Monday, 20 June 2011

Just Who Is The Six O'Clock Whistle?

As we've already established at some considerable length, Lord Belborough was the nominal 'star' of Chigley, not least on account of his ownership of a private steam railway, and - by direct association - singing the song that everybody remembers the show for. When not otherwise occupied in observing how time flies by when you're the driver of a train, he also - as has indeed also been touched on previously (and that's enough uses of the word 'also' for... well, for this paragraph at least) - owned an ornate antique hand-cranked Dutch organ that clattered out - courtesy of a varispeeded Freddie Phillips on guitar, tambourine and reverb-drenched toy trumpet - the calliope-evoking instrumental that played out behind the biscuit factory workers' odd ritual of staging a daily post-work Six O'Clock Dance whilst apparently dressed as medieval Romanian peasants. Which was, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, a visual cue that Gordon Murray would later return to... but more on that later. And that's enough uses of the word 'later' for this paragraph too.

Every good star character needs a good sidekick (and how tempting it is to go into an anti-River Song rant at this juncture, tempered only by the fact that Chigley Biscuits factory manager Mr. Creswell would consider it a woeful lack of the 'efficiency' he was always breaking into song about), and Lord Belborough was joined in both his train-driving organ-playing exploits by Brackett, a butler who excelled at all aspects of his job with one very glaring exception. The key narrative cornerstone of each episode of Chigley was that someone would get themselves into a (usually delivery-related) fix that would require, say, a privately-owned steam train to resolve, occasioning a quick phone call to Winkstead Hall. Brackett would duly answer the telephone, and resolve to 'tell his Lordship immediately'. What he didn't tell the train-requiring caller, however, was that Winkstead Hall's telephone was located at the end of a very long corridor, which - in an interesting definition of 'immediately' - he traversed to the accompaniment of a strident Phillips instrumental. What's more, he did so in a truly bizarre violently jerking nose-led fashion, suggesting to the impressionable viewer that he was walking with his out-of-vision legs tied together. This curious mode of perambulation, it later emerged, was the inspiration for the suspiciously accurate tipsyness-evoking line "slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball" in Oasis' Champagne Supernova, thereby exposing Noel Gallagher's one true moment of poetry as just another sham after all.

You may have noticed the use of the word 'instrumental' above. And you're probably thinking it's about time for a 'that's enough uses of the word 'instrumental'' gag. But you'd be wrong, mainly because there's about to be several more utterly unavoidable uses of it. On the album Come To Chigley, a hitherto unheard vocal section of Brackett's hitherto instrumental (yes, I know, but you're getting '...that's enough uses of the word 'hitherto'' for free!) signature tune was revealed, in which he sang about the structural shortcomings of stately homes; something that he blamed squarely on 'beetles'. His proposed beetle-countermanding (and possibly even Beatle-countermanding) solution was to host a fund-raising Open Day, and this where it all gets really confusing. On Come To Chigley, the Six O'Clock Dance music duly appeared in both instrumental and Open Day-fanfaring vocal versions, giving rise to hazy confused 'did I really hear that with words once?' half-memories to rival Little Britain by Dreadzone. The lyrics, as you were no doubt wondering, featured Lord Belborough inviting all and sundry to hand over wodges of cash in exchange for the opportunity to see sideshows, swings, and most bafflingly "old friends from Trumpton and Camberwick Green". Given that Farmer Bell was always dropping by unnanounced at the best of times, it's hardly likely that anyone from Chigley would have forked out good money for the opportunity to see him.

Come To Chigley wasn't a BBC Records release, but the later narration-free All The Music From Trumpton And Chigley certainly was, and it was from there that the compilers of Music From BBC Children's Programmes drew their choice of Chigley-representing track. Except it wasn't quite as straightforward as that. The Six O'Clock Dance music appeared on All The Music From Trumpton And Chigley in both its vocal and instrumental incarnations, and the somewhat adventurous compilers took the opportunity to put together a dextrous turntable-spinnin' extended 'mashup' of the two, coming across as a primitive precursor of the 12" mix of Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?, only with more Mr Gubbins And Mr Sneed. Needless to say, DJ Kool Herc was soon scouring the bargain bins for a second copy of A Visit To Trumpton with which to extend Mr Munnings' ' printing press breaks'. And that really is enough uses of the word 'instrumental'... for this entry, anyway.

Maybe waltz-time odes to the joys of the Dutch organ aren't exactly going to be shaking any dancefloors in the immediate future (those traversed by Biscuit Factory workers in odd clothes notwithstanding), and maybe in this case 'extended' really only adds up to 'almost two whole minutes', but what we're looking at here is how this fourth track fits into the overall hallucinogenically-skewed Music From BBC Children's Programmes conceit, rather than its potential use to Jam & Spoon or one of those, and as it's drawn from a relatively less-well remembered show, with a few surprises along the way, and comes bolted onto the end of the theme from The Magic Roundabout too, it's fair to say that this is the most powerful fitting of the Barnaby In The Sky With BBC Schools Diamonds template that we've seen thus far. And it's about to get a lot more evocative and a lot more obscure...

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