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Before he was Jimi: Jimmy Hendrix with Curtis Knight and the Squires
06:10 am



It’s pretty much impossible to fully tell the tale of Jimi Hendrix’s ascendance to the guitar-god pantheon without invoking the names of a Harlem R&B singer known professionally as Curtis Knight (née McNear) and a producer named Ed Chalpin. Knight was a veteran of R&B and Doo Wop groups like the Ink Spots and the Titans, who struck out on his own as a talented but only modestly successful bandleader. Knight happened to live in the same building as Hendrix, then still “Jimmy” Hendrix, a struggling journeyman, and after a fateful meeting in their building’s lobby, Knight brought Hendrix into his band the Squires, and introduced him to his manager, the aforesaid Ed Chalpin. It was around this time, October of 1965, that Chalpin signed Hendrix to an infamous exclusive three-year contract with a $1 advance and a promise of 1% royalties. Hendrix was already under contract with Sue Records (prophetic name, given what was to come), and maintained that he signed with Chalpin under the misapprehension that he was merely signing a session release for his work as a sideman. He remained under that belief for long enough that, when he was famously discovered by the Animals’ Chas Chandler, the Chalpin contract was the only one Chandler never bought out. That blunder haunted Hendrix’s career even beyond his death, and the legal knots surrounding those three years have only just been untangled last year.

Over the decades, Chalpin has released much Curtis Knight and the Squires material, misleadingly, under Hendrix’s name, but often in truncated form, or in crummy sounding editions meant to be passed off as “lost” Hendrix material to rake in quick bucks—one such opportunistic LP was even released in between Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love, tricking some fans into believing it was the second Jimi Hendrix Experience LP! All of which is a DRAG, as the Squires’ music deserves consideration on its own merits. Though they would likely have remained almost entirely unheralded were it not for the Hendrix connection, Curtis Knight and the Squires were a good band. Their original work was right in place with much of the energetic, guitar-based R&B of the time, and thrillingly, you can plainly hear Hendrix’s signature style throughout it all.

Hear some EARLY Jimi, after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
From slicing eyeballs to making the perfect Martini: The Life and Times of Luis Buñuel
08:49 am



The most famous short film ever made was inspired by dreams. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali had talked about making a film together for some time but could never agree on what the film should be about.

One day, Dali told Buñuel he had dreamt of ants swarming in his hands. Buñuel replied that he had dreamt of slicing open someone’s eye with a cutthroat razor. “There’s the film,” he said, “let’s go and make it.”

As Buñuel later explained, they compiled the script from a series of images which they took it in turns to suggest to each other. There was only one rule:

...No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.

When one of them made a suggestion, the other had three seconds in which to say “yes” or “no” to the proposal. This was how Buñuel and Dali wrote Un Chien Andalou (1929). Their intention had been to shock and offend, but rather than offending the public, Un Chien Andalou became an notorious success, which left Buñuel feeling ambivalent over his new found fame:

What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder

The most infamous image in cinema history?
The film had been paid for by Buñuel’s mother, but their next movie L’Âge d’Or (1930) was commissioned by the arts patrons Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles. This time their film achieved notoriety after Dali declared it was an attack on the Catholic church. When screened in Paris, the film caused a riot and was banned for 50 years.

After this, Buñuel distanced himself from Surrealism and became a Communist—a decision that ended his friendship Dali and led the painter to damage Buñuel’s reputation in America by denouncing him as an atheist.
Dali’s portrait of Buñuel from 1924.
It would take until the late 1940s for Buñuel to re-establish his career as a film director when he started making B-movies in Mexico. In 1950, he co-wrote and directed Los olvidados (The Young & The Damned) for which he Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951.

In 1960, Buñuel wrote “A Statement” on filmmaking for the magazine Film Culture in which explained his views on cinema:

The screen is a dangerous and wonderful instrument, if a free spirit uses it. It is the superior way of expressing the world of dreams, emotions and instinct. The cinema seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconscious, so profoundly is it rooted in poetry. Nevertheless, it almost never pursues these ends.

We rarely see good cinema in the mammoth productions, or in the works that have received the praise of critics and audience. The particular story, the private drama of an individual, cannot interest—I believe—anyone worthy of living in our time.

If a man in the audience shares the joys and sorrows of a character on the screen, it should be because that character reflects the joys and sorrows of all society and so the personal feelings of that man in the audience. Unemployment, insecurity, the fear of war, social injustice, etc., affect all men of our time, and thus, they also affect the individual spectator.

