Thursday, 30 November 2017

New Book! Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue! OUT NOW!

Christmas invariably means excess – be it through food, drink or television. Whether it's Morecambe and Wise recreating Singin' In The Rain, the Trotters dressed as the Dynamic Duo or EastEnders running over a baby for light relief, TV is our very pal throughout the entire turkey and tinsel period. This book pays tribute as forty years of festive programmes are viewed and reviewed in over 250 mini-essays by Ben Baker.

Alongside the classics there's the likes of Kid Creole’s strange post-watershed musical about racism, Roland Rat going to Switzerland, Skeletor learning the true meaning of Christmas, Doctor Who's original spin-off, The Bee Gees teaming up with Frankie Howerd for a medieval comedy and Feargal Sharkey having a nightmare on a Concorde whilst the Krankies watch on in helpless bemusement high above the Telecom Tower. Plus much much more. But for real. Not just like when people ay that in adverts when there's actually about three more things. This is packed with Christmas memories both obvious and obscure and I know its going to set off some "OH YEAH!" glands in a lot of people's brains.

Its been my big project for the last few months and I'm incredibly proud of my work. So it'd be lovely to get it into as many hands as possible so click below to buy a copy! Because as the mighty Noddy Holder from Not Slade 2 informs us every December time in his loudest voice, “THE GRIIIIIMMMMLLLLLEEEEYYYYSSSS IS ONNNNNN!” Also: Christmas

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!

Monday, 12 June 2017


Telly addict? Box clever? Then you need Remotely Interesting, my new quiz book featuring over 50 all-new quizzes all about television. There's something for everyone from ALF to Z CarsBrian Cox to Brian GriffinGood Morning Britain to Newsnight, taking in the full TV experience from the opening theme tune to closing credits.

This is the third of my "Your Starter For Ben" quiz range and people who liked the my other 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. 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.

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!

Here's a few preview pages...


Want more? Ok, well to entice you further, here's an absolutely free 30+ page preview of the book:

Thank you and happy dynamic quizzing!

 "its that taub again"

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...


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.