Monday, November 05, 2007

Depending on your generation, the term 'old-school comedian' can be either a terrible insult or a great compliment to a gagsmith. When Bernard Manning died, it was used by his detractors as short-hand for 'unpleasant old racist', whereas when it is applied to Les Dawson, it is used affectionately to denote a high level of craftsmanship, and quite right too.

As research for my forthcoming book on variety and light entertainment, I've been trawling through a lot of 'old-school' comedy. Happily, while some of it tends to reinforce the 'where's me washboard' view of anything pre-Python being an impenetrable mess of idiotic catchphrases and cross-talk, an awful lot of it comes up fresh as a daisy and timelessly funny. For example, ITMA has dated very badly, while Much-Binding in the Marsh continues to delight and amuse.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that some old-school comedy is easily as surreal as anything Vic and Bob or Harry Hill could come up with. Take, for example, this sublime clip of Reeves & Mortimer's fellow Teesider Jimmy James from the opening night of Tyne Tees Television in 1959. If you've ever wondered why Danny Baker sometimes says "I'll stop you going to those youth clubs" to callers on t'wireless, here's the explanation.

7 comments:

Phil Norman said...

I seem to recall watching that sketch (with R Castle as Conyers) almost every Sunday evening on ITV in about 1979. No doubt I just saw it once, but some things make an impression.

My favourite old school Vic Reeves-esque gag is from Harry Korris:

'My mother-in-law... ooh, what a face! She's got two eyes. One's on a pivot, the other's a ball-and-socket arrangement!'

I live in constant fear of coming across some nugget of wartime information that'll explain that gag away as perfectly and depressingly logical, mind.

LF Barfe said...

Well, if it's any reassurance, I can't see any depressingly logical explanation for that joke. It would appear to be an early example of the interface between light entertainment and light engineering that the great Moir has practically built his career on.

Roy Castle was indeed Hutton Conyers (a village near York, apparently - file it with Galton & Simpson's frequent use of Studholme Berkeley as a likely name for an actor laddie) for quite some time. No idea who it is in that clip, though. When you say you saw the sketch on ITV in 1979, was it an archive clip, or JJ's son James Casey recreating the act with Roy and his cousin Jackie Casey (as Eli 'Bretton' Woods is really known)? I have vague recollections of it turning up in a Royal Variety Show around that time - and 1979 was an ITV year for the RVP. Off to ITN Source I jolly well go...

Phil Norman said...

Well now, this is all very vague - I'm not 100% on '79, but it was in colour so I'm assuming it was contemporary.

It was round about the same time as the Glums revival - was that Bruce's Big Night?

LF Barfe said...

ITN Source is coming up blank for Roy Castle between 1976 and 1980, and there's nothing there that looks like what we're on about. If you're negotiable on the channel as well as the date, Roy Castle, James Casey & Eli Woods were all in one edition of the final series of 'The Good Old Days' in autumn 1983. http://catalogue.bbc.co.uk/
catalogue/infax/programme/NMRC202W If they managed to get through the show without doing an old Jimmy James routine, I'll eat Eli's Davy Crockett hat.

Phil Norman said...

Well, trying to match Tx dates to vague childhood memories is the M1 to madness, but what the hey.

Good Old Days might be a go-er*, as from what I recall the programme seemed very 'stage-y' to me, even at the time (and The Glums on Brucie, with the open set and blatant audience presence, just seemed all wrong to me). The timeslot would be about right, but 1983 seems a bit late, though.

Maybe it was taken from an earlier broadccast, in a sort of Variety-themed proto-clip show? Hum.

* - Would that sketch have fitted into TGOD? I always thought all the material had to have at least some vague compliance with the Victorian/Edwardian theme. Perhaps they amended it. 'I'll stop you going to those coffee houses!'

LF Barfe said...

Now we're getting somewhere - this from the 1982 Royal Variety Show listing:

"Act 'A Music Hall Memory of Jimmy James with Jim CASEY, Eli WOODS and Roy CASTLE including song 'Kisses sweeter than wine'"

http://catalogue.bbc.co.uk/catalogue/
infax/programme/LLVE250X_B

As for the Victorian/Edwardian theme of TGOD, I remember Roy Hudd making many anachronistic, nay topical, references in his patter.

Phil Norman said...

Ah, that must be it! Keel doing 76 Trombones rings a few nightmarish bells. And my God, what a show. I'm presuming 'The Flower Sellers' is a tribute to The Crazy Gang, which begs the question of who played whom. Obviously Hudd was Flanagan, but after that, I'm stumped, even as to who would best be impersonated by Gang understudy Glaze.

And - 'intro by Christopher Timothy': who decides upon these combinations?