in a galaxy far away,
a RuDE song about A Filthy Habit
got into the top twenty.
The singer was Ivor Biggun.
This is the story of “The Winker’s Song-(Misprint)”.
Ivor Biggun was born at an early age in Sheffield, Yorkshire, in 1946.
He was the only child of a mixed marriage (one man, one woman) and christened
Robert George Cox.
The sole musician in the family was his grandfather George who played the ukulele
and was the only heterosexual male dresser in the entire history of Moss Empire
Theatres. He dressed many 30’s stars including Max Wall and comedian Jimmy Jewell.
Robert showed musical talent at an early age. As a toddler he played on the
linoleum. He was then given a uke and later a mandolin, both of which he promptly
destroyed, pre-empting Pete Townshend’s stage act by twenty years. In 1957 he
got an “Elvis Presley Autochord” four-string guitar and an instruction
leaflet containing “Songs Elvis Loves To Play”. It may surprise Elvis
collectors to learn that these included “My Darling Clementine” and
“She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes”.
A year or two later, having seen Lonnie Donegan on TV, he got his first six-string
(in exchange for five Buddy Holly singles and two quid in half-crowns). It was
a second-hand Headquarters-And-General-Stores “De-Luxe” model. The
original advert in Exchange And Mart said you’d “be the centre of attention
at parties” and offered a free “hootenanny strap” which was actually
a red dressing-gown belt.
Robert started learning chords.
In 1961, with a £3.19.11d guitar pickup screwed firmly in place, amplified
by a knackered Curry’s tape-recorder, and trembling like Sinead O’Connor’s lower
lip, he made his first public appearance at a Youth Club in Clarborough, Notts.
He performed “Good Morning Blues” badly, and “Wonderful Land”
He soon formed his first group, Nurk Wildebeeste and the Mutations.
The “Mutations” bit came from a zero-budget horror movie, and “Nurk
Wildebeeste” from a Benny Hill TV sketch.
They played, for about £4 split five ways, in exotic locations such as
The Starlight Club Scunthorpe (honestly!), clubs, pubs and The Drill Hall Gainsborough.
It was there that the Mutations supported The Searchers (not Robert though…he
had ‘flu). The concert manager, counting out their £4, in ten-bob
notes to make it look more impressive, gravely intoned “Well, the Searchers
were all reet, but they weren’t as good as the lot we ‘ad ‘ere last
week. By ‘eck they ‘ad a good singer…but the bugger didn’t
half drink…mark my words lads, he’ll be dead within six months”. The
year was 1964 and the singer was Joe Cocker.
Robert went to teacher’s training college, discovered how revolting small children
are in large numbers, played in folk-clubs and college bands instead of studying,
dropped out, and somehow-or-other eventually ended up as a sound engineer at
BBC TV in London. By now he was known as “Doc” because, being skint,
he took his lunch to work in a doctor’s bag.
In the mid 70’s, he played London pubs as one half of a folky duo “Margot
and Joe”. He wasn’t Margot, though. Margot was a gorgeous Pennsylvanian
doing a very good Joan Baez, while Robert…or Doc, was the bastard son
of John Denver and Hank Snow, picking his guitar and his nose behind her.
Then, came a life-changing moment.
Doc went to the Stiff Records tour gig at London’s Lyceum, and immediately decided
that he wanted to be either Ian Dury, or Wreckless Eric, or perhaps both. Fired
with enthusiasm and dandelion and burdock, he “tried to write a song at
least half as good as “Whole Wide World” and failed miserably, several
times”. However he adds, “Not many people have written a song even
a quarter as good as “Whole Wide World”. I know I haven’t”.
The only tune from this shambolic enterprise to survive on disc is “Readers
Wives”. Doc loathes it, so it’s not on any compilations. Originally written
as a Latin American number, it ended up as a bad salad ….erm… a sad ballad,
on the B Side of a single.
So, our hero began cogitating (make your own jokes up here, please). Then, inspiration
hit him, like a well aimed kebab at a Glasgow bus stop. Doc was a simple Northern
lad, with interests including record-collecting, pornography, Skegness, the
ukulele and dreadful jokes. He’d write a song in the style of his great Lancashire
30’s hero George Formby, but a thousand times filthier…it was punky 1978 after
Having a fertile mind (because of all the manure in it) he wrote “The W*nker’s
Song” in twenty minutes.
In those wonderful pre-John-bloody-Birt days, BBC staff were allowed to use
the studio gear after hours in “down time”. Doc took a ukulele, an
acoustic guitar, an appalling “Burns” bass with a neck bent like a
guilty giraffe, a tea chest, a big stick, a tin of lentils, and a tambourine
into a deserted studio at BBC Television Centre. The recorder could run three
tracks on 35mm magnetic film, and was the same machine they used when mixing
“Dr Who”. Sustained by a packed lunch, a lyric sheet and minimal talent
he began recording at 9-30pm. He overdubbed everything, playing with himself
throughout the whole proceedings. No change there, then. As the sun rose the
following morning, a curious security guard looked in to see what all the noise
was about. The poor sod was the first human being ever to hear “I’m a W*nker”
as it was then called. He didn’t think much to it.
