Archive for May, 2016

Blackadder Rides Again

May 24, 2016

It’s hard – and painful – to think that Blackadder Goes Forth first appeared on TV in 1989.  I know.  Twenty seven years ago.

And for 27 years, those of us who loved it have wanted it to come back.  We have lapped up rumours and weighed the options.  Could it be Blackadder in WW2?  (Nah, too much like Blackadder 4)  How about Blackadder in the swinging 60s? (I’d love to see that!)

Either way, it never happened, and the likelihood has retreated still further with the debut of Upstart Crow (BBC2). Ben Elton has sort of recreated Blackadder 2 (the Elizabethan one) but instead of Rowan Atkinson playing Blackadder we have David Mitchell, whom I usually find tiresome, playing William Shakespeare.

The similarities are endless, and tantalising.  I find it impossible to watch Upstart Crow without thinking that Atkinson would make a far better fist of playing Shakespeare, or that the part of Shakespere’s rival, Robert Greene must have been written for Stephen Fry.  The actor Mark Heap certainly seems like he has Fry’s booming, bombastic Lord Melchett in mind.

What was going on?  Did Elton write this, hoping that his pals Rowan and Stephen would agree to be in it?  Could the BBC not afford them?  Did they turn it down because it would inevitably be compared with Blackadder?

And what of Spencer Jones, playing Kempe, an actor in Shakespeare’s troupe?  Jones actually impersonates Ricky Gervais.  This is not a performance “inspired by” Gervais, it’s an outright impersonation: gestures, voice, physical tics: the full David Brent.  It is very odd, and – after a minute or so – not at all funny.  Why would an actor do that?  Why would a director encourage an actor to do that?  Why would a writer as powerful as Atkinson allow a director to encourage a actor to do that?  It’s mystifying.

Thankfully, the rest of the show much better.  In fact it could end up being very funny.  So far.  I’ve only seen episode 1.

Instead of comparing it favourably or unfavourably to Blackadder, perhaps we should just accept that this is how Ben Elton writes sitcoms, regardless of who’s in them.

UPDATE: I’ve watched episode 2 now.  I don’t think I’ll be hurrying to watch more.  It was the same jokes again, more or less.  Some very funny lines and Shakespearean in-jokes that we can congratulate ourselves for understanding, but I’m still wishing that Will Shakespeare was played by Rowan Atkinson.  I suppose if there’s nothing else on…


How I dodged a bullet in Chicago

May 16, 2016

I can summon hot waves of shame just thinking about it.  It could have been soooo embarrassing…

There I was in Chicago at Book Expo America.  I had been invited by my US publisher, Schwartz & Wade (Penguin Random House) to promote my children’s book, Time Travelling With A Hamster which had been selected as one of the titles to be given extra exposure through their “Book Buzz”.

I know: nice.  Thrilling, in fact.  And definitely NOT an opportunity to squander by making an absolute tit of oneself.

burlesque-dancing_2So I’m there on Friday night with all these lovely people from the publishing world, most of them women, as well as some other authors, and it’s after dinner, and I’m a dry Martini and half a bottle of wine bolder, and I think,”Wouldn’t it be great to go to a Magic Bar?”

You see, Chicago to magicians (both pros and amateurs like me) is like, I dunno, Wimbledon to tennis fanatics.  Sort of.  It’s just that for about thirty years from the 50’s, Chicago spawned a version of close-up magic done in bars: funny, fast-talking, often card-based.  It was an influential fad, it died out, but remnants of it linger and I thought it would be fun to see it.

No one else did.  And I thank God for that.

I turned up, Billy No-Mates, at one venue where magic still thrives: the aptly named Chicago Magic Bar.  I took my seat, and eagerly awaited a performance of mystifying and hilarious conjuring.

Instead, on came a dancer, most politely described as Rubenesque.  She took all her clothes off.

I’m no prude, but this isn’t what I had come to see.  Nor was the next very curvy stripper.  Or the next…

Turns out I had got the night wrong.  Fridays are “Burlesque Night” at the Chicago Magic Bar.

I had almost taken a bunch of people I had just met, and who could make or break my fledgling authorial career, to a strip show.