Thursday, 29 October 2009

Joyeux Anniversaire, by Toutatis!

Today, somewhere in a corner of north-west France, residents of an imaginary small village will feast raucously around a huge fire, clashing their flagons of ale together and tearing strips of freshly cooked wild boar off the bone with their teeth. They will not fret about camps of Afghani and Iraqi refugees, the affects of the global financial crisis on the local wine industry or the buying up of local farmhouses by wealthy British couples looking for a continental pied-à-terre. No, the only thing they will fear is that the sky might fall on their heads (and that their might not be enough boar to last the night).

Who are these people? They are the Gauls; magic potion swilling, menhir carrying, boar loving, pun-tastic warriors and scourge of all Rome (the ancient one). The feast is to celebrate the 50th birthday of their most famous son - Asterix – the diminutive, blond-pigtailed hero with an unlikely moustache whose first adventures were published on 29 October 1959.

Given my accidental career as a professional paper shuffler and work dodger my personal 2-D Gallic hero is actually Franquin’s bony-arsed flâneur, Gaston Lagaffe. That said I’ve had some good times with Asterix and co over the years; first as a youngster reading the English versions – when I loved Asterix’s dopey but big hearted partner Obelix - and then again years later as a French student when I discovered just how clever the originals were.

Much of the appeal of Asterix for adults is in spotting and unpicking the bad puns and jeux de mots that are threaded into every element of the stories. One particularly fine example of the linguistic agility by creators Goscinny and Uderzo got me hooked on the French versions. During a spectacular battle involving chariots and huge mechanical catapults, our hero expresses his awe of the futuristic war machines ('des machines de guerre'). Getafix - the pacifist Obi-Wan Kenobi-like druid – responds blithely 'Je n'aime guère ces machins’ ('I don’t like these thingies much'). No? Oh well. It impressed me…

More of this kind of thing can be found in the rather impressive Wikipedia entry on Asterix characters, which offers multi-language translations of the main character names. As in English, the names are painfully bad plays on words such as Assurancetourix (Fully Comprehensive Insurance) and Ordralfabétix (Alphabetical Order). I quite like the idea that the 100 or so languages into which Asterix has been translated are all linked in their ability to mangle words in search of a bad pun. It’s the kind of thing that can bring about world peace in the wrong hands.

There’s no denying that some of the humour in Asterix has dated over the half century. In particular the (gentle) racial stereotyping that for a while was the central premise of each book (Asterix in “insert country name here”) is even less relevant that the Eurovision song contest. And yet some stories are remarkably prescient. 1976’s Obelix and Co is about the collapse of economies both local and global as corporate greed sneaks into the sleepy village and then out into Roman occupied Europe. Sound familiar?

Over the years Asterix has come to represent something special to the French. A small village of indomitable Gauls standing up to the invading Roman Empire has significant symbolism for a nation that has staunch protectionism laws to shelter French language and culture from global Anglicisation. There are also anti-modernisation (for which read anti-Americanisation) themes that still pre-occupy many Europeans. French ‘anti-globalisation campaigner’ Jose Bové (in reality a loony who blew up a McDonald’s) was also likened to our eponymous hero but I think that was more about their matching moustaches. Either way it’s important to note that the Gauls’ resistance, like that of others in their history, means a great deal to the French psyche.

Yet, with over 300 million books sold worldwide, clearly Asterix and co mean something to the rest of us too and sadly for you cold cynics out there I think that this thing is heart. Central to each story are themes of comradeship, community, living life on your terms, not having to grow up and simple pleasures like eating and drinking and taking illicitly brewed potent drugs so you can beat the crap out of authoritarian figures. Now who doesn’t fancy a bit of that, by Toutatis!

Monday, 26 October 2009

How to Cook... Cheese Savoury

What is your favourite food? Your absolute favourite. The one you’d have request for your last meal. The food you’d choose if, as a result of some unlikely and disastrous gastric surgery your Doctor said you had to eat for the rest of your life? When push doesn’t so much come to shove as jizz in its face? When someone is indeed holding you down, with a gun to your head and screaming ‘tell me your favouritejust fucking tell me!’ You know - that kind of favourite food?

