Dubious Claims To Fame – 23
There have been two versions of the television show “Gladiators” screened in the UK. The first was hugely popular when I was a teenager, and the second was watched by nobody I have ever met. Both versions were based on the original American version which comedian Bill Hicks vilified, seeing it as a way for the government to keep the masses docile.
In the town where I grew up, a large local playing field was the site of an annual fete. I have no idea who organised it, or why, but there was the usual assortment of stalls, tents, displays, and the general family entertainments provided by magicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and their ilk. The only year I remember going, the main attraction – in ever sense of that word – was a personal appearance by Diane Youdale, known at the time as Jet.
It seems strange in hindsight, that I joined a queue of however many others to catch a glimpse of a “celebrity” who was then a huge hit on national Saturday night television. Despite being a boy of 14 or 15, and thus the perfect age for it, I was one of the few folk I knew who did not have an almighty crush on her. Nevertheless, I stood in line with one or two of my friends, shuffling forward inside the kind of barrier arrangement normally seen in banks, post offices, or at airport security gates. Eventually we made it to the front, to the table at which she sat, and I was rewarded with a signed photograph and a friendly smile.
Thinking in my youth that celebrity meant something, I kept hold of the picture and probably still have it in a box somewhere. It will make a good illustration for this blog when I find it, so check back in five or ten years and see if I have had a clear-out by then. Jet, incidentally, is now a psychotherapist – as well as being the desired host of a proposed Alan Partridge programme.
My second encounter with a television Gladiator happened while I was doing some secondary work for my brother-in-law, who is a plumber to trade. He hired me for a few days when he needed a hand, and it emerged that the householder was in the show – which (true to my opening statement) neither of us had watched. She was extremely nice, and in the interest of maintaining her privacy I am not going into much detail. Her given title was Battleaxe., but she could not have been further from the traditional and insulting definition of that word.
While employed to work for her, a few jokes and turns of phrase sprang to mind – some in conversation, some while completing the tasks in hand. Within a couple of days I had a fully-formed routine which would slot straight into my stand-up set, comedy once being a hobby of mine. Grounded in fact, a little exaggeration or embellishment led to one of my favourite “bits” and one which almost always went down well with audiences. I am not a pro-active joke writer, and I take my inspiration where I find it. Given that it was the only time in my life I did any plumbing, it was fortuitous. Timing, as they say, is everything. Below is the material I came up with.
My brother-in-law is a plumber, and we recently did a job for one of TV’s Gladiators. Not one of the cool ones you’d have heard of, but from the new version which nobody’s seen.
So whereas in the old version it was “Can you feel the power of the Gladiators?” this was more “Can you fix the shower, and the radiators.”
I said “Where’s your boiler?” and she said “It’s up there.” I looked, and it was up a Travellator and across some monkeybars.
I said “What’s the access like?” She said “You just have to run the Gauntlet, and get past Wolf.”
John Anderson was there too. He said “Plumber, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle.”
I don’t know if you have ever fixed a boiler while you are on a pedestal being hit with a pugil stick, but it’s not easy.
They hire professional athletes and it turned out this girl was an Olympic hammer-thrower, and she holds the record for the longest throw in Scotland.
It was my fucking hammer she threw. “I was using that!”
Took me a week to go and get it back.
I was glad she was a nice lassie though. See when I was at school, if the bullies took your bag off you they’d throw it over a wall or over a fence. If she took your bag off you it’d be [miming spinning a bag round head, like a hammer thrower, then letting go] Fuck ye! Off to France, going “Je voudrais ma bag back, s’il-vous-plait.”
[In reference to the mohawk I had] I reckon if I was a Gladiator they’d call me Nutjob. But then, that’s probably why there’s no Glaswegian Gladiators. “Contender, you will face Nutjob, Heidcase, Jakey, and Bam.”
Four big guys standing there going [arms folded, menacing] “What you wearing padding for, ya fuckin’ poof?”
Of the feedback I received after my various unpaid gigs, that piece was singled out for praise on a few occasions. I like it, and principally I write for myself and to hopefully be entertaining. So, if other people enjoy it I am happy. Here is some old and early footage of me nervously performing it while trying to stay within my strict five-minute spot on stage in Glasgow:
I did this material a lot, and eventually I gigged with somebody whose opening line addressed mine. He had written for the second series of the new season. In my defence, I was thirty that year, and cannot be blamed for no longer watching the same programmes that were required viewing when I was half that age. The fact that the most recent version was granted a second series means it must have had an audience. As every comedian knows or learns though, facts are not necessarily funny. Often they are just facts.
I kept my opening line as it was – nobody before or since has ever corrected it, which says as much about the viewing habits of the folk I have played to as it does about anything else.