The YouTube Files – The Mysterious World Of Danielle Dax.

When I remembered that this year is the 25th anniversary of “Stay” by Shakespear’s Sister’s epic run at Number One on the singles chart in the UK, I decided that I wanted to do a blog piece sharing my memories of that song and give the group a reappraisal. Whilst putting the piece together I discovered something about Siobhan Fahey that I couldn’t believe and I ended up writing about that remarkable story instead. I then started to wonder if there were any other women with an extrovert personality who made similarly spooky or just plain weird records around the same time, and I was very pleased when I discovered someone who just about perfectly fitted the criteria of what I was looking for.

When I decided to review the Channel 4 interview show Star Test recently, I was very pleased when I discovered that Siobhan had appeared on the show as a guest. Whilst trying to find some other editions to watch on YouTube, I found one which featured a musician called Danielle Dax. I must admit that I knew nothing about her beyond remembering seeing a couple of her videos played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart in the late-80s on YouTube, but seeing her on this show finally made me curious to discover more about her, and I was very surprised by what I discovered. It seems that Danielle could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in British music in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax was born (in the same month as Siobhan in an almost interesting coincidence) in Essex and throughout the 1980s she made several creative albums. She was also in total control, writing her songs (which sometimes featured rather hard-hitting lyrics), playing a wide variety of rather unusual instruments, and she even organised her tours and interviews, not settling for any interference from record labels or anybody else on the direction of her career. In the articles that I found about her work online, words such as “unique”, “experimental” and “cult” turned up several times, and she was often compared to the likes of similarly out-there singers Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux. However, despite her obvious talent, pioneering work and interesting personality being acknowledged, she had precisely zero hit singles and albums in this country, before she dropped off the scene, and a lot of people still can’t believe that she was never a huge success. This piece will take a look back at the small amount of Danielle’s TV appearances and music videos that I have found on YouTube as I wondered why she never hit the big time… dax

1983: After leaving the Lemon Kittens, Danielle released her first solo album “Pop-Eyes” (which had a famously grotesque cover) and made one of her earliest TV appearances on the BBC2 music show Riverside shown on Halloween where she was simply described by Radio Times as “mysterious” and performed her song “Pariah”. I must admit that my jaw almost dropped the first time I saw this. Not only because it’s a very odd song featuring strange squeaking and buzzing noises with bizarre lyrics that showed off her remarkable vocal range (“walking sick sick they walking the town“), but I was also surprised by Danielle’s distinctive look with her massive red hair and heavy make-up which made her look like a long-lost cast member of post-apocalyptic drama The Tribe, or maybe pop group Strawberry Switchblade (ask your dad), which is a great thing of course. It was a fascinating performance and it was the moment that I realised what an intriguing talent she was. Who knows, maybe in a parallel universe somewhere “Pariah” spent eight weeks at Number One on the singles chart. vlcsnap-00010

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The “mysterious” Danielle Dax appears in Radio Times in October 1983 (image courtesy of @woodg31 on Twitter)

1984: Danielle made a brief but memorable appearance in the horror film The Company Of Wolves. Although she only appears for a couple of minutes and has no dialogue, you certainly noticed her. She played a wolfgirl who is taken in by a priest (played by the old boy in early-90s sitcom Waiting For God, I’ll never look at that show in the same way again). She spent four hours in makeup! According to the IMDB this is Danielle’s only acting credit, I wondered if I would ever see it on TV, and then the film turned up recently late at night on the London Live channel, which was an odd coincidence. vlcsnap-00064

Also in this year, Danielle appeared on Channel 4’s music show The Tube where she was interviewed by Paula Yates and performed her song “Hammerheads”. The only article about Danielle in Smash Hits that I have been able to track down is a paragraph from a November 1984 issue about “Jesus Egg That Wept” including the fact that she likes to play the honkytonk piano. Described as “weird“, unsurprisingly. vlcsnap-00011

1985: Danielle performed a concert at The Camden Palace, which in 1986 was shown on LWT as part of their Live From London series (I haven’t been able to track down when exactly, but probably rather late at night and only in the LWT region). I was rather surprised to discover that this concert has been released on DVD, where she entertained the crowd by playing 15 songs including such bangers as “Here Come The Harvest Buns” and “Yummer Yummer Man”, and it was a great experience to see one of her shows and be in her company for an hour. vlcsnap-00052

1987: Danielle made a video for her single “Big Hollow Man”. She also performed this song on a German TV show. vlcsnap-00058

