Tag Archives: Mary Whitehouse

Nudity on ITV, balloons & how Malcolm Hardee fell out with OTT Chris Tarrant

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (pholograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee in Alternative Comedy’s early days with his protégée comedian Jo Brand (pholograph by Steve Taylor)

As I have very little time to write a blog today and as yesterday’s blog was about the ‘old’ ITV, here is an extract from comedy icon Malcolm Hardee’s increasingly prestigious autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. It is about his participation in Martin Soan’s comedy group The Greatest Show On Legs and refers to OTT, the adult TV series produced by Chris Tarrant after his success with children’s series Tiswas.

At this time, I was working on the continuing Tiswas series.

Because ATV/Central messed-up and did not at first give the OTT team their own office, Tarrant squatted in our Tiswas office for around (if memory serves me) a month. I later worked on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, but not at this point.

This is Malcolm Hardee’s story…


The Greatest Show on Legs in the Fringe Programme

The Greatest Show on Legs perform the Balloon Dance (from left) Malcolm Hardee, Martin Clarke, Martin Soan

The Greatest Show on Legs’ breakthrough was doing The Balloon Dance on ITV.

Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks was supposed to be with The Greatest Show on Legs on the OTT pilot, but he’d buggered off to Cornwall. He’d had enough.

This was right in the middle of The Mad Show.

So, at about 6.30am one morning, I knocked-up Martin Potter who used to operate our tapes and he came out with us and did  the pilot for OTT and the audition for Game For a Laugh.

We needed someone permanent and Martin Potter wasn’t interested, so we recruited Martin Clarke from Brighton, who’d been in a theatre group called Cliffhanger. He had quite a posh voice and looked a bit like Tony Blackburn, so we called him ‘Sir Ralph’.

We were invited to do The Balloon Dance first on Game For a Laugh but, when we got to the LWT studios, the producer wouldn’t let us do it naked. He said the show was for family viewing.

“But that’s how we do it,” I said. “That’s the whole humour of it.”

He sent researchers out to get smaller and smaller items of underwear – even going into sex shops to get us jockstraps. But we held out and said:

“We’re not doing it with our pants on”.

We partly held out because we knew that OTT also wanted us on ITV in a month’s time and they would let us do it naked. In the end, we did the Scottish sword dance on Game For a Laugh. We used the show’s co-presenter Matthew Kelly as the crossed swords. He had a broken leg at the time. So we kept our clothes on but terrorised Matthew Kelly in exchange.

A month later, we finally got naked on TV when we performed The Balloon Dance on OTT. (The video is on YouTube) That was in January 1981. It was one of the first programmes made by Central, who had taken over from ATV as the Birmingham ITV station.

OTT was meant to be the all new, very daring adult version of Chris Tarrant’s anarchic children’s show Tiswas. Alexei Sayle performed on it every week and still no-one understood his humour. Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and Helen Atkinson-Wood were the other OTT regulars.

On the first night we were there, the studio audience didn’t react very well to the over-all show but, when we came on, we set the place alight – figuratively speaking – and afterwards there was a furore in the press, which we wanted. Mary Whitehouse complained about it, which is always a good thing.

We got on very well with Chris Tarrant but, two or three years later, we did the Balloon Dance on another late-night TV show created by him (Saturday Stayback – there is a video not including Malcolm on YouTube). It was shot in a pub and he was desperate for ratings, because they hadn’t been very good. So he got us in to do the last show in the series.

Afterwards, there was a big end-of-series party for everyone and we weren’t invited to it. So our roadie saw a massive bottle of champagne – a Jeroboam – and nicked it. We were giving Helen Atkinson-Wood a lift because she also had to miss the party to get back to London. We all got in our Luton Transit and suddenly Chris Tarrant came running out, mad, shouting:

“You’ve had my champagne!”

“No we haven’t!” I lied.

“You have!” he yelled. “You’ll never work on TV again!”

At this, Helen Atkinson-Wood jumped out of the van because she didn’t want to be associated with us and the roadie drove us off back to London.

I have heard since that Chris Tarrant says this incident involved the pub having some silvery cutlery nicked which had sentimental value to the landlord. If anything else was nicked, it wasn’t us; we just nicked one bottle of champagne.

Anyway it all ended in tears. But our first appearance on OTT was our big breakthrough and afterwards it was all congratulations.

As a result of our TV success, we ended up with an agent, Louis Parker, who treated us like The Chippendales.

We went mainstream. We were doing hen nights and End of The Pier variety shows for two or three years – not the University shows that we had done before. Literally end-of-the-pier. Colwyn Bay and Blackpool we did. We were a novelty act doing a 15-20 minute show for what was then an enormous amount of money: about £500-£600 a show. But there were three of us to pay, plus a roadie.

The Young Ones. Christopher Ryan (bottom_ replaced Pete Richardson

The Young Ones. Christopher Ryan (bottom_ replaced Pete Richardson, who clashed with the show’s BBC producer

While we were doing that, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson went on to TV success in The Young Ones.

