To commemorate the first decade of Give 'Em Beans!, the BBC commissioned a special edition of its famous parlour game Call My Bluff. The show was first broadcast on the Corporation's new digital channel BBC Couch on Monday 3 January 2000, at 2.50am. That was too late for us, of course, so we videotaped it. Our tape whirred into life just in time to catch the continuity announcer excitedly building up the programme in his introduction to...
BEANS! CALL My BLUFF
Continuity announcer: ...supposed to be a bit special, but I'll let you be the judge of that. So, for those of you who weren't expecting this unwelcome intrusion into your regular schedule of gardening shows, home improvement programmes and docusoaps, let me tell you that you can now see this week's instalment of 'Changing Zooms', a startling fly-on-the-wall documentary about a year in the life of a film crew on Charlie Dimmock's new series 'Window Box Challenge' where people in high-rise apartment blocks challenge the raven haired big-titted one in a spectacular style duel to see who can conjure up the most imaginative window box, over on our new digital channel BBC Tedium (out of audited audience figure of seven, five switch over at this point).
Introductory titles and theme music...
CALL My BLUFF
Introduced by Bob Holness
Bob Holness: Hello and welcome to this special edition of Call My Bluff. Tonight it is my privilege to present this commemorative programme celebrating ten glorious years of the nation's favourite football fanzine, Give 'Em Beans! And what a show it promises to be too, for this evening we've dispensed with our usual format of two teams of demi-famous middle-class isn't-Sondheim-wonderful types smugly trying to outsmart each other. No, our guests are actually four cool people for once, and they'll be joining our regular captains to give you the chance to finally unravel one of the last remaining mysteries from the world of fanzines. Alan, would you like to introduce your team?
Alan Coren: Lovely introduction, Bob, but I'd take issue with just one thing. Surely you meant to say "three cool people and... Alice Beer"? (camera cuts to Alice, smiling sarcastically; audience applauds). Completing my team is one of the greats of contemporary American literature, acclaimed author of 'White Noise' and 'Underworld', Don de Lillo (cut to Don smoking a large cigar and looking incredibly cool; polite applause).
Bob Holness: And now Sandi's team...
Sandi Toksvig: On my team tonight I have an equally distinguished American guest - a quintessential figure in popular culture, the extraordinarily cultivated and twice as charming... Mr Iggy Pop! (cut to Iggy, sneering; desultory clapping from audience). And on my right, I have the man whose letter to Give 'Em Beans! back in 1998 inspired this show, Barrow AFC fan extraordinaire... Nigel Bamford! (audience goes wild, tremendous applause, stamping of feet, whistles, cheering, calls of 'Way to go, Nigel!', etc., which Nigel shyly acknowledges).
Bob Holness: Okay, okay... Anyway, without further ado, let us reveal once and for all just what is the origin of... (he rings the bell on his desk and a placard with the words 'Give 'Em Beans!' drops into place in that large letterbox type affair he has above and behind his head.). Alice, would you lead...?
Alice Beer: Okay, Give 'Em Beans! - definition of... No doubt you're going to hear lots of fancy explanations from my colleagues, but they're all going to be wide of the mark. It's all very simple really, and I'm amply qualified to tell you. You probably all know that in my spare time I'm studying Food Technology at Furness College. Well, it was here that I discovered the explanation of this long time mystery, and I can tell you now that it simply means what it says. Just give 'em beans, as in baked beans. As I've learned on my course, baked beans are a valuable source of fibre, protein and beneficial vitamins. However, standard tinned beans can contain surprisingly high amounts of sugar and salt. Half a 420g can provides all the recommended sodium intake and one-tenth of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B which is essential for producing energy. The same amount provides as much fibre as a bowl of bran flakes and a reasonable amount of calcium for strong bones and teeth. So in short, while regular helpings of beans assist in your physical growth, repeated doses of Barrow's fanzine will help fulfil your hunger for the more spiritual and intellectual things in life. But is that the only parallel? Everybody knows all that fibre in beans can give you the $#¡*$! No, no, I'd better stop, I've said enough already!
