Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 3: Adventure

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

 

Odhams Adventure Strips

As Smash was essentially a superhero and humour comic during the Odhams years, there were few traditional adventure strips in it; but a handful do bear special mention.

From issue 144 Smash was the only surviving Power Comic, as this was the issue in which Smash and Pow (as it then was) merged with Fantastic. Five British adventure serials were introduced in this issue, to plug the gap left by the loss of the withdrawn American superhero strips which had been major features of the four closed titles.

At Night Stalks… The Spectre is an adventure strip in which a crime reporter on the Daily Globe newspaper is apparently killed while investigating a news story. The world believes newspaperman Jim Jordan is dead, but he still carries on his crusade against crime… calling himself The Spectre.

He is now fighting crime, rather than merely reporting it, using an array of gadgets which make it seem he is the ghost of the missing reporter. Hence his opponents are terrified to find that if they shoot him he doesn’t die (a bullet-proof raincoat was the trick here). And he has a secret underground hideout beneath the statue erected in his memory, from which he would covertly and unexpectedly emerge, or disappear into, under cover of an artificial fog, to give the impression he was coming and going from the spirit world. His first case began in issue 144, in which he tracks down Black Murdo, the racketeer who the world believed had murdered him.

Destination Danger, a motor racing serial, also began in issue 144. This strip was about a feud between a young English racing driver, Jeff Jackson, who was working for Puma Motors in the USA, and his enemy Vic Stafford, the Puma team’s chief driver, who has taken a bribe to throw a forthcoming race.

Although new to Smash, the old-fashioned artwork in the strips At Night Stalks… The Spectre and Destination Danger marked them out as reprints. The use of reprints was a cost-cutting measure, indicating the straightened financial circumstances of Smash at this point – if any evidence were needed beyond the closure of all four of the other Power Comics.

Laird of the Apes was a science fiction strip, milking the popularity of the big budget Charlton Heston motion picture Planet of the Apes which was released earlier that year. In the strip, set in the 18th century, a young Scottish laird returns to the Highlands to aid his outlaw clansmen in their struggle with the English Redcoats, bringing with him a band of highly trained Apes.

An adventure strip with a sporting theme was the wrestling serial King of the Ring, featuring Ken King, who was a champion of the grunt-‘n’-grapple game (although in the earliest strips he had begun as a boxer). As was not exactly uncommon in the Odhams years, there was a tendency to give the characters very silly names. The most outrageous example in this strip was King’s manager, who was called Blarney Stone!

Blarney’s real name was originally Tim Stone, and Blarney was only a nickname; but this was soon forgotten. In order to fulfil Ken’s ambition to travel, Blarney agrees to manage him on a world tour, if he’ll agree to fight his way round the world!

The fifth was Brian’s Brain, an adventure serial with science fiction elements, which was continued from Pow. This featured two schoolboys: the eponymous Brian and his friend Duffy Rolls. Brian Kingsley possessed an electronic Brain resembling a human skull, which he carried about in a box. It could communicate with him telepathically, glowing when active; and it could control the actions of animals if they were within a few yards, which was the limit of its brain-wave transmissions.

All five strips commenced in issue 144; and all were serials, with cliff-hanger endings each week.

 

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Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 2: The Funnies

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

Odhams Humour Strips

There were typically a dozen British humour strips in each of the first 162 issues.

The initial line-up starred The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E., which usually occupied the front cover prior to issue 20, supported by seven other long-running humour strips (Charlie’s Choice, Bad Penny, Percy’s Pets, The Nervs, The Swots and the Blots, Ronnie Rich and Grimly Feendish – more about these below), and four humour strips which didn’t last, namely Danger Mouse, Space Jinx, Queen of the Seas and The Tellybugs.

Smash issue 152, 28th December 1968

As the popularity of the ‘Batman’ television series faded, Batman and Robin yielded the front cover to ‘The Swots and the Blots’, a humour strip in which the two rival gangs vied to outwit each other at Pond Road School, with “Teach” caught in the crossfire. In subsequent years this strip, one of the few to survive all the changes at IPC in 1969 and 1970, became Leo Baxendale’s greatest creation, but even during the Odhams years it had wit and a sense of style.

