Memorable Top Of The Pops moments: Bad Manners do the Can Can… in a dress

Lip up everyone. Today we’re cavorting back to 1981 to revisit a jolly French folly from British party band that went on to be one of the top dogs in the 2 Tone ska revival scene, the larger than life ensemble that is Bad Manners. 

Let’s do the can-can. 

Bad Manners were always good fun to watch on TV, and one of the main reasons for the band’s notoriety was their outlandish, eccentric frontman Buster Bloodvessel. 

With his exceptionally long tongue, big personality and even bigger figure, bald-headed Buster — thirty-something stone at his heaviest — was what the press liked to call back then ‘zany’.

It was that entertaining don’t give a toss what people think attitude that puts Bad Manners in the Top Of The Pops hall of fame with an utterly hilarious performance of Can Can.

Released in June 1981, the kooky cover was Bad Manners’ sixth single and joint biggest hit, matching the number three peak of 1980’s Special Brew, though, unsurprisingly, the later wordless romp was their only record that did anything on the continent. 

With admirable gusto, the week after my 12th birthday Bad Manners performed the track on the 2 July edition of the BBC’s Thursday night music show Top Of The Pops. Save for fellow Two-Tone merchants The Specials’ featuring Terry Hall hobbling about Ghost Town with a walking stick, it was an admittedly otherwise unremarkable episode thankfully lightened by Bloodvessel’s high octane antics.

Don’t be fooled by the band as blond bewigged musical ensemble seated at the rear of the stage; they may be playing (well, OK, miming) what is officially Galop Inferna from Jacques Offenbach’s 1858 operetta Orphée aux Enfers, but all semblance of dignity is torpedoed as the prince Buster of bluster comes cartwheeling in wearing a full length frilly yellow can-can dress, Dr. Marten boots and bloomers, a gender bending tribute to the Moulin Rouge dancers that made the can-can famous around the world. 

And while Buster‘s buddies do their best to get noticed – standing up to play their parts, hammering comically on the piano, wandering around the back of the set banging on a marching drum – they’re clearly fighting a losing battle. Having little to do other than utter a few meaningless but rhythmically important vocal ticks, BB can concentrate instead on an impressive performance of acrobatics, high kicks and general fannying about, with occasional solarised clips of actual can-can dancers inserted as if to censor parts of his on-stage performance which may have been considered too outrageous for family viewing.

My mother, sister and I literally couldn’t stop laughing the entire performance. Job done then.*

It remains one of my favourite appearances in the show’s long and rich history. In fact, I don’t recall anything as visually arresting as that on TOTP again until – be still irony – Divine’s headline-grabbing turn three years later with You Think You’re A Man.

Fat man in a dress. Theme developing much?

The brilliant thing about Buster Bloodvessel was that, like Divine, he completely owned his obesity and made his fatness absolutely fabulous. 

This was, lest we forget, the man who went on to open a joyfully outsized hotel “for over-eaters” called Fatty Towers, complete with extra large beds and baths, an annual Belly Of The Year contest, and a restaurant whose specialities included the candidly-named Lard Arse Pudding. 

Please Sir, can I have some more?

After myriad performances that included dressing up in a grass skirt and as Henry VII (not at the same time), Bad Manners became TOTP’s most regular guests after the Welsh wonder Shakin’ Stevens.

Alas, Buster Bloodvessel would suffer the same fate as Divine by being blacklisted by the programme when he painted his head bright red without consulting the slightly less fat controller of the show Michael Hurll. 

“The lights were blue and it made the top of my head look like it wasn’t there,” he chuckled, as he recalled the gruesome illusion that greeted TOTP viewers to the Manchester Evening News in 2010. “I just wanted to look like a giant spot.”

“I think being banned from Top Of The Pops did affect us commercially. We got banned from Italian TV, too, because I mooned (above) and I didn’t know the Pope was watching. All I was doing was making sure Barry White had a hard time on stage after me. At the time, I had this model girlfriend. The paparazzi were following me round trying to get a picture of the man who mooned the Pope. One climbed on the hotel balcony trying to take photos. It was crazy.”

Steve Pafford, France

*Bizarrely, Bad Manners are set to play MK11 club in Milton Keynes on my birthday, which used to be my father’s Friday night boozing joint, ten minutes from the house where the rest of us watched Can Can that July evening.

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