Grumbleweeds

Graham Walker, left, and Robin Colvill. Picture from thegrumbleweeds.co.uk

GRAHAM Walker of the comedy double act The Grumbleweeds has died, aged 68.

He was a man who could reduce me to tears of laughter just by walking onto a stage. If he walked on carrying a drum stool I would be laughing before he’d even started the gag.

And I could see that gag (and you had to see it, explanation wouldn’t do justice), and the rest of The Grumbleweeds’ tried and tested and oft-repeated routine any number of times and still find it funny.

The Grumbleweeds – Graham and his comedy partner Robin Colvill – had been together since 1962. If you told me they’d been doing some of their comedy business from the day they started I wouldn’t complain.

I first encountered them as a child watching a BBC children’s TV show called, I think, The Coal Hole Club. Back then they were a five-piece musical comedy group. When I found out they were doing panto in Darlington a few years back I was at the front of the queue for the office review tickets. They were hysterically funny. When they returned a couple of years later the panto characters were different, the act was the same.

It was this kind of thing:

Robin: Sign this.

Graham: I ain’t got no pen.

R: I have no pen, he has no pen, they have no pens.

G: Well who’s got all the pens?

R: I’m talking about your grammar.

G: What about her?

R: What about who?

G: My grandma.

R: What about your grandma?

G: Well, she might have a pen.

It was silly, and innocent. They had more on-stage energy than men half their age. It was unfashionable – they probably hadn’t been on TV in 20 years. But if you are in the right frame of mind comedy doesn’t have to be cutting edge, or aimed at filling arenas, or flogging DVDs (although they’d have sold you one, in the foyer, in person). It just has to make people laugh. The Grumbleweeds made me laugh, so RIP Graham Walker.

I’m not sure the review (from 2009) did The Grumbleweeds’ contribution to the show justice: but then again, I’d watched much of it with tears streaming down my face. It appeared under the headline: Perfect panto leaves nothing to Grumble about

 Aladdin at Darlington Civic Theatre

FIRSTLY, a confession. I’m only 10 in panto years. I didn’t see one until I was 39 which means the magic of this very British theatrical experience hasn’t yet worn off.

Panto should appeal to the inner child in all of us and this one, featuring The Grumbleweeds, appealed to mine in much the same way The Grumbleweeds appealed when I was an actual child.

Yes, they’ve been in the business that long. Aladdin was first performed in 1788 and the boys were probably in it shortly afterwards.

Actually they’ve been together since 1962 but you take my point – they know what they’re doing in front of an audience.

And so to the show. Let’s tick off the essential panto ingredients.

Wafer thin and largely incidental plot? Boy wants girl. Tick.

Comedy double act? See above. Tick.

Former reality TV contestant? X Factor’s Chico (as Aladdin). Tick.

Evil person? Wizard. Tick.

Pretty girl? Two. A princess (Sarah Brown) and her friend Yu Yin (from the Chinese State Circus). Tick.

Hard-working, on-the-ball, live band? Tick.

Cute dancing children? As always at Darlington, the Joanne Banks Dancers. Tick.

Funny man dressed as large woman? Bobby Bennett, entertaining people since 1955. Tick.

Other random stuff? Tick – because one of the joys of panto is that almost anything can be shoehorned in.

Which is how I came to be watching a Chinese woman lying on her back juggling five umbrellas (and the occasional rug) with her feet while a princess sang Reflection from the Disney movie Mulan and a sugar-wired three-year-old kicked me in the head from behind.

It couldn’t have been more surreal had Darlington’s own Vic Reeves scripted it for Novelty Island.

The two 14-year-olds I took along had a whale of a time. Silliness conquering teenage cool perhaps?

Their favourite joke? Ozzy Osbourne: “Guess who I bumped into in Specsavers?” You can fill in the punchline yourself.

The whole company play their part. Magician Max Somerset from BBC TV’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a splendid baddie and Bobby Bennett a tremendous Widow Twankey. The real surprise is that Chico really is an all-round entertainer.

And there’s a tantalising glimpse of what the future holds for Jedward. But for that you’ll have to buy a ticket.

However, it’s The Grumbleweeds – Graham Walker and Robin Colvill – who are the stars of a super show.

This review appeared in The Journal www.journallive.co.uk on December 12, 2009. Read more about The Grumbleweeds at www.thegrumbleweeds.co.uk

If you’d like to see more (and you really should) there’s a video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXKOcbkLgmk