In the early 1980s, robots were everywhere. ‘Star Wars’ had C-3PO and R2-D2, ‘Doctor Who’ had K9, ‘Metal Mickey’ had… well, Metal Mickey. Automation was the future, robots would make our cars. They were already mocking our mashed potato.
Along came BBC Micro computers, synthpop and TV sci-fi, and we seemed to switch from analogue to digital overnight. If you were 10 years old – which I was – it was impossibly exciting.
Into this giddy mix came Tik And Tok. Mime artists Tim Dry and Sean Crawford had been Blitz Club regulars and members of Shock, a Rusty Egan-produced outfit whose number also included Cherie Blair’s future lifestyle guru, Carole Caplin.
By 1982, they were a duo in their own right, preparing to infiltrate primetime TV with blank faces, boiler suits and the stiff-limbed robotic dance that swept the nation’s school discos.
My first memory of them comes from BBC1 comedy series ‘Three Of A Kind’. Hot on the heels of Tracey Ullman and Lenny Henry spoofing 1982’s Eurovision Song Contest, the episode on New Year’s Day 1983 featured Tik And Tok donning crimson tuxedos in a futuristic science lab routine. After that, they seemed to be everywhere, their ubiquity culminating in an appearance at that year’s Royal Variety Performance.
But already, they seemed keen to move on from their trademark robotics. “We’re trying to concentrate on other types of mime, as well as making music,” Dry told John Craven on science programme ‘The Show Me Show’ in 1983. The duo had already recorded the backing tracks, using gear partly funded by their appearance as rebel officers in ‘Return Of The Jedi’, and their debut album, ‘Intolerance’, appeared in 1984.
Written largely by Dry, it’s an evocative snapshot of the era. ‘A Date With The Palm Sisters’, with its breathy moans and saucy samples (“It’s a whopper!”) caused a raised eyebrow, but it’s wonderfully sleazy synth-funk. ‘Show Me Something Real’ is the killer hit single that never was, an icy slab of electropop with Numan himself on keyboards (they supported him in 1981 and his ‘A Child With The Ghost’ is sensitively covered too).
The album grazed the Top 100, peaking at 89, but it’s a fascinating reminder of an era when the genuinely avant-garde and experimental, combined with dreams of a science fiction future. The robots had arrived, and I was ready to surrender.