Archive for the ‘Comedy History’ Category

SOUPY TWISTS! First Bit

SOUPYCLICK.jpgDear Madam, or Sir –

This is to introduce, in a needlessly twee way, the officially authorised book SOUPY TWISTS – the fourth work of comedy history by Jem Roberts, and the first ever print celebration of the tickling, maddening, frothing and frankly filthy comedy of STEPHEN FRY & HUGH LAURIE, to officially mark the forthcoming (not ‘upcoming’, never ‘upcoming’) 30th anniversary of the pilot of their terribly hilarious BBC sketch show, A BIT OF FRY & LAURIE.

For a full and shameless explanation, please do click through to the UNBOUND website above – support the book, and please, if you love the sophisticated comedy stylings of these two beloved colleagues, SPREAD THE WORD. On the other hand, stay tuned for a little more information on the long and bendy road which has brought us here.

SOUPY TWISTS is not my first pitch since I handed The Frood over in the spring of 2014 – but be in zero doubt that the comedy of Fry & Laurie, and indeed their careers in general, has had an unparalleled influence on the person that I am, since staying up to watch them both on Saturday Live – or further, watching Lord Snot and Lord Monty get blown up on The Young Ones when I was six years old. If you want to know, in particular, the effect that Stephen Fry has had on me throughout my life, simply seek out what Fry has written about the influence of PG Wodehouse and Vivian Stanshall on himself, his own verbiage, and love of language. Via direct influence and by urging me towards Plum and Viv, I would estimate that a huge chunk of my vocabulary – all the prettiest parts – are indebted to Fry.

But this is not to devalue the influence of Hugh Laurie, and one crucial part of what I hope to achieve with SOUPY TWISTS is to remind people of Laurie’s own brilliance as a comedy writer and performer, which tends to get forgotten amid the avalanche of awards and record-breaking American-housewife-dampening achievements he has accrued in the last decade or so. Particularly, Hugh’s place as one of our finest funny songwriters has been villainously overlooked, and as I believe comedy music to be perhaps the greatest artistic medium of any kind (well, perhaps equal with comedy sketches) I will be striving to give Hugh his due, whether he likes it or not.

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If a Mr Cuminmyear could get in touch, I’d be very interested in pumping him thoroughly.

However, Hugh is the reason that it took me so long to dare to dream of pitching this book idea to anyone. His infamous unease with talking about himself and his now near-alien comedy career has always been obvious, and I never thought he would agree to some below-stairs homunculus like me writing about it. I’ve yet to write a single unofficial book, and so approval was key, and that seemed like an impossible task, to tempt Hugh to a blessing. But with the bravery and imagination of book publishers at an all-time low (or, let’s be fair here, the blame lies mainly with the mindless philistinism of their corporate superiors) several mooted, worthy and exciting fourth books fell by the wayside, and so I thought, why not take the risk? Fry & Laurie have been an abiding passion of mine for most of my life, why not for goodness’ sake take the plunge and see what Hugh says? We’ve suffered such horrible comedy losses in recent years, why not stand up and cheer for the vertical men, one of our greatest ever double acts, while both colleagues are here to be delightfully embarrassed by the acclaim? This is my job, to capture the thoughts of our greatest comedians, and preserve their memories and philosophies for all time.

And so, somewhere in the region of a year and a half ago, I suggested ‘Soupy Twists’ to Stephen, and was pleasingly staggered at the rapidity of the tentatively positive reply. However, never ones to be anything but challenging, Stephen explained that somehow he and his best friend had gone 35 years without actually having a business discussion, and so my quest was to gain Hugh’s blessing, and his promise to take part in the creation of the book, entirely independently. This took a little bit (a year) longer, which is to be expected when the man in question was joshing around fighting George Clooney and trying to destroy the world for most of that time.

Since gaining the hero’s express permission to proceed, however, it has been a cautious shuffle towards today’s announcement. The choice of Unbound to publish the book has so many binds of synergy to it, SOUPY TWISTS could clearly have no better home – Stephen had just left QI, of course, and Unbound was co-founded by the QI co-founder John Mitchinson, and this gives them a reason to extend their professional connection, keeping everything neatly friendly across the board. Fry & Laurie both know and delight in Unbound’s mission statement, to give the people what they really want, despite the degeneration of most publishing houses.

But of course, the Unbound mode of publishing only works if you do your bit – and pledge to support the book, pledge to give Fry & Laurie the celebration that they deserve, and of course, pledge to mess yourself laughing at more completely undreamt of Fry & Laurie sketches than even their most optimistic fans could have thought possible. These chaps wrote four series, 26 half hours on their own, and yet Stephen Fry kindly sent me a zipfile of untouched writings which could easily comprise an entire 5th series of ABOF&L. And yes, I know I’m somewhat biased, but I have had the honour of being the first to sift through these knackered old defunct Word files, and… I promise you, from one Fry & Laurie fan to another, although some sketches may be, erm, sketchy, this NEW Fry & Laurie material is almost all entirely up to the best standard – which is one way of saying I have been doing an obscene amount of helpless laughing in recent weeks. No other sketch show of the last 20 years comes close; Fry & Laurie’s unseen off-cuts blast the broadcast sketches of any subsequent act out of the water.

