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.


  1. Night Train to Moider Post Post Script.
    This show was screened in 1985, after Eric's death which probably explains his sickly appearance.
    He died of his third heart attack after being forced to do a sixth encore at a gig by comedian Stan Stennett.
    Apparent shortly before this he commented that he would hate to die live on stage like Tommy Cooper. Luckily for Eric he collapsed just as he steeped off stage...

  2. I came across this site by accident. I don't really know anything about it, or about who 'posts' here, but I would like to comment on the posting from "Fred Karno" about the death of Eric Morecambe.
    I was there. My father is Stan Stennett, and Eric was taking place in a Charity performance which consisted of Eric and my father sitting and talking about 'old times' for the first half of the show. The second half of the show was a Variety 'bill' in which Eric was not involved, although towards the end of a final music number he came back on stage and enjoyed sharing and fooling around with the performers who were on stage. He was never 'forced to do a sixth encore by comedian Stan Stennett'. Although "Fred Karno" might have said this believing it to be the case, I can assure that it wasn't, and such an untruth is dispectful both to the memory of Eric, and the friendship he and my father shared for more than 50 years. It was a tragic night for everyone, and I can not allow such a comment to be posted without correcting it.
    Roger Stennett

  3. Dear Anonymous Stan Stennett's son,
    Apologies to you, I was being somewhat over dramatic.
    Fred Karno

  4. There's an idea here for a book here SURELY.

    About all these wonderful things.

    The kind of book that in 40 years time people will buy in a charity shop and put it in their very own pile of cultural items that sit at the foot of the bed and haunt them late at night?

    I seem to remember that I liked that Larry Larkin record all those years ago...