Archive for the ‘Stage’ Category

1970s Dr Who Goes Disco

December 31, 2022

This comes from J.B. Anderton’s channel on YouTube. Yesterday I posted another of his videos in which he presented a disco version of the theme and titles for Star Trek: The Next Generation. He does the same to Tom Baker era Dr Who in this little video. He uses the titles for episode 2 of the story, ‘The Horns of Nimon’, but the video itself consists of clips from nearly right across the Baker era. ‘The Horns of Nimon’ is a suitably seasonal story. It’s a Science Fictional retelling of the ancient Greek myth of the minotaur and is about the Doctor and Romana investigating why a planet’s children are being sent into a labyrinth, where they are preyed upon by aliens with the heads of bulls. It was intended to be a Christmas pantomime before that season ended with the serious story, ‘Shada’. ‘Shada’, scripted by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker fame, never got made thanks to a strike. The series ended with ‘The Horns of Nimon’, which was widely regarded as the worst Dr Who episode until overtaken by such classics as ‘The Twin Dilemma’, the opening story of Colin Baker’s Dr Who, and which I regard as one of the contributing factors to his Doctor’s unpopularity – unfair in my opinion – and his eventual sacking. I’ve got ‘The Horns of Nimon’ on DVD, and watching it again, I don’t think it’s at all bad. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible, as everyone thought. Perhaps we were just spoiled for great Dr Who stories in those days, and it only seemed bad in comparison. ‘Shada’ has been extensively written about and I think there are DVDs reconstructing the story with the available footage, some of which was used in ‘The Five Doctors’ to explain why Baker’s Doctor wasn’t in it. I think the script may also have been published and possibly Big Finish, which specialises in new Who stories featuring classic Doctors, may have performed it on CD. Anyway, here’s the video for you to enjoy. I suppose I should also run a quiz for Whovians asking them to identify the individual episodes and stories from which the clips are taken.

Simon Webb’s Speech to the Traditional Britain Group: A Critique

December 29, 2022

One of the great commenters on this blog asked me the other day if I’d watched Simon Webb’s speech to the Traditional Britain Group, which has been posted up on YouTube. Webb is the man behind History Debunked, in which he criticises, refutes and comments on various historical myths and distortions. Most of these are against Black history, as well as racial politics. Occasionally he also presents his opinions on gay and gender issues. Like other YouTubers and internet commenters, you need to use your own discretion when watching his material. Sometimes, when he cites his sources, he’s right. At other times he’s more probably wrong. As much of his material is against mass immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and he believes that there is a racial hierarchy when it comes to intelligence, there’s some discussion of the man’s political orientation. He’s definitely right-wing, reading the Torygraph and attacking Labour as ‘high spending’. But it’s a question of how right-wing. Some people have suggested he’s English Democrat or supports a similar extreme right fringe party.

The other day he gave a speech at the Traditional Britain Group, which is a particularly nasty set of rightists within the Conservative party. There was a scandal a few years ago, you’ll recall, when Jacob Rees-Mogg turned up at one of their dinners. Mogg claimed he didn’t know how far right they were, but was shown to be somewhat economical with the actualite when someone showed that he’d actually been warned against associating with them. They are fervently against non-White immigration and some of them have a dubious interest in the Nazis and the Third Reich. I’ve also been told that their members include real Nazis and eugenicists, which is all too credible. They also want to privatise the NHS. I found this out after finding myself looking at their message board a few years ago. They were talking about how they needed to privatise the health service, but it would have to be done gradually and covertly because at the moment the masses were too much in favour of it. Which has been Tory policy for decades.

Webb’s speech is about half and hour long, and takes in slavery, White English identity and how Blacks have taken ownership of the subject so that it’s now part of theirs, White guilt over it and the industrial revolution and how White Brits are being made to feel ashamed of imperialism. He also blamed Tony Blair for mass immigration and claimed that it was due to this that the health service was collapsing.

The British Empire

He started off by saying that when he was young, everyone believed that the British Empire was a good thing and that we had brought civilisation to Africa and other parts of the world. I don’t doubt this. He’s older than me, and so I can believe that the received view of the Empire in his time was largely positive. Even the Labour party broadly supported imperialism. Its official stance was that Britain held these countries in trust until they were mature enough for self-government. This has changed, and there is a general feeling, certainly on the left, that it’s something we should be ashamed of. But this has come from historians and activists discussing and revealing the negative aspects of colonialism, such as the genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples, enslavement, forced labour and massacres. The end of empires tend to be particularly bloody, as shown in the various nationalist wars that ended the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the French possession of Algeria. Britain fought similar bloody wars and committed atrocities to defend its empire, as shown in the massive overreaction in Kenya to the Mao Mao rebellion. Jeremy Black, in his history of the British Empire, also argues that support for the empire fell away from the 1970s onwards as British youth became far more interested in America. I think the automatic condemnation of British imperialism is wrong and one-sided. It’s also somewhat hypocritical, as the same people condemning the British Empire don’t condemn other brutal imperial regimes like the Ottomans. It’s also being used by various post-colonial regimes to shift attention and blame for their own failings. But all this doesn’t change the fact that some horrific things were done during the Empire, which politicians and historians have to deal with. Hence the shame, although in my view there should be a space for a middle position which condemns the atrocities and celebrates the positive.

Britain and Slavery

He then talks about how slavery is now identified solely with Black transatlantic servitude. But he argues that the White English can also claim slavery as part of their identity. He talks of the first mention of the English in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, when pope Gregory the Great saw some English children for sale in the slave market in Rome. Asking who such beautiful children were, he was told they were Angles. At which Gregory punned, ‘Non Anglii, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles but angels’. At the time of the Domesday Book 10 per cent of the English population were slaves. And the mob that tore down Colston’s statue in Bristol were unaware that the city had been exported English slaves over a millennium before. These were shipped to the Viking colonies in Ireland – Dublin, Wexford and other towns – from whence they were then trafficked internationally. Slavery existed long before Black transatlantic slavery. The first record we have of it is from 4000 years ago in the form of document from the Middle East recording the sale of slaves and pieces of land. While they weren’t aware of transatlantic slavery at school, they knew slavery existed through studying the Bible. The story of Joseph and his brothers, and the Israelites in Egypt. But slavery has now become identified exclusively with Black slavery and is part of the Black identity. It’s because we’re supposed to feel guilty about slavery and feel sorry for Blacks that Black people over overrepresented in adverts, on television dramas and even historical epics, such as the show about the Tudors where half the actors were Black.

