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Eric Idle’s brilliant, nearly forgotten comedy classic ‘Rutland Weekend Television’

“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 | Discussion
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Freedumb fried: Fox News gets ridiculed by the French

Barbie and Ken talk terrorism…

When Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck recently interviewed Nolan Peterson, a former US Air Force pilot, on the Islamization of French society, the obviously extremely intelligent Mr. Peterson (not to be confused with Steven Emerson, the Fox News terrorism “expert” British Prime Minister charitably called a “complete idiot”) claimed that there were “741 no-go zones throughout France” under de facto Islamist control.

Not “700 plus” or “around 750” “no-go” zones, but exactly 741 “no-go” zones. Surely a dude this specific came armed with the knowledge to drop on the Fox New viewers. Peterson described Paris as “pretty scary,” comparing the City of Light to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kashmir and adding that he’s seen “young men wearing Osama Bin Laden t-shirts in a hookah shop.”

Sounds like something some old fart watching Fox News who has never been that far beyond the confines of his hometown would think is true, so… hey, why not? It’s not like it’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s job to know what he’s talking about, is it? She’s just supposed to nod with a furrowed brow, try to look serious and read from a teleprompter. She barely understands what she’s saying half the time, let alone the “experts” she interviews, so cut her some slack.

This is the face of a man who definitely knows what he’s talking about. You can tell by his smirk.
The segment is the quintessence of Fox News: False (i.e intellectually useless) information propagated by two people, one who has no idea what he’s talking about and a second who has no idea what he’s talking about either, producing together an incoherent news segment for an audience who has no idea if what they’re hearing is even true or not, but who accept it as true because it sounds like something they already believe.

When Yann Barthès, host of the French show Le Petit Journal saw the Fox News segment he sent his courageous producers, dressed in full combat gear to some of the 741 “no-go” zones to survey the situation with some pretty nonplussed man-on-the-street interviews.

Snopes investigated the claim of these supposed Islamist “no-go” zones only to find that the brain trust at Fox News mistranslated “zones urbaines sensibles” (ZUS), which is basically the equivalent French term for “urban renewal zones” and turned it into something it wasn’t…

Fox News vs. reality. Amusing yes, but ultimately it’s reality itself that ends up diminished…

Peterson apologized to the entire country of France for his smirky Fox News appearance in an open letter.

Via Daily Kos

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Recently found footage of John Belushi, Bill Murray & Gilda Radner cutting it up a year before SNL

In 1974 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was working on a documentary on National Lampoon magazine that was never completed. In the 1970s National Lampoon was quite the comedy force, producing radio shows, comedy albums, and live theater shows alongside the publication—the movies would come later and have as much impact as anything they did. In these brief clips, released yesterday by the CBC, you can see three future stars of Saturday Night Live (original title NBC’s Saturday Night) in Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and John Belushi on the cusp of superstardom.

Note that the guy in the first clip is Brian Doyle Murray, Bill’s older brother—Bill’s the one with the full beard. Cavorting with the aforementioned are comedy luminaries Joe Flaherty (in some of the footage wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey) and Harold Ramis, who would both soon contribute to the glories of SCTV, Ramis as the show’s original head writer. Ramis of course would go on to be a legendary movie director, writer, and actor, playing a part in the success of Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Knocked Up, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and so on.

Boy, I wish everyone on SNL today had those exact same haircuts.

Post by CBC.

via Salon

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Elvis Costello’s TV commercial for ‘Get Happy!’
08:24 am


Elvis Costello

This is one of those “just press play” posts. This is a funny, slapdash TV commercial from 1980 in which Elvis Costello hawks his record Get Happy! in the style of a K-Tel shill. What more do you need to hear? Enjoy.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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The Fox News Color Chart, apparently
02:35 pm


Fox News

This Fox News Color Chart helps elderly viewers and Fox News “journalists” alike calibrate who’s a terrorist and who is George Hamilton.