Pete Richardson (who went on to direct The Comic Strip) was meant to have been in that: he was meant to have been the one that no-one knows. They wanted a macho-man figure as a counter-balance to the others and Pete was replaced by someone they recruited out of a casting agency.

The Young Ones garnered all the credit for being clever comedians, while we were literally performing a dumb show. Our success was short-term, lowbrow and mainstream.

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs doing the Balloon Dance in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

We even performed at a TUC Conference in Blackpool where Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dogs got booed off for being sexist: he was singing a song about a woman with tits and they didn’t like him. But they liked The Greatest Show on Legs naked with balloons. Except that we didn’t use balloons: we used photos of Mrs Thatcher to cover our genitalia and, after we turned round, our penises were sticking out of her mouth.

They loved it.

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Edinburgh Fringe becomes laughing stock as comedians & critics turn on it

To be seen on posters all over Edinburgh in August – but not in the Fringe Programme.

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last week, I wrote a blog about this year’s extraordinarily heavy-handed and draconian censoring of the £400 Edinburgh Fringe Programme entries. (Performers pay almost £400 to get a meagre 40 word listing in the Fringe Programme).

You might have thought, at £10 per word, you could print what you want within the law, especially at a cutting-edge, pushing-the-barriers event like the Edinburgh Fringe but, this year, the newly-idiotic Fringe Office appears to have taken leave of its senses.

In 2009, I staged a show titled Aaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s Bollock Relief! – The Malcolm Hardee Award Show. I did wonder if there might be any objection to the testicular word but, no, there was no problem at all listing it in the Fringe Programme. The Fringe, after all, is an easy-going, laissez-faire, open-to-all beast; it is not run by Scotland’s Wee Free Kirk.

Or is it?

Yesterday, the Chortle comedy website ran an article by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and highly-respected journalist Jay Richardson. It reported that the Fringe had refused to allow comedian and ITV1 Show Me The Funny contestant Stuart Goldsmith to list his new show as Stuart Goldsmith – Prick in the Programme. They insisted that he had to change the word Prick to Pr!ck.

Jay Richardson also reported that comedian Richard Herring’s show Talking Cock (whose title was printed in full in the 2002 Fringe Programme) is being reprised this year but the title has been modified by the Fringe to Talking C*ck: The Second Coming.

When I read this, I asked Richard Herring what he thought about it. His reaction was a little surprising:

“Actually,” he told me, “this is the first I’ve heard about the title being censored.”

Just to recap here… Richard told me this yesterday – 8th May. The final Fringe deadline was 11th April after which no changes could be made. The Fringe Programme is published on 31st May. The Fringe Office had never even told Richard they had changed the 40-word listing for which they charge performers £400…!

I thought I had better check if the Fringe really had changed the word “cock” to “c*ck”, so I contacted Martin Chester, Publications Manager at the Fringe. In a rather terse reply, he e-mailed:

“I can confirm that Cock will appear as C*ck in the 2012 Fringe Programme.”

Richard Herring explained to me yesterday: “I was told I couldn’t use the words ‘dick’ and ‘fuckinghamshire’ in the 40 words. I wasn’t too surprised about the ‘fuckinghamshire’ (honourable member for fuckinghamshire was the line) even though that isn’t a swear word and presumably means you have to censor ‘Scunthorpe’ too.

“But I thought ‘dick’ was a bit of an over reaction. Not only is it a very minor rude word, it’s also a name.” In fact, of course, it is Richard’s own name. “Hopefully,” Richard told me, “Dick Van Dyke won’t come to the Fringe – they’ll have to call him D*ck Van D*ke.

“I am annoyed to find out that the title has also been censored,” Richard continued. “‘Cock’ itself is not a rude word and is used everyday in many non-offensive ways by farmers and their cocks (who only say cock-a-doodle-do) and cockneys (sorry c*ckneys) say Hello cock. For them to decide that the title of my show is not allowed to be printed in their programme is quite insulting in itself and not something that an Arts Festival should be condoning. Frankly I think they’re being stupid c*nts.”

Personally, I think it is more idiotic than that.

The word ‘cock’ in the phrase ‘talking cock’ is actually a shortened version of ‘cock and bull’, the dictionary definition of which is “to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter”. That commonly-used English phrase comes from the name of two public houses in Stony Stratford – the Cock and the Bull.

The fact that the Fringe Office sees fit to censor this commonly-used phrase as supposedly offensive (without even telling the man who paid them almost £400 to have his listing printed) betrays a level of illiteracy (and financial dodginess) at the Fringe Office which is rather worrying at what is allegedly the biggest Arts festival in the world.

It also means that performers in future should beware of making any reference to any other pubs in their show titles. If the Fringe insists that a reference to the Cock inn has to be censored, who knows what they would do with a far-worse reference to any King’s Head or Prince Albert pub.

I asked Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers and also a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and Show Me The Funny judge, what she thought.

