Sunday, 7 August 2011

Walking Down the Road with Ted Chippington

The rise of alternative comedy in the 1980's left many traditional comedians baffled by its popularity. Having seen the likes of Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton many of the old guard would shrug their shoulders and declare these new acts an alternative TO comedy.
Then Ted Chippington arrived...
Arriving onstage in full Teddy Boy regalia and supping a pint, Chippington's act consisted mainly of jokes that began 'I was walking down the road...' and cover versions of songs backed by a cassette recording of a keyboard rendition of the tune that Ted would then 'sing' over in a flat monotone.
Audiences were bemused by this figure who eschewed any attempts to actually make them laugh, preferring instead to drawl out gag after gag in his laconic Midlands accent, entirely indifferent to the response of the crowd.
Ted managed to find regular gigs opening for musical acts such as The Fall, who he was also a huge fan of.
Ted was very popular with The Fall as well. Their frontman Mark E. Smith in particular enjoying the idea of riling the crowd in preparation for the group's own set.
The aggression that the audience would begin to fire at him was really what Ted was after. Groans or embarrassed silence was what he worked for and if he could manage to raise heckles and catcalls all the better.
Hecklers would be met with the same indifferent poise that the rest of the act consisted of. Chants of 'Who are you?' would simply see Ted pause and reply 'I'm Ted Chippington' without a trace of emotion on his face.
This deadpan expression was central to Ted's onstage persona.
Comedian Stewart Lee, who has credited Ted Chippington with inspiring him to become a performer, explained the unique position Ted took onstage:

'I was utterly transfixed and my heart was racing as I realised that stand-up could be anything you wanted it to be.
You didn't even have to look as if you were enjoying it.'

One of Ted's gigs supporting The Fall in Birmingham in 1984 was recorded and released by a local record label as 'Non Stop Party Hits of the 50's 60's and 70's' and managed to get played by John Peel on Radio 1.
Another album, 'Man in a Suitcase' followed in 1986 and received airtime on Radio 1 again, this time from Steve Wright.
One track from this album, a cover of The Beatles 'She Loves You' was released as a single and lead to an appearance on Pebble Mill at One.
Ted had dreamed of appearing on the BBC daytime magazine show since he started performing. Mainly as it was recorded in walking distance from his house so it would be easy to get home from.
Despite this gig fulfilling a personal ambition and giving him nationwide exposure Ted did nothing to make his rendition even slightly more accessible.
He appeared in his full Teddy Boy regalia and performed the song in his usual monotone. As he left the stage he was met by a presenter who informed him that he had 'scored the highest rating ever on the naffometer' and went on to say:

'That was pretty appalling, if you don't mind me saying so...'

Ted simply replied:

'Well, I find that quite shocking actually... That you have to say that...'

still in the same flat tone.

Ted went on to perform at the Glastonbury and Reading festivals and released a couple more singles. The first of these 'Rockin' With Rita (Head to Toe)' was his first original composition and, backed by a couple of local bands in The Nightingales and We've Got a Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It, managed to trouble the lower ends of the charts at No. 56.
Ted's final single release was his version of 'The Wanderer' which turned the original on its head:

'I'm not the wanderer, I'm not the wanderer, I'm not too keen on roaming around and around and around...'

However, even without becoming anything like a household name or enjoying mainstream success, all the attention Ted received began to take it's toll.
Word had got out on the comedy circuit about his act. People began coming to his gigs and requesting their favourite 'jokes'.
Then the unthinkable happened.
People began to laugh.
Audiences appeared and openly enjoyed what Ted was doing.
His brand of 'anti-comedy' seemed refreshing and different.
Ted was popular.
Ted's response was the only reasonable one he could take given the circumstances.
He had set out to annoy people but they seemed determined to enjoy themselves despite his best efforts.
So Ted Chippington quit.
He moved to America and became a trucker for a while and then moved on to Mexico where he worked as a chef.
Eventually he moved back to the UK and, confident that enough time had passed to allow his small following to dissipate, began to perform again.
Styling himself now as Reverend Ted Chippington he appears onstage in a dog collar and does...exactly the same jokes he did twenty years before.
Rev. Ted promises to continue to perform as long as he enjoys it.
And his audiences don't...

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