Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour
Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour is widely acknowleged as being one of the first 'alternative' comedy shows, making its controversial debut on BBC 2 at 10pm on the 5th May 1978, beating Not the Nine O'Clock News by over a year. The resulting furore over the BBC's decision to broadcast the show resulted in Television Centre being burned to the ground by an angry mob under direct orders from the Stow-On-the-Wold Taliban. Members of the ruthlessly efficient Bernie Clifton Firm were also rumoured to be involved, but they issued a denial in the fifth edition of their annual club newsletter, Ostrich Logic. Police did, however, manage to capture grainy CCTV footage of the notorious club comedian Alfie Noakes masturbating among the smoldering remains the following day.
Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour began as a touring cabaret act, headed by Jamie Crowdle (formerly of the prog-rock band Bill Oddiesey) as the ringmaster and featuring (in character parts) Blifford Smeeb, Tweed Flurglebippin, Rinnynock Strawkleflust (replaced Finbar Barrann in 1976 following a disagreement over Susan Penhaligon), Splug Tweeblin and former cabaret singer Flambois Shuzzer. Following a three-week engagement at the Cricklewood Slipper Baths in 1977, they were approached by Filbert Bwanuff of BBC Radio Leicester with the possibility of recording a five part comedy series based on the works of the Marquis DeSade. Unfortunately, Bwanuff was sectioned under the mental health act before this could go ahead, leaving the troupe at a loose end.
A Loose End
As luck would have it, A Loose End was one of the hottest nightspots in Rainham, owned by the notorious Spugdroffle brothers (Kevin and Elsie) and featuring a weekly cabaret spot headlined by the legendary Norris Tubo, a Perry Como-influenced punk vocalist whose sole chart hit 'Fondle My Plumflunker' (Gopic Records, 1979) would later be an enormous influence on the provisional Gracie Fields Appreciation Society. In a 1978 interview with the New Musical Express (and not the police, honestly), Kevin Spugdroffle said -
"There was something about Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour that just clicked with me. I think it was the trigger on Blifford's revolver. I'll never forget that sound. Anyway, the lads asked if they could perform at the club, they told me they had a good act, and I took their word for it. Obviously, the fact that they were dangling me six inches above a vat of noxious human waste at the time influenced my decision, but I know raw talent when I see it. I also know raw sewage when I see it, and since I was dangling six inches above a bloody great vat of it at the time, I signed them to a six week season."
It was during one of their performances at the Spugdroffles' establishment that Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour attracted the attention of the BBC, and later, New Scotland Yard.
The Pilot Episode
Having been poached by ace BBC talent spotter Hubert Corrinostrophist, Harry Frimble's Gentle Hour began recording the pilot episode, later moving on to the dentist episode, the architect episode and the plumber episode. All of these were wiped by the BBC, though good quality bootlegs do occasionally surface on Clapham Common. Eventually, they made an episode that was judged sufficiently free from obscene, slanderous, perverse, corrupting and degrading material to be broadcast. This was the now-infamous 'Saintzeffel' episode, named after Norris Tubo's self-invented brand of music which combined elements of proto-grunge, black metal and Lithuanian folk dirges.
The show (as broadcast)
Unfortunately, the show as broadcast was destroyed in the fire, and has never been seen since. However, a few highlights have been made public with the use of timecoded tapes kept by the Lowestoft Convention.