Now, the late 70’s were the hey-days of the bootleg studio tape. The first Derek
and Clive recordings (different from the ones on the discs) began circulating.
The Troggs swearing and blundering their way through a session (“You ‘ad
it then! You great pranny!”) and out-takes of famous folk effing and blinding
were soon joined by Doc’s song.
It went round the world.
They played it over loudspeakers on the Ark Royal. Doc received a tape of a
Zimbabwean comedian singing his song to a hooting audience in the Dark Continent.
A version by an anonymous string quartet turned up in his pigeon hole. Everybody
said that “I’m A W*nker” should be on a “proper record”.
Doc had two acetates cut, and sent one to the people who’d originally inspired
him, Stiff records. They sent it back saying “It sounds like a number one
to us, but we wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole”.
So Doc looked around for the smallest, seediest, most financially precarious
record company he could find. That record company was Beggars Banquet.
Run from a few shops around West London, “Beggars” had two acts, the
wonderful Lurkers, a Punk group who rehearsed (and probably also slept and defecated)
in the shop basement, and the multi-talented Johnny “G”.
They signed Ivor to a contract that gave him a percentage royalty of more-or-less-two-thirds-of-four-fifths-of-f*ck-all.
The same day, they signed another young hopeful called Gary Numan. Whatever
became of him?
The record pressing plant refused to have anything to do with a record called
“I’m A W*nker” so the song became “The Winker’s Song (misprint)”
and Doc became Ivor Biggun, another name from a Benny Hill sketch. Dave Brett,
a fellow Beeb sound engineer, drew a repulsive ukulele-pronged pervert for the
sleeve. The record pressing plant refused to handle this, too. The first few
hundred appeared in plain bags.
Nothing happened, so Doc went on holiday.
When he returned, his door wouldn’t open. Behind it were jammed hundreds of
press releases, bumph from music magazines, letters from friends and relatives
who’d disowned him, and BLOODY HELL! an advert for Ivor Biggun, “live”
in an All-Punk package at The Lyceum in three weeks time!
It seems that John Peel had been deejaying at a particularly badly organized,
rain-soaked rock festival somewhere, and every time the generators broke down
and the stage (or Hawkwind) collapsed, he’d play “I’m a W*nker”. It
caught on, other deejays featured it, and it had begun to sell in frightening
Ivor had no band, no repertoire and, after reading that Lyceum advert, no bowel
contents. Using backing tapes, and a hastily cobbled together “Red Nosed
Burglars” vocal group (a florist, a bus-driver, and two men who made shower
fittings), he stumbled through a short set whilst Stiff Little Fingers fans
gobbed all over him. Dripping with snot, phlegm and beer he left the stage under
a hail of root vegetables. “Ivor!” beamed the record company man,
“They love you!”
Sell-out gigs at the Nashville and the Marquee followed, with a proper band
and the single went w*nking into the top twenty.
Beggars Banquet then gave Ivor the princely sum (“Here! Prince! Good boy!”)
of £600 in studio time to record an album at Pathway, a cheap studio beloved
of punks and Ian Dury.
The folky “Winker’s Album” emerged, followed by “More Filth Dirt
Cheap” recorded with proper rock musicians, and then “Partners In
Grime” with guests Judge Dread, Captain Sensible, Dick Heckstall-Smith
and Screaming Lord Sutch. There was a “W*nker’s Rock’n’Roll” EP, a
further single or two, and a disco 12″ spoofing the Stars On 45 craze.
These are now, deservedly, all deleted.
Ivor also played on/engineered the demo for Hilary Hilary, the Roger Taylor
project that became a now-very-expensive single.
Later, Robert..Ivor..Joe…got an on-screen job with Esther Rantzen on BBC TV’s
“That’s Life!” as Doc Cox, with comedy songs and rudely-shaped parsnips.
Doc retired “Ivor” in 1997 and married Jilly B, the charming sax player
from his “live” band. And that, he thought, was that. But “The
W*nker’s Song” keeps hanging around, like a large smelly dog.
It’s all over the internet. It’s been sung on “Men Behaving Badly”
and a Roy Chubby Brown video. The crowd sing it on “Match Of The Day”.
It’s been voted one of the 50 most awful songs of all time. Male strippers dance
to it. Doc met Phil Collins, and Phil sang him the first two lines.
Eventually, Beggars Banquet, now a mighty and adventurous label, with an empire
larger than Oprah Winfrey’s rear end, gave Ivor’s festering tapes to their top
man Steve Webbon. His label “Stiff Weapon” (geddit?) has reissued
Biggun’s entire catalogue of crudity on two CD collections. There’s also “Handling
Swollen Goods”, a disc of completely new songs with a bonus 20 minutes
“Live” in Croydon. Phew!
It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but you used to sing it on the school bus.
Ladies and Gentlemen!.…it’s “The W*nker’s Song” (misprint).