More updates on SOUPY TWISTS: Digested and excreted for your pervy pleasure!
Now read on, dot dot dot…
9) Since You Have Been Kind Enough Never To Be Peter Sissons…
Sirs and Madams, I am chastened and bowed – ever the men and women of affairs, you have reminded us all, ALL, of our duty.
A Fry & Laurie book for you.
This shed has become slightly derelict since the glorious surge over 100% that the dear colleagues Stephen & Hugh engineered for us all – this is largely due to the necessity of earning currency for living purposes, as this book is written entirely on goodwill and dreams, until it actually exists, when hopefully a last-minute reprieve from total poverty will ride to the rescue.
But also it’s been a busy time in all areas – Fry and Laurie have been sunning themselves in the South of Wales, sorry, California – well, San Francisco for Hugh – readying their new US shows The Great Indoors and Chance, and so communication has evaporated until later in the year.
I have however, begun the process of rallying their friends and loved ones for interviews. My very first, to whom I shall be grateful long time, was the splendid Paul Shearer:
Who told me a few fascinating tales I’d never heard before, and shortly after I had an all-too brief chat with his old friend:
… Although sadly, too much time was spent gushing on my side (don’t be so beastly!) and our time was quickly over – and so Emma has kindly agreed to tackle further questions via email at her leisure. A similar deal has been struck with Sandi Toksvig, Geoff Posner and Kim Harris – and indeed Ben Elton, who now has a movie to helm down under as well as Upstart Crow series 2 to pen, so it’s understandable that he can’t come round to my house for a cup-a-soup and a chat about what he was doing 35 years ago. Typical.
Next month I’ll be drinking in Oxford with John Lloyd, and losing my Groucho Club virginity with Jon Canter, and so there’s lots to look forward to. But perhaps the most exciting news is, I think I may have just completed the first ‘Bit’ of the book, at last. I’m thinking of this story as four ‘Bits’ – Birth to Cellar Tapes, Early careers, ABOF&L, and finally, everything since 1995, in brief. Only completing the first quarter now is a little behind schedule, not least as of course there’s still plenty of fresh interview material to be folded back into the text, but it’s an important moment.
But if you want the slightest inkling of the mountain I still have to climb, here’s a visual representation of my research pile, which I have been amassing over nearly 30 years…
My Fry & Laurie collection (selected, all Audio tapes are too buried to extract without my entire bedroom falling apart).
Finally, PLEASE keep spreading the word among lovers of fine British Comedy the world over, this 107% total is not the end, the higher the number we reach, the more likely it is Hugh Laurie will come round your house and drink your tea. That is a promise. Or if you prefer, Stephen will pop by and read you a bedtime story in that lovely green velcet jacket of his. Until then, Soupy Twists!
Oh, actually, if there are any American fans out there, certainly from the south-east states, here is the other reason progress will slow later this month. There is a relevance – I’ll be playing Hugh songs including ‘All We Gotta Do’, ‘Sophisticated Song’, and maybe even ‘Kickin’ Ass’…!
10) HUGH LAURIE: Hollywood Star!
Well, I was always painfully aware of what a truly extraordinary story I was telling here… but never moreso than on this spectacular day, as I sit on the coast of the opposite shining sea of the United Stated of America and watch the great and the good of Hollywood prostrated at Hugh Laurie’s Union Jack socks, as his well-deserved star on the Hollywood Boulevard (fittingly just outside the British Pub, The Pig ‘N’ Whistle) is unveiled.
Eyes wet from Stephen’s tribute, there’s little I can do for now but share some hot screengrabs, and assure you that today has given Soupy Twists a stronger shape, a more exciting denouement, and hopefully a larger audience, than I could ever have dreamed.
In a couple of hours I will be paying my own tribute by playing ‘The Sophisticated Song’ on ukulele in a parking lot on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. So until further authorial twists and turns come about, what can I say but:
“Smell? Smell? Smell? SMELL???”
Sorry, I mean:
“We took the caravan down to Dorset this year, and pushed it over a cliff.”
Sorry, I mean:
11) Happy Hallowe’en (THIS *IS* AMERICA)!
HAPPY HALLOWE’EN, SOUPY TWISTERS!
