December 17th 1989 and after several now-infamous production delays, “The Simpsons” finally made it to air with “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, a not especially festive festive special in which Homer takes a second job as a mall Santa to etc. etc we’ve seen that one a million times. And we’re still here, for better or worse, thirty years later. In no time at all, “The Simpsons” became the biggest thing in the galaxy with merchandise going bonkers and even a number one chart smash in a country that wouldnt see it on terrestrial TV for a further five years. Not it stopped Sky churning out the showings though. Indeed, as soon as Sky One had shown enough episodes to fill five days they ran a “Simpsons Week” so you could watch all five again! How do I know that? Well, I was watching it!
My family were fortunate, depending on how you look at it, to get a second hand Sky dish at a time when a subscription for regular channels wasn’t needed and I learnt – out of sheer boredom – that if you waggled the card around just right, you could also unscramble the movie channels too. In my older much more aware years, I take pride in this little spit in the general direction of Rupert Murdoch and his terrestrial-crushing satellite service which now is full of new swish dramas and new comedy but was known for over a decade as a punchline due to its supply of ancient imports, cheap game shows and seemingly endless dull (when you’re 9 at least!) mini-series like biopic “Christopher Columbus”, 1930s cricket drama “Bodyline” or Western tut “Lonesome Dove”. You couldnt even hide the fact you were getting Sky as they’d slap a giant bloody white wok to the side of your house for all to see. Its how you spot the nutters said Jasper Carrott. But then again, he would.
Here’s an average Sunday line-up from late 1990:
4pm: The Love Boat – Not exciting and not new.
5pm: Small Wonder – Y’know, with the unfunny pre-teen robot.
5:30pm: Sky Star Search – “Keith Chegwin hosts another round of the talent contest”. As cheap as it came but we used to really enjoy it back in the day because they really would let any lunatic on. Charlie Chuck was probably the most famous name to come out of it.
6:30pm: The Simpsons
7pm: 21 Jump Street – Now better known for its genuinely brilliant piss-take movie adapation, this was quite an edgy drama at the time with Johnny Depp heading a cast of young actors pretending to be fellow young people undercover. One of Fox TV’s first proper hits in the States.
8pm: Mini-Series of some description
10pm: Falcon Crest – Soap you remember the name of but sod all about.
And that’s unless the whole thing was cancelled by live cricket because Sky didnt have a sports channel then. When you consider the technically superior and much more interesting BSB was halfway through its all too brief lifespan that year, it’s amazing the absolute brass knackers Sky had.
My Dad maintains we got the dish originally so I would have something to watch in the boring six week summer holiday such as satellite’s only dedicated children’s channel called…um, The Children’s Channel which also happened to close down at 10am every morning so the female-targeted Lifestyle channel could share its transponder number. One of the few things aimed at young viewers on satellite then was Sky’s kids slot presented by the aforementioned DJ Kat, a bafflingly ugly and allegedly feline puppet that didn’t seem to do much in the way of DJing bar the irritating mid-Atlantic twang of a jock, a trait which thankfully gave way to a regular London accent after a while. This, I later learned, was sort of a transition period for the character which had recently been taken over by puppeteering legend Don Austen (later one of the “What’s Up Doc?” Wolves) when production of the segments moved from Sky’s original home of Amsterdam to London. An early production for future Endemol head John De Mol, DJ Kat presented alongside De Mol’s own sister Linda, initially via Sky Channel in 1986 with a budget of about 3p and a Twix.
The turn for Sky’s fortunes was unquestionably linked to the acquisition of a new animated series from Fox in the States. Far from a kids show, despite what most dreadful ‘Top Kids TV!!!!1’ polls say, The Simpsons were undoubtedly one of the big reasons my friends suddenly all wanted Sky themselves and the family made their exceptionally hyped arrival in September 1990. I would happily watch the first Sunday showing at 6:30pm – a timeslot tradition that seems to have pleasingly held all these years – AND the same week repeats on Thursdays. It’s not even like season one is especially that good compared to what followed but it became an instant (and rare) family-centering ritual which was upheld until the end of the decade and my moving out in our household.
Looking back its clear to see that whilst my Dad didnt grab me by the neck in a blooded rage when angry and I wasnt a mothballs in the beef stew kind of kid, there were definitely parallels between myself (aged 10, like Bart) and my Dad (aged 31 which just seems ridiculously young now to imagine as I approach 40.) We lived those scenes of the kid beating Homer at video games, choosing to ignore navigation over bluffed optimism and TV being the centrepiece of all discussion and love in our tiny house above the cafe my parents owned. Hence our habit of watching the new episodes – and the old ones when there went enough to be different every week – usually with a chinese takeaway, every Sunday evening. It was a stabiliser and the last big cheer before school or work the next morning.
Looking back at this time, particularly with all the recent EU drama, I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia at the how European early Sky was and the connection we had to our Euro neighbours across the water even if it was only sniggering at German adverts for Mini Dickmann’s on Sat 1, Army Of Lovers‘ “Crucified” video on MTV making me feel all peculiar in my shellsuit every fifteen minutes and monster truck rallies on Screensport each Friday teatime – not to mention the lightest in Bavarian grot when mam were out at bingo. Its daft but important to me and a link to the rest of the world which feels incredibly far away in these uncertain times.
I’m still not watching bloody “Lonesome Dove” though…
A slightly different version of this first appeared in my book “Kill Your Television”. For more on that and all my books, click here.
 It wouldn’t be joined by the likes of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network for another three years on the 1st and 17th September 1993 respectively.
 Endemol was founded in 1994 by a merger of television production companies owned by Joop van den Ende and John de Mol and would go onto produce huge formats such as “Big Brother”, “”Deal Or No Deal” and “Wipeout”. The ‘people falling off an obstacle course’ one, not the Paul Daniels-fronted game show.
“This Christmas special has Yogi, Boo Boo and all their
friends causing chaos in the big city, but also bringing happiness to a lonely
little rich girl and her father.”
I bet we can have them for at least one of those descriptions on the trade descriptions act.
