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GRATIS SURPRISE INCORPORATED

It would be a tough ask to have created the underlying attitude of Pwürg from music alone. The influence of other aspects of our way of life all came together to inspire the band to reach a deeper esoteric sense of obscurity. Therefore, simultaneously with the formation of the band, we founded a "company" based on the age old philosophies of Robin Hood. The only difference was that we didn't steal from anybody, and we also didn't discriminate in who we chose to reward. As I believe Roger Waters once said (albeit on a critically slammed record) "We were all equal in the end." Our mission became Gratis Surprise Incorporated (or GSI for short). Confused? Probably. So, let's cut to the chase - and begin with a newspaper article - published by the Maidenhead Advertiser in late 1993...

P-c Bob has right idea for our 'hamper of joy'

THE Advertiser has always had an interesting and varied postbag, but we never expected to receive anything from outer space.

On Friday, staff received a "hamper of joy" from Gratis Surprise Incorporated. Included in the contents were a selection of Kylie Minogue records, a shirt, a fencing mask, an apple, a waistcoat and a broken joystick.

The parcel was delivered by a strange-looking man with a foreign accent. He screeched a greeting at our receptionist before dumping the box and leaving.

An accompanying letter claimed the senders were not of this earth (the Advertiser's circulation has obviously rocketed). It said: "Gratis Surprise Inc. is an organisation that rewards dedicated individuals in the community for their outstanding service and bravery.

"At present, we have a campaign targeting the Maidenhead area. Many parcels have been distributed to the worthy citizens of your burgage borough."

The inter-galactic travellers, signed themselves - Gladys Surprise, Jacob Branthington, Harold, Egon Pilchard-Brethh, Genitt Rentson, Ingo Von Huehnerbein, Sarah Fftaang!, Lucas Manghope (son of) and B.B. Ghali, then wished us love and doses of a rather nasty disease.

The Advertiser also received two bizarre telephone calls. But as the callers, after asking if we liked our gift, could only manage a screech, we can only assume that our alien admirers were too shy to talk to any of those "dedicated individuals."

Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, we asked P-c. Bob Walker at Maidenhead police station if he knew of anyone else lucky enough to have received such a splendid present.

And we were amazed to discover that, to his knowledge, we were the only people bestowed with the honour. Our next dilemma was what to do with this wondrous gift. Strangely enough, P-c Walker's suggestion was "bin it." Wonder why?

 

Intrigued yet? Well, this tale begins one night outside the CRCMH in Cliveden. On a typical abandoned hospital visit, Prof. Isaac Mangang noticed a tatty bit of wood about one metre square at the end of someone's drive opposite the hospital. Scrawled upon it in felt-tip pen were the words "A + E Hyde. 2 Winkipop Cottages, Cliveden." He thought it was a bit sad that people had to resort to such a miserable introduction to their house, so with nothing but generosity in mind, he took the sign home with him. He stayed up all night and turned it into a psychedelic masterpiece using bright acrylic paints. When he'd finished, it looked like the kind of thing you might hang outside a Carnaby Street kaftan shop in the late sixties. (see below).


Mangang's actual sign that started it all. The writing at the
bottom says "Gratis Surprise Sign Redevelopments Inc."
which was a meaningless afterthought - and where the
company name would come from. If only all things were that
easy. (the green things are quite obviously "winkipops")

Just as dawn hit (and having photographed the finished article), he drove back and placed the sign lovingly where it was originally found. Nobody knows what inspired all of this, but Bones and Mangang found it amusing enough to record a song called "Winkipop Surprise" when they were messing around with some new studio equipment a few days later. This was pretty much based around the tune from "Blankety-Blank" with chipmunk vocals about what a wonderful surprise it was and how grateful they should be to receive it. And with this song - Pwrg was born - with a mission to create further madcap music.

Pwrg noticed that the sign had been (presumably) taken inside the house, and felt that perhaps the Hydes (if that's who they were) might like to hear the song written especially for them. The band could have just mailed a tape to them, or put it through their letterbox. But that wouldn't be in the spirit of the whole thing. So they came up with a company letterhead - Gratis Surprise Incorporated. The accompanying standard letter went like this:

 

Stardate:TIME2
42/176/658txn

Gleetings Earthlings,

Congratulations, You have been carefully selected by us here at Gratis Surprise Incorporated to receive this splendid gift from us to you. We forage around the galaxies looking for kind and deserving persons such as yourselves so we can leave wonderful surprises to brighten up lives.

GSI was founded in 1979 by German entrepreneur Mrs Gladys Surprise. Since, the corporation's act of kindness and love has been repeated throughout this and other universes now known or yet to be discovered by man. GSI is not a charity, we go far beyond the realms of human gratitude and offer caring gifts as a token of respect to mankind.