I am actually IN America (The States) as the holiday comes around (so don’t throw me out of a window, Stephen and Hugh), and sadly, with that reference, I’ve already used up the best Fry & Laurie video for Hallowe’en in the text above, but to celebrate us hitting a wonderful 111%, here’s a bonus slice of young Gelliant Gutfright to enjoy this sizzling Samhain…
I was over in the US performing some silly Limey-Yank themed shows with the shamingly musically gifted Michaele Hannemann, and here, if you have insensitive ears and wish to grab a bit of spooky Halloween mood, is a heavily condensed Best Of Thing. With Soupy Twists! references at about the halfway point..!
JEM ROBERTS: HALLOWEEN ON JEKYLL ISLAND!
(I’ll probably only leave it up for a few days, fill your booties…)
12) “Quite right, Oxford’s a complete…”
… Well, of course I wouldn’t go that far, not by a long walk. My only previous experience of Oxford was a very brief stopover to watch Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden remember The Goodies about a decade ago, so my recent pilgrimage to Hugh Laurie’s hometown really constituted my first experience of that fine historic city and its infamously dreaming spire collection. And it is a handsome part of the country for sure, with pleasingly gargoyled ancient colleges aplenty, and as an Alice lover, my visit to Christ Church was worth the detour.
But somehow, it’s no Cambridge. If you were to remove the universities from either town, perhaps Cambridge would crumble and be blown into the sea, while the stolid midland city of Oxford would still have a considerable history to prop it up, as effectively England’s Second City for many years of yore. But it’s a large and logically laid-out place, its medieval charms far between, whereas the centre of Cambridge is pure movie-set Hogwarty wonder, so higgledy-piggledy are its unique colleges jostled together, with the Cam lazily meandering through the middle. I would not go so far as General Melchett, or Donald Trefusis in his condemnation of the alma mater of Bennett, Moore, Palin, Atkinson, Iannucci, Lee, Herring et al, but I rather think Cambridge nudges it in the beautiful university town stakes.
Stop that, dreaming spires, it’s filthy.
I have of course already had the pleasure of visiting Stout’s Hill, where Stephen was first sent away to school, but sadly I cannot see any way in which I could manage to get up to Norwich, or visit the rural isolation of Booton, where much of the Fry childhood was spent. However, as the birthplace of Hugh Laurie, a visit to relatively nearby Oxford felt paramount, to walk the same streets for a few dozen miles, albeit in steel-toe-capped boots with inadequate socks. Ow.
My first act was to get the bus to Blackbird Leys – as non-descript a surburban estate as you could care not to visit in any town or city in the UK, and of course not at all the area that Hugh actually grew up in, but as his father was the GP with specific responsibility for the entire factory workers’ community, it would have been very familiar to young Hugh.
A more concrete connection came with the long journey to the north of the city, and The Dragon School, where Laurie was prepped for Eton:
There’s very little of this blistering expedition which can impact upon the Soupy Twists text in much of a material form, but it feels an important part of the biographer’s duty, somehow. There was, though, another reason I braved Oxfordshire, as the county also happens to be one of the most comedy-legend-packed shires in the land, with Blackadder Halls in numerous corners. And from one of them came the no-introduction-needing John Lloyd, one of my longest supporters in this career thing in which I seem to still be immersed.
John’s long friendships and career connections with Fry & Laurie are well known, from Stephen’s first ever comedy credit in Not The Nine O’clock News to Lloyd’s script-editing of Alfresco series one, and above all, of course, Blackadder and QI. Once I passed the place in the street, I could not settle for a less auspicious venue for our chat than the Four Candles, named in honour of beloved Oxonian Ronnie Barker, for our chat on double act history:
The chatter was loud, and our time was quite short, but over the hour or so I managed to gain John’s view on the above and a fair few other areas of Stephen and Hugh’s careers, he having a particularly passionate estimation of the extremity of Hugh’s acting chops, and understandably very little memory of our colleagues’ early careers, when he was either making Not The Nine O’clock News, or balancing The Black Adder and Spitting Image as part of his mid-life breakdown preparation. The interview was as pleasant an encounter as ever, after all these years of thrusting my nose into Commander Lloyd’s comedy business, and I’m sure we are all very grateful to him. Now I just have to transcribe the natter into the relevant spots of the whole pink, fluffy narrative at hand. So that’s Paul, Kim, Emma, Sandi and John interviewed… but there are many Fry & Laurie colleagues still to talk to, and as your devoted slave I will continue to leave no geological specimen undefiled. Until later…
13) Stephen Fry DANCES!