The plot? Some of the less memorable Hanna-Barbera characters (Snagglehound, Hokey Wossname, Quick Draw Ian etc.) have come to Jellystone Park to spend Christmas with Yogi and Boo-Boo – only trouble is they’ve nicked off to the ‘Big City’ to visit them. The script by cartoon legend Mark Evanier is fun enough (one toy reads “Super-Duper Ray Demolisher – be the first kid on your block to level Detroit!”) but Yogi is such a hard character to find anything original to do with that the bear buddies end up evading men with nets whilst trying to cheer up a little girl whose father has GODDAMN BUSINESS to do.
Naturally this means Yogi dressing as Santa and becoming a suspected kidnapper before all the Hanna-Barbera lot meet up and bump into Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble whose appearance in the modern world is questioned (“a little far from Bedrock – like about three million years…”) but never answered. Eventually lessons are learned, Christmases are merried and Yogi evades capture by the man for another day.
With all the characters – including a horse, a dog, some mice, a gorilla and whatever Snagglepuss is meant to be – all sharing space here, quite why some animals are free to walk around and have jobs whilst the bears are forbidden to leave the park is never addressed.
Did you know Frank Sidebottom played Wembley? How about two of Madness making a hip hop electro dance song about Judge Dredd? Or which alcoholic drink has featured in the titles of the most chart hits? All that and loads more can be found in my new book “Death Death Death Stereo Stereo Stereo” which mixes tales from my unhealthy relationship with the world of music and the daft trivia that springs up from it. Here’s a sample piece about my experiences of being a DJ. The full article can be found in the book, links at the bottom of the page.
When Madonna once sang “Hey Mister DJ! Put a record on! I want to dance with my baby” it really failed to capture for me the true experience of requests DJs get at organised events. For a start, at no point did Madge shout “Get this shit off” then drunkenly demand a particular tune, one in which you know full well from many years’ experience will not get anyone on the dance floor and evacuate those happily on it currently, with the caveat “I’m telling you everyone will get up and dance to it”. And if you do play said urgently demanded record, not only does nobody dance but the person who asked for it has completely vanished or, worse, is loudly talking with friends by the bar. It’s also missing that final verse where said person then returns some time later angry that you haven’t played said track and when pointed out the error of their ways says “Okay, well this time we definitely WILL get up and dance…”
I am in no way what you would call a DJ in the hip, arms aloft, glowstick-waving, beat-matching technical way that became big in the 90s. I was brought up with mobile discos at family parties in working men’s clubs. Where men (and it was ALWAYS men), dressed in pink ties and gaudy suits, stood behind flashing light boxes playing seven-inch singles and rotten ‘megamix’ twelve inchers when they needed a tod or wanted to chat up someone by the cigarette machine.
My parents had a pub and occasionally let me mess around with the music. It was here my Dad came to realise (a lot earlier than I did) that, whilst I was inexperienced and was interested in all this new loud music, I had a pretty good knack for reading a crowd and knowing what to play. That’s not to say I’ve never got it wrong, indeed about 90% of my party DJ-ing experiences were off beam for some reason or other.
One memorable night I’d been asked to fill in at a local rough pub on a Thursday, a gig I took despite my absolute terror at the thought due to it being a school night and the fact I was told I could play whatever. This was a few years before I had a laptop or Spotify was a thing so it involved me taking a lot of CDs in a carrier bag with me, figuring I’d go the School Disco cheese route which was popular at the time. It was about 40 minutes before I hit my first roadblock, a five foot lady with military hair and a salmon Ben Sherman shirt screeching at me for not playing a song the usual DJ played. I pointed out somewhat obviously that I wasn’t said disky jock to a bewildering response of “You’re shit; you’re not even playing what he always plays”. This was neither the first or last time this occurred that night. When I went to get paid at the end of the night somewhat shamefaced, the landlady gave me extra and asked if I could come back next week. Sadly I was dead that day so couldn’t take her up on this exciting opportunity.
My problem is that I take everything to heart. The most popular DJ in my hometown didn’t seem to have any such qualms and would play pretty much the same songs in the same order, peppered with the same jokes every time I was in the place. Pulsating Pete, for that is he, was already in his forties by the time I was going out and had his patter down solid – by which I mean it would fairly result in about fourteen legal suits a night in the modern #metoo climate. Even now whenever I have the misfortune to hear Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” I can still hear him fading down the music to bellow “OH / OHHH / SHAGGING ON A CHAIIIIRRRRRRRR” over the chorus. Pete still pulsates in 2019 but at a smaller pub slightly out of town, replaced by a new generation of charmless nerk playing much the same songs, now classified as oldies. Thankfully my days of being lured by three watermelon VKs for a fiver are behind me. Although I am a bit thirsty and do love a bargain….
These days I only play music in one venue, a lovely alternative club about ten minutes’ walk from my house, where I’ve licence to do what I want really. Most of the time this works a treat but there’s always that one show where the best planning can go nowhere. Earlier this year, I spent a long time putting together a set of fitting pre-Britpop indie tunes for a Smiths tribute band, only for all the older folk to go home immediately after the gig, leaving us with mostly twenty year olds bellowing for The Courteeners. As I acquiesced and played one of their tracks, a lad ripped open his shirt, jumped on a sofa and shouted “LETS GET FUCKED UP”. To which I thought “bollocks to that” and immediately queued up something abrasive by the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and “Where’s Me Jumper?” by Sultans of Ping FC then went for a very long pee. From a business point of view it wasn’t the smartest move but by Christ, the look of terror in their eyes was worth it and the remaining thirty or so of us had a great night once they’d gone.
When it works though, playing records for people is like no feeling I can describe. The connection when you find that track that gets everybody, from the wallflowers to the slurring over-requesters, having a boogie and an amazing time. My favourite all time moments as a DJ have been the past few New Year’s Eve at the aforementioned local alternative venue The Exchange. My first was in 2012 when the owner didn’t think he’d need someone to play records then swiftly realised he did which lead to me jumping in at about ten to midnight to help (still haven’t been paid for that one) and most years have followed suit. It’s a crowd I more or less know, can read instantly and play off minute by minute. Even then you can never know what to expect and the ultimate highlight was several friends all simultaneously doing the Macarena to Andrew WK’s air-punching daft anthem “Party Hard”. And by Christ, it bloody fit perfectly too !
