Joey Deacon

Joey Deacon belming

One of those collisions of thought happened in my mind the other day. Pink Floyd were involved - The Final Cut, an album which seems to be involved in all sorts of weird shit at the moment. Pink Floyd are good. Some people do not know Pink Floyd, which is sad, though not as sad as people not knowing Barclay James Harvest. I like to sing along to Pink Floyd; sometimes I sing quite loud.

Roger Waters:
(accompanied by Pigeon)
   Should we shout, should we scream, what happened to the post war dream?
Distant listener (hears
sudden bellow from Pigeon):
   Who the fuck's Maggie?
Pigeon:    Fucking Thatcher, of course... Oh shit... You won't remember Thatcher, will you... or not a lot at any rate...

A sobering thought. There are people now well into adulthood who do not have vivid memories of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Not because there is something wrong with their heads, but because Thatcher's reign passed while they were still in the blissful political innocence of childhood. Fuck that makes me feel ancient. And I'm not, particularly. (At least, as far as I know. I'm not into birthdays, and anyway with the interesting thing that happens when I hit 88mph on my MZ it's easy to lose track...)

And then, an even more sobering thought hit.

Can't remember Thatcher... implies...


Fuck, there must be millions of them... Paying taxes, driving cars, buying their own drinks in bars, got the vote (a desperate hope), some smoke fags and some smoke dope, probably some of them are rescuing injured pigeons. And they can't remember Joey Deacon. Denied a full understanding of the subtler nuances of flapping their clawed, twisted, limp-wristed hands together and biting their shoulder while standing behind someone who is doing something stupid. Forging their way in the world, being shafted by the government, and denied the small solace of being able to comment on some particularly imbecilic piece of govern–mentalism by pushing their tongue between their lower lip and their teeth and going Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! I mean, look at Iraq... they didn't find any WMDs and now the whole place is one gigantic clusterfuck. What's the most cathartic reaction? You could go "Oops, silly Tony got it wrong"... or you could go "Well, what the fuck did you expect, Joey Blair? Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! (flap, spasm) Tony is a deacon, (tongue behind lower lip) Ttttwnnnyyyyy zzzzzthth uuuhhh dddddEEEknnn (contort, drool) Mwwthmm gghhuuuuu nnnngh". Which - and be honest with yourself here - would you really prefer to do? Which one would be more appropriate to the situation, which one would provide the greater emotional release? It's the Joey one, isn't it... it has to be, unless your life has been impoverished by missing out on the whole Joey experience. I suppose it's a case of "what you don't know you can't miss", but the life of one who does not remember Joey Deacon must surely be sorely lacking.

Well, it's one of those things... if you weren't there at the time then maybe you'll never grasp it. You have to remember watching that seminal Blue Peter broadcast, you have to have that vivid memory of, the next morning, seeing someone's inadvertent clumsiness or stupidity inducing a reaction of "You fucking Joey! Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh!" (fx: flap clawed hands, tongue behind lip, bite shoulder). You have to remember your reaction - whether it was the kudos of being the first one to call someone a Joey, the shame of being the recipient of the insult yourself, the immediate feeling of being slightly shocked but within five minutes calling people Joeys yourself, or perhaps you were the stuck-up git who made out that you found it really offensive while refusing to admit to yourself that really you thought it was just as funny as everyone else did. You have to remember the craze growing as Blue Peter continued in blissful innocence to feed the flames, until less than a minute's conversation was more than sufficient time for someone to have gone Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! and flailed spasmodically about. You have to remember the variety of insults in use, ranging from a quick and discreet shove of the tongue behind the bottom lip to the full-blown drooling-and-convulsing-on-the-floor spaz-out. You have to have been there.

Oh, I know that the insult "Joey" hung on for a while, for all I know it's still going. But it appears that its meaning was rapidly forgotten once it was taken up by those who could not remember Joey himself. Certainly this poster on a forum has got it wrong:

I believe the correct use of the word "Joey" is reserved for when one person would do the bidding of another without question. The others would all then call him a "Joey" (e.g. "You're such a Joey, man".) this subsequent poster noted:

And he's wrong anyway. You call someone "Joey" when they've been a bit of a spazz...

