Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Go now, to the dustheap of history... Morecambe and Wise, Charlie Chester and Larry Larkin

Welcome, chums, to what probably won't become a new occasional series of articles focusing specifically on popular cultural items held in the House of Cobwebs Archive that I have somehow acquired, and have some kind of vague, fleeting interest in, but that I cannot ever foresee myself actually using, reading, watching or listening to... the kind of millstones of clutter that I profess to wish to throw out or give to a charity shop or foist on to an unwitting pal as an "ironic" gift, but end up proclaiming a renewed interest in, and carry from one flat to the next, like some kind of madman. Apologies in advance to international readers who don't have a clue who Charlie Chester is. Don't worry, hardly anybody in the UK knows (or cares) either.

Exhibit 001:
Morecambe and Wise in Night Train to Murder

Format: VHS videogram
Source: Gift?
Time held: 2-3 years

Description: This choice addition to the Thames TV "Best of British" Collection features the much-loved comedy duo in a feature length "spoof comedy thriller".

The case for the Prosecution:

Take a look at the cover picture for a start. Wise looks tired, Morecambe looks ill, and if that's the most enticing image they could conjure up from this end-of-the-line TV special (from when they'd gone back to ITV again) dating from their twilight years (1984), who needs it?

Incidentally, I don't know about you, but I never thought Morecambe and Wise were anywhere near as good as everyone would have you believe, and my least favourite bits were always those tedious long sketches with celebrity guests (like the creepy Angela Rippon) in them that everybody is supposed to howl with laughter over (according to minor celebrities on those rotten "100 funniest comedies" type TV shows). So I'm biased to begin with. Also, this tape was passed on to me by my very close friend Fred Karno, and, highly suspiciously, he told me that he didn't want it back.

The case for the Defence:

According to the back cover, it was written not by the team's usual writers, but, unusually, by Morecambe, Wise and director Joe McGrath. So, even if it's awful and self-indulgent, it'll be interestingly awful and self-indulgent...won't it? Also the pictures on the back suggest that there are two attractive young ladies in the cast. Yes, I'm shallow like that.

And Fulton Mackay is in it, too...that can't be bad, can it?

Even if Eric looks like he's slipping into a coma in this lively production still.

Verdict: Back on the pile for another few years at least.

Exhibit 002:
Charlie Chester: The World is Full of Charlies

Format: Hardback book in horrific faded orange photo dust wrapper.

Source: Probably a charity shop. But according to the price pencilled inside the front it cost £1.50, which is a bit of a puzzler, because I couldn't see myself paying any more than 10p for this highly desirable item. In fact, to be honest, I couldn't see myself buying it at all.

Time held: 8 - 10 years?

Description: Recollections of a lifetime in show business by the old variety performer.

The case for the Prosecution:

"His first job after leaving school was as a grocer's errand boy but it was not long before he was augmenting his meagre earnings by entering and winning many talent competitions as a yodeller and guitarist. At seventeen he ran his own accordion band."

The case for the Defence:

"His first job after leaving school was as a grocer's errand boy but it was not long before he was augmenting his meagre earnings by entering and winning many talent competitions as a yodeller and guitarist. At seventeen he ran his own accordion band."

Additional evidence for the Defence:

Ernest Marples, former Minister of Transport having fun with Bud Flanagan, Jack Solomons and Charlie.

(No glass in Bud's glasses? Oi!)

Charlie, as King Rat in 1951 with guest of honour Charlie Chaplin. Georgie Wood and Fred Russell, OBE, in background.

(Chaplin looks like he wishes he wasn't there. But then so would I if Wee Georgie Wood was lurking behind me, wearing a strange sash, peering over (or under in his case) my shoulder.)

Verdict: Back on the shelf for another few years at least.

Exhibit 003:
Larry Larkin: Is the World Ready for Larry Larkin? (Answer can be found below)

Format: 45rpm Extended Play record

Source: A charity shop in Amersham

Time held: Approximately 8 years
Description: Supposedly humorous record by a forgotten beardy comedian.