Its origins lay in Baxendale’s earlier classroom-based strip, ‘The Tiddlers’, which had run in ‘Wham’ from 1964 (and continued in Pow when Wham was merged with it in 1968, combining with The Dolls of St Dominics to become The Tiddlers and The Dolls).

The Swots and the Blots was one of the few strips in Smash to survive all the changes of 1969 and 1970, reaching a new standard of excellence when Leo Baxendale began drawing it for the new-look Smash from March 1969, but even during the Odhams years it had wit and a sense of style. In Baxendale’s hands it had similarities to his earlier classroom-based strip, The Bash Street Kids, in The Beano.

Leo Baxendale’s The Man from BUNGLE, spoofing the popular TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was a spin-off from Baxendale’s Eagle-Eye Junior Spy strip in Wham (which Smash absorbed in 1968). BUNGLE was a secret spy organisation in Britain, organised along more chaotic lines than UNCLE, featuring a secret agent who employed a wide variety of hugely unlikely gadgets in his fight against his humorous opponents. Baxendale drew the first few editions, which appeared as large single illustrations on the early covers of Smash, after which Mike Lacey took over.

A second spin-off from Baxendale’s ‘Eagle-Eye’ strip was ‘Grimly Feendish’, the rottenest crook in the world. Feendish had been the most popular character in the earlier strip, thanks to his ghoulish appearance, which was based on Uncle Fester in the American television series ‘The Addams Family’.

‘Bad Penny’ was another memorable Baxendale creation. The strip’s title logo featured a portrait of Penny herself, alongside the ‘Bad Penny’ caption, and an illustration of a giant (pre-decimal) One Penny coin (this last suggesting the connection with the proverb from which the character’s name originated). She had some similarities with Baxendale’s earlier Minnie the Minx character in ‘The Beano’. However, Bad Penny was nevertheless so popular that she survived the changes of 1969, and continued to appear in the new ‘Smash’. When the strip was eventually dropped, in 1970, Bad Penny herself continued to appear, albeit infrequently, making occasional appearances in Baxendale’s The Swots and the Blots strip, as a new member of the Blots.

As had happened in Wham, artists such as Mike Lacey were commissioned from time to time to “ghost” Baxendale’s style. Baxendale was allowed to sign his work on Smash, so there is an easy way to distinguish which strips he personally drew before he left Odhams. After he had transferred to Fleetway, he still contributed strips to Smash, but now worked “undercover”, without signing them. He explained this in his autobiography, A Very Funny Business (Duckworth, 1978, page 91): “I was in a delightful situation. Working under my own name, a lot was expected of me. Publishers expected me to cram my drawings with funny detail. A double standard operated. Working undercover, I was able to reduce the layouts to the simplest terms. Backgrounds were minimal or non-existent – just a horizon line. And there was no ancillary comic detail – just the characters acting out the story line against an empty backdrop.”

The most bizarre of the Odhams humour strips was ‘The Nervs’, about a group of little characters inhabiting a schoolboy called Fatty: the strip showed them running Fatty like a group of workers running a factory. Drawn for the majority of its run by Graham Allen, in its final year of 1968-9 Ken Reid (who had earlier contributed the ‘Dare-a-Day Davy’ strip to ‘Pow’) drew this double-page feature. Reid turned it into an extremely surreal, even visceral, strip; achieving a rare level of hilarity and bawdiness, in a subversive presentation of comical horror – and in the process alarming IPC’s management!

The Nervs by Ken Reid, from Smash issue 144, 2nd November 1968

‘The Cloak’ was another secret agent strip, continuing in ‘Smash’ after the 1968 amalgamation with ‘Pow’ in which it had begun. The Cloak was the top agent for Britain’s Special Squad, nominally a part of Scotland Yard; but he usually operated from his personal headquarters, known as the Secret Sanctum. His ingenuity and never-ending supply of gadgets and secret weapons gave him the edge over his somewhat odd enemies (some were very odd, including Deathshead and various other agents of G.H.O.U.L.).

He had some equally odd colleagues. Assisted initially by Mole (the tall one with the bald head, big nose and specs) and Shortstuff (the short squirt with the hairy nut and big eyeballs), he then began having adventures in which he found himself also alongside the sexy and flirtatious Lady Shady, the shady lady. The strip benefited from the unusual, idiosyncratic drawing style of Mike Higgs, whose overt inclusion of pop culture imagery made the strip seem extremely modern.

