Charles Nevin: Where is the merry cheer of yesteryear?

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The Independent Online

Current events make a doleful study. Strikes seem to be back with us. So is school, and the five-year-olds are feeling stressed even before they start. Mourning families abound. Sporting success comes with the doubts also attending examination results and warmer weather.

We need something to cheer us up. Sadly, comedy is going through one of its sardonic, at best rueful, phases. There is a general shortfall in geniality.

Where are the cheery, cheeky chappies of yesterday? Sir Norman Wisdom has made his last bow, and Stephen Fry is 50, as you might just conceivably have noticed. Charlie Drake is dead and Lord Archer is pretty quiet. Boris Johnson and Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin can do only so much. Sven's being taken seriously. To be honest, I'm beginning to miss the smile of our last prime minister.

There was some fun amid it all, wasn't there? Little of it intended, I grant you, but it did give us a leavening laugh, the guitar, the tight jeans, the pretty straight kind of guy stuff and the shrugs and the rest of it. The present premier, of course, has been winning extravagant praise for his contrasting high seriousness, but it does make things a touch monotonous. Was there ever more of a misnomer than the Brown Bounce?

John Major was dull, too, but his dullness positively throbbed and glowed with comic potential. On the day he resigned to fight his leadership election, for example, he changed out of a dark grey suit into another dark grey suit. And there were the gnomes, and the cones. He was, after all, the son of a trapeze artist; we all know what Gordon is the son of.

No, we shall have to look elsewhere, away from the presiding mood (and what, Lord save us, about his Cabinet?) for our shallow consolations. But, I regret to tell you, even the lowest items on the universal news agenda have recently taken a turn for the terse and sober.

The bungling bank robbers, the usually reliable eccentrics and pleasing ironies are in short supply. The bad weather seems to have robbed us of comedy vegetables. The best I can offer is a collie from Michigan that can flush the loo and a performance of Julius Caesar in Colorado curtailed after Brutus accidentally stabbed himself.

Here in Britain, Mr Joe Skeaping, at least, is trying to do something about it. Mr Skeaping, 65, of Marlborough, has started a campaign to promote singing in the bath, believing it to be the best antidote to our pressures and stresses. I'm not so convinced. There is, in my experience, because of the acoustics, a tendency in the bath towards low, slow notes, and hence the more melancholic expositions, such as "Ol' Man River", or "Down by the Sally Gardens". My own rendition of "Are You Lonesome Tonight has often excited" comment.

Whistling, though, has promise, betokening as it does a cheerier age. And you don't have the stress of remembering the lyrics. For the most pleasing tremolo, I should recommend "The Happy Wanderer", or anything from The Desert Song. It can also be done on the street, thus spreading happiness.

Even so, it is no guarantor of joie de vivre. Barry Mason, the noted lyricist, once confided to someone whistling "Delilah" that he had written the words, to which the whistler, breaking off, replied: "I'm not whistling the words".

The spirit of the age. Time for a bath, I think.

So good they made it twice ...

Remakes, remakes, remakes. Sleuth, 3.10 to Yuma, Casablanca; there's even a stage show of Dad's Army about to go on tour. Michael Caine and Jude Law, pictured above in the new Sleuth, have spoken of the dangers of copying classics: and I was delighted to see Caine agrees with me that, really, we should be remaking flops, not hits. Imagine the thrill of seeing if someone else could make anything of Yentl, Ishtar, Battlefield Earth or On The Buses. Perhaps Sir Michael could try again with The Swarm (1978), in which killer bees threaten Houston; but he must keep the tagline, "It's more than a speculation – it's a prediction!" And surely Diehard Dracula (1998), Soft Toilet Seats (2000), and Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) are worth another crack?

* Sorry to harp on, but there are some crises clamouring for attention. Did you know, for example, that, with only five years to go to the Olympics, Britain has a shortage of diving boards? And that southern England's animal rescue centres are full of stray cats needing homes? I also note that British men in their thirties and forties are spending £24bn a year to overcome their midlife doubts and worries.

Dream holidays, fancy gadgets, teeth whitening, nips, tucks, cars with no roofs, great beasts of motor bikes, tight jeans, guitar lessons, gym subscriptions, on and on it goes.

Some thoughts from an older male: it is impossible to look cool in a helmet; those varyingly concealed little smiles mean everyone knows what you're up to; have you tried just holding it in; it doesn't go away, you know; would anyone care to join me in a company specialising in dream holidays, fancy gadgets, teeth whitening, nips, tucks, cars with no roofs, great beasts of motor bikes, tight jeans, guitar lessons, and gym iron?

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