Last year I was booked to do the 31st but unfortunately got very sick a few days before (a time that just so happens to also include my birthday. Thanks illness!) and so couldn’t make it. Instead I sat home with a fever and built them some pre and post-midnight playlists with a big countdown in the middle. I’ve never had compliments like it before! It went down a storm and had people dancing for hours, which means I apparently did my best work when I wasn’t even in the building. AND I got paid after for doing it. And if that isn’t the real DJ’s dream I don’t know is.
Now what was it you’re after Madonna? “Seven Tears” by The Goombay Dance Band?? Oh boy…
Despite my strongest desires and sporadic patches of effort, being in a band was never on the cards for me. I was too shy to get up and sing, instruments eluded me and a year of guitar lessons resulted in me knowing the basic chords to “Wonderwall”, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and “High” by Feeder. Not that it meant much good as me and my tutor quickly realised that my tiny sausage fingers were entirely ill-suited to plank spankery no matter how many digit-stretching exercises I tried. Which was one.
The fact came as a blow to me as my friends were also all learning instruments and would probably form a band and get to number one and I’d be stuck working in Our Price spitting on their CDs. “It should be me”, I’d cry!, “I was the one who wanted it most! I was the one who was obsessed with the charts in a way that would probably make a good book in the distant future!” I was so into music that I even devised a variant on fantasy football around choosing the perfect band based on their chart positions in the Kerrang! album chart. I found some of the pages for this recently (With apologies to bassists everywhere who apparently don’t exist…)
The basic rules are set. I think I charged a pound a player and got about 15 teams after pestering my friends enough. I used the Kerrang! album chart because it was a top 40 and it didnt change as quickly as the regular ones meaning more points could be acquired if you knew who had an album around the corner that was likely to do well. (Try to ignore the inexplicable ‘beards’ whimsy that was no doubt hilarious in 1996.)
Quite a decent overview of where rock was in 96/97 with lots of poppier stuff breaking through alongside the old hands. It might seem madness to charge a whole extra pound for Gary from Reef over Allowed Rock Hero Dave Grohl in the modern age but these were the times of “Yer Old”, “The One Off The Minidisc Advert” and “Place Your Hands Yes That Is The Title And Not Ha Ha Some Letters Like You Thought”. Also worth noting that Shannon Hoon had been dead a year by this point but the posthumous recordings were doing well, hence his inclusion.
Featuring the blistering research a Ben Baker product is now known for, you could get dibs on both “Bloke” from Aerosmith and “Flynn’s Mate” from Machine Head, two bands its fair to say I have very little love invested in. And it doesnt get much better for drummers…
All of Kerbdog for £2,50 each? Bargain! Sadly as much as I adored the Northern Irish rock trio, they never really broke through like they bloody deserved to with 1997’s “On The Turn”, still one of my favourite albums of all time. And yes, amazing as it may seem now, Kerrang! did offer a lot of coverage to Kula Shaker in those early days before they properly retreated up their own fundament. Although “Shower Your Love” is still pretty good if I’m honest. Sorry.
Did my love of rock and pop at the time mean I won the ten pound top prize at the end of term? No, apparently my friend Peter did, having invested in Metallica futures and high yield Bush stocks. Looking back I’m amazed I had both the desire and the time to do such a thing but also quite impressed. Now move aside, I’ve got a massive fur lined coat and a cigar to purchase. One of these days we’ll be a million hares!
Due to Rebellion’s rather wonderful range of summer specials based on the old Fleetway / IPC back catalogue, I’m rediscovering my love for all things comic, not least 2000AD, a comic it took my younger mind a long time to get into the spirit of, especially when compared to the slightly more sedate sausage-snaffling and smacked slippers antics of DC Thomson characters. Even the slightly more chaotic characters couldn’t prepare me for the sheer amount of ideas going on in an average issue, not to mention some bafflement at the long-running sagas of the likes of Celtic warrior Slaine, batshit good vs. evil to the extremes battler Nemesis The Warlock and future robot soldier action in ABC Warriors.
Judge Dredd was always incredibly simple to understand though. There were bad guys and then there was Dredd. Occasionally you might agree with the reasons behind what the bad guys were doing – its tough, after all, living in a future dystopian USA (now named Mega City One) where residents are crammed into “blocks” up to 50,000 at a time, all named after ridiculous famous types (real and fictional) – but you knew ultimately that in the end, they were still bad guys and Dredd was…Dredd. No contest. Justice always prevails. And if you knew all this and feel like you’re being told how to suck off your grandma’s eggs (NB: check phrase before publishing) then congratulations, five years into the Iso-Bins, you grud-sucking Bennett Beany wannabe.
Ultimately, whilst more outright comedic strips like Ace Trucking Co and DR & Quinch were my real entry point over into the ‘Greatest Comic in the Galaxy’ through reprints, one of the biggest influences on me becoming interested in 2000AD to begin with was none other than Suggs. No, not Mean Machine‘s beloved Sarah “Seven-Pound Sadie” Suggs but Suggs. Off of Night Fever. And the “Full House” advert (“and puzzles all for 40p!”) Oh and ska pop legends Madness, who were the first band I became absolutely obsessed with thanks to their fun easy-going singles that everyone in my family seemed to adore and were about to make a big comeback with the “Divine Madness” compilation and return of “It Must Be Love” to the top ten.