Also in this year Danielle also appeared as a guest on ITV’s late-night entertainment show Night Network, where she reviewed the latest singles alongside snooker champion Steve Davis which made for an unlikely pairing. And Danielle performed a concert in Tokyo which was shown on Japanese TV. I’m not sure how successful she was in other countries but it seems that she has fans all over the world. vlcsnap-000081988: Danielle’s single “Cathouse” which featured some fancy visual effects was played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on Channel 4. Also around this time, Danielle was interviewed in various music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, although I’m fairly sure she never appeared on the cover of any of them. vlcsnap-00063

1989: Danielle appeared on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on ITV with her great single “White Knuckle Ride”. vlcsnap-00084

Also around this time, Danielle made what must be one of her most high-profile TV appearances when she was a guest on Channel 4’s prime-time interview show Star Test and she faced the computer’s probing questions. She introduced herself by saying “I write and record all my own music, I produce it, I paint, I design record covers, I make clothes”. She revealed some interesting things about herself, for example when asked “which is your best physical feature?”, she said “ooh, my hair!”. Also, when asked “what’s the one thing you don’t have in your life that you would really like?”, she said “a cat”. According to her website, Danielle now owns four cats, so I suppose it is sometimes possible to get what you want in life. vlcsnap-00062

1990: In what was seemingly a final attempt to push Danielle into the big time, she signed to a major record label and released the album “Blast The Human Flower”, which featured a psychedelic cover of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was fairly mainstream by her standards. Her look in the video was somewhat toned down by this point, although she still had a rather large red beehive hairstyle. It seems that also around this time she appeared on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury but that doesn’t appear to be online. However, once again this wasn’t a success and Danielle missed out on fame. She was then dropped by her record label, and about a decade after her first album was released, she practically vanished off the music scene altogether, but it was also rumoured that around this time she became ill. Intriguingly, although there was a best-of album released in 1995 called “Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Career Of Danielle Dax”, there seems to be almost zero audio or visual evidence online of Danielle’s existence post-1991, which just adds to her mystique. Danielle is most certainly still with us though and the story doesn’t end here… vlcsnap-00080

After that..: In more recent years after leaving music behind Danielle’s career took an unlikely swerve and she has gone to have some success as an interior and garden designer, with her Brixton home which she designed herself featuring in several magazines. In May 1997 Danielle featured in BBC2’s interior design show Home Front when she was one of the three finalists nominated for the Radio Times/Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year award. dax0001

The finalists were challenged to decorate a room on an estate in Nottinghamshire. They had 48 hours, a limited budget, and four of their own items to decorate the room. The winner was determined by a judging panel of the show’s presenters, along with a phone vote that was open to viewers to choose their favourite. “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas” said judge and Home Front presenter Anne McKevitt. As it turned out, Danielle won the competition and appeared on the show a few times, and her work in this area has gone on to be much acclaimed.

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More TV Memories – Look And Read.

Look And Read (BBC2, 1967-2004)

Look And Read is one of those long-running shows that was watched by a lot of children, but it was never shown as part of CBBC, this is because it was a schools TV show which was designed to help improve reading skills with various stories and songs. I remember watching the show in my first and second year at junior school (1990-1992).

And yes, we really did all go and sit in a small room which had a TV in it to watch Look And Read live on BBC2 (although we did have a video recorder too, honest). The novelty of being able to watch TV at 10am even though I was actually at school! There were four ten-part stories that I remember watching, although some of them were repeats, and the year that they were first shown on BBC2 will be in brackets, along with a brief analysis of what I can remember about the story. vlcsnap-00065

Badger Girl. (1984) This is the first one that I remember watching. It featured some children who visited a farm and noticed that something was happening with the badgers and ponies. vlcsnap-00067

Geordie Racer. (1988) This was a story about a boy who liked to race pigeons and had to solve a mystery, while the rest of his family were in training to take part in the Great North Run. vlcsnap-00069

Sky Hunter II. (1992) A sequel to an earlier story from 1978, this one featured a lot about bird-watching and peregrine falcons and I found it rather dull compared to the other stories. vlcsnap-00070

Through The Dragon’s Eye. (1989) Now this was definitely my favourite one, I remember really enjoying this. This was a story which begins when three children paint a mural at their school which features a dragon that suddenly comes to life! They then go on an adventure in a magical land with a very odd range of characters, there were orange people and everything! I still remember this one fondly all these years later. vlcsnap-00072

Also along the way were helped by our old friend Wordy and there were also lots of memorable animations and songs (which all seemed to be sung by Derek Griffiths which is great). Look And Read eventually ran for almost four decades, and some classic stories were also repeated in the early days of the CBBC Channel. This really is one of those shows that is fondly remembered by generations of children, and I’m sure that just about everyone who went to school throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember watching at least one of the 20 stories that were produced throughout that time and were encouraged to build a word. vlcsnap-00066

The Comedy Vault – Count Arthur Strong.

