8 June 2014

The Mad Hatters - The Humphrey Song






















Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1976

He'd never believe it - and I suspect even if he did find out, he wouldn't care much - but the songwriter Mike Batt is indirectly responsible for two things that traumatised me as a child. The first and obvious thing would be the Wombles. Not the fictional litter-gathering characters who I liked, but their incarnation as a musical group. As a three year old child in a Butlins holiday camp, four towering men in Womble costumes gathered around me for a perfect photo opportunity. Seeing these fat, giant, Pete Townshend-nosed furballs stood behind me, glaring with vacant eyes in a manner I took to be menacing, I burst into floods of tears and had to be taken out of the room.

Then, Humphrey the phantom milk-drinker. Jesus Christ. You can talk to people of a certain generation about these adverts and they'll stare at you blankly - who? What? But they were the stuff of appalling darkness to me at the same age. In the adverts, Humphrey is an unseen force, never in camera shot, who steals milk from various surprised or terrified celebrities. Sometimes his emergence would be met with a booming, bellowing "He's behind you!" The fact that Humphrey was never visible caused me to conclude that this was a horrible, Triffid-type monster. I visualised a giant, striped, snaking straw, coiled and ready to strike, slithering into rooms and strangling people before sucking the milk bottles from their fridge dry. Again, I used to burst into tears at the adverts and had to be taken from the room. Thanks a fucking lot, Mike Batt (though to be fair to the songsmith, he only came up with the tunes for these horrible creatures, I doubt he was behind the concept, or my own warped mind's visualisation of the unseen).

I didn't realise that there was a glam rock Humphrey single released to coincide with the adverts, although it's safe to say that only a particularly cruel adult in my house would have considered buying it for me as a gift. On top of a thudding beat and a honking Soho sax, things only get more mysterious. "Though Humphreying is against the law/ they'll Humphrey a bit and Humphrey some more" Batt warns us. "Hey they don't need no reason!/ Hey baby, this is the Humphrey season!" he adds, while a sinister, prolonged psychedelic Floydish whisper hisses "Humphreeeeeyyyy!" in the background. Absurdity and anarchy abounds. I didn't know Humphreys had seasons, or that there were specific laws against the very act of Humphreying itself.

There's no reason why this shouldn't have been a hit. The adverts were very well-known and popular (with everyone except me), Batt's original jingle was familiar to all and a huge factor behind their success, and the track is enough fun to be worth more than the usual couple of plays most novelty singles end up being granted. Doubtless the BBC were reluctant to playlist something so closely linked to a major ITV advertising campaign, and it failed to pick up attention elsewhere. But it could be that I'm biased - while you're probably hearing a very innocent glam ditty, I'm actually hearing bleak, monstrous terror and cow-juice drinking chaos. This track has enough darkness to it to never be pure 'novelty pop' to me. Do indeed watch out, people.

Sorry I couldn't include the ballad on the B-side in this upload, but it's absolutely scratched beyond use on my copy, I'm afraid.

4 comments:

VanceMan said...

Thanks for sharing this one. It's always interesting to hear these quirky singles that never came to America.

23 Daves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
23 Daves said...

I'm glad you got something out of it! I thought this one might be baffling to people in the UK born only a few years after my childhood, never mind anyone not from this country.

Do I have to? said...

This is wild and catchy as hell. I'm a Yank and never heard of it.