Webb is right about slavery existing from ancient times. There are indeed documents from the ancient near eastern city of Mari in Mesopotamia recording the sale of slaves along with land and other property, as I’ve blogged about here. One of the problems the abolitionists faced was that slavery existed right across the world, and so their opponents argued that it was natural institution. They therefore also claimed that it was consequently unfair and disastrous for the government to abolish it in the British empire. He’s right about Pope Gregory and the English slaves, although the word ‘Angli’ refers to the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that settled and colonised England with the Saxons and Jutes after the fall of the Roman Empire. Angles in Anglo-Saxon were Englas, hence Engla-land – England, land of the Angles, and Englisc, English. Bristol did indeed export English slave to Ireland. Archbishop Wulfstan preached against it in the 11th century. We were still doing so in 1140, when visiting clergy from France were warned against going for dinner aboard the Irish ships in the harbour. These would lure people aboard with such promises, then slip anchor and take them to Ireland. The Irish Vikings also imported Black slaves. One chronicle reports the appearance of a consignment of blamenn, blue or black men in Old Norse, in Dublin. David Olasuga has also claimed that they imported 200 Blacks into Cumbria. Bristol’s export of White English slaves is mentioned in a display about it in the city’s M Shed Museum, which also contains the statue of Edward Colston. I do agree with Webb that there is a problem with popular attitudes towards slavery. Its presentation is one-sided, so that I don’t think many people are aware of it and its horrors outside the British Empire, nor how White Europeans were also enslaved by the Muslim Barbary pirates. I very strongly believe that this needs to be corrected.

Black Overrepresentation on TV

I don’t think it’s guilt over slavery alone that’s responsible for the large number of Black actors being cast on television, particularly the adverts. I think this is probably also due to commercial marketing, the need to appeal to international audiences and attempts to integrate Blacks by providing images of multiracial Britain. Many adverts are made for an international audience, and I think the use of Blacks has become a sort of visual shorthand for showing that the company commissioning the advert is a nice, anti-racist organisation, keen to sell to people of different colours across the world without prejudice. At home, it’s part of the promotion of diversity. Blacks are, or are perceived, as acutely alienated and persecuted, and so in order to combat racism the media has been keen to include them and present positive images of Black life and achievement. There are organisations dedicated to this task, such as the Creative Diversity Network, as well as systems that grade companies according to how they invest in multicultural enterprises, such as television and programmes with suitably racially diverse casts. Webb has himself talked about this. He’s also stated that Blacks are disproportionately represented on television, constituting only 6 per cent of the population but a very large proportion of actors in TV programmes and adverts. This might simply be because other, larger ethnic groups, such as Asians, aren’t so concerned with entering the entertainment industry and so aren’t represent to the same extent. Hence, Blacks sort of stand in for people of colour as a whole. As for adverts, I’ve also wondered if some of this might be purely commercial – a concern to sale to an emergent, affluent, Black market, perhaps. It also struck me that it might also be a make work programme. As I understand it, there are too many drama graduates for too few roles. This is particularly going to hit Blacks and other ethnic minorities because Britain at the moment is still a White majority country. There have consequently been demands for colour blind casting, as in Armando Iannucci’s recent film version of Oliver Twist. A year or so ago one Black actor announced that there should be more roles for Blacks or else they would go to America. As for the casting of a Black woman as Anne Boleyn, this seems to follow the theatre, where colour blind casting has existed for years. I think it also follows the tacit demand to create an image of the British past that conforms to modern multicultural society rather than how it really was. And some of it, I think, just comes from the feeling that as modern Blacks are as British as their White compatriots, so they should not be excluded from appearing as historical characters who were White. I think these considerations are just as likely, or more likely, to be the causes of the disproportionate number of Blacks appearing on camera than simply pity for them as the victims of slavery.

Blair Not Responsible for Mass Immigration

Now we come to his assertion that Blair was responsible for mass immigration. When he made this declaration, there were shouts, including one of ‘traitor’. I don’t believe that Blair was responsible for it, at least, not in the sense he means. The belief that he was, which is now widespread on the anti-immigrant right, comes from a single civil servant. This official claimed that Blair did so in order to change the ethnic composition of Britain and undermine the Tories. But did he really? This comes from a single individual, and without further corroboration, you can’t be sure. In fact Blair seems to have tried to cut down on immigration, particularly that of non-Whites. In order to dissuade people from coming here, he stopped immigrants from being able to apply for welfare benefits. The food banks now catering to native Brits were originally set up to feed those immigrants, who were no longer eligible for state aid. I also recall David Blunkett stating that they were going to cut down on immigration. The Guardian also accused Blair of racism over immigration. He had cut down on non-White immigration from outside Europe, while allowing White immigration from the EU and its new members in eastern Europe. The right had also been concerned about rising Black and Asian immigration for decades, and in the 1980s Tory papers like the Depress were publishing articles about unassimilable ethnic minorities. This started before Blair, and I don’t think he was deliberately responsible for it.

But I believe he was responsible for it in the sense that many of the migrants come from the countries Blair, Bush, Obama and Sarco destroyed or helped to destroy in the Middle East, such as Libya, Iraq and Syria. Blair had made some kind of deal with Colonel Gaddafy to keep migrants from further south in Libya, rather than crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. This was destroyed when Gaddafy’s regime was overthrown by Islamists. The result has been the enslavement of Black African migrants, and renewed waves of refugees from North Africa fleeing the country’s collapse.

He also stated that the industrial revolution, which was something else that was traditionally a source of pride, is now considered a cause for shame instead. Britain had been its birthplace and given its innovations to the rest of the world. However, we are now expected to be ashamed of it through its connection to slavery. The cotton woven in the Lancashire mills came from the American slave south, while sugar came from the slave colonies of the Caribbean. We’re also supposed to be ashamed of it because it’s the cause of climate change, for which we should pay reparations.