I’ll be trying to squeeze as much of this rare comedy into the book as I can, as the joyous pudding to a main course of exploring the comedic voyages and lasting friendship of Stephen John Fry & James Hugh Calum Laurie, and if you support us with this project right now, the book (with your name in the back) can be nestled on your lap, or preferred book station, in just over a year.

I’ll be shifting most coverage of SOUPY TWISTS composition over to the Unbound site during that time, but for now, please do pledge, and help spread the word. You’ve been patient, you’ve been glossy, you’ve been surprisingly supple. I’ve enjoyed being fabulous with you.

SOUPY TWISTS!

SOUPYCLICK

THE FROOD: FIT THE FINAL?

This month The Frood is excitingly relaunched in paperback form – which, after all, was always the natural format for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, from its first release.

This is a completely updated, fine-tuned edition, which will hopefully spread Douglas Adams’ incredible, improbable, never-holistically-told-before story further than ever, and see this Hitchhiker celebration finally reach the legions of froody fans in the USA and all around the world, who seem to clamour for it despite there being no US publisher as yet. The first editions’ few niggles have been extinguished with the strictest niggle destroying technology, the back end has been updated, and I’ve even requested that the cover be made at least 25% more shiny (sending the Arrow designers grabs from 1980s Doctor Who credits as reference material).

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I’ve also added many more acknowledgements, thanking everyone who helped with the original release last year, and the events that followed. Sadly – very sadly – the book went off to the printers before the news emerged of the loss of Susan Sheridan, the original and ultimate Trillian, otherwise extra tribute would have been paid to her within. She was wonderfully generous with her time for this book, sharing an article she’d written as well as putting up with all my impertinent questions. It was an honour to meet her, and tragic to lose another of the Hitchhiker family.

This time last year there was a rather cheeky story in the Radio Times (It’s £2 these days! Honestly!), in which some staffer who had stolen into The Frood’s wonderful Cheltenham Literary Festival event with Terry Jones, Clive Anderson and Douglas’ brother James Thrift, specifically ignored the very existence of The Frood itself, but instead selectively quoted James (a really wonderful bloke who was unstintingly helpful and enthusiastic throughout the book’s creation) when he suggested on the hoof that The Frood would be the last word from the Douglas Adams archive. Of course, if there is a firm insistence on this from everyone who makes up the Adams estate, then yes, that is so, and The Frood is all that you can expect to read, unpublished Adams material-wise – certainly for a generation or three.

However, even though I did not have time to cover more than about 80% of the archive at St. John’s college, the material I was lucky enough to capture two years ago is still very exciting. A tiny fraction of it – not so much all the cream, just the most pertinent passages – has made its way into The Frood, and all of it a real fan-frothing dream-come-fact to read, after so many years believing that the Salmon of Doubt was the full stop. But what about everything else I have lovingly secreted here on this hard drive? The tale of Dirk Gently and the Nameless Horror? Or the Demon Mafioso? That weird sketch extract starring Theseus and Ariadne? The Zaphod chapters in the courtroom at Argabuthon? Be assured, none of these Adams pieces could be described as scraping any barrels. Of course, there’s plenty of rough Adams material which should never be thrust into the public gaze for all sorts of reasons. But there’s still a large amount of well revised laugh-out-loud comic material here, and if there’s one thing of which I am certain, it’s that making people laugh out loud was always one of Douglas Adams’ core reasons for being. For his jokes to continue to make his fans laugh after he’s gone is the best posthumous respect you can show the man.

With so much activity in the Dirk Gently camp, both from IDW’s comics, and the related BBC America TV series, I am tempted to tentatively suggest a kind of special profile of Mr. Svlad Cjelli and his holistically shady interconnected world, examining his two published adventures, unravelling the Salmon of Doubt, presenting the very best, cogent, funny material to build up a truly definitive picture of Adams’ own plans for his singular detective. This would be the true story, to be kept distinct from the further adventures dreamt up (extremely entertainingly and convincingly, let’s presume) by those who follow in the creator’s footsteps: IDW Comics, Max Landis, and the BBC. To me, this seems the most respectful course of action, faced with the possibility of Douglas’ ideas being recycled in various media – to present the real stuff, tastefully and entertainingly, once and for all, and then let the portly private eye go off and have all the new adventures he likes. I have many irons in the fire, but what an honour it would be to compile this celebratory dossier on Dirk!

It’s one of the hardest jobs imaginable, to decide how any beloved artist’s work should be presented after their terminal taps at the keyboard, and thank the universe that there’s such a loving and furiously protective network surrounding Adams’ reputation, so only the most worthwhile projects can carry his name. But then, as he was the author of the introduction to PG Wodehouse’s posthumous, unfinished novel Sunset at Blandings (which Plum wouldn’t even have named that), it would be hypocritical to deny Douglas a similar tribute, if the rarities he left behind are of sufficient quality. I’m hoping to discuss some of this with a live audience at this year’s Chortle Book Fest – perhaps in the company of Dirk Maggs, who has similarly laboured with the question of What Douglas Would Have Wanted. Adams’ fans are so passionate, we all have the right to debate these issues openly. If Chortle can’t accommodate, perhaps we’ll find some other route.

