I recently watched a programme called Smile: This Was Candid Camera, which marked the 50th anniversary of the hidden camera show’s first screening in Britain.

It was basically a clips show with a cast of ITV-centric talking heads, some of whom were bafflingly irrelevant. For instance, we had Vicky Binns and Alan Halsall (who play Molly and Tyrone in Coronation Street, apparently) who provided fascinating insight into Candid Camera’s most memorable moments. There was also Jeremy Kyle – the man with a face clumsily welded onto a frown – who was presumably hauled in to talk about the show’s famous paternity test prank. We also heard from the lighting gaffer on Wild at Heart, the guy who Windowlene’s the cube in The Cube, and someone who once offered John Nettles a cup of coffee and a Hobnob during some downtime on the set of Midsomer Murders.

(A lot of that last paragraph was made up, yet it still sounds like a plausible line-up.)

Thankfully, however, the programme also featured the original performers from the British and American versions of Candid Camera, the daughters of presenter Peter Dulay, and fleeting interview footage of the late, great Jonathan Routh (whose eyebrows should’ve been on the protected species list). So all in all, it balanced out quite nicely.

The British version of Candid Camera ran from 1960 to 1976, but a lot of the classic clips that were shown in ITV’s programme seemed to be from the seventies. They were a joy to watch, but it left me pining for simpler times.

Admittedly, the “simpler times” I’m referring to was a decade defined by hardship, strikes, rolling power cuts and three-day weeks. But everyone just seemed so bloody nice in those days! Everyone either spoke like Tommy Steele or sounded, not just like they were speaking with plums in their mouths, but like they’d swallowed an entire fruit bowl. And everyone seemed so wonderfully patient and willing to help.

In the famous ‘Birdman of Basingstoke’ clip, when Jonathan Routh, wearing a winged costume, asked members of the public to hold his guide rope rigid so that he could take off from Wimbledon Common, two old ladies and an old man on a bicycle genuinely attempted to help him. “Don’t worry if I go over your heads and can’t say goodbye,” said Routh reassuringly.

Those people would’ve been the Second World War generation. With such endearing naivety and the ability to see beyond a patently bizarre situation, it makes me think that if the Luftwaffe had dropped troops into the English countryside dressed in elaborate birdman costumes, they might’ve received a cup of tea, directions to London and enthusiastic guide rope assistance. But what a lovely way to be invaded! To be victims of our own kindness.

Are we still kind? Or are we cynical, distrusting and outwardly suspicious of anyone asking for (or even offering) help?

During the recent heavy snow over Christmas, I volunteered my 4×4 to help the West Midlands Ambulance Service transport stranded nurses to work. The nurse I picked up said: “Thanks so much for doing this. But why? My daughter was fretting that you might be a murderer.” As worthy as this may sound, I told her that I was doing it because I wanted to do something useful. I simply wanted to help. To be kind.

Of course, her daughter’s concerns were completely understandable. When you think about it, all the horrors of the world are only a mouse-click away on the Internet, or repeated endlessly on 24hr rolling news channels. Her daughter probably knows more about the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ than she does Hannah Montana.

I loved the innocence and politeness of the people in those Candid Camera clips. Perhaps the simplest prank involved Peter Dulay approaching strangers in the street and speaking with them as if he knew them. One man, who was so embarrassed that he couldn’t recall who Dulay was, repeatedly invited him into his home. Typically, comments from the modern day audience on YouTube suggest he must have been some kind of predatory homosexual. But I like to think it was just case of impeccable manners from a very different time.

There’s also a clip where a Candid Camera performer stops a man in the park to ask if he’ll give him “tuppence for a cup of tea”. When the man kindly offers the money, the performer then produces a cup, saucer and teapot, and pours the man a drink. “Well, this is a surprise,” exclaims the man. “Are you touring?” He then politely drinks the cup of tea and passes the time with a conversation about tea bags. It’s just delightful!

Frighteningly, I found it impossible to watch these clips without feeling some kind of Daily Mail tumour developing in my brain. Or like the spirit of Richard Littlejohn had squeezed his pasty, corpulent frame into my soul and was compelling me to decry the state of modern British society. Many of those Candid Camera clips wouldn’t work today, and probably wouldn’t achieve the same reactions from the public. Isn’t that sad? For the love of god, what’s happened to us?!

Once I’d exorcised Littlejohn’s spirit (which involved forcing out a huge, obnoxious shit), I began to think clearly again. Of course times have changed; it’s inevitable. But we’re probably every bit as kind and good natured as we used to be. In fact, I know we are. After all, I see the kindness of strangers every day on Twitter. Thousands of people – who’ve never met – enjoying each other’s virtual company, laughing at one another’s jokes, chatting like old friends, uniting to fight common causes, and offering advice, reassuring words and support to each other in times of need. So we’re still the people we used to be.