My favourite food is unquestionably sandwiches. I love sandwiches. I love cold sandwiches, bread sandwiches, sandwiches in rolls, toasted sandwiches, open sandwiches, pre-packaged sandwiches, crusts on, crusts off, white, brown, wholemeal, multigrain, sough dough, Turkish, club and baguette. I love picnic sandwiches, 24-hour garage sandwiches, buffet sandwiches and even limp working lunch sarnies with repetitive fillings and a dearth of pescatarian options. In France I was mocked daily for being an English ignoramus who cut his mopping up bread in half and filled it with fancy fare from my plate. I didn’t care. I love sandwiches.

As a sandwich lover, Newcastle-upon-Tyne is some kind of heaven for random food groups lovingly served up between two pieces of bread-related product. Whilst it’s hard to argue with the iconic
Gregg’s Cheese and Onion Pastie as the north east food of choice, they are sadly only available at Gregg’s and so based on availability alone, the sandwich reigns supreme.

Before Prêt-a-Manger came along and baguette-ified everything, sandwiches in Newcastle were generally served in
Stotties – flat, round bread buns unlike any other bread bun on Earth. Their size and shape make them highly conducive to stuffing with huge amounts of filling with minimum spillage. Amongst my pre-vegetarian Stottie favourites were chicken and sweetcorn; ham and pease pudding; chips and chilli sauce; tuna salad and egg and bacon rolls.

However, there is one sandwich filling that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s cheesy, it’s tangy, it’s crunchy, it’s very orange. It is Cheese Savoury and this is how you make it…

You Will Need:
  • 250g of mature cheddar cheese
  • A red onion
  • 1 medium sized carrot
  • Ranch dressing or Creamy Mayonnaise
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 box of tissues
  • 1 pair of googly stick on eyes (optional)

Step 1: Grate cheese into a bowl. All of it. Use a proper grater - one that you can lose skin on; you need your cheese chunky.

Step 2: Grate the onion. Use tissues as required until eyesight returns. (Mint Custard endorses the 'Limited Edition' Wall-E tissues, still available from a well known purveyor of paper hankies who clearly overestimated how popular the movie would be amongst tissue users). Chuck grated onion in the bowl with cheese.

Step 3: Grate carrot. To make this more entertaining I applied googly eyes to the carrot. Whilst grating I made noises like Robert Shaw as he slid down the deck into the mouth of Jaws. This is optional. Place grated carrot in bowl. This is not optional.

Step 4: take a moment to remember your fallen carrot comrade.

Step 5: season your cheese, carrot and onion with salt and pepper. I'd go less salt than pepper.

Step 6: Add some ranch sauce. How much? Well, as all great minds know - moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty. So go ape...

Step 7: I know what you're thinking; he ate it already and then did a sick. Not so. Mix the contents of the bowl and you too will have a fresh batch of tasty luminous orange vomit-impersonating cheese savoury. Yum!

Step 8: the Serving Suggestion. For nostalgia's sake I have tried to replicate the joys of a Gregg's Cheese Savoury Salad sandwich. Sadly we have no Stotties in Melbourne so naturally I have resorted to cheap innuendo and plumped for a lovely pair of baps.

So there you have it - tangy, tasty Cheese Savoury. Stick it in the fridge and it should stand you in good stead for a few days. The 250g worth of cheese I pimped lasted all week, including another bap, two toasties (with fresh tomato) and a veggie burger. Fromagic.

Look for other tasty English Cooking recipes elsewhere on Mint Custard.

In Praise of John-anism

I’m just a victim of myself
There’s no abuse like self abuse they say
Abuse - The Aloof (Sinking 1996)

A warm, slightly clammy handshake of welcome back to our television screens to John Safran, whose new show Race Relations kicked off on the ABC on Wednesday.

The clamminess will be understandable to those who saw the first episode, in which Safran (a reluctant Jew) and his Palestinian soundman quite literally made contributions to world peace by sneaking into sperm banks on either side of the Middle East conflict in the hope of creating little ‘Jelistinians.’

Their filmed donations were the salty icing on the cake after 30 excruciating but mostly hilarious minutes of television in which Safran somehow engineered a situation whereby Australia’s largest public broadcaster paid him to steal and then sniff women’s dirty pants in the name of science. He also bagged a free flight to Africa just so he could find out if he was better looking than a Togolese man who pissed him off at parties.

