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How Fringe legend Mervyn Stutter was inspired by the Daily Mail & male nudes

Mervyn Stutter was at home with his self-portrait yesterday

In yesterday morning’s blog, I mentioned the current censorious state of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme and Fringe legend Mervyn Stutter’s reaction to it, as well as the fact that performer Martin Soan had told me The Greatest Show On Legs intended to perform their naked balloon dance in the street outside their Fringe venue, to attract an audience.

After reading the blog, Mervyn e-mailed me: “It reminds me that I wrote a song about the Greatest Show on Legs for BBC TV. Looking for it now…..”

Mervyn has been performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for 26 years – 5 years doing solo shows, then (including this year’s) 21 annual Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of The Fringe shows in which other acts (very carefully chosen by Mervyn) perform highlights from their own Fringe shows.

Yesterday afternoon, by coincidence, I had to take a friend to see a solicitor in Bournemouth. (Don’t ask.) Mervyn lives in Christchurch, just beside Bournemouth. So, of course, the lure of hearing a song about The Greatest Show On Legs and the possibility of getting a free meal and drinks was too much to ignore and Mervyn and his wife Moira fell for our “we haven’t eaten” ruse.

What he told me perhaps gives a glimpse into another, different social era.

“In the mid-1980s,” Mervyn told us, “I had to write songs for the first ever BBC daytime television programme, Open Air. The two presenters on the pilot were Pattie Coldwell and Alan Titchmarsh and the series itself was presented by Pattie and a very thin Irishman, just off the boat, called Eamonn Holmes. It was in the days when the topical song was popular and wasn’t ridiculed, as it has been a lot since.

“Pattie put me up for it and I had to send a tape in of several topical songs so the producer knew I could do it.

“In the Daily Mail that week – Tuesday 26th July 1986 – was an article headlined Anger Over BBC’s Nudes.”

Daily Mail outraged at nudity

The article started: Outraged people in a TV audience walked out of a show hosted by an MP when three naked men danced on the set with only balloons to protect their modesty.

The pilot show for a new TV discussion programme called Day To Day had been chaired the previous Sunday by Robert Kilroy-Silk. The show had been about nudity and audience members had included ‘moral campaigner’ Mary Whitehouse, the streaker Erika Roe, Page Three girl Linda Lusardi and, according to an outraged Daily Mail, ‘teenage girls’ .

The Greatest Show on Legs performed their naked balloon dance to – again according to the Daily Mail – great outrage.

The report claimed that “Clean-up campaigner Mary Whitehouse has registered a formal complaint with BBC Director General Alasdair Milne, demanding ‘that the people responsible for this outrage should be disciplined’.”

Publisher Ian Critchley’s wife, the article continued, was in the audience and he “was considering legal action against the BBC for shocking her”. In those far-off golden days, ladies had to be protected by their husbands and were unable to cope with such manly things as taking legal action to protect their own modesty. Mr Critchley warned, possibly echoing the Daily Mail’s own outaged thoughts: ‘The BBC are on the slippery slope to depravity’.”

The presenter of the Day To Day pilot, Robert Kilroy-Silk, was always a staunch defender of the arts and bravely told the Daily Mail: “I was simply helping some friends at the BBC and had nothing to do with the balloon men. They were not my responsibility.”

However, in their final sentence, the Daily Mail quoted the BBC as pointing out: “Most of the audience thoroughly enjoyed it”.

“So,” Mervyn told me yesterday, “I wrote a song called One Little Prick about how outrageous it was, which ended:

If the audience did get up and leave, of course.
It would be The Greatest Show on Legs

“I did it on the audition tape for Open Air, but whether it was ever broadcast, I can’t remember.”

Mervyn played the song for us in his dining room yesterday evening and, with luck, he may turn up singing it during The Greatest Show on Legs’ own performances at the Edinburgh Fringe this August… and, of course, at the much-anticipated (at least by me) Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the final Friday night of the Fringe.

So there we have it.

An insight into the anarchic way in which people may or may not be booked to appear in shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Music, Television