But when the screen tells me that Mr. X is not happy at home and finds amusement with a girl-friend whom he finally abandons to reunite himself with his faithful wife, I find it all very moral and edifying, but it leaves me completely indifferent.

Octavio Paz has said: “But that a man in chains should shut his eyes, the world would explode.” And I could say: But that the white eye-lid of the screen reflect its proper light, the Universe would go up in flames. But for the moment we can sleep in peace: the light of the cinema is conveniently dosified and shackled.

A late starter, age did not diminish Buñuel’s talent as a filmmaker and his most successful movies were made when he was in his sixties and seventies—The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire.
Buñuel said he was “An atheist—thank God,”—a line (allegedly) pinched by Kurt Vonnegut, and the only thing he equated with religious passion was his favorite drink a martini. In his autobiography, My Last Breath, Buñuel offered his recipe for the definitive martini:

To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen “like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken.”

Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)

In 1984, a year after his death, the BBC produced a documentary on The Life and Times of Don Luis Buñuel, which covered his life from eye-ball slicing to his plans for deathbed pranks to be played on his family and friends.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Kate Bush: Performs ‘Kite’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ in her first ever TV appearance, 1978
08:13 am



It doesn’t matter where you start—it’s where you’re going that counts.

Kate Bush made her television debut in a disused train depot in West Germany, when she guested on the light entertainment show Bios Bahnhof (Bio’s Station) for WDR-TV, February 9th, 1978. In front of a well-heeled, middle-aged audience, Kate sang two songs: one with her backing band (“Kite”); and one to a backing track (“Wuthering Heights”)—the B and A-side of her debut single.

“Wuthering Heights” was a revolutionary debut and still sounds as radical today as it did when first released. But its success may never have happened had her record label E.M.I. stuck with their plan to release “James and the Cold Gun” as her first single from Kate’s album The Kick Inside.

“James and the Cold Gun” was one of the songs Kate performed when she was learning her craft as lead singer with her brother’s group the K.T. Bush Band during the summer of 1977. The K.T. Bush Band gigged around London, traveling in a small Hillman Imp, performing covers of the Beatles and the Stones and Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” They also tried out a few of Kate’s original compositions like “James and the Cold Gun” where she would mime a shoot-out with the audience.
Kate Bush fronts the K.T. Bush Band circa 1977.

The K.T. Bush Band perform a Beatles classic, 1977.
Kate was determined her first release should be “Wuthering Heights” and pushed the label until they conceded.

“Wuthering Heights” had been scheduled for release in November 1977, but E.M.I. held the single back until January 1978 fearing it would be lost in the festive froth of Christmas records—Paul McCartney made the top of the hit parade that year with “Mull of Kintyre,” which went on to become the biggest selling UK single at that time. Fortunately, a few promo discs of the single fell into the hands of some radio DJs, who were mesmerized by the song and played it prior to its official January release. It caught the public’s attention and “Wuthering Heights” rapidly moved to the UK #1 on 5th March 1978, the first number #1 to be written by a woman.

And what about Bio who spotted this exquisite talent before anyone else? Well, he is Alfred Biolek an entertainer and TV producer, who had previously produced two special German-language editions of Monty Python for German TV—for which John Cleese, Eric Idle and co. had to learn German phonetically as none of the Pythons spoke the language fluently. Bio certainly had an uncanny knack for picking up on original talent before anyone else.

The performance, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Grace Slick has two regrets: Never screwed Hendrix, never rode a horse
05:25 am



When Grace Slick talks, I listen. She’s nobody’s fool, she speaks her mind, and she can be hysterically funny. She is a good example for the young people of today.

She’s also got her priorities straight. Lately, I’ve been reading interviews with Slick from recent years, and when the interviewer gets to the inevitable question of regrets, the singer’s answers are remarkably clear-sighted and consistent. There are just two big ones:

The things I wish I did do that I did not do, were screw Jimi Hendrix, and ride a horse.


There are a few lesser regrets that orbit these two—never went to the Middle East, never screwed Peter O’Toole, never got drunk with Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole—but Hendrix and horses pretty much constitute the whole of Grace Slick’s regrets in life.

But there aren’t too many regrets, because I did pretty much what I wanted to do. So now, as an old person, I don’t have these huge regrets. Mine are fairly minor. They have to do with drinking and screwing, so that’s not all that important (laughs).

