Sunday, 1 November 2015

Adventures in Vinyl: Steptoe & Son


I was only thinking on Thursday evening, as I played my second Steptoe & Son album in as many weeks how few of those vinyl comedy gems I have chanced upon over the years. Next to Tony Hancock and The Goons, several exploits of Harry H Corbett (Harold Steptoe) and Wilfred Brambell (Albert Steptoe) as the father and son rag and bone men were available for fans to listen to again and again during the 1960s over several LP releases.

Following the end of Tony Hancock's Hancock series on BBC TV in 1961, writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson wrote a series of one-off comedy shows for The Comedy Playhouse series in 1962. The success of one show from the series, The Offer, about a father and son rag and bone business  proved to be such a hit that it was developed into the series Steptoe & Son.

By 1963, Steptoe was as popular on television as The Beatles were to popular music, so much so, several clips of dialogue were taken from the TV series and transferred to a long playing album on Pye Records.

The album, titled simply Steptoe and Son, featured the soundtrack to the 1962 TV episode The Bird as well as excepts from The Diploma, The Econimist and The Holiday. No doubt, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's superb knack of writing comic dialogue for the series (and several years of writing radio for Tony Hancock before that) enabled the smooth transfer of the TV soundtrack to the vinyl album format. This was also an age before the Video Recorder, and as Tony Hancock and Goon Show recordings had already proved popular with record buyers, so why not Steptoe & Son?

At the end of 1963, both Corbett and Brambell were asked to appear on the prestigious Royal Variety Performance. The show that gave the royal seal of approval to Beatlemania equally hailed Britain's favourite Rag and Bone men as the crown jewels of British comedy. In fact the performance, Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace, penned again by Galton & Simpson was released as a 45RPM single on Pye Records and raised proceeds for the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund.

Another album, More Junk, featuring two further recordings, The Stepmother and The Musical Evening from the 1963 series, also followed. Both this and the original Steptoe & Son album would later be reissued on Pye's Golden Guinea label, while soundtracks from other episodes would subsequently get released on both EP and LP formats.

In fact, it was a mid-60s reissue of More Junk on Pye Golden Guinea that I found on Darlington market back in 1987. I recall getting the album home and not checking the state of the grooves as it jumped all over the place. A quick check revealed it had clearly had something spilt on it in the past, after cleaning it up it proceeded to play perfectly (and I'm pleased to say, still does!).

Some 15 years later, I would regularly peruse the charity shops in Dursley, Gloucestershire during my lunch hour and turned up gold with the first Steptoe album (again on a Pye Golden Guinea) . The years in between also saw me snag a copy of The Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace single at a Carmarthen record fair.

So there I was on Thursday evening, giving More Junk a listen for the first time in many years. Loving the script of how Albert was thinking of remarrying and how Harold was attempting to embrace culture with a classical record collection. "How odd, I've never found more of these," I thought knowing that Steptoe albums were reissued on several occasions and there were at least six different ones available during the 1960s.

Visiting Bristol on Friday morning, my wife went to help fit our daughter with her first ballet point shoes, while I took the boys on a perusal of the neighbouring charity shops. In the Mind shop, I found several great titles on vinyl, however many were sadly scratched. My heart leaped though when I spotted a Steptoe album I didn't have. This title, just called Steptoe & Son on the World Record Club label.

This LP was issued in 1970, just as the colour series was launching on BBC1 (according to the sleevenotes). Released in enhanced (or fake) stereo, the album consists of previously issued material The Facts Of Life, Lets Go To The Pictures and The Holiday. The album opens with the 1963 single release Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace.

Needless to say, I am rather overjoyed with a further Steptoe and Son find, (as Harold might have been with discovering a collection of classical albums on his rounds or Albert a half drunk bottle of Malt Whisky in the back of a cupboard), and at £2.50 it was good to find the cover and vinyl in excellent condition. It just goes to show how coincidental record collecting can be!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andy. I am working my way again through my Steptoe and Son video collection. This will be the second time in 12 months. In fact I was watching last night. Brilliant scripts and equally brilliant actors. Still as funny now as it ever was.

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