Monday Face/Off – Dick Van Dyke

Flossie (can’t sleep easy unless she’s smeared with soot):
Dick Van Dyke has recently been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild for a career in show business spanning over seven decades. Over his illustrious career, he has had leading roles in such film classics as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. He has also gained a name for himself with Diagnosis Murder, and appearances on tv shows such as Columbo and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. A regular on our tv screens, Dick Van Dyke has never been out of the limelight, and deservedly so. Beaming with charisma, our man Dicky has well and truly proved himself as a legend in Hollywood.

Ray (once crippled a child for laughing at Night at the Museum):
So, dearest deluded Flossie, I shall start of by counting the ways and whys I hate thy faux-cockney treasure, good old Dick Van Dyke. To begin with, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (LOL) was awful rubbish. Deny it I dare thee! I shall gladly expand on that point if you wish, later. Secondly, his appalling cockney accent in the beloved Mary Poppins still attacks my senses in the night all these years after I was forced to love his charming London chimney-sweep by parents who would do anything, even subject me to DVD, to distract me and my siblings. That terror, which I hoped and prayed had finally left me by the time I was old enough to play truant from school and sneak back into the house while the parents were at work, struck me again during the many reruns of the ridiculous Diagnosis Murder I was forced to watch out of boredom. See a pattern here? In short, I think Dyke Van Dyke may have destroyed my childhood, much of my teens, and certainly still troubles me now that I have hopefully emerged into adulthood. The man is the poison in the medicine that no amount of sugar can make go down.

I am utterly bemused – how can anyone not like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? The car flies! The children sing songs! In short, the film is adorable. And Dick van Dyke plays a crucial part in that. In his heyday some would describe him as the fun uncle you never had, with his cheeky grin and button nose, and now he is like the grandad of show business, to be held up like our very own Bruce Forsyth. Now now, you wouldn’t start attacking Brucie’s legacy would you? As for his accent, well, apparently Julie Andrews told him he never got it right, and she’s right. It’s not great. But I’d say he played a fantastic chimney sweep in Mary Poppins and got the spirit of the man spot on. Plus, his singing was so good he got a Grammy for it. Doesn’t that make up for the dodgy accent?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is all that is wrong with America, all fantasy and nonsense disguising the real injustices going on underneath. I can’t remember much about it because I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to blot the nightmare out of my mind (mostly successfully, until this fateful reckoning), but I seem to remember a lot of poor black characters who seem to be very happy cleaning the dishes and such like. No? Well, there was something sinister like that going on, I’m certain of it. And Bruce Forsyth! Don’t get me started on that misogynist relic-like old windbag. National treasure? More like our country’s perpetual undead shame, reminding us all of how awfully medieval our attitudes and entertainment tastes used to be, and mostly still are. Comparing Van Dyke to Forsyth and describing him as “the fun uncle you never had, with his cheeky grin and button nose” is deeply disturbing to me, and makes me question the extent of your grip on reality. Who else does he remind you of? A very similar ‘fun uncle’ once in the depths of our nation’s heart, now disgraced and condemned forever. You know who I mean. I’m in no way suggesting that Dick Van Dyke is anything other than a clapped out, never-was – but there has always been something deeply creepy about him, like Forsyth, and all ‘fun uncles’. I shall not labour the point.

Ray, you have clearly never had a fun uncle. We’re not talking about the child-catcher, a man who walks about wearing a Savile-like grin and seduces you with sweeties, but Uncle Burt, who let’s you ride the carousel and fly a kite! But anyway, perhaps I can convince you of Dickie’s worth by letting you know a few facts about him. Did you know he sings in an A Capella band called Vantastix? (you can listen to them performing here) Or that he received a lemon cake every Christmas from Charles Bronson for 16 years? Or that his comedy idols Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton were fans of his long-running TV show The Dick Van Dyke Show? These things must indicate that he has lived a strange and wonderful life!

For ‘strange and wonderful’ read ‘bizarre’. I do enjoy weird tricks, I’ll admit, and there is something fantastic about a man who can get so high (no doubt this explains everything) that he can agree to record a rap song with a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; or, for that matter, truly believe that he was saved from certain death at sea by a school of porpoises. There is something rather wonderful about the position he now seems to occupy in popular culture, a sort of embodiment of the thick layer of irony that overlays so much of our discourse. That, however, is enough to utterly condemn him, and, typically, more than enough to save him too. So I’ll finish by saying that, although my contempt for Dick Van Dyke remains undimmed, I do also detect within me a faint glimmer of admiration for a man that is so clearly still alive at the moment, drug-fuelled or no, fully enjoying the experience of the world that has been afforded to him. He may have left a mountain of rubble and countless scenes of destruction and confusion in his wake, but he has pressed on merrily regardless and that, I grudgingly concede, requires some recognition.

Well, while you agree that he should at least be recognized for his longevity, I appreciate that his cockney accent was a lot worse than I remember it. Apparently, it has actually been voted one of the Worst British Accents Ever by Empire. What an achievement. Wait, what side am I on again? Oh yes, Dick Van Dyke: Fun Uncle Extraordinaire. Bravo.

Dick Van Dyke: The Horror, the Destroyer, the Life.


Where do you stand – is Van Dyke a timeless genius or an awful twat? Let us know below!


By Flossie Topping and Ray Thompson

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