Many double-acts are known for their catchphrases: think The Two Ronnies (‘And it’s goodnight from me and it’s goodnight from him’), Morecambe & Wise (‘Tea, Ern?’; ‘What do you think of it so far?’), The Krankies (‘Fan-dabi-dozi!’), Hale & Pace (‘We are – the Management’)…well, you get the idea.
The Chuckle Brothers may not have reached quite the same heights of comedy fame as those mentioned (they were kings in the world of Moustaches ‘n’ Mullets though) but even people who have never watched an episode of Chucklevision seem to know immediately how to respond if somebody says ‘To me…’ (Obviously it’s ‘To you…’).
Chucklevision was created by The Chuckle Brothers (Paul and Barry Elliott) and writer John Sayle (who also worked on The Two Ronnies and The Dave Allen Show). Sayle was the main writer but the Elliotts also contributed, as did Rory Clark and, astonishingly, Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who).
The BBC children’s programme was a long running hit between 1987 and 2009, with 292 episodes over 21 series and while the ‘To me…to you’ catchphrase is the most remembered there were also other oft-repeated ones. ‘Silly you…’ ‘Course it is, silly me’ was one and ‘Oh dear…’ ‘Oh dear, oh dear…’ ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…’ another. The brothers also liked to reference their favourite football team, Rotherham United, whenever possible.
It was pretty formulaic stuff: each episode featured the Elliotts as their alter-egos Paul and Barry Chuckle undertaking some kind of job or task, overseen by an employer. Due to the siblings’ basic incompetence they would invariably mess the assignment up and the humour came from the slapstick approach they took to getting the work done – lots of stumbling, dropping things, knocking people over, etc.
One boss was often played by their elder brother Jimmy Patton, himself also part of a double act (with yet another brother, Brian): The Patton Brothers. Jimmy’s character was referred to as ‘No Slacking’, due to the catchphrase that he always uttered when he’d set the boys to work: ‘And remember, no slacking!’ Brian occasionally appeared in the show as the villain of the piece, with his own repeated phrase of ‘Getoutofit!’
Paul was always the more domineering brother; over-confident about his abilities he would often be found putting his feet up while making Barry do the hard labour and then blaming his brother when the job went wrong or taking credit for any little thing that actually worked. Talking of putting his feet up, that’s also exactly what he did when the pair had to travel anywhere: poor Barry would be left pedalling like fury on their red and white roofed quadricycle as Paul relaxed with his legs raised up on the bar. (Fun fact one: the quadricycle was referred to as The Chuckmobile. Fun fact two: the registration was ‘CHUCKLE 1’.)
Every episode in the first two series of Chucklevision (1987 to 1989) focused on a particular topic, such as sport, dance, travel, music or the circus, while from the third series onwards this was relaxed and the programme titles became more ‘punny’. You can infer from them exactly what the plot was going to be about….’Window Wind-ups’, ‘Hotel Hostilities’, ‘Minibus Madness’, ‘Pizza the Action’ etc. My particular favourite had to be ‘Oh dear, what can the mattress be?’
There were many recurring Chucklevision characters, with perhaps the most mysterious being Dan the Van. The Chuckles would take on work from him but he remained largely unseen; only his arms or a mumbled voice would be viewed or heard. The one time his face did appear on the screen it was covered in bandages and wearing dark glasses. He would often create tasks for the boys to do just to get them away from him – which was understandable really if you were forced to spend your time with people that hopeless. We were also treated to appearances from Dan’s relatives occasionally – Gran the Van and Lettuce the Van were often part of the action – while other characters included Mrs McCallister, Albie Flange and Sir Percy.
Real Chucklevision connoisseurs will also know that a selection of famous faces popped up in the show over the years, most notably comedian Harry Hill as villain Simon Chortle, Hi-De-Hi’s Paul McShane as entertainer Perry Champagne and 3-2-1’s Ted Rogers as quiz show host Raymond Trophy.
Whilst all 20 minute episodes in the first 13 series were stand-alone (i.e. each one featured a complete story in one show), series 14, 15 and 16 offered one plot stretched over the whole run and the time was reduced to 15 minutes. Series 17 onwards went back to individual programmes again. From series 14 until the last show, outtakes were also shown over the closing credits (and obviously this was always the funniest bit).
The theme tune was possibly not the most creative one out there. Personally I think it sounds a bit like the composer, Dave Cooke (who also wrote the Bananaman music) had one of those heart-stopping moments when you realise you’ve forgotten about a deadline, panicked and simply used the demo button on a children’s keyboard and then asked a couple of neighbours to chant ‘Chuckle, ChuckleVision, Ch-Chucklevision’ a few times over the top. Despite the lack of imagination gone into it, it was still, unfortunately, annoyingly catchy. I listened to it twenty five minutes ago for research and am still humming it over and over again to myself as I type this.
Chucklevision’s 22 year run ended in 2009. The BBC decided to stop showing it as the ratings dropped and the final programme aired at Christmas that year. Disappointed children everywhere didn’t need to worry about a lack of Chuckle in their lives, however; the brothers continued to perform live around the country and as special guests on many, many television shows (Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Come Dine With Me, The Weakest Link, to name but a few).
More recently they have released a charity single with Tinchy Stryder, appeared at the music festival Bestival and produced a mobile app called ‘Chuckle World’.
So thank you, Barry and Paul Chuckle. Thank you for your years of making small children laugh, for attempting to help Paul McShane’s career and for making it impossible for anybody in the UK to say ‘To me?’ without somebody giggling and replying ‘To you!’