Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Funky Fanfare, Basil Brush, and Pinky and Perky

Now he looks like a chap who likes fast cars, fast women, and a good time. Note the look. A man of action from 1969. But before discussing one of his singles, a real party anthem, let us discuss what constitutes a good sense of humour. A subject I disclaim any knowledge of, even though it's often suggested to me that I'm fibbing. As if.

Well, despite owning a fairly powerful bolide that can definitely outperform most ordinary vehicles on the road - within the speed limit, of course - I am no petrolhead.

I mean, I literally wouldn't be, as Fiona runs on diesel. But I'm saying that while I like nothing better than to cleanly and skilfully pass some slow, dithering, doddering, barely-awake, pathetic, greyheaded, muttering, old-school bigot and blusterer who should have his car taken from him as a kindness to other road users - my blistering overtaking manoeuvre being a genuinely public-spirited gesture, surely - I am no motoring brat, no ranting Queen of the Road. I like to project Reasonable Road Behaviour, and to be the Safety-Conscious Soul of Volvo.

It's not my fault if certain other road users take issue when they see me at the wheel. Let them self-ignite in their anger, I say. And if it's a boy racer, panting for a contest, then again I'm not playing. Sophisticated women in pearls - especially Volvo drivers - do not parley with pimply little boys in noisy red toys.

All this said, I do enjoy watching Top Gear on BBC2. I know, it's utterly childish. But the mixed studio audience in that hangar at Dunsfold Airport look sensible enough. They want to see and hear the three presenters Clarkson, May and Hammond chaff each other, interview celebrities, and test exotic dream cars. Add in some amazing filming in amazing locations, and a whacky project or two, and it's the sort of entertainment that even a super-careful Volvo driver can enjoy. I don't care much for the Stig, but that's a minor quibble.

The Top Gear team do however have some strange prejudices. One is caravanning. I simply can't see what they find laughable about owning, towing, and holidaying in a caravan. Am I lacking a sense of humour? Is there something wrong with me? Can it be that, after all, I am mad, and just can't see what a joke it is to be so keen on a major national pastime. As if, say, fishing, keeping hamsters and solving sudoku puzzles were a matter for smirking. No, I just don't get it.

Then there is their opinion of Peugeot cars. Why the prejudice? I owned a Peugeot 306 from 1999 to 2002. Here it is in 2002:

It was a revelation after my previous car, a 1988 Nissan Micra. I liked driving it, once overtaking no less than eight cars in one go on a straight stretch of the A15 south of Lincoln. Its only fault was an occasional reluctance to start on damp mornings. That was annoying, but my memory of its good service is hardly tarnished. And yet Clarkson, May and Hammond have consistently sneered at Peugeots. Obviously their acceptance of double-lobotomies as part of their BBC salary package was a mistake with lasting effects. I wonder if they regret it. (Can you regret anything if you've had a double-lobotomy?)

Anyway, on this week's Top Gear they paid 'homage' to Peugeot's output in the last ten years. Two of them filmed themselves driving around in a couple of frankly unexciting and characterless family saloons from the Peugeot stable, and not only showing off the plasticky cheapness and nastiness of the cars themselves, but aping how 'typical' owners might behave on the road - including examples of indecision, vaccilation, procrastination, flatulence, blindness, and a complete inability to control their cars. It seems as if the Lion has no longer been going from Strength to Strength. As a Volvo driver I found it all hilarious. But if I were still a Peugeot driver I might not.

While they were clumsily steering onto verges at 10 mph, or casually bumping into parked cars, suitable background music was being played, all to suggest that despite appearances the 'typical' owner was actually cool and hip. Thus I heard a trumpet fanfare that I immediately associated with a pop song from the late 1960s - not recalled for decades - called House of Jack. A little Internet research established that the lively background hit was Funky Fanfare, an instrumental composed by Keith Mansfield, and that I'd been thinking of the 1969 vocal version sung by James Royal. You can hear a snatch of the instrumental version here on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Funky-Fanfare/dp/B004VT26RG) - you don't have to buy it - and here's the James Royal song itself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdiLCcwqZqY). Now isn't that one of the funkiest numbers you ever heard? It was still being played at the first parties I went to, after leaving school and starting work in 1970.