I have no doubt that if Peter Dulay’s goldfish-eating prank was attempted today, and was witnessed by a member of the public walking past the pet shop, a Twitpic of the stunt would instantly appear on Twitter, “goldfish” would trend globally, a parody account called ‘@GoldfishEatingMan’ would start churning out 140-character hilarity, and several thousand Facebook hate/support groups would be created. But that doesn’t make us bad people. It shows that we care!

Anyway, I’ll finish this blog post by instructing you to return briefly to the seventies once again, which will take precisely 8 minutes and 14 seconds of your time. This clip is just the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen, so I would ask that you watch every second. I won’t spoil it for you. But I’m sure you’ll agree, the extent of this man’s patience and good nature, and his willingness to help a stranger, is a rare thing indeed – whichever decade you’re looking at.



Filed under Comment, Television

6 responses to “@GoldfishEatingMan

  1. Diana

    I love the innocence of old-school Candid Camera – but I think this attitude still exists, it just lurks below a veneer of wariness brought about by years of watching too much Crimewatch and reading the DM (holds hand up in acknowledgement of own behaviour here). And maybe we’re also too aware these days that the ghost of Jeremy Beadle (or Punk’d’s Ashton Kutcher) could well be lurking in the bushes, ready to shout “You’ve Been Had”? I’ve been helped by many a kind stranger over the years. No murderers yet!

    • andytoots

      It’s heartening to hear that you’ve been helped by many a kind stranger in the real world. And I’m obviously massively relieved that you’ve not encountered any murderers!

      You’re right, the Beadle years have left us all twitchy that certain situations might be set-ups. But aside from the perceived lost innocence of the general public, I suppose the hidden camera shows themselves aren’t quite as innocent as they used to be.

      I mentioned Scare Tactics a few posts back, which once had a set-up where a guy and his girlfriend had got some night work at a funeral parlour. When the guy’s girlfriend (in on the joke) was called into a back room by the funeral director, and was gone for some time, the boyfriend investigated, only to discover his creepy boss harvesting his girlfriend’s organs. By the end of the joke, the boyfriend had actually picked up a scalpel from the table. “I was gonna stab you, man,” he said to the actor playing the funeral director!

      With my rose-tinted 3D glasses on, I feel sure that a 1970s member of the British public would’ve made the funeral director a cup of tea and mopped his brow as their girlfriend’s spleen was removed. It’s only polite.

  2. Scarlet / lizzieborden6

    Everytime I’ve tried to sit down and comment on this, I’ve gotten interrupted. The biggest culprits have been the combination of small children and the activities of their bowels. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I truly think you rank among the small group of people that reaffirm my dwindling faith in humanity. Now, without blowing too much smoke up your arse and sounding sycophantic, I (and everyone else) really miss you. It’s good to have a break every once in a while, but we’re feeling deprived of our Toots! xx

    • andytoots

      Hi Scarlet,

      I’m really sorry to have been away from Twitter for so long. I think I just ran out of steam. I didn’t feel like I was being even remotely funny any more, so I thought it would be best if I didn’t clutter everyone’s timelines with mediocre crap for a while. Of course, I’ve now been absent for so long that I’ve sort of forgotten how to do it!

      Also – and I think everyone’s felt like this at some point on Twitter – you can start to feel like you’re shouting into an echoey room, which makes you think: what’s the point? It’s also dangerous if, like me, you start to use RT’s and @mentions as a barometer for how funny or interesting you’re being, which just isn’t healthy. I’m living proof that that road leads to ruin and battered self-confidence!

      Throw some writer’s block into the mix as well, and you’ve got a perfect storm of inactivity on all fronts.

      I’ve checked in and had a look at Twitter again recently and have seen some perfectly lovely tweets from you, @nearlyerica, @IndieGirl_76, @richboden, @icod, and the absolutely wonderful @grammar_puss. I’m very touched that people have missed me. And I’m genuinely very touched that you’ve taken the time to drop me a line here!

      I have to say, I’m also extremely honoured to be among the small group of people that reaffirm your dwindling faith in humanity! I’m not quite sure what I’ve done to make you think that, but I’m chuffed as hell anyway!

      I might see if I can write something on the blog soon. I doubt the resulting post will set the world alight, but I suppose I should try and force something out of my old noggin. As for Twitter, if I can find my way back – I will.

      Thanks for being so lovely. x

  3. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    • andytoots

      I only approve the very best spam comments.

      So you think I’m definitely going to be a famous blogger, eh? I like that. If you were real, I think we could be friends.

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