The Industrial Revolution and Climate Change

Okay, I’ve come across the claim that the industrial revolution was financed by profits from the slave trade and that it was based on the processing of slave produced goods. However, this is slightly different from condemning the industrial revolution as a whole. You can lament the fact that slavery was a part of this industrialisation, while celebrating the immense social, technological and industrial progress itself. After all, Marx states in the Communist Manifesto that it has rescued western society from rural idiocy. The demand that Britain should feel ashamed about the industrial revolution because of climate change comes from Greta Thunberg. It is, in my view, monumentally stupid and actually shows an ignorance of history. It’s based on an idealisation of pre-technological societies and an idealisation of rural communities. It’s a product of European romanticism, mixed with contemporary fears for the future of the planet. But the agrarian past was no rural idyll. People in the agricultural societies before the urbanisation of the 19th century had very utilitarian attitudes to the environment. It was a source of resources that could be used and exploited. The nostalgia for an idealised rural past came with the new generation of urban dwellers, who missed what they and their parents had enjoyed in the countryside. And rural life could be extremely hard. If you read economic histories of the Middle Ages and early modern period, famine is an ever present threat. It still was in the 19th century. The Irish potato famine is the probably the best known example in Ireland and Britain, but there were other instances of poverty, destitution and starvation across the UK and Europe. Industrialisation has allowed a far greater concentration of people to live than would have been possible under subsistence agriculture. Yes, I’m aware that overpopulation is a problem, that industrial pollution is harming the environment and contributing to the alarming declining in animal and plant species. But technological and science hopefully offer solutions to these problems as well. And I really don’t want to go back to a subsistence economy in which communities can be devastated by crop failure.

The call for climate reparations, I think, comes from Ed Miliband, and in my view it shows how out of touch and naive he is. I have no problem the Developed World giving aid to some of those countries threatened by climate change, such as the Pacific islands which are threatened with flooding due to the rise in sea levels. But some countries, I believe, are perfectly capable of doing so without western help. One of these is China, which also contributes massively to carbon emissions and which I believe has also called for the payment of climate reparations. China is an emerging economic superpower, and I see no reason why the west should pay for something that it’s doing and has the ability to tackle. I am also very sceptical whether such monies would be used for the purposes they’re donated. Corruption is a massive problem in the Developing World, and various nations have run scams to part First World donors and aid agencies from their money. When I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of these was a scheme for a hydroelectric dam in Pakistan. The Pakistani government was calling for western aid to finance the project. Britain refused, sensing a scam, for which we were criticised. Other countries happily gave millions, but the dam was never built. All a fraud. I suspect if climate reparations were paid, something similar would also happen with the aid money disappearing into kleptocrats’ pockets. There’s also the problem of where the tax burden for the payment of these reparations would fall. It probably wouldn’t be the rich, who have enjoyed generous tax cuts, but the British working class through indirect taxes. In short, it seems to me to be a colossally naive idea.

But these ideas don’t seem to be widespread. When he announced them, there were shouts from the audience to which Webb responded that it was coming, and they should wait a few years. Perhaps it will, but I’ve seen no enthusiasm or even much mention of them so far. They were mentioned during the COP 27 meeting, and that’s it. Thunberg’s still around, but after all these years I think she’s somewhat passe. At the moment I don’t think these ideas are issues.

Mass Immigration Not the Cause of NHS Crisis

Now let’s examine his statement that it’s due to immigration that the NHS is in the state it’s in. This is, quite simply, wrong. He correctly states that while Britain’s population has grown – London’s has nearly doubled and Leicester’s grown by 30 per cent – there has been no similar provision of medical services. No new hospitals have been built. As a result, where once you could simply walk into your doctor’s and expect to be seen, now you have to book an appointment. And when it comes to hospitals, it’s all the fault of immigrants. He talks about a specific hospital in London, and how the last time he was in that area, he was the only White Brit in the queue. This was because immigrants don’t have GPs, and so go to the hospital for every problem. We also have the problem of sick and disabled people from the developing world coming to the country for the better services we offer. A woman from the Sudan with a special needs child will therefore come here so that her child can have the treatment it wouldn’t get in the Sudan.

I dare say some of this analysis is correct. Britain’s population has grown largely due to immigration. One statistic released by a right-wing group said that immigration was responsible for 80 per cent of population growth. It’s probably correct, as Chambers Cyclopedia stated in its 1987 edition that British birthrates were falling and that it was immigration that was behind the rise in the UK population. I don’t know London at all, and I dare say that many of the immigrants there may well not have had doctors. I can also quite believe that some immigrants do come here for our medical care. There was a case a few weeks ago of a Nigerian woman, who got on a flight to London specifically so that she could have her children in a British hospital. I think this was a case of simple health tourism, which has gone on for years, rather than immigration.

But this overlooks the fact that the problems of the NHS has been down to successive Thatcherite regimes cutting state medical care in Britain all under the pretext of making savings and not raising taxes. Thatcher closed hospital wards. So did Tony Blair, when he wasn’t launching his PFI initiative. This was supposed to build more hospitals, but led to older hospitals being closed and any new hospitals built were smaller, fewer and more expensive. Cameron started off campaigning against hospital closures, and then, once he got his backside in No. 10, carried on with exactly the same policy. Boris Johnson claimed that he was going to build forty hospitals, which was, like nearly everything else the obese buffoon uttered, a flat lie. And Tweezer, Truss and Sunak are doing the same. Doctors surgeries have also suffered. Many of them have been sold off to private chains, which have maximised profits by closing down those surgeries that aren’t profitable. The result is that people have been and are being left without doctors. If you want an explanation why the NHS is in the state it is, blame Thatcher and her heirs, not immigrants.

Conclusion

While Webb has a point about the social and political manipulation of historical issues like the slave trade and the British Empire, these aren’t the reasons for the greater appearance of Black actors and presenters on television. Blair wasn’t responsible for mass immigration, and it’s underfunding and privatisation, not immigration, that’s responsible for the deplorable state of the health service. But he’s speaking to the wrong people there anyway, as the TBG would like to privatise it.

I am not saying it is wrong to discuss these issues, but it is wrong to support a bunch of Nazis like the TBG, who will exploit them to recreate all the social inequality, poverty and deprivation of pre-modern Britain.

Sketch of Businessman and Comic Actor and Host Kenneth Horne

December 5, 2022

Here’s another sketch of one of my favourite comedy figures from the past, Kenneth Horne. Horne’s Wikipedia entry is rather long, but the potted biography with which it begins runs

Charles Kenneth Horne, generally known as Kenneth Horne, (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman. He is perhaps best remembered for his work on three BBC Radio series: Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (1944–54), Beyond Our Ken (1958–64) and Round the Horne (1965–68).