Abso-fuckin’-A-lutely. This is the kind of peace of mind you get as the reward for living a decent, godly life. I am reminded of William S. Burroughs, who, contemplating his relatively good health at the age of 82, attributed his longevity to “living right.” Ignore Grace Slick’s example at your peril, young people.

Slick appeared on Tom Snyder’s show in 1998 to promote her memoir, Somebody to Love? She talks about the time the cops knocked on the door and she answered it wielding a shotgun, the time she tried to outrun police cars in her Aston Martin, the time she and Abbie Hoffman went to the White House to dose President Nixon’s tea, and a lot of other occasions when she grabbed life by the balls.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘I’ll ruin your f*cking name!’: Hunter S. Thompson’s scathing voicemail to customer service
08:06 am



Hunter S. Thompson
A highly irritated Hunter S. Thompson left a local audio/visual store a voice message, sometime in 2004, complaining about a faulty “DVD/combination tape player.”

It starts off, “This is Hunter S. Thompson in Woody Creek…” and goes downhill fast from there, “First, the machine is no good. It sucks. It won’t run, it jams.”

Then he starts threatening them:

I’ll be on your *ss all day long!...I’m going to destroy it and write about it. I’ll ruin your f*cking name!

What makes the story even better is the store he dialed, Design Audio Video in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, didn’t deserve the abusive call. After listening to the recording of the Gonzo journalist’s rantings at least fifteen times with his employees, the store’s general manager, Barrie McCorkle, sent someone over to remedy the issue which wasn’t even theirs to fix.

Years after the incident, McCorkle confessed, “It turns out, we didn’t sell him the stuff, but we ended up fixing it for him,” and, “he never apologized for it, but he was grateful.”

Take a listen to the glorious madness, which was later made into an animation:


Posted by Rusty Blazenhoff | Leave a comment
David Bowie wows Broadway as ‘The Elephant Man’
09:34 am



The stage director Jack Hofsiss called David Bowie up one day to ask him if he wanted to take over the lead as Joseph Merrick in a production of The Elephant Man. The actor who was playing Merrick, Philip Anglim, was quitting the role and Hofsiss needed a replacement immediately. Bowie had 24-hours to make-up his mind.

Bowie had spent the past year on a world tour and recording a new album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) when Hofsiss called. While many would have wilted at the thought of the arduous work involved in starring in a stage play, Bowie jumped at the offer. He joined the cast in San Francisco and began rehearsing his role.

Any suggestion that Bowie’s casting was just a novelty star billing to squeeze a few more dollars out of the play were soon quashed when the cast saw the sincerity and effort Bowie put into getting his performance right. Ken Ruta who played Doctor Treves was “unequivocal about his leading man”:

“[David] was incredible. Right on the money.”

Joseph (or as he is called in the play John) Merrick was born in England in 1862 and developed a strange and still “unknown” medical condition that caused him to suffer severe deformity in his features and bone structure, leaving him disfigured. Unable to find work, Merrick was exhibited in a freak show as “The Elephant Man.” He was eventually rescued by Frederick Treves, who became his close friend and patron.

Bowie first heard of Merrick when he was a teenager after reading about “The Elephant Man” in a book on circus freaks and human oddities (which also included a chapter on A. W. Underwood, the “Paw Paw Blowtorch.”) He later said he always had an interest in freaks and those on the edges of society and claimed their lives and experiences informed his writing.

It was certainly a stroke of genius to cast Bowie as Merrick as he brought an otherworldliness to the role and revealed a sensitivity rarely seen in his music or stage persona of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke.

As part of his research for playing the role, Bowie visited the London Hospital to examine Merrick’s bones and the cardboard church he had built which formed the centrepiece to the play—a outward symbol of Merrick’s search for peace and harmony.
Bowie performed the role without make-up and each evening forced his body into painful and twisted positions to become Merrick. His co-star Ruta said there was “a basic honesty” to his performance, but his best gift was his ability to listen to other’s dialog when acting. As Paul Trynka wrote in his biography of Bowie Starman:

His fellow actors found Bowie’s physical transformation into Merrick equally impressive. ‘He seemed to have captured that—better than all the other ones who wanted to be glamorous. He wasn’t doing glamour, he was doing Merrick,’ says Jeanette Landis. When Ken Ruta later watched John Hurt play Merrick, swamped under prosthesis, in the movie The Elephant Man, he found the experience far less involving.

