148. Complaining

Tapehead no 148

Tapehead, as you know, is not one to complain.

Well, okay, there was Candle/Hamster In the Wind being played at Wembley. And episodes of Homicide being pulled because of Dunblane, Garth Crooks on March Of The Day, the idiot who now presents The Clothes Show, people who play Frisbee in the park, the weathermen (liars)… And many more. 

But nothing, nothing, compared to Cutting Edge’s The Complainers.

David Walsh, Alan Birkin, and Barry Ritchie are tormented by complaints: driven; disturbed. They are protest pros, argument addicts: Monty Python sketches come to life.

They are only happy when they are annoyed about something.

By comparison with the other two, David Walsh is almost genial, trundling down to the supermarkets equipped with his magnifying glass and fruit knife, to badger regional mangers, with his daily inspection of suspect labels and Tesco pears which he considers “cold and hard as usual.” (Everyone knows that pears are ripe for about four minutes before they go off.)

Alan Birkin is pure Yosser Hughes. He’s even got the same moustache and haircut. You can picture him lying in bed at night ranting on about Esso charging for air to fill his tyres up with. To himself.

“I’m trying to compromise here,” he argues with the blokes from the carpet shop who (understandably) won’t give him his deposit back. “I just want me money back.”

Nothing makes him happier than the moment he realises that he’s being ripped off. You can see his eyes gleaming. That’s why he always goes to the same lousy fast-food place, even though he know s the number of French fires you get for 70p leaves him feeling maniacally short-changed (or short-chipped).

The third complainer Barry Ritchie is just damaged – he’s one of those self-made men forever infuriated by the inadequacies and apathy of others less deranged than them. He is a Rik Mayall character written by Steven Berkoff when he was brutal/good.

“Nothing’s up to scratch is it ?!” he rages. 

By the time his final explosion erupts, you can’t help but wonder if Cutting Edge’s cameras haven’t driven him to the verge of a heart attack.

The last two in particular are ultimately just savagely unhappy. As you can see then Yosser takes his Hoover back to the repairman, even when The Complainers get what they want and win the argument, they are not happy. They are far from happy. In fact, they are pissed off that they won’t be able to complain any more.

Tapehead hopes that Cutting Edge paid them properly. Imagine the complaints otherwise…

In Animal People’s There’s A Penguin In the House, Bryan Campbell is livid. Having moved into an expensive, secluded, beach-house, his nearest neighbours set up an animal sanctuary or, more specifically, a “penguin hospital.” 

Pretty soon, loads of penguins were fighting, fucking, and regurgitating their fish in his front garden.

“I’m the only one it affects,” he rages, reciting a speech that sounds well-practised from the time she’s spent talking to himself. “No one was giving the consideration to my family that the penguins are getting.”

Narrator Peter Sallis suggests the dispute with neighbour Viv Hextall was “quite amicable enough at first.”

“She’s an unfortunate spinster with nothing else in her life,” Campbell says “amicably.”

“I will not lay down and be walked over by her and by her penguins,” he says, obviously by now in the midst of some bizarre sexual fantasy.

“Penguins have a special character,” Viv explains. “Partly because they’re native and partly because they are cute.” Not exactly scientific analysis but still…

The penguins (Little Blue penguins if you’re interested – the smallest, noisiest, smelliest breed) are great: like little skittles whizzing across the lawn on fast-forward, tripping up with better comic timing than Buster Keaton.

Eventually an injured penguin is carried away in a bucket, like a mad handbag and taken out for ride in a canoe to see if they’re strong enough to swim away, the way people go rowing in the park.

When they bring them back in, you can see the penguin thinking: “well that was a nice afternoon. Nicely rested for making more havoc for Mr. Campbell.”

The little bleeders regularly wander round town, as if they’re shopping. 

“Visitors have never seen a wild animal walk into a nightclub,” says a local, as if it needed saying.

The bouncers ask the penguins if they are members but they just walk right in and mingle.

“They don’t even seem frightened.”

The only way to stop them coming in is by playing Elton John records.

All of which leaves no time for Tapehead to complain about Radio 1 Night. Bollocks.


Cutting Edge: Tues, 9pm, C4

Animal People: Weds, 7pm, BBC1

Radio 1 Night: Sat, 9pm, BBC2