Thursday, 22 June 2017

Of Pranks, Pop Punk and Old Peking

Its that ham again! Yes, I had so much fun with my appearance on my friend Tim Worthington's podcast "Looks Unfamiliar" a few months ago that we did it again.

As Tim puts it: "Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim for a second time is writer, broadcaster and quizmaster Ben Baker, who shares his not-widely-shared memories of Children's ITV magazine show Toksvig, the Whizzkids' Guide book series, sophisticated yet not exactly enlightened board game Mysteries Of Old Peking short-lived pop-punk sensations Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi, drug-fuelled post-Tarantino shock-comedy Go, and the entirely sensible hobby of making your own TV listings magazines. Along the way we'll be taking some advice from a Charcoal Jeremy Beadle, finding out why Ben had to hide his secret drawings of the Yorkshire TV logo, why Sandi Toksvig was at risk of exploding at any moment, and revealing which Shane Meadows film is not as good as a hat."


I think this one is a lot more fun than the first with a lengthy attempt to untangle old television stations, work out just how racist a board game can be, wonder why the early noughties were such a joyless time for alternative music, celebrating the fantastic work of Jeremy Beadle in a genuine and unironic way, make our own listings magazines and suspect nobody remembers the follow up to "Swingers" at all.

Hear the first episode here!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Territorial Listens - The Other History Of Pop

This week in June 1970 "The Long and Winding Road" became The Beatles' final number one in America.

The song, about a road which is long and also has some winds in it, was a top ten hit around the world in countries like Australia, Switzerland, Belgium and of course, the United Kingdo..h wait, no. It says here it didn't actually come out as a single in the UK. Whilst The Fabulous Four Men's previous single "Let It Be" HAD got an official British release, reaching number 2 in March 1970 and kept off the top by Lee bloody Marvin's "Wand'rin' Star" of all things, it wasn't seen as the done thing to keep releasing songs from an already available LP. And even "Let It Be" had been rejiggered for the LP (which McCartney would later unjigger back again for the "...Naked" release decades later.)

Whilst now we're used to the charts as effectively a hollow corpse being violated by streaming services on loop with everything to hand the second its released, I lived through a (very expensive) era where owning music was physical and subject to really strange laws and record company regulations. On top of the multi-part singles that had to be a certain length or face banishment from the chart, your favourite bands would often try break other countries with completely different songs.

Back in 1995 I had only really just became a weekly music buyer and would head down to Our Price every Monday morning for the latest singles before they charted and the price bumped up instantly by two pound as if that was in any way acceptable. My big love was the burgeoning Britpop scene, not quite the sad bloated ham it would become, in an exciting time for a kid to get into alternative music. So imagine my teenaged face when I got to the record shop that September and saw a brand new Oasis single that I didn’t even know was coming out and it was...FIVE QUID? Do I look like I'm made of the cocaines money, Leon Gallaghers?!?

This was my first encounter with an import single. In this instance,"Morning Glory" had been released in Australia and to radio in the US instead of failed Blur-usurper "Roll With It" which as we all know in hindsight is fucking terrible. It even had the same B-sides as that single. The following year MTV (it used to play music videos etc) would constantly air the clips for both that and "Champagne Supernova" - another release for America that didn't come out here - just to taunt the British record purchaser.

Here's some other alternate country releases that tormented fans...

The Jam - "Thats Entertainment" (1980)

The grandaddy of the modern alternative import release. Whilst available on the band's fifth album "Sound Affects", Paul Weller and The Pals Two decided to follow The Beatle model and try not release songs already released on long players. Equally copied off Them Mop Top Types was the riff from "Taxman" which was used throughout the only officially released single "Start!", their second number one. They did however decide to put out "That’s Entertainment" in other places who they quite frankly didn’t give as much of a shit about. Fans were keen though and sent it to number 21 on import sales alone - and thats when people actually bought records! They later beat this with the No.8 placing of the Dutch "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" Although Morrissey didn't specially ruin that one with Vic Reeves on backing vocals, did he?

Pink Floyd -"Flaming" / "The Gnome" (1967)

One of the main tracks that wrong idiots point at when they want to go "ahhh Syd Barrett was RUBBO!" and pretend early Pink Floyd was merely quaint nonsense, as if bellowing about walls is much better, the heavily Tolkien-inspired tale of "a gnome named Grimble Gromble" is actually quite a fun, pleasant listen after nine and a half minutes of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink epic "Interstellar Overdrive" on the second side of the wonderful "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn". As a single it perhaps feels a little exposed as back up to the gorgeous if fairly aimless "Flaming" - a song which pretty much invented the 1990 indie sound two decades early - released only in the US in an alternative mix to that found on the album. Neither that or its UK counterpart "Apples and Oranges" were a hit. Should've done more songs about walls, lads.