Count Arthur Strong (BBC2, 2013, BBC1, 2015-2017)

A variety entertainer from the old school who talks nonsense and thinks that he is still a showbiz star even though he is clearly past his best? No, it’s not Peter Simon… it’s Count Arthur Strong! Arthur is a character who was created by Steve Delaney who is someone who bumbles through life and doesn’t realise that chaos that he is causing for everyone else around him.

Count Arthur Strong launched on BBC Radio 4 in 2005, and although I didn’t hear the earliest editions, I heard some repeats on Radio 4 Extra and found them rather enjoyable as Arthur manages to irritate everyone he meets with his odd outlook on life and bizarre turns of phrase, and in 2013 the show transferred to TV on BBC2, although there were a few differences to the format. vlcsnap-00013

The TV version was co-written and directed by Graham Linehan, who has worked on some very impressive comedy shows over the years including The Day Today, Father Ted, Big Train, and The IT Crowd. The TV version begins when Michael, the son of Arthur’s old comedy double-act partner, tracks him down to interview him for a biography that he is writing about his dad, and he soon realises that he is unable to get any meaningful anecdotes out of him. vlcsnap-00016

Michael meets Arthur in the cafe, which is run by the rather short-tempered Bulent and his sister Sinem. The only other regular customers seem to be Arthur’s old mates, and although there were some interesting characters some people felt that maybe having one eccentric in the show was enough. However, Michael soon befriends Arthur and meets him regularly, although he doesn’t seem to realise what he is letting himself in for, and often gets caught up in his plans. Also after a while Michael started to date Sinem. vlcsnap-00020

The second and third series were moved to BBC1. Just to pick a couple of examples of my favourite moments in the show. I liked the one where Arthur auditioned to appear in a TV advert for toffees and was completely useless and kept falling off his chair. I just enjoy the idea that Arthur still thinks that he is a useful talent but this is the only work that he can get. There was also another good one where Arthur’s old mate John Shuttleworth turned up. Arthur has also been performed in a stage show and recently he published his memoir Through It All I’ve Always Laughed which is lovely. vlcsnap-00012

Count Arthur Strong wasn’t a huge success on the TV, and you either find the character very enjoyable or immensely irritating. but there were some really good moments, however it was recently announced that there isn’t going to be a fourth series. This is rather a shame, but all three series have been released on DVD, and hopefully Arthur won’t leave us altogether and he will soon be back on the radio. To hear him again really will be mucus to my ears.

Game Show Memories – Just A Minute.

Just A Minute (ITV, 1994-1995, BBC1, 1999, BBC2, 2012)

Just A Minute is the comedy panel game that has been running on BBC Radio 4 for a remarkable 50 years, but my introduction to the show was through the first attempt at a version that was shown on TV. There have been three attempts to bring this show to TV (all on different channels), and just like the radio version they have all been hosted by Nicholas Parsons.

Just A Minute is a great example of a game that is easy to play but difficult to master. Four contestants take part. They are given a category that they must talk on for one minute without breaking one of the three main rules, hesitation, repetition, or deviation. If one of their rivals believes that they have broken one of these rules, they can buzz in and challenge, and if their challenge is correct, they take over the category and must try to talk for the remaining time. vlcsnap-01307

This continues until the minute is up, with bonus points on offer for speaking when time is up, and also for going the whole minute without being correctly challenged. Although there is a winner declared at the end Parsons always insists that the most important thing is the contribution that the panellists make to the show, not necessarily how many points they score. vlcsnap-01309

So if you can think of enough creative categories, and find enough witty people to talk about them, you’ve got an idea can be stretched almost infinitely. The first version of Just A Minute came to the screen in the mid-90s. I’m fairly sure that the first series was only shown on ITV in the Carlton region in a late-night slot (and was also sponsored by the Evening Standard). The four panellists in this version were usually drawn from the alternative comedy scene, and some of the categories reflected London life. vlcsnap-01310