What is really needed is for the BBC to repeat the Joey broadcasts every few years or so... and a time machine to make this schedule alteration retroactive. (Hmm. Have to fix the flux capacitor on the MZ.) It is tragic that an ever-growing segment of the population is having to face the world with no memories of the Joey Deacon experience.

So, if you are a member of said segment, you may be wondering what this is all about... Well, it started at the time - which, if I remember rightly, was between The Wall and The Final Cut (just to keep up the irrelevant Pink Floyd reference, because I like Pink Floyd) - that the BBC programme "Blue Peter" made a series of broadcasts featuring Joey Deacon. Joey was a cerebral palsy sufferer who had been in institutions since childhood. When another inmate, Ernie, proved able to understand Joey's attempts at speech, Joey decided to write a book about his life and used the proceeds to build bungalows for himself and his friends. This heartwarming story was shown bit by bit on Blue Peter, along with plugs for the book, and we eventually got to see Joey and his friends move into their new bungalows and live happily ever after, or rather until they died, which was sad, especially as it wasn't very long after, not much of an "ever" at all in fact, at least for Joey, though I think the others lasted a bit longer.

Unfortunately, the programme producers had not thought through the consequences of showing lengthy sequences of a drooling, grunting spastic at peak viewing time. As implied in preceding paragraphs, the next morning people up and down the country were rapidly developing Joey impersonations into an art form. Kudos was obtained by going to new extremes in twisted and clawed hands, jerking arms, facial contortions, drooling, spasmodic vocalisations, attempts to eat one's own shoulder, and for special emphasis dropping to the floor, adopting a foetal position and undergoing violent grunting convulsions. "Doing the Deacon" was the hot new performance art, "Joey" was the hot new insult, and woe betide anyone with the misfortune to have the surname "Deacon" or a given name with the initial syllable "Joe". A whole vocabulary of mangled vocalisations developed, finely tuned to express different degrees of "Joey–ness" in whatever the recipient of the insult was being insulted for. A quick shove of the tongue behind the lower lip could be used to discreetly insult someone without (in theory) anyone not in the line of sight noticing. Joey was a phenomenon. Just not in the way Blue Peter had hoped he would be.

Looking back, it's hard to see what else they expected. It's human nature to take the piss. People know it's wrong, but that doesn't stop them doing it, and once you start laughing at it it just gets funnier the more out of order it is. And look at the size of the stimulus - a whole bunch of 25-minute programmes, each with most of the time devoted to the Blue Peter team patronising Joey as he grunted and twitched in his wheelchair, and watched by several million people. Given that sort of input, any group of people of non-negligible size is going to contain at least one person who starts taking the piss, and once one in the group starts doing it everybody's doing it. That's what people are like, and it's no good being all wishy-washy and trying to pretend everybody's nice, because real-world experience suggests that the most useful definition of a "nice person" is someone who manages to refrain from doing Joey impressions when someone in a wheelchair is actually present.

Still, they managed to plug Joey's book sufficiently successfully that it sold enough copies to pay for the bungalows, even if they did talk to him as if he was stupid, which he wasn't. Or to pay for something, perhaps it had already paid for the bungalows. Or perhaps it had only partly paid for the bungalows before Blue Peter got involved. Fuck it, I can't remember but they plugged it a lot to pay for some worthy cause and it did pay for whatever it was. So I guess the materialistic result was achieved. But they also set in motion the biggest mass pisstake in the country, which seared the minds of a generation. How do you think Joey Deacon is remembered these days - by way of being a gutsy guy who overcame tremendous difficulties and managed to get custom-designed homes built for himself and his friends, or by way of Eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwnnnnnngggrrrh! ...?? Google knows...

This is perhaps the definitive Joey Deacon site. Joey also has his own Wikipedia entry.

RIP Joey, you left us too soon but you have gone to a better place now. And your memory lives on, even if the hero you were is not the hero you are remembered as.

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