The Boys in Blue

Every Wednesday, I revisit a film that I have strong memories of watching, to see how well my memories of it hold up to scrutiny, and whether the film is as good (or as bad) as I remember.

What I remember.

I could, if I was inclined, probably work out the exact date I watched this film. It was at the end of the first term of my second year at Liverpool University. I watched it with the only other person in a shared house who hadn’t gone home for Christmas yet. I think I went home later that day. Watching The Boys in Blue was probably the highlight of my academic year up to that point. I had a miserable couple of months. I dropped out over the holidays. With hindsight, I was probably depressed. Whatever was nagging at my brain then was more than my surroundings. I had good friends. Liverpool is a great place to live. But something felt horribly wrong with my life all the time. Being down was a constant. It would be an exaggeration to say that my parents noticing how badly I didn’t want to go back to university saved my life but all the greatest things that have happened to me since (going back to university to study literature instead of science, marrying the coolest person I’ve ever met, moving to Manchester, becoming a dad, everything I have done and everyone I have met because of my writing, the friends I have made etc etc) can be traced back to that Christmas.

But enough about me. Let’s focus on the movie.

I remember laughing all the way through The Boys in Blue. I remember thinking, “This is so much funnier than I remember their tv series being. This is great.” But how much of that was an almost crazed relief at knowing I was, temporarily, escaping an environment I was miserable in? That  would only become apparent if and when I rewatched The Boys in Blue. So I did that.

What I expected.

Not that much. For those of you who don’t remember, Cannon and Ball were one of the most popular comedy acts of the 1980s. They were part of the last wave of light entertainment, end-of-the-pier comedy. By the end of the decade, the largest names of ‘alternative comedy’ (French and Saunders, Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle etc) had become the new mainstream. They were never cool. Some would say they were never funny. Your nan thought they were hilarious. Deep down I suspected that The Boys in Blue would turn out to be awful.

What I found.

The Boys in Blue is awful. To say it is dated is an understatement. It is a live-action version of one of those ‘saucy’ postcards they sell in Blackpool. It is being trapped by your friend’s weird uncle at a family party, having to listen to his thoughts about your mother’s dress and what it does and doesn’t do for her figure, brought to life on the silver screen. It spends ten minutes on a running gag about one character looking up another character’s skirt. You watch at least half of it groaning at how embarrassingly sexist it is. It is cack. Utter, utter cack. And yet…

Bobby Ball, blimey, that guy had funny bones. Even with a script as weak as the one he was lumbered with he manages to create a few moments of comedy gold. He was a natural. Watching him struggle within the confines of the film is like watching a tiger pacing in a cage, the occasional roar giving you a glimpse of what might be possible if he escaped. If Ball had less star potential, the film would be unwatchable. But because he clearly had something special, and the makers of the film worked so hard to crush it, it is hard to look away. Ball is a man out of time. Born thirty years earlier or later there might be a classic film that owed its status to his performance.

Cannon is underserved by the script too, but as the straight man the gap between potential and reality isn’t quite as pronounced.

So, how good was my memory?

Bad, but I’m giving myself a pass on this one. The last time I watched The Boys in Blue I was in a dark place.

And how good is the film?

It’s shit but I’m not sure it matters. It was there for me at a difficult time. I’ll always be grateful to it for that.