Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

SOUPY TWISTS: Fifth and Final Bit

Screenshot 2019-01-18 at 11.08.49.png

42) Soupy Twists, and GOODBYE!

Friday, 18 January 2019

Weeeeeeeeell, my dear old Soupy supporters, as the old adage goes, all finite things must come to an end, and the Soupy Twists odyssey has gone on far longer than anyone could have predicted back in MAY 2016 FOR GOSHNESS’ SAKE when the crowdfunder was first launched. We have passed the original 30th anniversary for which the book was intended, Boxing Day 2017, and last Sunday also marked the other crucial anniversary – the first broadcast of A Bit Of Fry & Laurie S1E1 on BBC2 at 9pm.

As a final hurrah, hurray and hurroo, and to mark the glorious occasion, I rose from my sick bed to take part in two events for ABOFFLERS the world over, flying between London and Bath like a kind of unseen-comedy-sketch-performing Phil Collins…

First of all, I was chuffed to stage a return to the Chortle Book festival after a few years away, especially as this time it took place at the British Library – a gig venue anyone should be glad to add to their performer CVs – where I reunited with my one-time comedy colleague Paul Gannon to perform a few bits and pieces from the unseen comedy archives which have appeared in my books.

We merrily mangled a SNATCH of Blackadder In Bethlehem, the opening sequence from the unmade Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series 2, but above all, of course, there were lashings of sketches from the Fry & Laurie archive, including a couple of exclusives not performed elsewhere – the odd squib Oster Milepiece and a lost Spies sequel. It was a raucous and unrehearsed hour, and a few highlights, as recorded by the wonderful Denise Hoelandt (as are all photos here) have been uploaded to YouTube for you to thumb down – just see above. Thanks to everyone who came along, and indeed to Paul, and his dancercising.

It was great to get to meet some of you and sign some books, and see a bigger stack on sale outside, right up against Taskmaster – and we managed to hold our own against little Alex Horne’s event anyway, despite that being the biggest draw of the day. After all, our show also featured a large, cruel overbearing Salopian with a hairy little more likeable sidekick too, so screw ’em.

Anyway, having zoomed across England’s lap back home to the Sou’-West, it was off to the sophisticated locale of Bath’s Walcot House cocktail bar (NINE QUID for a mojito?), for the sequel to last September’s live book launch – this time with a brand new cast, including superb stand-up Laura Ollerton (one of the original members of The Unrelated Family, the comedy sketch troupe-cum-ukulele rock orchestra I set up in 2006 after parting brass rags with the aforementioned Gannon and going solo), and fine local actors Sam Fynn and Gemma De Carteret, both regulars in my very strange theatrical pursuit Unrehearsed Theatre.

This time we had rehearsed, a bit at least, and despite my flu-ravaged voice tearing itself to bits by the end, a lovely time was had by all. Oh, and of course let’s not mention my massive over-acting when getting shot in the drug dealer sketch, which resulted in my falling on my precious beloved electric uke and snapping it in two, which was both an expensive misfortune and a bit of a show spoiler given that there were two more songs to perform before the end at that point. When you hear me say ‘let’s have some satire’ halfway through the recording below, that is the sound of a broken-hearted performer doing his best… But yes, let’s not mention that.

Aaaanyway, with careful editing, please find below a condensed version of the evening’s entertainment, complete with dubbed-on uke, and I have to thank Stephen Fry for giving us express personal permission for staging both events – of course, all shows were free, so there was no direct profiting from performing Stephen and Hugh’s material, and we’re not about to make this a regular thing, it was a one-off 30th anniversary shindig… though do keep an eye on the Unrehearsed Theatre page for future unconnected shows, with some fun plans in place for a Comic Relief special in March…

Here’s both live shows in audio, over two hours of unperformed Fry & Laurie material, brought to life after over 20 years’ mouldering in the archives, and I couldn’t be more proud to have led this officially endorsed romp through the two colleagues’ archives – thank you Stephen, Hugh, Paul, Toby, Samantha, Ness, Sam, Laura and Gemma!

SOUPY TWISTS LIVE 1

SOUPY TWISTS LIVE 2

So there, if you have it, you have it. My work here is pretty much done – a few pledge rewards remain unclaimed, but you know where to find me should you wish to honour our agreement. There will of course be a paperback out this autumn – and whether it will require any updating, we shall have to wait and see, I would hope that if Stephen and Hugh were to reconvene in any meaningful way in the next several months, I may be allowed some kind of insider view…

But whether that happens or not, I can now proudly say, with tears streaming down my mug, that once upon a time there was no book celebrating the wonderful sophisticated silliness of A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and now, there is. Stephen & Hugh’s books were always a source of the greatest pleasure for me, and now I have personally added to them. And though the book’s cover may have been a bit of a departure, here’s a thing – if you slip off the dust jacket, and put the book alongside the other Fry & Laurie offerings, they have the exact same pleasing white-with-gold lettering, making them undeniably part of the official set:

But tragically this will be the very final Soupy Twists Friday, and the final blog – how far we’ve come, from that Brexitless land where first we put our best foot forward, embarking on this comedic odyssey together. For any further updates, please do check out my personal blog over at JemRoberts.com, where you will also be able to find out about my next work of comedy history, which I’m 7,000 words into writing, and planning to launch as another crowdfunder later in the year, when all ducks are in a row and ready to be shot through the face. And if you’ll forgive me being perfectly gross, it would be remiss of me not to add that if you have enjoyed my prose in Soupy Twists, my brand new book with Unbound, TALES OF BRITAIN, is released ANY DAY NOW, and though it’s a bit of a world away from comedy non-fiction, this is the first British folktale collection to be released in over 30 years, and is in tribute to the great storyteller Terry Jones, and infused with the Grim Tales spirit of Rik Mayall, so hopefully it is packed with laughs anyway. Maybe I’ll see you when performing these tales up and down our fine island.

If you have been, farewell. You’ve been gorgeous, you’ve been supple, you’ve been surprisingly well-lubricated, and as a wise man once said, you will never understand how much I love you.

Thank you for coming along with me on this very silly journey, and of course, SOUPY TWISTS!

41) Have Yourself A Very Soupy Twistsmas…!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The merriest of Soupy Twists Fridays – and indeed, Christmasses – to all, pledgers, readers, and F&L fans of all creeds and shapes and shades!

What delirious pleasure to have received an upward thumb from the slightly taller of our two colleagues the other week. Hopefully it caught the eye of many more potentially chuffed customers – and they, like you, may find a moment to leave a similarly aloft thumb on the usual online book review spots. Weird to admit, every star counts one way or another. Oh, and if you have yet to claim your pledge reward – a cocktail or two, and so on – do get in touch!

No, yes, anyway, indeed, this blog is still here, despite SOUPY TWISTS now having over three months on the nation’s bookshelves – I think we can consider this lengthy but joyous campaign to be extended at least until the proper 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of ABOF&L S1E1 on 13th January 1989. The colleagues’ 30th was always the one real spur to release this history of their comedy outpourings, and although Unbound’s year delay meant that we missed the pilot’s anniversary last Boxing Day, at last, this year, we all have our copies of the official Fry & Laurie story to hand when the show proper’s birthday rolls around in a few weeks.

And on that score, we have an exciting double announcement to make, a brace of opportunities on that Sunday to get together with like-minded Stephen & Hugh admirers and celebrate the occasion with some awfully rare sketches and songs! In fact, I am, in the least disgusting way, somewhat ‘doing a Phil Collins’ on the day: not leaving my wife by fax, but traversing the globe – okay, southern Britain – to perform in The British Library in London at 2pm, and then SOUPY TWISTS LIVE 2 in Bath at 8!

When I was a schoolboy, my greatest pleasure was to stand in front of the class in Ludlow School library with a little friend, and perform sketches from one of the Fry & Laurie script books. And now I’m doing it AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY – and rare Fry & Laurie sketches, with Stephen’s personal permission, no less! What a strange year it has been.

Anyway, the former show will reunite me with my erstwhile colleague-as-was Paul Gannon as part of the all-day Chortle Book Fest at the British Library. Very good of Chortle and the Library to host Fry & Laurie’s metropolitan 30th, I’m sure you will agree, though a shame that we’re up against Alex Horne talking Taskmaster, as I for one would be in there like a shot were it otherwise. There’s more info on our show HERE.

Our afternoon ABOF&L birthday show will be a brief but fan-pleasing journey through the hidden comedy archives which have powered all my books. Well, okay, for my first book, just listening to all-but the missing handful of episodes of ISIRTA and ISIHAC made any search for unbroadcast rarities besides the point, but since Richard Curtis first handed me a fresh print-out of the unmade, incomplete planned festive special Blackadder In Bethlehem when I met him for The True History in 2011, my books have boasted wads of respectfully selected “unseen” material. Becoming Douglas Adams’ official biographer with The Frood gave me the honour of being the very first writer to be given access to the Douglas Adams Paper Archive in Cambridge, resulting in that book coming with lost chapters of the first draft of ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ amid a host of exciting extracts. The decision to publish things like this are of course taken with great solemnity in the spirit of sharing and enjoying, but for me the real debate-quasher on the subject of sharing private material in that case was Adams’ own wonderful introduction to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Sunshine At Blandings’ – the Master’s unfinished final novel.

Luckily, there was no such horn of moral quandary to accommodate for Soupy Twists, of course, as it was Stephen himself who very kindly volunteered to utterly dredge his ancient back-up hard-drives of all the Fry & Laurie material which never got to see the light of day. A third of it is in the book, and now Mr Fry has given express permission for certain bits and, if available, bobs, to be performed as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations. In the show, we’ll air some tiny extracts from both the lost ‘Blackadder’ and the planned ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ TV series 2 which never got off the ground, but the main part of our Chortle event at the British Library will see Mr Gannon and I performing these ‘lost’ Fry & Laurie sketches, with a few surprises for hardcore F&L fans expected.

You will definitely recall with crystal clarity that our original launch in London last September saw Gannon and I, brilliantly abetted by Samantha Béart and Toby Longworth, performing a whole hour of unused ‘A Bit of Fry & Laurie’ material, and here in Bath, at the very swish cocktail bar Walcot House, I will be joined by a fresh cast of talented comedians and actors – Sam Finn, Laura Ollerton and Gemma de Carteret – with a sequel cabaret, aiming to present a totally different hour of Fry & Laurie sketches which the colleagues themselves never performed. Together, these shows provide TWO WHOLE HOURS of Fry & Laurie we never got to see, and there’s a couple of hours remaining on my hard-drive. Albeit, most of the remaining stuff is along the lines of…

But rest assured, these shows represent the cream of the F&L archives, comedy any subsequent sketch act would slaughter their entire extended family to have written – finally brought back to life, 30 years after the show’s birth, and a quarter of a century after most of it was written. Drop me an email on jem@jemroberts.com to reserve a seat and a Soupy Twist cocktail for the Bath show, and there’s also, as part of a weird old habit, a Facebook Event page HERE.

So allow me to repeat the sentiments with an unctuous sincerity – a merry Soupy Twists Xmas to everyone who has come with me on this frankly spiffing journey, and I hope to see as many of you as possible in London and/or Bath in the New Year!

SOUPY TWIST to all, and to all a good gracious!

40) Permission To Shout BRAVO…

Friday, 23 November 2018

Two months after release, winding down on author duties, I find one reviews the stacks of research data amassed on the old harddrive, and feels duty bound to be a little more generous with some of the rarities one has happened upon. So please find attached a sample of highlights from the two episodes of Friday Night Saturday Morning helmed by the Cambridge Footlights team in 1979 and 1980 (leaving out the wife beater sketch and the blacking up, I just don’t need the Comment battles). I do hope I don’t get into trouble for uploading this meagre footage, but it’ll soon be whipped offline if so; it’s intended purely as an early Christmas present for my very attractive readers.

Perhaps this blog should have folded in on itself and disappeared up a particularly tight aperture by now, but we missed a rather important update. You know, just one of those near-silent but seismic Soupy Twists which come too late in the tale, and somewhat leave one looking pret-ty silly…

Well, quite – FRY & LAURIE… REUNITED.

When The True History of the Black Adder was released in October 2012, it ended with a detailed summary of all attempts to bring Edmund back to life, and a lengthy wondering what the future might hold. And within weeks of the book hitting the shops, Rowan and Tony were performing a new Blackadder sketch by Ben, BANK ADDER, for charity, live on a London stage. And then, to add further embarrassment to the first edition, shortly after, Bladder and Balders were at Buckingham Palace to pick up shock Honours.

Here’s proof that the same shit can happen to the same guy twice.

No, shush, obviously, that would be churlish, and it was all for a good cause – as reported on Hughlarious – the colleagues teamed up for their first public sketch performance of the century in aid of the charity Children’s Network, at a live London show called Serious Fun, of which I was utterly unaware, or obviously I’d have been there with my hair in braid (or as best I could braid it). I claw back some comfort also in that they performed their traditional drop-of-a-hat-oh-and-a-counter-with-telephone-is-also-essential charity item, The Hedge Sketch, as shown in Soupy Twists. And so the deep disappointment of not witnessing the exact reunion that the last few pages of Soupy Twists ache for is at least hugely tempered by not really missing any fresh F&L material. The two of them going through those old familiar motions does bode well for a proper reunion though, and if plans are firming, I only hope they become firm enough to mention – or perhaps even witness – before I can update the text for next year’s paperback release.

Oh, and then this very week, there were further developments. It’s been a week of miraculous, comradely good news, so of course we had to share at last…

Yes, dear Soupy Twists pledgers, this week, James Hugh Calum Laurie POSTED OFF HIS SIGNATURES TO ME!

