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The HeeBeeGeeBees Story In Angus Deayton’s Own Meaningless Words

There’s an episode of Have I Got News For You where, during the show’s final Caption Competition, a still is shown of three men dressed, false beards and all, as The Bee-Gees. This incongruity garners little audience laughter, until Paul Merton points out that the one in the middle is the show’s host, Angus Deayton. It is then realised that this is some sort of supposed practical joke played on Deayton, the show’s makers unexpectedly bringing up a silly-looking picture from his past, and the audience responds accordingly. Angus, knowing what is expected of him, feigns a look of embarrassment throughout.

But in reality, however, throughout this incident it is clear that Angus Deayton is not in the slightest bit embarrassed, except perhaps at the producer’s misjudgment regarding the prank. For this is not just a picture of a panel show host and his two friends dressed as The Bee Gees from a long time ago - this is a picture of The HeeBeeGeeBees, the Bee Gees-parodying band of which Deayton was a member for five years from 1979 to 1984. Angus Deayton is more than happy to recall publicly his time as a HeeBeeGeeBee - it’s just that, what with one scandal or another, no interviewer thinks to ask.

With a short exception. There was a fourteen-month period in Angus Deayton’s life, starting with him just becoming a household name due to the twin successes of KYTV and Have I Got News For You and lasting up to his first tabloid scandal, where journalists were keen to learn about this seemingly glamorous aspect of Deayton’s past life, and Deayton, having had over a decade to reflect on his unexpected pop career, was delighted to tell. This period ran from March 1992, when Deayton was a comedy star with KYTV series two starting on the 17th of March and the third series of Have I Got News For You, which that month won the BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Programme, starting with an Election Special on the 9th of April, until May 1993, when Deayton messily left his partner of nine years Stephanie De Sykes, a singer best known for having a hit with Born With A Smile On My Face in 1974 after having sung it on Crossroads - she and Angus met during a Radio Active sketch in 1984. Here we quote the relevant extracts from those interviews (the sources of which can be found below) in their chronological order of events, and therefore for the first time give you the story of The HeeBeeGeeBees in Angus Deayton’s own meaningless words.

In his final year reading French and German at Oxford, Angus Deayton was invited to join the Oxford Revue by Richard Curtis. “Two people had to drop out, and just on the strength of meeting me, Richard asked if I wanted to be in it. [4] I never set foot on stage throughout my school days and never had any great feeling for it. It all materialised through meeting Richard Curtis, who writes Blackadder. He asked me to take part in the Oxford Revue when someone dropped out. Then it snowballed." [3]

It was in this Revue that Deayton met, wrote and performed with Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope. Of the latter, the primary song-writer of the trio, Angus has said: “He seemed to have an innate understanding of how to write a sketch and structure it. He’d go for jokes that were intrinsically funny, where I went for wordplay - my failing. He went by John Cleese’s three laws of comedy: no puns, no puns and no puns. Mind you, I say no puns… I think the only sketch we ever wrote with him was one that involved a man going into a police station and saying ‘I’d like to report that my car is missing’ and the policeman says ‘It’s probably the spark plug, sir’…" [5]

For the Oxford Revue the three of them formed The HeeBeeGeeBees. “It started as a sketch from the Oxford Revue, in Edinburgh in 1979. It involved three of us dressing up as the Gibb brothers and singing in silly voices. It was the best thing in the show. Two people from a record company in London came up and saw it, and, in the time-honoured tradition of fairy tales, signed us up. Unfortunately, it didn’t follow the fairy tale any more than that, because it wasn’t actually a hit over here. It was a hit within the media and at discos. It got to number two in the Capital Radio chart, which relied on people ringing in, but only to number 79 in the official charts [3] - in with a parachute. [4] There were all sorts of conspiracy theories. The most likely one was that our record company tried to hype it into the charts. Someone cottoned onto it because we stayed at number 79 for about four weeks running. We were bubbling under ad nauseum… They kept saying we’ll have you on Top of the Pops, but you’ve got to be in the charts first. It was Catch 22." [1]