So there may be a very eye-opening hour on the Adams archive coming up (right now the paperback publicity runs to a chat above a chippy in Ludlow – such is publishing), and there MAY even be the possibility of a new book. If any of the above ideas do come to fruition, you’ll probably hear about it here first, but for now, I hope any Adams admirers who have yet to take the intergalactic journey that is The Frood will get to experience it for themselves in paperback, and see for themselves just how much gold the great man left behind for us to enjoy.

TV Doug & 42 Wall

Pic ©Kevin J Davies, I believe…

PS This is my first blog since the great political disaster of May 2015, and in today’s Britain, we need Douglas Adams’ utopian – or rather, anti-dystopian – philosophy more than ever before:

‘It’s very important that we give ourselves optimistic views of the future. If we allow ourselves to be hypnotised by the view of the future where the whole world will look like a sort of rusty version of LA, then that’s what we’ll get. But on the other hand, if we see the technologies coming along at the moment… in the best possible way, then we’re more likely to get something great coming out of it. The models we have in our mind are very important… The future is invented by those who are excited about it, and it has never been as inventable as it is now.’

I sincerely hope that tomorrow, victory is announced for Jeremy Corbyn, and politics can begin to turn the corner, and advance into the 21st century. Either way, I’m equally proud to have joined the Women’s Equality Party. Be positive. Have hope. Stay Froody.

BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL 2015: The Party’s Over

Waking up on Bank Holiday Monday after a week of frenetic activity for the Bath Comedy Festival has felt a little like being Wile E. Coyote several yards over a cliff edge, with no ground beneath. Back to the workaday author’s world, of staring at email Sent boxes lighting candles and praying to the God of Humanist Atheism and suchlike.

But, for all the dodgy gigs arranged by Somerset crazies with about six people in the crowd, for all the singing on stage with my band all night, my cold-wracked voice functioning at about 20% capacity, for all the wonderful fun of reuniting with some of the stalwart Unrelated Family members to do some of our filthy old sketches, it certainly does all feel bloomin’ well worth it, governor.

Like many a comedy geek, I had long looked forward to one day meeting the legendary Helen Lederer – but I never envisaged doing so after two hours of rolling around in a pub courtyard dressed in a frock switching between skullcap and roman helmet to portray numerous characters in a live rendition of Life of Brian. Nonetheless, it was probably the most successful Unrehearsed Theatre production to date, thanks to a wonderful ad hoc cast and a very willing crowd, happy to hold up shoes and join in the ‘He IS the messiah!’s and of course, the final singalong. It was about as perfect a text as we could have had for an Easter Saturday – and best of all, we raised £100 for Comic Relief, to make up for stealing the intellectual property of the Pythons.

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Left to Right: Steph (Judith), Sam (Brian), Elizabeth (Mandy), Matt (Mainly Idle), Gavin (Mainly Palin), Gus (Jesus), Other Matt Inexplicably Dressed as Sherlock Holmes (Mainly Gilliam), Simon (Simon), and Jem (Mainly Cleese).

Nonetheless, it was a slightly glowing and dishevelled Roberts who greeted Lady Natasha Letitia Sarah Jane Wellesley Obstromsky Ponsonsky Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Oblomov Boblomov Dob at the Bath Cricket ground afterwards. Having been up and down the country doing author events for The Frood last autumn, I was well used to literary events, but this was my first ever experience as a host, so I’d had a nervous time, watching old episodes of ‘Hello Mum’ (I never did ask her how Clive Mantle is these days, let alone Nick Wilton), and hoping she would ease me into what I would like to think is a whole new line of work. I needn’t have worried, I couldn’t have had a better deflowerer as an on-stage interviewer, and each nudging question I asked Helen thankfully, wonderfully triggered a fountain of sparkling monologue from her, which had the crowds cackling throughout. She was as happy to talk about Rik and Ben as herself, and although her debut novel Losing It was well worth the read (and irresistible to mentally cast with the finest Ab Fab actors as I read), she wasn’t one of those authors who is constantly trying to refer back to it, in fact she wanted the crowd to buy it as unmarked by spoilers as possible. The hour just flashed by.

11111046_353717754821507_2704878312430191558_nHelen, Me. All I had to do was listen…

It was always very clear that my second go in the interviewer’s chair was going to present a different challenge, as I have known and interviewed Terry Jones in the past, and by his own admission, he’s not the easiest person to winkle anecdotes out of. When sat with his fellow Pythons, he throws in fascinating vignettes and jokes, but the idea of our Q&A for the Bath Plug Award, sandwiched neatly between a glorious showing of his 1996 underrated classic adaptation of Wind In The Willows, and the previously blogged-about Holy Grail, was that we were celebrating his own career away from the Pythons – Personal Services, Erik The Viking, and of course, Absolutely Anything. This time it was more my job to be there for Terry throughout, guiding him through his career, rather than just nudging him into monologue. I was well prepared, and although I may have ended up speaking ten words to Terry’s every one (which I truly hope wasn’t too onerous for the crowd), there were many happy faces there, just glad to be in the presence of a genuine comedy hero. And he was very pleased to have indirectly raised Comic Relief some cash, even if it was via a gang of pissed actors wrapped in curtains.

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Muggins, Mandy Mother of Brian, BCF boss Nick Steel. We look like the poor chap’s minders.

