Like most British teenagers in the 1980’s, I was introduced to Derek and Clive through a grubby cassette tape thrust into my palm by a friend. “Listen to this”, he said. “It’s the funniest thing you’ll ever hear”. That night I put it on my hi-fi for about 20 seconds, before switching it off as quickly as I could, decanting it into my Walkman instead.
I was utterly shocked. I could not believe for a second that such a thing existed. I was 15, and whilst I obviously knew all the swear words, I’d never heard them used so comprehensively, so offensively, with so little regard for taste and decency. And not only that, this was coming out of the mouths of these two middle aged men I was used to seeing on television. That short bloke from Arthur, and the tall man who was in Supergirl. How did this happen? Did they know?
I told my older brother about the tape, but he just laughed and told me he already knew about it – everyone knew about it. I managed to keep it from my parents, writing “CHART HITS” on the tape sticker and keeping it out of the way. A friend had a story about how he was listening to it on a train too loudly through headphones, and how the sound bleed into the ears of an appalled woman sitting opposite. She hit the roof, he said, nearly smacking him with her handbag.
Now in my forties, I have a son who is a fan of old comedy, but the prude in me hopes he’ll never stumble across Derek and Clive. Although I have to confess, there are parts I still find funny. Dudley Moore shouting “nurse”. His song about when he was ‘walking down the street one day’. Peter Cook’s stream of nonsense about breaking a world record (before it gets nasty). But there is such a strong undercurrent of unpleasant throughout, not just in the language or imagery, but how aggressively Cook turns on Moore, with spite that is painful to listen to.
This is so apparent through this VHS I bought in 1993. It was much trumpeted at the time, the pair even turning up on television together to talk about it.
I somehow felt that I had to have a copy, and so purchased the VHS from Woolworths. I shouldn’t have bothered, I should have sat patiently for Youtube to be created and watched bits of it on there. It has a distinctly grubby feel, shot in a scruffy recording studio that looks as if it stinks of smoke and sweat. Dudley Moore comes across as if he wishes he could be anywhere else but there, whereas Cook, bloated with booze, displays a nasty temper that at times turns to bullying.
Low-lights include the appearance of a stripper, and a “drugs bust” led by a policeman which happens to be none other than Virgin boss Richard Branson. Seeing the two performing the skits visually makes the whole experience far worse. On record, it somehow takes the sting out the unpleasant. It is easier to imagine that Derek and Clive actually are lavatory attendants who don’t know any better, rather than two respected comedians, with one doing everything he could to make his colleague uncomfortable.
But somehow, they got away with it. I don’t know if future generations have delighted in Derek and Clive as much as mine, but me and my peers passed many tapes around. Clearly comedians David Baddiel and Rob Newman also heard it, as evidenced in this tape they sold on one of their tours.
So I spent about twenty pounds on Derek and Clive, though everything has been thrown away or Ebay’d, not out of some purist scourge, more because I merely didn’t want them anymore. They are on iTunes, but somehow its not the same in middle age. Would kids today like it? Do they hear worse? I somehow doubt they do, and maybe that’s for the best.