ChuckleVision was a television fixture for over two decades, running from 1987 to 2009 (notching up a staggering 292 episodes along the way). But before Barry and Paul Elliott endeared themselves to several generations of children they’d had to endure a long, hard showbiz apprenticeship. Winners of Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and New Faces in 1974 (a unique double) the brothers found further television exposure hard to come by, so had to be content with plying their trade around what passed for the variety circuit during the seventies and early eighties.
Their return to television, The ChuckleHounds (1985/1986), didn’t sound terribly promising – a pre-school programme which saw them dressed as dogs! – but it lead to ChuckleVision, where the boys were able to put their slapstick skills to fine use. The first two series had a different format to what came later – Barry and Paul are studio-based presenters (although they do venture outside via film inserts) plus there’s magic from Simon Lovell and a regular slot featuring Billy Butler as a storyteller. But even though much was unfamiliar, the basic dynamic of the brother’s relationship was already firmly in place. Barry (the short one) is stupid, Paul (the tall one) is equally as stupid but considers himself to be a cut above in the intellectual stakes. It’s the sort of formula that had served Laurel and Hardy well for many years and the Chuckle Brothers, whilst not quite in the same league, still managed to wring plenty of comedy out of this basic premise.
Wordplay and puns also feature. A sample from the first episode, Breakfast, will suffice. Paul mentions that Wayne Sleep will be coming on the show later. Barry looks downcast and tells Paul he’d better call the vet (for the lame sheep!) It’s a groanworthy pun and it won’t be the last ….
Each episode of series one and two has a theme. For example, episode three of series one is about Sport. There’s quite a nice touch of satire as they cut away regularly for live snooker at the Crucible. Each time they do so, we see a still picture of Steve Davis, clearly not moving an inch, whilst the commentator tries to fill the time as best he can.
The second series still has the brothers in a studio setting, but there seemed to have been a little more money in the budget, which meant that the fairly bare set from series one was replaced with something rather more lavish. The basic format remains though, as does Billy Butler’s storytelling slot. Amongst the memorable moments are Barry’s caveman outfit (in Farming) and their attempts to discover whether the truth is really out there in U.F.O. The robot Barry, perfect in every way says Paul, is also rather chucklesome (“it hasn’t got a brain” says Barry. You can probably guess the next line).
Originally released on DVD by Delta in 2011, they’ve now been brought back into print by Simply. For fans of the later oft-repeated runs of ChuckleVision, these two series are certainly very different (opinions are split over whether Billy Butler is an asset or a bore – personally I rather like him). Each series runs for around 250 minutes, which makes the decision to issue them as four disc sets a little odd (they would have easily fitted on two discs per series)
Although nice to see them back in circulation it’s a little hard to fathom exactly who’s going to buy them. The subset of bloggers, like myself, with an interest in the history of British television must be quite small, so it’s either going to sell to those who grew up with the series or young children yet to be introduced to the joys of the Chuckle Brothers. The latter may be the most fruitful audience, as whilst these early shows can be a little slow there’s still plenty for youngsters to enjoy. Those coming back to the show after a gap of twenty five years may be harder to please. Numerous series, such as Pipkins and The Banana Splits have escaped onto DVD over the years, but after an initial nostalgic rush the adult viewer has probably found they lack a great deal of rewatch value.
ChuckleVision: The Complete Series One was released on the 25th of July 2016. RRP £19.99.
ChuckleVision: The Complete Series Two will be released on the 29th of Augut 2016. RRP £19.99.