Madness – “Mrs Hutchinson” (1982)

As the official band time-line for December 8th 1981 states: “Madness perform Mrs Hutchinson on the Top Pop TV show as for some reason the Dutch record company preferred to release it as a single instead of It Must Be Love.” A baffling decision in light of the Labi Siffre cover becoming synonymous with the group and the new double A-side ultimately peaked at a disappointing 43. The song itself, found on the band's third album "7" and written by keyboardist Mike Barson, is great fun and would have been a great single although the lyrics about a dying old lady being lied to by her doctors may have been a deciding factor after the controversy over that record's "Cardiac Arrest" which recieved a daytime radio ban.

The band also received a similar switcheroo in the UK when Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson replaced “Victoria Gardens” – the original second UK single from 1984’s “Keep Moving” with “One Better Day” despite the fact the former had already been remixed for release. The single was never released, eventually appearing on essential singles box set “The Business” in 1999 and “One Better Day” became the band’s final Stiff single release. Huh huh. I said "Stiff release".

Supergrass - "Cheapskate" (1997)

I recall seeing the video for this on The Chart Show and getting very excited as its possibly my favourite track on Supergrass' second record "In It For The Money", a perfect collection of 60s and 70s influenced pop with this track in particular apparently in homage to Kool and The Gang. This would be the band's only dent in the American singles charts when it reached a whopping 35 on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Prince - "Paisley Park" (1985)

As the follow up to the bajillion-selling "Purple Rain" album, nobody really talks much about Prince (and The Revolution)'s 1985 album "Around The World In A Day" despite it being full of really great sixties-tinged pop songs such as "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret". Less played than either of those despite being both great and the highest charting single from that record (No. 18 in May 1985) "Paisley Park" would become better known as the name of Prince's studio and home.

Pulp – “Like A Friend” (1998)

This American promo from early 1998 recorded for Gwyneth Paltrow knocker-squinter “Great Expectations” sadly didn’t do much for Pulp’s US careers, despite receiving a full video. Frustratingly kept off the UK version of “This Is Hardcore” (And yet you had time for "Seductive Barry", Jarvis?) it'd eventually appearing in longer form on the B-side of the band’s “A Little Soul” that June. The band also released that brilliant but unforgiving album's ridiculously non-commercial opening track “The Fear” as an American radio single because death of Britpop and all that shit. Remember them this way...

(Warning: slight Venture Bros spoilers if you havent seen season 4 yet. And if you haven't seen it, why not? Its magnificent!)

Culture Club - "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" (1983)

One of those you'd assume was released due to the ubiquity of the band's début album "Kissing to Be Clever" but only came out "over there", reaching the top ten in America and Canada whilst in Australia it hit number one thanks to being a double A-side with "Karma Chameleon". I reet like the 'orns on it myself.

The Smiths – “The Headmaster Ritual” (1985)

The Smiths never had much luck with UK singles releases. Partly this was down to being on the indie label Rough Trade although it was as much to do with noted pop arsehole Morrissey’s continually fickle nature. All this meant the band amazingly never managed a UK Top 10 single until the re-issue of “This Charming Man” in 1992 (and then that was on Warner who had picked up the back catalogue that year). This odd A-side choice – merely the opening track from “Meat Is Murder” here replaced the admittedly fairly grim “That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore” in the Netherlands and as a radio promo in the US. A 1988 French CD single import in the UK can cost up to £65. Its no "That's Entertainment" though, is it?

If you enjoyed this article, please do share it on Twitter (I'm on there as @ThatBenBaker), Facebook (I have a fan page here: come say hi!) or shout it into the street (your street, not mine). Now I'm off to listen to my favourite chart hits - “Glass Wadger”, "I'm In Love With A Matching Tea Towel and Oven Glove Combination", “Stick It In Us Ian”, “La La La La (Grab Knicker Grandma)” – what do you mean you don't remember them? They were all the rage in the Benelux regions...

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

New Book Is Remotely Interesting

My new book is finished!

"Remotely Interesting" is a quiz book featuring over 50 all-new quizzes, this time on the subject of television. There's something for everyone from ALF to Z Cars, Brian Cox to Brian Griffin, Good Morning Britain to Newsnight, taking in the full TV experience from the opening theme tune to closing credits.

I've spent a long time researching, writing and editing this book to make sure it has appeal to both telly obsessives and casual viewers who fancy something to liven up that boring, ill-advised family holiday to Penge.

This is the third of my "Your Starter For Ben" quiz range and fans of my work will hopefully recognise and appreciate the comic tone running throughout particularly with longer form pieces such as a round about TV shows with video game spin offs or several encounters with Donald Trump's Twitter feed spouting off on any programme he's not currently in. Its a creative, funny book unlike any on the market today.