GSI has found YOU and you will be highly rewarded. Please accept on behalf of GSI, the following smashing gifts:

(Here, a list of wonderful presents would be handwritten - in this case: A bag of delightfully scrummy banana flavoured fruity bon-bons and a copy of the song "Winkipop Surprise" as performed by a famous pop group.)

We hope that you take great pleasure in receiving these wonderful prizes and that you will spread the word of our good deeds across a vast amount of avid listeners. Be nice to everyone. PRAY FOR INTERGALACTIC PEACE.

With Love and Herpes,

(signed)
Gladys Surprise (chairwoman/founder)
Genitt Rentson (receptionist)
Harold (?)
Sarah Fftaang! (fashion designer)
Jacob Branthington (creative director)
Isaac Manghope Jr (son of I Manghope)
Cedric Moldavia (fitness instructor)
B.B. Ghali (activist)
Stumper O'Mulligan (check-out assistant)
Bob Mouldie (geriatric)
Dr Structure (dustman)

REF: GS94ms03-WKPj1-

This letter, along with a copy of the tape was packaged in a huge box, which was painted white. It had stars and glitter added along with white tassels along the edges and a roof was added. For a grander effect it was mounted on stilts, so that the finished gift looked like a little white house on four legs, about head height. It was finished off by inserting a flashing roadwork light so the whole thing pulsated in the dark.

So, off they went, creeping up the gravel drive of 2 Winkipop Cottages in the snow. It looked magic, this otherworldly inanimate object beaming an eerie orange light over the crisp white surrounds (it was snowing at the time). Without ringing the bell (because it was half-past dark by this point), Pwrg disappeared off into the shadows...and never heard anything more about it.

Nobody knows if they listened to the tape because to this day, they have never come forward. Perhaps it's still there in the drive and they're too scared to go outside and retrieve it. Maybe the sign is hanging over their mantelpiece. Who knows?

Nevertheless, by this stage, word spread and all sorts of people became interested in what Pwrg were doing in the twilight hours. They decided to "Gratis" (as it is became known) on a mass scale. The band and their helpers spent ages constructing huge cone shaped packages with glitter & pink stars and tassels all over them. In the name of publicity, the Maidenhead Advertiser's phone number was discreetly written inside the package. They made about thirty cones in all, then set about finding goodies to fill them with. People helped out with all sorts of crap - clothes they didn't want, broken appliances, records, tinned food, ANYTHING - as long as it wasn't dangerous, cruel or unhygenic. Every recipient also got the standard letter, informing them why they're being "Gratissed". When all was ready, Pwrg loaded up the van and headed off into the dead of night.

All over Maidenhead they roamed - Holyport, Bray, and as far as Twyford. They even did a few teachers houses who nobody liked at school - this time ensuring to ring the doorbells before they sped off. Pwrg were particularly pleased to have targeted Mr "Dick" Whiffen, a Desborough maths teacher who truly deserved it. They also made sure that Rolf Harris was a recipient too - heading down his very swank road on the Bray fisheries estate. They couldn't get to the front door, but somewhere on his security camera footage, you would've seen a giant gleaming white cone being lobbed onto his doorstep (Nobody recalls if they shouted out "Can you guess what it is yet, Rolf?" or not). The whole night was absolutely pointless, but good fun - especially when a much hated PE teacher was legging it down the road after them. That taken care of, there was one last GSI mission left the Maidenhead Advertiser.

It must be said here that, until now, this incident has remained a complete mystery - published here for the first time is the truth about that infamous "Hamper of Joy."

Pwrg recruited a funny looking lanky German exchange student (no - seriously lanky and very tall) and got him to wear full national dress (using lederhosen lying around from Mangang's uncle's time in the Royal Artillery band based in Dortmund). They got an extra special big present with extra tassels hanging off it and a big bow on top. In addition to the objects mentioned in the article (we can but assume that the Advertiser was too embarrased about this one), they received a King Kong Bundy wrestling figure (i.e. big bald guy in a leotard) with "Maidenhead Advertiser editor" scrawled across its chest.

They pulled up outside their offices in Bell Street and the German (nobody can recall his name - Matt, help us out here) hopped out carrying the parcel and he did a John Cleese silly walk into the foyer. After letting them know the joys of rhinoceros flavour strudel or whatever he was crapping on about in his native tongue, he screeched "Gratis Surprise" at them (a feat he'd later reproduce on the phone) then did a knee-slapping Bavarian dance for the reception staff, before bolting out the door and into our waiting getaway car.

Those involved do not know exactly what happened next, but if the article is anything to go by, it wouldn't have been surprising if they had evacuated the entire building (something I don't think they'd have given us the gratification of printing). At any rate, they clearly brought P-c Bob over for a lookand the rest, they say, is history.

 

Interesting Factoid:
Ironically, Prof. Isaac Mangang now lives within a stone's throw from "Winkipop Beach" in Australia. It's a small world...

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