As a patron of the festival, Terry’s acceptance of the inaugural Bath Plug above all opens the door for whole hosts of huge names to follow in his wake for years to come, which is incredibly kind of him. Having had such nightmares clearing WITW for viewing, we’re already well-immersed in a very exciting idea for the Bath Plug Award 2016, which will quite possibly be announced right here, when we know it’s definitely happening.

Huge congratulations to Nick Steel and everyone who made 2015’s Festival the biggest and best yet, and I will continue to do all I can to make 2016’s another step forward. But for now, it’s back to trying to find a safe home for a fourth book of comedy history, and my other manifold projects, and–

(Plunges down into an abyss. Road Runner passes by, goes “Meep meep!” over my pulverised body. That’s all, folks.)

BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL 2015

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The Bath Comedy Festival originally took me by surprise, when it kicked off several years ago. For a while, I felt like I was the only person in the city running any kind of local comedy scene, with The Unrelated Family sketch shows (there was Mirth Control, but this tended to be very catholic stand-up populated by London acts), which I then had to curtail to get stuck into my first book, The Clue Bible. Having moaned about the lack of a comedy scene here for years, it seemed to rather be taking the piss that a whole festival was starting just as I was busy moving onto something else.

Nonetheless, I reformed The Unrelated Family and set up some shows to take part in the very first festival, and I’ve done all I can for every subsequent year, now it’s run by the very determined and enthusiastic Nick Steel. For a few years now, I’ve striven to take over the city’s greatest music venue (The Bell Inn, co-owned by Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel and sundry Wurzels) and stage a whole night celebrating funny music, COMIC NOISES, with musical comedian guest acts and new interpretations of classics by Bill Bailey, Hugh Laurie, Victoria Wood etc. I’ll be doing this again this year, and a week after that, reuniting with Unrelated Family stalwarts for a series of sketches in the same venue. The Bell will also play host to another instalment of Unrehearsed Theatre on Easter Saturday, with Unrehearsed Life of Brian. We’re performing a script which brings back in all the sequences cut from the film as we know it – and all of these events are completely free! Maybe a collection for Comic Relief…

Our own ragged restaging of that classic comedy out in the courtyard on a (hopefully sunny) Easter Saturday will be just the preamble to the real main event – interviewing the director of that film on stage! I will also first of all be racing from 1st Century Judea to the Bath Cricket Club to interview Alternative comedy hero Helen Lederer about her new book LOSING IT, which is extraordinarily exciting, I look forward to asking her all about the early days with Rik & co, and my books will be available as well as Helen’s… so I hope to see you there! However, the day after, Easter Sunday, will see the launch of what will hopefully become a defining mainstay of the Festival from now on – THE BATH PLUG!

It struck me that having a central award for each year’s festival was always a great excuse to wallow in some great comedy with the very best artists, and as the Bath Festival’s patron, who better to receive the first award than Terry Jones? Hopefully he will be the first of many to appreciate the honour, not least as it’s not a piece of crappy perspex to throw in a dusty cupboard, but a proper gold bath plug, which can even be used if need be. Recipients can also use the event to ‘plug’ whatever they’re up to. Do you see? Do you see how many levels this works on? Thank you, yes you do.

Naturally, I’ll be doing all I can to get fresh anecdotes out of the esteemed Python, concentrating on his cinematic career above all else – as an obliging chap, this is one of a dozen Q&As he’ll be doing this season, so I want to make this a distinct celebration of his screen output. Terry himself specifically requested we show his undervalued 1996 adaptation of The Wind In the Willows, and what jollier way to spend Easter afternoon could there be than to join us? And after a break, we’ll chat, and then there’ll be a chance to see Monty Python & The Holy Grail on the big screen.

The temptation to put Life of Brian on, on Easter Sunday, was immense, but, well A) We’d already decided to do Unrehearsed Theatre, and B) LoB’s infamous history with cinema bannings etc. means that few films have been re-released into cinemas quite so often. I myself have seen it at least twice on the big screen, and saw Meaning of Life in the cinema last year in Bristol. If it had been up to me (in lieu of Terry’s brand new sci-fi caper ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, which simply isn’t ready for release yet) we’d have shown And Now For Something Completely Different! Because, yes, it’s not a great film, but what’s the point of doing these things unless you’re showing something really unusual, something you wouldn’t normally find in cinemas? But as it is, the nightmares clearing the 19-year-old WITW movie have been bad enough, we’re only getting to show it due to round-the-clock hard work from Nick Steel,  Will Sansom, and producer John Goldstone, so Holy Grail it is. You can’t exactly complain about one of the funniest movies ever made being shown. So at last, we have a jolly Pythonesque Easter evening to look forward to.

I hope I can catch any random readers of this blog at any one of these events, and that next year’s Bath Plug will be a second huge success! ‘Have a nice day…?’

2014: A Hitchhiker Odyssey & ENDPAPERS

2014: A STRANGELY ADAMSIAN YEAR.

