Way back, in early 1987, following an enquiry to Roger Penycate for a "Fawlty Towers" themed evening, five naturally funny people planned to don waiters uniforms, infiltrate and work alongside genuine waiting and hotel staff and, as far as they knew, for the first time, play around with the guests' perceptions.
After weeks of planning and several site visits, at 7:15pm on the 23rd July 1987 the coaches eventually rolled up the drive of the Raven Hotel, Droitwich, Worcestershire.
The white chalk body outline of the night porter in front of the main entrance, cordoned off with police tape, conveniently obliged the guests to enter the hotel via the kitchen. Memories of the chef with his feet in a steaming bowl of hot water, coupled with the stench emanating from a bubbling cauldron, are probably still with them today.
drinks, the real barman was asked to hit the gin (water - honest)
optic and, with his back to the guests, swiftly down yet another
neat one. Meanwhile, with the French windows open, outside, on
a lovely summer evening, a gardener was sweeping leaves with
his headset on, singing and whistling out of tune to Foreigner's
"I Wanna Know What Love Is".'
With 70 guests invited and only six tables of ten laid, mayhem very quickly ensued. The organiser, (who was in on the gag) was clearly seen by his colleagues complaining to the hotel manager.
With the ringing of an old school bell at 8.23pm, dinner was called. Then the antics really began. A grubby bandage on a waiter's hand led to guests feeling sorry for the poor chap - still having to work with such a nasty squirrel bite. Another waiter was seen sneakily swigging from several wine bottles carefully hidden around the room then slowly feeling the effects. Unusual sound effects were played in the kitchen; identical twins were used to confuse guests; maintenance men were in and out with toolboxes and all manner of power tools, finally used to drill under the top table.
With all this,
guests soon realised that they had been, and still were, part
of the entertainment. All they could do now was continue to eat,
drink, and enjoy the rest of the show. After coffee, we were
officially exposed during an announcement by the organiser. An
acoustic sing-a-long by the performers was followed by a huge
round of applause. A new act, called Spanner in the Works, was
OUR FIRST BROCHURE (1988)
to the lack of previous clients we could claim to have "Spannered",
it was decided to make a few up, i.e. Arthur Tagnutt Filings
Ltd, TBC Computers whose names appeared alongside real clients
who had no idea that we were, in those early days, making it
up as we went along.
We had, however, stumbled upon yet another angle: our target market was obviously corporate, definitely blue chip. The name Spanner in the Works was perfect. The world of business was literally crammed with people striving to get things right, day in day out, and yet here we were getting things wrong and people paying us for it. Within a year, and with a few big names under our belt, it was time for our second brochure.
The second spanner brochure saw a change in size due to entertainment agents' moaning that A5 envelopes were more expensive than DL. The new A4 brochure, folded twice, had the added advantage of fitting more easily into prospective clients' jacket pockets, handbags, office swingbins etc.....
A new Spanner line-up also appeared. Miss Virginia Twelvetrees was drafted in as the puddled waitress, whilst Lionel Fisk and Bunty Cavetorch fulfilled their life-long ambition to live on a canal boat and set sail off up the Grand Union. Neither of them have been seen since.
New staff meant new photographs. Peter Mardi, the maintenance man, asked his retired next door neighbour, Ken Wilden, to snap us in a makeshift home studio. The results were dreadful: poorly lit, grainy, badly framed - perfect for our new front cover. The individual mug shots were equally cack and we struggled to explain to him that whilst we knew his work was shoddy, it was at the same time brilliant.
By this time we also had a rather impressive client list which meant we no longer had to resort to dreaming up new ones. We were also being hounded by the media, and not just the paper stuff.
BBC Radio 1 gave its Hairy Monster listeners the chance to become a Spanner member for the day by answering a simple question connected to the video launch of a spoof movie. A young girl from North Wales won the competition and she joined the Spanner team in a marquee by the Thames in Henley. She was also lucky enough to meet the great Jim Bowen.
