You've been at work. After a hard day you arrive home to discover that your front lawn has been freshly dug up by the most stereotypical builder you've ever come across in your life, who is now claiming that the council have discovered an oil reserve under your house and have given him orders to excavate it.
You work in a bed shop. One morning the door opens and in walks the largest family on the planet. They introduce themselves as the 'Golightlys' and proceed to hurl themselves on your top-end bed frames until you can hear them start to crack.
Now I'm pretty gullible, and I don't always take the time to question things that happen right in front of me, but I think that even I, if presented with either of the scenarios above, would stop and wonder if what was going on was actually real, or an elaborate prank. Especially if a prime time Saturday night television show featured one of these unlikely situations EVERY WEEK.
There were 10 series of Beadle's About, plus 20 specials: a total of 94 episodes in all. Now, I'll let off the people who were caught out in the first series, as they obviously wouldn't have been expecting a bearded loony to organise an elaborate practical joke just for their benefit whilst they were going about their daily business, but everybody after that? During the 1980s it was almost law that everybody stayed in and watched the television on a Saturday night; are you seriously telling me that not one of those 80-odd prankees thought that the scene that they’d just stumbled into involving either fat people destroying furniture, cars being written off or people in high-vis jackets moving mounds of earth was slightly odd and perhaps they should have a quick squizz about for a television crew?
But apparently they didn't. No matter how farfetched and ridiculous each of these set-ups was, the 'victim' always fell for it, and then was forced to do the classic 'Oh, you rascal you...!' face slap with his own hand when Jeremy Beadle removed his appallingly bad disguise to reveal that no, a spacecraft hadn't really just crash landed in their pond, it was just the production company LWT’s props department, lots of dry ice and a very small man in a rubber alien mask.
And it always was an incredibly bad disguise; whether it was a pair of glasses and a lanky pony tail, or a slightly bushier beard and a donkey jacket, or even the completely non-pc brown face paint and a Rasta hat moment of one particularly memorable episode it was always patently obvious that it was Jeremy Beadle wearing it, although many of the unsuspecting morons who he played the tricks on couldn't work that out even when he was standing right in front of them, speaking in his own voice and giving plenty of smug smirks to camera. One of his favoured costumes was a police uniform. No facial cover-up, just the uniform. How he thought that him wearing just a police uniform would fool someone into thinking that he looked like anybody other than Jeremy Beadle wearing a police uniform is a mystery. Although as I said, everybody fell for it so obviously Beadle was a comedy camouflage genius.
I even vaguely remember one man saying something like 'Oh for a minute there I thought I’d been got on that Beadle's About!' before then forgetting that the idea had even crossed his mind and being completely duped by the goings on unfolding before him.
Obviously the shock of discovering that your prized Ford Cortina has just been accidentally pushed off a harbour wall by a clumsy fisherman (it hadn't, the crazy gang behind the japes had swapped it for a lookalike) often led to some fruity language, and so the programme was forced to employ some 1960's Batman style cartoon speech bubbles to mask the profanity. Although in Beadle's About's case they said 'Oops' and 'Bleep' not 'Bam' and 'Kapow'. (That came later in the unseen footage of the punter kicking the crap out of Beadle for making him look like a pillock in front of his neighbours.) Beadle later admitted that on some occasions, when the reaction from the victim wasn’t considered amusing enough, extra bleeps would be added in the editing process. This can only have confused some folk when they settled down to watch what they remember as a fun interlude in their otherwise uneventful life, only to discover that everybody they knew, plus around 25% of the rest of the country now thought that they swore like a navvy.
Beadle's About was a terrible programme, and I really do mean truly atrocious - but at its peak it was regularly attracting an audience of around 15 million people. I can’t explain it. Even as a child I knew that watching people get upset as they thought something fairly precious to them was being destroyed shouldn’t really be the laugh-fest the programme pretended it was, but obviously the viewing public disagreed. For Beadle himself, perhaps it was the only time in his life that anybody was pleased to see him; i.e. you’re so relieved that your house isn’t about to be levelled to the ground by a wrecking ball that seeing the bearded gnome appear from behind your hyacinths wasn’t as horrendous as it would be under normal circumstances.
The show wasn't helped by its theme either; a tune so awful that it made your ears try and turn in on themselves, but ultimately so catchy that even now - over 17 years since the programme was put out of its misery - if I am in the vicinity of anybody saying the words 'Watch out!' I am then forced to spend the rest of the day listening to my brain murmur 'You better watch out, 'cos Beadle's About!' until I'm forced to stick painfully hot spoons into my ear canals in the hope of making it stop.
Jeremy Beadle was already well known as a prankster after appearing as one quarter of the presenting team of an equally dismal Saturday night depress-o-rama , Game For A Laugh. Beadle’s About began in 1986, and after a decade of pulling off the same joke over and over again to the rapturous delight of a mocking audience (‘Ha ha ha! Look at those cretins being fooled by that actor who fooled somebody last week as well! I would never get caught out like that! What’s that? My car has just been crushed by a learner driver in a tank? Oh no!’) it became the longest running hidden camera show in the world. Oh I’m so proud to be British...