The concept of Race Relations – challenging the idea of ‘stick to your own’ when it comes to relationships - was a bit loose as a premise and mostly played second fiddle to the acts of subterfuge and silliness, but this didn’t reduce their impact. The rapid-edit truncation of interviews with the soon-to-be underwear-deprived women who were clearly up for some Today Tonight-style self-promotion was pure joy. It was simple and childish but effectively highlighted Rove, Grimshaw, Coren et al’s shows for the pseudo-celeb suck-fests that they are.

There’s no doubt Safran is mining a similar vein to that of Sacha Baron Cohen but it’s refreshing and somewhat more engaging that he does so as himself and not hidden behind prosthetics and dodgy accents. It does leave him open to a higher degree of personal criticism (some reviews have been quick to dismiss the show as little more than ABC-funded undergraduate humour) but there’s no denying John Safran’s commitment to his craft or – given
what we already know about future episodes – his dedication to self-abuse in all its forms. He may be a wanker – but he’s our wanker and he's damn good at it.

John Safran’s Race Relations is on ABC1 on Wednesday nights at 9.30pm

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Sense of Enormous Wellbeing

I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too
It gives me a sense of enormous well being
And then I'm happy for the rest of the day
Safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it
Parklife - Blur (Parklife 1994)

Forgive me if this sounds a bit Benny Hill, but I've not been feeling myself lately. No big dramas and no obvious reasons, but I've been going around for a while like the losing bunny in the battery adverts. I'm sure this doesn't make me much company so I've been looking for ways to shake myself out of it.

Normally these things are linked to me not getting my skinny arse out there and doing some exercise, so with this in mind I unlocked the bike and for the past two weeks I've been riding to work again. As great as this has been (there's truly nothing like being able to go out in public in the clothes you just slept in) it hasn't exactly shaken me from my Morrissey moment which meant I had to search elsewhere for my malaise.

I finally found my happy doing something far less frenetic than car dodging; I had a potter in the garden. Spurred on by some nice weather and armed only with my crappy $10 straw cowboy hat and a trowel I did some weeding, chucked away some leaves and old soil, swept up and before i knew it I was away. An hour later I was at the nursery buying seeds, seedlings and potting mix, and within another hour I was back in the yard with ABC Grandstand on the radio arm deep in soil and a smile on my dial. I even listened to the whole build up and aftermath of the Cox Plate and I fucking hate horse racing.

You may recall I spent many happy hours in the yard last summer growing ridiculously small vegetables in an effort to prove that if Jamie Oliver can grow tomatoes in a tin then so can I. However I'd assumed that my happiness was in part linked to being able to listen to cricket on the radio for several months, so I must admit I'm quite surprised to find that I still like my new hobby, and it seems to like me.

Perhaps the obvious conclusion is that I was subconsciously fed up that spring has not yet truly sprung and I just needed some vitamin D. I'm not sure if I should be pleased that I shook off my funk with something as simple as a little bit of sunshine and some pensioner type activities but for now I'll take my happy where I can get it.

My gardening assistant Mr Fishhands shows off some basil, a couple of zucchini seedlings, some cherry toms and what I hope will be the mother of all jalapeno plants. Forgive his moustache. I assure you he isn't a fascist.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Pulped Fiction: Vegetables re-enact Tarantino (2)

Scene: The basement of a ramshackle pawnshop. Marsellus and Butch wake from their respective slumbers to the stuff of nightmares...


"bring out the gimps"
"but the gimps are self publicising..."
"just go and get them you muppet..."

"me, me, me, la di dah di dah, salt and pepper, me me me, you're all plebs, la la, olive oil"


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Great Fruit

I’d like to proffer some words, if I may, for the Lime Champions. Those words are aces, nice, yep, ooh lovely, huh? and get in. And they’re appropriate, because in my humble opinion this pleasantly random and ramshackle weekly radio show on 3RRR is one of the best things in Australian comedy right now.

The Lime Champions are Eva Johansen, Damien Lawlor, Josh Earl and
Bedroom Philosopher, Justin Heazlewood; writers and presenters of a show unlike any other on Australian radio. Clearly aligned with Tony Martin’s recent article raising the profile of some relatively unknown British comedy in Australia, the Champions’ world is a very Melbourne take on British shows like Look Around You, Big Train and Chris Morris’ Jam – especially its earlier and scarier radio incarnation, Blue Jam.