This year has had one overwhelmingly apparent theme for me – it was the year that I all-but unwittingly became the official Douglas Adams biographer, and raider of the Adams archives. The honour of this will probably hit me a few minutes before I die. But I was far from the only person still working to fly the towel for Douglas this year – it has been a bizarrely Adamsian year from start to finish. What follows is adapted from an article written for a paper thing…

Douglas Adams

‘Forgive me if you knew this already, perhaps I’m the last person in the world to find this out,’ Douglas Adams worried unnecessarily in one of the numerous tech columns he wrote towards the end of the last millennium, in this case on the problem of communicating via ‘palmtop’ technology: ‘the answer is this: you grip the palmtop between both hands and you type with your thumbs. Seriously. It works. It feels a bit awkward to begin with, and your hands ache a little from using unaccustomed muscles, but you get used to it surprisingly quickly.’

The rapidity with which our species has developed these muscles and now uses them unthinkingly is testament to how far ahead of the curve the avid Mac collector and gadget obsessive Douglas Adams surfed, for so long. The great humorist and thinker’s cautious discovery now seems quaint – which, along with being hopelessly over-ambitious, is one of the risks of being in the vanguard of technological philosophy. The further ahead your thinking, the bigger the margin for error, and likelihood of looking naïve in hindsight.

But as we take a look around at the techie landscape we all enjoyed, inhabited and maybe even suffered in 2014, we see a world which would have delighted and amused Adams in equal measures. The publication of a wealth of top-grade composition from the infamously painstaking author for my official celebration of HitchhikerThe Frood – endorsed by Douglas’ family and estate, does in a way give the sadly missed philosopher and joker a fresh presence in the new century. It’s often hard not to see this brave new world from his unique perspective, which was tragically halted at the start of the millennium.

The author always diffidently batted away any claims for him as a predictive visionary: from the very start, he was a frustrated comedian turned humorist, with making people laugh generally his utmost priority, and if it suited his framework of jokes to have his hero carrying around a compact electronic book connected to an information source known as ‘Sub-Etha’, boasting all the knowledge in the Galaxy, that was just, in every sense, a device. That this Guide rather neatly presages actual devices which are now stuffed into nearly everyone’s pockets in real life is just one of an endless stream of coincidences that daisychain Adams’ career. In the 1984 novel So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, the Hitchhiker’s Guide’s froodiest field researcher Ford Prefect visits the violent metropolis of Han Dold City, connects his copy remotely to the Sub-Etha and watches the infamous entry on Earth – ‘Mostly Harmless’ – being updated in real time, in scenes which struck most readers as cool fantasy thirty years ago, but would not raise a single eyebrow in today’s wi-fi-filled world. Technology that was sci-fi has now become humdrum.

One glance at the high street would show Adams that his beloved Apple, the company whose sleek, simple machines he had passionately adored since clapping eyes on the 128k model (released in the same year as SLATFATFish), are no longer the Rebel Elite, the underdog championed by only the most fervent computing connoiseurs, but have become the Empire, ubiquitous and triumphant. Douglas’ life ended in April 2001, just short of the launch of the iPod, but he would have ended up with drawers full of them – he was even happy to appear in promotional videos for the Apple cause. He certainly wouldn’t have had to queue up for the new iPhone 6.

Incidentally, the entertainment being enjoyed on iPhones, iPads, and i-otherwise would also be right up Adams’ alley in 2014 – if The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has any two cultural parents, one would be Monty Python, who have just bade the world an explosive farewell at the O2 (sans Adams’ wild mentor Graham Chapman). For a whole decade, the other major progenitor of Hitchhiker has also been impossible to escape in any entertainment arena – Russell T Davies’ rebooted Doctor Who being by common accord largely inspired by the blend of wit and wonder realised by Adams in his own time on The Show, particularly in his script for the fan favourite City of Death. As a final uncanny twist, Pink Floyd have released their last album, their first such release since The Division Bell twenty years ago – a name suggested by their number one fan, Douglas, in return for David Gilmour making a sizeable donation to a charity for Silverback Gorillas.

If Adams’ latter work in the technological world is still continuing anywhere in cyberspace, it’s at h2g2.com. As the ‘Chief Fantasist’ of dotcom company The Digital Village, Douglas posited an Earth-bound Guide that would not only cover all shades of existence, but even allow users, like field researchers, to leave reviews for cafés and such, for the benefit of other users. Wikipedia, Google Maps and many more services have taken on these ideas until they have become par for the course, and yet the h2g2.com ball Adams started rolling at the end of the last millennium is still very much a continuing project, placing itself in the same position to Wikipedia as the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ was to the ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’: the snarky option, which tells it like it is – sometimes.

On a similar note, there are many sadly missing wits who would have flourished on Twitter, but it’s so hard not to reflect on how surely the incurable epigrammist Adams may well have been crowned King of the Tweets, entertaining his millions of followers when he should be honouring novel deadlines.

Despite his Dirk Gently-ish reticence to claim any clairvoyance, Douglas was to become feted by the scientific and technological communities, and was often paid to pontificate on our electronic future, but in 2014 maybe we were still a fair distance from the realisation of some of Adams’ presumptions, such as computers as tiny and numerous as grains of sand. The number 2014 provided no urgent anniversary for Hitchhiker, bar the autumn’s 35th anniversary of the first novel’s release by Pan Books. Perhaps 2013’s marking of the radio programme’s first broadcast would logically have been the most obvious celebration. Therefore it must just be yet another extraordinarily random coincidence that, besides the release of an all-new iteration of the classic Hitchhiker computer game, the deadline for The Frood was screeching towards me just as the original radio cast were brought together in the BBC Radio Theatre this March for an almost unprecedented honour – a live broadcast of a mash-up encore for Arthur Dent and cohorts, as devised and directed by Douglas’ last radio comedy collaborator, Dirk Maggs.