Title logo for The Cloak strip, from the 1968 Fantastic Summer Special

‘Wiz War’, drawn by Mike Brown, had also begun in ‘Pow’, and would be one of the handful of strips to survive the changes of 1969. Brown seems to have been unaware of the house rule banning artists from signing their work, as the strip often bore his name. The “War” in the title referred to a feud between two wizards, Wizard Prang and his enemy Demon Druid. Being a humour strip, the editorial staff allowed the hero the very silly name of Wizard Prang, a piece of RAF slang from the Second World War.

Wiz War by Mike Brown, from Smash issue 144, 2nd November 1968

Other than the fact that Wizard Prang was robed entirely in white, befitting his status as the good guy, and Demon Druid was always in black, being the villain of the piece, their costumes were quite similar – a flowing wizard’s robe with stars, and a pointed hat. They would fly around on broomsticks, zapping each other with spells: which turned the other into a toad, or something equally amusing. Wizard Prang was alternately helped and hindered by Englebert, his pet bird. The best feature of the strip was the sign above Wizard Prang’s front door. This usually read “Wizard Prang is… In” (if he was at home) or “Wizard Prang is… Out” (if he was out and about); but if he’d had a bad time in the story, the sign would often make a humorous remark in the final panel, such as “Wizard Prang is… All At Sea”.

‘Sammy Shrink’ was a humour strip about a boy who was only two inches tall. Sammy had the most chequered career of all the characters in ‘Smash’, having originated in ‘Wham’, then moved to ‘Pow’ when they merged, arriving in ‘Smash’ when it in turn absorbed ‘Pow’, and would subsequently be revived in ‘Knockout’, finally ending his career in ‘Whizzer and Chips’ when it absorbed ‘Knockout’ in June 1973.

‘Ronnie Rich’ featured the richest kid in the world, who stands to inherit a fortune if only he can get rid of the money he’s got. Drawn by Gordon Hogg, each week Ronnie spent his every last penny, in some reckless or extravagant way, only to have his scheme backfire and make him richer than ever. He never did get his hands on the fortune.

Last, but by no means least, was ‘Percy’s Pets’ by Stan McMurtry (alias Mac) which would make sporadic reappearances from time to time in the new ‘Smash’, after March 1969. Percy was a small plump schoolboy, who filled his family’s home with his exotic collection of pets. These included (from time to time) an elephant, a giraffe, a hippopotamus, a snake, an ape – in fact almost every type of animal that might be found in a typical zoo – together with a dog, a parrot, a tortoise, a white mouse, and a hedgehog; thereby causing a predictable degree of chaos for his long suffering mum and dad.

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Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 1: Superheroes

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

The Superheroes

Marvel strips were first introduced into Smash in issue 16, when Incredible Hulk reprints began. One early issue of ‘Smash’ even printed an original Hulk story.

When the American run of Hulk adventures had been used up, Odhams turned to the Hulk’s ‘guest star’ roles in ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Avengers’. These other Marvel heroes proved equally popular. From issue 76, in July 1967, Daredevil replaced the Hulk, as ‘Smash’ had exhausted all the original Hulk stories, from all sources, that Marvel had published in the USA up to that point.

Smash issue 75, 8th July 1967

Prior to that, however, a month after the Hulk’s debut DC’s Batman became the second American superhero to debut in ‘Smash’, crashing onto the front page of issue 20, in reprints from American newspaper strips, credited in-page to ‘Batman’ creator Bob Kane but actually drawn by Whitney Ellsworth and ghost-written by Al Plastino. This was a response to the sudden popularity of the Batman television series starring Adam West. The enormous impact of this hit tv series led to the Batman strip retaining the front cover of ‘Smash’, in colour, for better than a year and a half, entitled Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder.

Initially, this syndicated newspaper strip adopted the camp style of the Adam West television series, with appearances by humorous guest stars such as American funnyman Jack Benny. In the later part of the run (which featured serious, rather than camp, stories) Batgirl, too, appeared in the strip, with Batman initially believing her to be a criminal rather than a crime fighter. Superman then co-starred in the strip, which was retitled Superman and Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder, as Batman and Robin attempted to save Superman from the diabolical Professor Zinkk who was secretly poisoning him with kryptonite.

