ARCHIVE REVIEW: Great Moments In Comedy History #1
First published May 2004
Great Moments In Comedy History #1
#1. Not The Nine O'Clock News:
"Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley"
TX: 08/12/80 BBC 2

The third series of Not The Nine O'Clock News ran from the 27th October to the 15th December 1980. It found the team at their very best, hitting the ground running from the word go.

The series included several digs at the newly sworn-in President Reagan (notably with 'The Aide'), a devastatingly cruel Nationwide send-up ("John Titt reporting..."), affectionately barbed parodies of Kate Bush, Abba and Barry Manilow, a disturbingly accurate That's Life piss-take, and Rowan Atkinson walking into a tree. It had also succeeded in drumming up a fair amount of complaints following the first show with the Goodall/Curtis-penned 'I Like Trucking' and its rather graphic portrayal of a hedgehog being squashed by a lorry. The team subsequently commented on such public sensitivity by allowing racist policeman Constable Savage to accidentally squash a second one in the following show.

On Wednesday December 3rd 1980, the one-time head of the British Fascist Party and founder of the Blackshirts Sir Oswald Mosley finally goose-stepped off this mortal coil at the grand old age of 84.

One person quite pleased to see the back of him was Peter Brewis, musician, parodist and composer of many of Not The Nine O'Clock News' best-remembered songs. When the call came through from producer John Lloyd requesting a song for the following week's show, Brewis didn't hesitate to use the opportunity to kick Mosley while he was down and began writing a song of lament, to be delivered by an example of Mosley's greatest supporters - the National Front.

Brewis went out and bought all of the following day's newspapers to glean some sneery quotes for the song to attack. He was rather surprised not to find any. The Mosley obituaries were rather creepy and forgiving, with even The Guardian joining the right-wing press in playing down Mosley's debatable track record in favour of a bunch of cliches describing him as a complex and powerful figure, sometimes misunderstood, always forthright, etc. A slight change of tactic was therefore called for.

Final draft of the lyrics.
Sheet music.
Brewis worked through the night on this embryonic version of the song and presented the results to the team the following day. After a few suggested lyric changes (Sadly we will never get to hear the version which included the line "He put the skids on the Yids in Cable Street / He put the screws on the Jews on the streets of London") John Lloyd gave the song the go ahead. With a crack-team of session musicians in tow (Les Davidson on guitar, Will Hill on drums and Felix Krish on bass), Brewis and fellow Not The Nine O'Clock News composer Howard Goodall descended on Red Shop Studios in Islington to record the backing track. Brewis and Goodall also provided some elaborate backing vocals.

On Saturday 6th they recorded the item, with the cast singing live for the cameras over the backing tape. On Sunday 7th Lloyd and Hardie edited the show. On Monday 8th it was broadcast.

The show (the seventh in the series) starts without titles - just a sombre caption reading 'Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896 - 1980)' before we're suddenly smacked in the face by a giant swastika, a static, colour-keyed backdrop framing the sight of Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones snarling out their best NF skinhead impressions via a thumping, grinding, tribute to the sound, if not the ideology of 'Oi!'. Wearing respectful black armbands (also emblazened with swastikas) they sing of the loss of their hero before reading out choice extracts from the gushing broadsheet Mosley obituaries. One comedy team's utter contempt laid completely bare in less than two minutes:


They didn't understand him
Some people called him mad
But any friend of Hitler's
Can't have been all bad.

Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley
Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley

He was popular and handsome
As Richard Burton
'Cos I seen him on the box once
With his black shirt on
And though I cannot claim to be
Any great authority
As far as I'm concerned
The sun shone out of his oratory

He could have been a great dictator,
Given half a chance
But they treated him like a traitor
So he went to live in France

Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley

And when they heard he was dead...

Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley

...this is what the papers all said:


"Genuinely eager to champion the unemployed and other underdogs... dynamic and handsome, popular... gifted and a natural leader"


"Brilliant man in the Commons... compassionate and humane... a man of genuine courage and inspiring leadership"

CAPTION ADDS FOOTNOTE '- The Daily Telegraph'

"Thought to have been the most handsome and gifted British political leader of the twentieth century ...brilliant debater, gifted, lucid and compassionate..."


Not The Nine O'Clock News
Series 3, Show 7, 08/12/80, BBC2
© 1980 BBC - EMI Music Ltd

Backing vocal lyrics - with "gifted, lucid and a cunt" proudly displayed.
Buried somewhere in the backing vocal mix is an even more heartfelt tribute to Mosley, with Brewis and Goodall including the words "...and a cunt!" at the close of each obit-quote verse. This isn't actually detectable but certainly nice to know it's there.

The song subsequently appeared on the second Not The Nine O'Clock News LP, Hedgehog Sandwich, albeit dubbed straight from the TV soundtrack rather than remixed for stereo as per other songs on the album - the reason being that the vocals were performed live in front of the cameras rather than during the original recording session. This - presumably rushed - session meant that Griff Rhys-Jones' slight vocal slip (while quoting The Guardian - "Genuinely ch...eagre to champion..." went uncorrected. Brewis remembers wishing that the song had just featured Mel Smith solo (a la 'All-Out Superpower Confrontation') since Rhys-Jones and Stephenson didn't really display the snarls necessary to carry it, and "let's face it - Griff is no singer!".

The song was also included on the 1995 video compilations (in 'Not 2' the second show of the first volume 'The Gorilla Kinda Lingers', although the BBC2 broadcasts placed it as Show 6 in the repeat schedules). This version of the piece was also added some stock footage of marching Blackshirts.

Mosley's wasn't the only death of a prominent public figure to leave its mark on the series. On the night this show was broadcast John Lennon was shot dead in New York. When the team reconvened for the usual writers meeting/rehearsal, they ended up sitting around for hours discussing their memories of Lennon. Eventually it was decided that, with everyone feeling so utterly miserable, it was hardly worth trying to write comedy that day, and so everyone went home again. Curiously, just a few days earlier, DJ Andy Peebles had recorded his famous Radio 1 interview with John & Yoko and had actually brought up the subject of Not The Nine O'Clock News during a chat about how much British comedy gets broadcast in America. Even Yoko seemed excited by the idea.

The final sketch in the subsequent show - the last of Series 3 - ended with a respectful fade-to-black and the credits ran to the sound of The Beatles' In My Life.

(Massive thanks go to Peter Brewis
for his help on this one.
Cheers, Sunshine.)