Ah, to be young in the late 1960s! Well, actually it wasn't so hot. The Swinging Sixties had happened up in London. I was in Southampton. Southampton wasn't London in any shape or form.

Even so, travel with me now, back to a time when Dad's Army was on TV (was there ever not such a time?). We'll do it through the medium of two handbooks I purchased during that epoch and still have on my shelves. One is the BBC Handbook for 1969, which reviewed what the Beeb had achieved in 1968, and the other is the ITV Handbook of 1970, which examined the successes of Independent Television in 1969:

Opening these up reveals a mass of text. It's the photos that are interesting. The best-quality ones are in the ITV handbook. The ITV was strong on entertainment, comedy and popular escapist drama. Liberace and Anita Harris:

Doctor in the House, On the Buses and Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width:

And for fantasy adventure, Department S, starring Peter Wyngarde as sex symbol Jason King.

Jason King: his poster adorned many a girl's bedroom wall. I have proof. One of my 1970s girlfriends, Jenny, had him near her bedside, clad in a silken blue kaftan open over the chest:

Dream on, girl.

The BBC then as now had a much wider broadcasting remit, and its handbook was not so slick. In fact it was a stuffy affair. Still, there were some evocative photos. Chart-topping Esther and Abi Ofarim, and Eurovision Song contest winner for Spain, Massiel:

Children's TV, represented by Rodney Bewes and Basil Brush...boom boom!...and silly old Hector:

The Beeb was also cutting-edge on the Pop Scene! Some DJs: Jimmy Savile, Tony Brandon and David Symonds (talking to another Eurovision Song Contest winner, Mireille Matthieu):

Did anyone who mattered in the BBC see beyond Savile's cheerfulness and big cigar at the time? And did Rolf Harris (below) seem in any obvious way dodgy to programming bosses? Why were there so many blind eyes?

Perhaps everyone's attention was on Morecambe and Wise. And lulled into nostalgia with Dad's Army, even then, forty-seven years ago, a national institution:

I'm thinking that nobody suspected a thing. The betrayed victims would themselves hardly believe it possible, and may not have had the words to label their experience, wrap it up, screw it into a a hard little ball of horror, and then throw it into to deepest recess of their mind. The BBC bosses would pay attention only to the audience viewing figures:

Look at that! The Rolf Harris Show and Top of the Pops (a vehicle for Jimmy Savile) right up there among the most-viewed light entertainment programmes, among the most-viewed of any kind of programme, certainly on par with the best-loved programmes of the day, such as the crime dramas Softly, Softly, Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars; homely Scottish hokum like Dr Finlay's Casebook; and (ironically) comedy shows like Not In Front Of The Children. And even beating Dr Who for popularity:

This was a pre-computer age, of course, and before the time when there were many other competing entertainment gadgets in the home. People fixated on the TV. Some were prepared to watch anything, which explains why Pinky and Perky was so much watched:

I could never make my mind up about Pinky and Perky. Were they lovable, or just irritating? It's a funny thing, but the BBC dropped them - after a long eleven-year run - in 1968, the year The Beatles' White Album came out, which featured a George Harrison composition called Piggies, made infamous by the deranged Californian killer Charles Manson's liking it so much. Although the Beeb hadn't lifted a finger over Saville, they clearly saw a disturbing connection between Pinky and Perky and Charles Manson, and passed the poisoned chalice to ITV.

I understand that the piglets themselves are now in pleasant retirement. A bit like me.

Ah, what fresh trips down Memory Lane will next week's Top Gear encourage?


  1. You are talking about the idiots who only like cars which burn up tyres as they slide sideways on corners and cost at least the price of a house?

    I drive a Peugeot and would not change it for anything else at the moment...

  2. I too have a Peugeot. Bluebell (a 107) is very well behaved, as are her drivers. Indeed, I only hit one other car last year!


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