When reading one of the many articles heralding their return I learnt that Suggs and Chas Smash after the Madness split had done a one-off 2000AD themed single in the mid 80s. This combination threw me entirely – even when I learnt that the band had started its own Virgin Records sub-label “Zarjazz” in 1984 named after a term used in the comic by its fictional editor Tharg The Mighty to describe something excellent. When I saw the characters the pair were meant to be dressed as, I was even more confused…
“Mean Machine” and Fink Angel (the duo on the right of the above foursome) weretwo of the nasty low-down rotters that made up the Angel Gang, a family of variously mutated criminals that live in the post-apocalyptic Cursed Earth, distinguishable by, in turn, a dial on Mean’s forehead that controls his anger and a green skeletal look from a life spent living in holes away from the family home. So, how did that translate to the ex-Nutty Boy cosplayers? Well…
Personally, I think its surprisingly decent for 1985 (if a tad Wurzel Gummidge in Space) with Suggs quoted as saying “we wanted as much as possible to make it like the comic, not just a record by a couple of out-of-work pop stars” and even seemed to stand up to the stresses of performing. And boy, did they perform! A lot! Popping up on kids programmes all over, such as this truly strange “Saturday Starship” appearance…
As for the song itself, its a fun if not exactly Cursed Earth-shattering bit of electro pop with hip hop beats, brass and lots of catchphrase bellowing just about passing in places for rap. “We wanted to make an electro/hip-hop record like the ones we’d heard in the New York clubs”, Suggs told Smash Hits. Whilst you cant imagine the hippest denizens of NYC grooving down to the Judgin’ jives, its also nothing like their former band and had they made one of the oft-mooted Dredd movies in the 80s, it would’ve fit perfectly over the end credits.
There were other songs based in the big Meg, such as the slightly point-missing “I Am The Law” by The Human League from the massive “Dare” album, “Judge Y’Self” by the Manic Street Preachers (demoed for the movie but unfinished until 2003 due to 2000AD fan Richey‘s still unsolved disappearance) and the popular but dreadful Anthrax who wrote a song absolutely packed with knowledge about the strip but also filled it with lyrics like:
They call him Judge, his last name is Dredd
So break the law, and you may wind up dead
Truth and justice are what he’s fighting for
Judge Dredd the man, he is the law
Sadly “Mutants In Mega City One” was far from a (Chas) Smash, peaking at 50 in the charts on 16th February 1985 and staying in the top 75 for just four weeks. A disappointment after so much publicity – and no more so than in the pages of 2000AD itself which even permitted an exclusive Brian Bolland-painted cover of Dredd as the single artwork – but a noble endeavour entered into with full gusto by two men who clearly genuine fans of the thing they were promoting. As Smash said “For anyone who had any interest in the Marvel comics when they were young, they just didn’t change over the years. Nothing really happens….I think the very real appeal of 2000AD is that it turns everything upside down: heroes may die and things aren’t always as they seem“.
In today’s climate, where comics are mostly bags of toys tied to a licence and pop is Ed Sheeran dueting with Ed Sheeran in honour of the late Ed Sheeran, we could definitely use a little more of that uncertainty, experimentation and – dare I say it? – madness.
For more pop nonsense, try my music trivia collection ” Never Mind The Quizbooks: A Music Quiz Book For People Who Dont Like Music Quiz Books” in paperback here.
I was a big Foo Fighters fan back in the day, specifically the nineties, where their first three records – “Foo Fighters”, “The Colour And The Shape” and “There Is Nothing Left To Lose” – were very important to my teenaged constantly-priapic bum-fluff life. They combined straight forward pop rock with elements of metal, lots of harmonies and incredibly catchy choruses. So when said group announced a “Greatest Hits” which contained just five tracks from everything released before 2002, it felt like a kick in the teeth.
But thats the joy of a record company-collated hit package designed squarely at the supermarket shelves. Do you keep it as just hits which works better as an introduction to newcomers but offers no reason for existing fans to buy it? Or, like most compilations after 1985, shove a few new songs on and hope it shifts a few more units, even if it means a slightly more uneven listen?
Of course its rare but occasionally a band record a new song for a compilation and becomes as beloved as the rest of the tracks. Need some examples? Here’s twelve…
REM – “Bad Day”
A bouncy but equally fed up “Its The End Of The World…” esque track “Bad Day” was actually recorded before that when a version – then called “PSA” – had been originally demoed in 1986 during the “Life’s Rich Pageant” sessions before being updated to further reflect the increased bombast of post 9/11 news outlets to include on “In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003”, a compilation of the band’s Warner Bros singles. Its such a good track I’m almost willing to look past the fact they left off “Pop Song ’89” and “Tongue” although I suspect only I care about that.
Madonna – “Rescue Me”
Whilst most of the attention was on “Justify My Love” the first single (co-written by Lenny “Kravitz” Crabsticks) from the still monolithic “Immaculate Collection” with its half-whispered underpant-ruining sultry breathlessness and memorably filthy black and white video, I always preferred the follow-up “Rescue Me”, a pounding house number that once again showed how well Madonna understood what was going on in nightclubs at the time. Not that I did as I was 10 when it came out but you get the idea.
Shed Seven – “Disco Down”
Yeah alright Ian Momus, not the hippest or even hardiest of the British Indie Pop boom but I’ve long had a soft spot for this lot who quietly recorded some great records which were collected onto 1999’s “Going For Gold” compilation with new tracks the gorgeous string-led ballad “High Hopes” and 70s funk throwback “Disco Down” which is now probably their best known song thanks to their biggest fan (although you rarely hear him mention them now or wouldn’t if I actually bothered listening in) Chris Moyles hammering it on drive-time Radio 1. “She Left Me On Friday” is still rotten though.
Saint Etienne – “He’s On The Phone”
A remix of an English language version of a 1984 French song by an artist with a very similar name (Etienne Daho)? Straight to the top of the charts with you! (No. 11)
Madness – “(Waiting For) The Ghost Train”
By 1986, the wheels had truly come off Madness‘ pop locomotive with several of the band gone and recent singles releases barely scraping the top 40. The music was still great though and so the band decided to go out with a final best of (“Utter Madness”) and single, bringing back ex-member Mike Barson as a last hurrah. Whilst containing the pop sound associated with Madness, there’s an eeriness that moves beyond just the title as fun-house keyboard and crashing metal drums mix with stomping feet and heavy vocal percussion. Underneath all that are oblique lyrics written by Suggs about Apartheid (the video makes the subject much clearer with the band wearing newspaper suits featuring the prominent headline “SOWETO BLOODBATH”.) Also of note was the B-side of the 12″ single was “Seven Year Scratch”, a noble attempt to make an early megamix featuring many of the band’s singles that unfortunately sounds more like someone drunkenly crashing into the turntable at random points than a cohesive mix.
