ESB plays some strange tricks on you. Before you know it you’re discussing the characters in the song ‘The Intro and The Outro’ by the Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band without the aid of an Immac phonewotsit. Clustered at the end of the bar we started running through the musicians introduced in the fantastic ditty complete with ‘Doo, doo doo, dah-dah’ much to the merriment of a group of hikers from Stevenage. Intro Outro, as most know it, that do know it like, appeared on the Bonzo’s first LP, Gorilla, and apart from the characters and unlikely instruments it suggested they played it has some rather strange and interesting stories attached to it. Now before you go singing (well, speaking actually) ‘Roy Rogers on Trigger’ let us explain a bit more to those that may think we have completely lost the plot and haven’t got a clue as they don’t remember it or the characters mentioned. We won’t go into the history of the band as I’m sure it will all be written up in a Wikimania entry or two that will be accurate enough as its not that important. What is important is that they were British bonkers at its best. Monty Python on vinyl. Formed originally in about 1962 by Vivian Stanshall and Rodney Slater, and called The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, by 1965 they were The Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band comprising a very eclectic mix of art students featuring Viv Stanshall and Larry Smith who were at Central London Art College, Roger Ruskin-Spear from Ealing College with Pete Townshend, Neil Innes from Goldsmith’s and Rodney Slater who was at St. Martin’s amongst many others. Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell was the bass player who lived in the same house as Niel Innes. As is normally the case with degrees of the University college type, in 1966, once they completed their courses, they turned professional. The band members changed about a bit and in October 1967 they released Gorilla. It was hilarious and I bought a copy with me hard earnt bottling up money. On it was The Intro and the Outro written by Vivian Stanshall. Essentially its just what it says on the tin, a piss-take of band leaders and the number they use to introduce the musicians. It is pure comic. Quite what inspired the song isn’t known but Peter Blake who designed the brilliant cover of ‘Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Band’ was one of their tutors and Gorilla was released a few months later. One day I’ll open a bottle and see how many characters on that LP cover are featured in The Intro and the Outro. Sad. We all knew it word for word and it echoed around the Boarding House for years. I seem to recall the Senior Boys doing a version at the House Review combining it with Cinderella Rockafella.
How many did we get then? Well surprisingly quite a few. We managed the Introduction proper “Hi there, nice to be with you. Happy you could stick around.” All in mid-Atlantic. Then onwards with the seven band members. Although they are credited with one instrument most of them played a variety of instruments. “Like to introduce ‘Legs’ Larry Smith – drums and, Sam Spoons – Rhyhm Pole and, Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell – bass guitar and, Neil Innes, piano. Come in Rodney Slater on the saxophone, with Roger Ruskin-Spear on tenor sax. Hi, Vivian Stanshall, trumpet.” Vivian Stanshall is the compere in all this and, strangely enough, the piece probably inspired Mike Oldfields classic ‘Tubular Bells’ as Vivian plays the compere on the album introducing the instruments. Then we get the introductions to the guests various. You need to listen out and like us you may not know who some of the characters are so here we go, a brief guide. Long hours webbying has solved most of entries. First of the unlikelies is “Big hello to, Big John Wayne, xylophone.” Big Hollywood star best known for the tough guy cowboy roles in films like True Grit and died in 1976. “And Robert Morley, guitar.” Actor luvvie who played true British character roles in amongst others, ‘Around the World in 80 days’ and ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’ he died in 1992. “Billy Butlin, spoons,” Billy Butlin made his name setting up the very successful Butlin’s Holiday Camps. But you now that, maybe he joyously rattled the odd spoon on a canteen table table. “And, looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler, on vibes. Nnnice!” He’s dead obviously and was at the time of writing but did start out as an artist. Vibes refers to a vibraphone which is a bit like the German Glockenspeil. “Princess Anne, on sousaphone. Mmmmm.” Back then Princess Anne was an up and coming and very serious horserider. I’ve had a go on a sousaphone and they are brilliant. I sort of think I may have seen a bandsman on horseback playing one. Tricky. Wonderful image there though.
The introductions roll seemlesly on, “Introducing, Liberace, clarinet.” Liberace was an extremely flambuoyant pianist who, as it happened, was very good. Neil Innes played the piano so Liberace got the clarinet. The next one had us foxed. “With, Garner “Ted” Armstrong on vocals. Beep-doodly-ooobeedah-bee-bop. Ooo-wee-ahh, ooo-wee-ahh..” Garner Ted, it turns out, was blood and brimstone bonkers evangelist. During the mid to late eighties he rented the time before 208 Radio Luxemburg broadcast pop music to promote and rant on behalf of the Worldwide Church of God. He is also credited with broadcasting on Radio London. The Who did a jingle on ‘The Who sell out’ which went “Radio London says, go to the church of your choice.” Back to the known stuff then. “Lord Snooty and his pals, tap dancing.” Lord Snooty and his mates were in the Beano, a smashing comic. “In the groove with, Harold Wilson, violin.” Harold Wilson was the Labour Prime Minister in 1967 and apart from trying to abolish Grammar Schools he famously coined the phrase ‘the pound in your pocket’. Maybe violin could be fiddle! Then we get another unknown to us, “And, Franklyn McCormack, on harmonica.” Seems he was a DJ on Chicago’s WGN Radio. He was noted for his popular mix of poetry and music and much like Vivian and released albums where he narrated over the music. He died on air in 1971. Next up, the real thing, “Over there, Eric Clapton, ukulele. Hi Eric!” It really is Eric playing. He was a close friend of the Bonzos and often played with them. “On my left, Sir Kenneth Clark, bass sax. A great honour, sir.” Not the MP but the art critic and one time Director of the National Gallery. Refill time.