I could spend the rest of my life trying to think up any rational explanation for this all happening in 2014, but I give up. It may all have just been coincidence, or it could well be that Hitchhiker, even nearly fourteen years on from the loss of its creator, is still just very, very hard to put down.


ENDPAPERS

As a slightly random New Year’s gift to those who are interested, here’s a couple of Photoshop offerings from my own meagre talents. I’ve always believed in squeezing as much added value into my books as possible, and particularly feel that the hardback’s endpapers should be anything but dull – an issue which triggered a highly unusual argument with my esteemed publisher, with whom I generally have an unwavering accord. Apparently it’s plain endpapers FTW in publishing circles, but I still feel fans should be given as much as possible.

Sadly, my campaign to include the Hitchhiker collage below in The Frood hardback failed miserably, largely due to clearance issues, sobeit. Nevertheless, although the quality of artwork here is quite deliberately rough as arses (the idea was that one of Preface Publishing’s designers would do a better job of it, but it never got that far, sadly), I can include it here for download. If anyone fancies brightening up the drab existing endpapers by printing out this and sticking it into their copy of The Frood… You may need a better hobby, but good luck to you.

COLLAGE

Anyone who already has The Clue Bible in hardback will recognise this collage as it appeared – strangely, without any further design work, this is just as I designed it. So this is what paperback owners will have been so badly missing…

The Clue Bible Collage

The top image contains elements which are kindly reproduced by the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge and numerous ©opyrights including the excellent Kevin J Davies, DC Comics, BBC TV and what-have-you. The bottom one is mainly thanks to Tim Brooke-Taylor and Humphrey Barclay. 

Sincere thanks to everyone who has bought any of my books or in any way persuaded me to keep at it this year. I hope not to let you down in 2015.


MAY YOUR 2015 BE FROODY OR OTHERWISE FORTUITOUS, ACCORDING TO TASTE!

THE FROOD: Fit The Fifth

THE FROOD – Fit The Fifth

First things first – come along to a very special BFI DOUGLAS ADAMS & HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE RETROSPECTIVE on Sunday 14th December! There shall be rare material and cosplay and Trillian and GargleBlasters and fun! More details follow…

10676179_10152733708388855_2155694169793331630_nOne of these froods is hoopier than the other – me and the remarkable Toby “Slarts” Longworth.
Pic taken by the excellently-monikered Janko Dragovic.

I may have gone where I intended to go, but I do not think I have ended up where I wanted to be – to subvert the words of an occasionally wise detective – which is another way of saying that the publicity splurges for The Frood brought a lot of pleasure both to me and to audiences around the middle bit of this island… However, it seems that amid the avalanche of selective-memoirs from the likes of Cleese, Merton, Fry et al, even a figure as beloved as Adams can get a bit lost. It may well be that soon it will become illegal to write a book unless you are a celebrity.

In short, it occurs to me that a massive shake-up of the way books are published is in order – even though The Frood missed ‘Super Thursday’ by coming out a week or two earlier, there’s simply no commercial sense in squeezing a year’s worth of book releases (many specifically aimed at the exact same readership) into one day in autumn any more – if indeed, there ever was any sense in it. Perhaps a new model will come along, in which books sort of stay in publicity mode for a lot longer, being updated, re-printed (if popular enough), and dusted down for suitable occasions, to help spread the word.

For instance, I tend to meet about one person a week who claims to be the biggest Blackadder fan of all time, ever, no comebacks – and almost without exception, these people never even know there is a widely available great big official-as-dammit book on the subject, packed with exclusive material. It looks like The Frood might be a similar situation, Hitchhiker fans the world over need to be told about it – but with every single media outlet in the UK currently being all-but run by unpaid interns , their Culture coverage cut down to around one sentence every second month, how to let them know? I’m currently favouring a special series of supernovae explosions on New Year’s Eve which will spell out “BUY THE FROOD BY JEM” across the firmament – keep an eye out at the end of the month to see if my plans have come to fruition.

Nonethefewer, in the meantime, after a year of chilly isolated composition on The Frood, I can at least sincerely say that the publicity splurge we did have was a genuine pleasure. First there was the honour of the top floor of Foyles’ brand-spanking new metropolitan store, debating with author Marie Phillips  about Adams’ problems with fictional females:

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Next came the interesting challenge of improvising 90 minutes of stand-up on the subject of The Frood for Bath’s Toppings, followed by a friendly chat with the Douglas Adams expert par excellence, David Haddock, in Heffer’s Cambridge:

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Then came the biggie – being on the Cheltenham Literary Festival main stage with Douglas’ brother James Thrift and old friends Clive Anderson and Terry Jones – a slightly smaller venue for the latter than his most recent gig at the O2, but a great pleasure for all of us. The Radio Times rather naughtily stole a non-story moment from the event without even bothering to mention the actual book, but that report is very misleading indeed – at this stage, it’s impossible to say precisely what is happening with the Adams archive…

