Johnny Dee Hits London in...
The Johnny Dee TV Spectacular..!
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
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
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
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.
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," (the repeat gave time for the crowd to turn round
and see who he was talking about) "here comes Scottish
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".
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
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?