There’s a late-night BBC Four TV series where people from some affinity group of senior citizens like Vicars, Jews or Liverpudlians simply ‘Telling Jokes’. When they get to ‘Old Doctors’, these chaps will be a shoe-in.
I wanted to see Instant Sunshine because they rang the faintest of Radio 4 bells and even though they’re too charming, or possibly too forgetful, to mention it they were stalwarts of the ‘Stop The Week’ programme for about ten years in its Robert Robinson-fronted eighties heyday, providing a freshly-written topical patter song in a break between the chat. Their slot was later occupied by Fascinating Aida, Barb Jungr, and Peter Skellern.
Unlike F-A, Jungr or Skellern, their main occupation was never the business of show: they met as three young doctors at a St Thomas’s hospital ball in 1966 and there began both gigging and illustrious medical careers. Front man Alan Maryon-Davis was for some time a ‘TV doctor’ and eventually Director of Public Health for Southwark.
All three are now affable septuagenarian gents in baggy dinner jackets which look as though they’ve also been back and forth to Sketchleys since 1966 but seem to suit their rambling stories and gently humorous anthems for middle England about allotments, parish magazines, town twinning and of course the weather.
Most of the material written by paediatrician Peter Christie is from their extensive dusty archive and a little more faltering now than their YouTube recordings, but a song like ‘I Wish I Was a Sassenach’ gains sudden freshness from the topicality of the Scottish referendum, and they frequently produce beautiful blends of close harmony.
The fourth member of the team, bassist Tom Barlow supplies most of the accompaniment although Christie wields a twelve-string guitar and the others improvise with coconut halves, ukulele, harmonica or a bunch of car keys on a glass ashtray.
It’s all very gentle, and jolly, and polite: even when their allotment song lyrics include “we fork an’ mulch”, no-one so much as sniggers. Instant Sunshine’s influences are palpably the relentlessly genial Flanders and Swann and their lyrics sound like Betjeman, but you can also hear The Temperance Seven or Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in their arrangements.
There’s not a lot of charm around. So treasure it when you find it.
Instant Sunshine, Rosemary Branch Theatre, 7 September 2014, 6pm.