The fact that Simon Munnery isn’t ridiculously popular has been something that’s confused me for years and years, okay, he’s a tad unusual when it comes to comedy but he’s also incredibly funny and has been so for three decades now. He’s had brushes with the mainstream with a Radio One show in 1997 and the BBC2 series Attention Scum! being broadcast in 2001, while his character Alan Parker Urban Warrior was well liked with NME readers thanks to the weekly articles he wrote for the paper, but despite this frustratingly the general public have yet to fall in love with him.
He came close back in 1996 though when he teamed up with Graham Linehan just after Linehan had found success with the first series of Father Ted, and produced this pilot for the BBC which was aired in the summer. Featuring the aforementioned Alan Parker, the character is “a bedsit anarchist”, the kind of loud mouthed shouty type who rails against all that is wrong in this world without really doing much about it, the joke being that he’s all words and no action, at least in this pilot. It’s a nuanced performance, Alan Parker isn’t just an over confident idiot and he often recognises when things don’t work or what he’s saying is possibly stupid, which makes it all the funnier. Parker really could have been the kind of character who presented something like this but also had his own “I’m Alan Partridge” style sitcom about his life, so it’s disappointing that Munnery was never able to make him in to a long running iconic comedy figure as there’s certainly enough depth to this particular Alan.
London Shouting’s a studio based affair as Parker does bits of comedy, introduces a couple of bands (one real, one not) and chucks in a few sketches for good measure. It opens in the brightly lit studio with Alan making a couple of comments / jokes, like when he introduces the use of a fax machine which then prints out a page reading “Test Transmission over” – and he casually comments that it’s “bad news for test transmission fans” – sure it’s an obvious pun but he has the charisma to pull it off. Then a young Jason Freeman pops up before the first band of the night perform, the Super Furry Animals. I like the Furries a lot but this was one of their poppier more mainstream efforts and it drags a bit, and the only amusing moment is when during the song the word “Fact” flashes up on screen before we’re informed “Thirty million people have albums by Phil Collins. Thirty million people voted for Adolf Hitler. Draw your own conclusions”.
After this we’re back with Alan and a bit of a monologue that contains a good few one liners, the best of which for me was a joke about the Birmingham six being free and Alan angrily ranting “When will the rest of Birmingham be free?”. Then there’s a segment where Alan chats to Amanda (played by Mel and Sue’s Mel Giedroyc) who’s a piss take of the bland inanity of presenters like Amanda DeCadinet and who reoccurs throughout the show. A short sketch follows about a group of men who take calculated risks, mostly by jumping off of postbox’s, and which stars a very young Peter Serafinowicz and Kevin Eldon, before developing in to something stranger when one one of them sprains his wrist and regrets it, and it ends with a killer gag about Government measures like the introduction of small postbox’s and a postbox jumping park. The whole thing is pretty great, and wouldn’t look out of place in Big Train, which Linehan also wrote for, and this is high praise, I promise.
Another studio segment follows with Mel Giedroyc back as another character, Sandy, who protests by sitting up trees but due to budgetary reasons they’ve got her sitting on a reasonably cheap kids tv show tree that looks like it’s made out of plastic. While interviewing her Parker asks Jason Freeman to pretend to be a policeman and use psychological pressure to get them down from the tree, which he does with amusing ease. Then there’s a couple of fake adverts including one with a sombre voice over that declares “Whatever you’re doing this weekend, don’t start a war” because “War is Bad” which I loved a lot. A more obvious gag follows in the form of a selection of bad eighties songs where a different voice over asks “Do you remember this? Or this?” before suggesting that if you do you need to drink more beer. It’s not exactly sophisticated comedy but it also can’t be denied that it’s a pretty good idea if your head is filled with such terrible music. Then there’s a brief return to the “War is bad” theme which warns us that cars are actually tanks, before there’s the best advert of the lot, where the Lumpy Brothers (Peter Serafinowicz and Kevin Eldon again) are attempting to hawk their phone call pranks album, all of which are terrible and mostly involve the duo calling people dumb down the phone, but it works due to the reactions of the supposed victims who don’t seem that bothered and just drily comment things like “Have you nothing better to be doing?”.
Once the adverts are over with we’re back in the studio and after a brief dig at Brett Anderson’s famous “I’m a homosexual who’s never had a homosexual experience” statement, with Parker mentioning “I regard myself as a worker, despite not having…anyway”, he introduces and then patronises a gay man, supporting him in theory but not actually listening to what he says, finishing with the fact that he likes gay men because “If more men were gay it might statistically improve the odds for those who are left” which in context is a pretty decent gag. Then it’s time for another band, “The Pod”, who do a terrible dance track about India and it soon becomes apparent that it’s in no way genuine and is meant to be comically rubbish. Fronted by Julian Barratt there’s a good few spoken word parts which are so pretentious that it’s gorgeously funny, and it satirises some of the dodgier dance acts of the nineties skilfully.
Then after a couple more brief throwaway gags (“Edmonds, Davidson, Monkhouse – what do they have in common? They should all be put up against a wall and shot”, and Jason Freeman doing a Space Invaders inspired dance being the best) we return to Giedroyc’s Amanda who’s knocking on a random person’s door with a surprise for them, that being that “I have got your knickers”, it’s the kind of nonsense you got on “Youth Tv” back then and is parodied perfectly in the skit, made all the better with Alan looking annoyed and commenting “More mild surprises next week” at the end of it. After this we’re back with The Pod for an interview where Barratt shows why he’d go on to become a comedy superstar, coming out with nonsense about how they plan to “Release music like a virus, or a yeast” and that “A new petri dish’s coming out in September”, while throwing in references to “Tibetan skiffle” in what was my favourite part of the show. But then again I always strongly disliked twatty interviews with egotistical musicians, so it was always going to appeal.
In the final part of the show there’s another live satellite link up, this time with a street level raver called Danny (Kevin Eldon once again) travelling to different towns giving a low down on the rave scene, with the joke being that he’s so out of it most of the time that he can’t remember where he’s been or where he’s going, it’s nothing amazing but it’s very likeable, and Eldon (as in everything he does) turns in a great performance. Parker then introduces the extremely camp DJ Maurice Fanshawe who talks nonsense over the songs, uttering things like “Here come the drums, ooh weren’t they loud” and “Hardcore techno ravers, have a laugh, hardcore techno ravers, have a bath” which made me smile as I’ve witnessed DJ’s almost as bad, but I’m not convinced they needed to make him quite so camp. Finally Alan suggests all the musicians on the show that night play at the same time before realising what a terrible idea it was.
Given how great the pilot was, and the talent involved, it’s pretty astonishing that the BBC didn’t pick it up and give it a full series, sure there’s the occasional weaker moment but the majority of it is extremely funny and it stands up twenty years on in a remarkable way. But then BBC has never quite understood Munnery and his many talents so it’s perhaps not a surprise, and at least it wasn’t the last we saw of the character. Indeed Munnery is currently on the road as him one final time in a show called Alan Parker’s Farewell Tour, which I can’t wait to see as it’ll be fascinating to discover what Alan’s like all these years on, and I only hope it’s such a success that a tv channel pay him to bring him back and it’s not his final appearance.