Bob Holness: Thank you Alice. Don...
Don de Lillo: No, no, no! That really is so simple minded as to be laughable. The saying 'give 'em beans' comes from an old English folk tale, as I realised last Christmas when I saw the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk.
The hero, Jack, is sent by his mother to market to sell their cow, Daisy, in order to raise some money to buy food. On the way, Jack meets an old crone who offers to buy the cow to save Jack the long and arduous journey to market. Jack, being bone idle and good for nothing, readily agrees. But the old crone doesn't give him money, she gives him five magic beans. Jack returns to his mother who, quite naturally, is very angry to hear that her son has allowed himself to be swindled. She hurls the magic beans away, but overnight they take root and grow into the magic beanstalk, which Jack climbs to reach the giant's kingdom from where he takes the golden goose which lays golden eggs. On the way down the beanstalk with the goose, Jack is chased by the giant. On reaching the bottom he shouts to his mother to fetch the axe. Jack chops down the beanstalk, the giant is killed in the fall and they all live happily ever after, except for the giant, who is, of course, quite dead.
This tale holds a more persuasive explanation for the origin of Give 'Em Beans! It is, in fact, nothing less than an allegory for the entire history of Barrow AFC. Jack and his mother are Barrow, fallen on hard times. So they have to sell their prized asset, the cow, to make ends meet, just like Barrow had to sell their only asset, the Holker Street ground itself. The parallels continue as the sale is made to someone whose payment is quite worthless. The beanstalk represents the non-League pyramid and Jack's climb is a symbolic prophesy of Barrow's eventual ascent from the UniBond League to Division Two via the Conference and Division Three. The giant represents the financial problems which continually dog the club, but Jack chopping down the beanstalk, thereby killing the giant, and taking the golden goose back to his mother means the end of Barrow's monetary problems forever.
So 'give 'em beans' refers to the apparently empty gesture of the old crone giving Jack five beans for the cow. But these beans are the key to Jack's future wealth, although he doesn't know it at the time. So that is where the phrase comes from and why Give 'Em Beans! is such an appropriate title for the fanzine of Barrow AFC.
Bob Holness: Wow! Quite an intellectual quantum leap there, I feel. So, an allegory for the entire history of Barrow AFC, no less? Let's see what Alan makes of that.
Alan Coren: Yes, Bob, a very impressive theory from my distinguished American colleague there, but one that is quite erroneous, I'm afraid! In fact, both of my friends here have missed the point completely. It's a long story, but I'll try and keep it short, so basically 'give him beans!' is an Edwardian phrase that would translate into today's argot as 'beat the living crap out of him!' And I have here some evidence to support my case. I'm indebted to one of Give 'Em Beans! founding fathers, Stephen Robson, for this postcard of an Edwardian cartoon which depicts a referee cowering on the pitch as all the players, in Manchester City and Southampton colours incidentally, set about giving him a good kicking. It's really horribly violent and if you were to put it on the cover of a videocassette then that would guarantee lots of rentals to the sicker end of the market in your local Blockbuster. That's if it got past the censors, of course! Anyway, I'll pass it round so that you can see that among the things the players are saying - 'Sock him', 'Swipe him', 'Bash him', 'Lay him out', etc. - is the key phrase 'Give 'im beans!' Well, this is what struck a chord with the original founders of the magazine and hence the title Give 'Em Beans!
Bob Holness: Okay, thank you very much, Alan. Now it's over to your team Sandi; let's see what you all make of Give 'Em Beans! Iggy...
Iggy Pop: Thank you, Bob. Well, your interpretation of the origins of the title Give 'Em Beans! was all very interesting, Alan, but I'm sorry to say it's completely incorrect. In fact, I was quite shocked by that old postcard of the players attacking a referee. Really, I think it must be some kind of forgery. It's just not right. The Edwardian days were a golden age of football and I'm sure they would never have descended to the gutter of mindless violence so typical of the modern era.
