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Best Of British Variety Show

September 2008

FRANK Carson, Jimmy Cricket, Brotherhood Of Man, The Krankies, Paul Daniels and Cannon & Ball. In that order. For three hours.
I skipped the final twenty minutes -- your headliners weren’t so much the straw that broke the camel’s back as much as a mighty oak of clichés that beat it in to the ground.
They’ve been together 44 years and the routine hasn’t changed. Bobby pulls his braces, pretends a member of the audience is getting on his nerves, mucks around when Tommy tries to sing, they shout a lot...
By this time in the evening, notions of affection for veterans of British comedy or (more truthfully) the irony in a night of old school variety have long since ebbed away.
It had started nervously with a Union Jack backdrop and Land Of Hope & Glory booming through the p.a. Was this going to be one of those "why can’t we tell jokes about foreigners/immigrants/blacks/Asians/gays any more?" evenings?
Carson, our host, and looking well at 81 having lost nearly four stone (a porridge diet apparently), travelled closest to the bone but relied mostly on the daft.
"I bought some shoes and when I got them home they only had one lace. I took them back to the shop and they said ‘well it’s on the box -- Taiwan’."
Or one he told the Post for our website last week: "They’ve given the homeless a free bus pass. How do they know where to get off?"
No mother-in-law gags mind but a few about Paddy and Murphy and an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman routine.
Jimmy Cricket, in signature hat, coat tails, dickie bow, fingerless gloves and wellies was another doing an act older than the venue. He’s stopped by the police, produces his licence, it’s a dog licence, but I'm driving a Rover... you get the idea.
It was depressing to see a man of his age miming Elvis as a lollipop man. And he had the gall to plug his half-price CD available in the foyer. He was just glad to be out of the nursing home gig circuit one imagines.
Unintentionally, The Brotherhood Of Man were the funniest turn of the night.
Particularly when they revised that dance (if that’s the right term) for their Eurovision winning tune Save Your Kisses For Me. As if they were sneaking out a little gas.
While the harmonies were in check, "the British ABBA" oozed more cheese than a volcanic mountain of Stilton. "Great to be here, ladies and gentlemen", "what a lovely audience ladies and gentlemen", "Oooh we don’t look old enough to have been together 36 years do we, ladies and gentlemen?..." etc.. Shut up and sing or run me through with a sabre.
Too many years on the ageing cabaret circuit, perhaps but they seemed to think we were all mentally decrepit.
And the dark-haired one, Nicky, like Ruth Madoc in a Brian May wig, seemed to be playing some sort of Welsh harlot character, inviting the lads back to her hotel for a smoke and drink and god knows what else. Maybe the old boys at those Warner hotels or on the retirement cruises find that exciting but the rest of us were perplexed and more than a little repulsed.
When they did sing it worked. But they ruined it by boasting - ‘we had a No. 1 with Angelo, Figaro and United We Stand, you know’. All right, time has passed. Get over it.
And just when you thought it was break time, they’re back for a Grease medley, with more geriatric flirting that brought a bit of sick up.
The Krankies, who have been crafting their adult routine for years on the student circuit, seemed to be most at ease. As much as a husband and his 61-year-old wife dressed as a naughty schoolboy can be. There’s panto nonsense we saw on Crackerjack in the 70s and hammy false laughter but it’s been updated with smut and for that they stole the show. Just.
"What did I say to you last night?," asks hubby Ian.
Replies ‘Jimmy’ "That we can’t do it because Cannon & Ball are next door."
And he spat in her face by mistake. One hopes, anyway.
Bolstered by a large dry white during an overdue interval and Paul Daniels shows he’s the most natural with the audience, comfortably filling in gaps between tricks that aren’t so well delivered -- a card trick from 60 feet away with no screens?
But he mixes hypnotism with magic and you can’t help but be impressed.
Cannon & Ball’s finale comes too late. By then we've had enough.
"Is that your second husband missus? He wouldn’t have been my first choice either," says Bobby.
It’s a rare moment of mirth during an otherwise annoying, I’ve heard it all before, is it home time yet? set.
I wasn’t the only ‘younger’ member of the audience here for the irony left slumped with head in hands waiting for the pain to subside.
The Best Of British Variety it wasn’t. Surely that line-up would include the departed Monkhouse and Manning and Reid. Offensive, just a little. Mostly it was outdated and tiresome.
The likes of which we’ll never see again.
For good reason.

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