As the play toured, the productions were mobbed by Bowie fans who wanted to see their pop idol or steal some personal belonging or item of clothing—even used cigarette butts were taken. Bowie took to carrying a few belongings in a cardboard suitcase and rather than living with the cast in an upmarket hotel, he stayed in rundown rented apartments where no one but a select few could find him.

However, the incessant attention from fans could be terrifying as it was utterly relentless. In Chicago a group of young female punks stalked the show attending every performance. On the final night, the group of six girls suddenly made a move for the stage. “It was instantaneous,” Ken Ruta told Bowie’s biographer:

“They were all tackled from the sides by I don’t know how many plain-clothes men. And they were carrying something in their purses, metallic—they were there to do something dirty. It was cuckoo that night.”

The production ran at the Booth Theater in New York from September 1980 to January 1981, where it received rapturous reviews with Bowie being singled out for special praise. The show was a sellout, with the opening night attended by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, David Hockney and Andy Warhol. During Bowie’s brief Broadway run, Lennon was assassinated by Mark Chapman.
In October 1980, Tim Rice interviewed David Bowie in new York for the BBC TV show Friday Night, Saturday Morning. Bowie talked about The Elephant Man, working in theater and his album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Kamikaze feminist throws herself in front of King George’s galloping horse, 1913
05:04 pm



My public school education taught me very little on either the English or American women’s suffrage movements. I received a sterilized, almost Disneyfied briefing on the mass of ladies who fought for the vote, but they remained a nameless marching sea of stern-faced sashes and hats. (To be fair, this was a school that still had the U.S.S.R. on the maps, so historical pedagogy may have taken a backseat to acquiring basic resources like toilet paper, and possibly clearing out asbestos.) It was only years later and of my own accord that I beefed up on stories of women terrorizing politicians, enduring hunger-strikes (and the subsequent force-feedings) and yes—throwing themselves in front of the King’s horse.

Up until very recently, I had presumed that last one was more of a symbolic than violent gesture—a bit of pedestrian-on-equestrian hassling. On the contrary, British suffragette Emily Wilding Davison actually chucked herself in front of—and grabbed the reins of—a galloping horse as it was running the Epsom Derby in 1913. The video below is actual footage of the brutal event.

Davison valued the cause more than self-preservation; she had previously been thrown in jail nine times and suffered 49 force-feedings while on hunger strike. This time she targeted the horse owned by King George V for maximum uproar. As you can see, the impact was incredibly violent. She held on for four days before dying from internal injuries and a fractured skull. Her funeral was memorialized by the movement.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Pot head pixie’: Gong’s Daevid Allen has but six months to live
03:32 pm



What sad news. Soft Machine and Gong founder Daevid Allen—a true counterculture hero—has made the announcement that he has but six months left to live.
Allen was being treated for cancer previously and operated on last year, but now it has returned and spread to his lung. The 77-year-old Australian legend is opting to forgo further treatment and let the illness take its course.

His full statement:

Hello you Kookaburras,

OK so I have had my PET-CAT scans (which is essentially a full body viewing gallery for cancer specialists, ) and so it is now confirmed that the invading cancer has returned to successfully establish dominant residency in my neck.

The original surgery took much of it out, but the cancer has now recreated itself with renewed vigour while also spreading to my lung.

The cancer is now so well established that I have now been given approximately six months to live.

So My view has Changed:

I am not interested in endless surgical operations and in fact it has come as a relief to know that the end is in sight.

I am a great believer in “The Will of the Way Things Are” and I also believe that the time has come to stop resisting and denying and to surrender to the way it is.

I can only hope that during this journey, I have somehow contributed to the happiness in the lives of a few other fellow humans.

I believe I have done my best to heal, dear friends and that you have been enormously helpful in supporting me through this time.

So Thank you SO much for being there with me, for the Ocean of Love and Now, importantly, Thank you for starting the process of letting go of me, of mourning then transforming and celebrating this death coming up – this is how you can contribute, this would be a great gift from those emotionally and spiritually involved with me.

I love you and will be with you always
- Daevid xxx -

Daevid Allen is one of the greatest FREAKS who has ever lived. He’s had an astonishingly full life and a profound influence on the lives and minds of so many people, myself included. He lived his life entirely on his own terms and I admire that more than anything. I’m a lifelong Gong fanatic. In the past year I’ve listened to their music as much as I ever have, revisiting everything from their earliest recordings to the “Radio Gnome Trilogy” (Angel’s Egg, Flying Teapot, You) to the New York Gong album to the little-known (but amazing!) album he recorded with Bongwater’s Kramer Who’s Afraid to the final, or what would at least seem to be the final Gong album recorded with Daevid, the wonderfully experimental I See You released in 2014.