Sketches vary between live studio reads and pre-recorded bits, lovingly cobbled together. Evil phone calls to friends sit cosily between fake talking heads, interviews with people who clearly aren’t who they say they are, pseudo-intellectual treaties on popular culture and discussions on the stupidity of cat owners. Sometimes there are guests, sometimes they clearly can’t be arsed. There are common themes (taking the piss out of Justin and the inner north of Melbourne especially) but mostly the Lime Champions are about whatever they feel like.

Sound plays an important part in the show. A messy cohesion occurs thanks to a magpie’s nest of audio snippets pilfered from history. These include synthesized bleeps from late seventies educational shows, old TV adverts for things that no longer exist and a great deal of eerie ambient noise. Last night’s show kicked off with what sounded like a sample of a laughing
Margaret Pomerantz’s 50-a-day rasp reversed, slowed and repeated into a rhythm until it became both toe-tapping and more than a little bit creepy.

In a country where Dave Hughes is considered funny enough to merit three television jobs and a breakfast radio slot, I’d given up hope of hearing anything as good as Lime Champions. They are too intimate, messy, wilfully obscure and well – funny - for commercial radio, so a tip of the hat to 3RRR for another great piece of programming. Just another example of why we really do need alternatives to the crap foisted on us by Austereo et al.

There is something special about radio comedy done well – an olde worlde charm that’s deliberately a bit naff as well as intimate and endearing. The quirkiness that defines shows like the League of Gentlemen, the Mighty Boosh, the Day Today (
On the Hour as was), Little Britain or even Flight of the Conchords might not have even made it to screen test had they not had stints honing their craft on BBC radio.

Without 3RRR it’s hard to see where the Lime Champions could have existed within traditional media. Certainly not the ABC, whose radio arm doesn’t offer the same opportunities afforded to comedians by the BBC. This is a shame because Australian comedy would benefit massively from an environment where new artists can experiment and develop away from the stage and the telly cameras. Certainly the dearth of truly great Australian sitcoms this decade has to be attributed to a lack of space in which to polish new ideas.

Listening to Lime Champions there is evidence that the BBC approach could work in Australia. At 3RRR Eva, Damien, Josh and Justin have room in which to find out what it is about their particular talents that makes people laugh and get better at it. I think they have potential for much broader appeal but as great as community radio is, it can only take them so far. Talent like theirs needs a hand up to the small screen – and one that doesn’t expect them to water down what makes them special in return. As the ABC looks to secure a meaningful role for itself as a 21st century public broadcaster it could do a lot worse than defining itself as what the commercial stations are not – a home for new, innovative and above all funny Australian talent.

Catch the Champions live every Monday evening from 7-8pm on
3RRR 102.7FM or via their online stream for non-Melbournites. They have a Faceb**k thingy for those of you that way inclined, whilst podcasts of previous shows are available from the 3RRR website. Go listen. Aces. Nice. Yep.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pulped Fiction: Vegetables re-enact Tarantino (1)

Scene: exterior - a snow covered Japanese garden. Yakuza leader, O-Ren Ishii (portrayed here by Lucy the Lebanese Cucumber) prepares for her final showdown with the Bride (not pictured)

I'm totally aces. You'll never kill me bitch...

Ooh you bugger!

(with thanks to Mrs Custard for cucumberage and photography)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Daniel Kitson: We Are Gathered Here - Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne

A curio of this first year in Melbourne has been the number of gigs I've attended by what journalists politely refer to as the ‘elder statesmen.’ I’ve seen two septuagenarians (Leonard Cohen and Rolf Harris), a pensionable Neil Young, Robert Forster and Madness demonstrating different ways to live out your fifties and a whole glut of 1990s bands now in their forties, with added lines and paunches.

Whilst there were thrills to be had from all of them – some nostalgic, some (in the cases of Forster and Cohen) still visceral - it’s fair to say that 2009 is not their time. If you follow the check list approach to life favoured by tourists who ‘do’ 18 European cities in three weeks then yes, I’ve now seen Neil Young. Still I can’t help but feel that I’d have seen something more interesting in 1972 than a workman earnestly ploughing the same furrow of guitar wankery.