Here's a few of the highlights:

- Look back at the best days of your life now long gone with "Great Telly Years" rounds on 1977, 1981, 1990 and 1969;

- There's Probably Definitely True Facts About... The Simpsons, Doctor Who, soap operas and series finales;

- Guess the subjects of invariably mad real letters to the Radio and TV Times;

- Donald Trump's Presidential Tweets on programmes past and present;

- Remembering when stars switched channels in When They Went To Thames At The End;

- Were these TV spin-off video games real? Hit start;

- Go beat with the many TV appearances of The Fab Four Beatles Band;

- 'Netflix and keeping our hands where I can see them' with the non-TV TV revolution;

- Preparing for the end of the world with post-apocalypse programming;

- Can you guess the show from the Eight Word TV Tango?;

- A foreword by TV Clangers Expert Tim Worthington;

AND MUCH MORE on the likes of robots, catchphrases, theme tunes, live TV, game show rounds, spin-offs, telly books, memorable bosses, foreign types, breakfast programmes, American remakes, TV mothers, kids shows, booze and a bunch of Christmas stuff for good measure at the back!

How do you get this fantastic new book? Well right now, I'm just looking for a show of support who'd like to actually pre-order a copy. I'd like to offer something a bit different with this one and handle the deliveries myself whilst adding in bonus rewards in both physical and digital form. At the moment I'm looking at badges, posters, PDFs of my entire back catalogue and access to my 15+ years of podcasting archives. Possibly some new recorded stuff too.

To entice you further, here's a 34 page preview of the book:

Interested? Please let me know on Twitter @ThatBenBaker or via my regularly updated Facebook news page here: (You could give it a like too!) Likewise, anything you'd specifically want as a bonus thing? Give me a shout. Cost should be between £5 and £10 max depending on what extras I end up selling.

Don't be silent and assume everyone else will speak up if this seems like something you'd want. I don't have the money to order stock I don't need so please understand that yes, I'm doing this to make a few quid but its not going to make me rich. Its just something I have a passion for so wanted to make and a nice unique gift that anyone with a passing interest in the telly should enjoy.

Thank you.


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Some Days In The Life: What We Did While Sgt Pepper Taught The Band To Play

On the 1st June 1967, The Beatles Band released "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

At least I think....

There's great confusion it seems as to when exactly the album came out with the official date of 1st June in the UK (2nd in US) undercut by claims it was released a week earlier in various online places, including that stout bastion of fact, Wikipedia. This seems borne out in part by the fact the Official Charts have it entering the top 10 at number 8 before reaching the top the following week.

Back then, the charts were a very odd thing with stockists unwilling to wait and a several day delay while the results were seemingly decided upon by wherever a pigeon sat in Borehamwood. And thus it was that on two days' official sales, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" entered a top 10 album list with Tom Jones, The Dubliners, Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Last and, bolstered by regular appearances on Saturday teatimes, two records by The Monkees at numbers 2 and 7. Add in to that the soundtracks to "The Sound Of Music" and "Fiddler On The Roof", just ahead of Herb Alpert, The Seekers, the murder-eyed "Secombe's Personal Choice" and the wonderfully titled Geno Washington record "Hand Clappin' Foot Stompin' Funky-Butt...LIVE!" and its quite an intriguing mix.

But what kind of world was it about to be unleashed upon? Was the universe holding its collective particulars in dripping anticipation at this new record? Were the sixties about to actually start anywhere outside of London? There's no doubt at all that pop fans were clamouring for it, trousers whetted by the double A-side of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" released in February 1967 but elsewhere, was it business as usual?

"Sgt Pepper" was officially given a launch by a bunch of very hairy Beatles at their manager Brian Epstein's house on Friday 19th May 1967 (tragically, Epstein would be dead barely three months later effectively triggering the slow inevitable break up of the band) and the following day was previewed on the BBC Light Programme's - no Radio 1 until September that year - "Where Its At" slot at 4pm by future sex offender Chris Denning linking to pre-recorded interviews done by the band's favourite disky jock Kenny Everett. All the tracks would be played in part, except for "A Day In The Life" which the BBC banned due to it all being about them drugs and that. Or as  the BBC’s director of sound broadcasting, Frank Gillard put it in a letter to EMI:

Naturally Lennon and McCartney were quick to disagree, stating "It’s only about a dream" but then they were whazzed out on goo goo spliffs so anything they have to say should naturally be dismissed and burnt in a giant fire made out of unsold copies of Ringo's Rotogravure.

That said, a recording of "Where Its At" made at the time by a fan features "A Day In The Life" prominently at one point so I figured I'd ask Tim Worthington, Beatles knowlege and author of the essential Radio 1 comedy book "Fun At One" why this might have been... "Fuck knows". Thanks Tim! And you can buy his book here!

Beatle fans who also liked football would have been in a quandry as simultaneous to "Where It's At" was that year's FA Cup Final featuring a London derby in which Chelsea lost 2-1 - something which feels very familiar in 2017. (What? If they will insist on playing before Doctor Who I'll learn these things!) "The" Spurs would emerge victorious with a team including Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves and "Nice One" Cyril Knowles.

Some consolation might have come from that man Everett again, who was appearing on the episode of "Juke Box Jury" immediately after the footer, before Doctor Who learnt all about "The Evil Of The Daleks" in an episode almost entirely gone from the archives (thanks for NOTHING, Beatles!) Quite by chance, episode one of the serial featured the characters in a coffee bar where the jukebox plays...yes, you guessed it...The Seekers!!! Also: Beatles. Unsurprisingly this background blast of "Paperback Writer" was removed from audio releases of the story due to rights and replaced by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. As you do.