Kylie Minogue – “I Believe In You”
The 2001 album “Fever” saw the Pint-Sized Antipodean PopstarTM at her very peak of both success and output with her career back on top thanks to fantastic singles like “Love At First Sight”, “In Your Eyes” and, of course, the worldwide smash “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” which even gave Kyles her first US hit since 1988. Sadly the follow up album was a bit rubbish so before the brakes were launched again, 2004’s “Ultimate Kylie” was rushed out for Christmas headed by this gorgeous piece of simple catchy disco pop, co-written by that year’s chart golden boys Jake Shears and Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters. The entire package is a smart well thought out compilation that manages to mix every era very well and required reading for all new artists wishing to become Classic Pop Classics.
Blur – “Music Is My Radar”
Because its extremely awkward, sounds like its got a child playing an out of tune melodica over the top, was recorded by four men who couldn’t stand the sight of each other and still got in the top ten. FUN FACT! The same year Oasis released “Go Let It Out” and “Who Feels Love?” so y’know…yeah.
Paul Simon – “Slip Slidin’ Away”
One of two new songs on Simon‘s first solo best of “Greatest Hits Etc.”, the gentle but beautiful “Slip Slidin’ Away” only got to No.36 in the UK and would be his last single to reach the Top 40 here until “You Can Call Me Five Fabulous Weeks Of The Chevy Chase Show” in 1986.
Depeche Mode – “Shake The Disease”
A natural progression from recent singles “Master and Servant” and “Blasphemous Rumours” with the slightly bleaker, more industrial sound the band would ebb into throughout the 80s (before deciding they wanted to be The Drugs U2 in the 90s), “Shake the Disease” features one of the band’s strongest choruses but remains shaky and urgent, pleading “understand me”. Its almost like they were fans of drugs or something!!!!
George Michael – “Outside”
Few celebrity deaths have impacted the world as much as George Michael on Christmas Day 2016. It was fair enough that he hadn’t been troubling the charts much recently but his back catalogue was always still on the radio and we’d just got round to Wham! being regulars on the BBC Four repeats of Top Of The Pops. Indeed, its seeing his journey on those old TOTPs from fresh faced white ‘rapper’ pretending to be a street tough to bona-fide pop megastar that reminded you how good he was and no more so when he turned his 1998 arrest for suggesting an undercover cop touch him on the wilbus into one of the biggest hits of his career, the painfully groovy faux-disco bop of “Outside” which kicked off his first solo best of “Ladies and Gentlemen”. A huge loss we’re going to feel for decades to come.
David Bowie – “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”
A big old sax-filled jazzy wonder falling down some stone stairs, like the theme tune to a zany detective film starring Dave Bowie Band in pursuit of a villain that turns out to be an elaborate velveteen hat. Its confusing, not especially melodic and until you get under its skin a little bit frightening. But more importantly it screamed that Bowie was back and he was going to go out of this world in his own mad, fantastic way.
Kate Bush – “Experiment IV”
Assuming we look straight past the wholly unnecessary re-recording of the vocal to “Wuthering Heights”, this is the only new track on the huge selling “The Whole Story”. Far from one of the most memorable or even successful, the whole venture is worth it for the stunning horror-tinged video, starring baby-faced Dawn French and Hugh Laurie alongside the less toddler-tinged fizzogs of Peter Vaughan and Richard Vernon.
Wot? No “Once Upon A Long Ago”? Or shit remix of the first single? “Re-Recording’88 ’94 2000 EXTREME”? With all that said, the two biggest selling albums ever in the UK were greatest hits sets by Queen and ABBA, neither of which contained a single new track so who bloody knows who’s right? Music’s bollocksed anyway and all media is dead so lets get a kebab and set fire to Our Price! Goodnight!
When we think back to “90s cinema”, Trainspotting is probably one of the films that stands out from the decade as a truly iconic, huge movie that swiftly entered the national consciousness regardless of whether you’d seen it or not, much like Reservoir Dogs, The Matrix or Fight Club. Those slightly older readers will remember the utter disarray that was attending a cinema in the 1990s before the modern chains for better worse took over. Video shops were decimating the audiences who were put off by the prices, sticky carpets and poor regional distribution with London getting premieres often months before the North. And those films that did get through? Yeesh, its fair to say that while there’s always been bad movies, the British film industry was at a real low point throughout much of the decade. Say what you like about “Nativity 8″ or “The Guernsey Piss Pog And Pie Society”, they’re no “Ladder of Swords”…
There’s the opening trailers out of the way, time for the main feature. Here are ten films that were once genuinely big deals, reaching number one in the UK box office that are now forgotten by the nation as a whole. (That’s my get out if you read one and say “I remember that!”, alright?)
10. Waking Ned (19/03/99)
It would be fair for anyone wishing to argue that the British film industry was alright in the nineties thanks to the heart-warming and undoubtedly BRITISH likes of Brassed Off and The Full Monty. Small scale stories with great ensemble casts that America lapped up. Added to that list would be “Waking Ned” (extended to “Waking Ned Devine” in the US bafflingly, thus spoiling the rhyming slang gag), a gentle comedy set in Ireland about the entirely inhabitants of a small village covering up the fact that the Lottery has been won by a dead man. Britain loved it but the huge buzz was undoubtedly because America took to it so strongly in a typical example of “Well, if the Yanks like it, it must be alright…” ITV showed it as a big New Years Day film two years later after which…nothing really. Repeats have been few and far between and director Kirk Jones, once feted as the next big thing, wouldn’t have a film reach cinemas until 2005’s “Nanny McPhee”, his last feature to date being “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”. Perhaps “Waking Ned” is so laid back and sweet as to not leave much of a mark on the national conscience but this is definitely worth reawakening.
