The legendary comedian’s novelty record featuring his signature catchphrase goes off in strange and unusual directions.
Dick Emery was huge in the 1960s and 1970s, through his TV sketch series The Dick Emery Show, which ran from 1963 to 1981 – at which point he became one of many old-school comedians to fall victim to the rise of Alternative Comedy, which saw his generation as sexist, racist, homophobic dinosaurs to be crushed and – in modern terminology – cancelled. You didn’t think this was a new thing, did you? Despite still attracting the sort of viewing figures that modern broadcasters would kill for today (when you can apparently call a show with less than 2 million viewers a hit that ‘everyone’ is watching), Emery and his contemporaries quickly fell out of favour with the new generation of younger channel bosses who were desperate to pull in the hip kids and had little time for shows that were un-PC or simply too uncool, no matter how popular they might be.
In fact, Emery had tired of his routine himself – well, you would after nearly two decades – and attempted to reinvent himself with a new character, Jewish private eye Bernie Weinstock, and managed two series of comedy thrillers more in the vein of his 1972 movie Ooh… You Are Awful before his sudden death of a heart attack in 1983, aged 67.
Emery’s schtick – one used by others since – was to perform as a series of characters who would appear in different sketches every episode – it was all catchphrase-driven humour where the same gag was essentially shown each week, just with different stooges to set up the punchline. In shows like this, much of the fun comes from waiting for the familiar, which oddly never gets old – and of course, once those catchphrases enter the public consciousness, you can probably run with them forever.
His most famous character – at least if we take into account how often the catchphrase was used – was Mandy, an ageing blonde bombshell played in drag by Emery, who would inevitably be stopped on the street by a market researcher or such, whose questions she took as being flirtatious come-ons, leading to her punchline “ooh, you are awful… but I like you” before whacking the hapless man with her handbag and strutting off. There’s a lot to unpack in the character if you want to go down that route – her dolly bird outfits and sexual confidence, for instance, and just how old she was actually supposed to be – but the success of the character can be seen in the fact that his unexpectedly good 1972 movie used the catchphrase for its title (something that probably did it no favours in the end, as people tend to expect a rather cheesier film than the one they get) and a novelty record of almost the same name from the same year.
Emery released a few comedy records but You Are Awful (But I Like You) is especially bizarre. In fact, even by the standards of 1970s comedy records, this one is… odd. You might reasonably expect it to be performed in character as Mandy, and indeed it opens with her saying the immortal lines, but then it lurches into a conga of all things with Emery – not, we might say, a singer in the classic sense – belting out the words in the gruff Cockney geezer persona that seemed closer to his real self. It is, I suppose, a party tune of sorts and I can imagine drunken holidaymakers at Butlins or on a package tour to the Costa Del Sol drunkenly congaing away to this on the dance floor. I mean, people dance to anything at those events. But it doesn’t have ‘hit’ written all over it.
It was, as you might expect, the sort of thing that once clogged up the vinyl racks of charity shops across the UK but, like all such things, is now increasingly hard to find as connoisseurs of the terrible snap up copies. Still, if you want to own a copy and also enjoy the equally numbing B-side Dance, Dance – which actually is performed in character, this time as the ‘menopausal man-eater’ Hetty – then you should be able to find a copy online for a bargain price.
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