In September 1968 the Fantastic Four began a brief six-month run, when ‘Smash’ incorporated ‘Pow’ (which had previously merged with ‘Wham’, in which the strip had initially featured). They were introduced to readers of ‘Smash’ with the wedding of Reed and Sue from FF Annual #3, as this also introduced just about every superhero and villain in Marvel’s stable.

The Fantastic Four saga then continued from the story ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four’, which began a multi-issue epic, recounting their defeat at the hands of the Frightful Four and the loss of their superpowers; their subsequent battle with Doctor Doom in which a powerless FF are led by Daredevil; and their final victory over the Frightful Four, in the appropriately named “Lo, There Shall Be an Ending”, which was the very last Marvel strip to appear in ‘Smash’.

The Mighty Thor in Smash #144, 2nd November 1968

Thor began a short run in November 1968, when ‘Smash’ absorbed ‘Fantastic’. The stories, continued from ‘Fantastic’, began with Thor battling the Growing Man, followed by The Enchanters, then defying Odin and refusing to return to Asgard, desiring to be with Jane Foster. So, by an odd co-incidence, the tales featuring Thor included If the Thunder Be Gone, featuring the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime, where, in the same issues in which the Fantastic Four lost their superpowers, Thor also lost his (for defying a vengeful Odin). When the Marvel strips were discontinued the following Spring, the final Thor reprint had to have a new ending substituted, to resolve a continuing sub-plot.

The financial crisis which overtook Odhams in 1968, resulting in the closure of all the other Power Comics, now caused them to give up the expensive licence to reprint the Marvel superhero stories. This decision took effect in March 1969, when the licence came up for renewal, causing the final Marvel strips to appear in issue 162. The expensive Batman newspaper strip had already been discontinued, ending in issue 157.

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Power Comics – The History of ‘Smash!’

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is the first part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

The cover of the ”Smash!” annual 1969

Smash! was a weekly British comic, published in London by Odhams Press Ltd from 64 Long Acre and subsequently by IPC Magazines Ltd from (initially) 189 High Holborn and (latterly) Fleetway House in nearby Farringdon Street.

It ran for 257 issues, between 5th February 1966 and 3rd April 1971 (although, due to strikes and industrial disputes, publication was not continuous during that period). It then merged into Valiant. But the Smash! Annual continued to appear every year: the final Annual, cover-dated 1976, was published in October 1975.

Up until 1969, Smash! featured a mixture of American superhero strips alongside British humour and adventure strips. Thereafter, it featured only British strips.

During 1967 and 1968 Smash! was part of Odhams’ Power Comics line, absorbing its sister titles Pow! on 14th September 1968 (issue 137), and Fantastic on 2nd November 1968 (issue 144). As Pow! and Fantastic had themselves already merged with Wham! and Terrific respectively, Smash! in effect absorbed the best strips from all of the Power Comics lineup.

As with all of the Power Comics, Smash! included black-and-white reprints of superhero strips originally published in America by Marvel Comics and DC Comics. The last of these, the Fantastic Four, ended in issue 162 in March 1969.

Smash! was sized 9.75″ x 12″ (#1-162) and 9.25″ x 12″ (#163-257), and had a four-colour cover and black-and-white interior.

History of SMASH

Smash was owned by IPC, the International Publishing Corporation, a company formed in 1963 by Cecil Harmsworth King, chairman of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial (later the Sunday Mirror), through a series of corporate mergers. All the comics owned by it were published by one or other of the subsidiary companies brought together to form IPC, including Fleetway Publications Ltd and Odhams Press Ltd.

The Power Comics line, including Smash, was published by IPC’s Odhams Press division under a three-man editorial team known as Alf, Bart and Cos. Alfred Wallace (“Alf”) was the managing editor at Odhams, and Albert Cosser (“Cos”) was the editor directly responsible for Smash. Major changes of editorial policy occurred in 1969 for financial reasons, and again in 1970 when IPC was taken over by Albert E Reed to form the publishing giant Reed International.

Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic’, issue 144, 2nd November 1968

Launched on 5th February 1966, Smash became part of the Power Comics line from December of that year. On 14th September 1968, with issue 137, it merged with Pow! (which had previously absorbed Wham). On 2nd November 1968, with issue 144, it merged with Fantastic (which had previously absorbed Terrific), to become Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic.

