The Vinyl Say 005: Fool Britannia

In every collection there are records that get played all the time, many of them for years, decades even. Then there are those that, while no less treasured, somehow fall by the wayside to lie in wait, ripe for rediscovery. This occasional series chronicles some of those nuggets as they resurface from my own back pages. So, put the needle to the record, put the needle to the record, put the needle to the record and it goes like this…

Anthony Newley, Peter Sellers & Joan Collins – Fool Britannia (Ember, 1963)

Comedy records, now there’s a thing… When did you last hear a comedy record of any kind, never mind a good one? If you’ve heard one in the last 20 years it was probably a Goons or Hancock reissue; if you’re lucky you will have found the LP output of Richard Pryor, or Steve Martin, or Stan Freberg, or Monty Python.

This is not a great comedy record, which is probably why it hasn’t surfaced for years, but it is a significant one not least for its veiled insinuation that JFK was bestowing Presidential favours on ladies other than the First one. It also manages the odd pop at the Royal Family, but primarily it was written by Newley and songwriter Leslie Bricusse in response to the Profumo affair that hastened the end of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government and to catch a little of the satirical action stirred up by That Was The Week That Was, Beyond the Fringe, Private Eye et al.

For whatever reason the record didn’t sell well, possibly because it was barely distributed, and some say Peter Sellers was never knighted because of his involvement.

Recorded in New York on 6 August 1963 with a celebrity audience that included Vivien Leigh, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr and Stanley Baker, who no doubt all had a wonderful night, it’s very much a product of its time and should be approached as such.

There’s a lot of innuendo – Party whips anyone? – and an over-reliance on racial and sexual stereotypes that challenge modern mores. Nevertheless, it captures Sellers at his mercurial best, particularly when alongside Daniel Massey skewering the Royals in We Are Not Amused and lambasting the PM in The House That Mac Built, but too often the pace slackens exposing the comedic shortcomings of both Joan Collins (Newley’s then wife) and the material itself.

An intriguing curio from another time and place.

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