I’m not complaining though, because when the secular, non-gender specific gods in charge of life’s deli-counter called out my number, standing there in a mucky striped apron with hair poking out the of sides of his regulation hairnet was Daniel Kitson, ready to serve up fresh 2009 in little plastic tubs. ‘Hello Sir. How may I fucking help you?

Kitson is back in the country with his latest show We Are Gathered Here – which is ostensibly about death and the futility of existence but which is just as much about how much Daniel likes cake. Inspired by recent deaths in his family, Kitson weighs up the fear at our own inevitable passing with less tangible but far scarier thoughts about which monsters will come for him in the night when he turns off his light.

The crowd at the Athenaeum was by far the biggest crowd I’ve seen for a Kitson show, and far more eclectic than us cardigan wearing types who attended the run of ‘work-in-progress’ gigs at 3RRR in April this year. Despite the usual Kitson intro music (including Emmy the Great and Eels) the Friday night city crowd felt quite intimidating to me. Clearly not so to Daniel who flew out of the traps as quickly as a man who announces after ten minutes that the actual show will start in five can. Even a frankly shit heckle of ‘I can see your bald patch’ was deftly turned into gold; ‘I’m flattered that you only think of it as a patch, madam. I feel like you’re flirting with me…

Kitson is quite vocal about comedians who rehash material year after year but even I was surprised at how little repetition was in We Are A Gathered Here, especially after the 3RRR run. The performance felt new and still evolving despite him having played the material across the UK throughout the northern summer.

I think it’s fair to say that We Are Gathered Here is a little less focused than previous shows. Towards the end there was a little too much circling of the bush before homing in and giving it a good comedy twatting. Perhaps this was understandable given the subject matter. Without being mawkish he clearly wanted to convey his affection for his lost relatives, but it did change the dynamic in the room as the night came to a conclusion. Still, a Daniel Kitson show is about more than belly laughs. He’s not enough of a pretentious wanker to say it himself but there is a warm philosophy that underpins his work – a sort of life-can-be-shit-but-it-doesn’t-mean-you-have-to-be-a-dick-ism - that is easy to embrace. I doubt he’d want to be seen as the poster boy of any movement but the laughs and thoughtful silences from the crowd suggest it’s a philosophy that lots of us agree with.

So how long will Kitson’s star shine for? Will there come a time when we’ll look back on 2009 and say I’m glad I saw him then and not now? Who knows… but as per the message which underpins We Are Gathered Here, it’s probably best not sit around worrying about it too much. After all there is cheese and cake to be eaten and tea to be drunk. For now let us enjoy the fact that we are here and Daniel Kitson is here and all is well.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

How To Cook... Mint Custard

I think there comes a time in every ageing northerner's life when they turn to their friends, partners or dogs and say 'bloody hell, mint custard! I'd forgotten about that...' My own nostalgic epiphany happened in 2007 during the second series of Life on Mars...

Phillis: how's the treacle sponge, sir?
Sam Tyler: It's magnificent...
Phillis: custard?
Sam Tyler: Yes, it's a triumph

Cue predictable scenes of me over-enthusiastically explaining the joys of pale green, toothpaste-flavoured gloopy sugary cream poured indiscriminately over an assortment of chocolate puddings by plump school dinner ladies to the soon-to-be Mrs Custard. Naturally enough she was appalled.

And yet I am far from alone. Records show that on any given day at least one hopeful Googler will land on these pages eager to find out "how do I make mint custard" or (more likely given the Gen-X demographics involved) "where can I buy mint custard?" To those school dinner revivalists who have thus far slunk away disappointed I apologise, but hey, stick around for I am about to make amends...

But before we launch in, I should admit that I had no idea how to make mint custard and set out with more enthusiasm than actual cooking nous. What follows is a true account of what happens when basic culinary skills are mixed in a child-proof blender with equal parts nostalgia and a bottle of cheap wine.

Creme Anglaise a la Menthe (Mint Custard)
You will need:

  • 1 packet of custard powder
  • Peppermint essence
  • Green food colouring
  • 1 tablespoon of white sugar
  • 2.5 cups (625 ml) full cream milk
  • 1 chocolate pudding (optional... you probably should though, unless you fancy drinking half a litre of custard on its own)

Step 1: Pour 1/2 cup (125 ml) of milk into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon (20ml) of sugar, 2 tablespoons (40ml) of custard powder and stir up good. Be amazed at the concrete-like adhesive properties of custard powder which will stick your fork to the bowl if you don't keep guard. Set to one side.