On 1st January 1969 Smash ceased to be published by Odhams Press Ltd, and was thereafter published by IPC Magazines Ltd (an IPC subsidiary formed during 1968). On 15th March 1969 it was relaunched without its American superhero strips. Further changes followed during the course of 1969 and at the start of 1970. The final issue was published on 3rd April 1971. It then merged into Valiant, forming Valiant and Smash.

 

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Just A Minute – Does Sue Perkins bore the pants off the audience?

If Sue Perkins is going to hog the game, then it really behooves her to be funny!

Kenneth Williams springs to mind as somebody who tried in the past to hog the show. But he could talk endlessly without being boring. Not only was he always funny, but also he never simply trotted out drivel, in the way that Wendy Richard, for instance, did.

Williams always addressed the subject, rather than simply spouting bland and inane rubbish on the pretext of talking about the subject.

In my opinion, a sexy girl like Sue Perkins (humorously known as “Sue Perky”!) is completely wasted on a radio show. Everything from her cute smile to her cute figure benefits from being in vision, on some tv show such as ‘Mock the Week’.

But I don’t think she’s funny enough to be a disembodied talking voice on a radio show.

There’s a real problem when a panellist is too clever by half, i.e. too clever to commit any of the offences of repetition, deviation or hesitation (the cardinal sins within the rules of ‘Just A Minute’), but doesn’t know how to be funny with it.

Sue is in danger of boring the pants off the audience, because it isn’t actually a panel game; it’s really an improvisational comedy. She doesn’t seem to have realised, yet, that being entertaining is more important than winning.

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Just A Minute – Should Kenneth Williams be taken seriously?

The panel game Just A Minute has been running on BBC radio since 1967. Its most famous – and most contraversial – panellist was the late Kenneth Williams, who was a regular on the show throughout its first 21 years on the air.

He was noted for (even notorious for) his emotionally-charged performances on the show; but in reality he was a consumate professional, not the egocentric maniac his on-air “rants” sometimes suggested. The show was, after all, controlled by the BBC producer, not by the panellists; so whatever Kenneth might say during a recording would never make it onto the broadcast tape if the producer didn’t want it there.

In fact, the Producer had an arrangement with Kenneth, whereby if he felt a recording was becoming too dull he would give Kenneth a signal to raise his game, whereupon Kenneth would go into one of his rants. On receiving another cue, he would shut up again.

It was a measure of his ability that he could raise the show whenever it needed it, though this production trick could actually have the effect of making him look somewhat schizophrenic. He would be improvising off-the-cuff, so might attack Peter Jones in one edition only to praise him the following week. But he was not striving for consistency: the panellists were only trying to entertain.

The show, of course, is comedy. Panellists are free to say anything which will get a laugh, and boring the audience is the only sin. It isn’t a court of law, and their remarks aren’t given under oath; so Kenneth didn’t have to believe in what he was saying, and it didn’t have to be true. It was said merely to achieve a comic effect.

Paul Merton’s flights of surreal fantasy in later years were plainly only flights of fancy. Kenneth’s rants were not so obviously made-up. But it would be a mistake to treat Kenneth’s rants as being serious, when he was merely trying to be funny.

Kenneth knew how to get the audience going, and how to work them up to fever pitch; and no one else on the panel could do that – then or now. But Kenneth could make even the dullest subject funny.

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Just A Minute – Can women play the game?

Women have appeared in ‘Just A Minute’ since the very first episode, in 1967, when Wilma Ewart and Beryl Reid faced off against Clement Freud and Derek Nimmo.

The entire first series had two male and two female panellists. And in its beginnings the show was looked on (to judge by remarks which chairman Nicholas Parsons used to make in the earliest episodes) as being, more than anything, a male-vs-female competition.

As time went by, the four male regulars (Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Kenneth Williams and Peter Jones) became established, yet this never entirely disrupted the original intention of having both men and women on the show.

Series 2 had Geraldine Jones as a regular throughout. She faced Clement and Kenneth on her own, in an experimental format, with only three panellists instead of the usual four, and the same three people appeared in every show.

The format of series 3, where the show returned to having four on the panel, saw Clement, Kenneth and Derek alongside one female panellist, who was usually Geraldine. And this pattern became the norm, in the years when there were only three male regulars.

