18 October 2008

Not for sale to children



I hope I'm not revealing too much when I say that recently, when I had cause to kip on his settee after a substantial ale and radio nerd session, I noticed that Alex Lester reads Viz.

Now, it's not his only reading matter, I should add with haste. Magazines are scattered around his London flat's spacious drawing room of varying highbrow topics, including cars, property, finance, cinema and music. No sport ones, obviously. Fortunately, he didn't spoil it by adding the Guardian. But if he ran a high-class beauty salon, he'd have the waiting area's organ range sewn up.

But Viz? I stopped reading Viz a while back because my sub-conscious told me I probably should. And yet Alex, who he won't mind me admitting on his behalf has a biological generation on me, is still reading it.

Do you still read it?

I was as avid a reader as anyone for years. I first purchased it when I was 16 (back in the days when buying Viz was akin to buying the Sunday Sport for the first time) and probably continued until I was 30, possibly longer. Even the youth with spectacles, a Grade 8 in viola and extra starchiness within the underwear department would have found Viz funny.

I purchased a Spoilt Bastard T-shirt and wore it to work at the pizza takeaway where I made a few quid three nights a week. My employer sent me home to change.

I tried to wear a Roger Mellie T-shirt (complete with 'Bollocks' catchphrase, natch) prior to a sixth form trip to York University's Open Day. My head of sixth form, a man both myself and my parents detested, sent me home to change. This one annoyed me, as Warren Draper regularly wore a Johnny Fartpants T-shirt to school and no-one batted an eyelid.

I loved the subtleties of Viz. The way they put a certain character on the front page but, because of restrictions over expletives being disallowed from front covers, felt the need to spoonerise his name. Hence the main drawing was of a chap called Wockney Canker.

The merciless ribbing of celebs, the type where Keith Chegwin got the joke and spoofed his own shock but Anne Diamond and others didn't. I don't know what Ben Elton's reaction was when Viz did a straight exposé of his secret life as a pornographic actor, but the story was made for me by the crude, deliberately shoddy grafting of his grinning head on to the body of a porn performer in the act.

As for the strips, well beyond the A-listers I always thought Mr Logic and Spawny Get were always well written and underrated characters. I never quite got the point of Black Bag or Gilbert Ratchet.

There were, of course, numerous one-off strips, and here we get to my favourite ever Viz moment. The character was called Shirker Bee, and essentially he was a bee among millions of workers, in a regular hive, who wouldn't do any work - feigning illness, quoting contract terms, using union regulations, making militant threats, anything to avoid doing his job. It was in a 1998 issue (I only know this as I remember the lass I was seeing at the time reading it too) and it remains one of the funniest things I have ever read.

It's odd that despite being of a humour which is clearly not going to appeal to everyone, Viz has now entered the establishment as the respected wing of the adult comic fraternity. Chris Donald et al have done the rounds of talk shows, clip shows and tribute documentaries. When they satirised the frightful Trinny and Susannah as school bullies, brilliantly, and the humourless pair threatened to sue, Donald's official response to the media was: "We're too busy laughing to comment."

Maybe that's why I don't buy Viz any more. As a teenager, it was a semi-rebellious thing to do (my mum never read it; had she done so she'd have baulked more than she would have done if a copy of Club International had been lying round in my room) but now it's no longer daring, and hasn't been for years. Yet Alex, a man who has made a point of never growing up completely, enjoys a lazy laugh at Sid The Sexist to this day.

17 October 2008

"Coffee and toast, you're back from the dead..."



As ever, I was looking for something this morning and got distracted entirely by finding something else in the process. A blank tape of some old show was what I wanted, but when my tape copy of Big Bang!, the Fuzzbox album of 1989, showed itself, I suddenly became 16 again. I haven't bothered resuming my search for the other tape.

Fuzzbox were ace. Excellent, in fact. You should agree with me right now, as I am right and it will make reading this entry much easier for you. All that XX Sex, we-can't-play-and-don't-care, faux-Goth garbage was usurped by an album which was brimmed with musicianship and wit. And, as a 16 year old lad of reassuringly normal hormonal imbalances, they were most welcome on the eye.

Big Bang!
was a fine album, for the sort of audience it targetted and the state of British pop at the time. There were big guitar bits (Self!), dotty synth-based nonsenses (International Rescue), mad cover versions (Walking On Thin Ice), subtle samples (Versatile For Discos And Parties using Slave To The Rhythm) plus some real double-take moments, such as the semi-operatic Irish Bride. I doubt Vicki Thingy, the ultra-sultry singer, has ever been required to sing like that before or since.

The album represented their only period in the spotlight, during which time they proved they were dreadful mimers on telly, accepted they didn't take themselves remotely seriously and forever seemed to slag off Gloria Estefan. Vicki's facility to find a dual use for her microphone stand as some kind of self-pleasure device tipped lads like me over the edge. Please don't be offended by such an image (of me, not of Vicki - that image could never be offensive). Then there was Pink Sunshine - the great single, the big intro which was a Radio 1 Roadshow starter at least once a week through that whole summer.

Heritage: Vindaloo. That was the last liner note on the sleeve, a throwback nod to their old record label. Class. And while they had the sense to shorten their name for consumption purposes, they maintained the initial We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It moniker in the small print throughout the album, including on the front. That's the name by which you'll still find them in your well-thumbed copies of well-known Guinness publications.

Any ideas what any of the Fuzzbox ladies are doing now?

16 October 2008

Geoff Horsfield



Every football fan's heart goes out to you Geoff, especially those of us who saw all those goals fly in at the Shay.

15 October 2008

Slap my top of the morning to you

Alex, my friend, occasional drinking partner and frequent gossiping partner, is covering the Ken Bruce slot on Radio 2 for the remaining two days of this week.

Quite right too - Davina McCall? Aled Jones? Rob "let's pretend to be Ken" Brydon? Tchoh!

9.30 til midday, then...

14 October 2008

Now he's Bar Six

Hurrah! Five-Centres is back, albeit with a new URL. It's addictive, this blogging business...