Saturday morning TV: Original Basil Brush Show

Howard Williams and Basil Brush (image courtesy British Classic Comedy)

Nostalgia is a strange beast.

Wearing the most fashionable of rose-colour glasses and moving with the surety of someone who belives they have an impeachable memory of things past, it makes its way through the landscape of our lives with the confidence of a salesman looking to close the deal, assuring us with brio and swagger that somehow we loved as a child is AS GOOD AS EVER.

But what if it’s not?

I mean, not bad exactly but so much a product of its time that watching it now feels ridiculously out of place?

Take The Basil Brush Show, featuring, naturally enough, the gleefully irreverent and charmingly bombastic Basil Brush, created by Peter Firmin in 1963 and voiced and performed by Ivan Owen until his death in October 2000 (Michael Winsor took over in 2002 and continues in the role to the present).

He is still a fixture on British TV, though of course not nowhere as zeitgeist-bestriding as he was back when everyone and I mean everyone wanted to be on his show, and he was making appearances on The Goodies (two episodes – “A Kick in the Arts” and “The Goodies Rule – O.K.?’) and 1993’s Comic Relief song “Stick It Out”.

But the epoch that I am most familiar with was the glory days of 1968 to 1980 where he appeared alongside a line-up of actors and presenters, starting with Rodney Bewes (1968), Derek Fowlds (1969-73), Roy North (1974-76) then Howard Williams (my favourite) and Billy Boyle.

Each show was a mix of dance numbers, musical guests (think Cilla Black, Demis Roussos), pun-laden sketches and musings between the presenter and Basil who took every opportunity to use his unmistable, high-volume, big-impact catchphrase “Ha Ha Ha ha! Boom! Boom!”

I loved that catchphrase and would repeat it at every available opportunity, much to my mother’s “delight” (I’m sure she was glad when I grew too old for Basil, at about the same time his show left the air in 1980; it was revived in 2002 as a sitcom with the same title as its previous incarnation).

With that much stored-up love and nostalgia doggedly assuring me it was every bit as good as I remembered, I happily pushed the DVD into the player recently and sat back to enjoy one of the great staples of my childhood.

It was an unusual experience.

I started watching, buoyed by a desperate need, in the murky, messy afterwash of my Mum’s all-too-recent death from cancer, to have this pillar of my childhood be every bit as silly and vibrant as I remember it.

In many ways, it was – Basil was as garrulous and over the top as ever and the presenters, including the handsome, bubbly Howard Williams were as charmingly good as I recalled in their straight guy roles to Basil’s anarchic jokester.

The references to current comedians and singers of the time also rang true since I lived through that period and while not being British, some jokes went over me, they went over me even more profoundly in my childhood and I still adored and loved Basil even so.

No, I think what really threw me was the fact that the skits and the jokes all felt more than a little tired and worn.

It was an odd thing to notice since I watch a great deal of older British sitcoms and Hanna-Barbera cartoons and while some feel a little dated, they still possess a quite beguiling timelessness.

Somehow, that same effect didn’t happen with The Basil Brush Show which while as delightful as ever in many ways – the opening chat between Basil and the host was as sweetly silly as ever as was the closing storytime chats and the very ’70s-ness of just about everything else was a cosy blast from the past – somehow just felt very tired.

You expect some dating obviously but the overall effect here was weirdly, almost terminally dated which frankly, disappointed me more than I can say.

My reaction is not a repudiation of the show since it is still a lot of fun to watch in its own way and it will always have a place in my heart (how could you not love Basil? He’s a loud, hilarious joy) but it felt very much, and perhaps it’s simply because, mired in grief as I am, that I want the past to be as vibrant as I remember in every respect, one of the few pop culture mainstays of my childhood that simply didn’t deliver as expected.

Is there some kind of great lesson in this? LIkely not – I’ve lost my Mum, life feels bleaker and expecting a show, any show, to step in that great yawning chasm is manifestly unfair.

The thing is, there was enough of the charm and the wit and the silliness to make me feel a bit better and while it isn’t quite what I remember, that will do for now and maybe once the initial maelstrom of grief has run its course, Basil and I can sit down and try it all again.

He’s been there for me for so long that I owe him at least that much.

Posted In TV

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