Johnny Dee Hits London in...
The Johnny Dee TV Spectacular..!

Toynbee Hall in London's East End was the venue for Marconi's first demonstration of his wireless in England. In that sense, it was a great venue for the filming of a pilot programme of a proposed TV series compered by, and starring, the district's own great comic nutcase Johnny Dee.

Thanks to fog on the M11, a failed train on the Central Line (requiring me to change trains twice) and traffic congestion in front of the bus which I caught to Aldgate as a last resort, I was in no great mood to laugh when I eventually arrived at the Hall at about 11 o'clock. But he's irresistible.

The sight of this grotesque figure on the stage standing there in mirrored tailcoat, mirrored waistcoat and mirrored flying helmet (finished off with shell-pink tights, red suede "brothel creepers", and the most preposterous silver cod-piece), shielding his eyes from the stage lights and calling out to the Director in the stalls through his Austin Powers buck teeth, "What do I look like? Do I look all right?" had me in stitches. It was a reasonable expression of a performer's sense of insecurity in these unfamiliar surroundings, but Johnny is one of those rare creatures - a naturally funny man. Of course he was all right.

To be fair, he struggled a bit with the format. Apart from his daughter Evie, Johnny's mate Paul from Romford, and me, his only audience were about 14 people who had been assembled to crew the shoot. They were concentrating on what they were doing for most of the time and it was clear some of them just didn't "get it" as far as Johnny's brand of bizarre-to-the-point-of-black humour was concerned.

The key to his act is that he has a huge stash of jokes and puns and silly word associations in that noddle of his and, even in the middle of a crowd of people, he can pull out a series of silly connections that ring comic bells in the minds of the audience. If a gag is not politically-correct, or if the humour goes where most comics would fear to tread, it's all the same to Johnny. As long as it's funny, he'll say it and his comic timing is impeccable.

For example, in the middle of one of his shows last year a rather severe-looking woman in a hooded cape walked across the back of his crowd. Quick as a flash, he was incorporating her into the act.

"Quiet now, quiet," (the repeat gave time for the crowd to turn round and see who he was talking about) "here comes Scottish Widows."

Johnny's a brilliant improviser, as anyone who has heard him on the radio or seen him performing will confirm, and to restrict him to a stage with a script and no "real" audience was like expecting a Frenchman to speak with his arms strapped to his sides.

However, he pulled it off (in a theatrical sense!) and had the opportunity to rip through about half an hour of his act as well as recording the link pieces for the proposed pilot version of "The Johnny Dee Variety Show".

Director James Esposito is originally from Peterborough, and he could see the potential in Johnny being the link man of a showcase series for the sort of acts that generally do not get as far as the TV screen. I stayed to see two of them after Johnny had left and a rare bunch they were!

First up, Benji - as he styled himself, launched into an unaccompanied rap called "Man In Pants" during which he shed, one after the other, about twenty pairs of Y-fronts, each with a story (as it were) attached. Before you ask, yes, he did take off the last pair.

He then returned to the stage with a tray of plastic cups part-filled with water and pretended to play the closing section of the 1812 Overture by running his fingers round the cups' rims. I've seen it done with glasses, but plastic cups? Each time he got to a cannon shot in the music, he slammed one of the cups against his forehead!

Next up were the Cabaret Whores, a duet of "nice young men" who sang comedy songs in interesting versions. Their version of the Kinks' "Lola" - with periodic dips into a bass voice for "her" voice - was a hoot, and I
particularly liked their number "Every Song Sounds The Same", wherein they glided effortlessly from an original song through Pulp's "Help The Aged", then Don McLean's "Vincent", Elvis' "Suspicious Minds", Spandau Ballet's "True" and finishing with "My Way".

There were a couple more acts waiting to record their sections for the show when I left Toynbee Hall at about 4 o'clock to try to beat the rush hour, the fog and road works and accidents on the M11. I failed, but that's another story for another time.

The concept of "The Johnny Dee Variety Show" is excellent; there is a wealth of talent currently busking and performing at small venues and festivals such as Edinburgh, and UK television is now broad enough in the choice of channels offered by satellite and cable to give them a platform before a wider audience.

Some acts included will probably be, how can I put this kindly?, better than others but if this pilot show enables the series to be filmed in its entirety I will certainly be watching it when it is broadcast.

If I were shooting it myself, I'd tear up Johnny's script and just put up a big board on the side of the stage with the name of the next act on it. Give him five minutes to improvise with a cabaret-style small theatre full of people and a couple of Steadi-cams to catch what goes on and I'd trust that he'd get around to the next act's introduction eventually!

I've just heard on the radio that today is some anniversary or other of Marconi's first broadcast. Isn't this where we came in?

Brian Watson

Johnny Dee Oh Johnny Dee - You're a Lad, it's plain to see
Your jokes are so close to the ropes - That Gerald cringes and hopes
You wont say something too rude - Or accidentally, something crude
Your risqué stories can be a bit shocking - For old Ladies in wrinkled stockings
Not to mention other listening folks - Who are used to local BBC jokes
But as for me, my sides are sore - From laughing and rollin' on the floor
I like the Weakest Drink I must confess - And the joke about the Bingo dress..
do you remember, on Johnny's first show - "Eyes down look in", Bad boy John, way to go..
The Mallard gag was nearly a disaster - But Johnny escaped well, the sign of a Master
We are all sad now Johnny's gone - We think he is the next Terry Wogan..!
So keep Johnny Dee on the Radio...
or better still, the "Johnny Dee" show

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