One of the many, many good things about Rob Grant, Paul Jackson and Ed Bye’s regular Sunday afternoon quarantine commentaries is that their meandering conversations about comedy and their careers can sometimes dredge up intriguing lesser-known projects from the past. When Arthur Smith was a guest on the Backwards commentary, he mentioned one of his old Edinburgh shows, Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams, which also featured fellow Backwards guest and perennial fifth Dwarfer Tony Hawks.

A truncated TV version was produced by Granada in 1993, which commenter Stilianidiadidatees suggested would make a good candidate for G&TV. Don’t say we never give you anything. It’s on YouTube, and it’s pretty great.

To say too much would spoil many of the surprises, but if you’re not yet intrigued enough to press play, here’s the gist. Arthur Smith presents a mostly truthful lecture on the life of art critic, boxer and poet Arthur Cravan, which is interspersed, as the title suggests, by performances of Andy Williams hits, done with a completely straight face but rendered amusing in various unpredictable ways. It’s only towards the end that these two disparate elements converge, in a wonderfully post-modern and nonsensical way.

Tony Hawks plays a much bigger part than I was expecting. He’s ostensibly there as the pianist, but also reads out quotes during the lecture parts and breaks character from time to time, bigging up his role and deconstructing the show as it unfolds. The whole thing is an archetypal example of alternative comedy at its purest, masterminded by one of its original and still one of its finest practitioners.

Further reading: this 2017 interview with Arthur, looking back on the show and expanding on his fascination with Cravan.

6 comments on “G&TV: Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams

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  • It may have been that is was 4am when I was watching that but I just did not follow what the hell was going on at all. It was all so random. And I ended up falling asleep with “My huckleberry friend” stuck in my head which wasn’t a pleasant experience.

  • Koo Stark seemed a bit, I don’t know “Paranoid” on yesterday’s quarantine commentary of Time-slides. It was a totally shady to witness. Loved it.

  • I loved this, thanks! Probably helps that I really like Moon River, to the degree that even the repetitions of “my huckleberry friend” didn’t annoy me so much as make me laugh and slap my thighs with appreciation, and then I went and listened to the Audrey Hepburn version, so it was a perfect Saturday night.

    I wish there was more of this sort of thing on television, but it’s kind of niche interest I guess. YouTube has the potential to fill that void, but not a lot of what I’ve come across comes close. Also, there’s just something nice about watching programs like this on the telly with half the room wondering what in God’s name the other half are laughing at. I should check out more of Arthur Smith’s stuff. I’ve heard him pop up on the radio quite often but will take a more active interest now. I remember him interviewing Michael Livesley promoting the Rawlinson End live shows, which must’ve been similar to Arthur Smith Sings… in a way, only with the monologues and stories being more obviously linked. Both ideas are the same distance from mainstream on the comedy globe, it seems to me.

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