8 November 2017

Richard Stilgoe & Valerie Singleton - Suffering From Inflation/ Statutory Right of Entry

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

Richard Stilgoe is one of those strange popular figures in British life who is famous despite never selling millions of records or having his own TV series.  Rather, his best known output was confined to regular brief appearances on television shows such as "Nationwide", "That's Life" and "Pebble Mill at One", usually singing light-hearted satirical ditties about the frustrations of the day. His gentle mocking of society began to seem dated by the early nineties, prompting the comedian David Baddiel to mock him with the character Richard Stillnotdead who sang the song "Why Do People Leave The Cap Of The Toothpaste Off?" on "The Mary Whitehouse Experience". Nonetheless, from that day to this, he has a loyal audience and fans, some of them rather unlikely figures such as members of cult indie bands or modern day poets and spoken word artists.

Stilgoe's media presence was arguably at its peak in the mid-seventies, when his bearded and somewhat casual Jeremy Corbyn-esque appearance cropped up constantly on early evening television. One of his prime achievements at this point - his "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, if you will - was a song called "Statutory Right of Entry", which involved a cascade of multitracked Stilgoe vocals harmonising about a rather unlikely problem.

A "Nationwide" researcher had found out that numerous people in public jobs had a legal right to enter people's homes on demand. These included people working for the gas and electricity boards, and various other less likely characters besides. You would suspect that this wouldn't prove a problem for most home owners, but Stilgoe's ditty turns the situation into an epic and somewhat unlikely farce, with the home-owning Stilgoe character finding himself avalanched by public professionals cluttering up his property across the working week. The song gains comedy value tenfold if you can see the accompanying video clip, though, where an army of officious Stilgoes authoritatively dance and prance around.

For all the comedy value in the situation, it's hard to understand quite what either "Nationwide" or Stilgoe were worried about. If I had a broken gas meter or faulty wiring in my house, I wouldn't treat a public official appearing on the scene unprompted with any stress or anxiety. To be honest, I'd just be stunned by their efficiency. It also seems somewhat unlikely that they would set up camp in my home all week, unlike the builders I'm presently paying a small fortune to repair and renew my horrible, broken-down bathroom. Still, it's an incredibly memorable piece of melodic farce as a result of stretching the problem to breaking point, which is probably why people still remember it in the year 2017.

Less remembered is the actual A-side of this single performed with Valerie Singleton, "Suffering From Inflation". It has a strangely fifties arrangement, complete with harmonising bass vocals. Nonetheless, shorn of its original context, it's aged quite poorly as a piece of satire. Life in Britain in the mid-seventies (when it was the "sick man of Europe") was chaotic and unpredictable, and as an historical artefact the single is interesting, but it's low on laughs now compared to its OTT flipside. 

Thanks enormously to Tim Worthington for providing some background on this single in the fantastic "Top of the Box" book, which chronicles the facts behind every single that BBC Records and Tapes ever released. If you're a collector of odd and esoteric vinyl and don't have it on your bookshelves, you should remedy that immediately. 


Reimer said...

This sounds fab (as does Tim W's book), thanks. I will always cherish the memory of Mr Stilgoe leading a crowd of holidaymakers at either Pontins or Butlins on some frivolous 'Nationwide' piece in a singalong praising the camp to the skies ("It's great when it's warm but even when it is Colditz just fine" or some such) inter-cut with an inmate making an escape attempt under cover of darkness.

23 Daves said...

He could be a naughty boy. "Portakabin TV" was, of course, one of his more controversial moments...