4 December 2007
Do you remember Deadpan magazine? It was a monthly journal about comedy which broached the subject with both humour and a degree of earnest analysis, and it perished after about half a dozen issues. For 1994 it was too niched and like its contemporary Comedy Review, disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived.
I did a spot of grocery shopping today and while fervently searching for gravy, as you do, found a packet of Bisto. Declining this particular brand in favour of another maker's granules, it nonetheless revived my memories of Deadpan and prompted a wry smile, as Bisto always does. This is because Deadpan made a point of giving it away as a prize.
There was a feature called That's Shit!, which was as sophisticated as the title doesn't suggest. As I recall, it happened mildly by accident after the first issue but became seemingly popular quickly, as people sent in photographs of items or pastimes or phenomena or events which were, in fact, a bit rubbish. And the prize was a crisp tenner and a packet of Bisto.
As an over-keen, ingratiating 21 year old, I decided to send in a photo I had only taken with the initial intention of arseing about with my camera and finishing a film off. Actually, my work colleague and housemate Chris, now a high-flying agency journalist who won't remember any of this, took it. It was of me playing keepie-up with a football in the kitchen of our rented Kirkheaton cottage. No more, no less. My belief was that it fitted the criteria (funny and rubbish) because there were better things to do in a kitchen, better places to kick a football, and better things generally for 21 year old lads with a semblance of a future to be doing with their time.
And lo and behold, they printed it. They said that it was "not at all funny, but we just wanted to show everyone his crap kitchen. Nice kettle, Matty." A few days later, an envelope arrived containing a new tenner, a packet of Bisto and a piece of headed paper with deliberately slipshod, hurried handwriting on it which said "Well done Matt, here's your tenner and gravy. Deadpan people."
I did send other photos with the now nationally consumed and much praised Kitchen Football snap. One was of a manual typewriter. Another was of a jacket potato out of which only the filling had been eaten. Neither of these made it, unsurprisingly. I can still recall, however, from the few issues printed, what else from fellow resourceful readers made the cut and earned some free meat stock. These photos included GCSE Art, Drunk Mates (When You're Sober), No Use Signs (it was a road sign for some minority-faith church), People Taking Photographs Of Themselves, and The Grumbleweeds.
I liked Deadpan so much. It had star columnists which included Barry Took and Sean Hughes; it paid a quite fabulous tribute to Bill Hicks as its debut issue coincided with the great man's passing; it gave comedy writing tips; offered showcases for funny amateur monologues (one marvellous example of which was called "Help! It's A Twat Being On The Dole!"); interviewed star comics (it sent its most radical left-wing shoulder-chipped hack to see Bernard Manning at the Embassy and the hack admitted in his copy that he was converted - "laughing like a loon" was how he put it) and tried to revive the careers of comedians who'd dropped down the bill a bit. The reviews were lengthy and meticulous; the letters page hysterical (somebody called Fat Martin seemed to have a monopoly on here, with all of his letters being about the exposure of his penis); and the knowledge of its subject untouchable.
Yet it shut down so soon.
A year or so afterwards, the relaunch under Mohamed Fayed of the second incarnation of Punch was widely reported and I remember BBC Radio Leeds claiming it was good for comedy fans after the demise of Deadpan and Comedy Review. But this wasn't quite so. Punch was satirical, swiping at society (and as this was under Fayed, swiping at Private Eye too, incessantly and boringly so) where as Deadpan certainly wasn't there to mock the world, but merely to examine and evaulate what made us laugh. If Punch made you laugh (I read a couple of issues, and only the column by Jerry Hayes did I find faintly amusing), then it could be classed as a comedy magazine, but it wasn't a magazine about comedy. It was also relaunched purely as a publicity toy for Fayed to get his pops back at the Eye, advertise Harrods to extraordinary lengths, and little else. It was bobbins.
After Deadpan, the "new lad" stuff got its claws in, and FHM, Maxim and Loaded all took their places on the shelf. I read FHM for a while as I remained single and in my 20s, but grew out of it quite quickly. My magazines of choice now are about football only (football played in designated stadia, and not in cramped West Yorkshire kitchens, I should clarify). But take me back to 1994 and you will find my favourite ever organ, which was briefly great and greatly brief.
There's only one photo of it on the internet that I can find, courtesy of Richard Herring's website. He and Stewart Lee were columnists. Brings a tear to my eye, this - might have to go kick a ball around the kitchen to celebrate.