Glaswegian husband and wife comedy duo The Krankies are now famous mainly for falling off props and for their sexual escapades. It was all so different back in 1981.
When the comedy duo The Krankies came out as being swingers in 2011, the world, or at least the dwindling part of it that reads British newspapers, was shocked. That anybody had been even the slightest bit shocked in the first place was a trick worthy of the greatest of magicians. Whether by distraction, sleight of hand or by hiding their sexual proclivities in plain sight, The Krankies had deceived a nation for over forty years.
Who would have suspected a happily married couple in their late 60s? A slightly unconventional couple admittedly. A couple in which the wife regularly dressed up as a ten-year-old schoolboy in order to annoy her daddy (played in this scenario by her husband). Who could possibly have ever suspected anything untoward in that relationship? Who indeed. The whole stage act of The Krankies was founded on a premise so mad and improbable, that no-one suspected a thing. It is also equally possible that many people had suspected everything all along, but were too horrified to give full reign to their imagination. To imagine the Krankies making love, with other people participating, is a single step too far into a world of horror and madness. The writhing tentacles of Cthulhu have nothing on that insanity inducing image.
Janette and Ian Tough (aka The Krankies) met in Glasgow at the city’s Pavilion Theatre in 1965, the same venue which in 2004 would see Janette cheat death after plummeting from the top of a massive ten feet tall beanstalk during panto season. The production back in 1965 was Babes in the Wood and Janette was making her panto début after giving up a career as a shorthand typist (with the emphasis obviously on the short). Ian was an electrician at the theatre, desperately trying to be discovered and be given a break on stage, 42nd Street style. Sadly no-one was horrifically injured at short notice, so Ian instead turned his attention to Janette who was playing one of the Babes. The two hit it off and formed a song and dance act almost immediately, performing backstage at the panto, probably much to the annoyance of everyone.
Once the panto finished, the duo then unleashed their song and dance act on the world, playing the club circuit in Scotland and Northern England. After two years they married and relocated to England, a location more central to the heartland of the clubs. Like many a song and dance act before and since, comedy and banter soon became an integral part of the act and later, more important than even the singing and dancing. When their big break came, the song and dance act was forgotten and it was all about the comedy.
Following an appearance on The Royal Variety Show in 1978, The Krankies were hot property. A 1976 album, Two Sides of The Krankies, exists to demonstrate what the act was prior to this pivotal moment. The A-side is a record of The Krankies club act featuring ‘The Little Boy Routine’. Ian dominates the B-side with well-executed baritone recordings of traditional Scottish ballads, interrupted only by Janette singing ballads in the style of a chipmunk high on helium and unrefined cane sugar. The little boy routine came to dominate the act of course, a wee 4 ½ feet tall monster in a school cap was born, and poor Ian probably never got to sing a rousing Scottish anthem ever again.
By 1981, The Krankies were mainstays of the Stu Francis era Crackerjack, the act from the club circuit being sanitised and re-packaged for children. The appeal was obvious; Jimmy was a cheeky, irreverent and naughty little boy that said and did the things that children would only dare to. The fact that Jimmy was a 35-year-old housewife and his long-suffering father was actually Wee Jimmy’s husband seemed largely irrelevant. Children seemed prepared to forgive the deception and parents were frankly too baffled to know if they objected or not. In 1982 LWT granted the duo their own children’s TV series The Krankies Klub. The BBC tempted them over in 1985 with a tiny wee bag of money to front The Krankies Elektronik Komik, which after mutating into Krankies Television would run until 1991.
The album It’s Fan-Dabi-Dozi! was released in 1981, just as Krankies-mania was talking hold of the UK. There’s no surer way to achieve sudden massive popularity than by having a ridiculous catchphrase, the more inane and unfathomable the better. And as idiotic catchphrases go ‘fan-dabi-dozi’ is one of the best. It by turns means absolutely nothing, grates on the nerves, is instantly memorable and can be uttered by everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly and insane.
Building an entire record around one annoying catchphrase is not an enterprise to be taken lightly. The job on this album went to Scottish jazz musician Pete Kerr, long-serving clarinettist with the Clyde Valley Stompers and prolific record producer for anyone with a clan tartan and half a tune to their name. While many more serious producers would have been fazed when confronted by Ian and Janette Tough, Pete’s experience recording with the likes of Andy Stewart, Jimmy Shand and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards must have cushioned the blow somewhat. He fashioned a contemporary sounding record, writing lyrics for most of the songs, arranging a pumping glam disco backing for the demented jocular shriekings of Wee Jimmy, and crafting some clever silly novelty songs into the bargain.
There were a large number of singles culled from the album, much like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, except with an even shriller, scarier looking man-child lead singer. Although unlike Thriller there was not a sole charting entry to speak of. In 1981, before RCA snapped them up for their major label début, The Krankies released Fan-Dabi-Dozi as a single with Wee Jimmy Krankie as a b-side. The aforementioned Pete Kerr wrote and produced Fan-Dabi-Dozi which has a definite disco Wombles-glam stomp about it. The lyrics are shamelessly culled from nursery rhymes and peppered with some appallingly bad jokes courtesy of The Krankies. Wee Jimmy Krankie is a manifesto from the demonic, diminutive imp himself, and is a record of a happy carefree time when corporal punishment ruled in school. A time when canes and the occasional hefty clout achieved what understanding, love, prescription drugs and counselling largely fail to do these days.
We’re Going To Spain enjoyed two separate single releases; first in 1981 as the b-side for Jimmy’s Gang and subsequently as an a-side in its own right. The concept of Jimmy’s Gang actually existed, a fan club for the miniature mite being launched on Crackerjack as a means for misbehaving, annoying children everywhere to join in a mass movement, with the reward of free badges for their unquestioning subservience. The song sounds much like a Nazi rally would if the Bay City Rollers had been around in Nuremberg at the time and were off their heads on speed. It’s a treasure alright.
We’re Going To Spain is a holiday novelty hit that sadly never became a hit. Twice. When it first appeared, We’re Going To Spain was a catchy well-constructed holiday novelty song, capitalising on the fortuitous rhyme of ‘Spain’ with ‘on an aeroplane’. It grated certainly, but no more than many other holiday songs that became hits. On its re-release as an a-side in 1982 it became, thanks to Scotland’s qualification for the World Cup Finals in Spain, a well-constructed football song that grated a lot less than many other football songs and which also failed to chart. This despite the genius of Pete Kerr and The Krankies upping their game by rhyming ‘holiday’ with ‘Sandy’ (the official SFA mascot) as well as ‘plane’ and ‘Spain’ with ‘play the game’.
Despite being the Scottish FA’s official single for the tournament and a positive advert for the power of rhyming dictionaries, John Gordon-Sinclair had the hit with the much dourer and frankly less enjoyable We Have a Dream. Thankfully, team Scotland no longer qualifies for international football tournaments, so such terrible novelty song dilemmas will not arise in the future.
To play us out, I present The Krankie Rock, the b-side of yet another failed single. The a-side Hubba Dubba Dooby is a competent piece of pounding rock that might have graced the output of any number of 70s glam bands. Only the odd jungle noises, high pitched trilling and bad jokes give away the fact that it was recorded by The Krankies rather than Mud or The Sweet.
The Krankie Rock is a competent novelty song that incorporates improbable dance moves and the line, “rock it to me Jimmy”. How it failed to be a hit is a mystery. Like Jailhouse Rock for impressionable under 10s everywhere here is The Krankie Rock:
The official site of The Krankies – swinging from a festive beanstalk somewhere near you: