Late last night, or more accurately, early this morning, I was at something of a loose end but not yet quite ready for bed. The New Year had come in with me home alone but I was also in one of my rare moods of mild optimism. Judy had left me with five party poppers to pull once Big Ben struck midnight, while she’d gone off to celebrate with her friends. I had missed out, being, as you know, still full of a cold. Forced to forgo the revelry, I’d counted down to the New Year on my own, popped my poppers, and then sat beneath the trails of crepe paper that came raining down on me. It was bliss. You just can’t know what a relief it is to a man to know that he’s avoided for another year having to kiss Cilla Black as she screams ‘Happy New Year everybody!’ I was beginning 2008 with that rare luxury of full hearing and I decided to use it profitably by doing a bit of channel surfing just to see how the year’s television was shaping up.
I quickly turned off the usual celebrations on BBC1 and ITV. There are few things guaranteed to lower the spirits than watching drunk celebs getting maudlin about ‘the people who can’t be with us tonight’. The truth is so very different. They don’t give a Brylcreemed fig about other people, just where the next drink is coming from and whose keys they’ll be picking out of the ashtray at the end of the evening. Instead, I loitered on Trains, Planes, and Automobiles on Channel 4 which remains one of my favourite comedies of the eighties. But, since I’d come in halfway through it, I didn’t want to spoil it for myself and I flicked over to BBC2.
That’s when my blood froze the flesh to my bone. There on the screen was a horror so great that should I have heard the dolorous chants of the undead coming from the kitchen, I would have ran to them with a joyful trip to my step. The sight that greeted me on BBC2 was the perfect embodiment of New Year and why I’ve learned to hate it so much.
The show was ‘Jules Holland's Hootenanny’ but the screen was all Lenny Henry. His big round bald head was pushed right into the camera’s lens and he was pulling a face like a demented lunatic, mouth wide open, eyes squeezed together. Every blocked pore on his thickly made up chin was visible among the stubble, his nostrils and mouth three gaping holes hiding the unknown horrors of the year ahead. I’m just thankful that I get through most years without coming into close contact with the man. That he should be there, front and centre, within minutes of the start of a new year is a bad sign. In 1987 I remember turning on the TV and seeing Bill Oddie playing the spoons. That year turned out to be a very good one.
Having a tipsy Cilla Black bearing down on you is nothing compared with Lenny Henry forcing his ‘craziness’ on the nation. In fact, there are very few sights that can guarantee to turn my stomach so quickly. There are people inside the business who think that Lenny is a comic genius. They are the very same people who are doing so much to make me prematurely grey by promoting Alan Carr as though he’s the best cure for constipation.
The character of the self-appointed ‘funny man’ is more odorous than any. They share in those same mistaken principals that lie behind the vividly coloured jackets that too many TV presenters wear in the belief that it gives them personality. Lenny has made a career by making loud noises and grinning like a village idiot. The gulf between his act and his real life are more obvious than we find with most comedians, which makes his act all the more onerous. I want to tell him to calm down, to assure him that he doesn’t need to be ‘on’ all the time. He needn’t be ‘funny’ in order to be funny.
I’ll be writing at this at more length later in the year when I’ll be giving The Richard Dimbleby Lecture, with a paper titled ‘Comedy for the Credulous: An Argument Against Lenny Henry’.
In the meantime, I just have to say that I fear for 2008.
Watch this space.