Those of you who pledged for the signed copies of the book can now expect to complete your autograph collection ASAP, Unbound are posting them as I type. I think I’m relatively right in saying that concludes all of our pledge promises – besides those of you still to claim your cocktail meeting with me, you gluttons for banality. (Just jest, I will prepare some rare material to share with you when you visit – let me know when you’re ready to come and have a drink!)

Oh yes, and also apparently the dear chap picked up a gong from ultimate comedy fanboy Prince Charles this week too – a CBE is one rung below Sir Tony Robinson, and on a par with Rowan Atkinson CBE, so top hole all round. It’s always jolly to see Hugh smiling when the pleasure he’s feeling is clearly uncontrollably sincere, shining through his natural embarrassment at receiving any form of honour, so this is a truly gladsome sight. As for Mr Stephen Fry’s feelings about Honours… well, that’s in the book, if you have yet to purchase one…

AOB for ABOF&L – no matter what their subject matter, even a podcast agnostic like me wouldn’t flinch from recommending the learned and friendly RULE OF THREE cast, presented by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, who chat to a professional comedy-type about their own comedy loves, and this week Margaret Caybourn-Smith revealed her teenage obsessions with ABOF&L, sensible person that she is. They were kind enough to slip a modicum of cred Soupy Twists’ way near the start of the second half – and it was a great pleasure to hear elements of my weave of the colleagues’ combined story influencing their chat as it developed; I definitely recommend a listen.

Finally, although I have yet to request any tacit nod from Fry & Laurie – which I obviously always would do – plans are afoot for a Bath book launch at a swish cocktail bar to mark the 30th anniversary of the very first broadcast of ABOF&L S1E1 on Sunday January 13th. As with the London launch, the hope is we can give a reading of unperformed Fry & Laurie material as part of a free cabaret, but with books on hand to buy and get signed. It won’t be a commercial event, we’re not aiming to make money out of the colleagues’ material, just to mark the anniversary with a private cabaret of songs and sketches for F&L geeks and Soupy Twists readers, details of which should spring up on social media arenas in the coming weeks. There will be cocktails, of course.

Bring me lobster on a clean plate.

39) He’s Just A Child Really…

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Sound Name! My Favourite Sketch! (EDIT: And deleted by some scumball claiming copyright either on behalf of the BBC or Dave – either way, fingers crossed that villain already caught a juggernaut in the small of the back while bending over to pick up a penny mid-motorway.)

… Actually, it isn’t *quite* my favourite sketch, not when Berent’s Cocoa and Gay and Marmalade and the Dalliards all exist, but it is a sketch dangerously close to my heart.

But first of all, a hello and a welcome to this slightly awkward and unnecessary #SoupyTwists Friday update, which was inspired by seeing an all-time hero, Bob Mortimer, officially one of the two or three funniest human beings alive, FINALLY give Stephen and Hugh some respect, several episodes into Gold’s fun but flimsy TV nostalgia fest, ‘My Favourite Sketch’. I did try to interview Vic and Bob for Soupy Twists – they being such close buddies in the early 90s, and co-stars of Christmas Night With The Stars and so on – but received the reply that they didn’t think they had anything to add. Not that I took that as any kind of slight, but having Bob prioritise ABOF&L in his favourite sketch list was a lovely consolation, so I couldn’t resist mentioning it here, and uploading it (for as long as it lasts!).

Even more astounding was his choice of sketch (which he admitted at the top of the programme was off the top of his head), as the vignette about Mr Nippl-e and his missing vehicle was the very first comedy sketch I ever performed. The worst part of 30 years ago, at Ludlow C of E School, a charity show was staged on the day of the STONKER – Friday 15 March 1991 – perhaps the best Comic Relief Red Nose Day ever. As my three-years-older brother and his mates had claimed sketches like ‘Jewellery’ and ‘Psychiatrist’, I had to force my then best mate Steven Cox to join me in this pick from the first ABOF&L scriptbook.

And then, more horrifyingly, I remembered my brother had sent me a VHS with an early camcorder recording of that lunch break, and so I pressed ‘Play’ on a video for the first time in years, and there we were. Small, round, piping-voiced, and thoroughly shit, but performing Stephen & Hugh’s words (albeit, a lighter was too small for stage, so we made it a shoe, and we had no Policeman uniform, so I dressed as a yuppie taking down Mr Nippl-e’s details for charity work). I have an avertion to personal nostaligia, so sharing something like this is anathema to me, but here’s a brief bit of us doing it anyway, aged 12 3/4:


(He’s just a kid really)

And if that’s not weird enough, here’s a GERMAN REMAKE of the same sketch!

The point of this oversharing is, at this age the most supreme pleasure I knew in life was to be allowed to stand in front of the English class with a little friend and perform a sketch – sometimes Python, sometimes Absolutely, but most of all, the sketches in the ABOF&L books were always the best. It breaks my heart that the books are out of print – even if someone has digitised the oeuvre and put them online. I specifically begged Michael Joseph, Fry’s literary agents and controllers of the copyright, about the chance of editing an all-new collection  of F&L sketches, bringing together all the previous books, plus missing sketches from Saturday Live, Cellar Tapes, Hedge Sketch and suchlike. But they quite deliberately encouraged a flea to take possession of my internal ear cavity, and metaphorically kicked me out of the email equivalent of the door.

The hope is/was that SOUPY TWISTS would do well enough to change their minds and encourage S & H to back us up in this desire to bring their work back onto the market, as it were, but we’ll just have to see. We’ve run out of publicity, sadly – BBC Radio Shropshire last week was a boon and a pleasure, but the last interview we had lined up – and although there is a hope we can stage an event to mark ABOF&L’s 30th anniversary in January, and although I have spoken to Unbound about creating an audiobook version, and although there is a chance of a proper USA release at last… there is little else to do now but keep hoping the nice reviews continue to rack up in the usual online retailing areas, and that we may get some good mentions in the newspaper Xmas round-ups. In private, Stephen’s sister Jo has said kind words, as have a number of his close friends including the wonderful Kim Harris, but Stephen has been so busy with Heroes, we’ve yet to receive our promised ‘release tweet’, and Hugh has gone entirely off the radar… but we have no doubt the colleagues’ kindness will bring us back into their ken eventually… And no cricket bats will be required.

If you have been, that’s nice.

38) The Ballad of Neddy Muldoon

Friday, 12 October 2018

Happy Soupy Twists Friday (Yes, that’s still a thing), ABBOFFLERS!

Folk keep asking me how the book’s doing, but in real terms, authors only find this out once every six months, when royalty statements arrive and depression sets in. So far we have five positive Amazon reviews, lots of lovely feedback, and only one disgruntled pledger annoyed about the lack of Hugh’s signature (please realise, it’s due to a change in Hugh’s personal management, and there’s nothing I nor Unbound can do but keep faith and nudge Hugh’s PA as often as possible, in the hope of delivering eventually). Besides an interview with Talk Radio next Tuesday, we’ve run out of publicity, so anyone out there with a relevant podcast, or radio producers, or indeed any way you may have of amplifying our cries of ‘THIS BOOK IS QUITE NICE AND YOU MAY ENJOY IT’ – please get in touch at jem@jemroberts.com.

As for those in the book, Stephen’s sister Jo has been lovely, and even moreso his wonderful student partner Kim Harris has been in touch with the most moving praise. Kim’s submissions to the book were so glorious, I have advised him to expand them into a full memoir, and I believe Stephen agrees. Kim had read the ebook twice before I could send him a proper copy, and it would be conceited to repeat his praise, but it means the world to me. I don’t expect Stephen or Hugh to read the book, it’s an ego minefield, so although Fry and Laurie have always been on board this official project, the opinions of their closest friends is the closest I can get to full approval of the finished product. Of course, neither colleague has yet acknowledged the release, but Fry’s Twitter profile in particular is under non-stop seige, and he has ‘Heroes’ to promote too… as his official joint biography, surely our time will come.

However, Kim also enthused about the book to Nick Symons, one-time ABOF&L producer known to you perhaps as ‘man in glasses’ in the studio audience for the Strom sketch. Nick has also been full of pleasing praise for Soupy Twists… but in addition, blue-pencilled his way through in a sadly belated fact check. I’m glad to say this largely resulted in just a few tiny issues which almost nobody would notice – Hugh lived in Tufnell Park for a while, not Camden, and so on. But he did also point out two ridiculous mistakes on one page, in the plates. The photo section didn’t go through half the rigorous checking of the main body of the book, but that’s no excuse, and I take full responsibility for this worst brain-belch of all:

HOW DO THINGS LIKE THIS HAPPEN? And why, of all people, did it have to be the lovely, underappreciated Paul Shearer whose name was mistaken, directly beneath an archive photo which specifically names him correctly? I’m sure I had been discussing fellow underappreciated comedian John Sparkes when writing the captions, and the totally random, heartbreaking, self-sabotaging brainwrong just jumped in there. And nobody caught it, but it’s still my fault. I’m so sorry, Paul. This, and a few other small glitches have already been sent to Unbound for fixing for every edition from now on, and eBook. It could of course have been far worse, but you will never know just how this kind of completely inexplicable mistake is a dagger to my guts. It’s one thing to make an error through lack of knowledge, but when it’s something you know perfectly well, and yet somehow your internal gremlins have just fucked something up for you… that’s the one that really stinks. Mea very culpa.

On the other hand, that does mean the real meat of the book is as flawless as you can get, plus, just as I was weeping into my wound about all this yesterday, I watched Richard Herring interview Alex Horne about his new book, and both shared their agonies of first edition typos and errors RIGHT HERE – and as they are both better men than me, I felt a little better.

Whether this will ameliorate my error I do not know, but here’s a wee something for you all which may raise half a grin. Hugh Laurie, it need hardly be said, is very much alive, which is lovely, but he’s now so divorced from his own comical songwriting, the discovery of his old ABOF&L-era song lyrics feels as exciting to me as discovering lost Lennon lyrics. And so, as Billy Bragg was to Woody Guthrie, I have been moved to fit music to Hugh’s abandoned songs. In particular, I have always had a soft spot for the Muldoon brothers, Freddie and Neddy, murdered by the villainous fascistic ‘Cause’. And so, finding an unfinished ‘Ballad of Neddy Muldoon’ in the ABOF&L archives was an astonishing treat, and inspired the construction of a few folky, bluesy chords to let the sad tune sing out 25-odd years after Laurie abandoned it, in tribute to the shortest-lived Prime Minister in British history. It was missing a line, but rather than add to Hugh’s words, I thought I’d borrow one of his lines from another song…

And so, with Fry a safe punching distance away, I give you my interpretation of The Ballad of Neddy Muldoon. We shall not forget. Although most of us do not remember.

HOWZAT?!

37) Soupy Twists LIVE!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Hello, ladies and non-ladies, and to a certain extent also, HELLO!

I’m not entirely certain of how long we can go on having extra blogs added, now most of you have probably already read the entire book, but it’s been a busy time introducing the world to Soupy Twists, and so we have a great deal of housekeeping to do. But at least we can do it with vim.

Yes, on Wednesday 12th September I was aided and abetted by Paul Gannon, my comedy colleague for many a year of yore, and now noted podcaster with @Cheapshow and more – plus the magnificently talented Torchwood and Hitchhiker star Samantha Béart and Toby Longworth, whose credits include starring with Stephen Fry in Extras, and radio show Fry’s Planet Word. Together, we convened in London’s occasionally fashionable Clerkenwell to present a virtual episode of ‘A Bit Of Fry & Laurie’ that wasn’t, to launch our wonderful book amidst delightful pledgers and fans. In fact, the hour-long show and subsequent sticky cocktail-glugging presumably formed the closest thing there has ever been to a Fry & Laurie fan convention – and there was much rejoicing.

And you can listen to the audio of the event RIGHT HERE! I’ll keep the link up for a few months, so grab it while you can!

Folk kindly also uploaded the odd bit of video for those who like to use eyes as well as ears, and you can find them HERE and HERE (Thanks, Trevor!) and also HERE (Thanks, other Paul!).

Early feedback on the book is thankfully glowing, though no word yet on professional reviews – unless I’m being protected from them. Never mind, your opinion will always count for more, so PLEASE if you enjoyed the book, speed to those tax-dodging types at Amazon and share your stars and reviews (you can buy it more ethically HERE), it means an annoying amount that it’s well received, if I am to write further books. You can do the same on Goodreads, but the place terrifies me.

And as for further coverage, if you are tired of life enough to hear me talk more about A Bit of Fry & Laurie on BBC Bristol, I was first guest up on Monday’s show HERE!

(Oh, and as a Froody aside for Hitchhiker’s Guide fans, my Great Lives episode, in which I nattered with the great Mark Carwardine about Douglas Adams is on Radio 4 HERE or as an extended podcast HERE!)

I have podcast interviews ahead, and something on Talk Radio, but we’re still keen for any kind of word-spreading we can manage, so if you hear of any opportunities, do get in touch at jem@jemroberts.com!

