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Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Jokers Wild

New Month Old Post: Barry Cryer, who died last week, is remembered in this not-so-old post from 18th November, 2018

Jokers Wild 1970

Leeds 1970. Mondays. Back to work. Accountancy 8.45 to 5.30. I’d better get used to it because it could be for the next forty or fifty years. One of the older guys could find his own handwriting in ledgers from the nineteen-thirties: like in Cat Stevens’ Matthew and Son.

But there was one good thing about Mondays: Jokers Wild. The show had returned for a second series just after we moved into the first of our shared houses in March, 1970. I could be home for 6.15 when it went out on Yorkshire Television.

Jokers Wild (not to be confused with the American series of the same name) was a classic comedy show in which two teams of comedians competed by telling jokes on topics from cards drawn by Barry Cryer. Bonus points could be scored by interrupting a joke part-way through and completing the punchline. It was pretty much the first British example of many similar show formats: the Mock the Week of fifty years ago.

Old copies of that wonderful provincial newspaper The Yorkshire Post, which at parochial odds with almost every other newspaper and magazine in the country listed Yorkshire Television ahead of the B.B.C., name the regular team captains as Ted Ray and Arthur Askey, with team members Les Dawson and Ray Martine. On the 6th April, 1970, the day my wild-joking accountant boss had wished me a happy new fiscal year (I ashamedly still use that joke every year without fail), they were joined by guests Clive Dunn and Stubby Kaye.

Ray Cameron (father of the present day comedian Michael McIntire), who invented the show, appeared in some episodes. Other regulars and guests read like a who’s-who of British comedy from the last days of music hall to the nineteen-seventies. Many of them smoked cigarettes overtly on-screen. Some are now so gone and forgotten they don’t even have Wikipedia pages.

Jokers Wild Trophy
Barry Cryer with the Jokers Wild Trophy (click to play)
A YouTube clip advertising a DVD of some of the shows has guests Joe Baker and Lance Percival, probably from the 13th or 20th April, 1970. In subsequent weeks the Yorkshire Post lists Jack Douglas (in character as the nervous-tic-suffering Alfred Ippititimus), Ray Fell, Ted Rogers, Graham Stark, Kenneth Connor and Arthur Worsley. Other online clips include Michael Aspel, Warren Mitchell, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Sid James. Wikipedia and IMDb also mention that over its five-year, nine-series run, others on the show included Eric Sykes, Jimmy Edwards, Roy Hudd, Alfred Marks, Professor Stanley Unwin, Norman Collier, Bob Monkhouse, Peter Goodwright, Jack Smethurst, Lennie Bennett, David Nixon, Roy Kinnear, John Cleese, Charlie Chester, Freddie Starr, Michael Bentine, Paul Andrews, Lonnie Donegan, Milo O’Shea, Kenneth Earle, Kenny Cantor, Clement Freud, Mike Hope, Albie Keen, Tony Brandon, John Junkin, Mike Burton, Don Maclean, Bobby Pattinson, Tony Stewart, Dick Bentley, Deryck Guyler, Laurence Harvey, Dickie Henderson, Bernard Bresslaw, Rolf Harris, John Pertwee and Fred Emney. As was the spirit of the time, few women appeared on the show, the only ones listed (including hostesses) being Isabella Rye, Diana Dors, Audrey Jeans, ‘the lovely’ Aimi MacDonald and June Whitfield. I can remember most on the list, but by no means all. Some were actually singers, actors or presenters rather than comedians.

They told a lot of sexist, racist, men-in-pub, wife and mother-in-law jokes. I remember Tim-Brooke Taylor being allowed almost to complete a joke about a town in Devon before Barry Cryer interrupted to remind him that the subject was supposed to be painting. “Oh,” he said sounding surprised. “I thought you said Paignton.” The wonderful and much-underrated Ray Martine, a Polari-speaking, camp Jewish comedian with a reputation for witty and effective put-downs, became more and more ill-at-ease and hesitant as the series progressed. He seemed unable to cope with constant teasing and interruptions, especially from Les Dawson. On one programme he looked so fed up he launched into a stream of jokes about Barry Cryer’s wife, which was taking things a bit too far. Barry Cryer took it with good grace and said that after the break they would be back with more jokes and a letter from his solicitor. And it was all done without a single swear word.

One might also reflect on prominent comedians of the time who were not on the show: no Morecambe and Wise; no Ronnies; no Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams, Dick Emery, Harry Worth, Charlie Drake, Benny Hill or Jimmy Tarbuck; only a minority of Carry-Ons, Pythons, Goodies and Goons; and so many, many others. Perhaps they were too busy, or under exclusive contract to the B.B.C., or maybe it was just not their format.

It was at least a last chance to see some of the older generation: the wartime generation and earlier. Arthur Askey and Fred Emney were over 70 when they appeared, with Ted Ray not much younger. From all of these lists it is astonishing to realise just how many brilliant comedians there have been over the years.

