Sunday, January 03, 2010

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now: My Difficult 80s by Andrew Collins (Ebury Press 2004)

Ben Elton is my big favourite at the moment. He's my guiding light. My moral compass. He's mobilised all the instinctive humanitarian, left-wing feelings that have brewing up in me since leaving home and given voice to the way I feel deep down inside. I've never before been this laid bare with guilt - but good guilt, useful social guilt, practical guilt; not abstract, debilitating girlfriend -induced guilt about having a happy family or parking inconsiderately. In the space of just a few weekly stand-up routines in that crap suit, Ben has succeeded in making me feel guilty about a much broader range of stuff.
Ben Elton speaks directly to me, he speaks directly to all of us, from his pulpit on Saturday Live. I've never seen the halls coffee bar as packed as it is now is every Saturday night at ten. Standing room only. The committee don't bother hiring a video in any more and the poor old Prince Albert empties at 9.45. One week he's exposing the folly of trying to get a double seat on a train and speaking of the repressed British character, the next he's damning Benny Hill for chasing women round the park when in fact street lighting is inadequate and women are too scared to walk through parks. On occasions we've all found ourselves clapping the TV. Saturday Live makes me glad I'm back I'm back in the halls.


stuart said...

I always say I became a socialist after reading Wilde and Russell because it sounds better. It was actually Ben Elton who set me on the road when I read "This Other Eden". That and peer pressure from liberals and hippies.

Darren said...

Yeah, you always told me that it was Russell's 'In Praise of Idleness' that propelled you into the SPGB armchair. ;-)

I did include that particular excerpt from the book that I just finished because I do think people sometimes forget what a *cough* stand up comedic superstar and spokesman for a generation that Elton actually was at the time. We used to hang on to every word of his every show and, as Collins mentions later in the book, a far few of us at that impressionable age thought that enough people saw Elton's routine the Labour Party would win the next General Election.

People have rewritten comedic history to convince themselves that they were all there when the late Bill Hicks told this or that incendiary joke - or the aged American uncle will recount that tale of that Lenny Bruce routine they witnessed in a small club in the Greenwich Village in the black and white days but Hicks and Bruce had nothing of the political impact that Elton did when the latter was doing those routines every week. He was considered the real opposition to Thatcher. (Well, him and Spitting Image.)

In mitigation to myself, I was a lot younger than Collins when I was swallowing that bollocks. I was sitting in my bedroom watching Elton 'cockneying' it up in his sellafield suit on the coloured portable tv, not standing in the student union bar lapping it up with hundreds of others as if it was MLK's 'I Have A Dream' speech.

I'm not a hundred per cent sure when I started to go off Elton but I do know it was long before the Lloyd-Webber collaboration abominations. I think it was when I cottoned onto him always saying 'farty this' and 'farty that', and I just suddenly realised what a wanker he was.

Hunt down those old Saturday Live clips on YouTube. They really weren't that funny. But then none of the comedy on Saturday Live was that funny.

Of all the people I liked as a kid and a young teenager, I don't think I've turned against anyone as much as I have against Ben Elton. And it looks there's ten of thousands of us.

They always used to say that Ex-Members of the Socialist Workers Party was the biggest left wing grouping in the world but, in terms of bums on seat, the EM of the SWP is the equivalent of the External Fraction of the ICC when measured next to the Ex-Fan Club of Chairman Ben.

But I've digressed. Back to those liberals and hippies. I've guessed Dave F and Mike B were the hippies but who are these liberals you're referring to?

stuart said...

I think you're right. That comment is a worthy blog post in itself! I was never a massive fan of Elton's comedy, but it was reading his book, which I was given as a Christmas present, that made me think, yes, the hippies and liberals are right, being a Tory boy IS stupid and laughable, maybe even evil!

The hippies and liberals I was referring to were my old uni mates. I didn't become a bone fide Socialist (SPGB style) as opposed to a vaguely left-leaning socialist till a few years later. That was when I read Russell, then thought, Yes, I must join a socialist party, then plucked up the courage to knock on that horrible yellow door on Clapham High Street. You answered the door. And even that didn't put me off ;-) Happy New Year.

mikeovswinton said...

Lenny Bruce played Peter Cook's Establishment Club in Soho back in the 60s. He was followed by a rather better and more political comedian called Francis Howerd. You can get the CD of Frankie Howerd at the Establishment via your local Amazon. Its one of the funniest things you'll hear. (Including his dig at Bruce, several very funny digs at Peter Cook, and a one person laughter track supplied by that other great british comedian, Mr Kenneth Williams.) You certainly will titter, missus.

Darren said...

"Yes, I must join a socialist party, then plucked up the courage to knock on that horrible yellow door on Clapham High Street. You answered the door. And even that didn't put me off ;-) Happy New Year."