Odd that there’s no indicator for John Boehner…
Via Bipartisan Report.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Link Wray and his bizarre guitar on American Bandstand, 1959
11:50 am


American Bandstand
Dick Clark
Link Wray

Link Wray Slinky
This Link Wray appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand from 1959 is great for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s kind of fun observing a bunch of palm-to-mouth teenyboppers as they try to decide what to do with themselves while watching a guy with some of the gnarliest guitar tone of all time rip it up in front of them. Wray is famous for supposedly “inventing” the power chord and for punching holes in his speakers to get the raunchiest recording sound possible. Yes, Wray had scored a hit in April of 1958 with his now ultra-famous and influential tremolo soaked instrumental swamp ballad, “Rumble” released just under a year before this American Bandstand appearance, but it was banned from the airwaves in some markets for being just too damned raw and for using the slang term (obvious now) for a gang fight. I’ve got to imagine, judging by the “I’m supposed to be liking this, right?” looks on the faces of the young audience, that they were a at least a little befuddled by the performance. At the time of this appearance in early 1959, Wray had just released the single for “Rawhide” (not the version you might be thinking of) that he and the band play on the show. Wray’s “Rawhide” is also just a cool instrumental in its own right.
Link Wray Guitarlin
Link Wray looking like a bad man with his 1958 Danelectro Longhorn “Guitarlin”
More importantly however (for me anyways) is that the clip also provides a chance to take a look at the source of Wray’s tone (half anyways, I’m not sure what kind of amp he was using), the ultra-bizzaro 1958 Danelectro Longhorn “Guitarlin” that Wray plays in the clip and with which he performed and recorded during the last few years of the fifties. Boasting a very long neck with an unprecedented 31 frets and a deep double cutaway that produces the “long horns” jutting out from the guitar’s oddly shaped body, the Guitarlin is something to behold in any decade, but this was pretty far out for 1959. It was so weird, in fact, that only about 200 were ever made between 1958 and 1968 according to one source. It was called a “Guitarlin” because the long neck allowed for narrow fret spacing close to the guitar body that could supposedly get the player into the mandolin tonal range.
Guitar Oddity: The weird looking Danelectro Longhorn “Guitarlin”
Guitarlin Close-up
Lipstick pickups and small fret spacing of the long necked “Guitarlin”
The two lipstick pickups that you see in picture above are just as responsible for Link Wray’s storied late fifties tone than the shape of the guitar, though. Why lipstick pickups? Because the electronics for them were literally housed inside metal canisters originally designed to hold lipstick. The pickups became standard issue on a variety of Danelectro guitars and on Silvertones, which Danelectro also manufactured and distributed for a time for Sears Department stores as cheap axes marketed towards beginners. The pickups produce a jangly, trebly tone that has become famous among collectors and retro sound enthusiasts and so many people use Silvertones today for recording and performing that it’s not even worth making a list. 

According to some guys who know a whole lot more than I do about this kind of thing, finding one of these original “Guitarlins” would set you back a couple of grand, mainly because Link Wray used one.

For those of you who care about such things, Link Wray was nominated for but not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. 

You can read more about Link Wray, the Guitarlin and all kinds of other guitar trivia in Deke Dickerson’s Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology.

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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The Swedes have an unusual way of teaching kids about sex, don’t they?

Meet Snoppen and Snippan, they’re Internet sensations.

It’s easy to see why this charming little children’s animation from Sweden has become such a massive hit there. It’s obviously the bright colors, the rather catchy tune that will have you singing along in a minute or two…and the…er…jolly bouncy characters who look, very happy with each other. It’s all very Swedish.

Apparently, this is one way that Swedes teach their children all about the facts of life—through the animated characters “Willie” (Snoppen) and his very close friend Snippan—which are apparently slang words for something or another. This gloriously surreal cartoon comes from the hit children’s TV show Bacillakuten, and that earworm of a song tells how Willie is “full of pace” and Snippan is “really cool, you better believe it, even on an old lady. It just sits there so elegantly.” Okay, the scansion may be a bit off, but I think we all get the idea.

YouTube originally made this an “adult only” video before reversing themselves on that. Still, if they tried something like this on Sesame Street, the responsible party would probably be imprisoned. Gotta love those free lovin’ Swedes!

Via Nyheter24.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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There’s more to guileless Caucasian everyman Fred Willard than it seems
09:34 am


Fred Willard

(from the portroids project)
When was the first time you saw Fred Willard? Was it Fernwood 2Night? Or perhaps the happy-go-lucky military officer in This Is Spinal Tap? If you’re a little younger it may well have been his delirious turn as a dog show commentator in Christopher Guest’s 2004 satire Best in Show. For me it was Real People, the weird prime-time magazine show with a live audience on NBC around 1980.

Whatever the case, it’s in keeping with Willard’s guileless Middle American everyman schtick that it might almost have seemed as if he were hardly performing at all, as if he had wandered onto the set practically by accident.

