Although little known outside London, Victor Lewis Smith was a staple of my early youth. He was a comedian who was best known (by those few who know him) for his sketch show on BBC Radio 1, which only ran for two series (1990 and 1992). His sense of humour was, to say the least, surreal, tasteless, offensive and very funny indeed.
Unfortunately for him, this field of humour seems lately to be dominated by the likes of Chris Morris, with whom Smith has long carried on a feud of swapped insults and mutual criticism. Smith's and Morris' styles do vary quite considerably however. While Morris is almost always the same character - that of a perfectly parodied Newsnight style presenter - and often presents disturbing and surreal situations in his usual cynical, laid-back manner, Smith is bursting with an impatient, unstable energy.
A typical Victor Lewis Smith radio show consisted of several sketches interspersed with hoax phone calls which were almost always a breach of his contract, landing the management in trouble on several occasions. These ranged from calling a local video store trying to sell his own video into the animal "lovers" section (don't ask) to calling up the CIA and asking to be a spy.
Many of his sketches were tasteless stabs at a person or group (deriding the working classes was a running theme throughout both series) and many other sketches just took a simple play on words to the extreme. Often a sketch was merely a buildup to such a simple punchline or cliched joke that the very fact Smith built it up for so long is what made it so funny. Many a show would typically end with a happy little song about something rather more adult than the tune would suggest, such as taking a very unsubtle swipe at christians and the greed of television advertisers.
Unfortunately, the show was too offensive and dangerous even for Radio 1's midnight slot, and was never broadcast after 1992. It did lead however to a brief place on television in 1993 where he set many of his classic radio sketches to bits of film or bizarre animations on a thirty minute show called Inside Victor Lewis Smith. This only ran for six episodes, from November to December of that year. However, in October of 1997, Smith returned to TV via a pilot of a program called TV Offal on Channel 4. Although the mix of sketches and other ideas was difficult to define, Channel 4 themselves had this to say:
"Having scoured the skips and bins of TV broadcasting and plundered the graveyards of student television stations, Victor has, in his own unique and bizarre fashion, constructed an archive programme that treats its material (celebrity and otherwise) with a savage combination of satire and scatology. But, in his own words: 'It isn't another It'll be Alright on the Night, because you can tell from what you see that it'll be anything but alright on the night.'"
A series of six half-hour programs was commissioned, which ran from May 22 1998 at the suitably late time of 11pm. One of the more controversial regulars of the show was the Gay Daleks sketch. The opening scene was that of a dalek following a shady looking man into a public toilet, with pink lettering flashing up on the screen "They're camp! They exterminate! Better watch your backs! It's the Gay Daleks!" Even with this new format, Smith could not resist throwing in his now trademark prank phone calls into the mix.
Lamentably, Smith seems to have caused too much offense over the years to have any more shows broadcast by anyone, having trod the path Chris Morris now seems to be headed down. He still works as a TV critic for the London Evening Standard which he has been doing for many years, and also puts together the Funny Old World section of Private Eye. He is now probably better known for these than his early sketch show days.