“I am lucky enough to remember the glory days of the Fringe,” she told me yesterday, “when I was peripherally involved in a show called Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick? Sadly, this year, whoever is ‘gate-keeping’ the Fringe programme has completely lost their sense of … well, simply their sense. Not only has the irreproachable Stu Goldsmith been censored, but a regular and highly thought-of event entitled ArtWank (on the PBH Free Fringe) has felt the heavy hand of the Idiot In Charge. They are now ArtW*nk. And even they are not alone. If the Fringe Society REALLY want to control that which is offensive in the Fringe Brochure – what about ticket prices ? Pricks and wankers, the lot of ’em.”

Comedian Sameena Zehra told me: “This is ridiculous. how pathetically coy can you be? ‘Pr!ck’? Could it be that the Fringe is now becoming about money and advertising, instead of pushing the boundaries of performance and art? If the Fringe wants to be part of the establishment, it should join the official Festival and we should create an alternative Fringe that does what it says on the tin.”

Mervyn Stutter has been presenting shows at the Fringe for 26 years, notably his annual Pick of The Fringe show (which presumably narrowly avoided the Fringe Office censors by one letter).

His e-mailed reaction to me yesterday was: 

F**k me! (note my clever use of Fringe approved self censoring there) This is tragic.”

I asked him if he remembered any favourite show titles printed in the Fringe Programme in the last 26 years. Like Kate Copstick, he, too, fondly remembers Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick?

“There was a wonderful Australian act,” he told me, “called somebody-or-other and The Travelling Wankbrains. My memory fails me, but the first name was also filth!

“The Fringe back then was free for all and you could call it how you wanted to. No corporate money or images to maintain. No Mary Whitehouse sensibilities on the Fringe – only a woman on Edinburgh Council – the legendary Moira Knox. Her public objections to ‘naughty’ shows always guaranteed big Box Office.”

Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs act, whose image the Fringe Office also censored this year, agreed yesterday. When I told him about the ‘prick’ hoo-hah, he responded: “Ah! Censorship… The alternative advertising!”

What gets up my own nose – because it shows a totally idiotic new mentality at the Fringe Office – is not so much any objection to supposedly ‘dodgy’ words or images, but that I was told by the Fringe Office (as mentioned in my previous blog) that Charlie Chuck’s Fringe Programme entry (which I wrote) was “required” to be re-written because it was ungrammatical.

Among other ludicrous things, I was told that the phrase “with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant” had to be changed to “with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant” (at £10 per word) to be acceptable because all entries in the Fringe Programme have to be “grammatically correct”.

Yes, you can no longer, I was told, write in headliney telegramese. Your £400 40-word entry now has to have totally grammatically-correct sentences containing subject, verb and object. That is what I was told. Subject-verb-object. And apparently, if necessary, also the definite and indefinite articles. You have to use the word ‘a’ if it is grammatically necessary – at a cost of £10 minimum.

This is madness of a gargantuan order which almost demands a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award of its own for sheer inanity.

Mervyn Stutter says: “My advice to Stuart Goldsmith is to keep going public. Make as much noise about it as possible. It’s what social networking is there for. He might also find useful the phrase Kick against the Pricks – ‘To argue and fight against people in authority’ (Cambridge Dictionary)”

It could, indeed, be a motto for dealing with the newly-narrow-minded Fringe Office people in general.

According to the Bible, Jesus said it to St Paul – “Kick against the Pricks” – It is quoted in Acts of the Apostles (9:5)

No doubt the Fringe Programme would today refuse to run the Biblical quote without replacing the i with an ! or an *

But, as the late Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ‘em.”

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A rubber Jesus Christ, fundamentalist Muslims and TV comedy censorship

On Sunday 11th October 1992, when Bill Dare was producer of the TV satire series Spitting Image, he put Jesus Christ into the show for the first time – as one of the latex puppets.

The production company involved, Central Television, told the Independent newspaper: “As with all Spitting Image material, this short item has been checked at the highest level for taste and legality and considered suitable for transmission. Spitting Image is renowned for being controversial and viewers must make up their own minds.”

Central received 380 complaints about the sketch before it was transmitted, but only 20 complaints after the broadcast. Overall, according to Bill Dare, ITV received about 70 complaints after the sketch was screened.

The Rev Eric Shegog, Church of England director of communications, said afterwards: “I would have thought, generally speaking, most Christians would not have taken much offence at it because it was so innocuous.”

Legendary moral campaigner and veteran complainer Mary Whitehouse said the puppet show’s sketch – which was about God looking high and low in heaven for a copy of the Bible and failing to find one until Jesus suggests that he look in Yellow Pages – was ‘tasteless’ and ‘silly’, but said that she would not be making a formal complaint.

Nonetheless, Bill Dare asked Central if it was OK to use the Jesus Christ puppet in another upcoming Spitting Image show and perhaps as a regular cast member. Bill was told there would be no problem with using the Jesus puppet again.

But then ITV got complaints from a fundamentalist Muslim group because Jesus, as well as being a Christian icon, is regarded as a Messenger of God by Muslims.

ITV reversed their decision and told Bill he could not use the Jesus puppet in Spitting Image again for fear of… causing offence.

What this shows I do not know. But this was back in 1992.

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