Cheryl Hughes: British Invasion
On a very special night in 1964, I sat on the hardwood floor of our Mt. Washington living room in front of our black and white TV, and waited for the premiere of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was nine years old. I had older sisters and younger sisters. They too were waiting to see the Beatles. My parents were there, as well, with their parent-commentary: “can’t understand a word they say…bunch of silly girls, crying over what exactly…need to get a haircut.” I looked up at the picture of Jesus on the wall just to the left of the TV—yep, just as I thought, his hair was longer. I let the conversation swirl around me. I had one focus. I was not disappointed. The group sounded even better than they did on WAKY radio, the area station out of Louisville.
The Beatles were from Great Britain, but they belonged to me and my generation. Part of the attraction of rock and roll was that my parents’ generation couldn’t identify. The Beatles were not something to be handed down from the past to be revered and respected in the present. The Beatles were new. The Beatles were now. From that point on, I was attracted to all things British.
Monty Python and the Flying Circus, a troupe of wacky British comedians, burst onto the scene in 1969, although I wouldn’t discover them until the mid-seventies. Their humor was mocking, irreverent and straight-out funny. I would think Saturday Night Live would have to give a nod to the troupe for writing the technical manual on how to spoof current events (or maybe, that’s a nod, nod, wink, wink for all you Python fans). John Cleese and Eric Idle and the boys gave us classics like, “How to defend yourself against an attack by fresh fruit.” The technique? You shoot the attacker, who is coming at you with a banana, then peel the banana and eat it, thus disarming the perpetrator. And who can forget “how to spot an unsuccessful encyclopedia salesman.” He is the chap being thrown out the window of a five-story window, of course. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” gave us the anti-hero, the Black Knight, who refused to quit the sword fight after losing an arm and a leg, commenting to his adversary that the loss of his limbs was “only a flesh wound.” Their humor isn’t for everyone, but it has taken my mind off many a worry.
Later on, I discovered “Father Ted,” a BBC series, filmed in the late nineties, about three misfit Irish priests and their housekeeper who live on the fictional Craggy Island. Ted’s best laid plans rarely come to fruition. In one episode, Ted is holding a culture-diversity seminar in order to prove that he is not a racist, when he receives a package from a recently-deceased friend, containing various Nazi memorabilia. In another episode, Ted coaches a soccer team in the “All Priests Over 75/ Five A Side Football Championship,” when he is caught cheating and stripped of his trophy. The seriousness with which he handles the ridiculous is awe-inspiring. Our fat cat, Dougle, actually got his name from Ted’s side-kick, Dougle McGuire. In the whole of the series, Dougle stumbles upon only one good idea. Ted is astounded and says, “That’s brilliant, Dougle, how would you implement the plan?” To which Dougle replies, “I didn’t know I would have to follow up one good idea with another good idea. It’s too much too soon, Ted. I can’t handle the pressure!” My family often uses that quote in times of crisis.
Some of my favorite memories are of my kids and me watching shows on the BBC. Because Garey didn’t always appreciate the Brits’ sense of humor, Nikki, Natalie and I would watch the shows on the small TV in the room where I do most of my writing. They christened it the BBC room, and we still call it that to this day. It’s the room in which I sit now, finishing this column. I think I like to sit back here and write, because I can still feel the creative energy that sparked all of that laughter years ago. It’s as if the very walls absorbed it.
Sometimes, in the dark times, when I doubt my effectiveness as a parent, I think back on the times my kids and I laughed at the antics of Monty Python and Father Ted, and I tell myself, “I did give them the Brits, I did at least do that,” and it comforts me.