I am pretty sure that those who pelted miscreants in the stocks didn’t waste good food. It was too precious even when past its ‘sell by date’. It doesn’t take much imagination to think what might be thrown or poured over the unfortunate victim who had been clamped in place by the judiciary.
Working on the Kenny Everett Show it would sometimes feel as though you were about to get something unpleasant coming your way, but most of the time it was exhilarating and you really felt part of the whole show. We often had to go and operate the props we had made and as there was no audience, the cast and crew were the ones whose laughter is heard on the soundtrack. Occasionally we were also dragged into the action. The one time I remember was on the 1980 ‘New Years Eve’ show, when, donning party hats, Alastair and I were in the general melee that constituted a party.
The one time we really felt that the proverbial might hit the fan was the first time we had to make and operate the ‘gunge tube’. This was a clear Perspex tube filled with green slime that had to empty its contents onto the unfortunate ‘celebrity’, who, sitting manacled into the chair below had to answer three questions in the Star Quiz. As there were only 30 points available from the three questions, and 31 points were needed to avoid the inevitable humiliation, both they and we knew the gunge tube would always be emptying its contents.
It was about the size of a large dustbin, filled with a mixture of non-toxic wallpaper paste and vermiculite, finished to a vicious green with food colouring. The two problems we encountered were finding a good seal for the base and a reliable release mechanism. The latter was solved easily by using a quick release latch, always known as bomb releases, as those used in the early days were ex military. The seal was more problematic. The contents of the tube weighed a lot. Try picking up a dustbin full of water and you will see what I mean. The weight bowed the base of our prototype and we had to strengthen it. We lined the inside of the base with plastazote, a closed cell foam that worked reasonably well as long as it was replaced regularly.
It was in the early 1980’s and Ian and I set off with some trepidation to Thames Television at Teddington Lock. We were about to deposit huge quantities of slime onto the head of Lennie Bennett. No one had asked us how we might do it, or what we might use for the gunge. The perils of risk assessment were some years away. We were trusted not to put others in danger, never mind our reputation. Of course we had insurance, but were always very aware of what we were doing, and in 41 years we never had a problem. The nearest we came to damaging anyone was dropping a 20 foot (6 metre) mast on Benny Hill’s head in front of an audience at the end of a dance routine, but that is another story.
We set up the tube filled with gunge. It did have an almost imperceptible leak but everything held. The prop men, who were never keen on us operating anything in the studio, preferring to do everything themselves, decided it wasn’t their job, and allowed us to do the release.
We both stood to one side as Lennie, ‘manacled’ into the chair was asked the three questions. He inevitably failed and we pulled the pin. The gunge landed beautifully on his head. Relief all round, apart from Lennie.
Once the prop men knew it worked well they decided it was their job after all, although we still had to go to the studio and set it up. We just lost the fun part – the final act of releasing the pin.
Terry Wogan was not even given the opportunity to answer the three questions. Kenny had appeared on Terry’s show Blankety Blank previously and had bent Terry’s famous long microphone at right angles. (It was a symbol of the show along with the award – a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen – both of which we had to make many times for various comedy shows) When Kenny, carrying an oversize version of the microphone, approached Terry strapped into the chair, Terry returned the compliment and bent it. ‘Screw the game, hit him with the gunge’ was Kenny’s response. You can see it all in this YouTube clip.
It is 40 minutes and 34 seconds into the clip.
Bernard Manning was the one ‘celebrity’ we gunged on the show who seemed to come from a different world. He was very popular but he was often pilloried for his racial stereotyping and misogynist jokes. Both Kenny Everett and Bernard Manning were masters of bad taste. It could never be claimed that Kenny did not use racial stereotyping in his act, but maybe it is more acceptable to lampoon the French as he did with his character Marcel Wave, and certainly neither were averse to using sex to spice up their act. ‘Hot Gossip’, a dance troupe choreographed by Arlene Phillips, certainly helped to keep the nation’s libido at a high level, despite vain attempts by Mary Whitehouse to throw buckets of cold water over the gyrating, scantily clad dancers. I imagine being so ‘hot’ the water just made everything more steamy. You can see Kenny playing Mary Whitehouse and the lady herself in this YouTube version of the show ‘Heroes of Comedy – 33minutes and 13 seconds in.
It also includes a giant zip we made for him. He wore it and I always thought that the gag was that he had got caught in his own zip. After seeing this clip I realised it was nothing like that – It is 41minutes 44 seconds into the clip. Years later we saw the same prop being taken to a BBC auction. It was in a national newspaper and we asked for a copy of the picture.
One of the most surreal moments of my life was standing next to Bernard Manning as we both watched Kenny performing. After several minutes he turned to me and asked, ‘Is he professional?’ He seemed genuinely puzzled as their two comedy worlds collided. I had no answer.
Later, after we had clamped him into the chair, he asked the same question of Kenny. He had edited it to make it more pointed.
‘Do you get the same money as a professional,’ you can hear him asking on the YouTube clip.
‘You may have the gags but we have the gunge,’ Kenny replied with a vicious glint in his eye. I imagine it gave him greater pleasure than usual to announce, ‘He loses’ as the gunge was released. My last memory of that day was seeing Bernard Manning driven from the studio on a forklift truck shouting obscenities at the crowd of ‘amateurs’ he had been working with. See him getting gunged in this clip. At the end of the clip there is a very quick glimpse of me with my shaggy beard wearing a party hat, joining in the festivities.
Whether Kenny Everett was an inspired amateur or not, he did become a national favourite, with his many characters entering the nations psyche. I have been told by Faith Worth, a great friend and choreologist, that when working with Rudolf Nureyev on The Tempest in 1982, he would sit and fling his legs in the air, crossing and uncrossing them, ‘all in the best possible taste’, as Kenny’s blond bombshell Cupid Stunt would say as she revealed everything to the camera.
See her on the Michael Parkinson Show in this clip.
The Kenny Everett Show was a joy to watch and to work on. Nothing was ever in the best possible taste. It was anarchic, sexy and silly – poor old Mary Whitehouse must have run out of buckets of cold water by the time it went off air. Luckily we can all still enjoy watching it.