Unsurprisingly, later we discovered that there were a few upsets in the castings not least the one that was dropped as a result of political pressure. The original line is reputed to have been, ‘And now just arriving, Quintin Hogg on pig grunt’ however the Conservative MP, whose coat of arms are indeed three boar’s heads and was once referred to by Private Eye as Lord ‘two dinners’ Hailsham, took umbrage and forced Vivian to overdub the line with, “And specially flown in for us, a sessions gorilla, on vox humana.” Vox Humana is an organ stop and Latin for ‘Human Voice’ and the LP was after all Gorilla, so it’s a session player Gorilla called in at the last minute. “Nice to see, Incredible Shrinking Man, on euphonium.” I’d love to see that myself. “Drop out with, Peter Scott, on duck call.” As well as setting up the World Wildlife Fund he was a noted bird artist and became Sir Peter Scott in 1973. In 1967 he was the presenter of the long running BBC wildlife programme ‘Look’. As an aside he was the Chairman of the British Gliding Association for a while. In contrast, next we have the self-explanatory, “Hearing from you later, Casanova, on horn. Yeah!” “Digging General de Gaulle, on accordion. Really wild, General! Thank you, sir.” This was the time when Britain was trying to get into the Common Market so de Gaulle wasn’t at his most popular as he strongly opposed our membership.
Now things just go from funny to funnier with my favourite, “Roy Rogers, on Trigger.” Followed by “Tune in, Wild Man of Borneo, on bongos.” A play on band member Fred Munt’s nickname, ‘Borneo’. Quick as wind you could miss “Count Basie Orchestra on triangle.” Followed by a single ‘ding’ and “Thank you.” Ace. The Count Basie Orchestra was the number one big band sound. “Great to hear, the Rawlinsons, on trombone.” We stopped. Who on earth were the Rawlinsons? Turns out they were characters created by Vivian based on the worst excesses of the Upper Class and eventually appearing on Rawlinson’s End, written for John Peel’s radio show. Star was Sir Henry Rawlinson and amongst his ramblings was the classic “If I had all the money I’d spent on drink, I’d spend it on drink”. Moving swiftly on, “Back from his recent operation, Dan Druff, harp.” Playing a harp with a case of dandruff? “And representing the flower people, Quasimodo, on bells.” “Wonderful to hear, Brainiac, on banjo.” Appropriately no banjo is played as Brainiac was an android foe of Superman and not very nice however, in complete contrast the next guest is the lovely Val Doonican. “We welcome, Val Doonican, as himself.” Who greets us thus “Hullo there, hullo there.” He sat on a stool, smoked a pipe, played the guitar and had his own show on the BBC and knitted all his own cardigans. My mum loved him. He sang Paddy Mcginty’s Goat. I hate goats.
A puzzling one now which foxed us and meant another pint and further deep discussion, “Very appealing, Max Jaffa, mmm, that’s nice, Max!” Clever pun on oranges or a reference to Jaffa cakes maybe? Max Jaffa was definitely a sound I grew up with. Every Sunday it was ‘Playing live from the Grand Hotel. The Palm Court Orchestra with Max Jaffa.’ The radio show ran from 1943 to 1973. My grandfather lived in Eastbourne and I once asked if we could go and see the Palm Court in the Grand Hotel. Turned out it didn’t have one and they recorded the show there only occasionally and in the lobby of all places! Bummer for a small child. I had visions of Hawaii. Well half an hour later, “What a team, Zebra Kid and Horace Batchelor, on percussion.” Zebra Kid took a bit of tracking down but it is a reference to George Bollas an American wrestler who actually came to England known as The Masked Zebra on account of his headgear. So play on concussion. Horace Batchelor became a household name through his ‘famous Infra-draw method’ for winning the football pools on Radio Luxemburg. The address was carefully read out at the end. “Keynsham, spelt K.E.Y.N.S.H.A.M. Bristol.” As Luxemburg was the pop music station of the time it became a buzz word and make Keynsham famous. He died a bit of a recluse in 1977 at Knowle in Bristol. The Bonzo Dog Band later honoured him further by releasing the LP ‘Keynsham’ in 1969 with a warning to mothers with children that ‘This record is inedible’. By now me dinner is probably in the dog so we settle for a half and, as one, cry out, “And a great favourite, and a wonderful performer, of all of us here, J. Arthur Rank, on gong.” Cue dinner gong. Laugh.
If you’ve never bothered to listen to this great band, never mind The Intro and the Outro, then you are missing a treat. There is a tremendous amount of talent that has come and gone and connections that never cease to surprise. They played in the strip club scene on Magical Mystery Tour and their first hit, ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ was produced by Paul McCartney (in disguise). Vivian Stanshall sadly died in 1995 following an electrical fire in his flat. The note on the back cover of Gorilla sums them up, ‘Dedicated to Kong who must have been a great bloke’. We left the hikers running through ‘The Sound of Music’ soundtrack. I think they’d had a few as well.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcrUuCDFLOQ brilliant piece by John Noy showing all the characters as they appear
http://www.iankitching.me.uk/music/bonzos/ Ian Kitchings very much more than comprehensive site on all things Bonzo. If it isn’t here it might not have happened.