And just think . . . if you'd been living in Wandsworth at the time, it would have been this door you would have knocked on and you'd now be Maoist. ;-

Politically you'd have Nepal rather than (our) current Fuck'all.

'I thank you, I thank you. Available for benefits, barmitzvahs and branch meetings when the marxist magician, Ian Saville, is unavailable.

I'd like to dedicate that terrible joke to the late, great SPGBer Eddie Grant. You were the master, Eddie.'

Darren said...

Sorry Mike, Frankie Howerd never did it for me.

Maybe I could give him another chance but a childhood littered with Carry on Doctor, Up Pompeii/Chastity Belt re-runs just gives me the shakes thinking about it. My feet were firmly placed in the Dick Emery camp. (No pun intended.)

You know who else played at the Establishment club? Ex-SPGBer, John Bird.

Yep - in my parallel universe - not only did the SPGB inspire Billy Connolly to comedic heights but they kickstarted the satire boom of the sixties.

In that parallel universe, the left were laughing with the SPGB rather than at us.

mikeovswinton said...

But was John Bird in the SPGB when he was a comedian? Reading his piece I got the impression that his SPGB career was not of the longest.

Darren said...


you're splitting hairs and throwing a dose of reality into my fantasy world. Stop it now. Remember, this is a daft, wee light-hearted blog.

The duration of his membership could have consisted of no longer than the AOB of a Nottingham Branch branch business meeting back in the fifties, and I'd still be talking him up as if he was fellow Branch delegate at a Party Conference back in the nineties.

I've been claiming these past 8 or 9 years that Emily Lloyd is a sympathiser of the SPGB because she approached a stall we were doing in East London one time and asked if she could sign our petition. My witty riposte was 'We don't do petitions', waited till she was fifty yards away from the stall and muttered under my breath, 'I loved you in Wish You Were Here.'

Back to Bird.

No, I don't think he was doing the stand up whilst a member of the SPGB - When have you ever known of an SPGBer standing up? - but on the matter of the length of his Party membership? That's a little more vague.

He could have been a member for a few years. I don't really know, off hand. We've never really reveled in the revolving door membership routine that so many of our opponents seem to indulge in a bit too . . . erm, *cough* indulgently.

I've never really been a fan of Bird and Fortune, tbh, but I do recognise some of the 'This is all ridiculous bullshit' satire of some of their routines and, believe or not, I recognise the SPGB in a lot of that 'wtf is going?' on style humour.

Do I think Bird lifted that wholesale from the SPGB? No, not really. Do I think Bird recognised kindred spirits in the SPGB at the bastard daftness and the deceit of the great and the good who continue to lord it over us? Most definitely.

mikeovswinton said...

The style point is a fair one. There is a book to be written on the impact of british comedy of one of the Socialist-Zionist youth movements still out there. And, what is more, it would actually be a rather interesting book.

mikeovswinton said...

That would be impact ON british comedy. The bits other than Frankie Howerd, obviously. Still think he was the business. Get the CD of him at the Establishment. And Woody Allen stand up comedian. I tipped a mate about that and he thought it was so funny he made his Christams guests listen to it. (I think I may have some strange mates actually.) Its from the days when he really was funny. Before he put Mrashall McLuhan in his films.

Darren said...

"I tipped a mate about that and he thought it was so funny he made his Christams guests listen to it. (I think I may have some strange mates actually.)"

Maybe they'd outstayed their welcome? What happened if they didn't laugh?

"Before he put Mrashall McLuhan in his films."

That's a bit harsh on Annie Hall. Not his best but still a good film.

I guess my fav Woody Allen film is Crimes and Misdemeanours, but it's a while since I've seen it so I might be remembering it through rose tinted specs.

mikeovswinton said...

Love and Death.
But, especially, Take the Money and Run. Was that the one with the gun made out of soap? I remember seeing it with my Father at a small cinema in the badlands between Manchester and Bolton where we lived. I've never seen anyone laugh as much as he did at that scene. He was still laughing in the car on the way home.

My friend is an educator, and I think he felt that making his guests listen to the CD was good for them. By all accounts it went down very well, as it should have done. "So the lift said to me 'are you the guy that kicked a TV last week?'"

Darren said...

I was going to mention Love and Death but it's a film I saw and loved what now seems like decades ago.

I may have only been 11 or 12 at the time when I saw it, and I think I've subconsciously shyed away from seeing it again - that and the fact that it was the one Woody Allen film that the BBC never repeated again and again - because I didn't want it to befall the same fate as Bad News Bears.

A very different film that I saw as a kid, loved to bits, and then discovered when watching it again as an adult that it wasn't that good after all.

Sometimes you just have to put your arms around that mythic memory and refuse to let go.