But for now, and best of all, to further my radio adventures, my 4xtra natter with the comedy deity who is Arthur Smith starts later tonight at ten to eleven…! Should be somewhere in this region: HERE. Mr Smith may not be the first name you think of in connection to everyone’s favourite Footlighters, but it was a real pleasure to spend more time with such an Alternative icon, and we’re both on the Bath Comedy Festival board, so it was good to catch up…

Oh, and on the subject of pledge honouring – if you pledged to get copies signed by me, Stephen and Hugh, it’s true that Hugh has lost himself in a new movie project and sadly not yet supplied his signatures – nobody’s fault, least of all mine or Unbound’s – but we’re doing all we can to get them, and won’t give up, but may send your copies without Hugh’s signature first, and as there are only 15 or so, we can post them off when we do get them. Some of you also pledged to come to Bath and have cocktails with me, you mad lot – just get in touch when you’d like to sort that out and I’ll do all I can to not waste your time! Thank you so much to everyone who did pledge extra for any reason at all, though…

Oh, and finally, if you’re concerned that neither Fry nor Laurie has yet commented on the release of their official joint biography… well, now I finally have my box of books and two minutes to rub together, it may help when I get a moment to post their copies off to them. To the Post Office I go!

See those faces. You can hardly blame them…

36) SOUPY TWISTS PUBLICATION DAY! As I live and close a sale!

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Listen to me, lovelets, don’t stop listening to me…

The year long extra wait is finally over, in good time for the 30th anniversary of the first series of “A BIT OF FRY & LAURIE”, Stephen & Hugh’s official joint biography SOUPY TWISTS is finally headed to shops all over the British Isles – and available all over the world, though we hope that UNBOUND USA will give it a proper release over in the American regions sooner rather than later.

Above is my totally author-made video (what do you mean you could tell it wasn’t professional?) which I’ve had brewing away for over two years now – some of the shops featured don’t even exist any more! I know it’s a little ropy, but hopefully it will be received in the jolly spirit it was intended.

Anyway, I’m holding it now, as they say, and this is a beautiful chunk of tree. It brings to mind this passage from ‘Paperweight’, which has always stayed with me – this may be my 4th book, but this sentiment of Stephen’s must remain paramount:

Your supporter copies will be with you very soon – Unbound have been moving warehouse so there’s a slight delay in sending these out. For anyone who ordered a copy to be signed by me – the wait will be a little longer I’m afraid due to a rather busy schedule.

For those who haven’t pledged, you can buy this gorgeous book in any decent shop – obviously Amazon already has plenty of money, but whether you get it from them or not, if you enjoy the book, PLEASE take the time to leave a nice review on there, as these things really, really matter to publishers and the like. Same goes for Goodreads, and indeed word of mouth. Show your love for Stephen and Hugh by supporting this official book, and if it does well enough, who knows whether that may be a trigger to bring the colleagues back together in full comedic reunion, even if for one night only…?

And for an extra consumer tip, let’s turn to the colleagues themselves…

Stephen: Any particular advice on how to carry SOUPY TWISTS, when travelling abroad?
Hugh: Yes, I would say it’s definitely worth getting a proper travelling SOUPY TWISTS  bag.
Stephen: A travelling SOUPY TWISTS bag?
Hugh: Yes. You can buy one of these at most big High Street travelling SOUPY TWISTS bag shops.

Perfectly sofa factory. As they say in Strøm, Hifty bewn-hate, happy hip-wipe, weethle-fwisk prenty arse.

I look forward to baffling many of you in person on Wednesday, when I and my once-colleague Paul Gannon will be joined by Samantha Béart and Toby Longworth for the London launch, with an hour-long virtual ABOF&L show made up of entirely unperformed sketches, and a few beloved Hugh tunes to boot! And of course, cocktails galore…

I never expected an honour of this magnitude, even as the official biographer of Douglas Adams, Blackadder and ISIHAC. Not least due to Hugh’s rightful embarrassment at this kind of thing, an official print Fry & Laurie celebration seemed beyond imaginings. But here it is. This is all thanks to Stephen’s kind support, and Hugh’s unexpected graciousness, and I will be eternally grateful to them both (any sign of those signatures, Hugh?).

Enjoy. Bathe in the verbiage. Wallow in the sophisticated silliness. Admire the trousers. And let the world know if you love it, as I do. If not, keep schtum, you pempslider.

35) Fry Birthday Fun: MAGIC EYE

Friday, 24 August 2018

Happy 61st, Mr Casilingua!

It seems bizarre that we have had three birthdays come and go for our colleagues in the making of this official biography – it’s been like an unpaid job which has gone on far beyond any imaginings, but from which I will soon be fired.

But I say, here’s fun: this probably penultimate blog after all these years allows me to share something with you which didn’t fit in the book, as a special birthday treat for Stephen – the colleagues’ entry in the 1995 Comic Relief book:

Actually, in truth, it was one of those tiresome ‘Upper Class Wits’ affairs which I know irked Hugh in particular, pigeonholing them both as toffs, but as they were pretty much done as a double act when the book came out, I’m not sure if they ever even really acknowledged it, let alone were able to actually make out the hidden image on their spread:

Does Magic Eye work digitally, on a screen? I know it never even worked for me on the page, I could never quite position my eyes in the right place, but in case it works for you, here’s the page:

… And a touch of doggerel probably not written by Richard Curtis.

And for those, like me, who have normal eyes, here is the solution.

Well, I mean to say. Something. Or other.

Less than three weeks until our launch party at Bloomsbury’s Museum of Comedy, where I’ll be performing some of the unused Fry & Laurie sketches Stephen sent me in a special hour-long show with comedian and podcaster Paul Gannon and special guests, Hitchhiker’s Guide stars Samantha Béart and Toby Longworth. We’re getting it ready for you now, along with all the other promises. Slight nightmare at the moment, in that Stephen has kindly provided his signatures for the signed copies you may have pledged for… but Hugh has gone AWOL without doing so, and may be disappearing into a character on the other side of the world. We’re doing all we can…

Anyway, may a lovely day for Stephen unfold, and everyone else share in it. Tinkerty-tonk.

34) Actual Cocktail Time This Time

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Ladies and boys, bear with me please, bear with me, don’t stop bearing with me…

We have reason to raise a glass and celebrate, my dear Soupy pledgers – this week, the official story of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie’s friendship and comedic partnership, has FINALLY gone off to the printers, only a year late! If ever there was cause to shake a cocktail shaker, that must be it.

In addition, the 40,000 word bundles of hitherto unseen ABOF&L material is ready to PDF (note: some of the material is also in the book, but pledgers have more than DOUBLE the amount!), Mr Fry has provided the signatures for the signed editions (just waiting for Mr Laurie to snap out of his understandable Dickensian funk), and for those three remaining MAD PERSONS who have pledged to come to Bath for cocktails and a snoop at my comedy rarities folders… just get in touch!

But the main remaining pledge reward is of course THE BOOK LAUNCH ITSELF – the closest thing there has ever been to a Fry & Laurie fan convention, I suppose, where we will offer drinks and hubbubbery and signings, and above all, an hour’s private cabaret, in which I and a small group of exciting professional comedy performers will be bringing a seclection of sketches and songs, both well-beloved, and rare stuff from the book never performed before – and even EXCLUSIVE Fry & Laurie sketches not even in the book, nor the pledge material bundle, which will only be shared via this one event! Sadly we have no piano, so ukulele will have to suffice, but believe me, this will be a unique and must-attend event for all lovers of Stephen & Hugh’s sophisticated silliness…

Now. The nub, point or thing is – we had 14 pledges for this event, plus a +1 each, and Unbound say that generally half of such pledges are seen through, so that may be fewer than 20 attendees. There will also be some Unbound staffers, friends, and maybe Stephen & Hugh’s close friends in attendance – though undoubtedly neither colleague themselves will be there: imagine the embarrassment for them! And the terror for us, performing their lost material in front of them! Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Anyway, the chosen venue can fit about 80 folk in, and we’re currently looking at maybe 20-30 people or so being there. So it seems a shame not to open it up somewhat, what? THOSE WHO HAVE ALREADY PLEDGED CASH FOR THIS, please be assured, you will be given VIP treatment, a drinks tab, and if you still feel short-changed, have a word with me and I will send something else to make up for it. But we do want a nice big crowd, so anyone who wants to buy a book on the evening can come along and join the throng, I’m sure. Best to get in touch at jem@jemroberts.com if you want to be sure of a seat.

The Soupy Twists Launch Event – an hour of completely un-performed Bits of Fry & Laurie, plus book signings and celebrations aplenty – will take place at The Apollo Room, The Crown Tavern, 43 Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 0EG, on WEDNESDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER at 7.30PM. Put it in your diaries, see you there, and let’s all raise a toast to a brace of the finest funnymen in the history of British Comedy. Bet you can’t eat three.

33) Cocktail Time

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Hello, good July, greetings, and a merry Soupy Twists Friday to one and some others!

The book MS has just gone off to our wonderful Indexer, which allowed me a fresh look at the latest state of the text. One thing which struck me when I first saw the designed version, was that something was missing – a dollop of pizzazz somehow, to lift the story off the page at particular key moments. What I wanted was a series of cocktail designs to mark each section. I could picture them in my head, like neon cocktail bar signs, pertinent to the following wodge of story, but not being the greatest artist in the history of the Earth, this was obviously something I thought Unbound would be able to do in a far more professional way…

Sadly, that never came to pass, and so I have been forced to do it myself after all, and I’m pleased to see at least that *one* of my designs have been included, at the very end of the main text. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but I’m learning to accept these tiny victories as some indication that I am still alive, which surely counts for something.

With the Index underway, there’s no more room for changes, though the constant march of Stephen & Hugh’s careers means that the endpoint of our story can only get more and more out of date. I alluded to the unlikelihood of a second series of The Night Manager, and now there are whispers that the script is already in the works. But tush, if I may tush, we have to call it a day somewhere, and hopefully the end of our story will serve as a fitting testimony to the Fry & Laurie partnership for years to come nonetheless.

Small world, by the way, if not minute: up in Shropshire this weekend, my cousin-in-law in Craven Arms – a brilliant carpenter – informed me that all his wood is provided by one Ran Laurie; Hugh’s cousin, it seems, who has become a Salopian like myself.

Anyway, it may only be of interest to a few, but it seemed a shame to waste all these designs, so extra content coming up – my cocktail icons, and where they were roughly meant to be. As you can see, the glasses were slightly anthropomorphised, and were supposed to reflect the stage of Stephen & Hugh’s careers at each juncture. Perhaps you can print them out and stick them to the top of each chapter, as intended.

On the other foot, if you think ‘Jesus Meddlicott, is this what I pledged my money for, this infantile scrawl?’ then I would say to you, firstly, that you’re unnecessarily rude, secondly, that I did intend for a better designer to re-do my work, and thirdly – only one of my images has made the finished version anyway, plus one by the gifted Darrell Maclaine-Jones.

Oh, and PS: A few folk have started to ask about the launch party. I would rather like to get some idea of what the blinking flip the deal is myself. My hope is that ‘we’ can find a central London venue for cocktails and a small cabaret, perhaps on a Saturday evening in late September, but perhaps I’m expected to actually book the venue and so on… which is unwise, but we shall see.

Chin chin, anyway…

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

THE INTRO BIT

THE FIRST BIT

THE MAIN BIT

THE LAST BIT

SOUPY TWISTS!

32) Hello, and Welcome To ‘Judging A Book By…’

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Or perhaps, ‘How I Learned To Stop Torturing Myself and be a Froody Author’.

As it’s Towel Day, I should have blogged about Fry & Laurie’s friendships with Douglas Adams, in the hope that some of you who haven’t yet blessed your bookshelves with my last book THE FROOD (which mentions both colleagues a fair bit) can finally make up for it. But you’ve all been waiting so long for this dear and blessed book by now, I probably already have, at least once, and besides, it’s quite a big news day for me, because…

I say, here’s fun – the Soupy Twists cover has finally debuted to the world.

Well gosh, look at those fellows. And their strange faces.

With the best will in the world… you could bequeath THE MOON to ALL THE WORLD’S CHILDREN! … Sorry, I mean to say, with the best will in the world, I am deeply proud of Soupy Twists, and obviously want as many folk as possible to buy and enjoy it, but this is not quite how I personally envisaged the Soupy Twists cover. I had originally hoped for a colour image of Stephen & Hugh (in an ideal world in full ‘Soupy Twists’ mode, raising a cocktail glass to the reader, inviting them to pick up the book and have a good time), against a plain white background with gold lettering, and in general, for this book to fit perfectly alongside the existing ABOF&L books as seamlessly as possible.

And yes, dearies, I am aware that the colleagues are the wrong way round. But shush. Snark hath no place here, this is the cover of my 4th book, it’s a tremendous treasury of comedy brilliance, and it’s a book I will be doing all I can to sell and publicise and massively enthuse folk about wherever and whenever I can throughout this year, and particularly in September, when it hits the shops (If you can help with publicity, by the way – local radio, newspapers, any chance to discuss Fry & Laurie’s official story, email jem@jemroberts.com and I’ll be there).

But I have one overriding reason for embracing this quirky cover, presented to me as a fait accompli as it was, and even though I did have an ambition not to write a book which was largely grey, and that is… I HAVE A HISTORY OF BEING GRAVELY WRONG.