The son of a clergyman who was also a politician, Horne had a burgeoning business career with Triplex Safety Glass, which was interrupted by service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. While serving in a barrage balloon unit, he was asked to broadcast as a quizmaster on the BBC radio show Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer. The experience brought him into contact with the more established entertainer Richard Murdoch, and the two wrote and starred in the comedy series Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. After demobilisation Horne returned to his business career and kept his broadcasting as a sideline. His career in industry flourished, and he later became the chairman and managing director of toy manufacturers Chad Valley.

In 1958 Horne suffered a stroke and gave up his business dealings to focus on his entertainment work. He was the anchor figure in Beyond Our Ken, which also featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. When the programme came to an end in 1964, the same cast recorded four series of the comedy Round the Horne.

Before the planned fifth series of Round the Horne began recording, Horne died of a heart attack while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers’ and Directors’ Awards; Round the Horne could not continue without him and was withdrawn. The series has been regularly re-broadcast since his death. A 2002 BBC radio survey to find listeners’ favourite British comedian placed Horne third, behind Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan.’

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Horne

I came across Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne when the Beeb repeated them on the Sunday midday slot, Smash of the Day, in the early 1980s, and it’s been one of my favourite radio shows since. It had a bizarre cast of characters, such as the folk singer Ramblin’ Sid Rumpo and his ganderbag, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, a breathy bloke who was supposedly always writing into the programme. Gruntfuttock had strange delusions, at one point declaring himself ‘Dictator Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia’, which was his house. Other characters included a deranged, demi-literate American film director, Daryl F. Claphanger, who had missed out on making blockbusters by producing films like Nanook of the South. The show also spoofed contemporary radio, television and films. There was the ‘Kenneth Horne Theatre of Mystery and Suspense’ while the Fu Manchu films were sent up in the tales of the crazy plots of Dr Chu-En Ginsberg, M.A., (failed). But most memorable of all was the ‘Trends’ feature with Julian and Sandy, who ran ‘Bona – ‘ whatever the subject was that day. The two were extremely camp and spoke in Polari, a language used by the gay community. Each edition, Horne would go to their new shop or business venture to inquire about their business. They’d greet him in raptures with cries of ‘Oh, Mr Horne! How bona it is to barda your dolly old eke again! Bona! Bona!’ Which, translated means, ‘How good it is to see your old face again.’ Polari wasn’t just used by gay men. It was also the language of actors and carnival showmen, according to Partridge’s Dictionary of Historical Slang. It’s used as such by an alien showman, who attempts to speak to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in it, in the Dr Who serial ‘Carnival of Monsters’. You could, therefore, see them as just two resting actors being very ‘theatrical’. In fact, it was very clear they were gay, and at times the programme almost told you, if you understand Polari. Ramblin’ Sid in the preface to one of his songs said that its hero was ‘an omee palone’. Omee means man, palone, woman. Omee palone, ‘man woman’, meant gay man. This must have been quite edgy humour for the time, as when the shows were broadcast homosexuality was still illegal. On one TV show looking back at the comedy shows of the past, one of the talking heads said that the older generation were always suspicious of it, and especially of what was being said in Polari. And no doubt with good reason. Previously the BBC had forbidden jokes about the religion, the monarchy, disability, the colour question and effeminacy in men. Times were changing in the 1960s and so all these prohibitions were eventually discarded.

Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, were immensely popular. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find a number of videos of them, and they made two records, Round the Horne: The Complete Julian and Sandy, and The Bona World of Julian and Sandy. Long after the series had been originally broadcast, the two characters, played by Williams and Paddick, appeared on Terry Wogan in the 1980s. I did wonder if the two were now hated by the gay community as malign stereotypes, in the same way that John Inman’s Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? was bitterly resented by American gays when that show was broadcast in San Francisco in the 1970s. But it seems it isn’t. A year or so ago London Transport or the London Underground celebrated gay pride by putting up posters of the Polari greeting around the city.

Horne himself was a genial host, who was himself the butt of the programme’s jokes. One such ran, ‘And now the question of the week is: what was I doing naked in Trafalgar fountain at such and such a time last weekend? Answers to my lawyers please.’ Williams had aspirations to perform in better or my highbrow material than the parts he got, but always respected Horne even if he was withering in his views of the programme itself.

The series also came from a time when it was still possible to write solely for the radio, or to start off on radio and move to television. Such writers have lamented that due to the rise of television and other media, this is no longer possible. Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken are, as far as I know, all on CD, and there are a number of episodes on YouTube. In 2003 there was a play about the show, Round the Horne, Revisited, which is also on YouTube.

Sketch of Children’s TV Presenter Brian Cant

December 2, 2022

This is the first of a number of sketches and pieces I’m planning to put up about some of the presenters of the children’s TV programmes I used to watch in the 70s. Cant was the lead presenter on Play Away, a sister programme of the long-running children’s TV favourite, Play School, on which Cant had also appeared, but aimed at slightly older children. Play Away was also more of an ensemble programme with a whole team accompanying Cant. There was somebody Cohen at the piano, and a number of other co-presenters, some of whom I’ve now forgotten. I think one of them was Toni Arthur, who I’ve since learned was a folk musician and the author of a book on seasonal customs for children, the All The Year Round Book. One of the presenters I do remember was Jeremy Irons, who has gone on to become a Hollywood star. I was really surprised in the ’90s when I read that he was playing the lead characters in David Cronenberg’s psychological horror film Dead Ringers. This was about a pair of twin gynaecologists, one of whom goes insane and believes that the women he’s treating are all mutants. The film includes a credit to H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist who designed the Alien in those movies, for designing ‘radical surgical instruments’. It’s as far from Play Away as you can get and is a reminder that the cast of such programmes are actors, who also take adult roles. Somebody must have seen Irons in Play Away and recognised his potential.

Cant was also the narrator for three interlinked children’s series, Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green each set in one of these small fictional towns. These were animated series using small figurines and were similar in style, using the same type of figures and music. Trumpton started off with Cant announcing, ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time for Trumpton.’ The various characters also had their own theme songs. One of the characters, whose figure I’ve drawn being looked at by Cant, was Windy Miller. Miller appropriately enough lived in a windmill. His song began, ‘Windy Miller, Windy Miller, sharper than a thorn’. The theme song for the local fire brigade began with a rollcall of their names, ‘Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.’ The railway also had its own song with the words, ‘Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train as you ride on the footplate there and back again.’ These shows have developed a cult following. In the 1980s the band Half Man Half Biscuit released a record Trumpton Riots, about what would happen if Trumpton had a riot. According to rumour, it parodied the train song with the words ‘Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train, as you ride on the footplate with a cargo of cocaine’. You can find videos of ‘Trumpton Riots’ on YouTube, including the lyrics. These words don’t seem to appear, but perhaps they’re on another song with a similar theme. Half Man Half Biscuit, as their name suggests, had a peculiar sense of humour. One of their other songs was ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit’. This was just before Communism fell, when there were far fewer people from eastern Europe in Britain, who might genuinely want such a football kit for their collection.

