Fatherhood out in the Bath bush makes it easy to feel all-but retired from leaping up on stages and making loud noises these days, and yet, besides the approaching joys of Tales of Britain in Ludlow in June and FAB FOOLS LIVE in Clifton in July, I have just survived a couple of the old daft regular shows I used to try and get away with for the Bath Plus Festival every year. Thanks to the seven or eight people who came along to Funny Noises this year, anyway.
At least this year’s Bath Plug winner is about as sparkly a jewel in our small pantheon of British comedy legends as could be desired. Somehow I had never seen Julian Clary in action live before he took to the stage at the Bath Forum with his old mucker Ian Shaw on Saturday 15th April, but I can’t imagine a clearer display of seasoned mastery of the microphone. It sounds obvious, but the way Julian worked the front row (which I had the mixed fortune to be on) was the definition of masterful. Shaw’s piano recitals were also worth the ticket price on their own, and together their songs were in the very best tradition of British filth. I hope they keep their double-header touring for a very long time, and couldn’t recommend it more.
This year, I had the duty of storming on from the wings just before the encore to praise our adored guest and winner, rather than heckling Sandi Toksvig’s finale from the audience. The whole evening was filmed, but in my unrehearsed eccentricity, my bellowed and very brief speech was delivered as I moved further and further stage right, just out of range of most cameras – and then further out of shot the second they managed to pick me up. It’s a hilarious display of theatrical amateurism, I’m almost proud.
Nonetheless, I’ll try to summon up the unwritten little homage to the Emperor of the Double Entendres, as best it grew in my head:
“Ladies, men and everyone across the gender spectrum this gorgeous evening, please allow me two minutes of Bath Comedy Festival business. I’m Jem Roberts, comedian, author, comedy historian, and inventor of The Bath Plug Award. I was far too young to be watching the first time I beheld the Joan Collins Fan Club with Fanny the Wonder Dog on ‘Saturday Live’, but suffice it to say from that day, to his place now as the nation’s most beloved dispenser of suggestive barbs, there are a million distinctions which make this year’s winner more than worthy of the title, but I will allow myself only two: 1) That in this modern world of a million TV channels, why is there no place for ‘Sticky Moments’, the greatest format not on our screens? Let’s start a movement to get it back on! And 2) Among so many comedy geniuses, this man is the only one to have delivered a funny line in ‘Carry On Columbus’.* For these, and so many other reason, we are very proud indeed to present the 2023 Bath Plug Award for comedy majesty, to Mr Julian Clary!”
Ian also received the newly-minted ‘O.B.P.’ (Nick Steel’s idea): the medal-like legion d’honneur of the Bath Plug order. It was a whole love bath of an evening, and we were pleased to hear Julian announce their final number by insisting “We’ll come here again! You don’t leave empty-handed!”
But then I had to run for the last bus to Radstock. I could absolutely have exhausted the moon with questions for Julian had we gone the complete pig and built a show around celebrating Julian’s career. ‘Terry & Julian’ is one of the greatest one-series sitcom wonders, and there was a time, after ‘Columbus’, that I felt if anyone could make a new generation of ‘Carry On’s work, it would be the writing duo of Clary and Paul Merton, who seemed to reach the greatest heights of inventive innuendo when they collaborated. Then there was ‘Whose Line’ to talk about, ‘Sticky Moments’, ‘Just a Minute’, there would have been no barrel scraping going on. The man’s a living myth.
*”Full as an egg!”