You see, my first three books were all published by Preface/Arrow, an imprint of Penguin/Random House and ironically, that huge conglomerate of commercial publishing gave me all the input and power I desired to shape the look of my books. Here follows a little breakdown of how the design of each of my books was at first amateurishly suggested by myself, then a different look was presented to me by the company, then I worked with them to reach a compromise which made us all happy…

THE CLUE BIBLE:
Originally ‘I’ll Read That Again’, then ‘The I’m Sorry Bible’, the Last Supper image my first book ended up with was not my idea, but I suggested all sorts of changes, adding ferrets, streamers, kazoos and the like into the image – I also battled to get Bill Oddie on the cover, with no luck. But it was a very pleasing bit of work by the time the book came out:

THE CLUE BIBLE EVOLUTION

THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACKADDER:
I had several rough ideas of how I’d like my Blackadder magnificent octopus to hit the shops, as you can see, but then Preface wanted it to look totally different, i.e. like this:

But I said no, ‘Goes Forth’ was not the focus, and I wanted something more in keeping with the Olde Worlde title, a Blackadder II cover, and those kind designers came up trumps for me, both in hardback and paperback:

THE TRUE HISTORY EVOLUTION

THE FROOD

My official Douglas Adams biography perhaps involved the most wrangling before its release in 2014. My very first image was, admittedly, something I never expected to actually get onto bookshelves, pretty though it was:

But as the following link shows, after a rather lacklustre original suggestion from Preface’s designers, I worked very hard to tug the cover design over to my way of thinking – the very least, I begged, was that Douglas’ face should be on his own official biography. And so, you can see how it evolved into something which pleased us all – and again, all the moreso by paperback:

THE FROOD EVOLUTION

And now, here we are with the official Fry & Laurie book, published with an author-led publisher… and I have to say, the cover is something entirely other to me, I have had no hand in it at all, it feels like another person’s child I am having to work to send to Eton and I’m not that sure about their smell…

But here’s the kicker – all my previous books failed to reach even 30% of their audiences. And now Preface is no more, anyway. The Frood still has to make back my 2013 advance, after a third of a decade of sales, and was only translated into Portuguese. I have been trying to get a publisher to reprint the Blackadder book for the 30th anniversary of ‘Goes Forth’ – using the exact original Preface cover design idea – but all entreaties on that score have been ignored by BBC Books and others, even though there’s a huge Blackadder audience out there who missed the book first time round, and would snap it up in 2019. I am constantly meeting people who claim to be the biggest Blackadder fan… who had no idea his True History had been told.

Now, I would never be so paranoid as to assume that the poor sales of these books was down to my vision for the book cover. I remain endlessly proud of all three books, just as I am vehemently proud of Soupy Twists – all three were well-reviewed (where they were reviewed, that is), and I know they are good stuff, comedy history you can stick a spoon into and guzzle. It’s just that each one all-but evaporated when let loose in the insane world of book marketing, and many many people who would love them still don’t know they exist.

So here’s a thought, what if this book, Soupy Twists, having had nugatory input from me in its outward presentation, finally bucked the trend and sold admirably? Stranger things have happened, and indeed do happen every day, not least in the seamier suburbs of Crawley.

So I’ve chosen to adore and cheer on this strangely grey and yellow cover, and I dearly hope you do too. If this book does well enough, maybe I will keep my oar out of book cover discussions forever more, because I’ve learned the very very hard way indeed that it’s better to have a book that actually sells than a cover over which I have had authorial control. Or rather, that sounds nice anyway, but it’s never happened to me as yet. Fourth time lucky…?

If you have been, that’s your look-out.

And as I love you, I’ll leave you with this entirely gross demolition of one of Hugh’s best songs in this Trump-stained world. KICKIN’ ASS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GjB7Q9ZkgQ

31) The Jeeves & Wooster Family Tree

Thursday, 10 May 2018

 

Tally ho, long-fingered young Soupy pledgers, with a bing and a bong and a buzz buzz buzz!

Happy Soupy Twists Friday. It has been an awfully long time since last I collared you, but then, little has happened – and September remains the apparent date for holding this book to your bosoms. The plate section is curently taking form, I am battling to include some text decorations which I feel will really add pizzazz, and as for my future, I have still not found a home yet for my planned next wonderful work of comedy non-fiction… and that’s about the size, shape and girth of it.

Meantime, Stephen and Hugh have not failed to ceaselessly make their official story out of date, naturally – Hugh’s confirmed as part of Armando Iannucci’s new David Copperfield movie and Stephen has embarked on a new podcast project, which you can access HERE as if you haven’t already.

But I have made an amusing discovery which I thought pertinent to share with you. The book above was maybe my third or fourth Wodehouse purchase, my interest in the Master originally wholly due to Stephen and Hugh and their agreement to personify Bertram Wilberforce and his brain-weighted valet. I was 11 when Jeeves & Wooster began, and over the following decade I ravenously tracked down and revelled in every single one of Wodehouse’s 100+ books (though his early school stories have always been a grey area, and are by and large a challenge to enjoy, learning his craft as he was at the time). Anyone who knows anything about the great man’s ludicrously fecund output will recognise the achievement here, especially as this was managed without access to Amazon, eBay and various online book emporia, it was purely through visiting bookshops and the like that I totalled the oeuvre, and of course a certain sadness entered my non-existent soul from the moment I realised I would never again read a Wodehouse novel for the first time.

Anyway, the reason for this impertinent bloggage is a testament to my adolescent obsession with the World of Wodehouse. At the age of 18, I embarked on a year out before attending university, at UWA Aberystwyth in 1997. The plan was to work in various factories, save up several grand, and survive all the better at uni. Sadly, it did not work out this way, and before I finally nepotistically landed a job writing Prima videogame guides at the end of the year (do check out my guide to Mortal Kombat 4, it’s a doozy), I had many months of JSA-funded unemployment.

What does a glum teenager do in the Shropshire countryside when denied the ability to earn some of the necessary? Does he hang around on the Buttercross steps, swigging White Lightning and terrorising the populace? Does he stay in bed watching… what would daytime TV have been in 1996? I shudder to think.

No, he does not. He spends days painstakingly collecting all the canonical info he can from the Jeeves books, and puts together a vast family tree, covering the genealogy of both Bertie and, surprisingly, Reginald Jeeves, all in one. I mean, just look at it:

This is only an iPhone pic of the enormous piece of card I used, but it should just about be legible, to interested fans. I discovered this, unexamined for decades, rolled up inside a load of old posters, and couldn’t resist allowing other eyes to see it for the first time ever.

Perhaps a few literary inaccuracies crept in here and there, but stringent attention to detail was shown in my younger exertions. Of course, it’s 88% fan fiction, all dates totally surmised or imagined, and by bringing the bloodlines right up to date (to 1996), mixing in all manner of Wodehouse figures and dynasties – not to mention linking Jeeves and Bertie’s ancestry AND combining their families via marriage in the next generation – perhaps I got carried away. My Latin on the family crest designs also no doubt sucks sizeable ones, but I had no classical education, unlike Bertie (and Jeeves, and Stephen and Hugh).

This may seem like an eccentric waste of any young man’s time, but I did at least get to revisit the experience professionally, with a far greater devotion to canon, in my second book, THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER:

True, absolute purists may spot a few cheeky punts here and there even with this published genealogy – assuming the father of Captain Blackadder and so on, but generally this one is far more based firmly on the existing research on the Blackadder family carried out by Richard Curtis, Ben Elton and John Lloyd. It’s probably in my Top 5 proudest moments in my career, I don’t mind admitting.

But as you can see, we’re nearing 30 years of devoted PG Wodehouse fandom from me, and as a member of the Wodehouse Appreciation Society and an avid reader of all books about him and his work, I have long wanted to fill a crucial gap in the market, by writing a lovely big glossy book all about the many adaptations of Wodehouse to the screen. Soupy Twists contains the most detailed history of the Granada Jeeves & Wooster series ever released, with new input from Brian Eastman as well as S&H, but just as my Blackadder book contains the seeds of Soupy Twists, with a potted Fry & Laurie history which I have now finally been allowed to explore in more detail, so Soupy Twists’ J&W narrative could be fleshed out massively in my planned book, ‘Wodehouse’s World’. It’s not just about J&W, or ‘Blandings’, or the surprisingly few other attempts to bring Wodehouse to the masses, it’s also all about the adverts, the ornaments and knick-knacks, musicals, basically every element of Wodehouse’s universe, OFF THE PAGE. There was one very dry academic book on ‘Wodehouse on Screen’, which I found a pain to get through, but I aim to cover that territory in a juicy, fizzy, entertaining way.

If there are any sane publishers of comedy/literary non-fiction out there… Pip pip!

30) Oh Lordy! It’s…

Friday, 16 February 2018

An oleaginously indulgent Soupy Twists Friday to all!

Lovely news for all – the tweaked-and-perfected-to-jiggery Soupy Twists proofs have just been sent back to the editor for the next phase of production (we’ll get one last check for errors), and I’m trying, via a gifted designer friend, to add a few sprinkles of extra gorgeosity to the contents, we’ll see if our attempts bear any kind of fruit and veg.

This is just a compact and bijou blogette to expand on a minor element of the Soupy Twists book which it wasn’t possible to explore in much detail, and that’s the relationship between Stephen and Hugh – well, Stephen mainly – and Viz comic, the UK’s venerable source of comic strip filth for four decades now.

Whether this doltish Voxpopper was meant as a tribute to or an attack on Viz, via San and Tray the iconic Fat Slags, the comic has not been backward at coming forward with skewering everyone’s favourite interestingly-nosed polymathematician. Viz has always presented itself as a hard-as-nails Geordie working class periodical, so it’s no surprise that two Footlighters were going to get lined up for some rough treatment now and then…

I could only refer to the strips they have run in the book, but this blog is here to show you what I’m on about.

The first Stephen Fry strip (with a cameo from Hugh) was back in 1993, and just pleasingly whimsical really, a testament to Fry’s popularity, albeit presented as a Cambridge undergraduate 12 years after graduating:

And similarly, this cartoon is as offence-free as it gets (unless you’re a thick sheikh):

But when they gave Stephen a second strip many years later in the 21st century, his character began to reflect his place in British society as a then-incessant tweeter, with an extra smack at his occasional displays of sensitive flower behaviour, when the Internet’s bottom line has bitten back. But the fact that he’s presented as a lovable pet is further testament to Fry’s development as the nation’s cuddliest brainbox…

On the other hand, Hugh has been pilloried by the comic only once. But as that one really was rather nasty, I won’t include the advert for Hugh ‘Lemon Sorbet’ Laurie’s album, ‘I Got Them Highest Paid Actor In Showbiz Blues’, partly because Hugh’s own self-flagellation is quite enough, but also because it may rile so many House fans I may get it in the neck just for pasting it.

Instead, I’ll leave you with this charming idea of how Hanna-Barbera may have presented the colleagues for their own cartoon, courtesy of DeviantArtist, Cool Hand Mike:

There, that’s much nicer, isn’t it? And we know how important it is to Be Nice.

If you have been, happy weekend.

29) Jolly Well Done, Hugh CBE!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

HAPPY 2018, the year of SOUPY TWISTS!

Admittedly the book’s delay does mean we’ll hit shops not on the 30th anniversary of the ABOF&L pilot, which was on Boxing Day just passed, nor on the anniversary of the start of series 1, which will be on 13 January next year – but we will be equidistant between the two, and hopefully that will suffice.

The hardest part of any author’s job, however, is always PUBLICITY, and so when this wonderful book is finally out this coming summer, the real challenge is going to be telling the world all about it. Surely any radio or TV producer worth their salt or indeed pepper will see the obvious fact that banging on about how wonderful Stephen & Hugh are makes for great (excuse the tidal wave of sick, but I’m going to use the word) CONTENT!? We will need newspaper coverage, local, national, international, I will be available for radio interviews, TV interviews, live author events… in short, if you or anyone you even vaguely know has any ideas of events or possibilities for publicising this book, PLEASE get in touch and let me know, as I can only presume that I will be entirely on my own when it comes to publicity. It’s where a book falls or rises, and we all want SOUPY TWISTS to rise.

And talking of rising, of course, ARISE HUGH LAURIE CBE! A lovely spot of New Year news since last we blogged, everyone’s favourite Hugh Laurie is now a Commander of the British Empire! Which means we now have to do whatever he says; as if we wouldn’t have done so already.

By ALMOST AMUSING coincidence, just before Xmas I cleared two squibs from the Fry & Laurie archive with Stephen to share with you all – bits which won’t be in the book at all, and this is your one exclusive chance to get your eyes on them. I chose the Russell-Grant-skewering Astrology sketch, and put this to one side, but as it’s all about the Honours system, it seems uncannily suitable as a New Year gift for all you lovely patient pledgers.

Especially as many of you are already thinking of ways to get Soupy Twists some high-profile media exposure this summer… aren’t you…?

28) SOUPY CHRISTMAS AND A TWISTY NEW YEAR!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

A SOUPY, TWISTY XMAS/MITHRAS/SOLSTICE/SATURNALIA TO ALL YOU LOVELY PLEDGERS!

I must admit, when posting last year’s Xmas blog, I never expected to have to follow it up a year later, with further assurances of Stephen & Hugh’s official story being in the offing. I’m a good boy, I am, and after over a year’s hard composition, I delivered the manuscript in April, which means our heroes’ story is paused in early 2017 forever more – which presents the interesting dichotomy of always looking forward to whatever Fry & Laurie might have going on… and terror that they will make some big announcement before the book is out. A pledger tells me that Amazon has the book listed as ‘September 2018’, a full 17 months after delivery, and as Unbound have promised me that the wait will be worth it – hopefully a decent publicity drive will be put in place, and the book will be supported to the extent of being entered for prizes, and maybe translated into other languages, for House fans around the world… – well, I have to keep the faith just like the rest of you.

We’ll also have to arrange a whizzy, jolly launch party for the end of summer in London! Once again, I already know for sure we can put on a great show for pledgers, packed with ABOF&L music and laughs, but hopefully we won’t have to book the place ourselves, etc. We can only arrange so much!

