Ch-ch-chucklevision, Ch-ch-chucklevision, Ch-ch-chucklevision ….” Just hearing the theme tune brings back the memories. For anyone growing up in the nineties, Chucklevision was an essential part of their childhood viewing, and, let’s face
it, I’d bet that a good few of us wouldn’t mind watching an episode today.
The stars of the show are Paul and Barry Chuckle. One is tall, the other small – both equally accident prone. Who doesn’t remember with fondness the moustachioed pair, bumbling their way through a succession of jobs and catastrophes with bucketfuls of slapstick (and cold water) and pratfalls aplenty? I had the chance to chat to one half of the act, the optimistically daft but loveable Barry, in reality the man behind the character, Barry Elliot, during the rehearsals for their latest stage show, ‘An Audience with The Chuckle Brothers’, which came to the New Theatre on the 28th February.
Hearing his voice over the phone, softly spoken and rather quiet, I must confess that I was slightly surprised not to hear the chirpy tones of the character Barry Chuckle. I am by no means implying that Barry was not a perfectly friendly interviewee, far from it, it was just a bit surreal to hear the voice that speaks ‘To me, to you’ on the other end of the line, a voice that I’d been listening to and laughing at from the age of five. I was half-expecting his on-screen persona, not the man himself on the other end of the line.
But just who are the men behind the mishaps? First things first, contrary to the widely-held misconception the two actually are brothers. Real names Paul and Barry Elliot, at 65 Barry is the elder of the two by 3 years. Born in Rotherham, the Elliots were a showbiz family, their father a comedian and their mother a professional dancer.
The brothers followed in the family line. In 1967 the pair won talent contest Opportunity Knocks and in 1974 triumphed on New Faces. Barry fondly recalls the latter, “It was the X-Factor of its day. There were two rounds, the judges and the public vote. We were one of the only acts to ever win both.” The show launched the careers of stars such as Lenny Henry but failed to kick-start the Elliot’s television success and they continued to hone their skills as variety performers, originally known as The Harman Brothers.
Given that no one would ever be likely to trust The Chuckle Brothers with a pile of crockery it is all the more surprising to learn of their real-life circus skills and plate-spinning act.”We were in a circus with Charlie Cairoli [known as the King of the Clowns]. You pick up little bits from the people you work with. It was a sort of an apprenticeship for us.” After several successful years in variety and pantomime their big television break finally came in 1984. “We were doing a show in Ashton-under-Lyme and we didn’t know that some BBC producers were in the audience. They asked us if we’d like to be in a TV series called Roger the Dog. We’ve got these dogs they told us…It was for 7 weeks and we’d never done kids’ stuff before.” He laughs, “It was like Laurel and Hardy – but we were dressed as dogs!”
The producers were pleased with the results and offered the brothers their own show as The Chucklehounds. This was to finally become Chucklevision two years later, when the dog costumes were at last cast aside and Paul and Barry’s faces seen by their young viewers for the first time. The very first episode was shown on 26 September 1987 and after 22 series is still going strong today, with no signs of finishing. Having been a regular feature of the BBC’s children’s television schedule for 23 consecutive years, what does Barry think is the secret to their longevity and enduring popularity? “It’s ageless, non-offensive entertainment,” he says simply, “It’s a friendly sort of humour.” Added to the charmingly blundering appeal of the brothers themselves, the programme’s low budget has also proved popular with BBC producers.
It is the show’s catch phrases that immediately spring to mind: “To me, to you”, “Oh dear, oh dear” and “Silly me, silly you”. Quote one of those lines to pretty much anyone and they will recognise it straightaway. But just how were such memorable, simple lines originally written? “You can try and think of a catchphrase but it has to come about naturally. ‘To me to you’ was always a family thing, we used to say it all the time at home, when we were moving furniture for example.”
With their relationship being so essential to the appeal of the show, bossy Paul and well-meaning Barry, the two obviously have an extremely strong bond. “I have a great relationship with Paul. We always got on well as kids apart from the usual squabbles. It was the same with Brian and Jimmy too.” But who, you may well ask, are they? Well, this might come as a shock but The Chuckle Brothers’ elder brothers are also in Chucklevision! Brian and Jimmy, professionally known as The Patton Brothers, appear regularly in the show. Remember Mr No-Slacking and Mr Get-out-of- it? Well that’s them.
There have been well over three hundred, but what is Barry’s favourite episode? “Series four when we went to Scarborough to film in a hot-air balloon. But there was also the one we filmed at Rotherham United’s ground.” This episode was ‘Football Heroes’ in which the brothers play for their beloved home team and, typically, score an own-goal. They have since been made Honorary Lifetime Presidents of the club and Barry admits he loves including references to his home town in the show whenever possible. And what would he call the best memory of his career? “When we won the Special Children’s BAFTA Award in 2008.” The award, in recognition of an outstanding creative contribution, was presented by Dr Who writer Russell T. Davies, who himself wrote three episodes in the early nineties. Another highlight was the Children’s Royal Variety Performance and meeting Princess Margaret. Aside from the show itself, the brothers’ theatre career is astoundingly prolific. In 2006 they celebrated their 40th consecutive year in pantomime and tour nationally with their own shows. Recent years have featured ‘Barry Potty and his Smarter Brother Paul in The Chamber of Horrors’ and ‘Doctor What and The Return of the Garlics’.
Chucklevision has without a doubt entered into the national consciousness and become a part of everyday speech. Equally, it has entered into journalistic and even political circles. Search it in Google News and I absolutely guarantee that you will find a report that uses the term. Countless articles refer to “The Chuckle Brothers” of Number 10, Brown and Darling. Other famous examples include Northern Ireland’s Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley. Barry himself chuckles (forgive the pun) at the idea, “I feel very proud. There are thousands of references to us on the internet.”
The Chuckle Brothers are a national institution. In much the same way as Blue Peter, but without the turnover in stars, they have made children giggle for decades with harmless, plain silly humour. To dismiss them as old-fashioned or to sneer at the lack of sophistication as a pie splats yet another irate boss in the face is to completely miss the point. Who needs sophistication and irony aged eight? They are a breath of fresh air and a much-needed dose of fun. Paul and Barry are simply great entertainers and I for one will always be tempted to have a look at their latest disastrous career move – no matter how old I am.