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Famous for playing a conniving schoolboy, Cardew ‘The Cad’ Robinson was also a subtle witty comedy writer. His 1967 album Cream Of Cardew contains many examples of his silly songs and sketches.
Cream Of Cardew,
The late 1960s should have been a much more successful time for Cardew Robinson than they were. An over-the-top, scene-stealing performance in 1968’s Carry On Up The Khyber, a long run as Pellinore in the original London production of Camelot, and his 1967 debut solo album Cream Of Cardew, should together have heralded a glorious future for the gangly horse-toothed comedian. By the end of the decade though, Cardew Robinson had returned to taking bit parts in obscure films and occasional appearances in the dodgier sex comedies of George Harrison Marks. His 1970 book How To Be A Failure is a tongue in cheek work which seems to sum up his career quite succinctly.
Born in Goodmayes, Essex, in 1917, Cardew Robinson first performed regularly while still at school. Nearly six feet in height even then, as thin as a particularly emaciated rake and with teeth that would scare the rear end off a donkey, a career on the stage was probably the best place to utilise Cardew Robinson’s unique talents. After leaving school, he answered an ad in The Stage from Joe Boganny who was recruiting for his touring troupe, the Crazy College Boys, an act which cheerfully ripped off old Will Hay routines to the acclaim of audiences across the country. Especially those who had never seen a Will Hay film.
Cardew Robinson’s greatest triumphs came in the early 1950s when his ‘Cad’ character proved a hit on the BBC radio show Variety Bandbox. Developed during the Second World War while touring with Ralph Reader’s RAF Gang Shows, The Cad was an overgrown schoolboy wrapped in a long woolly scarf who frustrated and foiled any misguided attempts to educate him. The Cad proved a useful outlet for vintage scholastic jokes which were old and corny even at the time, with punchlines presumably translated from ancient papyrus scrolls.
The character was also a popular feature of Radio Fun magazine and in 1955 even earned Cardew Robinson his only starring role in a film. Fun at St Fanny’s is a bafflingly incomprehensible piece of nonsense, the plot of which seems to change at least three or four times during the course of the film. For much of the time though it feels as if the actors are simply making it up as they go along. A wonderful ensemble cast are wasted in some bizarre roles, and although nominally the star, Cardew very much plays second fiddle to the monstrous bulk of Fred Emney who portrays the headmaster Dr Jankers, snorting and snuffling his way through the cheap sets like a wild boar running amok.
Peter Butterworth throws things out of a telly, Stanley Unwin talks gibberish for a minute or so, Ronnie Corbett attempts to spread classroom dissent, Claude Hulbert lives on past schoolmaster glories and Gerald Campion appears in a rip-off of his own Billy Bunter character. Why a thirty seven year old Cardew Robinson is still at school is never adequately explained, and neither is how he manages to become a love interest to Vera Day. Fun at St Fanny’s is truly one of the great peculiarities of British cinema.
The 1967 album Cream Of Cardew was recorded in front of an appreciative audience by Norrie Paramor and is a snapshot of Cardew’s act at the time. Aided by Len Lowe and Sheila Sinclair, the tracks include novelty musical numbers and revue sketches. All of the pieces are written by Cardew Robinson and demonstrate clearly that he had talents other than the ability to dress as a schoolboy. Songs such as Cavalier Or Roundhead, which weaves a tale of dating dilemmas during the civil war, demonstrate a compelling and insightful wit. Other songs such as Trumpet Involuntary, which weaves a tale of a crumpet stuffed inside a trumpet, demonstrate a wonderful sense of the absurd and nonsensical. While Cavalier Or Roundhead earns polite applause, Trumpet Involuntary earns the heartiest guffaws from the audience, if only for its repeated use of the word ‘crumpet’, which remains to this day is one of the best words in the English language. Crumpet! There, see?
The sketches are droll and witty as well, and are performed with gusto by Cardew and his accomplices. How To Go To The Theatre is a ‘how not to’ guide to theatre attendance that also appears in Cardew’s How To Be A Failure book. It is reminiscent of Bob Newhart’s style and contains a useful set of tips that no serious nuisance maker intent on being crass can ignore. Other sketches such as Lost, which sees Cardew attempting to reclaim his mislaid reputation from a railway lost property office, is clever and surreal even though it does lack a really killer punchline. Concerns which certainly never bothered the likes of Monty Python or Spike Milligan.
Tele-Fidgets and A Walk In The Country are two more very clever sketches. Tele-Fidgets features three TV programmes mixed together in a channel surfing style, and is the sort of ingenious notion that the Two Ronnies excelled at. A Walk In The Country is a sketch which sees Cardew describe a rural idyll and assorted rustic pleasures in a style reminiscent of Harry H Corbett. Various birds with unlikely names, such as the coombe crested flange, are encountered as are their entirely similar wolf whistle mating cries. The sketch eventually morphs into a song by a gamekeeper lamenting how Lady Chatterley’s Lover has raised expectations of what a gamekeeper is expected to do for his employers.
The album ends with Love Song, a wistful tale of love and obesity which sees Cardew muse lustfully about his 20 stone lover. Given the levels of obesity in Britain today, that scenario is probably quite commonplace, but in a world of post-war rationing and austerity, achieving weight like that must have taken some doing. Cardew Robinson with his emaciated frame certainly didn’t achieve it. It’s the sort of thing that just isn’t written these days, for various quite valid reasons. A sentiment which applies to most of the tracks on the album too. Cream of Cardew is clever without being show-off, well observed, witty and understated. It deserved to do a lot better than it did, and Cardew Robinson should have been a lot more appreciated than he ultimately was.
To prove that crumpet is a hilarious word, here is Cardew Robinson attempting to remove one from his trumpet, a complex manoeuvre that should only be attempted by a trained professional.