In fact, this is a good time to put in a heartfeltt plea to all of you right now – if you know of ANY comedy/literary event or festival, a book fete, a library, a cool bookshop, anywhere that would be keen to have a special Soupy Twists event to spread word of the book – PLEASE get in touch. Publicity is 80% of the publishing business, and although your author can guarantee a great, funny, fascinating evening, actually *arranging* any kind of Soupy Twists publicity tour is a challenge I’m ill-equipped to take on. Do ask around, spread the word, see if you can find a wee slot for this book, an event packed with Blackadder, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Fry & Laurie and exclusive material of all kinds. All I’d need is travel expenses…

The challenge is doubled by the fact that now my other book, the crucial folklore collection TALES OF BRITAIN is funded, for the first time ever I have TWO BOOKS to publicise and promote in one year. Incidentally, Fry fans may enjoy THE LAST YULE, an exclusive story written for TOB pledgers, as it was based on an ancient legend which I first read in Paperweight many many years ago – and in fact, I’ve failed to track down any alternative version, which is very odd indeed, unless Stephen invented the tale himself. In which case, this is pure plagiarism, but at least it’s free.

Anyway, your patience MUST be rewarded, and Stephen has given express permission for the rude little squib below to be this year’s present. It would have been in the final series, but they had an embarrassment of material, so it went by the wayside. And what is this time of year all about if not refuting baloney? Believers in birth-star bollocks look away now!

Thank you all so much for your kindness, support and patience, merry festive period to you all, and here’s to a very Soupy, rather Twisty, 2018! SOUPY TWIST!!!

I BRING YOU THIS MUCH GREETING:

27) HORROR TWISTS: An Unprofessional Blog

Friday, 27 October 2017

A very very happy Samhain Soupy Twists Friday to you gorgeous, supple ST-pledgers… IF YOU CAN!

This is a Halloween and Horror themed blog. It may not seem it just yet, but do hang around. No, this is not America, I know. But still.

Thank you for your continuing patience and faith as Fry & Laurie’s official 30th anniversary celebration chunters its way through the publishing system, en route to your personal comedy non-fiction travelling cases come the summer. This blog is going to be highly unprofessional, but I write it on the quite safe hunch that Stephen & Hugh are about as likely to read this as a Universal Credit form, or a Dan Brown novel.

Having been at this Official Comedy Biography game for a decade now, most paramount for me has always been knowing my place, impinging on the sainted nerves of my living breathing subject matters as little as possible. And when it comes to the direction of their own careers, that goes quadruple. And yet, with every book I have written, after a year or three of concentrated examination, I cannot help ultimately forming a tungston-carbide-strong vision of what their next step should be. With The Clue Bible, and poor Humph bowing out during its composition, I felt the best way forward for ISIHAC was a line in the sand, a relaunch for series 51 as ‘NOT a Clue’, with a deliberate shakeup – and now, Jack Dee has been proving me wrong for nearly a decade. With Blackadder, well, who HASN’T formulated their own ideal of how Edmund couldn’t enjoy a last run around the track? It just so happens that my idea is best. (You’d have to ask me in some inebriated state to bore you to death with the how’s and the why’s and the d’you-mind-if-you-shut-ups of it.) Then there are all the mind-expanding, hilarious gags still hiding in Douglas Adams’ archives, from which The Frood only sampled a taste. My own views on the way forward for Hitchhiker really are best left private, but at least the sound magician Dirk Maggs is using some of the Frood’s material to power next year’s Hexagonal Phase, which is a huge source of pride…

But you see, I am not delusional. NO REALLY. I fully realise that any idea that comes from me, for any artist I admire, is nothing but fan-fiction at best: I am just a fan, like all the rest of you, and the most important thing any fan has to understand is they have less than zero claim on the work of any artist; that the careers of the artists you admire or even adore, are purely the business of them and their agents. And so I wisely keep silent… But sod it.

©Charles Burns @roving_artist

As for Fry & Laurie’s future as a duo, we’re all well used to their protestations that yes, of course, they must get together for some kind of smoking-jacketed autumnal cabaret, while they’re both around to enjoy a little silliness. But it’s been frankly buggering me for rather a long while now, that there is a Kingsley Amis horror novel that now feels like the most perfect movie vehicle for Hugh Laurie imaginable.

In truth, I bought this copy last year, with the intention of sending it to Hugh last Xmas, but thankfully realised just how potentially creepy-line-step-over-drop-the-knife that may have seemed, so happily keep it on my shelf. The Green Man is a problematic (it’s Kingsley Amis) but truly thrilling and haunting tale of an alcoholic charmer of a hotelier at The Green Man – an esteemed inn somewhere between London and Cambridge – and his kinky temptation into a world of graverobbing, supernatural trysts and comical threesomes. It’s about addiction, and sex, and evil spirits, and trees, and the newly revived Hammer studios could make it the greatest work of Folk Horror of this century, their best new motion picture to date.

Nobody could play Maurice Allington like Hugh. Nearly 30 years ago the BBC made a superb TV adaptation of its time, with Albert Finney in the role, but for an updated cinematic experience, Hugh would get my vote: and if he didn’t seem to have now retired, Finney should play Laurie’s father, the role originally perfect for Michael Hordern. And most pleasing of all, perhaps the best character in The Green Man, the sexually ambiguous atheist Vicar played by Nickolas Grace on the BBC… well, Fry could be given no better box of tricks as an actor. Plus, Maurice and the Vicar form quite a comical duo as they attempt to exorcise the spirit of The Green Man…

So there we are. The Fry & Laurie movie that we never got, Stephen & Hugh reunited on the silver screen battling the forces of erotic evil in a home counties pub. It would be an astounding hit. And it will never happen.

And this, is the most unprofessional blog I will ever write.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN AND THANK YOU TIDYMAN’S CARPETS AND PLEDGE IF YOU HAVEN’T!

26) If You Have Ears…

Friday, 29 September 2017

Gorgeous Soupy Twists Fridays to all our lovely backers!

Well, it really had been far beyond nigh on, hasn’t it? I do try not to linger on the fact that right now, the plan was that copies of Soupy Twists would be in the offing, and all sorts of business would be going on to do with backer launch parties and, one would hope, bookshop events and such (if you’d like a Fry & Laurie-themed author event in your area next year, by the way, do get in touch!). But as the edited manuscript is not due to head my way until next week sometime, we’re now working on a very different schedule. I will just reassure you all once again that I will make sure this extensive extra time Unbound have demanded really pays off for the book, and it’s ultimately worth the wait.In the meantime, I’ve uploaded these little nuggets of Hugh and Stephen intoning into the microphone for the radio adaptations of ABOF&L – basically, the Laughing Stock audio compilations split into two shows for Radio 4, a rare distinction for any comedy show to be adapted in that direction. It’s a shame they never included these gag-packed minutes on the cassettes, but I think 2017 is a little late in the day to have regrets about cassette production. I hope you enjoy.

There’ll be plenty more updates to try and keep your salivation nice and runny, but otherwise my fifth book TALES OF BRITAIN is taking up the mammoth’s share of my time, of course. And as you have all shown faith in this fourth book of mine – and if stories such as, say, Timothy Forrest being presented with the mighty Berwhale the Avenger to traverse afar to save the land from the evil machinations of Pewnack the Destroyer are of interest to you, these stories will be too – please back this project too. Is that what we call ‘Desperate Business’? Or is it ‘synergy’? It’s a long time since I did A level Media Studies… but we do need a book like this, so please do pre-order a copy if you can.

Now, I need to send Stephen & Hugh’s lovely representatives another email of subtle favour-begging… So I will leave you with a couple of pictures of Stephen & Hugh near very big cakes.

This is what it’s all about.

 

25) Better To Be Sixty & Racy…

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

… Than sexist and racist! HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY, STEPHEN JOHN FRY!

We’re a day early for Soupy Twists Friday, but what a momentous day to mark – wherever you are, on whatever continent takes your fancy, we send all our deepest love and gratitude for all your help making Soupy Twists a (nadmittedly delayed) reality!

Talking of the book’s development, we’re teetering on a certain disaster, in that we have a very small design budget, and a whole plate image section to fill, and neither Stephen nor Hugh are able to help very much. So it occurred to us that maybe some fans out there may be in a position to help? It’s unlikely, and we’re already indebted to fine supporters who have sent scans of original recording tickets and the like, which we’re hoping to use, but let’s see if the Fry & Laurie community – and it is a community, we have dustbin rounds and everything – can get together and help in some way. Did you ever see them live, and take the chance to grab an old-fashioned PHOTOGRAPH? Have you chanced upon them strolling in LA and snatched a camphone pic?

We realise such contingencies are tiny, but thought it worth asking. All we want to do is make the lasting celebration of Fry & Laurie’s comedy and friendship the colleagues deserve, but getting the visuals right is a very tough challenge at the moment, so any help with rights-friendly images, just let us know.

We’re sure Stephen is too busy celebrating to read this, but for his many non-biblical lovers out there, we’ll leave you with a cheeky little scrap from the archives, which opens with a statement from Fry that surely nobody can deny.

HAVE A SOUPY SOUPY TWISTY-TURNY 60TH APERTURE-ESCAPING ANNIVERSARY, STEPHEN!

Advertisements

TALES OF BRITAIN: Autumn 2018

MERRY YULE, AND MARI LWYD!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Happy festive Folklore Thursday everybody!

Please find attached this year’s totally bonus ‘brand new’ yule story, for all you lovely pledgers – MARI LWYD. As you know, our book is more about tales than ‘lore’, but thanks to those lovely folks at folkwales.org.uk, there seemed just enough of a plot surrounding that Victorian vicar to wind a pleasing wee narrative around. We hope you agree! And anyway, it’s free. B-boom.

FREE BONUS FOLKTALE: MARI LWYD!

We complete another full season of Tales of Britain blogs as Yule rolls around – you can find the whole journey mapped out HERE – and now, at last, it can honestly be said that there is nothing left to do on the book. After 15 years, these 77 lovingly retold British stories are now not just at the printers, but a few copies may even be printed and headed out, just too late for the ‘holiday season’. Having had 4 books released just in time for the ‘holiday season’ however, that’s not a tragedy, perhaps we can stand out at that quiet time in the publishing industry, bringing some warmth amid the cold months of winter – and we’re all just hugely glad to finally have a British folktale collection on the shelves at last. Not a local book, not a collection of ‘lore’ not a story anthology ‘inspired’ by folktales – the ACTUAL STORIES, revived for a new generation. There’s nothing else like this out there, and it’s about time.

We cannot thank everyone who has backed us up and added their belief in Tales of Britain to ours, enough. Let us know how you wish to have your forthcoming pledge treats carried out, be it joining me and Sister Sal in Bath for a retelling of the Bladud legend on-site, or attending our launch in London, or any number of shows around the UK throughout 2019. Your names will also of course be there in the book, but equally carved on our hearts! In a totally non-literal sense. This is just the beginning of a whole new world of 21st century folktale-telling!

With this an off-day for the official Folklore Thursday, we have no theme, and no specific tale to single out. For our special live Yule show last weekend, we performed stories like The Marriage of Robin Redbreast, The Verries of Pennard Castle, The Last Yule, The Apple Tree Man and best of all, our two-person panto Dick Whittington, but here to add to the bunch we have a short squib from the Welsh valleys, a remembrance of festive daftness stretching back thousands of years beyond The Year Dot…

Thank you all again, and let’s get ready for a 2019 of British story-telling like never before!

Merry Yule,

Brother Bernard xxx

HAPPY YULE! PUBLICATION DAYS AWAY!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

DEAR FOLKLORE THURSDAY LOVERS, BOOK PLEDGERS, AND FELLOW BRITISH FOLKTALE REVIVAL CAMPAIGNERS…!

First of all, we can’t wait to see as many of your as possible at this year’s LIVE YULE SHOW in Bath on Saturday afternoon. There will be one or two traditional yule tales repeated from last year’s show, but lots of fresh tales to enjoy too, including our panto-ish rendition of DICK WHITTINGTON! Oh, and free sweets, as ever.

Brother Bernard and Sister Sal have been performing these live shows for over two years, but this will be the very last show WITHOUT BOOKS AVAILABLE TO BUY AND HAVE SIGNED!

Because yes, this very week, very final fixes have been sent off for the manuscript (for instance – the London Stone has always been described as a piece of a Temple dedicated to Diana in the Brutus legend, so we said the same… but now we come to think of it, Diana is the Roman version of Greek God Artemis, and Brutus’ story takes place CENTURIES before Rome was even founded, so how can it have been Diana? If the book arrives with ‘Artemis’ in that story, then we haven’t wasted our time this week!), and it’s possible that we may have copies even before the 25th – though that seems an insanely quick turnaround at the last minute.

This has been a very long, hard and bumpy road – the genesis of Tales of Britain goes back to circa 2004, when I simply wanted to BUY a collection of British folktales for my first of five nephews… only to find there literally wasn’t one, and one hadn’t been published since 1988 (with a reprint for that edition in 2001), plus the original leather-bound 1970s academic collections, which cost £100s. But now we can finally unveil the cover, it’s hard not to get excited!

Although, as those of you who have been in on the campaign long-time will know, our reduced budget means that a lot of difficult battles had to be won on this design. But we were very pleased to get all sorts of victories included in this cover: the first draft was packed with worrying misconceptions which we lobbied hard to fix – it needed better gender balance, and a cat, for a start – and above all, we’re pleased as pleased can be to have managed to get our official logo on there, as we were worried it wouldn’t be included.