I highly recommend I See You, which comes in a lavish hard case package festooned with Daevid’s whimsical drawings and lyrics, It’s really quite a beautiful book/object. If you’re interested, why not consider ordering it directly from the official Gong or Flamedog Records websites so that the money will get to Daevid NOW when he needs it?

Below, one of the most amazing clips you will ever see (I rate it the very best thing on all of YouTube myself): Gong performs a wicked version of “I Never Glid Before” on French TV’s Rockenstock program, 1973.

Animation of Daevid Allen’s drawings by Japan’s Mood Magic duo for a song called “How To Stay Alive”:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The real reason the BBC wanted to keep George Orwell off the radio
07:27 am



When George Orwell died at the age of forty-six on January 21st 1950, he was considered by some of London’s fashionable literary critics as a marginal figure—“no good as a novelist”—who was best known for his essays rather than his fiction.

This quickly changed in the years after his death when his reputation and popularity as a writer grew exponentially. Over the past seven decades he has come to be considered one of the most influential English writers of the twentieth century.

This massive change in opinion was largely down to Orwell’s last two books Animal Farm first published in 1945, and Nineteen Eighty-Four published the year before he died. The importance of these two novels has enshrined Orwell’s surname, like Dickens, Kafka and more recently J. G. Ballard, into the English language as a descriptive term—“Orwellian”—for nightmarish political oppression, while many of his fictional ideas or terms contained within Nineteen Eighty-Four have become part of our everyday language—“Big Brother,” “Room 101,” “newspeak,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime” and so on.

Both of these books have become essential texts for radicals and conservatives in their individual campaigns against perceived invasive and totalitarian governments. After the Second World War Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four were considered damning critiques of Stalinist Russia, and their subject matter limned the growing paranoia between East and West during the Cold War. When Edward Snowden exposed the covert surveillance by US intelligence agencies on millions of Americans, copies of the book were sold by the thousands. Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s flexibility of interpretation has meant the book has been used to condemn almost everything from the rise of CCTV and wind farms, to the George W. Bush/Tony Blair war against “the axis of evil,” the rise of jihadist Islam, the spread of capitalist globalization, Vladimir Putin’s political “grand vision”, and (rather laughably) “Obamacare.” 

But it wasn’t the meaning of Orwell’s writing that caused the BBC to sniff condescendingly about their employee during the 1940s, rather it was his actual voice which was considered by Overseas Services Controller, JB Clark as “un-attractive” as this secret internal BBC memo reveals:

Controller (Overseas Services)      19th January, 1943

GEORGE ORWELL                                 STAFF PRIVATE

1. A.C. (OS) 2. E.S.D.

I listened rather carefully to one of George Orwell’s English talks in the Eastern Service on, I think, Saturday last. I found the talk itself interesting, and I am not critical of its content, but I was struck by the basic unsuitability of Orwell’s voice. I realise, of course, that his name is of some value in quite important Indian circles, but his voice struck me as both un-attractive and really unsuited to the microphone to such an extent that (a) it would not attract any listeners who were outside the circle of Orwell’s admirers as a writer and might even repel some of these, and (b) would make the talks themselves vulnerable at the hands of people who would have reason to see Orwell denied the microphone, or of those who felt critical of the B.B.C. for being so ignorant of the essential needs of the microphone and of the audience as to put on so wholly unsuitable a voice.

I am quite seriously worried about the situation and about the wisdom of our keeping Orwell personally on the air.

JBC/GMG (J.B. Clark)

The reason Old Etonian Orwell’s voice may not have sounded attractive was that he had been shot in the neck during the Spanish Civil War. However, Orwell got his own back on the BBC by naming Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s infamous torture room after “Room 101” in Broadcasting House, where he had to sit through long, tedious meetings about political vetting.
The only known footage of George Orwell (or Eric Blair as he was then) can be seen in this clip of him playing the “Wall Game” with fellow pupils at Eton—he’s fourth on the left and in the clip between a very young Melanie Griffiths and Grace Kelly.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Eric Idle’s brilliant, nearly forgotten comedy classic ‘Rutland Weekend Television’
09:28 am



“Saddlebags, saddlebags,” was an utterance that could be heard around my local school yard during the mid-1970s. We used it to signify someone talking absolute bollocks or, as an extended form of et cetera, et cetera whilst channeling your best Yul Brynner. More importantly, it was the demarcation line between those who grew-up with the Norwegian Blue of Monty Python and those who fell under the influence of Rutland Weekend Television from whence the term “saddlebags” came. Of course, part of the reason for this generational shift was age and viewing access—Python had kicked-off on very, very late night TV in 1960s, while Rutland Weekend bounced into my life at the sensible and dare I say, neatly turned-out time of nine o’clock in the evening.