I'd like to suggest that the title has a more erudite origin. Research by Professor Stephanie Brown at the world famous Department of Linguistics at the University of Dundee, indicates it almost certainly comes from the old Middle English word, 'bene', meaning a prayer or a favour. In the North Lancashire dialect spoken in the Furness peninsula, this came to be pronounced as 'been' or 'bean' and referred to voluntary help given by neighbours. So in that locality 'Give 'im beans' means being helpful or friendly to your fellow man. Or woman. Of course, the original editors knew all this, so when they decided to produce a magazine that would take a helpful, informative, constructive and friendly look at Barrow AFC, and they needed a title, they settled on Give 'Em Beans!, which, now that you know, is really quite apt.
In fact Beans! could very well be the only football fanzine that's got an educated title, which is one up on United We Stand, Tripe and Trotters and I Can Drive A Tractor. And is Rowan Atkinson aware that Mr. Bean is really a good Samaritan?
Bob Holness: Hmmm, now if anyone knows what Give 'Em Beans! means, here's a man who will. Nigel...
Nigel Bamford: Yes, that's all very fascinating, but if you must know, the definitive explanation of the derivation of the term 'beans' was in the Independent on Sunday on 4 October 1998. And if they printed it, it must be correct, mustn't it? Anyway, the sentence in question went something like this...
Following the election of two left wingers to the National Executive of the Labour Party, Peter Mandelson said "Their election will not make a bean of difference."
I rather like Mandy's use of 'bean' as a nicely contemptuous word, for haven't beans always been symbols of worthlessness? There was a time when the expression was 'it's not worth a pea' or perhaps 'it's not worth a pease' in Chaucer's time, though Chaucer's innkeeper actually said 'not worth a turd.' Why 'pea' faded and 'bean' stayed on is just one of those mysteries. However, 'bean' is a much more versatile word, although Cowps knows why. In the nineteenth century, far from being worthless, a 'bean' was a name for a gold sovereign. By the twentieth it seems to have developed again, when bankrupts were said to be without so much as a bean. At the same time, 'old bean' was a term of affection, while a slap up dinner was still called a 'beanfeast', which is another mystery.
I have the feeling that 'bean' is a word that's come in handy when no-one could think of a better one. To refer back to the captain of my worthy opponents, there seems to be no reason, for example, why beans should be what you give an opponent who you aim to flatten. But there is some logic to the expression, 'full of beans'; also in saying that an indiscreet person is 'spilling the beans', that is, regurgitating them.
Beans were also used in elections in ancient Greece as an alternative to pebbles. Instead of putting your cross you dropped your pebble, or bean, into the urn of your choice. Perhaps that's what Peter Mandelson had in mind. So, to raise the intellectual tone to Chaucerian levels perhaps the editors of this much maligned little magazine could rename it with the far more arresting title, Give 'Em Turds! Given Barrow's historic propensity for screwing up, maybe that's not such a bad idea!
Bob Holness: Sandi...
Sandi Toksvig: Hmm, not bad, but not good enough, I'm afraid, Nigel. No, strangely enough, by a remarkable co-incidence, nay, synchronicity, the exact same scenario that led to the naming of the Barrow AFC fanzine came up again while I was in the Tally Ho the other Saturday having chilli con carne and chips for my lunch before going to the match at Holker St.
On the next table there were a couple of kids with their parents and grandparents. When the waitress came to take their order, the kids wouldn't have any of the vegetables suggested by their parents. They didn't want peas, didn't like broccoli, and carrots were completely out of the question. "Well, why don't you give 'em beans?" suggested the waitress. A very similar situation occurred in the same public house just over ten years ago, again on a Saturday lunchtime, only this time it was the original editors of Barrow's numero uno fanzine who were sitting at the next table and not my good self. Indeed, I'm sure that little scenario has been played out in pubs and restaurants all over the country, wherever children have been confronted by a boring, sensible vegetable and they want something more exciting instead.
And that is where the title of the fanzine comes from, the suggestion of a waitress in the Tally Ho to a couple of bored kids. So give 'em beans really means giving them something more exciting than the normal run of the mill offering.
Developed from occasional correspondence on this subject in Give 'Em Beans! from issue 021 onwards