It looks terribly dated now and was probably more scripted than improvised, but it still raises a laugh. The DVDs for Series 1 and 2 are tempting [I later bought the series 2 DVD]. A much better review than this of the first DVD appears here.

Jokers Wild Series 1 Jokers Wild Series 2

20 comments:

  1. Many names are familiar but I don't think it was shown here.

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    1. Interesting that Tigger, below, says it was shown in NZ.

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  2. All those names! Many I haven't thought about for decades. They were part of my TV childhood. Sometimes I speak like Stanley Unwin - especially after a few pints of Tetley's bitter. RIP Barry Cryer.

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    1. No one can speak like Stanley Unwin. Are you silling all comfortybold on your botty?

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    2. https://youtu.be/0UJZF5iRhNg

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  3. That list of names sparked so many memories but I don't think I ever saw Jokers Wild. Perhaps I was too young for it?

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    1. You almost certainly were. Not an appropriate show for children, which is why it went out at 6.15 p.m. after they had gone to bed.

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  4. We used to get that in NZ too - fondly remembered.

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    1. We all watched it every week in the shared house. We had a coin-in-the-slot television which had a habit of running out and cutting off just before a punchline.

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    2. Coin-in-the-slot television?
      The marvel of the age like steam locomotives, air balloons and the drawings of Sir John Tenniel for Alice in Wonderland.
      And almost as long ago.

      If my old man had heard about coin-in-the-slot television we would certainly have had one, his thinking being that we watched too much.
      He frowned on television commercials and Lord Thomson of Fleet, who owned Scottish Television (the commercial rival of Scottish BBC) until he saw what fun my mother got from The One O'Clock Gang Show, the first day-time television show in Britain.

      Is there an old post on your TV history and your wise father?
      I wonder if coin-in-the-slot continued into the 1970s?

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    3. The coin slot was just make sure we saved enough to pay. We probably would not have been credit worthy enough to rent one. It was a rip off.
      My dad's attitude to television was mentioned in passing in an old post: "Talk Like A Pirate"

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    4. Thanks for *Talk Like A Pirate* : I shall read it.
      I am not sure when television rental began, we always owned one.
      I do remember our television tube packed in, and we were without a set for months; it threw us back on books.

      I wish I had more memories of genial Barry Cryer, the others all come to mind easily.
      Deryck Guyler was superb, my father thought Dickie Valentine could not dance when he did his act on the Palladium.
      Roy Hudd I liked, Roy Kinnear was stand-out in The Hill with Sean Connery, Ted Ray and Jimmy Edwards were the first comedians I recall from the 1950s, Monkhouse did documentaries on the great comic geniuses like Buster Keaton, Roy Martine was oddly camp. Eric Sykes I still watch on a DVD box set: Sykes possessed genius like Frankie Howard as did John Le Mesurier.

      Brian Glanville, the football writer for The Sunday Times, wrote a novel, The Comic, one of the few attempts to write about humour within the realm of fiction.
      I must read it again.

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  5. Sad it was not in the US; my brother would have loved it.

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    1. Essentially, it was a very English programme, mainly northern England, and might not have worked in the US, althought you did have a different programme with the same title.

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  6. Dear Tasker - thanks , and I'm proud that I know more than a few of the names you quote above. I always loved British humour - and have many dvd-collections of older shows (only chance to see them here.).

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    1. There are some sitcoms from the 1970s that you could only see on dvd here now. They would be unacceptable now. Love Thy Neighbour for one.

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    2. There are so many things which are categorised as "unacceptable" now - in Germany we say about a priggish, self-righteous person "He goes down into the cellar to laugh - though nowadays I have - in earnest! to write: "he, she, it goes down into the cellar to laugh". (and not only to write - they news speakers say !!! it all the time).
      I love to laugh and I do it as I please and about that what makes me giggle., correct or not The gist of jokes is discrepancy, antagonism, things that do not go together, things that surprise by impudence.
      I am so glad, Tasker, that I spent my youth in a time that tried to free a sticky conventional atmosphere by impudence and fun - I am glad I didn't have to think and control before I laugh, read (yes, yes, they change classic novels!), or had relationships. I am glad I felt so free!

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  7. Do you remember the Australian version of Love Thy Neighbour, with Glynn Edwards as Jack Smethurst's neighbour? Strange that Australia would shy away from the racial element.

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    1. I'd heard there was an Australian version but haven't seen it. I only saw the British one a few time but I remember being very impressed by Nina Baden-Semper.

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    2. The Australian one was shown here, TD. but it seems my memory is faulty. I've just looked it up on Wikipedia and there's no mention of Glynn Edwards ever being in it. I must be confusing his appearance elsewhere as an Australian with this show. Only 7 episodes were made.

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