Willard during his Second City days. Robert Klein is the taller guy.
Such an impression could hardly be farther from the truth. Let’s say you first saw him in Fernwood 2 Night, right? That would have been 1977. So we, the American audience, were just getting to know him, right? He was just starting out. No, on the contrary: By 1977 Fred Willard was a highly seasoned veteran of sketch comedy, with more than 15 years of hard-won experience under his belt. In 1962 he (along with his longtime partner Vic Grecco, sometimes styled ‘Greco’) appeared on the same bill as Barbra Streisand at the hungry i in San Francisco! Hell, maybe Barbra opened for them!

Fred Willard was a member of the Second City improv troupe for a number of years—his audition with Robert Klein secured a spot for both comedians. He also starred in the first successful production of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders in 1969. Ironically, at Second City his ostentatiously “straight” demeanor and appearance made him “weird,” as he confessed in the pages of Mike Thomas’ oral history Second City Unscripted

I was kind of the weird guy. The original Second City guys all had beards and sat around smoking dope, and I heard stories of when the thaw came in the spring, you’d go out in this garden next door, and there were all these hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia, but I was never into drugs.

If you are in the L.A. area next Saturday, January 17, the formidable Kliph Nesteroff will be hosting an intimate Q&A at the Downtown Independent. The event is at 3 p.m., and costs just $10. Do hurry, though, because tickets are limited. Nesteroff is almost certainly the best-informed person born after the heyday of Julius Erving on the old-school nightclub comedy of the 1940s through the 1970s, and Fred Willard has so many incredible stories to tell, it’ll make your head spin. If you’re not already reading his Tumblr Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery, you’re missing out, because it’s great.

Here’s an episode of Get Smart that was actually conceived as a stealth “pilot” for a sitcom starring Willard and Grecco. However, their agent held out for more money and the production company changed their minds.

After the jump, a remarkable commercial from more than 40 years ago featuring Willard, Peter Boyle, and James Woods…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Post-punk parody: UK children’s show lampoons XTC’s ‘Making Plans for Nigel,’ 1979
06:15 am



British viewers of a certain age will know this show very well, it was called Crackerjack, and it was a children’s show that ran for a whopping 30 years, from 1955 to 1984. The hosts in this era were Peter Glaze and Bernie Clifton. (Some credit Glaze with inventing the phrase “Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”)

As you can see, this video depicts a bunch of sophomoric comedians making fun of XTC’s 1979 single “Making Plans for Nigel.” I was trying to think of what the comparison of this would be in the United States, and the closest thing I could come up with was Hee Haw—but Hee Haw didn’t do song parodies, did they? It does have a certain flavor of The Carol Burnett Show spoofing Gone With the Wind. Since Crackerjack was a children’s show, I suppose you could say it was a bit like Captain Kangaroo or Soupy Sales? Again, neither of those were exactly known for parodying well-regarded post-punk acts, right?

Sadly, according to the end credits, this episode seems to have featured Sparks, but there’s no trace of their performance on the Internet that I could find.

Listen to the original by XTC after the jump….

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘The Music of Harry Nilsson’: Nilsson ‘live’ but with a slight catch
11:48 am


Harry Nilsson

There isn’t exactly what you’d call “a whole lot” of performance footage of the great Harry Nilsson out there—apparently he didn’t really enjoy performing on television all that much and he never, ever toured—but luckily what does exist tends to be magical. Like a charming clip from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968 where he sang with Tommy Smothers and discussed songwriting, a visit to the Playboy Mansion with Hef and the bunnies, or the Nilsson meets orchestra performance of A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night a team-up with Sinatra arranger Gordon Jenkins broadcast on the BBC in 1973.

But what is undoubtedly the very best example of Harry Nilsson “live” is the BBC In Concert show that was taped in 1971 at the BBC Television Theatre (now the Shepherd’s Bush Empire) and first broadcast on New Year’s Day, 1972.

Here’s the thing: although Nilsson is playing live, there’s no audience present save for the technicians. The audience (very briefly) seen here was edited in from another show of the In Concert series! The (intermittent) applause? Canned.

Dig especially the emotional performance here of The Point‘s “Life Line” and an early version of Son Of Schmilsson‘s “Joy” that’s better than the studio version. “Walk Right Back” wouldn’t see release until the Harry Nilsson box set. Comedy nerds will recognize the visual tribute to Ernie Kovacs’ “Nairobi Trio” during “Coconut.”

Set list:
Mr Richland’s Favourite Song / One 0:00
Gotta Get Up 3:48
Walk Right Back / Cathy’s Clown / Let The Good Times Roll 6:28
Life Line 10:37
Think About Your Troubles 15:09
Joy 17:32
Are You Sleeping? 21:03
Without Her 23:23
Coconut 25:31
1941 30:03

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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