9. Dead Again (25/10/91)
Speaking of Nanny McPhee, here’s the wonderful Emma Thompson with ex-husband ‘Chuckles’ Kenneth Branagh from the era where the two were seen as inseparable (going as far as a Spitting Image sketch where Ken couldn’t eat something because Em wasn’t in it) in an intriguing thriller about past lives and regression. (You know the past bits are in the past because its black and white.) Its an enjoyable bit of fluff which will involve you being able to get past the ‘AH’M AN AMERICAWN’ accents both main actors use but coming mere months after the genre-defining “Silence Of The Lambs”, its hard to think of it as anything more.
8. Jack and Sarah (02/06/95)
Despite a decade of solid work with appearances in “LA Story”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Prêt-à-Porter”, critics and fans always seemed to feel that Richard E Grant‘s star had never quite risen sufficiently after the tour-de-force that was and remains “Withnail and I”. Looking at the state of the film industry in this country at the time and the relative failure of his second feature with Withnail’s writer / director Bruce Robinson“How To Get Ahead In Advertising”, its easy to see why Grant took second banana work in the US rather than stay and headline something British. “Jack and Sarah” briefly changed all that with Grant starring in an occasionally dark and moving but ultimately uplifting comedy about a grieving father bonding with his newborn daughter. Not that looking at the cover would tell you that with its bleedin’ Friends-esque posing and thin non capitalized fonts. Growl. (Oh and spoilers: see her there, she’s not Sarah…)
7. Quigley Down Under (05/04/91)
Regularly one of my comedy go to names for utterly forgotten fare, this comic Western released a year before Clint Eastwood refined the genre with “Unforgiven” was one Tom Selleck‘s last starring roles (anyone remember “Mr Baseball”?) in a big budget film. Alan Rickman plays Naughtyman McBadness (or near enough) who employs Selleck‘s Quigley to shoot Aborigines. As we know rule two is no mistreatment of the Abbos so Quiggles refuses and becomes enemy number one. Its a perfectly serviceable Western that my granddad would’ve loved but I was always confused by the title which feels like the second or third in a series. “Oh that Quigley! Where’s he off now? The Australias?? Now this I gotta see!”
6. Black Rain (26/01/90)
A huge film at the time, directed by Ridley Scott and featuring the still very much in prime Michael Douglas as a cop chasing a Yakuza member through the “Japanese underworld” (Copyright Cinema Alan’s Big Book Of Movie Writing Shortcuts), its strange how forgotten “Black Rain” has become. It could be that none-more-generic title that gives little about the plot away – then again what’s a “Blade Runner” when its at home? More likely is the fact its just a fine but forgettable run around, occasionally shoot someone and pout action movie of the sort that were ten a penny seemingly back then. And frequently involved Steven Seagal…
5. Out For Justice (04/10/91)
Oh bollocks, I had to go and invoke the spirit of facekickingness past, didn’t I? From the sweet spot period where Seagal had climbed up through the VHS rental mountain to become an indicator of brainless but enjoyable big screen tut which the self-respecting action fan could happily spend a few quid on without fear of being ripped off (“How many killings?”, as Henry and Ally from The League Of Gentlemen might say.) but before everyone realised he was bat shit crazy and nobody wanted to work with him. That said, with an impressive seven films under in his belt in 2016 alone, somebody must still be watching his stuff. Just not at the cinema…
4. What About Bob? (15/11/91)
A fun but occasionally quite unpleasant Frank Oz-directed comedy where Bill Murray (in his pre-walking deity on Earth days) plays a psychiatric patient who annoys his therapist (Richard Dreyfuss) on holiday to the point of insanity, but with the added twist that this time the Bill Murray one will be a woman called Barb. Nothing like jumping on a property when its hot, eh?
BONUS ANECDOTE FROM MY FRIEND TIM: “I once saw Drop Dead Fred and What About Bob next to each other on a hoarding at a time where Freddie Mercury and Robert Maxwell had literally just died.” Ouch.
3. Memphis Belle (07/09/90)
Now this bastard. If there’s any film on this list you’ve gone “OH YEAHHHHHHH” to, it’ll probably be this based-on-a-true-story-but-not-really yarn of annoyingly handsome US army boys with unique but endearing quirks and their flight in the titular plane. This was absolutely everywhere at the time of release with the cast cropping up on TV – Harry Connick Jnr in particular crooning his guts out wherever permitted – and in the still not-deemed-only-for-girls-yet magazines TV Hits and Big! I recall our excitement of finally getting a copy at the video shop only to be bored rigid within about half an hour and longing for a crash.
2.Shooting Fish (17/10/97)
Before I talk about this one, here’s the trailer for Shooting Fish:
Gadgets! Cons! Swish camera angles! Yes, its Britpop “Hackers”!
Thankfully, “Shooting Fish” is thankfully a slower and all together nicer film than the trailer would have you assume. Two orphans scam the rich and clueless to live out their dream of owning a mansion before one of those GIRLS gets involved and both fall for her. It is twisty and turny in places and indeed does have a wonderfully Britpop soundtrack with The Divine Comedy, Space, Dubstar and The Wannadies among others but feels at home with the Ealing capers that were a regular sight on UK television on a Saturday afternoon. Why its disappeared is anyone’s guess as its far from terrible and features a series of familiar British actors including Annette Crosbie and a wonderfully slimy Peter Capaldi. The director and co-writer Stefan Schwartz didn’t trouble the big screen much after this but is seemingly in big demand on TV with recent gigs on The Americans, Fear The Walking Dead and Dexter.