The series’ visual style has also influenced pop video producers. One of the series began, if I recall correctly, with one of the characters spiralling up out of an opened music box. Something similar occurs in the Ting Tings’ video for ‘That’s Not My Name’, where the two leads seem to spiral up into view from something off camera below them. The producers of another pop video for a song with the delightful name ‘Burn The Witch’, deliberately based its style on the three children’s series. He also appeared in a pop video for Orbital’s The Altogether in a sequence which was similar to Play School, the children’s TV programme that preceded Play Away and in which Cant also appeared as a presenter. He also appeared in a number of other programmes and theatrical productions. Wikipedia notes that Cant won a poll as the best-loved voice from children’s TV in 2007, and three years later in 2010 he won a special award at the BAFTAs for his work in children’s television. Accepting it, Cant said: “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, and they paid me for it.”

For further information, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cant

I found this rendition of the Play Away theme with a still of its cast on Bobby Gathergood’s channel on YouTube.

I found this video of Trumpton’s opening titles on the It’s Sam! channel on YouTube:

Sketch of One of Ken Dodd’s Diddimen

December 2, 2022

One of the sketches I put up a few days ago was of veteran funny man Ken Dodd. But Ken Dodd wasn’t just known for his jokes, but for another set of puppet characters – the Diddimen. I think they took their name from the colloquialism ‘diddy’, meaning small. Terry Wogan used to refer to one of his fellow radio hosts as ‘diddy David Hamilton. They were designed by Dodd’s mother, who helped and encouraged him with his comedy. They were immensely popular but are also quite far back in Dodd’s career. I can just about remember them from when I was very small. They lived in Knotty Ash, actually a suburb of Liverpool but in Dodd’s imagination a land of wonder and magic. They used to have a song, ‘We Are the Diddymen’. In the show I remember, the world was square and there were ships sailing about on its different sides. I’ve been told by my parents, however, that when I was very small, they terrified me, while I was immune to the Daleks’ attempts to spread enjoyable fear among the children of Britain. Perhaps I wasn’t alone, either, as while Dodd continued on our screens, the Diddimen vanished. In their last appearance that I remember, they were played by children in makeup rather than puppets. I also seem to recall that one of the puppets was stolen a while ago, and Dodd appealed for its return. It was later found on a rubbish dump. They were colourful characters, so I’ve drawn them in colour as another experiment.

And here’s a video I found on Rikkyhardo’s channel on YouTube. It’s of a recording of the Diddimen singing their song, accompanied by pictures of them with Dodd, and on merchandising such as children’s annuals, stills from various shows, and mugs.

Sketch of Children’s TV Star Basil Brush

December 2, 2022

We’re now entering the world of children’s TV puppet characters. These have existed since before television. As some of the great commenters on this blog recall, there was Archie Andrews on the radio way back in the 1940s/50s. Andrews was a ventriloquist’s dummy and had his own series, Educating Archie. Following him there was Muffin the Mule and a plethora of other puppet series and characters, including the might Magic Roundabout. But Basil Brush was one of the towering figures of children’s entertainment. I’m sure there are theses to be written about him and his relation to the British class system. Brush appeared, nattily attired, in aristocratic tweeds, but was mischievously anarchistic towards his co-presenters. His shows were co-hosted by another human, such as Rodney Bewes of Likely Lads fame, who would then have to endure Brush’s jokes and wisecracking. The co-host would be formally addressed as Mr, so that Rodney Bewes was called by Brush ‘Mr Rodney’. At one point, the unfortunate person would have to read a story, during which Brush would interrupt with more jokes and wisecracks. They would then struggle to continue, with Brush urging them with cries of ‘Yes, yes, Mr Rodney’ or whoever, but still interrupt. This carried on until the poor soul was almost reduced to a wreck. I remember a sequence in which Bewes was supposed to be reading a science fiction story. One of the characters was called Zip Fastener, whose name was answered by Brush saying, ‘There are no flies on him.’ I think there may also have been a puppet dog. When this creature tried to get its voice heard, it was often answered by Brush telling it to shut its bone chute. After making a particularly good joke, Brush would cry, ‘Boom! Boom!’ and bang his head against his human co-host’s stomach. I’ve no doubt that a quick search on Google will turn up the name of Brush’s creator and puppeteer, but for a very long time he refused to be credited. This is because he wanted Brush to be character in his own right. He succeeded splendidly. And when Brush was travelling, such as for a stage appearance, he was carried in his own special box.

His creator died a few decades ago, and Brush had been retired like the other puppet characters before him. But his popularity was so great that he was revived for a new generation of children. This time his companions included a repentant fox hound. I think he’s still going. Quickly looking through YouTube I found he’s done music videos, as well as appeared on the satirical comedy, The Last Leg, commenting on the election of Donald Trump. And there certainly have been DVDs of the new series.

Here’s the video of his jokes about Trump from The Last Leg’s channel on YouTube.

Sketch of Ventriloquist Ray Alan and his Character, Lord Charles

November 30, 2022

I’ve been doing a bit more sketching of past comedy acts and comic actors, and one of these was of the late ventriloquist Ray Alan and his dummy, Lord Charles. Charles was a true-blue member of the aristocracy, making sharp wisecracks and retorts. He’d pointedly comment on himself or somebody else after they’d done something he thought stupid that they were ‘a silly ass’. Looking back in retrospect, he also seems to me now to have been slightly squiffy. That’s the character, of course, not Alan himself. The two are one of my favourite ventriloquist acts. I never got on with Keith Harris and his cast of characters, Orville, the green duck in a nappy that couldn’t fly, Cuddles the monkey and so on. It was all much too sentimental for me. But there was none of that with Alan and Lord Charles.

