Thursday, December 03, 2009
Today we remember.
It is the 28th anniversary of the death of an icon to millions of former Blue Peter viewers*, an inspiration, a National Treasure, a man without compare: Joey Deacon.
Non Britlanders probably won't have a clue who I'm talking about. Not even if I do this: Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh!" (fx: tongue behind lip, drool, contort), so here's a clip of the great man himself:
It's a bit quiet, so turn up the sound.
And if you still haven't a clue, then you are Denied a full understanding of the subtler nuances of flapping their clawed, twisted, limp-wristed hands together and biting their shoulder while standing behind someone who is doing something stupid. Forging their way in the world, being shafted by the government, and denied the small solace of being able to comment on some particularly imbecilic piece of govern–mentalism by pushing their tongue between their lower lip and their teeth and going Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! I mean, look at Iraq... they didn't find any WMDs and now the whole place is one gigantic clusterfuck. What's the most cathartic reaction? You could go "Oops, silly Tony got it wrong"... or you could go "Well, what the fuck did you expect, Joey Blair? Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! (flap, spasm) Tony is a deacon, (tongue behind lower lip) Ttttwnnnyyyyy zzzzzthth uuuhhh dddddEEEknnn (contort, drool) Mwwthmm gghhuuuuu nnnngh". Which - and be honest with yourself here - would you really prefer to do? Which one would be more appropriate to the situation, which one would provide the greater emotional release? It's the Joey one, isn't it... it has to be, unless your life has been impoverished by missing out on the whole Joey experience. I suppose it's a case of "what you don't know you can't miss", but the life of one who does not remember Joey Deacon must surely be sorely lacking.
Well, it's one of those things... if you weren't there at the time then maybe you'll never grasp it. You have to remember watching that seminal Blue Peter broadcast, you have to have that vivid memory of, the next morning, seeing someone's inadvertent clumsiness or stupidity inducing a reaction of "You fucking Joey! Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh!" (fx: flap clawed hands, tongue behind lip, bite shoulder). You have to remember your reaction - whether it was the kudos of being the first one to call someone a Joey, the shame of being the recipient of the insult yourself, the immediate feeling of being slightly shocked but within five minutes calling people Joeys yourself, or perhaps you were the stuck-up git who made out that you found it really offensive while refusing to admit to yourself that really you thought it was just as funny as everyone else did. You have to remember the craze growing as Blue Peter continued in blissful innocence to feed the flames, until less than a minute's conversation was more than sufficient time for someone to have gone Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! and flailed spasmodically about. You have to remember the variety of insults in use, ranging from a quick and discreet shove of the tongue behind the bottom lip to the full-blown drooling-and-convulsing-on-the-floor spaz-out. You have to have been there.
So, if you are a member of said segment, you may be wondering what this is all about... Well, it started at the time - which, if I remember rightly, was between The Wall and The Final Cut (just to keep up the irrelevant Pink Floyd reference, because I like Pink Floyd) - that the BBC programme "Blue Peter" made a series of broadcasts featuring Joey Deacon. Joey was a cerebral palsy sufferer who had been in institutions since childhood. When another inmate, Ernie, proved able to understand Joey's attempts at speech, Joey decided to write a book about his life and used the proceeds to build bungalows for himself and his friends. This heartwarming story was shown bit by bit on Blue Peter, along with plugs for the book, and we eventually got to see Joey and his friends move into their new bungalows and live happily ever after, or rather until they died, which was sad, especially as it wasn't very long after, not much of an "ever" at all in fact, at least for Joey, though I think the others lasted a bit longer.
Unfortunately, the programme producers had not thought through the consequences of showing lengthy sequences of a drooling, grunting spastic at peak viewing time. As implied in preceding paragraphs, the next morning people up and down the country were rapidly developing Joey impersonations into an art form. Kudos was obtained by going to new extremes in twisted and clawed hands, jerking arms, facial contortions, drooling, spasmodic vocalisations, attempts to eat one's own shoulder, and for special emphasis dropping to the floor, adopting a foetal position and undergoing violent grunting convulsions. "Doing the Deacon" was the hot new performance art, "Joey" was the hot new insult, and woe betide anyone with the misfortune to have the surname "Deacon" or a given name with the initial syllable "Joe". A whole vocabulary of mangled vocalisations developed, finely tuned to express different degrees of "Joey–ness" in whatever the recipient of the insult was being insulted for. A quick shove of the tongue behind the lower lip could be used to discreetly insult someone without (in theory) anyone not in the line of sight noticing. Joey was a phenomenon. Just not in the way Blue Peter had hoped he would be.
Looking back, it's hard to see what else they expected. It's human nature to take the piss. People know it's wrong, but that doesn't stop them doing it, and once you start laughing at it it just gets funnier the more out of order it is. And look at the size of the stimulus - a whole bunch of 25-minute programmes, each with most of the time devoted to the Blue Peter team patronising Joey as he grunted and twitched in his wheelchair, and watched by several million people. Given that sort of input, any group of people of non-negligible size is going to contain at least one person who starts taking the piss, and once one in the group starts doing it everybody's doing it. That's what people are like, and it's no good being all wishy-washy and trying to pretend everybody's nice, because real-world experience suggests that the most useful definition of a "nice person" is someone who manages to refrain from doing Joey impressions when someone in a wheelchair is actually present.
I was going to write my own version of the above but couldn't get anywhere near the 'subtlety' of the original, so I just copied and pasted from Pigeon's Nest. Besides, I haven't got much time right now (18:20 02/12/09) as I'm supposed to be getting ready to go to the cinema.
See ya later, you bunch of Joeys!
* Although, some of them may still be watching.