Oh, and as an extra jolly, of course, there was the unexpected pleasure of an added date in November, at the Chortle Comedy Book Festival in Camden. I thought I would make this more of a comedy event than a book plug, and could think of nobody better to join me on stage than the current reigning Slartibartfast in the official Hitchhiker tour – Toby Longworth – to aid me in performing some ultra-rare slices of Hitchhikeriana. With an eye to the fundamental inter-connectedness of all things, you see, comedy stalwart Toby is actually from my adopted home town in Bath, and we share a number of close friends, but had never actually met up until this occasion. We each chose a favourite passage from the H2G2 legend – he plumped for Marvin’s death, I chose the initial Dent/Slarts dialogue:

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Yes, I know I’m a poor stand-in for Simon Jones… but I wouldn’t be the first! Pic ©Amanda Leon-Joyce

But we also performed some exclusive never-before-seen material – the highlight being our very ad-hoc reconstruction of the beginning of the abandoned Hitchhiker TV Series 2, with Toby standing in for David Dixon and me still failing to capture the brilliance of Simon Jones. Still, my ukulele stayed in my bag (no ‘So Long…’ singalong!) and many laughs were had – I was even stopped in the street and asked about the possibility of further fringey stagings of this Longworth/Roberts ‘show’ as it were, but that would depend totally, like everything else, on the feelings of Douglas Adams’ family and estate. I’m up for it.

So, this ‘rent horizon’ season has been packed with pleasure, then, but thankfully we’re not done yet! Somebody lovely from the BFI and the Loco Comedy Film Fest rang me up with an offer to chair a special panel on Sunday 14th December, as part of a whole day of celebration of Adams’ work, for froods of all ages! The hoopy day will be starting off with a special Dr Who slant by showing all of City of Death, filling in the middle with chats and rare programmes from us – including the original Trillian, Susan Sheridan – and culminating in a complete marathon of the BBC TV sitcom version of Hitchhiker’s Guide. Simply click the link at the top of this blog to get involved in all the fun, and let’s hope that more people continue to discover (and above all, enjoy) The Frood in the coming days, weeks, months, years…

As the most comprehensive official guide to The Guide in the known Galaxy, The Frood will always be out there now, and as long as my writing does as much justice to Douglas’ memory as people have told me it does, that’s all that really matters.

Now, will somebody please buy me lunch?

THE FROOD: Fit The Fourth

THE FROOD: Fit 1  Fit 2  Fit 3

FROODPIC

GETTING THE HANG OF THURSDAYS

15 months is a long time in publishing. It’s an excruciatingly long time in politics. And is also quite a bit of a wait in the fields of medicine, confectionary, and professional equestrianism. For me personally, it’s the time between sitting down to suggest to you the reasoning behind my all-new and utterly official guide to the life and work of Douglas Adams, THE FROOD – and actually having the book right here in my grasp, composed of actual molecules and everything.

Perhaps the worst thing an author can do on publication is to issue long lists of disclaimers and special pleading, and hopefully the previous three Fits on this blog detail the journey with enough honesty to show that this book has been created from start to finish with openness, sincerity and love for Adams and Hitchhiker paramount at every stage – this is why the Adams estate, Ed Victor, Polly Adams et al have been so supportive and made it an official part of the Douglas Adams library. Whether the finished volume makes them feel it deserves this distinction it’s still too early to say, but the love and devotion with which THE FROOD has been constructed can never be doubted, except by the most bitter bystanders.

However, when I was invited to take part in a Reddit Q&A back when the ‘Archive Hitchhiker Found’ stories were doing the rounds of UK media, Rolling Stone, and so on, it was made clear to me just how firmly and publicly my fragile spuds are being served up on a platter for Hitchhiker fans the world over to take a run up and kick. I’ve nothing against Reddit, but have never ventured on there, and didn’t feel keen to start when invited – not least as I’d already said all I could on the subject. But I was sent a link to the FROOD thread there, and could see the gangs lined up around the corner with the stuffed eelskin ready to give me a good pasting – “Who is he? Did he even know Douglas? Who does he think he is?” One thing I’m not a glutton for is punishment, and so I begged leave to skip that particular mauling. This is the place where I’m happiest to explain myself right now…

But I do understand the prejudice from fans who consider themselves in some way ‘truer’ fans of any comedy or sci-fi creation, that some apparent chancer has come along to meddle with the thing they love. It was precisely to avoid any such impotent rage from myself, indeed, that I decided to write my first book, the official I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue Bible – if anyone else had dared to spoil the fun of my favourite radio comedy, given away the secrets of Mornington Crescent and so on, I’d never have forgiven myself, let alone them. Nonetheless, anyone who thinks that I am jubilantly celebrating a long-held plan to become ‘The Official Douglas Adams Biographer’ should read on…

It has been an intense year and a bit, the most undiluted period of composition of my life hitherto. But in fact, let’s go back even further, to March 2012:

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Me and fellow Hitchhiker-loving pals at the Hammersmith Apollo to mark Douglas’ 60th.

