Love his comedy or loathe it and I love it even if I’m the first to admit that it’s often incredibly lame, Russ Abbott has carved a place for himself in every British ted’s heart by his portrayal of the ted character Vince Prince.
He originally partnered with Freddie Starr for the Vince Prince sketches, where they were usually portrayed as hanging around a lamp-post doing nothing much in particular. For his own show he partnered with Les Dennis. There were many more Vince Prince sketches than are available on YouTube but his shows have not been put out on DVD.
Russ’s success is based almost entirely on Russ Abbot’s Madhouse. Yet that show wasn’t devised with him in mind and actually began in 1979 under the name of Freddie Starr’s Variety Madhouse. According to Abbot, three pilot shows of that series were made, each with different casts before a supposedly workable formula was hit upon. However it was far from a happy production, with Freddie Starr in particular causing a rumpus and complaining about what he felt was poor material (‘You are a complete idiot!’ / ‘No I’m not, I’ve got a tooth missing’). When Starr walked off the set in protest a new team was put together with Russ, a supporting artiste in the original series, promoted to leader of the gang. Comedy actors of the calibre of Jeffrey Holland were brought in to provide a better balance to the line-up and although Tracey Ullman was considered for a part, the female roles went to Susie Blake, Sherrie Hewson and the soon to become iconic Bella Emberg.
For six happy series, Russ Abbot’s Madhouse attracted big Saturday teatime audiences and provided fast-paced inoffensive comedy that was never too proud to pick on the most obvious of comedy targets. In 1986 Russ brought the Madhouse to an end, and took his act to the BBC.
His show on BBC1 ran until 1991 when allegedly a BBC bigwig was heard to announce at the Montreux Television Festival that Abbot no longer represented what the audience wanted to see on their screens. But Russ remains proud that his show proved to be an important launch pad for a number of successful entertainers (chiefly Les Dennis, Dustin Gee and Michael Barrymore) and Abbot’s influence can still be detected in today’s popular alternative comedians (after all, what was Steve Coogan’s Tony Ferrino if not an updated version of Julio Doubleglazias?).
‘Russ Abbot’s Madhouse’ (1980-86) (‘Russ Abbott’s Saturday Madhouse’ from 1981 onwards)
Vince rubs his nose and moans “I’ve got a seen-us!” “Do you mean a sinus?” “No, I was out with a girl and her husband seen-us!”
‘The Russ Abbot Show’ (1986-91, BBC & 1994-96, ITV)
One of his sketches with Freddie Starr has remained with me despite the years:
FS: ‘Ello there, Vince!
VP: ‘Ello, Stan!
FS: Wot you doin’ then?
VP: Oh, nuthin’ much …
FS: Oh …
(The famously unbeautiful Bella Emberg walks by dressed as a 50s chick)
VP: Huh, I wouldn’t touch her wiv a bargepole.
VP: Nah. Well, I gotta go now.
FS: What’s up? Where you goin’ then?
VP: I’m goin’ home.
FS: What for?
VP: To get me bargepole, see ya round, Stan!
FS: See ya, Vince!
He also brought out some songs as his ted character, Vince Prince, firstly in January 1982 with the single ‘a day in the life of Vince Prince’ :
then, on the 1983 album ‘Russ Abbot’s Madhouse’, that fine song ‘the ballad of Stampin’ Stan’ :
Russ’s big television break was as partner to Freddie Starr in the latter’s ‘Freddie Starr Variety Madhouse’ for a year in 1979 before he was enabled to run the show as the ‘Russ Abbott’s Madhouse’ in 1980. This later became ‘The Russ Abbott Show’ upon its transferral to the BBC in 1986, but returned under that name to ITV in 1991 before ending its television run in 1996. Pat Bailey (YTcomm), a fan, says “He lost his spark when moved to the BBC and the writing got to be more slapstick which I am not a fan of so didn’t tape them but when he moved back to ITV in the middle 90s.”
Here are some screengrabs of Vince Prince sketches from these shows :
Wikipedia comment : Why are only Basildon Bond and C U Jimmy mentioned as characters. Much of Abbot’s popularity lay with his Teddy Boy character, Vince Prince, who appeared in The Black Abbots, Freddy Starr show and later in his own show. Several of his records were based around this persona.
A YouTube commentator asked recently “Seriously, why was Russ so obsessed with the 50’s rockabilly era?”. This hardly deserves an answer but it is in part because Chester-born Russ was 13 in 1960, and like many who lived through that era could only have been very aware of what teddy boys were.