We went through all sorts of ideas, at one stage designer Darrell Jones sent across a concept cover on spec which seemed a lovely idea – the chalkhill concept was neat, it would have been great to have had the shape of the British Isles carved into the grass, but Unbound said no. Though you can see, it was a lovely bit of work, and we can’t thank Darrell enough for the suggestion. In all honesty, although this is smart, the cover does need to convey the freaky, quirky comedic nature of most of the stories, and the new design does do that very well.

And besides, this is only stage 1 of our international campaign to promote British folktales, stories are still being retold all the time, and there will be further editions, fully illustrated, and hugely broadened, so who knows what the future might hold? For now, this will be the one full British folklore collection available in one volume, all round the world.

Those who haven’t already pledged for a copy can buy Tales of Britain online now and of course we’ll start organising all the pledge rewards and a great big London launch party once the 12 days of winter solstice are out of the way (maybe early February?). Whether you pledged to have Bernard come and visit you, or to come to Bath to visit the site of Bladud’s story with Bernard and Sister Sal, or even to have a tale retold just for you – we look forward to delivering the goods!

But before the stress and activity that January brings, what can we do but revel in the season’s pleasures? Chief of which is STORIES – this Saturday, at the Bell Inn, Bath!

Everyone readying this exciting collection of 77 stories wishes everyone who has supported the campaign the very merriest Mithras/Solstice/Saturnalia/Xmas/Winter Solstice/Yule! Let’s make 2019 THE YEAR for British folktales!

A Saxon Yule Feast: THE LAST YULE

Thursday, 6 December 2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKU11R8Rbok

LET THE SCRUMPTIOUS YULE FEAST, MEAD AND FLESH AND WINE AND CAKES AND ALE, BE ENJOYED BY ALL PLEDGERS THIS FOLKLORE THURSDAY!

With only a week and a bit to go until our 2018 YULE special live show maybe we shouldn’t be sharing free stories, but well, it’s Xmas, so do find linked above the full – and rather boozy – one-man rendition of THE LAST YULE, last year’s free Xmas story for you all, which you won’t find in the book (though we now have seen the full cover, and are getting very excited about next month’s release at last!), but will be performed live for the first time by Brother Bernard and Sister Sal in the show on Saturday week!

Plus as ever, we will have a GREAT BIG PIE packed with free sweeties, of course! This is the closest we can get to a traditional Saxon Yule feast, but do feel free to bring your own suckling pigs!

Today’s story concerns a first millennium Christian, an Italian called Augustine, who was sent by the Pope to convert the English Saxons to their funky new lifestyle choice – and the danger their zealotry posed to the Winter Solstice fun that we had all been having for many centuries, long before the bread-and-wine-themed religion had been invented! It’s a tough folktale to track down – my first hearing of it was in Stephen Fry’s Paperweight (ahem, the official Fry & Laurie story SOUPY TWISTS is still in shops, should you be short of a present for a discerning comedy fan friend!), but this retelling is greatly expanded and jollied up in full Tales of Britain style, so whether you enjoy it right now on YouTube or live on Saturday, we hope you enjoy it!

The Yule feast is essential to the story, it’s the riotous, rich, warm scene where Augustine takes his gamble, to convert the drunk Saxons to his religion, and to this day we’re all still trying to recreate the mouth-watering, rich yumminess of those Saxon feasts every Christmas – it’s the groaning board which inspired Dickens’ A Christmas Carol’s most loquacious passages, the boar’s head enjoyed by weird people every December 25th, the true essence of what it means to celebrate life at this time of year, with the yule log crackling in the grate and the snow battering at the windows.

It’s also, of course, a largely true story, attached to the Kent locales of Ramsgate and especially, of course, Canterbury, as Augustine was made the very first Archbishop of Canterbury after managing to wangle the Saxons into buying into the whole Jesus thing. Luckily, the Catholics made damn sure not to ruin anyone’s yuletide traditions – they knew they had to keep these barbarians on side, and so their faith came packed with endless feasting opportunities! A millennium and a bit later, Christianity may have come and all-but gone from popular observance in Britain, we have never stopped celebrating Yule every December 25th!

Long may this be so, no matter what your personal beliefs. HAPPY YULE! And eat up.

Robin Redbreast’s Snowy Mission

Thursday, 29 November 2018

I hope you’re all wonderfully wrapped up this cold and damp Folklore Thursday!

It’s not quite feeling festive just yet, but today’s snowy theme suggests perhaps the simplest tale of the 77 in our book – a yuletide tale enjoyed by Rabbie Burns as a tiny tot, THE MARRIAGE OF ROBIN REDBREAST.

This seems to be one of the very rare tales we haven’t yet blogged about, but it’s hardly surprising as it’s so slight, sweet and simple – and of course, has no real basis in the real landscape or history of Scotland that anybody could ever pinpoint, so there’s not a lot to debate. It’s a very traditional fable, a ‘rule of three’ narrative, in which the titular birdy must fly through snow and wind across the white hills of Ayrshire to the castle of the King of Ayr in time for the Royal Wedding, where he’ll be singing a special song. On the way a cat, a kite and a wee boy all try to trick and capture the chirpy robin, but he outwits them and makes it to the wedding, where he’s repaid with the wing in marriage of wee Jenny Wren, and both couples enjoy a romantic snowy Christmas day together.

The tradition of Robin Redbreast and Jenny Wren getting married is an ancient trope, but it’s this Burns story which defines the idea as a Christmas story, and the snowy landscape over which Robin travels is one of the most key ingredients, which prevent the story from being too trite. Our source material is this retelling, attributed to Robert Burns’ sister Isabella, and though of course we’ve ironed out the language, we hope it still has a certain tinkling Gaelic charm in its retelling. Despite there being no real historicity to such a slight fable, as an Ayrshire nursery rhyme, we took a punt on the King in question being based at the ancient Brodick Castle, pictured here in the snow…

It’s only a very short story, but we featured it in last year’s Yule Tales of Britain Live show, and it’s back in the brew for this year’s show as well. And not just to allow Brother Bernard to do his Sean Connery impression for the King again.

The show is two weeks this Saturday in Bath, and it’s a Pay What You Feel deal packed with special yuletide folktales, only a matter of weeks before our books are in your hands! So please do come along and join in the festive fun – and help spread the word if you can, because the more, the literally merrier! And if a kite, a cat and a wee boy try to stop you getting to The Bell Inn for 4pm on Saturday 15th – give a wee whistle, and keep on going!

It’s… Panto Folklore! Oh Yes It Is.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

HAPPY FOLKLORE THURSDAY, BOYS AND GIRLS! And anyone else anywhere they like on the spectrum.

When we discovered that this week’s Folklore Thursday theme was THEATRE, we wasted up to a minute trying to think which of our 77 tales were relevant – the welsh harp player in ‘Vengeance Will Come’? The play acting of the locals in ‘The Wise Folk of Gotham’? Then the obvious occurred – right now we’re building up to our second special YULETIDE live Tales of Britain show in Bath this December!

Live performance is so central to our campaign and our book’s release, both via our own live shows all over the UK and the live readings we hope all readers will be performing for friends and families when the book arrives in January. So let’s take a fresh look at how British folklore has inspired that most puzzling of British seasonal traditions – the PANTOMIME!

As with most folktales, the biggest names still come courtesy of the Grimms, with German legends being retold in the nation’s local playhouses, but there are a few panto staples which are entirely home-grown – and we like to make a point of including at least one in our Yule show, to provide a kind of free (our shows tend to be ‘Pay What You Feel On Exit’) pre-Yule pantomime experience for all.

Britain is responsible for some surprising famous fairytales – Goldilocks and The Three Pigs being great examples – but neither of those stories have really become traditional panto fodder, perhaps due to the lack of a central romance between heteronormative cross-dressing human beings. But if one can be crowbarred into the existing story, it’s just the kind of thing to attract the nation’s children’s TV presenters and soap stars out to the sticks to earn a few annual salaries over the winter months.

Last year, our grand panto closer for the live Yule show was perhaps the greatest of them all – JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. As we’ve mentioned, this most famous of all tales is by far the longest in our collection (think about it, so much happens!), but last year we ended our Yule show with a full performance, complete with Brother Bernard as Dame and Sister Sal as Jack! We never have much in the way of props, but we were even pleased to find a huge bush in The Bell Inn, our venue, which came in very handy!

On the other hand, I’m no Gary Wilmot…

And then, there’s perhaps the oddest mainstream panto of them all – BABES IN THE WOOD.

As detailed in the blog above, this is essentially a horrific Tudor True Crime which became a sentimental folktale… and then, ultimately, somehow, a knockabout farce involving Robin Hood & The Merrie Men.

However, we’re not in a rush to include Babes In The Wood in any Yule show any time soon, as of course our version remains as true as possible to its source material – in fact, so problematic is the legend, we decided to offer readers a choice of finales, including the panto-style Robin Hood happy ending, but it’s ultimately such a haunting tale, it’s a challenge we have yet to face, to find a way to make it part of the weave and weft of a jolly hour’s storytelling at Christmas.

Not least as we can’t afford Cannon & Ball. Nor Derek Griffiths, more’s the pity.

But the British hero we do have making his debut in a live Tales show this December 15th is…


DICK WHITTINGTON – that Gloucestershire boy made good in Islington (home of our publishers, Unbound). Again, the true history of medieval London Mayor Richard Whittington has gone through many a perverse permutation in the 500+ years since the real fellow walked the non-gold streets of the metropolis, with added characters like Idle Jack (who has a small role in our retelling), the Spirit of the Bells and the villainous King Rat joining the cast to pad it out to a full evening of reupholstered pop songs, sweetie-throwing, thigh-slapping and a choc-ice at half time. Although the version of the tale you will find in the book when it arrives in the New Year, once again, inclines towards the traditional, it was fun to slip in references to these panto traditions – and for the live version, indeed, we’re going to beef those references up somewhat for an extended retelling – including the showdown with the King Rat himself!

So where else would you want to be this Saturday 15th December at 4pm, but The Bell Inn, Bath? There’ll be free sweeties, apple-tree-men, ridiculous voices, mild blasphemy and festive folky fun for all the family. Oh yes there will. There really will.

But: no Krankies.

SEAQUAKE! The Drowning of Cantre’r Gwaelod

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Well I have to say, dear Folklore Thursday types – ‘volcanoes and earthquakes’ is a rather unfair theme for a collection of British folktales! We don’t get much in the way of streams of lava over here in Blighty, so a spot of creative thinking is required…

Natural disasters, of course, proliferate in our collection – but they are more typically of the very wet kind, and essentially Welsh. We have already detailed the drowning of the town of Bala in our live favourite, Vengeance Will Come, but it’s actually one of two stories about Welsh sunken lands in our collection. Thankfully, they are very different narratives, and besides, as we say in the tales, it’s little wonder Welsh folklore is so stuffed with tales about lost lands, when the English stole most of their land from them in the first place…

I’m proud to say that I went to University in Aberystwyth for three years, but little did I know, every time I gazed out over the Ceredigion coastline, or Cardigan Bay if you prefer, that the fertile Kingdom of Cante’r Gwaelod was hiding beneath the waves – the setting of our second Welsh natural disaster tale, ‘The Lost Land’.

For a while, it was a toss-up between this west coast story and the near-identical tale of Lionesse, based way down on the most south-westerly tip of Cornwall and with Arthurian overtones , as to which would make the grade. But even given the possible incongruity of two Welsh drowned city tales in the same collection, that corner of Cornwall was so over-stocked with stories already, we were happy to give Ceredigion its moment.

This was one of our morally problematic stories, as the central message of the original legend boils down to ‘stop having fun, and do your duty’, which you’ll agree is about as boring a moral as any story could have. By pitching the upstanding Welsh Prince Teithryn against his boozy good-time brother Seithenyn, who is too busy partying with a buxom young mermaid to check on his side of the great sluicegates which held back the Irish Sea – with predictably tragic consequences – it’s hard to disguise the obvious finger-wagging moral of the tale.

We have, however, dampened the moralising somewhat by making the difference between the brother less obvious – in our version of the story, Teithryn likes a drink and a dance himself, but he PRIORITISES his duty to prevent everyone drowning horribly, which seems pretty fair enough really. It’s not about being a puritan, it’s about… not being a knob.

Of course, there’s also a pretty unavoidable metaphor for climate change built into the ancient legend. One Prince crying out for attention to be paid to the ever-more dangerous elements, trying to save everyone by reminding them of the fragility of our environment, while the other laughs at the idea of impending natural disaster, and prefers to prioritise hedonism, hanky-panky, and… well, see Donald Trump.

This legend has long been believed to have a toe or two in historical reality, which was strengthened not that long ago with the discover of the Ynyslas prehistoric submerged forest just off the coast of Borth. As with the historical transformation of the Isle of Avalon into Glastonbury Tor as water levels sank, it’s a very useful reminder of the ever-changing landscape of the Earth’s surface, and the idiocy of assuming everything will remain the same, and that humanity will ultimately be fine, no matter how we treat the planet…

But we are at least way off the return of active volcanoes in Great Britain, or indeed earthquakes… well, fracking aside.

Seithenyn would have loved fracking. We really do seldom learn.

By the way, lovelies – with our books only a number of weeks away from bookshops now, do come to Bath on 15th December to celebrate our second special Yuletide show! There’ll be festive folktales galore, free sweeties, and who knows what else?!

 

Community Folk Magic From Tintagel to Edinburgh

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Merry Folklore Thursday, all in our wonderous community!