Outside of Beatledom, music was all over the small screen during this period with British pop dominating the world and, that year, Eurovision as Sandie Shaw grimaced through "Puppet On A String" in April 1967 to win the contest with over double the votes of its nearest rival. Plus "Grief And Glory" a BBC new folk song competition (Sunday, 6:15pm, BBC1), Southern TV's very short lived pop show "As You Like It" had Peter & Gordon, Zoot Money and Anita Harris (mostly Tuesday 7pm, ITV), "Jazz From A Swinging Era" (Thursday, 8:05pm, BBC2) and of course Top Of The Pops which on June 1st was hosted by Pete Murray and featured performances from The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset), The New Vaudeville Band (Finchley Central), P.P. Arnold (The First Cut Is The Deepest) and The Small Faces (Here Comes The Nice) along with "The Gojos" dancing along to Arthur Conley's Northern Soul classic "Sweet Soul Music".

In almost indecent speed, and a year before Joe Cocker got his mitts on it, the following week's edition (hosted by the scrawny jangling old bastard) would feature The Young Idea covering "With A Little Help From My Friends". Read more on the excellent Left and To The Back here.

Elsewhere on telly, Coronation Street, No Hiding Place, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Take Your Pick were the nation's favourites whilst at the cinema James Bond fans were caught between two releases when the spoof "Casino Royale" was still making the rounds as "You Only Live Twice", scripted by Roald Dahl, premièred in London on the 12th June 1967. Add in James Coburn's similarly Bond-baiting comedy "In Like Flynn" released around the same time and The Beatles could've had hours of spy-based fun at the pictures if they were after some respite from their recent release of one of the most genre defining recordings of a generation. And that.

Whether the Fabulous Four's influence or not, Britain was slowly changing and taking the world along with it with May 1967 seeing Harold Wilson's government apply for EEC membership moving us close to the Europe we should still be a part of. When Sir Francis Chichester returned from solo circumnavigating the globe after 226 days of sailing on May 28th 1967, you can only begin to his response to the country he left behind - he still thought the new Beatles album was "Revolver"! Oh Sir Francis, you Beatles idiot!

So ultimately, did "Sgt Pepper" change anything? Who knows? We didn’t get the sixties until about 1978 here in the North of England. But when your great great great granny who hadn't bought a record since Mantovani died can tell you all all about it, dogs across the country still go bat shit every time "A Day In The Life" finishes and magazines still openly rip off the cover every other month as if its a clever or original idea to do, there'll always be someone teaching the band to play...

Image courtesy of Darrell Maclaine-Jones, bona fide Beatlesman and genius.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Of Fiends, Fakes and Football Funnies

Considering I've been making downloadable radio shows since 2002, I have yet to make my millions from the Ricky Hervaid-approved podcast boom. Indeed I had to shut down my last pod-site as I couldn't afford to pay for the webspace any longer. This led to a bit of a depression and I didn't record anything for a while, turning instead to this here blog to scratch my talking bollocks itch. But the urge to shout that bollocks at people who were further afield than outside my window was still there and growing every day. And so it was a pleasure to get back into conversation with one of my long-time collaborators and friend Tim Worthington.

Looks Unfamiliar is Tim's own programme in which he interviews people about the things they doubt anyone else remembers or gives a stuff about. I came up with so much that its been split into two parts and you can hear the first of those episodes below.


As Tim says on his much-recommended blog: "Joining Tim in this episode is writer, broadcaster and quizmaster Ben Baker, who hopes against hope that somebody else remembers early Chris Evans vehicle TV Mayhem, football comic The Onion Bag, novelty yoghurt range Fiendish Feet, the early internet craze for misidentifying every comedy song as 'by' Weird Al Yankovic, Betsy Byars' Bingo Brown novels, and the International Youth Service penpal scheme. Along the way we'll be getting some unconventional yoghurt-related gardening tips, recalling the classic horror film 'Dracula Vs. The Skeleton', discussing whether Fangs-A-Lot is an appropriate family heirloom, and finding out how the least politically correct gag in history ended up at the end of a right-on charity fundraising joke book. And Colin Foley, if you're out there, please get in contact."

What does it all mean? Listen and find out!

And if you like it, check out the others as they're all great. Although not too much as I want to beat those jerks in the download numbers. Enjoy!

Friday, 19 May 2017

When Celebrities Get Inked (or Viz Y'Know Killed The Radio Star)

As hard as I try I can't imagine Pat Roach being young.

Born this day in 1937, the much missed Roach was best known probably as Bomber in "Auf Wiedersehen Pet" although being in all three Indiana Jones movies is an equally fantastic claim to fame, not to mention his roles in Willow, Red Sonja, Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, A Clockwork Orange and of course, Jack and Jeremy's Police 4. But when I think of him being born, like seeing ancient yellowing photos of your grandparents doing the dance moves of the time (examples include 'the spruce waiter', 'the groovy Rivron' and 'the rivers of blood') I just picture him being birthed with a full beard and Brum accent asking if its chips for tea.

