The Weasel

In which third-rate rock drummers are misrepresented, Mrs W is untickled by Doddy's stick, and Scarborough lets a Bronte down
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The Independent Culture
AS THE knives flash on Capitol Hill, a phrase from an American commentator by the name of Lars-Erik Nelson keeps ringing in my mind. "A powerful person like that," said Lars-Erik, "he's supposed to be above the moral standards of a third-rate rock drummer." Oddly enough, the most prominent American figure to make a stand against the lax morals and provocative lyrics of heavy-metal bands is Tipper Gore, First Lady in Waiting. I recall that her memorable condemnation of the genre is prominently displayed in the Rock and Roll Museum and Hall of Fame at Cleveland, Ohio: "I'm a fairly with-it person, but this stuff is curling my hair". Ironically, my American friends insist that her irreproachably spotless husband doesn't stand an earthly of winning an election because of his unswerving loyalty to a certain saxophone-tooting non-inhaler

"WHAT HAVE I done?" gasped Mrs Weasel, shaking her head in disbelief as she rejoined me on Scarborough seafront. What she had done, at my request, was buy two tickets for The Ken Dodd Happiness Show. "Why Ken Dodd?" she groaned. "Doddy might not be the height of fashion," I retorted, "but it's not every comic that's been the subject of a book by Michael Billington. His penchant for the surreal would have been admired by Andre Breton." But Mrs W remained unpersuaded. "What have I done?" she echoed a trifle tediously.

"See, it could be worse," I said on the following night, pointing out posters for forthcoming appearances by Roy "Chubby" Brown and the Grumbleweeds as we stomped up a long, seedy staircase to the circle of the Futurist Theatre. My spouse grimaced at the massed ranks of Dodd fans, many already waving tickling sticks (moderately priced at pounds 2). Her mood was scarcely elevated when the curtains parted for a protracted entertainment by the Diddymen, a gaggle of prancing infants. After an eternity, the homunculi scarpered, and, to the accelerated strains of "Love is like a Violin", the master took the stage. "This is a Theatre of the imagination," he announced. "You'll need it. The giraffe hasn't turned up."

After this promising start, Dodd's routine rolled on seamlessly, not so much an act as a stream of consciousness. "This man I know had a pig's- ear transplant. He says it works OK, but he gets a bit of crackling now and again." Gags melded into schoolyard chants, scraps of sentimental songs and ancient riddles. After a few half-hearted Monica Lewinsky cracks, he returned to more familiar terrain: "Catseyes - they were invented by a Yorkshireman. If he'd been going the other way, he'd have invented the pencil sharpener." The comic repeatedly harked back to his infamous brush with the Inland Revenue: "Yes, my taxman came from head office - Andover". His stinginess was another leitmotif, but this was a little redundant since his support acts - a dozen or so juveniles and a game old girl hammering away at the joanna - must be the most economical in show biz.

If Dodd's act had been cut by three-quarters, it might have been OK. But his stream of consciousness proved to be more like the Amazon. His cracks about the infinite duration of his show ("Don't worry, you'll be out for breakfast") wore thin when, despite promises, there was no sign of an interval after a solid two-and-a-half hours, which included three appearances by the Diddymen. Eventually, I exchanged glances with Mrs W and we shuffled to the exit. It was a journey not without perils - Dodd had bellowed after an early escapee: "Never thought of myself as a diuretic!" - but we emerged unscathed. It turned out that a sizeable section of the audience, desperate-looking men puffing roll-ups and sipping pints, had also done a runner. Buffeted by squalls, we scuttled along the seafront. "Next time you feel an urge to see Ken Dodd," Mrs W seethed, "you can go along with your old pal Andre Breton."

ANYONE WHO wants to combine culture with fresh air could do worse than acquire a copy of The Brontes by the Sea by Rhonda Petersen (Bridlington, 1997). Though the talented trio are rarely associated with rude health, Miss Petersen informs us that Anne Bronte (via her heroine Agnes Grey) said she was "refreshed, delighted and invigorated" by Scarborough. This commendation could be used in adverts were it not for the fact that Anne succumbed to tuberculosis in the resort a few years later. Similarly, Charlotte, who we learn was 4ft 9in, had a soft spot for Filey: "The sands are long and smooth and very pleasant. I walk on them a good deal." Miss Petersen suggests perambulations for those who want to follow in the Brontes' footsteps. Sadly, the area has lost a little of its romance: "Turn right at the lights, then take the next turning sharp left signposted to the waste-disposal site..."

This work could be read with advantage by some of my relatives. Despite living a stone's throw from Haworth parsonage, they display a distinct lack of interest in the literary sorority. "I live in `aworth," one explained to Mrs W. "You know, Charlotte Bronte." Underlining the point, he cried out, "'eathcliff! 'eathcliff!" I hope Emily's ghost delivered a swift biff to her diminutive sibling.

WHAT WITH decaying comedians and consumptive Victorian novelists, you may think we're not exactly at the artistic cutting edge here in North Yorkshire. But, at least in one respect, we're streets ahead of even the most avid London culture vulture. When friends raved about Alan Ayckbourn's stylish comedy Things We Do For Love, currently filling the Duchess Theatre, we were able to trump them with insouciant superiority: "Oh yeah, got here, has it? Course, we saw it in Scarborough last December". Whatever you might have read about the Stephen Joseph Theatre (Artistic Director: A Ayckbourn), it is going great guns at present. In the past two weeks, we have seen John Godber's latest slice of northern life Perfect Pitch (mixed reviews from the Weasel family) along with the stylish movie Love and Death on Long Island. (I might add that Scrambled Egg with Smoked Salmon in the theatre restaurant won a standing ovation.)

But the highlight was the latest Ayckbourn. Even from such a restless creative spirit, Comic Potential is a startlingly daring work. Set in the near future, it is a cross between Pygmalion and Blade Runner. The success of this unlikely hybrid is largely due to a fizzy young actress called Janie Dee. In a tricky lead role as an android, she held the stolid Scarborough audience in the palm of her hand for almost three hours. It didn't hurt, of course, that she has the looks of a mischievous angel. As you might have guessed, even the Weasel, who prides himself on his resistance to thespian charm, was won over more than somewhat. Anyway, I dare say you Londoners will be able to judge for yourselves. In due course, that is.

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