Track listing:

1. I'm Just Here to Make You Laugh.
2. Flasher.

1. You're 16 Stones (You're Ugly and You're Mine)
2. They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha! Ha!

The case for the Prosecution: I have, in fact, listened to this, and it was a grisly experience. I reckon any comedian who feels they have to come right out and tell you that they are insane (or zany, or wacky, etc.) is highly likely to be extremely unfunny and tedious in the extreme. And any humorist who claims that they are slightly insane is likely to be worse still. It's like he wouldn't want you to think he was too silly: he might be clowning around like a genius for two sides of a 45, but at heart, he is a cool clued-in kinda guy.

Nonetheless, I had high hopes that this record might be a contender for the "so bad it's good" section of my Archive and be garbage of the highest order, but alas it is merely mediocre.

The question on everybody's lips: Is the world ready for Larry Larkin?
The answer: No. However, the local charity shop is. Not that anyone will buy it.


The case for the Defence:

Larry's autograph on the inner sleeve - his shaky felt-tip bestowing "luv" upon one Sarah (where is she now, was she the only one who asked for an autograph that night at the holiday camp ballroom, and did he buy her a gin and orange?) - makes Larry seem somehow more human.

It seems to me to evoke a wistful glimpse of the inner man, and makes me feel more sympathetic towards this slightly insane figure, who, let us not forget, got his first break as a baby boy when his Dad dropped him on his head. It makes me feel more kindly disposed towards Larry Larkin, and to his years of struggle, playing "Pantomime and Top Cabaret Venues", afterwards desperately trying to flog copies of "this excellent production".

Verdict: It doesn't take up much space. Back on the record shelf for another decade.

Unfortunately, as soon as I start writing about this old rubbish, I always find myself suddenly more interested in it. Sigh. You will find these three items in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS. At the bottom of the pile. Covered in dust.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, you guessed it. As a result of digging this junk out from the heap, I spent much of yesterday evening watching Night Train to Murder. It is a full life I lead. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be - an amiable enough if failed experimental attempt to break away from the Morecambe and Wise sketch show format, structurally very similar to a British comedy film of the 1930s, in fact. Unfortunately, though, the script was pretty duff, and exceedingly corny. Times had moved on. And though it appeared to have had some money spent on it, and there was a bit of location stuff, it was all shot on that particularly ghastly garishly-bright early eighties video tape. What's more, Eric looked like he might collapse at any moment (shades of Stan Laurel in Atoll K). Well, it can leave the house now, at least. The World is Full of Charlies remains here, however.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

"You've got it wrong, love..." Mirabelle, No.1, 19th February, 1977

Greetings from beyond the grave, chums. To celebrate the fact that there are now at least 10 discerning culture-vultures who actually want to read this stuff (thank you, pals!) I thought it was about time I exhumed myself and dug into the fun-cupboard to reveal another useless, fusty artefact we can all enjoy.

Today we turn our attention to the fair sex and the ways of LOVE. Not something I am particularly expert in, it must be said. But, putting my own neuroses aside for a moment, I have always enjoyed girls' comics - a fact that, when mentioned over the years, has prompted many a raised eyebrow amidst the conspicuously weedy but distinctly hetero ranks of the comics cognoscenti, who generally prefer an adolescent power-fantasy to girly stuff like relationships, flowers, and all that rot.

Way back in the days before we males could admit to having any kind of sensitivity I used to keep it quiet. Indeed, I remember afternoons in the school summer holidays when I was a lad, circa the early 1980s somewhereabouts, when the best thing about the dismal prospect of having to be "looked after" by the next door neighbours was the chance to read their teenage daughter's copies of Misty, the now-cult British girls' comic that featured stories of ghosts, witches, strict schools and naughty girls getting their come uppance in inventively supernatural ways. In my heart, I always wanted to be able to get Misty delivered every week myself, but how could I? It was a girls' comic. So I thought I had to read Warlord and Victor instead, unfortunately for me. Have a pineapple, Fritz! Himmel! Boom! Argghh!