The HeeBeeGeeBees story (the real one, not the fictional one as heard in The HeeBeeGeeBees Story, a Radio 2 special broadcast on Saturday the 19th of December 1981) seems like it should have ended here, what with their single never reaching higher than 79 in the UK chart. Except…: “It was a big success in Australia for some strange reason. [3] Australia is probably my favourite country. There’s always a nice climate, fabulous food, nice wine, people who sort of speak the same language. It’s just like being on holiday, even when you’re working. I first went over in 1981 with The HeeBeeGeeBees, then twice with a stage show and once with Rowan Atkinson. They laugh in roughly the same places, but about four times as loudly. And there’s the added advantage that you can become famous overnight. [2] In Australia, you’re on the news just for turning up. [4] As soon as you arrive you’re on the news. If you turn up in Adelaide you’re probably the only show that’s actually on. You’re a big fish in a small pool, so it’s easier to get products across. [2] The group took off massively, whereas back here we didn’t even get in the charts. Unless you’re on Top of the Pops there’s no way you can do. But there we went gold. [2] The album went gold and we went on pop programmes and were lauded as pop stars when, in fact, we were just graduates. We were sending up the lifestyle of rock stars and we were being treated as rock stars ourselves. It was a bit like Spinal Tap. It was a very strange time. [3] It was a strange halfway house. The audience realised we were actors pretending to be pop stars, but they’d over step the mark… You’d arrive at a studio and find adoring fans screaming at the stage door." [1]

The fact that This Is Spinal Tap was in the back of Angus Deayton’s mind is no surprise, as he was a tremendous admirer of the film: “It’s faultless. Every aspect was so well observed. When you can hit a comic vein like that, of rock star speaking garbage, you can listen to them for hours just spouting on… They’re huge heroes." [1]

The Australia tours, incidentally, also marked an peculiar time for the loves of Deayton’s life, past and present. His partner at the time, Helen Atkinson-Wood, a performer from the Oxford Revue and part of The HeeBeeGeeBees show, almost drowned during one of the tours when she was caught in a rip whilst swimming on Sydney’s Manly Beach. She later recalled the experience: “Slowly and surely we were being pulled out to sea and I was shrieking and Angus heroically came to my rescue, one arm around my waist, the other swimming… It is no exaggeration to say that he saved my life. But then, Angus was always the perfect gentleman." [5] It was also during one of the Australia tours that he became close with Rik Mayall’s partner and co-writer Lise Mayer - a decade later the pair would start dating after Deayton’s split from Stephanie De Sykes. Mayer explained: “We were in Australia at the same time. I was writing The Comic Strip series with Rik, he was touring with The HeeBeeGeeBees." [6]

The HeeBeeGeeBees’ second LP, 20 Big No 2’s, was released solely in Australia, but was nowhere near as big a success as the first, 439 Golden Greats: “The first one went gold, the second went rust. [4] The second album went rust - not even in Australia did that succeed - but we had a lot of fun promoting it and we did a tour down there. It wound up about 1984. [3] I’d had quite enough of the music business - it’s absurd. I love pop music and pop stars, but the people involved in the business side are faintly ridiculous but at the same time hugely powerful. I never associated making records with making money. They were just something funny with your face on to give the relatives at Christmas. [3] It was funny because we were only 23 or something. We’d just left university. And it was a parody band, so they were all send ups. It was slightly strange being lauded as pop stars. But I think we loved it really." [2]

Sources:

[1]Sending comedy into orbit" by Mark Wareham, pages 19 and 20 of the Independent, Friday the 13th of March 1992.
[2]My Favourite Places: Angus Deayton" by Sheila Menuhin, page 26 of the Weekend Guardian, Saturday the 30th of May 1992.
[3]Why Mr Sex finds fame such a surprise; How a little luck helped Angus grab the headlines" by Jill Parsons, pages 33 and 35 of the Daily Mail, Saturday the 10th of October 1992.
[4]Show People: 47. Angus Deayton - Have I got a newcomer for you" by Laurence Earle, page 24, the Independent On Sunday, Sunday the 11th of October 1992.
[5]And moving swiftly on…" by Carol Sarler, pages 18, 21 and 22 of the Sunday Times Magazine, Sunday the 9th of May 1993.
[6]Have we got views for you: Angus Deayton’s Hong Kong" by Anthea Gerrie, pages 12, 14, 15 and 17 of the Mail On Sunday, Sunday the 26th of September 1993.

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