Although Mike Read strikingly resembles an ageing Clark Kent (albeit a hapless Clark Kent who would get himself jammed in the telephone box, and need the fire brigade to release him), it has, until now, been a struggle to regard him as a superhero.
Ready’s long career as a spinner of discs on Radio 1 and creator of some of theatrical history’s least-well reviewed musicals has been a reliable magnet for scorn. His latter efforts to break into politics, first with a self-delusory crack at becoming Tory candidate for London mayor, and now with Ukip, have done little to lend gravitas.
When he went on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, the public’s decision to get him out of there first carried the stamp of rigid inevitability.
Yet if we British revere one quality above all, it is sticking power. If a disliked and even loathed chap can ignore the contempt and hang on in there, eventually we will embrace him. I call it Bob Monkhouse Syndrome By Proxy, while Alan Bennett put it better (who’d have thought?) when he said that in England, all you need do is live to 90 and be able to eat a boiled egg to be thought worthy of the Nobel Prize. Although a stripling of 67, Mike Read’s release this week of his “Ukip Calypso” suggests it is finally time to award the prize of national affection to this laureate of buffoonery.
Bless him, he is no Lance Percival, who long ago used calypso as a medium for political satire with a dash of wit and charm. Even by the standards of Ready’s Wildean musical Oscar – the remarkable thing about which was not that it closed after one night, but that the sole performance made it past the interval – the calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious. At Diddy David Hamilton’s 70th birthday party a few years back (forgive the name-dropping), I saw him perform while clad in tennis shorts. His rendition of Buddy Holly classics, though heinous beyond comprehension, offered no clue to the depths of talentlessness at his command.
The lyric, which dwells on such Faragean staples as illegal immigration and insanely meddlesome Eurocrats, is pitiful (though credit him for trying to rhyme “referendum” with “outer Hendon”). The guitar playing is bad, the singing worse, and the accent worst. Whether he was aiming at Jamaica or calypso’s birthplace of Trinidad is unclear. Not since Richard Madeley’s Ali G has a white, middle-class Englishman vocally missed as vast a target as the entire Caribbean by such a margin.
Immediately, the Ukip Calypso drew the familiar accusation of racism – not primarily for such references as “illegal immigrants in every town”, but because it is a West Indian musical form. On any day, this familiar racism debate would have missed the point. Coming a few minutes before a black South African judge passed sentence on an Afrikaner who would once have been her master, the discussion on yesterday’s Today programme sounded especially ridiculous.
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
There is nothing remotely racist about the choice of calypso for this cheery whine of imagined victimhood. Whether it was consciously selected for this purpose or not, the genius of plumping for calypso is its evocation of the falsely remembered age of innocence which, far more than racism or Europhobia, is at the heart of Ukip’s appeal.
To hear that lilting singing style – even from Ready’s murderous larynx – is to be transported back to the early 1950s, before the first Notting Hill race riots. It brings to mind “Cricket, Lovely Cricket”, the sweet calypso about the joy of seeing the Windies Test match victory at Lords in 1950 “With those two little pals of mine / Ramadhin and Valentine.” Calypso, in other words, speaks directly to the Ukip voter’s inner child, who dreams of time travelling to that other country that is the past, when maidens cycled to vespers, John Betjeman (the source of another calamitous Ready musical) sneered at suburban pretensions, and everything in Pop Larkin’s sun-dappled bucolic paradise was perfick.
If calypso seems a peculiar musical form for a pre-2014 election campaign anthem, well, isn’t that the central point about Ukip? The defining quality of Nigel Farage’s ragtag army isn’t the racism or nastiness, though there are of course elements of both. It is the beguiling peculiarity of a 21st-century populist movement that seeks willingly to imprison itself in 1955.
Mike is himself is a time-warp oddity on an epic scale. He is a genuine English eccentric of a breed you imagined became extinct not long after decimalisation – the professional amateur whose incompetence knows few bounds but who will not quit however crushing and relentless the defeats. At one point, bankrupted by his quest to become the Stephen Sondheim du jour, he was reported to be living in his car. Most of us on would have taken the hint, and retired hurt from public life. He ploughed on, and on, and on, and resurfaces again now for another 15 seconds of demi-fame.
Somewhere here lies a curious, superhero strain of courage. A shipwreck on a renaissance-man fantasy island of his own creation, Mike Read is Failureman – and in a way I could not begin to explain, the utter futility of his unbreakable resilience makes me almost proud to be British.
That’ll be £75, 173.52 you owe me, Henman
Following Saturday’s 8-0 humiliation at Southampton – to which his hopelessness richly contributed – the Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone has done what Vitos traditionally do in difficult times, by making an offer that cannot be refused. Mannone has offered to persuade his team-mates to join him in recompensing travelling fans for the cost of their 700-mile round trip.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Sunderland supporters have remained heavily in debt to their ’keepers ever since Jim Montgomery’s 1973 FA Cup-winning save from Peter Lorimer – a miracle of reaction time that made Gordon Banks’ “salmon save” from Pele three years earlier look like the collection of a cushioned headed back-pass.
On the other hand, the offer constitutes a seductive precedent for all victims of sporting disappointment. On the Mannone Principle, I expect Tim Henman to wire me £75,173.52 for the 250 hours spent in front of the telly waiting in vain for him to reach a Grand Slam final (£25,000 in lost earnings, £50,000 punitive damages for mental distress, and £173.12 for electricity). Others from whom yet to be quantified compensation is expected include “Prince” Naseem Hamed (all those 3.30am alarm calls in the frustrated hope of seeing the little horror knocked out in Las Vegas). As for Tottenham Hotspur, the squad of forensic accountants working on the calculation tell me, while it’s still early doors, for 43 years of barely broken grief I am looking at somewhere between twice and thrice the national debt of Argentina.Reuse content