According to Wikipedia, Alan began his showbusiness career very young. He entered a talent contest at his local Gaumont cinema in Lewisham when he was five. When he was thirteen, he got a job as a call boy at the town’s Hippodrome theatre and started performing magic tricks during acts. He then added ventriloquism and playing the ukulele. He later toured the world as a cabaret act, performing with Laurel and Hardy in 1954. Lord Charles made his debut in a charity performance at Wormwood Scrubs prison and the doll’s appearance was based on Stan Laurel. Like many of the other acts I’ve drawn, Alan made his first TV appearance in the 1960s on The Good Old Days and returned to the programme several times subsequently. It was also in the 1960s he appeared on the children’s TV programme Tich and Quackers, about a small boy, Tich, and Quackers, his pet duck. Alan also a created another character, Ali Cat, for the 1977 ITV series Magic Circle. He also presented the BBC Ice Show for two years. He also appeared as a guest on the comedy series, Tell Me Another, which ran from 1976 to 1978, with Sooty on The Sooty Show in the 1983 episode, ‘Soo’s Party Problem’. The next year he appeared on Mike Reid’s Mates and Music. In 1985 he appeared as the special guest in Bob Hope’s birthday performance at London’s Lyric Theatre. The next year he presented a Channel 4 series on ventriloquism appropriately called A Gottle of Geer., which he also wrote. He also appeared on Bobby Davro’s TV Weekly in 1987. He also wrote for other comedians, including Tony Hancock, Dave Allen, Morecambe and Wise and Bootsie and Snudge, and the 1985 programme, And There’s More, which starred Jimmy Cricket. This was often under the pseudonym Ray Whyberd. He was still working well into seventies, including at conferences and corporate events, and in 1998/99 he was one of the acts entertaining the guests on the luxury liner the QE2. Ill health forced him to take a break from recording, but he never ruled out returning to it. His last appearance on stage with in 2008 at a charity concert in Bridlington organised by his friend, the MP Greg Knight.

He also made numerous appearances on panel and game shows. He was the host of Where in the World and the children’s quiz, It’s Your Word. He also appeared on Celebrity Squares, Give Us A Clue, Family Fortunes, 3-2-1, and Bullseye. He was also a guest on the Bob Monkhouse Show, the Des O’Connor Show and Blue Peter. On the radio he was a guest on Radio 2’s The Impressionists from 1974-5 and was its host from 1980 to 1988. In the 1970s he made four appearances on the long-running Radio 4 panel game, Just A Minute, and presented the edition of the News Huddlines, also on Radio 4 on 29th October 1975.

Apart from his stage, screen and radio appearances Alan was also a literary man. From their titles, I think they were thrillers – Death and Deception (2007) A Game of Murder (2008), and Retribution, published in 2011 after his death. They were all published by Robert Hale. The year previously, 2010, his novel Fear of Vengeance had been published by F.A. Thorpe. He wasn’t the only comedian with literary aspirations. Way back in the 1980s I came across an SF novel about genetic engineering in one of the local bookshops in Bristol by Les Dawson. I didn’t buy it, partly because I wondered if it really was that Les Dawson. But it was, and I now regret it, as it would have been interesting to read his views on the subject.

Sketch of Comedienne and Cabaret Singer Marti Caine

November 27, 2022

As you can see, I’ve tried to experiment by drawing her with coloured pencils. I hope you enjoy it.

Marti Caine is another performer I dimly remember from childhood. According to her Wikipedia page, she started performing when she was 19 after auditioning at the local working men’s club in the Sheffield suburb of Chapeltown in order to get the £19 to pay her mother’s funeral expenses. Her real name was Lynne Denise Shepherd, but her stage name was chosen for her by her husband from gardening catalogue. It was originally Marta Caine, after tomato cane, but the first name was misspelled ‘Marti’ and she stuck with it. She performed on the Yorkshire club circuit before winning New Faces in 1975. This brought her more appearance on TV, including her own show, Marti Caine. She returned to New Faces as the show’s host in the 1980s. She also starred in the sitcom, Hilary, which was specially written for her and ran from 1984-6. In that year she starred in her own one-woman show about her life at the Donmar Warehouse, where she performed 14 songs about her experiences. She also starred in a production of Funny Girl, which toured the UK.

From the Wikipedia entry it seems she saw herself first and foremost as a singer and dancer and released several records. But this was overshadowed by her role as a comedienne. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of performing at Sun City, breaking a campaign against performing there by the UN and other international performers. The boycott was against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Caine denied that she was racist and spoke of the work she had done for and with the Black community. She said she had a number of records by Stevie Wonder. She also performed a medley as a tribute to Gladys Knight on her first studio LP. She died in 1995 of lymphatic cancer. She had published her autobiography, A Coward’s Chronicles, four years before in 1991. She gave it its title to rebut the image of her as heroic and courageous. She said that ‘You fought for dear life because you were too coward to face death.’ She was also a great fan of modern art. Mick Farrell’s sculpture, Sheen, which is also frequently called Marti, is dedicated to her. She was due to unveil it, but two weeks before she could so. It was commissioned by Sheffield Hallam University and is in the university’s Arundel Gate.

Wikipedia also states that the film, Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake as a troubled northern comedienne, was based on her.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marti_Caine

I can just about remember her show as a stand-up comic. I thought I’d draw her and put up a piece about her as, although there have always been great comic actresses, she was part of a new wave of female comics along with Victoria Wood.

Three More Heroes of Comedy Sketched – Alan Coren, John Wells and Roy Hudd

November 24, 2022

Here’s another three sketches of some of the people I consider to be great comedy talents – the satirist Alan Coren, and the actors John Wells and Roy Hudd.

I’m not quite satisfied with the picture of Alan Coren, as he really wasn’t jowly or fat in the lower face. But I do think he is one of this country’s greatest comic writers of the 20th century. He was for many years the editor of Punch, and just about the only reason in its last years to read the magazine. Coren’s method was to take a ridiculous story from one of the papers, and then write a ridiculous piece about it. Thus, a story about a ‘sexy actress’ missing her pet tortoise turned into a tale of the said reptile making an excruciatingly slow bid for freedom before finally getting caught. The beginning of package holidays to Spain with booze included turned into a tale of a totally blotto bloke trying to write back home. 1984 is rewritten as if it was about 70s Britain, where nothing works. The press runs headlines like ‘Come Off It, Big Brother’, the Youth Spy is annoying brat who shouts to its mother that Winston Smith has a lady friend, and Room 101 isn’t really terrifying because due to supply problems they can’t get a rat. They offer Smith a hamster instead, but he isn’t afraid of them and annoys them by telling them so. They inflict the hamster on him anyway, and he has to pretend to be frightened. Coren has been accused of racism because of a series of pieces, The Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, and More of the Collected Speeches of Idi Amin, in which he depicted the thug using the stereotypical Black pidgin English. I dare say it is racist, but as it’s directed at a brutal torturer and mass murderer, I honestly don’t care. Amin deserved far worse, and I don’t see Coren as personally racist.

