1st visit to the Edinburgh Fringe and delighted with the reaction from the Press.
"Be honest, how many of you thought I was dead?" There's a frisson in coming to see an old end-of-the-pier stager like Bernie Clifton on the Fringe. Will it be a car crash, an embarrassment - or a glorious vindication of a forgotten variety star? Certainly, the former Crackerjack funnyman is making no compromises with fashion in this one-off gig. His jokes are pure quattro formaggio, his shimmering white dinner jacket should have a restraining order, and this must be the first job outside Blackpool for his two-piece band, plonking out sub-Phoenix Nights tunes on a Yamaha organ upstage.
But this exercise in retro comedy is also unrepentantly funny. The famous ostrich routine is served up as a mere hors d'oeuvre, but you'd be hard pushed not to laugh as Clifton and bird threaten to mate with Jean from North Berwick in the front row. This is anarchy-lite next to what follows, as Clifton binds the entire venue up in parcel tape, steals and scrutinises another critic's note-pad then wrestles a giant inflatable deep-sea diver to the ground. There's nothing to choose, give or take 30 years, between Clifton's tomfoolery and that of Vic Reeves or Harry Hill. "I know what you're thinking and I agree," says Clifton. "It's crap but it's British."
The one-liners are deliciously groansome. "Still making love at 71," boasts Bernie. "Which is handy for me, 'cos I live at number 63." And you've got to be in the summer-season mood to enjoy his musical interludes, the comedy value of which rests entirely on audience participation. But that's Clifton's point. He ends his show, with touching forthrightness, by asking his audience not to forsake old-fashioned family entertainment. And then, by way of demonstration, sings a version of Glory, Glory, Hallelujah that your great-grandparents would enjoy. If his Edinburgh debut isn't itself a cause for hallelujahs, it certainly proves there's life in the old ostrich yet.
The fact that this review almost didn't make it to the screen is testament to what a rare act Bernie Clifton. While clambering through the crowd wrapping them up with duck tape as he went, Clifton spied Chortle's notepad and swiped it quick. Not many acts have the guts to do that to a reviewer. Luckily a helpful staff member was happy to lend a couple of bits of paper so the review goes on.
Filling one hour and twenty at this one-off and indeed debut show at the fringe, Clifton had decided to share it with a younger, fringe regular. And thus came about the bizarre pairing of Clifton with one of the best satirical comedians on the circuit today Robin Ince.
Ince's opening was a nod to one of his shows at the festival this year the Book Club where comics read from books that have taken their fancy. Ince begins with readings from some frankly ridiculous books he found in a charity shop - a Mills and Boon descriptive passage about a lasagne is read like you've never heard it read before and there's a guide to marriage that lays down the recommended skirt length for ladies wanting to bag a husband.
By this point in the review you probably want to know whether Clifton had brought the infamous ostrich out with him. He certainly had. As Ince acquiesced to tell some 'proper' jokes Clifton did the classic panto turn of running up and down at the back of the stage with the yellow fake fur bird attached as the perplexed Ince wondered what everyone was laughing at. Clifton then threw a postmodern slant on it with 'you'll have worked out the legs by now,' and 'did you think I was dead? Did you think I'd fallen off the roof correcting my aerial?'
What followed showed that Clifton still relishes audience interaction what with the duck tape shenanigans and picking on poor Jean from North Berwick whom he moved from her chosen seat to the other side of the auditorium and berated throughout. His material consisted largely of silliness and music with an enforced sing-a-long of Dick Dodd's Dad's Dog Dead and a medley of Phantom Of The Opera performed from underneath what appeared to be a curtain with a stuffed cat perched on his shoulder.
He finished in true cabaret style with a good old -fashioned song. The four star rating is awarded to the 70-year-old Clifton for keeping the spirit of variety alive and to Ince for being such a good sport in this happy meshing of old style comedy and modern stand up.
The guardian said...
And Charlie loves him too.
Underbelly cow logoBernie Clifton
It's Alright for Some
16:30 - 17:50
E4 UdderBELLY (Bristo Square)
Show image for Bernie CliftonONE PERFORMANCE ONLY! (Bird flu permitting.)
One of the most original comedians in the entertainment industry, Bernie's engaging style and zany, visual humour have made him a star of pantomime, summer season, concert, cabaret, radio and television.
'Bernie Clifton is a certifiable genius...This warm, uncynical lunatic in the funny suit is the spiritual father of Vic Reeves, Harry Hill and Johnny Vegas.... He's not just a nutter with a flightless-bird fixation. Au contraire: Clifton is God.' Charlie Skelton, The Guardian...