Fool Britannia – Scandal – Stop the World I Want to Get Off – TW3
(El Records ACMemo316CD)
‘Fool Britannia’ takes us back to an age when politicians learnt that respect was earned, not given, and a moment’s indiscretion could bring the house down. This collection of ephemera, stretched over two CDs, is essential listening for those interested in Britain in the late 50’s/early 60’s, satire, pop music and the power of the press.
Written by all-winning song writing team Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and ably assisted by Peter Sellers and Joan Collins, ‘Fool Britannia’ rips the merciless out of the then highly topical Profumo Affair. At a time when politicians were generally respected by the media, even held in awe, the news of the brief love affair between Secretary of State for War John Profumo and Christine Keeler, a would-be model would have repercussions far beyond any personal embarrassment caused. That Keeler was simultaneously having an affair with Soviet Naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov, and the revelations about the somewhat sordid details of the case would contribute to the fall of Harold MacMillan’s Conservative government. It was the gift that kept on giving, especially for newspaper owners and comedy writers involved in the popular satire boom.
Performed before an invited audience at the RCA Victor Studios, New York, on 6/8/1963, it opens with Sellers doing a spot-on impression of Newley writing a song live in the studio. ‘There Goes That Song Again’ works on more than one level, not least of which are the awful rhymes so typical of the ‘bash ‘em out and sell ‘em cheap’ school of Brit song writing at that time. ‘The House That Mac Built’ stages a speech by PM MacMillan in the bear pit that was the House of Commons, tripping himself up with almost every word, every accidental admission. The impression almost out-does Peter Cook’s own, Cook only trumping when he performed it live before MacMillan, one night.
The hypocrisy of sexual manners during this time period is elegantly brought out in ‘Wry On The Rocks’, but for true venom, you need to cock an ear to ‘They Only Fade Away’, which goes from bar room vulgarity to buffoonish Chinese whispers to amuse us. The biting innuendo in ‘Countess Interruptus’ and the sharply drawn Royal-baiting of ‘We Are Not Amused’ would have given the average radio producer a coronary at the time, but this are only paving the way for the newspaper bidding frenzy of ‘Mightier Than The Sword’. Tony, Peter, Lesley and Joan all give their best in this staging of the scramble for
Mandy Rice-Davies’ story.
The international reaction to the scandal is brilliantly satirised by way of parodied news reports in near-enough foreign languages, and followed by what may be the best one-liner of the entire satire boom: (French accent) ‘Eh, want to buy some filthy English postcards?’
For all-out belly laughs, the telephone conversation between two dubious film producers and an agent acting for one of the girls cannot be bettered. Intending to add Mandy’s story to their already impressive roster of forthright, thought provoking films, such as ‘Too Young To Strip’ and ‘I’m Sixteen and not Ashamed of my Body’, they negotiate the rights from a malodorous telephone box in Old Compton Street.
Punctuated with sharp one-liners and taking in public reaction to the whole Profumo debacle, ‘Fool Britannia’ may not crack up a modern audience at fifty years’ distance, but as a document of the style of humour and public attitudes, it can’t be beaten. An interesting side note here: major record companies would not touch this piece with a bargepole at the time. It was Jeffrey S Kruger’s ‘Ember’ label which saw its release, and its subsequent 10 week long residence in the
Highlights of the soundtrack from the film ‘Scandal’ (1989) are well chosen, ranging from Frank Sinatra’s sublime ‘Witchcraft’ to Guy Mitchell’s hilarious ‘She Wears Red Feathers’. The full album is well worth investigating for its highly representative choices of popular (rather than ‘pop’) music of the era, the only original song being Dusty Springfield’s ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’, written by Pet Shop Boys.
Disk 2, although bearing a facsimile of the cover from ‘Stop The World I Want To Get Off’, with Anthony Newley in Pierrot costume, actually opens with Mandy Rice Davies’ efforts to become a pop star; four songs which should have convinced everyone she was not suited to this particular walk of life. The upbeat ‘You’ve Got What It Takes’ makes considerable use of echo on Mandy’s thin voice, recalling the tuneless Yvonne in ‘Smashing Time’, and the smoochy jazz of ‘Close your Eyes’ is no better served. ‘All I Do Is Dream of You’ pitches Mandy as an innocent, and the mercifully final selection, ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’ must have had the listeners in fits at the suggested Spoonerism in its title. Not that Mandy was the only one seeking to make a quick buck out of this incendiary story: Joyce Blair, labouring under the well-chosen moniker, ‘Miss X’, turns in a sexily humorous one-sided conversation in ‘Christine’, and as if to ensure a complete radio ban, the sultry ditty, ‘S.E.X.’
‘Stop The World I Want To Get Off’ occupies much of the second disk, and if you’re not familiar with this funny, satirical piece from the days when going to a musical was not the dull, predictable affair it is today, then you should listen to it without delay. Basically a story of an ordinary Joe’s path through life, taking in early marriage forced on by his girl’s unexpected pregnancy, work and its joys, and finally, his transformation into a populist political hopeful, every song is tuneful, memorable and barbed in a way that would never do in today’s no-risk
Following this are selections from the ever sharp, slyly digging world of ‘That Was the Week That Was’, the BBC television show (1962-63) which capitalised on the satire boom. Using impressions, song, narrative and the week’s news as its raw material, ‘TW3’ had a huge array of writers, a wealth of talent and presented by the legendary David Frost, it was the BBC’s most strident and most feared show.
TW3 took on the establishment in a weekly sparring contest, and ran it round the ring until it was too exasperated to defend itself further. The previously untouchable subjects of sex, religion and class, Britain’s much diminished place in the world and the private lives of our leaders all came under scrutiny and were mocked mercilessly. The week’s news, sung by the lovely Millicent Martin makes for a good start, and the real life meeting between pop singer Adam Faith and the Archbishop of York is given a cheeky twist with ‘Adam’s Not A Sinner Anymore’, sung in the adenoidal style, then still popular from the time of Buddy Holly. Lance Percival’s impromptu calypsos may sound a little tame today, but were revolutionary then, but perhaps the finest sketch on offer here is the terribly well-spoken man and woman, skirting around the question of whether to have sex on their presumed first date. Our sexual manners may have moved on since the early 60’s, but the humour of embarrassment is still the same.
We can enjoy this world of 60’s satire in sound again, thanks to this excellent double pack. BUY HERE!