Folk magic and community traditions, you say? Hmm, well in specific folktale terms, the one tale of our 77 which most perfectly encapsulates the concept would be THE TIDDY MUN – generally we shy away from such basic superstitions, folklore is awash with that kind of thing, but there’s our little concession to it all…

Except, of course, our live shows are their own kind of folk magic, and we’ve been travelling up and down the country all year, visiting communities and sharing not just folks’ own local folktales with them, but at least one tale from every Kingdom of Britain: England, Kernow, Wales and Scotland. Back at the start of 2018, being advised that this book would finally be released by Unbound this year, I vowed to you all to perform TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE in every part of the land… and on Wednesday, thanks to the kind storytellers of Abergavenny, I completed the set!

Cheers to Alison and all at Broadleaf books for a rainy but fun evening of storytelling!

The shows take many forms – the deluxe is Brother Bernard and Sister Sal together, with props and costume and a huge pie filled with sweeties – as a solo Bernard show, I’ve performed in amany other places this year, including camping out at Freshford, and Abergavenny was a new experience again – a storytelling circle event, with others also adding British folktales in between my own. That they were all distinct and new to me was evidence of just how copious British folklore is…

But in the attached video you will see evidence of the long tour taking in Bath, Ludlow, Tintagel, Edinburgh, and of course, Abergavenny. In some cases, true, the sites are only a few miles beyond the border, but it still counts, and I remain a man of my word!

If only we had actual books to sell in each land, but the good news is… as of January… we will do! Yes, it’s probably not wise to name a specific date, but Unbound has assured me that the beginning of the new year will finally see proper papery copies of our collection of 77 British folktales with tourist guides in pledgers’ hands, and shops all over the UK! They have apologised for the odd release date (apparently January is not an ideal book release period), but we don’t care – we’ve been writing and performing these tales for 14 years or more, and touring the UK for nearly three years, and all we’ve wanted is actual books to take to every show! We have even seen a rough cover, which is a nice start, but we’re working on getting it right for you all…

So we will have one more YULE TALES OF BRITAIN show here in Bath for 2018, but as for 2019… you name the place, the festival, the bookshop, we will tell stories there, if we can! Of course there will be a book launch in London, and the traditional Bath show and Ludlow Festival, and maybe Edinburgh again… but we really want to hear from you, with offers of places we can mount shows all year long, and beyond! Both solo Brother Bernard and with Sister Sal alongside, we’re raring to go…  Poeple come together, hear the tales of their country afresh, or for the first time, and the magic is enjoyed by all…!

So let us bring some folk magic to your community!

Our Hero, TERRY JONES

Thursday, 1st November 2018

A heroic Folklore Thursday to you all, and to pledgers especially!

If you will forgive your author’s unusual stepping out from underneath Brother Bernard’s green velvet cowl, this is a rather tricky and sensitive blog which has been in the offing for quite a while, but how to go about it? Rather than focussing on one British folktale, today we’re celebrating one British HERO – Python, movie director, historian, humanitarian, journalist, poet and mainly, for our purposes, glorious storyteller, TERRY JONES!

From our very first blog in the summer of 2017, we have stressed the influence of a few key storytellers in our approach to our folklore: Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales, as adapted by Anthony Horowitz, is paramount – many of our tales were pretty specifically written for Rik’s naughty brand of anarchic yarn-spinning, and at one point, months before we lost him forever, ‘Approach Rik’s agent with Tales of Britain TV idea’ was at the top of our to-do list. The exciting mythology retellings of our patron Sir Tony Robinson were also a huge inspiration, and of course the magical weave of Anthony Minghella’s writing for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. But Terry’s tale-telling has a different, more personal relevance to this book which we’re all keenly waiting for Unbound to send our way.

I first met the loquacious, passionate Welsh Python circa 2010, as an early port of call when researching my second book, The True History of the Black Adder. Nobody filled such an authoritative chair at the juncture of History and Comedy as the man who co-directed ‘Holy Grail’, directed ‘Erik the Viking’ and wrote ‘Who Murdered Chaucer?’ Although he admitted that he knew little about Blackadder, he theorised and philosophised with me about funny history as his tiny baby daughter Siri crawled across the carpet, then he took me for a few pints of real ale (it was real, I drank it to make sure), and was generally hospitality itself.

Of course, as a fledgling comedy historian, no matter how friendly Terry was, I knew the great man was just being lovely, and very early on I developed a strong concern that his niceness was exactly the kind of rare celebrity virtue that endless folk must have taken advantage of, for many years, and his natural courtesy and kindness allowed all sorts of liberties to be taken.

As you can see from this 2014 article, Terry’s original inspiration for his celebrated Fairy Tales was not dissimilar to our own motives here – dismay that the existing lore was not fit for purpose, to be told to 21st century kids. Whereas we have taken that as a cue to delving back into a folktale’s oldest roots, and finding a way to reshape the narrative into a fresh form, Jonesy simply began telling his own fairy tales, fit for his daughter to enjoy.

The mystical and silly short stories which resulted from this rash of composition were a childhood favourite of ours back in the 1980s, and they were further enhanced on adaptation to telly, with the help of Terry’s old friend, Python/Rutles/Bonzo maestro Neil Innes, who was also entrancing my generation with Puddle Lane. The resultant programme, East of the Moon, linked above, more than deserves a loving DVD/BluRay release by now…

But knowing how Terry felt about storytelling, and loving his folkloric style, I had a dearly held request to make, despite my misgivings about his niceness making any request feel like an imposition. The thing is, back in the early days of Tales of Britain, I was so INCENSED by the fact that no proper anthology of British folktales existed that I felt it was a campaign many other famed British writers for younger readers would be equally keen to promote. I honestly felt that if, say – and let’s go right to the top – Jo Rowling, David Walliams, Phillip Pullman and so on realised that the only option for a holistic collection from these islands was to spend hundreds of pounds on leather-bound folklore collections, that they would want to right that injustice too. And so, why wouldn’t they want to join with me to write new versions of local lore from all over Britain? This is why Brother Bernard was summoned up, so a whole host of authors could join together to promote a fresh take on British folklore, all under the same pseudonym.

Of course, sadly I had got nowhere with this plan, despite some of the above names being approached professionally… and yet, I felt, surely Terry would understand, and may just be keen to join me in the project? He and Michael Palin had after all partially inspired Brother Bernard with the creation of their own author, Bert Fegg, and he had repeated the trick with his own ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book‘. Plus, once again, he had a daughter to write stories for! It seemed within the realms of possibility…

There was an extra reason for being in touch with the great man anyway – Terry was a long-standing patron of the Bath Comedy Festival, and when I suggested to the festival boss the concept of THE BATH PLUG AWARD, what could be more perfect, than showing a couple of the director’s films (Holy Grail and, his choice, the wonderful Wind In The Willows) and then I would interview him on stage for a Q&A? Everyone’s a winner.

So this was all happily agreed for April 2015. In January of that year I found myself in that London, and so emailed Terry to see if he’d like a pint, and I could discuss Tales of Britain with him. He cordially (of course) invited me to his local, where we were joined by the now 5-year-old Siri and her mother, Terry’s partner Anna. All three of them seemed quite sold on my idea for a road atlas of fresh British folktales, each with their own tourist guide, and I promised a copy to Siri one day there and then. Terry, however… was rather quiet throughout. He absolutely echoed my call for a book like this, but ultimately, as a busy chap, he told me, ‘I’d love to write a foreword for you if you get it made…’

This was of course not quite what I wanted, and seemed to be exactly the kind of extremely kind offer he was wont to make – I recall he was writing a foreword for someone else’s book when I first walked into his study! Don’t get me wrong, what an HONOUR! to have a Python offer to write an introduction to Tales of Britain! But yes, I had hoped for a collaborator – and maybe I had aimed too high.

The truly sad part of the story never revealed itself until a week or two before the Bath Plug Award, when Terry emailed me to say, to admit, to opine… that he was not himself. That he didn’t think a public Q&A was going to be within his power. All comedy geeks had noted that the dear fellow was by far the least chatty of the Pythons throughout their O2 publicity, happy to let Palin and co take the lead on all questions. But that it was down to the earliest signs of an illness which could never be cured was a horrible thought nobody wanted to entertain. We agreed that Terry’s comfort was paramount, and yet, with tickets sold, however, Terry’s pluck and kindness inspired him to make an extra-human effort, and the Bath Plug Award presentation went ahead.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, steering the beloved comic through a whole hour of on-stage ‘banter’ (horrific word, but at least when a Python’s involved, I can use it), and one or two out in the crowd were less forgiving than others, but we survived the ordeal… and it seems I may very well have been the last person ever to interview Terry Jones, at least in public. That evening, despite my fawning respect for his privacy, he insisted that I dine with him, and he ordered bottle after bottle of extremely good malbec on Bath Comedy Festival funds… as I talked. At him. One of the greatest creators of comedy of the last 50 years, a pent-up fountain of comedy knowledge to whom I could have listened for weeks on end. Stuck on ‘listening mode’. So, as I say, I talked at him. I talked and spoke and jawed and said and blethered and protested and explained, all night long – with regular protestations of ‘I’m so sorry Terry, I just seem to be talking non-stop’, to which he smiled and replied, ‘But I like hearing you talk’. Kindness, again? For a poor drunk desperate storyteller? Any which way, having gone into the Tales of Britain project in atomic detail, I eventually sloped up the hill from the Abbey Hotel very worse for wear, and rather hoarse, but confident that one of the world’s greatest storytellers was on our side with this crucial campaign…

In 2016 I arranged with John Mitchinson of Unbound that I would bring my next two books – official Fry & Laurie biography Soupy Twists and Tales of Britain (which I had reluctantly had to write all on my lonesome, the manuscript being at least 50 tales strong by this point), to his crowd-funded publisher. By sweet coincidence, Terry Jones was a founding member of Unbound, and his own brilliant Knight & The Squire series was coming to an end on the platform at the time.

But before I could open Tales of Britain up to the public in mid-2017, Terry broke the news. His diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia explained much, but of course only made the whole story sadder than any of us would ever have wanted. And obviously, there was absolutely no question from then on that I would be chasing up any kind of foreword, no matter how sincerely offered back in 2015.

Blessedly, Terry’s old friend Neil Innes has passionately taken up the cause, pledging for a book like the rest of you, and becoming a key patron of our campaign:

But rather than ask anything of our hero, as he grabs every day remaining and makes the very most of it, the natural decision was to dedicate the book to the author of Nicobobinus, Erik the Viking, The Fly-By-Night and so many other captivating tales, making it clear from the first page that this all-new celebration of British storytelling was eternally inspired by his own magical fairy-tale-weaving. I’ve since been in touch with Anna, to update her on the new direction, and everyone at Unbound, and everyone working to make Tales of Britain worthy of this connection, hopes with all our collective hearts that the tribute will be taken with all the love intended.

There will be much talk this Folklore Thursday of Heroes, Greek warriors, Norse Gods, and so on. But for us, today is all about a real hero – both throughout his life of hilarious, cerebral, humanist creativity, and with what he faces today.

Terry Jones is Our Hero.

Black Vaughan’s Revenge: HALLOWEEN TALES!

Thursday, 25 October 2018

MWAH-HA-HA-HAAAA! SAMHAIN APPROACHETH, LOYAL PLEDGERS! Here’s wishing you a very Happy Halloween from Brother Bernard, Sister Sal and all at Tales of Britain!

If you have the slightest chance of making it to Somerset on Saturday afternoon, seek out the RING O’BELLS in Widcombe, five minutes’ walk from Bath Spa train station, where we’ll be performing a whole hour of spooky stories as part of our very first Halloween-themed show – with big news about our Yuletide shows in the offing!

Normally we like to keep details of the tales we’re telling secret until the show itself, but as most of you are unlikely to attend – especially those in Australia, you lazy gets – we thought we’d use this blog to take a quick look at the chosen FOUR KINGDOMS OF HORROR, whose legends we will be rebooting at 4pm on Saturday, even though we have blogged about them before…

VENGEANCE WILL COME
From Bala in North Wales, we’ll be giving our rendition of the tale of the flooding of Llyn Tegid – in truth, we have adapted this nasty story for both Xmas and the Bath Comedy Festival in the past, as we just enjoy it too much, and it gives us a chance to offer round a great big pie filled with sweeties! But it’s certainly very nasty, and loads of folk die in it.

TAM O’SHANTER
Heading north of the border gives us our first ever performance of Rabby Burns’ semi-true tale of the drunken Scotsman whose journey home across the Bridge O’Doon becomes a terrifying race for his life against a gang of outraged vicious witches! Cackling and spellcasting galore!

THE EXORCISM OF JAN TREGEAGLE
Finally we head down to Kernow, one of our newest tales – written only this summer in Bodmin, when our book manuscript was formally delivered to Unbound almost exactly one year ago, on Halloween 2017 (yes, that is a long time for post-production, we can only apologise to impatient pledgers, we’ve heard nothing from Unbound for months now, but we hope beyond hope that when they do get back in touch, it will be with a really well-designed manuscript at last, worth waiting for). Retold as a kind of 17th century Ghostbusters, Jan Tregeagle’s haunting legend is a fresh and chilling note for us to end on…

BLACK VAUGHAN
But, keen-brained as you all are, you will have noted that that is only three stories, and England has been left out all together! That’s because I was in no doubt whatsoever that one of the very first blogs ever written here was on the macabre Herefordshire tale of BLACK VAUGHAN, the shapeshifting spectre of Kington! And blow us up, down and across if on double-checking, it turns out that we never wrote any such blog in the first place!