As well as all these achievements, Roach was also in another exclusive club although not necessarily one he'd understand, or even known about. For Pat was the frontman for a cartoon strip all about...well, have a see...

Informative and informal there I'm sure you'll agree but you wouldn't be completely wrong for assuming it didn't actually contain any jokes - the discordant combining of a Look In magazine style factual strip with an actor unassociated with the sea in any capacity is the entire gag - and it works magnificently. For all its success, Viz Comic is very rarely commended for just how well it dismantled and parodied the entire history of British comics, from the 1930's Film Fun style antics of murderers Shipman and West ("Harold and Fred - they make ladies dead")  to the infamous DC Thomson take downs such as "Desperately Unfunny Dan", "Little Plumber" and "The Three Chairs". Some strips in early issues wouldn't look out of place in the underground comix scene which was still puttering along by the time the comic appeared in December 1979, but Viz was a product born of Newcastle not New York and this was reflected in its targets. In the above Pat Roach strip (issue 46 February / March 1991), the joke is simply to recreate the sort of boring factual filler magazines like Look In and its myriad knock-offs would print. Two years earlier in February 1989, issue 34 presented the following public service...

Simple but effective and given that extra twist by its use of a minor celebrity. Famous folk have been featured in Viz's humour from the very start but it wouldn't be until the early nineties that the official looking spin-off comic strip featuring an unlikely - and nearly always very British - star would become the regular go-to gag readers love still to the present day. As I write this the current issue contains "Fire Chief Bozza", a take on The Beano's General Jumbo and his miniature remote-controlled army with "52-year old Boris Johnson" as "the lucky owner of his very own mechanical remote control fire brigade". The previous issue had Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet fronting a "True Crime" strip, the latest in a long run of petty scams perpetuated by Elton John with his partner David Furnish and heavily Scots-accented Royal fun in "The Broon Windsors". On the subject of the latter, The Sunday Post strips originated in the 1930's by comics great Dudley D Watkins - "The Broons" and "Oor Wullie" - were clearly a source of huge inspiration to the Viz team cropping up in various guises, starting with this from issue 41, the first proper celebrity strip featuring Oor...Jimmy?!

I mean, its just an Oor Wullie strip with bucket to match (later use of the bucket would put in a copyright infringement-free slot to suggest it wasn't a bucket but Ned Kelly's hat.) With that little bit of history in place, here are my top ten celebrity-starring strips from the first two decades of Viz (1979-1999)...

10. Paul Daniels' Jet-Ski Journey To The Centre Of Elvis (Issue 85 - August / September 1997)

Two celebrities for the price of one here as Simon Donald draws this fantastic voyage of a miniaturised Paul Daniels sent in to remove a "peanut-butter log jam" from the King (who only communicates with variants on the phrase "Lord Have Mercy") after surgery is risked impossible to the singer's big belt. At the peak of his career, Daniels did actually headline in Vegas several times so it wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility that, had he lived, Elvis might have seen him perform. Although probably not coming out of his bottom on a wave of excretia. FUN FACT: Paul saw this strip and contacted Viz to buy the original artwork.

9. The Undersink Cupboard Of Jacques Cousteau (Issue 70 - February / March 1995)

A fantastically stupid quickie featuring the 85 year old (and two years from death) famous French marine explorer whose programme "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" had been a Sunday afternoon staple filler on BBC One throughout the 1970s.

8. Harry Enfield strips (Issue 62 - October / November 1993)

And in the same issue later on...

I chose these not for the lame puns or the incongruity of those characters having strips - indeed they had already appeared in comic form thanks to Charlie Higson's cartoons in Enfield's 1988 comedy cash in book "Wad And Peeps" (much more on that here) - but the fact that both of these comics appeared in late 1993, four years after Enfield had stopped performing either character. The Viz team were long acquainted with Harry by this point after he got in contact in regards to collaboration (also needing Geordie voice tips for his new character Buggerallmoney) and later provided the voices for the Billy The Fish and Roger Mellie animations. So they could have run these as "Look at us, friends with the hippest trend in comedy!" kudos five or six years earlier but didn't, thus making the appearance in the mid nineties even more ridiculous. And therefore brilliant. 

7. Noddy Holder (Issue 48 - June / July 1991)

In 1991, Holder was in a bit of an odd place as far as the public conscience was concerned - not quite the Grimleys-starring national treasure he would become but also not really relevant for his work with soon-to-split Slade (their final Top 40 hit "Radio Wall Of Sound" being released that October) anymore. This strip pitches him as a mischievous young lad who finds his granddad's old magic set in the attic and has absolutely nothing to do with his band, Glam or music in general. Its just a very daft premise and perfect for this list.

6. The Adventures Of Rolf Harris The Cat (Issue 46 - February / March 1991)

Look, I know, I know. BBC knew. We all knew. Whatever. Its a funny strip.

