Even Ted Chippington himself is baffled by his re-emergence. He tells Andrew Cowen
As far as come-backs go, the return of Ted Chippington is likely to be one of the year’s most unlikely.
For someone seemingly destined to languish in obscurity, the fuss that is currently surrounding the re-emergence of this most peculiar of comedians has baffled most spectators – and Ted himself.
First, a bit of back-story.
Readers of a certain age may remember Ted from numerous support slots with punk and new wave acts. In the late 1970s it was de rigeur to have at least one freak on the bill.
Patrik Fitzgerald, John Cooper Clark and Atilla The Stockbroker were poets who took punk’s confrontational attitude and translated it into street language. Ted Chippington did the same with stand-up comedy.
Ted’s thing was not to make audiences laugh but to get up their noses. Or, as he puts it himself: "To make the main band seem better."
He was very good at it too. With a deadpan Brummie drawl and the sort of gags that would leave most baffled. Invariably starting "I was walking down the road the other day...", Ted’s jokes were zen-like nuggets of pathos, dressed up as nonchalance, with a sting in the tail.
You never knew if you were laughing at him or with him. Take this: "I was walking down the road the other day, this chap comes up to me; he says, "I’ve just got back from ‘Nam." I said, "What d’you mean mate, Vietnam?" He says, "No, Chelte-nam."
Or this: "I was walking down the road the other day, this chap walked up to me and said 'Do you want to buy some grass, mate?' I said 'No thanks, mate, I've got crazy paving. Haven't got a garden, you see.'"
And, maybe his finest quip: "I look forward to when I've got a car and I can drive down the road, so I won't get all these characters coming up to me."
Ted would dress in full Teddy Boy regalia. This in itself would be enough to alienate an audience. He’s the sort of comic who thrives on antagonism, not to show off his masterful put-downs, but simply because he relishes the ruck.
It was inevitable that Ted would branch into recording. One of the highlights of his gigs would be the performing of hits from the good old days. the Birmingham record label, Vindaloo, which was also home to the Nightingales and Fuzzbox, released his version of Dion’s The Wanderer in which the boastfulness of the original lyrics was turned on its head: "I'm not the wanderer, I'm not the wanderer... not too keen on roaming around and around and around" and he almost had a hit single with Rocking With Rita, a jamboree which featured the ‘gales and Fuzzbox.
However, his blatant disregard for the rules of the stand-up circuit meant he was destined to always be an outsider. This was when the likes of Ben Elton and The Young Ones were starting to break through, but Ted’s work had none of the Thatcher-baiting anarchy of the new bucks and he found himself an outsider.
Ted simply got bored and moved on.
"I never wanted to have records released," he explains. "When I found myself on Pebble Mill I realised It had got out of hand.
"People who weren’t in on the joke wanted to mould me into this one hit wonder oddity and Warners wanted to strike while the iron was hot. They thought I had the chance of making hits, but luckily it failed."
It was during a small tour of America that Ted decided to jump ship and simply stayed behind when the rest of the Vindaloo crowd came back.
Legend has it that he drove a truck for a few years, though Ted describes this tale as "rubbish".
"I tried to make a career there," he explains. "The Americans were surprisingly responsive but it never really took off. It’s such a big place. I stayed there til I couldn’t afford it."
Returning to the UK, Ted took on a variety of jobs and settled in London.
"I did what I had to do in order to get by," he says. "I never had any regrets about giving up the comedy. I’d had enough."
But the world hadn’t had enough of Ted.
Over the years, the legend of this remarkable comic has grown to phenomenal proportions. It’s been stoked by several heavyweight names, not least fellow Midlander Stewart Lee, once part of a duo with Richard Herring.
Lee has gone on the record as saying: "The moment I decided to be a stand-up comedian was seeing a stand-up called Ted Chippington supporting The Fall in Birmingham in 1984 when I was 15. Chippington's act was totally different – a mixture of surrealism and insolent provocation and uncompromising boredom.
"I thought it was the coolest thing I ever saw. The show came out as a seven inch 33rpm single on Vindaloo records and I was in the crowd. When I hear tapes of me from 88/89 I am still copying Ted."
Phill Jupitus also credits Ted with opening his eyes to a new style of comedy. Now a respected DJ on BBC 6 Music and captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Phill began his career as a punk stand-up called Porky the Poet.
Things came to a head last year when the Nightingales reformed and started to play gigs.
"I’d always kept in touch with Rob [Lloyd, Nightingales frontman]," Ted explains. "We both lived in London for a while and would go for a pint. Even then I had no inclination to get back into it."
Rob moved back to the Midlands and got the Nightingales started again while Ted relocated to Devon because he "always wanted to live by the seaside".
"Listening to the Nightingales’ new material, I slowly began to think it would be great to do something. They’re not resting on their laurels and just playing their greatest hits."
Ted made his mind up: "I thought I’d take it slowly and see what happens," he says.
Even so, events since then have surprised him. Last Monday, a night at London’s Bloomsbury theatre called Tedstock was a sell-out. Lee and Herring performed together for the first time, alongside a line-up of today’s funniest comics. The Nightingales played and Ted got to do his act before a whole new audience.
Most of whom didn’t get it...
"Everybody went down a storm, except me," he tells me. "I think most were there because of Lee and Herring. I don’t want to sound sentimental but they didn’t have a clue.
"I spotted a few dotted around the edges who seemed to enjoy it but a lot of the acts were just swearing. Some think that’s hilarious, but I don’t. You don’t need to eff and blind to get a laugh."
The evening did achieve its aim of raising enough money to finance the release of a four CD box set of Ted’s work. It includes all the material he released on Vindaloo, plus the cream of his stand-up work from the early days as Eddie Chippington (he changed his name to Ted "due to maturity and baldness") to his final shows before jacking it in. He's going under the name of the Rev Ted Chippington now, perhaps a nod to his cultural canonisation.
He’s playing his first Birmingham show in many years later this month with the Courtesy Group and he’s chomping at the bit:
"I’m looking forward to the Birmingham show. It’s bound to be good because I know the area and the people. I’m just going to make it up on the spot and I’m sure the crowd will be up for it."
Whether this is just another blip before Ted Chippington disappears again or a full-on renaissance, you owe it to yourself to see this living legend while you have a chance.
See Ted Chippington at the Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath on February 24. Tickets for the gig cost £7 on door, Advance tickets cost £5 and are available from Swordfish Records (Temple st, Birmingham 0121 633 4859 ) & Jibbering Records (Moseley 0121 449 4551) Walking Down The Road: A History Of Ted Chippington a four CD box set is available at gigs and by enquiring to firstname.lastname@example.org. More at www.myspace.com/revtedchippington