A video code comedians swear by

Complaints about bad language on television are increasing. Which makes you wonder why so many people are buying Jimmy Jones videos. Jim White gets an earful from Britain's top-grossing reluctant cusser
In his new video of his club act, Bob Monkhouse opens the show with a song called "Keeping it Clean Tonight". The lyric suggests that no matter what the temptation, Monk-house will not swear; no matter what the rhyming possibility of a couplet, he will not scrape the bottom of the linguistic barrel; no matter how close to the gutter he strays, he will not embrace the vocabulary of the barrack room. And, indeed, for the next 90 minutes of coruscating good gaggery not a naughty word passes through the trademark Monkhouse smirk.

By contrast, in the first five minutes of a video called "Bare-Faced Cheek", Jimmy Jones - also known as the Guvnor and alleged to be the highest-paid stand-up comedian in Britain - uses the f-word 17 times. Since the video is over an hour long, that means there is a load of swearing.

This is what Jimmy Jones is known for. The man who is cited as the main influence on such talents as Jim Davidson and Roy Chubby Brown ("I have a lot of blood on my hands") is generally reckoned far too rough at the edges to be on television: a paradigm of that large-girthed, frilly-shirt-fronted, elbow-over-the-mike-stand brand of beery yob comic that are about as fashionable these days as shoulder pads. And his material - scatological, gynaecological, dealing predominantly with flatulence and impotence - is delivered via enough expletives to have made Max Miller blush. But the odd thing is, Jimmy Jones wouldn't have employed a single rudery if he hadn't been told to.

"In the past I didn't use the f-word on stage at all," he said. "I've got a catchphrase - 'kinell - so I says, 'kinell this, 'kinell that and it's up to the audience to decide if I'm swearing or not. But then I done a video and it got deleted because it didn't sell. And the video company said the thing didn't shift because it was too clean. They said that unless I said that word, we wouldn't get an 18 certificate. And apparently if you don't get an 18 nobody buys a comedy video these days."

Thus Jimmy Jones started to swear, and his videos began selling in numbers sufficient to keep him in the kind of knitwear only a rich humourist would consider. As his videos sold, so his live shows sold out. Across the south of England, he can pack more theatres than Cameron Mackintosh. Thanks to the cross-exposure, he now apparently commands the highest fee of any live stand-up comedian in the country.

"I think maybe Chubby Brown gets more than me," he corrected. "But he employs nine body-guards. Me, I just turn up in me car, do me show, sign a few autographs and go home. So I guess I get to keep a lot more of what I do earn. I mean, put it this way, do I look like the kind of geezer who needs nine bodyguards? Mind you, having said that, does Chubby?"

Thus he has achieved an enviable position: hugely popular (he sells more videos than Ryan Giggs), rich (a home in the Essex stockbroker belt, another in Minorca, a Ratner-load of finger jewellery), but with a face nobody recognises.

"It means I can move about and observe, gather material unnoticed," he said. "I done a season in Bournemouth last summer and it was a disaster - ooh, talk about God's waiting room. Anyway, I was outside the theatre and I seen these two old dears staring at me poster and one of them reads the line `adult humour' and she says `ooh, I don't want to go to see him, he swears too fuckin' much.' Straight up, it's true."

It is not that Jimmy Jones has never been on the telly, the great exposer. Back in 1970, this former London docker was discovered singing and gagging in a Walthamstow pub by Granada Television and recruited as one of the original Comedians. For two years, every Saturday night, he wore a dickey bow and told stories. By his side were Jim Bowen and Bernard Manning, who, when The Comedians finished, went on to become household names. But Jimmy, he didn't. He was simply too rude, too robust, too much the docker. He soon realised he would have to make it away from the cathode tube.

"Don't get me wrong," he said, showing the magnanimity of one who earns enough these days. "I haven't got anything against television. The only thing that really annoys me is that people come to my shows, steal my material, and then you get someone in the audience saying, `You nicked that off that bloke on the telly.' No, I wanted to do it. In the past they tried; I tried - but it didn't work because I wasn't being me. Now, if they gave it to me, I'd do it like a shot. But only if they allowed me to be what I am."

What Jimmy Jones is, is rude.

Never mind the swearing, his material is so close to the bone he is conducting on-stage butchery every night.

"What I try to talk about is true life," he said. "When I'm talking about breaking wind I can see women in the audience nudging their husbands saying: `You do that.' "

You can see that on his video; women hooting with laughter, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs as Jones expounds on bodily functions: schoolboy, and, it seems, schoolgirl, stuff.

"Yeah, I carry about 75 per cent women. That surprises those who say I'm sexist; women love me. I pulled more when I was a singer, though."

Sexist, maybe not. But what about the "funny" voices of a racial nature he uses - humour of a sort that was considered funny in 1970. Times have moved on. Surely he must realise that people are offended by that sort of material?

"It winds me up when people say I'm a racialist," he said. "I use a lot of character voices, that's all I consider them to be, characters. I'm not doing anything but acting out the gag in a black fella's voice, say, or an Irish fella's voice. The punch line is not about the colour of his skin. Honest, it could be anyone. I just use the voice because it sounds funny, adds an extra dimension. But people get the wrong end of it. This geezer stood up from the audience when I was playing at Butlin's in Pwllh eli over the summer and he said to me, `You're a racialist.' And I says, `No I'm not'. And he says, `Yes you are.' And I could see he was drunk, so I said, `All right, if you say so, I'm a racialist. But I'm a rich one, I don't have to go to 'kin Butlin'

s for my holidays.' And I walked off. I wasn't putting up with that."

With an attitude like that, he could never pierce the comic orthodoxy that runs television. But, in a sense, that is why his audience loves him. He offers a sense of danger, a sense of under-the-counter spiciness, perfect for the post-curry lager-in thatis the comedy video market. It's a market worth getting into (Roy Chubby Brown earnt several million from his last production). And it is a market that comedians familiar from television are keen to muscle in on, swearing like a Jimmy Jones to get the essential sales-enhancement of that "contains material of an adult nature" sticker.

"It can go too far, though," said Jones. "I try to harness the swearing to a gag. I have people watching me to correct me. I don't want to get to the situation where it's every other word. Because then it is unfunny."

So how does Bob Monkhouse, the wonderful performer who makes an intellectual exercise out of keeping it clean, manage to obtain the sales-necessary 18 certificate? Easy. Halfway through his performance, looking somewhat sheepish, he is elbowed off-stage by a completely gratuitous strip-tease act. It is enough to make you swear.