Step 2: Pour the rest of the milk (500ml) into a saucepan and heat slowly. DO NOT LET THE MILK BOIL. Come on... everyone knows that. (The keen eyed amongst you will have noticed my top quality boil-in-the-tin chocolate pudding simmering nicely in the background. Custard or not, there will be cake tonight my lovelies.)

Step 3: time for a bit of Muppets-style kitchen experimentation: Bunsen and Beaker meet the English Swedish Chef... how much peppermint essence maketh the mint custard? I plumped for a 1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) which I tipped into the bowl with the custard powder and cold milk. And wouldn't you flurdy burdy burg - it worked...! You may disagree and want something mintier but I would start with 1/4 teaspoon and see how you go...

Step 4: now you gotta get you some green. Put about 4 or 5 drops of the green food colouring in your custard mixture. It should be enough to get you a gentle minty-coloured green going on. Any more and you've got mouthwash-coloured custard and no one wants that.

Step 5: stop staring at the pretty ink blot patterns and whizz it all up with your fork. You should now have 125ml of pale green mint flavoured custard concentrate... liquid gold!

Step 6 (optional): at this point I accidentally spilt custard powder all over the floor. It's up to you if you want to do this. I don't think it affected the recipe... although it is still all over the soles of my slippers.

Step 7: Pour the concentrate into the milk heating up on the hob. Don't spill any on the hob. It burns and 'tis a bastard to clean. Believe me.

Step 8: stirring constantly, mix the concentrate with the milk and simmer for about a minute and a half. To help pass the time (and to celebrate the end of winter in Australia) why not watch the Undertones performing Here Comes the Summer from 1979 - a golden period for school dinners. I bet Fergal Sharkey loves mint custard.

Step 9: pour the contents of the pan into a serving jug and set aside whilst you get your pudding ready. Admit to yourself that that if you could start again you would have added another spoonful of custard powder at Step 1 to make the custard a bit thicker. They suggested it on the box but you ignored them because you know best. You now regret this arrogance and vow to warn others so that they don't make the same schoolboy error.

Step 10: Pour and enjoy. Your mint custard can be served hot or cold but I would suggest that however you take it, make sure it accompanies some form of chocolate pudding. Chocolate concrete was popular at school, as was chocolate sponge. Unlike DI Sam Tyler I would not recommend mint custard and treacle pudding, but each to their nostalgic own I suppose.

And there you have it. I would definitely have made it thicker with another spoonful of custard powder had I known, but the colour and the flavour were pretty much spot on. Your own preferences will depend on how the Eileens, Veras and Gwens at your school mixed up their vast cauldrons of gloopy mint custard for your post-dinner sugary delight, but this should at least set you on your way... Look out for more English Cooking elsewhere in these here pages.

Friday, 2 October 2009

We Seem To Be Made To Suffer

I haven’t seen any new robots around Melbourne for a while but I was quite touched last night by the tragic tale of Cheesoid, Mitchell and Webb’s ‘robot that smells.’ If you haven’t seen it yet I’d heartily recommend a few minutes here on You Tube. I take my hat off to them for a story that starts off so cheerfully and yet descends so quickly into Frankenstein-esque existentialist horror. And for bringing together robots and cheese in the name of comedy and pathos (‘Why Cheesoid exist...? Cheesoid hate self…’)


Naturally enough Cheesoid got me thinking about other famous comedy robots, so here’s a list of some of my other favourites, starting with (might as well get him out of the way):

Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) The original and best, Marvin is the Robfather – the don of all crap but lovable robots. He epitomises anthropomorphised boxes-painted silver, covered in crappy LEDs and old oven knobs and bestowed with a voices that are highly unlikely for machines meant to make human life better.

Of course Marvin had life through the Hitchhikers books and radio series long before he first appeared on telly, so its his droning, moaning voice that is his most recognisable and endearing feature (‘The first ten million years were the worst, and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.’)

This is just as well because I’m sure if Marvin could have seen the lame-arsed job the BBC props department did with his physical incarnation he would really have had something to moan about. Still, he now has a whole BBC mini-site dedicated to him, which might have made him smile somewhere inside. Maybe.