At this stage, I was on the verge of handing in the manuscript for THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER after three years, and nothing could have been further from my mind than actually writing about Hitchhiker in any way, I was just there as a life-long fan, enjoying the show. As far as I was concerned, Gaiman and Simpson and Webb had pretty much totalled the subject forever more, and… Hang on, sorry, I feel a sudden uncontrollable need to create doggerel:

Gaiman & Simpson & Webb,
(Plus Roberts, that come-lately pleb),
Though different in looks,
Have all written books,
That marvelled at Douglas’s neb.

… That’s better.

The totally un-inter-connected jumble of coincidences, freak occurrences, and a plethora of d’you-mind-if-I-don’ts which have taken me from that state of innocence, to this current situation, marvelling at a first edition hardback with an unusually low level of teething glitches*, thanks to the sharp-eyed folk at Preface:

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Remember, at no stage have I claimed not to be a tosser. And that beard’s looking a bit Dirk Maggs (not deliberate, I promise, Dirk, yours is much better). But I hope I can be a bit proud… Of the book, not the beard.

… Reading this blog should make clear that all these steps on ‘The Road To THE FROOD’ bely any suggestion that I am a hardcore ZZ9-er who plotted to rise to the top of the Hitchhiker fandom heap. My requirements for devoting myself to a project remain the same: That the subject matter is already automatically a passion of mine, and that the story deserves either telling, or in this case, retelling, in a refreshing way. It was hardly an entirely sunlit experience, months of winter frozen to my desk psychologically stuck on the depressing musings of a miserable robot in a cold and bureaucratic universe… but Adams’ facetious, silly, philosophical humanist humour kept me going, and I have come out the other side loving the man and his work more than ever before. This was always my main hope, and why I have to genuinely adore my subject matter, so this process can intensify that love, not diminish it.

The discovery of reams of unpublished material from the Adams Archive has of course both upped THE FROOD’s USP a hundredfold, and given other fans some room for caution. But anyone who feels there’s the slightest tang of cash-in involved here, that we are capitalising on work Douglas did not want shared with the public, really should avoid panic. The material used in THE FROOD is, I would estimate, about one tenth (just the most polished, funny, insightful, and/or pertinent extracts) of the publishable material I uncovered in my researches – and the ‘publishable material’ constituted about a third of all the writing in the Archive. This isn’t like John Lennon’s letters, we’re not printing shopping lists here, we could have included several times’ this amount of ‘lost’ Hitchhiker material without getting within scraping distance of any barrels, or in any way compromising the genius of Douglas Adams. I saw plenty of stuff not fit for publishing, and we chose only the best of the prose that was worthy of the public’s gaze – albeit there’s so much more hidden away…

Now comes the traditional worst bit of being an author: actually getting people likely to buy the book to know all about it, and part with some currency for it. In fact, it’s inspired me to define a new term, familiar to me by now: THE RENT HORIZON. The Rent Horizon is the point at which a project conceived and created entirely from love finally has to actually provide some form of income. I’ve written a piece on Comedy Archives for The Independent, there’s something going in The Times, and above all, where my previous book was launched with a quiet dinner for three at Pizza Hut and later, a modest rainy afternoon at the Penarth Book Festival (who were utterly lovely, should you be reading this! Do have me back), THE FROOD has a comparable media blitz lined up. Well, when you’re taking on the might of Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Danny Baker and Paul Merton all at once, it’s best to make something of a song and dance about it.

So anyone keen to know more about this new guide to the Guide has numerous chances to see me pontificate in person:

• First at Foyles in London on the 23rd…

• Then back home at Toppings in Bath on the 24th…

• Next day, back over to Heffer’s in Cambridge on the official launch day, 25th September…

• And then, the really scary one, Saturday 4th October THE FROOD takes the lunchtime limelight at this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival

• Plus, just added, is this evening at Rossiter Books in Ross-On-Wye on October 24th.

With reference to the big Cheltenham event, being the author, of course I was naturally the last one to know, but I discovered from a random post on the ZZ9 Facebook page that the Cheltenham event will involve me (with Ed Victor and Douglas’ brother James Thrift), being quizzed on stage by none other than Clive Anderson, 20 years on from devotedly watching his chat show every Friday night (I promise not to do a Bee-Gees). As if that wasn’t treat enough, extracts from my book and Hitchhiker lore in general will be read by a real living Python – Terry Jones. So if you’ve ever wanted to see what I look like paralysed with fear, it’ll cost you about £12.

With The Rent Horizon passed, of course I hope Hitchhiker fans buy THE FROOD, but it is genuinely most important of all that they ENJOY it. And indeed, SHARE it with other fans, whether I get a penny or not. I set out to make a book worthy of association with the all-time King of Sci-Fi Comedy, and I hope you all feel it’s been worth my effort, the effort of all of the team at Preface Publishing, and indeed, the effort of Douglas’ friends and family who felt I had it in me to provide the icing on the cake originally baked by Gaiman & Simpson & Webb. I know that the experience has deepened my fandom for Douglas and the Galaxy he created, and I only want it to do the same for Froods everywhere.

TV Doug & 42 Wall

*Hardly anything, comparatively: one rogue cloned book cover in the second plate section, the insane phrase ‘Betamax VHS’ when it should obviously have been ‘Betamax VCR’, and of course I meant ASTRONOMY not astro-bloody-logy… Howl… Still, for a 150,000+ word book, this is quite a remarkable strike rate, and all creases are being immediately ironed out… We apologise for the inconvenience.