This line up lasted only 18 months before Miss Twelvetrees decided that life in a van with three blokes was too much for a delicate performing artiste. She left Spanner to pursue her career as a comedienne and, after failing miserably, has unsurprisingly set up in competition against us. Time for our third brochure.
Enter Myfanwy Skwirhyl. Welsh, strawberry blonde (ginger) and completely off her chump. From a small farming village in South Wales and no previous experience or entertainment background, she proved to be a natural.
Brochure number three was more professional: good photography, well written, nice layout, great reviews and the work was rolling in, not just for comedy waiters either.
Ford were launching a new car called 'The Probe' at the London Motor Show. How would Spanner like to entertain the queues for the Ford stand? Yes please. So, for 11 whole days we had the enviable task of taking the piss out of the general public, whilst, of course, pointing out the hundreds of marvellous features of this new vehicle and constantly reminding everyone and anyone that "everything we do is driven by you".
Despite increasing success and the popularity of the act, we were repeatedly being asked "Why isn't your maintenance man funny?". This got us thinking that surely the minimum requirement for being in a comedy act is indeed to be funny. The most natural course of action for Mr Bup was to join forces with the equally unfunny, and unstable, Virginia Twelvetrees. Dumb f***s. Time for our fourth brochure.
THE FOURTH BROCHURE (1995)
still had a vacancy, with an ad placed in the local paper for
performers to join a corporate comedy act we were inundated with
resting pond life from all over the Midlands. After a whole two
days of auditions, interviewing and several fits of laughter
a friend of spanner called out of the blue.
The rest was History.
MORE RECENT HISTORY
Plagiarise vt.vi. steal from writings or ideas of another and use as one's own.
Over the last couple of months we have had many calls to our office, from friends and fans of Spanner, who have noticed what they are calling "competition" suddenly hitting the market.
We have already
been passed a selection of the brochures put out by these so
called competitors. Perhaps we should be flattered?
Whilst we here at Spanner have nothing against church hall amateur dramatics types, we do feel that they should perhaps stick to resting when, for some reason (and it baffles us too), their particular genre of work dries up. After all, on the few free nights we get you don't see us waving a medieval blanket around or offering Death on the menu. Unlike them, we stick to what we're good at.
Of course, we appreciate that there is plenty of room between the giant's legs, but it is a shame when potential Spanner clients end up witnessing something cheap, second rate and "hammy" that the giant wouldn't even wipe his arse on. And remember, if you pay peanuts......
So, if you want to be entertained by comedy waiters, please, please, please ask whether your performers are comedians or resting actors. Believe us, if you could witness them both ....... there is no comparison.
For any would be competitors who may be reading this, (including ex-Spanner performers) please note:-
We are planning a "Comedy Waiting Seminar" later in the year, at the ICC in Birmingham. During the morning we will be presenting the new Spanner portfolio of brands. In the afternoon we will be holding a special new ideas workshop for the untalented, simply entitled "Plagiarism Made Easy", followed by a lengthy talk from Professor Isaac Foozling on "Undercutting the Market Leader - Is It Dangerous?" A handy booklet will be issued containing a full listing of contact names and addresses of our photography studio, printer, internet consultant, prop builders, scriptwriters, wardrobe, accountant, solicitors, vehicle maintenance, together with a very useful 135 page brochure outlining new ideas in spoof entertainment to take you safely into the 21st century. Although there will be no entrance fee, you will be required to wear a badge bearing the word " Thief " and be made to walk around the conference all day with it pinned on your velvet tunic. In the evening, you will be invited to a Gala Dinner and treated to a special performance of Spanner in the Works comedy waiters - just in case you missed something (and we doubt it) earlier in the day. We sincerely hope that, following the Seminar, delegates won't feel quite so bad and can start living with themselves more easily.
Incidentally, if you do want Murder then check out "Murder My Lord" by Clive Panto. He, like us, is a brand leader.