Well, we may be at a whopping 113%, Soupy Twisters, but don’t forget, there’s no limit to what we can raise, and there must be a few hundred thousand House fans who still don’t know that Hugh Laurie has allowed some herbert to write his official story – as ampersanded to his colleague.
The book is headed to the halfway mark by the end of the year, leaving a winter of focus on ABOF&L and hopefully a finished draft by the spring, leaving a summer of design, editing and i-dotting, with hopes to get your copies of Soupy Twists to place in your own personal Soupy Twists handy wipe-clean travelling cases before the official 30th anniversary of ABOF&L on 26/12/17.
I was in the well known city of London on Friday having a particularly jolly nostalgic trip with noted humorist Jon Canter – a name you will recognise as script editor on the best series of ABOF&L. He had some choice nuggets to share, but the gist is – Stephen and Hugh were toughies. They knew what they wanted, and it was down to the production team to serve their vision.
For now, as a special bribe to ask you to keep spreading the word, I present a couple of musical numbers taken from the 1983 documentary ‘FOOTLIGHTS! 100 Years of Comedy’. Stephen and Hugh were too young in deed at the time to be interviewed, but Fry was hired, alongside Slattery, Bathurst, Shearer and Hesketh-Harvey, to recreate some of the most toe-curling Footlights numbers of yore – the embarrassing ‘Cheer Oh, Cambridge!’ and a number about how silly women are, and how men dressed up as women are clearly much better. It takes all sorts.
There’s no doubt that any singing on here will not be coming from Fry lips, he must surely be miming… but those are certainly the Fry limbs being moved around in a syncopated fashion. And so, for one blog only, ladies and gentleboys… STEPHEN. FRY. DANCES!
14) Felicitations of the Gorging Season!
TALLY HO, PIP PIP, AND MAY THE YULETIDE LOG SLIP FROM YOUR FIRE AND BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN!
Who’s that at the door on a cold Christmas night? It could be a robin…?
I won’t spoil the Xmas atmos by mentioning that cove who ended up a cropper on top of a hill in jolly arab land, but 2016 has been a remarkable year, so it would be remiss not to wish every last pledger to SOUPY TWISTS a very very jolly festive season. This time next year, we all hope you’re immersed in this remarkable story…
But for now, here’s a couple of small gifts. Sadly the full CHRISTMAS NIGHT WITH THE STARS from 22 years ago isn’t online in its entirety, and the F&L clips on YouTube are very poor quality, but it’s an annual tradition, so enjoy what there is – and remember Hugh’s crucial advice on mulled wine…
And as an extra pressie, as there’s no real way of using this in the book, here’s an article from the sun from around 25 years ago, with Stephen chatting about all his GRATE COMEDY MATES:
Thanks again for all your support in 2016, and please keep spreading the word into 2017!
15) Happy Friday 13th, If You’ll Pardon The Pun*
Well, fusk the Friday 13th naysayers, what a truly remarkable anniversary today is, and how eerily lucky I am that I only happened to notice this due to reaching the first ever broadcast of A Bit of Fry & Laurie series 1 episode 1 in my Soupy Twists narrative yesterday.
Because it was 28 years ago to the superstitiously dodgy day, Friday 13th January 1989, 9pm on BBC2, that ABOF&L debuted – not counting the Boxing Day pilot in 1987, of course. It was the first broadcast of the first episode of the first series, of what I for one am calling the finest sketch show ever wrought by humanity. If you wanted to pop the first episode on the DVD on this evening at 9pm, you can recreate the sheer rabid excitement of that moment, and for added 1980s verisimilitude, you could craft yourself a mullet out of stray dog hairs, take a guess at what went into Quattro and recreate the drink for the occasion, or perhaps even invite Jason Donovan around to watch it with you. If you ask him, he’ll be there.
Anyway, to celebrate the milestone for all you tasty pledgers, I’m afraid I have no outtakes from that episode, but I do have the following never-before-imagined sketch, written and recorded for the pilot but never broadcast. Ordinarily I am careful to clear such sharings with Mr Fry, but as this material came via the BBC directly, I’m hoping I can get away with it.