5. Fry's Turkish Delight (Issue 58 - February / March 1993)

Long in those dark days before endless QI repeats on Dave, Fry was still very much the go-to figure for someone extremely wordy and mildly pretentious. Although he'd left Cambridge over a decade previously, Stephen was still clearly the brainiest boy and so received this gift of a big pile of Turkish Delight with the proviso that it had to be gone from the premises within one hour or he'll be suspended. Numerous ruses fail and so it falls on him to eat the lot there and then and wouldn't you know it...

4. Donald Sinden In "There Goes My Knighthood" (Issue 86 - October / November 1997)

(open image in new window to enlarge)  

I knew Ald Sinden before he was made a Don you know... The definitive Viz farce appeared a lot later in the run than most people remember it and is almost certainly inspired by a similar knighthood running gag in Spitting Image some years previous.

3. The 2 Ronnies And Their Gangs (Issue 58 - February / March 1993)

Just perfect. There's something inherently ridiculous to me about The Two Ronnies when divorced from the material anyway so recasting them as heads of rival gangs seems the most gloriously appropriate fate and something that could easily have appeared in "Cor!" or perhaps "Beeb".

2. Spot The Clue (various)

Still occasionally making an appearance in the comic, Davey Jones' flights of fancy have been a crucial part of Viz since he joined as a contributor in 1986 with his regular strips such as Roger Irrelevant, Gilbert Rachet and "Spot The Clue" always contains a genuine but utterly banal red herring that readers can use to work out the perpetrator of a terrible crime. 

And taking the top spot...

1. The Human League In Outer Space (Issue 45 - December 1990)

Perfection. "Look In" magazine throughout its run from 1971 to 1994 would regular serialise "fun" stories featuring bands of the time such as Madness, Bucks Fizz, Five Star and, of course, Flintlock. The Human League amazingly weren't included into this pantheon of greats and so it was left to Viz to provide exactly the same sort of story that would appear in the pages of the "Junior TV Times". The fact that it came from a year when Phil and "The Girls" were at their absolute lowest career point just made the whole thing even more surreal, silly and the best celebrity based cartoon strip Viz ever produced.

For more writing by me about Viz and many other pop culture excitements, pick up the fantastic Talk About The Passion book here.

What do you think? Anything major missing? Feel like The Simon Salad Cream Story or Gary Bushell The Bear deserved a place? Perhaps Jarvis Cocker's His Quest For Knockers was cruelly overlooked? Or Bernie Winters' Circus Of Horrors? Yes, they all existed! Let me know on my new Facebook news page by subscribing AT THIS LINK I'M LINKING HERE. Thanks for reading and sorry about all that Rolf Harris business earlier...


Friday, 12 May 2017

DJ Kat and The Call Of The Simpsons

There's only so much justification to offer when confronted with the amount of hours spend watching a giant headed ginger cat in a leather jacket introduce battered old cartoons from decades previous. I was young, I needed the pocket money...but the truth is that for a large section of the early 90s, my early mornings and afternoons were dominated by The DJ Kat Show.

On which every night is bins!
Ive mentioned in a previous blog how my family were fortunate, depending on how you look at it, to get a second hand Sky dish at a time when subscription for regular channels wasn't needed and I learnt - out of sheer boredom, very much the theme of this article - 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, lets be honest, bloody awful satellite service which now is full of new dramas and a big investment in comedy but prior to a certain yellow family moving in - more on which shortly - it was thin gruel of the old US sitcoms Channel 4 didn't want, very cheap game shows and imports from Fox TV in the States. Oh and Lonesome Dove. Many many hours of Lonesome Dove. When you consider the technically superior and much more interesting BSB was halfway through its all too brief lifespan that year, its amazing the absolute brass knackers Sky had.

My Dad maintained we got the dish originally so I would have something to watch in the boring six week summer holiday such as satellite's own dedicated children's channel, The Childrens Channel which also happened to a channel which also finished at 10am every morning so the Lifestyle channel (for WIMMIN!) could share its channel (or transponder) number and wouldn't be joined by the likes of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network for another three years. Looking back at this time, particular with all the recent EU nonsense, I'm overwhelmed with nostalgia and our rare opportunity to see a window into what the rest of Europe were doing, connected to our neighbours across the water. But if I'm honest back in 1990 I was mostly very very bored. I mean, I even went outside and stuff. BY CHOICE.

Original DJ Kat (left), mental eyed American upstart variant (right)
One of the few things seemingly 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. Later I discovered this was sort of a transition period for the character which had recently been taken over by puppeteering legend Don Austen when production of the segments moved from Amsterdam to London. An early production for John De Mol (soon to form production giants and Big Brother inventors Endemol), the DJ Kat of old was a husky voiced - and even uglier - American-voiced puppet performed by Robbie Hahn and presented by John De Mol's sister Linda, beginning for Sky Channel in 1986 on a budget of about 3p and half a Twix.