Rutland Weekend Television was a spin-off from Python, the brainchild, creation and vehicle for the multi-talented Eric Idle. The Pythons have often (rightly) described themselves as being like The Beatles of comedy. There’s John Cleese and Graham Chapman as the sarcastic and ambitious John Lennon; Michael Palin and Terry Jones as the nice but bossy Paul McCartney; Terry Gilliam as a kind of hybrid Ringo Starr (with a possible hint of Keith Moon); and Eric Idle who is the George Harrison of the band—which probably explains why Harrison and Idle were such good friends. (Harrison made a guest appearance on the RWT Christmas special as a pirate.)

After the final TV series of Monty Python in 1974, each member had gone off to make their own solo “album.” Cleese had left just before the fourth series, which certainly imbalanced the show’s dynamic, to make Fawlty Towers. While Jones and Palin devised the delightful Ripping Yarns; Gilliam moved into movie-making with Jabberwocky; and Idle published his brilliant and often pant-wettingly hilarious novel Hello Sailor (apparently first written in 1970) and the series that certainly opened my eyes to the potential of television comedy and the genius of Eric Idle, Rutland Weekend Television.
Idle’s concept for Rutland Weekend Television was brilliant but simple: a TV broadcast station in Rutland (a tiny—but real—landlocked English county in East Midlands) from where a continuity presenter introduces a series of films, musical numbers, documentaries, light entertainment and chat shows. The format gave creator and writer Idle to show-off his incredibly inventive magpie-like talents with which he lampooned every kind of TV and film genre—and many of his ideas would later be reused by other (lesser) talents.

From its opening credits and introduction from mine host, a cloying, simpering, insincere idiot as you can imagine, I was hooked. This was comedy gold that tapped into a generation who had been weaned on TV and understood the inventive and playful way in which Idle spoofed the format and language of television. In the opening episode, the sketch that confirmed (for me) this was definitely classic and important TV featured Eric Idle and Henry Woolf speaking nothing but gibberish:

Eric Idle: Ham sandwich, bucket and water plastic Duralex rubber McFisheries underwear. Plugged rabbit emulsion, zinc custard without sustenance in Kipling-duff geriatric scenery, maximises press insulating government grunting sapphire-clubs incidentally.

(It’s the “incidentally” at the end that makes this quote seem all too plausible, especially in a decade where language was being mutated by Marxist sociologists into into utterable, alienating, dystopian bilge, incidentally.)

This was literate intelligent comedy that destroyed the whole artifice of television interviewing and its use of intonation to express thoughts and emotions in one fell swoop. This was also the sketch where “saddlebags, saddlebags” came from, as you can imagine. It was like watching a great scene by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett. Indeed, Henry Woolf who was one of RWT‘s regular cast members was the very man who had original produced and directed Pinter’s first play and was friends with the playwright from his early years.

Not only was there Idle and Woolf but the genius of Neil Innes from the Bonzo Dog Band (who had previously worked with Idle, Jones and Palin on the legendary children’s series Do Not Adjust Your Set), David Battley and Gwen Taylor. The series was made on a miniscule budget (knowing the BBC probably a bus pass, a table and chairs and some paint), but the lack of funds hardly stifled Idle’s startling invention. If ever there was a man deserving to be called the heir to Spike Milligan then it is certainly Mr. Idle—though this two bit typist believes Eric is greater than Spike for a variety of reasons. Of course, the most famous spin-off from RWT was The Rutles—Idle’s mockumentary All You Need Is Cash—which grew a life of its own with Neil Innes’ brilliant songs.

Alas, RWT only lasted two series and a spin-off book and album (which I still proudly own), and has (to the best of my knowledge) never been repeated by those anonymous controllers at the BBC. Worse no DVD has ever been issued, which has nothing to do with Mr. Idle (I have personally been assured) but all to do with the Beeb. Thankfully, some absolutely delicious bastard has uploaded the whole series onto YouTube, so you can now see what you’ve been missing, as you can imagine.
More from Rutland Weekend Television, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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