At the same time as he was editing it, Coren also appeared as one of the contestants on Radio 4’s News Quiz, facing Richard Ingrams and Ian Hislop on the opposing side representing Private Eye. I read Private Eye now, but back then I far preferred Punch, which seemed more genteel and funny without being vicious. Punch died the journalistic death after Coren left it to edit the Radio Times, but he still continued to appear on the News Quiz until his sad death in the early ’90s. He eventually stopped editing the Radio Times and took up writing a column in the Times giving his humorous view of life in Cricklewood. These pieces are funny, but the really good stuff was earlier in Punch.

His pieces were collected in a number of books, some of which had deliberately bizarre names. In an interview on Pebble Mill he revealed how one of them got its particularly striking name. He rang up W.H. Smith to ask them what their bestselling books were about. They told him, ‘Cats’. He then asked them what their second bestselling books were about. ‘Golf’, they replied. He then asked them what the third most popular books they sold were about. They told him it was the Second World War. So, he called it Golfing for Cats and stuck a swastika on the cover. For his next book, he contacted them again and asked them what the most popular product they sold was. They told him it was tissues for men, so that’s what he called it.

Coren’s humour was distinctive – it was dry, but also slightly silly. Answering a question on the News Quiz about one of the members of Thatcher’s cabinet, he replied, ‘Oh – this is the ministry of Gummer’. A question about Prince Philip on an edition of the show in Edinburgh prompted him to reply, ‘This is the patron of this fair city, Zorba the Scot’. When the Tory election broadcast for the 1987 general election showed Spitfires and other World War II planes zooming about, Coren remarked that it was the Royal Conservative Airforce and pointed out that when the servicemen came back from the War, they all voted Labour. He’s been succeeded as broadcaster by his daughter, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who is genuinely erudite and intelligent, and his son, Giles, who is a right-wing snob, and who made a sneering comment about people in council houses. Although Coren edited the patrician and eminently establishment Punch, he himself was a former grammar school lad, and there was a bit of class friction in the News Quiz between himself and the genuinely upper-class team from the downmarket Private Eye. I stopped listening to the News Quiz a long time ago because I got sick of the anti-religious sneers when Sandi Tokvig was chairing it and didn’t agree with many of the views of the panellists, who seemed to be stuck in the London bubble with a contempt for the rest of the country. Previous series are available on DVD, however, and they are well worth listening to, not least because of Coren. A great comic wit, sadly missed.

John Wells. He was one of the Private Eye team and was as patrician and establishment as the people that magazine skewered. He was the headmaster and French teacher at Eton. He was also one of the writers of the Dear Bill diaries in the Eye, which were supposed to be the letters of Dennis Thatcher to Bill Deedes, one of the writers in the Times. The book’s hilariously funny, especially when it describes Keith Joseph getting egged everywhere, but no-one can work out why it’s only him that does. Other highlights include him visiting the old folk’s home in which Ted Heath and Harold Macmillan are respectively housed, with Heath hating and ranting about Thatcher while Macmillan still hates and rants about Heath. As with Bentine and the Bumblies, this work of fiction excited the interest of the security people, who asked Wells where he got his information from. Wells replied that he just made it up, and he wasn’t getting any information from anyone. ‘Thank heaven for that,’ the rozzers replied, ‘We thought there’d been a leak.’ Wells had got the tone of Dennis Thatcher’s speech and mindset exactly right, in my opinion. He also appeared as Thatcher’s husband in the farce Anyone for Dennis?, which I can remember being put on TV. There’s a piece of very Cold War humour there, when the Russian ambassador fears that a nuclear war is imminent and talks about the brave Soviet soldiers with their eyes fixed on the last dawn, before collapsing with relief when he finds out that he’s mistaken.

Wells also appeared as a guest on a number of TV shows, including Lovejoy, and the radio shows The News Quiz and Tales of the Mausoleum Club. He had a camp manner, which he knew how to use for great comic effect. For example, when the teams were answering a question about the controversial portrait of the royal family that showed them all nude, he remarked that it was glad one royal was absent because ‘that would have been really gristly’. A question about the romantic novelist Barbara Cartland prompted him to describe her as a woman, who wrote covered in small, white dogs. Tales from the Mausoleum Club was a series of parodies of Victorian classic literature. One of these was a spoof of Treasure Island, ‘Trevor Island’, in which a gang of pirates go after the treasure buried on the island of Tombola. Wells played the pirate’s camp captain, who at one point remarked, ‘Oh damn, I’ve snapped my second-best bra!’

Roy Hudd. He was on TV quite a bit in the early 70s only to subsequently vanish. I can remember him from when I was at junior school presenting an afternoon programme for the elderly. While he vanished from TV, he carried on broadcasting on the radio, where he was the star of the satirical News Huddlines on Radio 2 with June Whitfield. He also appeared from time to time on other programmes, including as an astral seaside entertainer playing the Wurlitzer on the Reeves and Mortimer revamp of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I’m including him here as he was also an expert on the Music Hall. Back in the 1980s he appeared on a Radio 4 programme about the original Peaky Blinders, who were so notorious that they even wrote Music Hall songs about them. The one he performed was about how they could drink a brewery dry. Away from such elevated matters, he also apparently appeared as the Litterbug in the 1970s public information film against littering.

Sketches of Another Three British Comedy Heroes

November 22, 2022

Here are three more pictures of British comedy legends of a certain era for your enjoyment: Ken Dodd, Tony Hancock and Michael Bentine.

Ken Dodd is also remembered for the Diddymen from Knotty Ash, which I think was the suburb of Liverpool where he came from. I can remember him being on television with them when I was very young. They were originally puppets, but I can remember a later programme in which they were played by children in a musical number. Dodd was a real trouper, carrying on performing right to the end of his life. He was also notorious for running well over time. I heard at one performance in Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside town just south of Bristol, he carried on performing so long after he was supposed to have ended that the janitor threw the keys onto the stage. As well as the Diddymen his act also involved his notorious Tickling Stick. It was years before I realised it was an ordinary duster and you could get them in Woolworths.

