had just gone to rehab for cocaine addiction.) Then Ronnie Barker‘s back selling…antique bog rolls? All this accompanied by the most obscure song of the run so far, Bon Jovi‘s “Raise Your Hands“, an album track from “Slippery When Wet“. Great.
[Sidenote: Lets just have a lovely warm nod to that Radio Times capsule which mentions Carrott’s Lib cast member Chris Barrie – whose new sitcom “The Red Dwarf” had started five days earlier – and close friend Phil Cool with whom Jasper co-wrote “Cool It!” series two in 1986.]
Episode 7 – February 27th 1988
RT: “Last week, light years from earth, Barf Faxnumbra – evil tyrant in the Telexbureau Galaxy – picked up Carrott Confidential through a spacewarp. His brain exploded. So join Jasper, live, for the show that liberated a galaxy.”
Those zany Beatles are straight in with their rendition of “Money (Thats What I Want)” as Jasper finds the Queen shoveling gold, Benny Hill flashing some lingerie-wearing ladies with a mac full of pound notes and Elton John playing a piano spewing currency very possibly alleging to a libel suit against The Sun. A crying evangelist wants money too as long as that pesky prostitute keeps schtum. While Prince Charles says down with this sort of thing.
Episode 8 – March 5th 1988
RT: “Live from TV Centre comes what would surely be the penultimate programme in the series. Unfortunately, it’s the last one, but Jasper couldn’t remember the word ‘penultimate’ in time for last week’s billings.”
A red glove belonging to a piss poor Spiderman outfit (its got a cape FFS!) knocks on the door and says “Happy 50th birthday Superman” whereupon Jasper emerges dressed like the comic hero who takes to the skies. He flies over a maid peeping in the “Royal Bedchamber”, an aged Batman in a bathchair being pushed by Robin (This would be around the time of the desperate space-filler TV-AM repeats of the sixties series and a year before Tim Burton took it in a very different direction) before changing back to regular clothes in a phone box as typical. Time for a quick Pepsi from a very familiar figure then its off to work…
Carrott Confidential started its third and final series on February 4th 1989 at 10:25pm, between American drama series “Midnight Caller” and still-not-yet-stolen-by-Murdoch football fun in “Match Of The Day“. Punt and Dennis get more to do this series which is lovely to see and the weekend after the run ended would greet folks tuning in for a obscure radio comedy series on Radio 1 called “The Mary Whitehouse Experience“.
Episode 1 – February 4th 1989
Radio Times Synopsis: “Jasper Carrott returns for another series of shows from BBC Television Centre. As usual, the humour is fast and furious. Steve and Hugh are his regular guests, and there are some surprise visits too.”
Series 3 kicks off with not a knock on a dressing room door but a trunction on a jail door which proves THE BBC KNEW EVERYTHING!!!! ILLUMINATI 9/11 LIZARD PEOPLE!!!! ALAN WAS THE REAL THIRD MAN!!! And…wait, is that Elvis? Better play “Jailhouse Rock” then! On release to “slop out for 35 minutes” Jasper encounters a chocolate cake scoffing Fergie on skis because fuck it its 1989 then is measured up by a surgeon in front of a butcher and what appears to be Zoltar from the movie “Big” before being saved by two NYC Guardian Angels and led to Studio 8.
And for continuity, here’s the set for series 3. Better if massively generic.
Episode 2 – February 11th 1989
RT: “The man who put ‘ella’ into ‘salmon’. The programme that’s Clive James (E 605) free. No canned laughter, genuine live organic carrott.”
The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s “Summer In The City“, a Dulux dog and some lovely blooms greet Jasper from his dressing room this week. Then its past a “Bring and Di Sale”, Elvis again pushing a trolley, a BT (at the height of their useless yet unopposed reign) engineer cutting off customers with a big pair of shears and people meet the “Commons Select Committee”…to throw eggs what I assume is meant to be Edwina Currie over her part in the salmonella scares over eating eggs upsetting farmers and suppliers hugely. Wouldn’t it be strange if she was vindicated many years later? Oh.
Episode 3 – February 18th 1989
RT: “People, events, issues, arts, the media, a pound of mushrooms, 20 Woodbines, a Pot of taramasalata and three Pints today, please, milkman.”
Ah, now there’s a topical gag that needs no introduction as a post-Brit Awards shambles Sam Fox lookalike struggles to read the idiot boards introducing the show in front of a beaming Mick Fleetwood lookalike (bet there’s not much money in that job..) “Rock Around The Clock” starts up just in time for Jasp to avoid some nuclear French cheese (presumably referencing that country’s decision to start resume nuclear testing), break up the Queen and Elvis having a boogie and see the Ayatollah get hit by a penguin days after he sentenced Salman Rushdie to death for writing “The Satanic Verses” (published in the UK by…Penguin.)
Episode 4 – February 25th 1989
RT: “Not featuring the rock and roll years. 1842: due to a lack of newsreel footage…. please complain to the research department.”
More superhero shenanigans as an even more aged Batman is waiting for Jasper outside his dressing room door to celebrate his 50th anniversary, a joke that would be completely moot four months later as Tim Burton’s ludicrously huge smash film hit cinemas. As the classic Bat theme plays, Jasper passes an unfortunate family covered in sewage heading back from the beach and a coffin tastefully plastered with “HIROHITO” followed by one celebrating the death of another powerful world leader…
And another preparing for the (correct) result for the Mike Tyson fight happening that evening in Las Vegas (which gets a huge grumble from the audience)…
Episode 5 – March 5th 1989
RT: “The Chronicles of Barmia: The Hamster, the Dinner Lady and the MFI Corner Unit.