1. Curly Sue (27/12/91)
Few things have ever kicked me in the gut as a movie fan than after years of slagging off this thin, horrendously sentimental treacly old bollocks about a pre-teen con artist than finding out it was written and directed by John Hughes. Just a year after his magnificent script for Home Alone and now iconic 80s favourites “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Weird Science” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. And that’s not even mentioning “Uncle Buck”, “Planes Trains And Automobiles” or the “Vacation” films. But this shower of saccharine shite, whilst a hit both here and America, was the last he ever directed for the big screen and while it’d be wrong of me to suggest its because of this violently eye-soaping, gut-emptying hollow spew-barrel of Jim Belushi headlining family guff, it is truly a hateful cotton candy made out of hair and tears that no right human should ever have to sit through from start to finish. Hughes would write many more films (including the solid if equally toothless “Flubber”, “Dennis”, “Beethoven” and “Baby’s Day Out”) before his death at the tragically young age of 59.
Still, Curly Sue (or rather her actress Alisan Porter) won America’s version of The Voice the other year so that’s…an ending? ….Right?
“Now they’re going from the poorhouse to the penthouse…” Oh FUCK OFF.
So, did I just ruin your favourite film or is there something burning inside you that you need to share? Should I instead have featured other forgotten No.1 box office hits if the 90s? Is Dick Tracy forgotten enough? Did anyone go see Circle Of Friends, A Walk In The Clouds, Six Days Seven Nights or Practical Magic at the cinema? And did I actually honestly pay to see Forces of Nature and The Jackal? Let me know via Twitter @ThatBenBaker or in the comments below.
And remember: Jim Belushi is just a fictional character. He can’t hurt you now.
Last year I was asked to take part in TV Cream‘s lookback over all the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations in their wonderful weekly mailout Creamguide (subscribe here). However, being a bit stupid, I misunderstood the intitial request – pick one song from each of the pop music collections from NOW 26 to 30 – and wrote up a whole piece on the first of those albums. Understandably unpublished at the time, here is that noise in full….
Ask anyone over a certain age with a love of popular rock and beat music about the year 1993 for pop sounds and you’ll most likely get a reaction somewhere between utter blankness and murderous intent. It was a year of bland cover versions, radio-ragga and the unfortunate rise in room-related boomings in the localised area. Now 26 with its “stuff it, let’s just chuck a few twinkly lights on a red background” cover is testament to that slightly dubious year. You can see why so many disenfranchised youths flocked the moody sounds of The Other Nirvana, Bjork and one hit wonders Radiohead as disc 1 flounders to connect tracks by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Chaka Demus and Pliers and The Spin Doctors. Do you like the Spin Doctors? Well you should, they’re good.
SWV – “Right Here”
Specifically the “Human Nature Radio Mix” which added that slick, soul pop sound to 85% of chart bound sounds coming from America in the early 1990s. Not that the original wasn’t a head bobbing little treat of its own but Teddy Riley decided to slow the mood down a few tempos and add a looped sample of Naughty Michael Jackson‘s “Human Nature” – apparently to the distaste of SWV themselves, which as we all know stands for Sis Masters Voice (ED: Erm, Sisters With Voices, surely?) And did you know that the person calling out “S…The double! The U! The V!” bit was Pharrell Williams? Oh. You did. Sorry to have bothered you.
Jamiroquai – “Too Young to Die”
When young Jamie Rockway (real name: Jason Rockway) was still a fashionable name to drop as part of your record collection (as long as you didn’t mention his appearance talking stoned gibberish on late night ITV programmes) thanks to the genuinely uplifting soul pop mix which with this single – only the bands second – comfortably broke the top ten. The album “Emergency on Planet Earth” would become a regular sight at parties although, let’s be honest, the songs don’t ‘alf hang on a bit in full.
Leftfield & Lydon – “Open Up”
With its abrasive big name guest vocal and simple, pounding floor-friendly backing, “Open Up” feels now like the blueprint for the next decade of chart-friendly dance music. (Indeed, the Chemical Brothers provide a remix on 12″, still at that point trading as The Dust Brothers.) Just missing out on the top 10 in the UK, the song was unfortunate in that Lydon couldn’t promote it heavily due to conflicts with his record company whilst a series of forest fires in Southern California lead to its steady radio playing being abruptly stopped as the repeated line “Burn Hollywood Burn!” didn’t really seem ok…
Stakka Bo – “Here We Go”
AKA MTV Europe in song form. Despite its 70s-throwback feel and none more 90s “light rap an’ a sample” arrangement, “Here We Go” is oddly timeless and whilst it might not be the banger it once was, there’s a lot of pure joy in its construction and it can still get the party, um, go-ing. Also: Ace of Base are shit.
Belinda Carlisle – “Big Scary Animal”
One of Belinda‘s more “Pointless answer” tracks, this had the misfortune of dropping between ‘the first wave MOR star’ success and the 1996 ‘reinvented pop queen’ eras but still has a lot of fun on its way. Also: ooft.
BEN’S TOP CHOICE: Björk & David Arnold – “Play Dead”
This haunting and beautiful use of Bjork‘s ‘thousand spurned lovers’ vocal with Arnold’s huge, swaggering orchestration warly in both artist’s careers is the only memorable thing from Danny Cannon‘s stepping stone to Mega City One “The Young Americans” which had slumped into UK cinemas briefly in all its The Actor Keith Allen-appearing glory that October 1993. To a wider audience however its simply the always-welcome theme from a million increasingly desperate chill out albums. Dead good. Play on…
And here’s my picks for the next four albums once I’d realised my actual brief…
BEN’S CHOICE: Credit to the Nation – “Teenage Sensation”
Having made a bungalow-shaped impact with their debut release “Call It What You Want” in part due to the marrying of of a Public Enemy-beat to a smart “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample, Credit To The Nation and frontman MC Fusion – or Matty to his mam – were quickly clasped to the bosom by the more outspoken sector of the British indie rock community and touted as the next big thing for a number of years by the music press. Sadly this was to be their only top 40 hit although it still sounds as fresh as it must have blasting through the nation’s walkmans in early 1994. It even manages to get ahead of the curve by sampling the Incredible Bongo Band before half of the planet did similar. And it makes whistling thoroughly cool to boot.
