Britain seems to have a dual personality, especially when viewed from outside. On the one hand there’s the “British reserve”, stiff upper lip and all that. On the other there’s Benny Hill. Alright Benny Hill and the rest of the Music Hall style comedy that populated the TV of the 50s, 60s, 70s and to a lesser extent 80s.
So at one end of the scale we have what would be regarded by non-Brits as Victorian values, and at the other extreme is a music hall tradition that encompasses Pantomime and End Of The Pier shows.
I think I’ve touched on this before when I mentioned Kenny Everret, specifically his character Cupid Stunt. Looking back now the spoonerism is obvious. But in my defence I was young and naïve. Kenny was an incredible figure, a rebel and in his own way very anti-establishment. He started off in pirate radio and while he did land a job with the BBC got himself sacked because of a quip about Margaret Thatcher. From memory it was along the lines of “When we had an Empire we had an Empress, when we had a Kingdom we had a King, now we have Maraget Thatcher we have a Country.” Check him out on Wikipedia if you want to know more.
Kenny is not alone, both in irreverent, highly camp, comedy steeped in sexual innuendo of the sledgehammer kind.
UK readers will remember Larry “Shut that door” Grayson. My abiding memory is of him on “The Generation Game”, were his constant anecdotes about his fictional friends Everard, Slack Alice and a postman called ‘Pop it in Pete’. Not sophisticated but for their time very funny and quite brave as homophobia was rife. When Larry first began his act as a stand-up and drag artist homosexuality was illegal in England so basing your living on being gay was quite brave to say the least.
On the subject of innuendo and me being as thick as a plank, how about Molly Sugden as Mrs Slocombe? If you’ve seen “Are You Being Served” you’ll know the drill. Her entire character was based around a working class shop assistant with aspirations to bettering herself. She had an affected middle class accent that would disappear if she was shocked/upset/ angry or otherwise off her guard. That in itself was, I think, the genius part of Molly’s charactrisation. But she was really famous for the continuous stream of jokes about her Pussy. Of course as a child I always assumed it was a cat. So we had “stroking my pussy”, “showing so-and-so my pussy”, “my pussy drives him wild” and “damp pussy” jokes galore, before the 9 o’clock watershed.
Not all British performers are what they seem though. Remember Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings, or as Richard III, or now as Lear? Well you might be interested to know that he has another passion, putting on a frock and playing a pantomime dame. Now there’s someone truly at home with themselves. (he’s the one on the left)