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.