I also learnt that as well as there had been ANOTHER DJ Kat on New York channel WNYW which just so happened to have recently been bought by Rupert Murdoch's Fox. He was also American although that made slightly more sense and was partnered with the "Flexitoon Puppets", a comically rubbish name that can never possibly live up its sheer Simpsons-joke sounding promise.

It was The Simpsons that undoubtedly became one of the big reasons my friends suddenly all wanted Sky themselves and I recall much jealousy (and a bit of inviting themselves round) when the yellow family made their exceptionally hyped arrival in September 1990. Far from a kids show, despite what most dreadful "BEST KIDDIEBOX SHOW EVERS" polls say, 6:30 on a Sunday became an instant family-centring ritual which was upheld until pretty much me moving out from my folks. I would happily watch the first Sunday showing AND the same week repeat on Thursdays. Sky even had a "Simpsons week" once they'd actually just shown enough episodes to fill five days in a row. And we'd have been there watching them all again.

Its not even like season one is especially that good but telly we could all agree on wasn't always that common in our house. It was almost always tuned to something my Dad wanted to watch (hopefully monster trucks on Screensport) so finding something we all liked was a huge bonus. Indeed, I can recall quite a few huffs when I was denied my daily episode of "Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles" (CALL IT BY ITS NAME) even though, looking back, it really was a load of old shite.

I could still watch terrestrial episodes in my room of course but it was pretty sweet to watch ones your mates haven't. Not that I'd abandoned Children's BBC or ITV but it was nice to have a choice of programming back then, even if it was ratty copies of "Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors" or "Beverly Hills Teens". By the time it had finished in 1995 "The DJ Kat Show" was from all reports (I'd long drifted away thanks to likes of The Big Breakfast, MTV and being asleep in a morning) quite a respectable beast having morphed from a simple puppet and presenter format to live games, sketches, multiple cast members and cartoons even from the same decade.

DJ Kat will never be as iconic or remembered in the same way Edd The Duck, Round The Bend or knowing the full words to Willy Fogg is to my generation but it holds extremely fond memories for me as a time when telly was still finding its feet and Sky TV was the punchline to every single Jasper Carrott routine. In the same mental basket as adverts for Mini Dickmann's, Army Of Lovers' not especially subtle "Crucified" video every fifteen minutes and Keith Chegwin presenting the godawful Sky Star Search, not to mention the lightest in Saturday night Bavarian pornographies.

Fun Factory was fucking shit though.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Noel Edmonds Is Special: A Look At The Telly Addicts Book

Originally running on BBC1 between 1985 and 1998, "Telly Addicts" was a perfect treat for all the family with fun, breezy questions and interesting clips dredged from the archives at a time where such things were rare and exciting. I was such a fan as a kid I even bugged my parents to buy us the Family Telly Addicts board game, even though I was 10 at the time and in those pre-UK GOLD days didn't have a clue what the Onedin Line phone number was or who Mr Hitler felt he was actually kidding. There's only so many times you can "sing the sig" to When The Boat Comes In before you want to take your own life but goddamn I loved that game!

Until recently however, I didn't know there was also a spin-off book released around the same time. In fact I remained clueless until some random Addicts related Googling for clips turned up a copy of the fantastically pompously titled "Telly Addicts Special" for a penny on Abe Books. And now its here, I can "proudly" "present" My Bestest Bits Of The Book Entitled Telly Addicts Special!

First of all, lets check that cover art...

So we are led to believe that Noel penned the entirety of the text inside this 98 page beast. Indeed there are no other author credits inside the book bar "in conjunction with" production by Richard Lewis and Louis Robinson. The Lewouises. The Louewesis. Okay, one of them is spelled wrong and needs to sort it out but I'm not going to be the guy who is going to tell them.

All present and correct here except...hold on? Nutkins and Packham are non-BBC Enterprises activated? What "Really Wild" stuff were they up to? Also, clock the copyright to Noel's own company the Unique Group as that will come up several thousand more times.

Fitting in with every adult comic of the time, fellow TV bearded prankster Jeremy Beadle comes under fire. Maybe its the fact he's no longer with us, his actual good sense of awareness about himself or I learnt just how ace his puzzles were (Seriously, you need the Beadle's Miscellany book) but it feels like a shitty low blow. Especially considering the shit Noel was about to get up to that decade on the other side.

Oh lovely, more bad stand up. The answers are as follows 1. Tactical police manoeuvres, 2. To increase dramatic tension, 3. The A Team are on the run so sleep wherever they can. This is made quite clear by the opening sequence, 4. No but I don't know them that well, 5., 6. I'm assuming he washes them in a lake and smelts his own silver bullets, I don't really care, 7. Because the TARDIS has a translation circuit. Also, its a television programme. You see that Fifth Doctor? He's an actor. I seen him in "Sink Or Swim".

And now the first of a running feature throughout the book entitled "Starfax" and dedicated to profiling your favourite TV celebrities from twenty two years ago - and look!, its hapless holidaymaker Keith Barron! Lets take a closer look at some of those responses (open the image in a new window to see it embiggened)...