Only when Peter Jones arrived, in series 6, did the balance start to shift. But at first Peter was simply substituting for a year for Derek, who couldn’t appear as he was touring Australia in a long-running play, so there was still room for a permanent female presence in the fourth chair.

Aimi MacDonald, my favourite female panellist of all time, regularly took the female spot. She was such a popular panellist that she lasted for years, rotating with Andree Melly and Sheila Hancock.

It wasn’t until series 7, in 1972, that the first all-male panel was featured: in the third programme of that series. But only four of the shows (out of 26) had an all-male panel that year.

And throughout series 8, 9 and 10 – between 1973 and 1976 – the regular male foursome alternated among themselves, to leave room for one guest panellist; although series 8 saw male guests alternate with the established female players for the first time, in that fourth seat.

This format continued throughout series 11 to 13 in the late 1970s, when the semi-regular female players also included June Whitfield, Joan Bakewell and Janet Brown.

For series 13 to 15 there were occasions when the four male regulars appeared together; but for the most part, the practice of rotating them to keep one chair open for a guest continued. And after 1982 it was common for two guests to appear alongside just two of the regulars.

Not until series 20, in 1984, did male guests outnumbered female guests for the first time; and then for a couple of years Sheila Hancock was almost the only female panellist still appearing on the show. But after that, a lot of new female players emerged: Wendy Richard being the first of them.

Overall, despite the perceived domination of the panel by the four male regulars, the years prior to Kenneth’s death in 1988 saw female panellists give a good account of themselves, notwithstanding the popularity of the regular four. The female players were so much an established feature of the programme that Kenneth was frequently moved to utter his famous put-down, ‘We shouldn’t have women on the show!’

Of course, Kenneth used the phrase humorously. He was not seriously asking for women to be banned from the show!

Although billed as a panel game, ‘Just A Minute’ is really an improvisational comedy, in much the same genre as ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ Just as Paul Merton and the stand-ups do today, Kenneth’s role in the show (when he was first added to the panel in series 2) was to provide comedy, in the form of spontaneous wit.

The other panellists quickly adopted the same approach. Those who couldn’t cut the mustard, so far as humour was concerned, fell by the wayside. Clement Freud turned out to have a devastatingly filthy line in humour; Peter Jones had a slightly subversive and actor-ish humour; and Derek Nimmo, an assured raconteur, had, like Kenneth and Peter, cut his teeth as a comedy actor.

These people didn’t choose to become the regulars, they simply became regulars by default, because they were the best players. The panellists were thus self-selecting. The show rapidly became the survival of the fittest, and the name of the game was wit.

Wilma Ewart and Beryl Reid were not suited to surviving in this type of show, and rapidly disappeared. Likewise Geraldine James. It’s been said that Aimi MacDonald was the butt of the jokes, but she lasted more than ten years on the show. And, really, she was no worse at the game than Peter Jones.

But the men were more successful in their use of humour. They simply were funnier than the women. In my opinion, some of the women were only there on sufferance; perhaps Aimi was one of those. I’m not sure that she was, although she obviously used different tactics from the four regulars.

However, the show was never about the sort of laddish culture seen on the likes of ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’. Although Clement employed somewhat risque material at times, the show never approximated the approach of someone like Phill Jupitus, in the years while Kenneth was alive.

Under Kenneth and Derek, in particular, the show had an intellectual content that’s completely absent from all other comparable shows – well, those that don’t have Frank Muir in! It also had, as I say, wit. Sadly, many of the female – and male! – guests, who filled the fourth chair, couldn’t contribute in either of those ways.

It is simply a hard game to play well. It’s definitely a game anyone can play; but not everyone who has tried has succeeded at it. Most of the guests in the fourth chair spent 60 seconds boring the pants off the audience, at least until they’d played a dozen or more shows. Wendy Richard, bless her, was never able to play it at the level that Kenneth or Peter or Derek achieved.

Viewed simply as improvisational comedy, it has to be admitted that no woman ever played the game to the same standard as Kenneth Williams. So the question (“Where is the woman who said: we shouldn’t have men on the show?”) becomes a purely rhetorical one.

But there was no bias about the show. The cream simply floated to the top; and the cream was Kenneth, Clement, Derek, and Peter. Lots of women – and lots of men – were tried out, and didn’t do as well. That’s life!

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