To help the show be a little more visual, there were some changes to the rules. Firstly, there would be a round where a mysterious object would appear, and the panellists had to talk about what they thought it was. There was also a round where the studio audience could suggest the category (a little like what happened on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Also in this version there was never actually a clock on-screen indicating how much time was remaining in the round! vlcsnap-01304

There were some changes for the second and final series. I think that this series was also shown in the Central region (a sign of the forthcoming Carltonisation of that region) and there were two regular panellists. They were Tony Slattery and Dale Winton (who I don’t think has ever taken part on the radio version which is a surprise as he was good value). After this TV version ended, from about the late-90s I began to listen to the radio version and really got into it. vlcsnap-01308

The second TV version of Just A Minute was shown on BBC1 in 1999. This was in a daytime slot and I don’t really remember watching it, but it seems that this version lacked the edge of the ITV one, with fewer alternative comedians taking part and no regulars. The third and final attempt at bringing Just A Minute to TV was on BBC2 in an evening slot in 2012. Again, this was for only a short run, and it featured some veterans such as Paul Merton mixed in with a few newcomers proving that all these years later lots of people want to have a go. vlcsnap-01311

None of the three TV versions of Just A Minute were really a huge hit with viewers, but it remains consistently popular on the radio after half a century. My sister was in the studio audience for an edition of the ITV version, and a while later my mum went to the recording of a couple of editions of the radio version, and they both very much enjoyed the experience. minute0001

The Comedy Vault – The Day Today.

The Day Today (BBC2, 1994)

This is a 90s comedy show that needs no introduction really. When I started my blog I planned to write about this show, but I left it because I felt that there really wasn’t anything more that I could add, so many people think that The Day Today is a classic and are familiar with the highlights, with every element of TV from travel reporters to music channel presenters expertly parodied, so I decided instead that rather than focusing on the six main editions, I’ll look at what the DVD extras contain and explain a little about what the show means to me.

The Day Today launched on the radio in 1991 as On The Hour, I didn’t hear it first time round, but I have enjoyed the repeat runs in more recent years on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra. I’m not sure when I first saw The Day Today, probably in the mid-90s, but I remember seeing a trail when the show launched in 1994 which featured the opening sequence with the spinning worlds graphics which change again and again and the pompous music that goes on too long which I did find rather odd and definitely caught my attention. I also think that the show was repeated a few times on BBC2, and it also turned up on the great digital channel UK Play. vlcsnap-01032

So when a two-disc DVD set was released for the 10th anniversary of The Day Today I had no hesitation in buying it. As well as containing all six editions, the second disc featured lots of extras, including about 40 minutes worth of an unaired TV pilot from 1993. I really looked forward to this, just when I thought that I had seen everything, it was great to discover something new. One of my favourite moments has to be “Debate 2000”, where five people are in a room discussing every cultural event of the past millennium and its significance. vlcsnap-01035

I also enjoyed the Mini News, six segments about three minutes long that were shown as extended trails on BBC2 and are definitely up to standard. There are also extended versions of the documentaries The Pool and The Office. What’s good about these is that they sent up “docusoaps” where a camera was simply pointed at a group of people and they would all go on to be big stars and achieve huge ratings, about three years before the genre actually existed and dominated TV schedules. vlcsnap-01033

Although it is described on the menu as “Po-Faced Analysis”, one of the most interesting features is an Open University documentary from 1995 about “the language of news”, contained on the disc because it includes a behind the scenes look at The Day Today, including an interview with cast member Rebecca Front talking about how various accents and looks were chosen for the characters, such as her American reporter Barbara Wintergreen, and look at how some of the graphics were made for the show. What’s also interesting is a look at BBC News, this is good partly because at one point you can see Going For Gold on the TV behind them, and also because it gives an explanation of how words are used in news to communicate information with people (which The Day Today took to the extreme), and how the initial newsgathering process works. vlcsnap-01046

There are also some bonus features on the DVD, such as a newly-recorded interview with Chris Morris and Alan Partridge, which you have to press lots of various buttons to be able to access, and I also noticed on one edition that if you press a button there is some in-vision audio description which is provided by Andy Hodgson. Now he was a presenter on Bid-Up, a channel which I watched very regularly at the time as I thought he was a great presenter, and seeing him suddenly appear on the disc unexpectedly made me think that he was vaguely beginning to haunt me and gave me a huge fright (in a good way). And don’t forget the most important thing that we all learned from watching The Day Today: “Buttress is a significant word”. vlcsnap-01045

The Comedy Vault – Coogan’s Run.