He ran afoul of the taxman in the late 80s/ 90s, and I’ve heard two versions of that story. One is that he really was dodging taxes and had all the money he owed the Inland Revenue hidden in boxes in his attic. This was supposed to be because he had a very poor childhood and that had made him reluctant to part with money. The other version I heard was that he sent it all to the taxman, as demanded, but didn’t say which department and so it just got lost. His problems with the taxman was at just about the same time the jockey Lester Pigott also got caught not paying it. This resulted in a postcard I found in Forever People in Bristol showing Ken Dodd and Pigott on stage in pantomime. Pigott was riding a pantomime horse, while down from the sky was a giant hand pointng at them, saying ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell undeclared income!’

Although he’s been off the TV for years now, there are still DVDs of his performances, particularly the Audience he did on ITV. And way back in the 90s I also found a tape of him telling jokes. Since his heyday in the ’70s, comedy has become far more observational, but his jokes were still funny. One I remember went, ‘What a day, what a day, missus, for going to Trafalgar Square and throwing white paint over the pigeons shouting, ‘Hah! See how you like it!’

Tony Hancock – what can you say? He truly is a British comedy legend. He’s been called a genius, though one critic said that his genius really consisted in performing the scripts written by Galton and Simpson. Even so, they were absolute classics of British comedy and a couple of them, The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor, really are comedy classics. On the radio he was supported by a cast of brilliant actors – Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques. This was cut down to Sid James when the series was transferred to TV, and then even further until Hancock became the sole regular character. His series were on record – I used to listen to them when I was at school and are also on DVD. He also made a series, not written by Galton and Simpson, when he was in Australia. That’s also available, I think, though I deliberately avoided watching it. It may just be prejudice, but I didn’t think it could ever be a patch on Galton and Simpson’s scripts.

Paul Merton, who seems to have given up performing comedy for appearing on panel shows, is a massive Hancock fan. A few years ago, he performed as Hancock in a series of remakes of classic Hancock episodes. I deliberately didn’t watch them, because with remakes I find that it doesn’t matter how good the actors are, you’re always comparing them with the original stars, and they just can’t compete. One of the cable/ satellite channels a few years back tried to remake Yes, Minister with a different cast. This flopped. I think it may have been that the audience it was aimed simply far preferred to see repeats of the original series with Paul Eddington and co. As well as TV, he also appeared in a number of films, such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and starred in two: The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man. The Punch and Judy Man, in which he plays that character in a seaside resort, is supposed to be the better film, but I prefer The Rebel. In this movie he plays an office clerk, who gives it up to become a painter in Paris. He’s a failure but becomes a celebrity artist after passing off a friend’s paintings as his own. It all comes crashing down when he’s invited aboard a millionaire’s yacht and the man’s wife wants to run off with him, just as he’s run out of the other fellow’s paintings to sell. Again, he has an excellent supporting cast, including John Le Mesurier as his exasperated boss and Irene Handl as his landlady, outraged at the nudity of his sculpture ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’. It’s also on DVD, and I think it’s brilliant.

Michael Bentine – another great actor and writer. He was, as I’m sure many people reading this well know, a member of the Goons, whom he left quite early on. He also had a number of his own series, including Square World and the one I remember, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. This featured small ‘Potty’ puppets acting out various historical events, like the Battle of Waterloo. He had a similar puppet series, the Bumblies, which got MI5 interested in him. The Bumblies were puppets, but they were supposed to be operated by remote control. This would have been quite an advance at the time, as radio control was impossible because it interfered with the cameras and other equipment. According to Bentine, he left his house and got on the bus to go to work as usual one morning when he was met by someone from the security services, who asked him to follow him upstairs for a little chat. He wanted to know how the Bumblies worked. Bentine explained that they were puppets and not radio controlled at all. ‘Oh thank God!’ said the Man from the Ministry, ‘we thought you were going to defect!’ That gave Bentine the vision of Bumby Six hurtling towards Russia on a missile.

He was also very much into the paranormal, following his father, an engineer who was keenly interested in psychical research. Like the other Goons, he also fought in the Second World War, though he was a member of a bomber crew in the RAF. He was deeply anti-Fascist, and strongly believed that the Nazis had come to power through real black magic. In the 90s he toured the country with his one-man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal. I and a few friends went to see him when it came to Bristol. He was a hilarious raconteur, especially when describing how the army chased him round Britain to get him to join up when he was touring in repertory theatre. Wherever they were playing, his name was naturally on the cast list. When he asked the army, why they had ignored the posters for the theatre company when they finally caught up with him, they replied that they thought it was a ruse! During the performance he also demonstrated the power of the Nazis use of light and sound to mesmerise their audience. He described the Nuremberg rallies and the way it would start with the great searchlights blazing up into the sky as a ‘temple of light’. Then the drumbeats would start up, performed by the Hitler Youth, the twisted version of the boy scouts, and the soldiers and Nazis would start chanting ‘Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!’ He repeated this, getting louder each time, and the lighting in the theatre dropped. The atmosphere immediately changed, became far more sinister. Then he snapped out of it, and said, ‘Sorry to scare the sh*t out of you.’ A friend of mine told me later that wasn’t the reason he cut that bit short. He reckoned it was because some people were responding to it in the way the Nazis intended. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed the pair in one of the boxes who were nearly out of their seats giving the salute. He was very critical of the power of television and the way it could be used for propaganda and mass brainwashing and urged people to complain if they saw anything they found offensive.

I think he was also very scientifically interested and literate. He appeared a long time ago on the Beeb’s popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, presenting his own scheme for turning the Amazon jungle into productive farmland. And then there was the flea circus. This was entirely mechanical but was supposed to be worked by fleas performing high dives and so on. He was interviewed by Wogan when the dulcet-toned Irishman took over from Parkinson back in the 1980s. He told the broadcasting legend that he’d been stopped by customs when he tried to take it into America. The customs officer thought that he was bringing real fleas into the country. And so Bentine had to show him the entire act in order to convince him that it was, indeed, mechanical.

From the Sublime to the Paranormal was broadcast on the radio back in the ’90s. I don’t know whether it’s available on CD or on YouTube. He also wrote his autobiography and two books on spiritualism and the paranormal, The Door Marked Summer and Doors of the Mind. He was truly another great titan of British comedy.