Yes because you remember DWM was always yelling out for Barron as the next Time Lord. You couldn't move for Ian Levine tribute records to Haggard. Also: note the anger at Pop Larkin (a fictional character from a 1958 novel) for stealing his moves.

And here's the "awards" each star was supposedly handing out (or receiving? This process is very unclear. Are PwC involved? Is the winner Moonlight?) Incidentally that terrifying Noel Oscar which is not a Gotcha, THAT WAS VERY DIFFERENT.

Noel is humble about the success of The Television Addicts whilst talking of the "Game Show scene" as if its some seedy fluid fest that takes place round the back of some bins at TV Centre. Eeh, the things he's seen Norman Vaughan and Derek Batey do would make a tramp blush. Noel's mixture of self-belief and sheer ego is on full force throughout this book even though I doubt for one second he put bearded finger to paper. And were they not the 'Payne' family? Amazingly the internet doesn't care.

Some Only Fools trivia now and you've got to feel sorry for Nicholas Lyndhurst in a way. Even though he had many other successful sitcoms on TV, he still is "Robdeyplonkers!!!" I worry for any audiences sat watching things waiting for Del Boy to turn up - "WHAT'S THIS - THE LION KING? ITS JUST A LOAD OF FUCKING LIONS. WHEN'S DEL ON?" - Also worth noting that Lyndhurst's character was usually the clever, competent one in "The Piglet Files" which was more about the ridiculousness of espionage as opposed to Rodders falling over some bins in front of a comedy Russian. (Although admittedly it was written by Leveson and Minett so it was as funny as an upturned bin.)

A: They're all dead.

Andi Peters Starfax time! And oh boy, the things we learn from the "fresh faced 21 year old" such, he has a family and his work on Children's BBC is "popular with young people". Lets see who he rates in his "Not A Gotcha" special awards ceremony...Maxwell Caulfield?!!? From Grease 2? And your best one is Birds Of, we're done here. Get stuffed, Peters. "The Noise" was crap and you were rubbish in Toy Story 2. And no, I still don't know if he is one or not.

The first of what seems like seven million photos of Noel twatting about in his helicopter. Does the accompanying text have anything to do with helicopters? No. To read the full thing, click it. Or for the highlight...

Oh them pranks n punks. [NOTE TO SELF: pitch "Pranks n Punks" to ITV for Autumn schedule. Lee Nelson could fall over Ant and Dec or something. Pad it out with some Elastica later.]

A:  Dead, Got Slightly Older, After Dinner Speaker.

"We've tried hard to avoid television 'gimmicks' over complicated and showbizzy sets..." Except for in 1998 when you exactly did that and ruined it forever....

Good old "ROY".

A day in the life of Telly Addicts brings up this jolly paragraph which you can just grimly visualise, cant you? Filmed in Birmingham incidentally, not TV Centre fans of not very interesting facts! 

Noel outed as "not that arsed about the telly" once more especially avoiding those "harrowing real life dramas" they were always showing in 1991 like The Darling Buds Of May or Lazarus and Dingwall. At least he admits he only likes Telly Addicts for the clips much like the viewing public before the slow horrified realisation that he has become the thing he most fears and despises - ONE OF USSSSssssss.

Pictured: John Nettles having the last laugh.

Fred Dibnah's dream evening - Corrie and U Boats. We shall miss 'im grately.

All of the answers are Phil Cool.

Another page devoted to Noel effing about with helicopters although this time he is just quite near one rather than in it SO IT IS DIFFERENT THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

This is basically a page of what a great bloke he is whilst again reiterating that telly is for losers.

A lovely rare image from the fun 1977 ITV one off "The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation as We Know It". Any prime-time Rushton is fine by me.

Awww ladies! Look at his cheeky little bearded face! Blobbybutter wouldn't melt! 

Cheer up Chris, you're in the Telly Addicts book! Lets see what he's into...

What TV do you like? "Books". Fair play to him for having some actual opinions and interests rather than just inane soundbites. A VHS of Twin Peaks taped off Bravo in 1996 is winging its way to you!

Bugger all to do with TV here but a blatant advert for yet more Unique branded products - this time bottled water. Yes, its ultimately charitable for the woodland but presumably the money raised just about covers the acres lopped down for Noel's multiple helipads.

Noel and pals present their favourite Python sketches ("Parrott" apparently included) along with their key authors, presumably grabbed from the then recent "Just The Words" books, with some quite nice rarer sketches in and amongst the obvious crowd pleasers (Dennis Moore! The usually censored Summarise Proust! Although you think he'd know its called "Anne Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses" tscch!). Indeed it was probably Telly Addicts where I saw some of my earliest Python clips. Cheers Tidybeard!

And that's it. But don't worry, there's a last minute chance to send even more money to Unique Group with the grand purchasement of this fine spin-off board game and its much beloved Family spin-off which got a lot of play. Except of course when we were watching Telly Addicts...

What a lovely way to end this article.