Scene: A field. An unmistakable historic figure from 200 years ago stands, alone and glowering, in his French uniform, his arm tucked in characteristic pose.
A stentorian voiceover demands, rhetorically: ‘Why did Napoleon keep his hand inside his waistcoat?’
Napoleon pulls his hand out. His trousers fall down.
This was one of the earliest things I can remember laughing like a drain at for several hours afterwards. It is stuck in my mind for that reason and also because it was the first time I realised how you pronounced ‘Napoleon’.
I had read the word – probably in Look and Learn magazines – but had no idea how to pronounce it.
Napoleon was, I think, played by either David Jason or Terry Jones. The sketch was from Do Not Adjust Your Set, a tv series made in Britain in the late 1960s by several people who went on to form of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
It is best described as a kind of children’s version of Monty Python, although it pre-dates that series.
It was shown in New Zealand in the early 1970s – I think 1972.
And I loved it. The combination of eccentricity, humour, and historical references like the one above was just magical.
It was just so gloriously different.
It’s been on my mind at the moment because I threw together an iTunes music playlist for a road trip last month labelled “Brits” which included the obvious ones such as the Kinks and Madness and Ian Dury and the Jam and the Smiths…and then, for light relief, the Bonzos.
Vivian Stanshall was…well, an alcoholic nutter, and probably rather awkward to be around. A brilliant eccentric, though.
The Bonzos only had one hit – I’m the Urban Spaceman – and the B side was this lovely piece.
I first heard this on a jukebox in an Auckland cafe, sometime in the mid-eighties, and lay on the floor under the table laughing uncontrollably.