1: Why the BBC needs a bigger licence fee to make decent children’s drama. Starring Jasper Carrott as Aslef the lion who’s General Secretary of the Train Drivers’ Union and Steve and Hugh as a couple of irritating kids who were weaned on E102 and monosodium glutamate.”
A double whammy of late 80s advertising references to kick off with as new neighbour “Madonna” pops round for a spare “cola” which Jasper “prematurely” spills on her. Meanwhile, “Like A Prayer” plays in the background as if the programme has suddenly remembered the decade its being made in after just 21 weeks. Elsewhere, a Thatcher steps out of a fridge (nope) with a baby (son Mark had recently become a father) and an ill looking Humpty Dumpty seemingly bats for Salmonella. The journey to the studio is finished with a booth for signed Scandal programmes (featuring a suitably posed Joanne Whalley / Christine Keeler), the film of the Profumo affair that has been released in the UK the day before.
Episode 6 – March 11th 1989
RT: “After every meal or drink acids attack your teeth for up to 35 minutes. Jasper Carrott, along with Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis and Vicky Ogden knows this, but all of them are still prepared to spend the next 35 minutes letting you watch their teeth rot live, on air, just so you can have a good laugh.”
More Prince Charles funnies as the sunburnt prince knocks our star up then we’re back to the favourite driving hits as “Smoke On The Water” backs a series of events including a smoking tea lady walking past a “No Smoking” sign, some protesting furries (including a mole who Jasper is enraged by, evoking an old routine of his) and some very unfortunate football coaches, following a 2-0 loss to England by Albania that week. Now about this mole…
Episode 7 – March 18th 1989
RT: “Linguini, tagliatelli, ravioli, tortellini … what’s the next pasta in the sequence?
Solve this simple puzzle and you could be eligible for membership of MENSA – which is the Latin word for ‘smug clever dick’. Didn’t you know that? Sorry then, chum … we don’t want thickoes like you in our club. Better stay in and watch Jasper Carrott instead – you might learn something.”
Budget week then I take it. As Jasper gets a big red case shoved in his kisser, our second repeat song kicks in as his old pals ELO‘s “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” plays, could this be a sign the show is winding up? (Yes.) Next the red case spills out money for a nearby Fergie and Andrew who get rid of the baby in order to fit more cash in the pram. Because Royals and 1989. He then passes have-to-blink-to-double-check-it-wasnt-the-real-one milk enthusiast Bob Geldof lookalike awaiting Peaches who was born on March 13th (and who depressingly has been dead for over five years, whilst her mum is nearly nineteen years gone…shudder…), some extortionate water prices thanks to water privatisation and some saucy ladies of the night – one of whom grabs Jasper’s arse, seemingly unplanned – hanging about outside the House of Commons. Because Politicans’ penises and 1989. Sigh.
Episode 8 – March 25th 1989
RT: “Cliffhanger Ending. In the final episode of the series, Jasper discovers the true identity of his parents, fakes his own death and begins a new life of complete anonymity by changing his name to Samuel Rushdie. Just your normal final episode, then.”
And its back to the song from the very first episode, “Rockin’ All Over The World” as Carrott Confidential bows out with one final corridor walk and some pissed up naval types at the door. Princess Diana returns to hand out johnnies from the Mates machine in a sequence designed for both winding up the public and taking delight in knowing its your final episode. John Hurt punches through a door, a tortoise carries a letter from former Secretary of State for Transport Paul Channon (a long story involving Lockerbie and loose lips around journalists) and various booze frontmen appear whilst everything around them is sold off, including Rutger Hauer for Guinness, George the Hofmeister Bear, Fosters’ Paul Hogan and the Oblivion Boys (who were both in the cast of Jasper’s previous show Carrott’s Lib) in ‘naked at the laundrette’ Carling Black Label mode. Its not the real ones though (sadly?)
Its a very strange ending to a series that was quite by chance ended up airing through some big historical events. The whole run is much tamer than “Carrott’s Lib” thanks to a more traditional writing team including Barry Cryer, Dick Hills, Spike Mullins, Neil Shand and Ian Davidson. Carrott‘s natural gift as a storyteller fits the format well as he weaves in and out of topical bits with more straightforward stand up, often for up to ten minutes a time in the opening monologue. A strange sort of act that was alternative yet thoroughly mainstream. I’m struggling to think of any comedian in the current climate who could host a similar sort of programme, which is a shame because TV needs more lighthearted satire for the masses that isn’t Have I Got News For You or, indeed, any bleedin’ panel show.
Its hard not to get sad too for the loss of TV Centre and its many corridors and studios we only got a little peek at as the home audience. Yes, it might have been out of date technologically and archaic in design but it was (and remains) bloody iconic and as far as the UK was concerned, the de facto home of British television. Not to mention absolutely a character of its very own. Remember it this way…
For more TV memories from the 80s and 90s, my book “Kill Your Television” is full of articles on everything from Saturday morning telly to unaired pilots, obscure Teletext relationships, comedy shows as computer games, dangerous kids TV, theme tunes in the top 40 and much much more. Available in paperback here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1717811132 or for Kindle here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CLBCF4Y