BEN’S CHOICE: Let Loose – “Crazy For You”
The second best “Crazy For You” to hit the British pop charts, this is a perfect example of a song that would have been a chart smash no matter which shirtless, flop-haired shithouses fronted it. So its somewhat of a surprise to learn that it was actually written by frontman Richie Wermerling himself and had taken a re-release and a slow two month climb to hit its No.2 peak, just behind That Effing Song from That Effing Film. Its not for everyone and by mid-1994 I’d have sooner listened to the sound of my own spine cracking than have it ooze out of my radio one more time but here in the moon future, its one of the better non-Barlow boy band hits of the era. Crazy I know.
BEN’S CHOICE: Kylie Minogue – “Confide In Me”
An obvious pick perhaps but, much like Bjork and David Arnold a few releases back, here comes another track drenched in strings and a sultry, almost-whispered vocal that still sounds like few other pieces of music before or since it. Very nearly the song to finally end Wet x3’s appalling grip of the top spot (the honour would go the following week to Whigfield‘s “Saturday Night”), this is the one that send headline writers into a frenzy as Kylie was ‘reinvented’ and apparently now was smart and even had a sense of humour. Of course, she’d always maintained those abilities but, free of Pete Waterman and pals, we were getting the Kylie we wanted and felt we always deserved. It didnt last and after the unfairly maligned (and Diana-dented) “Impossible Princess” era, Minogue was quickly back in the arms of Classic Pop Classics for a third, incredibly successful chapter full of great material but would never unearth another track as breathtaking, exciting and unusual as “Confide In Me“.
BEN’S CHOICE: Scarlet – “Independent Love Song”
And so we enter 1995 and its the dawn of something clearly happening with an explosion of pie-eyed guitar pop (The Boo Radleys, Oasis, Rednex) nestling comfortably at the bottom of disc one with a number of cool “This Life”-imminent dance-influenced tracks (Massive Attack, Portishead, The Outhere Brothers). For me however though, I’ve gone with “Independent Love Song” because…well, I just really like it. And sometimes thats all you really need, innit?
With thanks to all at TV Cream and Simon Tyers for including me in this project.
For more pop and telly prattle, 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
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 “TheRed 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 BobGeldof 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 CarrottConfidential 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
With huge thanks to John Rain for reminding me I’d written this piece and Simon Tyers who helped me work out several of these topical references. Find him here.
It is a terrifying-to-imagine 25 years since the album “Parklife” by Blur first appeared in old timey record shops like they had back then. Preceded by just one single – “Girls and Boys” released the previous month – the album went straight in at No.1 and has so far hung around for 119 weeks. A lot has been written about how the band came back from the brink after “Modern Life Is Rubbish” failed to find the audience it so richly deserved but being a stat-headed pop idiot I’m more interested in what else came out alongside Blur‘s third record back in April 1994.
Clearly the charts were in desperate need of something to blow off the cobwebs as this very middle of the road selection of records from the previous week shows….
Even that glimmer of light “His ‘N’ Hers” would drop to 48 the following week. But what else lined the “new releases” section of your long dead record shop that week in late April 1994? Other than Blur, the only new entry to the top ten is, perhaps surprisingly, Senser‘s debut album “Stacked Up” at No.4 despite no real breakthrough hit. A lazy person might describe them as a British Rage Against The Machine but while their political rap / rock was tipped for bigger things, it ultimately seemed too noisy for the supermarket shoppers and not heavy enough for the Kerrang! crowd. This is “Switch”, their sole top 40 single to date, which reached 39 that year.
Next we shuttle down to 29 for “Anarchy”, the first album to chart for the undervalued Chumbawamba, who were at the stage of transferring into a genuinely great pop act. As if to counter the fact they were now sounding almost chart-friendly it was decided to put a crowning baby on the cover as if to say “AHH BUT WE ARE STILL GRRS, YIS?” As an image, it does upset me but only because it just looks a bit crap. “Timebomb” was the single released before the album and flopped at #59 the previous Christmas. Another deserved hit was the follow up – a pop dance remix of this album’s “Homophobia” featuring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence should’ve been number one for a year. It reached no.79.
Down to 43 and “Listen” by Urban Species, a very smooth British hip hop act on Gilles Peterson‘s incredibly influential Talkin’ Loud label, who I must admit bypassed me at the time. Described as a UK Arrested Development, the album’s biggest hit “Spiritual Love” sounds great in the sun but maybe there was just a bit too much similar sounding in the charts for it to stand out at the time.
At 64 we’ve a re-issue of The Bangles‘ “Greatest Hits” although I’m not sure why other than “being great” whilst Bowie‘s “Santa Monica ’72” live set peaks at 74. Originally a much beloved fan bootleg, this semi-official release was apparently not authorised by Bowie himself and would quickly disappear from the market, eventually getting an official release in June 2008. Presumably he didnt want people getting confused with his “Buddha of Suburbia” work.
And finally The Wildhearts‘ 1992 “Don’t Be Happy…Just Worry” double EP which had been reissued as a single CD. Another band that deserved better whilst ceremoniously dropping anvils on their own career, they remain beloved by fans and when I saw them live last year were absolutely brilliant. I’m glad they’re still around.
Over in the singles chart, Tony Di Bart was holding court over a delightfully odd top 40 featuring new entries by artists as varied as Judy Cheeks, Cypress Hill, The Cranberries, Sonic Youth, Meat Loaf, N-Trance, Killing Joke, Grace Jones and Stiltskin…I wont spoil which one. Ok, it was “Inside”. Man, I miss the charts being weird…
So thank you “Parklife” for bringing a little colour and zing into a chart that much needed it. Even if you did then fall to number three behind the Crash Test Dummies and the best of Deacon Blue the week after. Nonetheless, the kids had something new to get excited about and come the next summer, things were starting to look very different indeed…
For more pop nonsense, buy my music trivia collection ” Never Mind The Quizbooks: A Music Quiz Book For People Who Dont Like Music Quiz Books” in paperback here.