Archive for the ‘comedy’ Category

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…


Victoria Wood: my unfunny encounter

April 21, 2016

“She won’t be funny, you know,” said our executive producer.

I had booked Victoria Wood, who died yesterday, as a guest on a chat show I was producing for ITV, starring Jimmy Tarbuck (about which I have written before).  wood

She was a late booking, the first guest on the first show in 1996.  Two days before the live recording, EastEnders star and Carry-On favourite Barbara Windsor had pulled out, and none of the other guests was big enough to be promoted to the top spot.

Elaine, our researcher, had a passing acquaintance with Victoria Wood, with whom she had worked previously.  I begged Elaine, and Elaine used up her entire stock of showbiz credibility to beg Victoria: “Please rescue our show.  It’s a personal request from Jimmy who is a huge fan.”

(Not strictly true.  Tarby was a fan – who isn’t? – but had no idea of the difficulties were were having booking guests to his show with a tiny guest budget).

Graham Stuart, the executive producer (now Graham Norton’s producer, so he knows a bit about talk shows) delivered the pessimistic verdict on our booking.  “She’s only funny doing ‘material’ and she’s not going to do her material for £100 and her bus fare.”

I prayed he’d be wrong.  He wasn’t.

Poor Victoria.  On the night, she was pleasant enough, but had the definite look of someone who was there because she was doing a favour for someone.  Far too well-mannered to give monosyllabic answers, she instead engaged in pleasant chit-chat with Jimmy Tarbuck who did his considerable best to make the whole thing funny.  He fed her lines, and she batted them away, he asked her the sort of questions to which virtually every comedian has stock replies: who were your comedy influences, what makes you laugh, what was your worst ever gig?  No dice.

She was unfailingly polite, nice…and unfunny. Afterwards, Tarby was baffled.  A born laughter-maker, he had – has – a wealth of jokes and one-liners with which he could fill the gaps, but he couldn’t understand why he was having to do all the work.

In the edit, we somehow extracted a vaguely diverting five minutes from an excruciating 15 minute interview.

I read in an obituary this morning that she was considered a little dour off-stage.  This seems a bit harsh.  But comics are seldom funny all the time; the ones that try to be are – in my experience – very tiresome.


So because I think she was hilarious and gifted, here are a couple of clips.  The first is Victoria Wood’s song, “Let’s Do It”.  I thought I was the only one who loved this song.  Turns out everyone does.  I would have known, only middle-aged men don’t often get to talk about how much they like the comic songs of Victoria Wood.  Listening to it on the news last night, it reminded me of Noel Coward’s song, “Nina from Argentina”.  Both have fabulously complicated lyrics, and both are – essentially – about the same subject: lack of desire.

I’ve got a book of Victoria Wood’s songs somewhere.  In the foreword, she professes that she hates performing “Let’s Do It” – far too many words to remember!  Can’t say I blame her, but it’s great fun to listen to.



Did people actually wear these things?

March 16, 2016

I fear they did.  The 1970s was, after all, “the decade that fashion forgot”.

Except, it wasn’t.  It was more like, “the decade that fashion forgot that clothes should not be principally hilarious.”

By which I mean, look around you. There is relatively little in how people dress now that in twenty years’ time will provoke amused head shaking.  OK, I’m not including here the fashion for young men to wear suits at least two sizes too small.  Whose idea was that?  Snug-Fitting I can understand.  Can’t wear, but I can understand.  Snug fits have been a standard option since Paul Smith first started making suits that stood out in the big, boxy 80s.  But even Paul Smith suits had sleeves that came past your wrist and trousers that touched the tops of your shoes.

So, yeah.  Teeny-tiny suits on fully grown men is ridiculous, and we’ll laugh in a few years.

And wearing jeans below your buttocks so that everyone can see your underwear?  That’s dying out, surely?  (“Yeah, grandad, sheesh…”)

And dressing up as a Yukon lumberjack with a massive beard, like some kid doing Call Of The Wild for World Book Day?  That’s gotta provoke amusement before long.

Oh, and ripped jeans.  That’s weird, but they’ve been around for years and don’t look like they’re going anywhere. Or maybe they’ve been and gone and returned and I just haven’t noticed.  It’s possible.  Probable, even.

Anyway, all that notwithstanding, the nineteen seventies were especially silly, and this collection of pictures that I have collated amply proves it.


First up, the Eleganza ad (left) “Things happen when you were Eleganza” says the ad copy. Like being accidentally cast as an extra in a low-budget TV space opera?  I know we all joke about outsize collars being fashionable in the 1970s, but really?  That is a designer’s joke, surely?  One that he never expected to get away with.








So Eleganza may not be a name you have heard of, but Wrangler (above) surely is, and I LOVE this ad for the marvellously-named “Wranglers Wrelaters”, handily marked with a “TM” by the brand name, like anyone’s going to nick it.  I love, too, their line: “Now you can have perfectly color-wrelated clothes – even if you’re color-blind.”  Why bring up colour-blindness?  Did someone mention it?  They should have.  Best of all is the last line: “Wremember the W is silent.”  What?  How else can you say it?  Do they honestly think that, without that reminder, people will be trying to pronounce the W?  I’ve tried.  I sound like Frank Muir doing an impression of Jonathon Ross.

Finally, for today (because I’ve got more!): my favourite.  I’m not sure which bit of this33-1970fashion-thingslife

page I like best.  Is it the guy on the right who looks very pissed off (and who can blame him) even though he’s holding what appears to be a CD long before CDs were invented.

No, it has to be the three fellas on the left.  Do you remember that ad  a few years ago for Dove soap, when they got women of all shapes and sizes posing in their underwear as a “celebration of real women”?  Not such a new idea, was it?  This is what it would look like if me and my mates Olly and Dave became underwear models.

What happened here, really?  Did the models not turn up?  I think they were delayed by a 1970s three-day-week transport strike, so the photographer said to three lads from the factory floor, “OK boys – you’ll do,”?


Give this a few seconds…

October 9, 2015

…and when the penny drops, you’ll LOL.  Proper LOL as well, not what LOL usually means which is “I smiled inside a bit”.

It’s funny all the way through as well.

PS I have been practising “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a piano solo for, ooh, twenty years now.  I can do it with the music in front of me, but where’s the fun in that?  It’s not actually all that difficult, though the guitar solo towards the end is fiddly on the piano (probably even harder on the guitar, but it’s Brian May so it’s probably a piece of cake for him).  It’s remembering all the different chords and tricky bits that’s hard.

It’s six minutes long, don’t be harsh.