of the week

There are, thankfully, very few situations when I’ve been out DJing and really embarrassed myself, but the most memorable moment was in 1991 when I was doing a residency in Hinckley in Leicestershire and one night a guy came up to me and said, “Have you got Right Said Fred?”, I said, “What, by Bernard Cribbins?” Bizarrely he said yes and walked away. I’m now thinking how am I going to programme this track into a Saturday night club night. Anyway, the time came to play some cheesy tracks and so I slipped it in and the floor cleared. Not wanting to totally take the blame, I saw the guy who asked for it and announced that it was for him. He wasn’t happy and came storming over and said, “What did you said that for?” I said because you asked for it. Anyway, the outcome was that he wanted the new single BY Right Said Fred which, at the point I knew nothing about. I established he wanted I’m Too Sexy and promptly played it the following week. It went down well but what a shame the man who asked for it the week before was nowhere to be seen. I had just about put it out of my mind and only get reminded of it when the song crops up, so, thanks Henry! Ok, let’s deal with Right Said Fred’s only UK number one hit.

The only people reading this who won’t know who Bernard Cribbins is will be the very younger generation. So to enlighten you on the wonderful man: when he was interviewed by the (young) presenters on the One Show a few years ago, he had to inform them that years before he was an established actor, he was a pop star. In 1962, he scored three chart hits with the novelty songs The Hole In The Ground, Right, Said Fred and Gossip Calypso. He had appeared in hundreds of shows but his most famous roles were as the stationmaster, Albert Perks in The Railway Children and as Mr Hutchinson in Fawlty Towers as well as spending many years writing comedy shows and delighting children as the voice of all of the Wombles.

In 1991, two brothers from Sussex, Fred and Richard Fairbrass, who ran their own gym in West London, decided to form a band. They recruited a guitarist from Putney, Rob Manzoli who they saw rehearing in a spare room in their gym. “We needed a name very quickly as we had to get the info into Time Out for some upcoming shows,” they told Spencer Leigh. “A friend of mine, Kate Randall, suggested the name as she had just heard Bernard Cribbins’ song on the radio and we just liked it. They donned some tight lycra and proved to the world there was still a place in the pop chart for bald men in their 30s. “We went for the name because we knew it was stupid,” he added.

Their first single, I’m Too Sexy, came about during a tea break from recording. They had programmed a bass-line into a computer and it kept repeating it. All of a sudden Richard began singing, ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ and he and Rob fell about laughing. Fred, however, was a bit more serious about it, but Richard soon convinced him it was OK. The song went to number one in over 25 countries including the US, but at home they were unable to get past Bryan Adams and had to make do with six weeks at number two. For the follow-up, Don’t Talk Just Kiss, they invited soul diva, Jocelyn Brown to help out and that song reached number three. Both tracks were featured on their debut album Up, which also went to number one. The third single, Deeply Dippy went all the way to the top. “I’m not sure what it actually means,” Richard said, “it’s just an expression that came from an episode of Jeeves And Wooster, I think.”

Their success in America came by luck. Initially I’m Too Sexy failed to excite the American record buyers, but thanks to an American radio DJ who had been on holiday in the UK, heard it, bought it and took it back to play on his radio programme, it took off and went to number one, but that was it. They became confined to the one-hit-wonder category. When it came to Deeply Dippy, Richard was convinced it was going to be a hit but it was hindered by its video. We’d made the video in the UK and it was shown to the American label, and they had us re-shoot the video on the QE2 because the UK version was ‘too gay,’ apparently. So maybe that was a problem, and also the fact that Deeply Dippy wasn’t a dance track, it’s a swing track. Maybe we should have followed it up with a track that was much closer to ‘Sexy.’ To be honest with you, we didn’t analyse it too much. We weren’t terribly motivated by that. It was disappointing, but we just kind of got on with it. We didn’t harbour any grudges or anything. We just kind of got on with new stuff and went where that stuff took us. Because of the nature of the video and the track, people liked to assume that we were a bit stupid, and that we couldn’t play, none of which is true.” Fred explained to Greg Prato.

The song  is unusual in as much as the title came first and the song followed, “We just liked the nursery rhyme nature of it, we just liked the repetition. We liked each verse starting with the title of the song. That was it, really. Nothing more than that,” Richard and Fred agreed. The brass section was: Molly Duncan on saxophone, Neil Sidwell on trumpet and Sid Gauld on trombone. Molly, who is a man called Malcolm, Molly is just a nickname, was a founding member of the Average White Band who died October 2019 from cancer. Richard said, “We got very lucky with the brass section, because they were really on it that day, they were fantastic.”

In 1993 they were invited to record the annual Comic Relief song, Stick It Out, which reached number four and was credited to Right Said Fred and Friends. Those friends being: Jools Holland, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, Peter Cook, Steve Coogan, Clive Anderson, Hugh Laurie, Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson, Basil Brush and, of course, Bernard Cribbins.

Right Said Fred broke up in 1994. Richard made regular appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and went on to present his own show Gaytime TV. In 2001, they were back, now as a duo of just the Fairbrass brothers and they had one final Top 20 hit with You’re My Mate. Richard said, “I just wanted to write a song about being friends. There are plenty of songs about love but not many about friendships. We’re doing really well in Europe, especially Germany, but the UK doesn’t cherish its more idiosyncratic artists, and that’s a shame.”

After another short sabbatical in the early 2000s, the brothers returned and recorded the albums For Sale (2006), I’m A Celebrity (2008), Stop the World (2011) and Exactly! in 2017, none of which sold that well.

When they were asked whether being a one-hit-wonder in the States bothered them, Richard said, “Anybody who hasn’t been number one in America can shove off. It’s better to be a one-hit wonder than a no-hit wonder.”