Perhaps you fear this is being too generous with exciting lost Fry & Laurie sketches, but I must take a moment to explain my greatest dilemma as Soupy Twists author – I have SO MUCH wonderful F&L material, I would guess there’s no way I can share more than about 20% of it. Right now I’m nearing 60k words of a book contracted for 100k – 20k of which I have vowed to leave purely for archive sketches. And you already know where I am in the narrative, not even into the 1990s. Somewhere along the line, either an extension is needed, or the tale I am relating will have to be viciously slashed down to fit into the book covers. And so whole sketches like the below rarity, ‘Honour’, can only be referred to in passing, perhaps a snippet quoted, which means that blogs like this one form an important outlet for funny tummy rubbish.
And I stress the word, ‘important’.
‘Honour’ is, I suggest, a kind of dry run for the ‘Language’ and ‘Beauty’ sketches, you can hear Stephen’s tongue running away with him, you can see Hugh’s bemused looks to camera, you can wonder where on earth all this nonsense stemmed from. Sadly we can only guess at the melody to Hugh’s song – in the pilot script this led directly into ‘Mystery’ – but who knows, if he’s out there and his memory is jogged, he might give it a play and remind us all of his musical mastery, with or without his Copper Bottom.
Therefore, happy birthday, ABOF&L, and take it away, Fry & Laurie, with ‘HONOUR’:
*Oh, wasn’t there one? I’m sorry.
16) Well, I wouldn’t suck it!
Added on Feb 24 with 2 comments
Now then, then, now, now, now, then now. Now then.
It has been a considerable number of hours since last this Shed was updated, so although there is no cataclysmic event to be detailed here, I just thought I’d fill in the faithful on what’s been happening with Soupy Twists!
Despite Stephen popping by North-West Europe to hand out a few BAFTAs earlier in the month, and Hugh being over here doing something Holmesian, neither colleague has yet been able to settle on a time for another full in-person interview for the book as yet, though impertinent questions are being fielded via email for the nonce. (For the moment, that is. That’s one Wodehousian term which is perhaps best dropped these days. No actual nonces are involved, I swear.)
This has, however, been the first time that any of my books has inspired me to pay a second visit to the BBC’s delightful, precious (don’t you dare touch it, BBC) Written Archives in the suburbia of Reading. I’d neglected to really get to grips with the timings of each series of ABOF&L’s production – series 4, for instance, was made a whole year before it hit screens – and also, I just wanted to devote more time to combing through the scripts for titbits, such as this looser rendition of the Soup/Broth contretemps:
Or indeed, this alternate (fizzly) ending to series 3’s wonderful ‘mimed dog tragedy’ sketch:
… Which of course, has no place within the book, given the strictures of pressed wood pulp, but still a thrill to find and share. In fact, have a Gary cartoon of young Stephen from one of his 80s columns while we’re at it:
I have also carried out a number of further interviews, including producers Nick Symons (again) and Roger Ordish, Jeeves & Wooster boss Brian Eastman, and the absolutely lovely Deborah Norton, regular supporting artist in ABOF&L series 1. I also managed to bag the best part of an hour on the phone with this unfailingly lovely chap:
Richard Curtis was very kind to me when I was writing The True History of the Black Adder, and despite Comic Relief taking up most of his waking hours at the moment, he was generous with his time all over again – we even ended up talking about Dr Who and time travel, in a chat which will resurface elsewhere…
Otherwise, I’m simply listening to Storm Doris batter the house about as I tell the story of these two colleagues, making a very good living by spreading even better laughter. In fact, right now I’m immersed in the fourth series, so am beginning to get a little emotional that the end of the road is almost in sight.
Of course, that’s still only the first draft, and then all the really tough stuff to do with artwork and editing and (shudder) marketing will follow, so it’s still impossible to give a guaranteed date for delivery, but all I can say for now is: watch this space! Intermittently, that is. Every now and then. Nothing’s going to happen if you just watch. This space.
PS Oh, and I also finally got to see the inside of The Groucho Club, thanks to my dear thrice-publisher of yore, Trevor Dolby. As Fry practically helped build the place, I felt it was a crucial location for Soupy Twists research. Sadly, the photographic proof of my visit was less than pleasant to behold… Boh!