‘Nobody was safe’: the shocking, dangerous brilliance of Victor Lewis-Smith

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If you’ve ever wondered wherefore truthful galore radical are truthful insistent that the BBC children’s amusement Captain Pugwash featured characters with rude names – it didn’t – past look nary further than Victor Lewis-Smith. The details are characteristically vague, but for immoderate reason, Victor repeated the obscene, fictitious names successful 1 of his paper columns – portion of his ongoing fascination with the odd, the arcane and the present wholly unacceptable successful bygone fashionable culture. This resulted successful a ineligible rebuke from Captain Pugwash’s creator John Ryan. The municipality story stuck, however, and this unexpected crook of events inadvertently underlined each constituent Victor tried to marque with his comedy.

In Victor’s comic satellite cipher was harmless – including him and often, it felt, adjacent the audience. With his regular co-writer Paul Sparks helium was 1 of the fewer practitioners of what could genuinely beryllium labelled “dangerous” comedy, and much than blessed to marque the gag and woody with the consequences later. Never acold from controversy, helium recovered himself successful blistery h2o implicit everything from a tasteless gag astir a violent onslaught which allegedly saw him suspended from section vigor to changeless tabloid uproar implicit his contributions to Channel 4 arts amusement Club X. Late 1 nighttime connected Radio 1, helium adjacent alluded to definite rumours astir Jimmy Savile straight successful a telephone telephone to the Jim’ll Fix It accumulation office. Surprisingly, the big did not spot acceptable to motorboat ineligible enactment connected this occasion.

Victor began his vocation arsenic a popular DJ astatine BBC Radio York, earlier moving to Radio 4 arsenic a producer. Bored and frustrated by the formulaic quality of the shows helium worked on, his maverick streak soon began to show, astir notoriously erstwhile helium booked thickly accented histrion Arthur Mullard arsenic a vacation stand-in for regular presenter Libby Purves on the mag amusement Midweek. His crisp wit did not spell unnoticed for agelong and helium was invited to articulation the regular contributors to Ned Sherrin’s caller Radio 4 amusement Loose Ends. With a operation of sonic trickery, caustic wit, disdain for personage civilization and supra each mastery of pointed crank telephone calls – each of it presented successful a distinctive comic beingness occupying a weird postwar satellite of pop-culture references – helium someway managed to basal retired arsenic the escaped cannon adjacent connected a amusement that already featured Stephen Fry.

Adored by audiences, adjacent if they sometimes could not judge what they had conscionable heard, Victor’s Loose Ends contributions led to a abbreviated but hugely influential stint astatine Radio 1, the medium Tested connected Humans for Irritancy, and longstanding columns for publications arsenic divers arsenic the Evening Standard, Esquire and Private Eye. Despite a beardown commencement connected Club X, wherever his “Buygones” led to a bestselling book, helium ne'er truly managed to interruption done to a wider tv audience, though shows specified arsenic Inside Victor Lewis-Smith, Ads Infinitum, and TV Offal were ne'er little than archetypal and wickedly funny. Behind this abrasive edge, however, Victor cared profoundly astir uncelebrated areas of fashionable civilization and aft retiring from performing helium produced acclaimed documentaries about, among others, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Jake Thackray and Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth.

His unwillingness to compromise, liking for virulently acerbic put-downs and refusal to tolerate media hypocrisy won him fewer friends successful the industry. He besides felt – with immoderate justification – that others had taken aspects of his enactment and enjoyed greater occurrence without affording immoderate recognition to him. Some did admit his influence, however, and Charlie Brooker having a quality successful 1 of his shows picture Victor arsenic “like a affluent man’s you” ably demonstrates the affection successful which helium was held.

Meanwhile, contrasting sharply with his views connected his comic peers, Victor was lone excessively blessed to stock theories connected his taste obsessions with anyone other penning astir them. If you ever had origin to interaction him to effort to resoluteness a enigma surrounding, say, George Martin’s drama albums oregon aboriginal physics instruments, chances are you would person a lengthy reply with the accusation successful question surrounded by tons of gags and topical observations and – inevitably – the closing line”: “I’m acrophobic I don’t usually bash this, of people – atrocious I can’t help.”

Perhaps astir significant, however, was his power connected a procreation of listeners. While the bequest of his inclination to propulsion drama to shocking extremes is much debatable, his precocious velocity make-do-and-mend attack to presumption – which someway managed to look hazardously rough-edged and impossibly technically slick astatine the aforesaid clip – had a profound effect and successful galore regards anticipated the vigor and ingenuity of net creativity. Sometimes, it truly is imaginable to simply get excessively aboriginal – but you tin stake there’s a meme astir those nonexistent Captain Pugwash names going astir close now.

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