Maybe we'll talk about Misty one of these days. Or maybe not. But for now I want to draw your attention to another British comic for girls. One I certainly didn't see at the time, and one that I had never heard of until I stumbled across a copy at one of those aromatic comics fairs of which I am so inordinately fond. Today I would like to introduce you to Mirabelle. This, the first (and possibly the only issue) was recently found in one of the cheap boxes among a load of rotten British reprints of dull 1970s Marvel Comics and cost me 25p. I may have imagined it but I think the stall holder may well have given me a look of what could only described as sceptical disdain when I purchased said item: is there something wrong with you? I don't care. It's terrific! But it is definitely not Love Stories in Pictures as the cover misleadingly claims.

In fact, I can't find any of your standard love stories in pictures in here at all. Instead, I find romance fused with horror, bleak post-apocalyptic sci-fi and sleazy sex comedy. Take a look at the comic's opener, The Poison Valentine.

It's like a Mills and Boon paperback crossed with a Pete Walker movie. Splendid. Dig the "skull" motif. Paperchase, take note. These cards would sell.

Could it have something to do with her boyfriend? It's a serial, but the moral of the story might be: never trust a guy with gypsy looks, an enigmatic smile and a David Essex neckerchief. He may secretly be a "freak". But we'll never know...

Flip the page and we have a strip about a fashion model desperate to get the photographer to "notice me as a person". This is how she goes about it. Hang on a tick, I thought this was a mag for girls!

I say, ding dong! Something for the Dads, eh? But, wouldn't you just know it...

"You've got it wrong love...pop off and change." Methinks it is this Leo Sayer-esque snapper who has got it wrong. But each to their own, I suppose...

Anyway, there's three pages of that. What shall we have next? How about some love stories in pictures? If you insist, but let's combine it with the story of a girl and her dog in a post-apocalyptic world. As you do.

Oh Jacko. Sometimes I feel like I can't move another step. Probably the radiation poisoning. Didn't you read the government leaflet about painting your doors white, buy in the dustbin bags for the family corpses, or stock up on tinned fruit? Jacko looks happy enough, though. He could be doing an ad for Pedigree Chum, if you ignore the rubble.

I fear that, deep in her heart, she may already know the answers to both these questions. If she's hungry, it looks like Jacko has plenty of meat on him.

She's also being chased by a load of sinister, vaguely Russian-looking soldiers. But hang on, this is all a bit bleak, isn't it? Where are the love stories in pictures? Time for some irradiated love interest...

Not a bad spread, eh? Armageddon can be quite nice, really. Less competition from other chicks when you're attempting to snare a guy, and that's the main thing, eh? Even when you're vomiting every ten minutes.

Hmm, a few pages left to fill. How about some lust stories in pictures? How about an exceedingly seedy comedy comic-strip reminiscent of Confessions of a Driving Instructor, reinforcing every stereotype about women drivers you can possibly think of? That's sure to appeal to the young ladies, don't you think?

Check out this lost sleaze-classic. They don't do comic strips like this any more. Not that they ever did, apart from here, as far as I'm aware...

Wa-hey, eh? Every girl loves a driving instructor in Tartan flares. Irresistible.

So much for Mr. Grimes... but there are other cravatted Lotharios to contend with...

Hel-lo indeed. You get the picture. But there is a happy ending to Sue's tale.

Here's how she did it.

Do you know, I could have sworn there was this movement called "Women's Lib" in the 1970s. But I must have dreamed it.

Whatever happened to Mirabelle? According to an advert inside the back cover, number two was on the way...but did it ever make it to the newsagents' shelves? I wonder.

Eight great stories and free shampoo? Girls, how did you manage to resist?

Mirabelle is the weirdest British comic for girls I've ever read. You will find it in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS.