26 September 2008

"Okay guys, harmonies now!"

Comic Relief songs have, in recent times, been unquestionably rubbish. Westlife singing Uptown Girl is going to get to number one not because it's witty or droll or provides a comic/pop juxtaposition which demands further examination, it's going to get to number one because it's a) Westlife, a band whose severe lack of talent is eerily contrasted with their history-making streak of chart-toppers; and b) for charity. Recordings such as this prove that the public have been taken for granted and will just buy something because of the cause, irrespective of the lack of imagination shown by the product.

So, let us recline in the heady nostalgia of Comic Relief singles which actually provided some, erm, comic relief. I really wish I hadn't written that. Although The Stonk was an amiable record and had a good video, it was still Hale & Pace and wasn't laugh out loud funny. Dawn French saying "I'm a bit bottomy" prompted one chuckle at the time, then it was back to leering at Bananarama. The only Comic Relief single which was funny at the time and remains so, is this one.

Pairing the honourable Sir Clifford of Richard with four alternative comedy characters was a funny concept because it was so unlikely. What Cliff's people first made of it when Paul Jackson rang up to ask them heaven only knows. I remember a Smash Hits interview he gave, before all this happened, when he was asked if he'd seen The Young Ones and he replied that he had, but didn't really get it. "I saw the one where the guy [Mike] nailed his leg to the table and it was a bit disgusting" was one Cliff comment. But he also said he laughed at the joke cracked by Suggs when, asked by Rick if Madness knew Summer Holiday, he replied: "You hum it, and I'll smash your face in." So, there was potential for Cliff to get the joke when Jackson found his number. Even if not, the connections generally between Cliff Richard and the programme were plentiful - Rick's devotion and the Summer Holiday pastiche which ended the series being the main ones. Cliff may not have been fully aware of these, but the public were, and Cliff would have been advised of this.

The double-decker incident was , for the intestinal fan of The Young Ones (let me shamelessly include myself in this), representation of a further awkward issue - that of continuity. As far as we were concerned, the foul foursome (copyright: every tabloid circa 1983-86) had perished when their bus plummeted over the Cliff/cliff and, having miraculously survived that moment ("Phew! That was close!"), the explosion occurred. The fact that on this occasion we didn't see them surviving the bang (unlike at the end of Cash, where the four were literally ashen-faced after Mike's cigarette lighter and Vyvyan's alimentary expulsion had chemically reacted) and, more tellingly, the closing music wasn't the jolly-up of Peter Brewis but something far more morbid and slow, told us all we needed to know. They hadn't survived.

Then, within weeks, we were expected to believe that Neil had, in fact, managed to avoid serious injury (or even mild scarring) after the accident sufficiently enough to release a record. This gave rise to hopes that the other three may have been spared too. And, lo and behold, our dreams came true.

Well okay, this is all a bit far-fetched, and I should grow up a tad, maybe. But I remember, as a 13 year old in 1986, being utterly thrilled at the return of The Young Ones, even just for a quick trip to a recording studio. All we'd had since the crash was Happy Families, which I liked very much, but it ultimately only served two purposes - to make Ben Elton the youngest solo writer at the BBC, and to dash the awful school-wide urban myth that Adrian Edmondson had died of a drugs overdose shortly after The Young Ones had finished.

So, into the studio they went, although the ad-lib stuff on the video is slightly different to what you hear on the record - all the "great Cliff, which instruments do you want us to break?" gubbins from Vyvyan, for example, is only on the vinyl. But it's just funny, in either form. I love Rick's opening gambit as the four troop down some random residential street, the Shadows-esque dancing in the bandstand with cricket bats, Vyvyan with random acts of violence - and the seemingly deliberate use of Mike in barely any other scenario than the studio, as if to emphasise his status as the straight man.

It's also more than worthwhile to credit Sir Clifford himself. He took a hammering with a mallet at the crescendo and showed competent timing and acting skills each time he winced and had to pull his cans away from his ears due to the pure noise coming from his co-conspirators. On the record, the "settle down chaps" line, followed by the "uh!" noise of pain, is much underrated.

Later, of course, we got the Comic Relief stage show, the one where Pamela Stephenson congratulated Neil Kinnock on his hairstyle and Joan Armatrading walked on, waved and walked off again. The Young Ones did a bit of a gambit together ("Kate Bush is underneath, Michael; I'm using Neil as a contraceptive") while claiming Cliff couldn't join them because he was doing Time ("they've put him in prison for farting!") so John Craven was lined up instead. But of course, on came Cliff, with his exceptional 1986 mullet ("tonight it's me that's the alternative!") and away they went, singing the song, with ad-libs ("Hunk!") and everything.

It all went downhill quickly afterwards, and we had to make do with Filthy, Rich & Catflap. To my knowledge, only Nigel Planer has ever reprised his character from The Young Ones since, although only the lack of orange spikes and denim proved the difference between Vyvyan and the characters portrayed by Adrian Edmondson in Filthy, Rich & Catflap and Bottom.

I re-discovered this record a couple of years ago and found myself still laughing as a 33 year old at it, the way I did two decades earlier. It's still funny, end of. I suppose, even though I acknowledge that The Young Ones were overhyped and therefore became easier to knock (especially as Ben Elton became more hateable), I still want to be that youngster who had to sneakily watch the original series on the black and white telly upstairs because my parents deemed it beyond inappropriate.

They bought my brother and I the Bachelor Boys book for Christmas 1984, you know. Then they looked at it and instantly returned it. I've still never read a copy.


Chris Hughes said...

I'm going to nominate Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree by Mel and Kim as the other genuinely funny Comic Relief record - the concept seems a bit hokey now (Mel and Kim, do you see?!!11) but I still love all those silly little ad libs ("plenty of pumpkin pie left, by the way!"; "one-two-three-four... five!") and the good-natured cameos in the video (the Mekon, Spitting Image and Curiosity Killed The Cat for about three seconds).

"I tell you who I fancy for Christmas - Bananarama!"

Bright Ambassador said...

I was in the same room as Paul Jackson the other week. That might not mean much to many people, but to me it was being within spitting distance of a hero.

Re the Comic Relief stage show: Cliff only appeared onstage the night they reorded it for telly. On the other nights, Lord Bob of Geldofshire was Cliff.
My sister and me used to do a doubler-hander of that French and Saunders sketch where they're discussing sex. In fact, it made a re-appearance the other week while we were talking about how shit F&S are these days. "The man's eyes go all funny and he says 'Oh God' and ten thousand fish come out of the todger, and you have to bash them over the head...it's a very pleasurable experience."

Matthew Rudd said...

Thet F&S sketch was exceptional; I actually look back at that Comic Relief show and most of it holds up to this day. Stephen Fry re-enacting the Merchant Banker sketch with Geldof and Ure ("Oh a gift! A tax dodge!") was ace, as was the Spitting Image stuff (my brother nicked one of the Prince Andrew gags to use in my best man's speech) and the brilliant duet between Rowan Atkinson and Kate Bush.

And there's nothing quite as 1986 as Lenny Henry saying he looks like Grace Jones, Billy Connolly talking about pubic hair and Ben Elton in "double seat, double seat" commentary mode.

Bright Ambassador said...

"Jojoba!? In Glasgow that's the month before November"

"Ah yes, the Shaftesbury, named after my two favourite things: shafting and burying the beef bayonet"

"I am, of course, joking. You didn't think we'd close the school just to bury that little shit, did you?"

"Breathe in dat fresh air! Now, stand outside this pub for five hours until I come back"