Coogan’s Run (BBC2, 1995)

After the success of characters such as Paul Calf and Alan Partridge Steve Coogan was a hot comedy talent whose career was on the up, and in the mid-90s he was given his own six-part series which featured a new group of characters who all lived in a small town called Ottle who starred in their own one-off sitcom. Coogan was among the writers and there were also appearances from his old The Day Today and Knowing Me Knowing You buddies Rebecca Front and Patrick Marber as various characters, and pleasingly Coogan’s Run was up to standard. vlcsnap-00785

The first edition featured the established characters Paul and Pauline Calf who have just witnessed an armed robbery. The second edition featured the slick computer hardware businessman Gareth Cheeseman who has a right old disaster trying to pitch a new product at a sales conference. It was also reported that Cheeseman was going to be given his own spin-off sitcom but it never materialised. vlcsnap-00787

The third edition was set in the early-60s and featured the handyman Ernest Moss who was trying to stop a new property development in his small village. The fourth edition featured the faded club entertainer Mike Crystal who hatched a plot to try and revive his career by inventing an alter-ego called Clint who demands that the club’s manager gives Mike a better deal. vlcsnap-00788

The fifth edition featured the trivia-obsessed Crump brothers. After they lost on the game show Top Of The Class, 20 years later they try to gain revenge by playing the game again and hoping to win, even going so far as to track down the show’s host Jeremy Monkhead. The sixth edition featured the thoroughly boring Tim Fleck who is the curator at a failing museum which he is trying to stop from being closed and turned into a steakhouse. vlcsnap-00789

Coogan’s Run was another great piece of comedy featuring a wide variety of strange characters which I laughed a lot at and it’s a shame that apart from the Calfs none of them were seen again. I would have to say that my favourite episode was the one featuring Guy Crump, mostly because it was based around game shows, with the Cheeseman and Crystal episodes not far behind. The show also had a great opening sequence and there was another good touch where the other characters would make cameo appearances in one another’s episode. vlcsnap-00790

About a year after this Coogan would launch another new character who was Tony Ferrino but you really don’t need to know about him, and then he would go back to Alan Partridge for further success, before doing another unusual six-part comedy series called Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible which I will review soon. Coogan’s Run has been released on DVD as is definitely worth a look.

The Comedy Vault – Bang Bang It’s Reeves And Mortimer.

Bang Bang It’s Reeves And Mortimer (BBC2, 1999)

This show is virtually a third series of The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer, but because it has a different title and slightly different format, I have decided to review it separately. Vic and Bob returned with yet another new bunch of rather strange characters and sketches alongside a few familiar faces. Also helping out were Charlie Higson, David Walliams, Matt Lucas and Morwenna Banks. vlcsnap-00774

Every show would begin with a song, and regular characters included the return of Mulligan and O’Hare and their terrific new album, plus also Tom Fun and his friend. There was also a documentary which went behind the scenes of a nightclub in Hull which guest starred Les Dennis, the parody Police Camera Accident with Neil Sedaka, and there were an awful lot of sketches where Vic and Bob had increasingly bizarre fights which mostly consisted of them thumping one another with frying pans or putting their head in a tumble dryer. vlcsnap-00778

Each edition ended with the Stott brothers interviewing a celebrity guest, and it could be argued that they weren’t entirely sure what they had let themselves in for. There was one memorable moment where Vic laughed for about five minutes whilst trying to ask Michael Winner a question because it contained the word “parsnip”. When they were done, they would walk off and leave their rather bemused guest just sat there as the credits began. vlcsnap-00773

After this, Vic and Bob went on to do some more shows, this time on BBC1, including the flop Saturday night game show Families At War, and the revival of the drama series Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) which was much more successful, although I didn’t watch either of these shows much, before they went on to make more series of Shooting Stars and in more recent years the sitcoms Catterick and House Of Fools which were more my thing. vlcsnap-00776

This series didn’t seem to make as a big an impact with viewers as their previous ones, but there were still some wonderfully weird moments, such as the sketch where Vic and Bob have some difficulty opening their car doors in various unusual places which leads to things exploding and people vanishing, and it has been released on DVD, although it contains no extras. Vic and Bob began the 90s on TV as virtual unknowns, but by the end of that decade they had become comedy heroes.