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A Thomas Shepherd scene of Old London Town
February 24, 2017

The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town

A talking point from ‘The Best of TV and Movies’

Horror stalks the foggy streets of old London town, as polite Victorian society finds itself under assault from one dastardly figure.

A sinister madman is on the prowl, ruthlessly picking off genteel individuals and confronting them with their darkest terror: the vulgarity of a mightily-blown raspberry, a shocking fate for the period.

Into this febrile atmosphere steps… etc etc.

At this point, readers under a certain age might be forgiven for wondering what on Earth we’re talking about. But back in 1976, this was one of the biggest and most talked-about things on the telly. The centrepiece of one of the biggest and best-loved comedy sketch shows of the decade (or of all time), the Phantom’s opening sequence was awaited eagerly by families across Britain each week.

Because blowing a raspberry was still a fairly dangerous and subversive act back then. And, as your granddad will explain, there were only three channels.

The Phantom Raspberry Blower had an unusual gestation. The Two Ronnies, its parent show, had always used outside jobbing writers to keep the material flowing, but the Raspberry Blower was co-written (with Ronnie Barker) by none other than the legendary Spike Milligan.

The sketch series can be tracked back to an abandoned Goon Show project, which was then resurrected for a 30-minute Ronnie Barker playlet in 1971. None other than David Jason was engaged to provide the raspberry sound effects. What an interesting audition that must have been.

David Jason has recounted continuing his raspberrying activities for the Two Ronnies series five years later – but some credits at the BBC cite Milligan himself. It’s possible, of course, that both men provided raspberries. A theory that the Phantom Raspberry Blowings were not the work of just one man? Whatever next?

The 'dark face' line in the clip below initially made us fear that we might be revisiting the less funny side of 1970's comedy, but happily the sketch doesn't go there: the gag is an admittedly weak one, however. The third actor is John Sharp, who plays his role beautifully - he was a familiar face in supporting roles across British TV in that era.

So let us remember the joy of these great mass-audience comedies, when millions upon millions of viewers would be glued to the same programme, ready to discuss it at work (or in the playground) the next morning. (Or, years later, when they're playing the Best of TV & Movies game, anyway...)

Phantom Raspberry Blows are available on YouTube, of course. This features both Ronnies, but is from the original 1971 Six Dates With Barker playlet: a pair of relatively youthful comic actors and the chemistry that we know and love...

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