Talkie Toaster (Red Dwarf) Naturally enough for a show set in the future, cargo vessel the Red Dwarf has more than its fair share of inhabitants with artificial intelligence. This seems to balance out the lack of natural intelligence shown by Lister, Rimmer and the Cat. ‘Service Mechanoid’ Kryten and ship’s computer Holly are the most celebrated, but they are a little too developed for this particular list. Elsewhere there are the Skutters, wandering about the enormous ship undertaking menial cleaning tasks, insulting Rimmer with the middle digit of their three-pronged claws and renacting key scenes from their favourite John Wayne movies.

And yet of all the artificial lifeforms on Red Dwarf, none tickles me more than the Talkie Toaster. Like the best robots he has just one mission (I toast therefore I am) and goes to great lengths to make sure that he carries out his directive. To tell you more would be to spoil his joys, so I suggest just watching his finest moment, trying to persuade a disinterested Lister to partake in some warmed-up bread products.

Alternatively you can look at attempts by real people with real jobs to make a real Talkie Toaster by clicking here.

Dylan (Vic Reeves Big Night Out) It’s interesting how much sympathy can be engendered by a plastic flip-top bin on wheels with flashing lights, deely-bopper eyes and a computerised Middlesbrough accent, but I still feel sad about poor Dylan. When he first rolled onto the Big Night Out stage as the cheery ‘special friend’ of Les, Vic Reves’ silent and oft-abused sidekick, who could have known the sorry existence he would have to endure.

Constantly berated by Vic as Les’ ‘sycophantic little robot’ Dylan responds to Vic’s ongoing cruelty to him and Les with a camp and indignant “ooh you bugger!” Despite his loyalty to Les, he eventually dies an ignominious death at the hands of a 'quite riled' Mr Dennis (a newsagent who doesn’t stock Curly Wurleys because they are far too elaborate). His appearances were fleeting so I’m not sure why Dylan’s memory has stayed with me all these years (apart from saying ‘ooh, you bugger’ makes me laugh) but I’m glad to have the opportunity to commemorate his short-lived life.

Ooh, you bugger!

Medibot (Look Around You) Medibot is the future of medical science according to the Tomorrow’s World-parodying 1979-tastic vision of the world that is Look Around You. Despite resembling a cake tin attached to a police filing cabinet he is able to perform any number of complex surgeries with only minimal assistance from his friend and keeper, Dr Franklin Fu.

His only reward is a serving of his much beloved hundreds and thousands (sugar sprinkles for all you Australians and North Americans out there) which Dr Fu pops in his mouth after a gruelling day at the surgeon’s table. Medibot’s vocabulary may be limited (Meh-di-bhot!) but he makes up with his jaunty style on the mouth organ. Until Cheesoid, Medibot was my favourite 21st century comedy robot. Now they’ll just have to share. Meh-di-bhot!

MaxiPower (the League of Gentlemen): More Transformer than pure robot, MaxiPower is a crime fighting G-reg Fiat Uno whose ride has been well and truly pimped by idiot-savant Neds to impress his young mate Tristan. Although possessed with a slightly larger dictionary than Medibot (“Hello Neds, let’s solve some crime”) she is generally a bit crap, though she does play the Knight Rider theme quite well. For a while.

Her one and only mission (to stop 'some lads who are going to rob some fags from the cash and carry and sell them to their mates at the power station') ends in disaster when Neds reveals that he wasn’t able to find Tristan’s requested machine gun but has fitted a can of silly string and an ejecting box of paper clips (‘It’s meant to be drawing pins but Mrs Ridley’s ran out…’ explains Neds). Tristan’s doomed ‘aw, fook’ as the flames rise around them is worth your admission price alone.

Honourable Mentions

Smash Robots – more robot/food interfacing with cocky Martian robots mocking the stupidity of humans for eating real potatoes. English humans, to be fair.

Techno Trousers (Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers, 1993) Mechanised remote control pants plus evil penguin plus Peter Sallis equals ace. You do the maths. (‘It’s the wrong trousers Gromit! And they’ve gone wrong!’)

Twiki (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) ‘bidi-bidi-bidi

Metal Mickey – ‘boogie-boogie-boogie

Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Golden Ticket-seeking computer (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) “I am now telling the computer exactly what it can do with a lifetime’s supply of chocolate