April 24, 2020
Matt Lucas resurrects baked potato song as hit single and book
by Tom Clayton
This story begins in November 2002 with the fifth series of cult surrealist quiz show Shooting Stars, hitting its stride again after a five-year hiatus. Originally a ’90s hit, it provided a showcase for the madcap stylings of comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, as well as regular team captains Ulrika Jonsson and Will Self (yep, that Will Self).
As well as Vic’n’Bob, comic actor Matt Lucas (now best known for his sketch show with David Walliams, Little Britain) starred as George Dawes, to keep score and occasionally sing a novelty song—all while dressed as a giant baby, sitting behind a full drum kit. We told you it was weird.
Anyway, in series five Lucas took to the stage for a musical interlude: a song about baked potatoes. In an audacious duet, Lucas passes the mic between himself and a talking spud, barely making it through his lines before corpsing (go on, I dare you not to smile while watching the original. Then watch the even better ‘Peanuts’).
The song seemed destined to be remembered as a comedy curio, albeit one that has attracted over 1.5m YouTube views. Then, a few weeks back, as public lockdown social distancing measures came into force in the UK, Lucas re-recorded the song, posting his COVID-19 specific version on Twitter, to the delight of fans. The titular tuber now doles out advice like “wash your hands and stay indoors”. Thank you, baked potato!
Hitting the sweet spot of whimsical, nostalgic and informative, Lucas realised he had a hit on his hands—and set about releasing the 55-second ditty as a single, with all proceeds going to Feed NHS, set up to help feed NHS workers. At time of writing, the scheme’s initial target of £1 million has been exceeded by 15%, and rising, thanks to Lucas’s song. He has since recorded several variations of the song, duetting online with the likes of Take That singer Gary Barlow and comedian Rob Brydon.
Reacting to the song’s performance in the charts – where it broke the Top 40 last week – Lucas told the Official Charts website:
“However much we want to shield children from what’s going on, at the same time we need to let them know how to be safe. This feels like a gentle, fun way of doing it. It’s also something else to sing while washing your hands instead of happy birthday.”
Now the phenomenon is set to expand even further, with UK comedy site Chortle (among others) reporting that the Baked Potato Song has been turned into a 32-page children’s book, illustrated by Scott Coello and rush-released by Egmont on May 4th, which will also donate a cut to charity.
If the book proves as successful as the single, we may have even more reasons to thank this most unassumingly helpful of meals.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.