This seems especially surprising, as Black Vaughan’s tale is one of the few which was already well ingrained into my psyche from a young age – when I was around 14, my brother appeared in a Ludlow College adaptation of the legend, playing the hero, a drunken monk, as directed by our wonderful Theatre Studies teacher, an inspirational figure sadly no long with us, Ilid Landry. Ludlow being in South Shropshire, Black Vaughan’s North Herefordshire setting was positively a walkable distance.

The tale concerns a vicious aristocrat from the 15th century, Thomas Vaughan, who was killed during the Wars of the Roses, and is buried at St. Mary’s church, Kington, where his effigy can still be found – not far from his home at Hergest Court. So despised was this dark nob, however, that local lore would not let him rest, but brought him back in the form of a gigantic slavering big black ghost dog (yes, another one of those), and also, as his wicked powers allowed him to take many forms, a nasty black fly who buzzed horses and got up everybody’s nose, and worst of all, a mighty, big black EVIL BULL who galloped into the church intending to gore all who got in his way… until a wily challenge from the aforementioned tiddly monk finally laid him to rest, at the bottom of Hergest pool, where his spirit is still imprisoned to this day.

Although the tale is packed with familiar tropes, Black Vaughan is right up there with Black Shuck as one of our greatest ghost hounds, and is considered a key inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles – a Halloween favourite if ever there was one.

And so this gory, haunting story will be the first tale with which we kick off our show in Bath this Saturday – we hope to see you there, and if not – WE’LL SET THE DOG ON YOU!

Be Afraid: Of THE LAMBTON WORM!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Howay, a f-f-f-frightful Samhain-ish Folklore Thursday to you all, lovely pledgers!

As we observed last week, our road atlas of 77 tales is bursting with beasts enough to terrify everyone to the grave and back, and we shall be featuring four such scary stories in our first ever Samhain/ Halloween show in Bath a week on Saturday! Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will share with you legends including Black Vaughan and Tam O’Shanter

©Osweo on DeviantArt

… But today’s folktale won’t be one of them, no matter how tempting it is to attempt outrageous Geordie accents – but there are fewer tales more frightening than that Tyneside terror, THE LAMBTON WORM! Of all the dragon-slaying yarns in our collection, there’s something uniquely gross about this big, fat, white, vicious demonic creature – it doesn’t speak, there’s no Smaug charm or exciting fire-breathing, just a nine-eyed, slavering, animalistic monster intent on nothing but churning human beings up for its tea. In our retelling there’s a hopefully discernable tang of Viz comic, in the sheer ROCK-HARDNESS of the worm’s slayer, the knight John Lambton, and it would be great fun to perform some day, dodgy vowels and all.

The Sunderland area where the events of the tale take place has been very thoroughly mapped out for folkloric visits for many year, and the National trust website for Penshaw Monument (see above), where the mighty dragon was said to have coiled its slimy body, even has a full map of where to visit, to walk in Lambton’s footsteps, and try to find signs of the despicable worm. A journey so far North East in England may not most obviously be for the purpose of experiencing the sites of ancient folklore, but this one tale is the jewel of the whole countryside around here, and an unmissable part of any time spent in the Tyne & Wear region.

Worms feel all the rage right now, as the latest tale we’ve retold (of course, too late for inclusion in the first edition) is THE LAIDLEY WORM, a very original take on the dragon-slaying plot, situated in nearby Bamburgh Castle, but Lambton’s slimy, frightening beast takes the biscuit when it comes to blood-chilling horror. Yes, even when reimagined by Ken Russell in Lair Of The White Worm. Now, wouldn’t you rather come to HALLOWEEN TALES OF BRITAIN than sit through that film again…? See you there. And bring spare trousers.

The Exorcism of Jan Tregeagle

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Spooky Folklore Thursday to all!

As we mentioned a season ago, on holiday in Tintagel, staying in Bodmin led us to discover the 400-year-old legend of JAN TREGEAGLE, and despite it being a ghost story, we couldn’t resist spending an afternoon retelling the legend afresh – even though, being written so long after delivery of our manuscript, this is one story which won’t be found among the 77 in our book.

The truth is, the ghost story, like tales of Christian saints, is one genre we have made a point of avoiding in TALES OF BRITAIN – it’s a pet hate that other collections of folklore are so packed with ghost stories (and every settlement has at least a few) it was hard to find any other tale worth telling amidst the thick cloud of identikit ‘grey lady’ bilge, and ghost stories, though unquestionably part of folklore, do seem to have their own rules and traditions, they belong in their own book…

But the legend of JAN TREGEAGLE is not just any old ghost story, and as a legal thriller, the town of Bodmin, with its courtroom museum bang in the middle, somehow seems to be heavy with his spirit. It’s essentially a story of two parts – the first is Poldark meets A Christmas Carol, as the evil law man dies festooned with guilt, and is summoned in court to give evidence of his wrongdoing, which saves a young orphan from the gallows…

But then, having done a good posthumous deed, the demons who claimed his soul no longer wanted the poor shade, and so here’s where a quirky ghost story expands into full-blown regional folklore. Because Jan Tregeagle doesn’t just appear at the odd window as a smear of grey, he was damned to fulfill a plethroa of impossible tasks all around the North Cornwall coast, and the very moan of the wind thereafter became evidence of the doomed lawyer’s eternal penances, emptying Dozmary pool with a limpet shell (with a hole in it), or clearing all the sand from the coast – and so, night and day, forever more, from Gwenvor to Berepper, Portleven to Nanjizal Bay, he sweeps away the sand and bewails his terrible job.

Many landmarks around here are proud of their place in the Tregeagle legend, and the incredibly atmospheric Roche Chapel, besides having a place in the Tristan & Isolde legend, is also said to be the place where Tregeagle’s ghost was blown by a storm, in between infinite tasks.

Despite all this, however, when I popped into the cosy Bodmin museum, having completed this folktale retelling, nobody there had ever even HEARD of Jan Tregeagle! And so, I told the Bodmin natives the story all over again, and urged them to add some kind of reference to the 17th century lawyer in the museum, as they were right next door to the courts where he once plied his despicable trade. So if you visit Bodmin, and see mention of Jan in the museum, you have us to thank!

So we’re proud of our retelling – it’s a little like Ghostbusters set in the 1600s – but although you may not be able to read this tale in the first edition of our book, but you WILL hear it exclusively if you come to our first ever SAMHAIN/HALLOWEEN live show in Bath on the last Saturday of this month! Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will be performing some of our scariest stories in the village of Widcombe, only 5 minutes from Bath Spa station, so we hope to see you there – BE BRAVE! Jan surely can’t get at you in Somerset…

The Loch Ness Story

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A monstrously jolly Folklore Thursday to you, pledgers!

We may be running short of Tales we haven’t blogged about, but there’s still a certain amount of shiftiness in celebrating this ANIMAL-themed week with the tale of Nessie, the last of the dinosaurs who lives up in the deep waters of Northern Scotland.

Admittedly, her qualification as an animal is slightly circumspect, but more to the point – is there really what you’d call a ‘Loch Ness Monster story’? One of our main spurs in creating this book is that we love books on folklore, but that’s what you end up with – LORE, random bits of superstition, rather than proper stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Due to the relatively sparse population, decent tales are rare in Northern Scotland, compared to, say, Somerset or Snowdonia. And so somehow we felt we couldn’t just ignore Nessie. But eventually we had to face the quandary – what is her ‘tale’, exactly? There are tantalising similarities between the aquatic creature – some kind of evolutionary offspring of the plesiosaur, some believe – and the Scottish Kelpies, water horse spirits, of whom many a tale is told… but otherwise…?

History is a crucial element of our book – placed in rough chronological order, the Tales of Britain show that our country is a mongrel brew created by endless washes of immigration for millennia – and so that was the story we had to work from, as source material: the known history of the Loch Ness Monster.

There is a scrap of ancient lore about St Columba threatening a sea monster in the RIVER Ness, not the loch, back in the 6th century, but as that was pretty par for the course in saint biographies (we do try to avoid saint myths in our collection, they tend to be so tiresomely pat), it’s largely irrelevant. If anything, the real Nessie story begins in 1933, with the testimony of a holidaying tailor called George Spicer, which inspired photographer Hugh Gray to provide the famous photographic image of a long neck rising from the waves, just a few months later.

And so began the greatest industry in the history of British cryptozoology. But even then, there’s not really anything in the form of a plot here, despite the awful movies spun off from the legend over the years, which we certainly didn’t want to reference. So, given the existing history, our Loch Ness Monster story – one of the very few in our collection set in the 20th century – is, we admit, largely original. We share our own take on who this poor animal might be, surrounded by cynical photographers and investigators day after day, wanting a bit of peace – and a run-in with a local bullied schoolgirl, which changes the latter’s life forever.

Inventing new stories is not what Tales of Britain is all about, and this is nearly unique – the flimsiness of the Black Shuck legend also required a fair bit of narrative creativity, but in general, preserving the ancient stories of this island as they have long been told is what really matters. But who knows, if enough folk buy, enjoy and share Tales Of Britain, our Loch Ness Monster story may become part of the warp and weft of British folklore anyway.

Oh, and talk of monsters give us a good chance of plugging our next show – believe it or not, our first ever HALLOWE’EN TALES OF BRITAIN will take place on Saturday afternoon, 4pm on 27th October, upstairs at the Ring O’Bells in the wee Somerset village of Widcombe – directly behind Bath Spa train station, 5 minutes walk, so anyone travelling from other climes will have a very easy journey to come and join in all the spooky fun! There will be ghosts, killer black bulls, witches and demons galore, plus free sweeties and scares for all ages!

And perhaps even, a famous monster or two…!

Stone Dogs & Dragon Hills in the New Forest

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, folks!

Folklore of Objects? Well, here’s one – what does this stone dog have to do with British folklore? Perhaps it will help if we add that it is one of two stone bull mastiffs which decorate the entrance to a place called Bisterne House, the New Forest seat of the ancient Berkeley dynasty – one of whom, Sir Maurice de Berkeley, was said to have defeated a vicious dragon in the area in the 15th century – with the help of his two faithful mastiffs, celebrated in stone here.

‘The Bisterne Dragon’ is perhaps our most vanilla dragon-slaying tale of the 77 in our collection – well, not 77 dragon-slaying tales obviously, but we have a fair few, and gave a run down of them in the KNUCKER entry last year – the release of the dogs and the hero’s use of holly to give the dragon horrific indigestion are the only really defining elements of this particular yarn, but it’s so set in the landscape down near the south coast, we gave it a whirl anyway. Right now, oddly enough, we’re adding yet another dragon story to our collection, albeit too late for the book – but The Laidley Wyrm has a proper twist to make it stand out from the others…

Anyway, what The Bisterne Dragon certainly has is a very strong tourist guide to accompany it. The legend was obviously created to feed the egotism of the local landed gentry, the Berkeley family, and may even have been based on a real encounter in the New Forest with a huge boar, slaughtered in a struggle with the historical Sir Maurice. As a result, we know that the knight’s home is a real place (albeit in private ownership, so you can’t really just turn up for a picnic), while the local town of Lyndhurst and village of Burley all boast areas associated with this particular 15th century dragon legend.

And so, the field where the dragon slayer released his hungry bull mastiffs on the scaly monster is right there to visit (whether the dogs were any use, you will have to buy the book to discover!) and you can even climb up Bolton’s Bench, a hill just outside Lyndhurst which is said to mark the actual corpse of the dragon – and, once grass had grown over it, at the very top, it also marked, in some versions of the tale the grave of its slayer, Sir Maurice. The New Forest is already a beloved holiday destination, with its hairy ponies and pretty glades, but added folklore landmarks like this make any visit that bit more exciting.

We’re in a quiet period at the moment, post-Soupy-Twists-launch and before the latest version of the Tales manuscript is returned to us – and in flu quarantine to bleedin’ well boot – so it’s wonderful to have some freedom to get back to retelling ancient folktales about dragons and slayers and the like, from scratch. It’s one of life’s great pleasures, making centuries-old narratives work for 21st century audiences, and we hope to spend forever doing it. We just hope there are further volumes which will help us to keep sharing the Tales for many years to come, so please do pledge for this first ever publication from the Tales of Britain campaign today… or we’ll set the dogs on you.

PS HALLOWEEN TALES OF BRITAIN! 4PM SATURDAY 27TH OCTOBER AT RING O’BELLS, BATH! BE VERY AFRAID…!

The Bath Plug 2018: Rachel Parris

It’s that time of year again!

Previous winners: TERRY JONES, PETER RICHARDSON, BARRY CRYER

Now read on, dot dot dot…

bath_plug_award_rachel_parris

With the precedent set by Jones, Richardson and Cryer, it may well be that anyone who knows about the Bath Plug Award, which I created, and which it is my duty to dole out every April, believes it to be a lifetime achievement award for white straight men of a certain age.

This was not at all the idea. This lovely golden plug exists to celebrate COMEDY, and to reward the talent and achievement of great comedians at any stage of their careers. And so this year’s winner, The Mash Report hero and highlight Rachel Parris, is not just more than deserving of the esteemed medal, she’s also provided a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Bath Comedy Festival. By kindly accepting the award from me and festival boss Nick Steel on Friday 6th April, she finally blew away the cobwebs, and opened all the doors for future Bath Plug Award winners! As I said to her afterwards, if the award wasn’t totally merited, it would have felt weird – and it absolutely didn’t. It’s a relief to have a very different kind of winner, but nobody could deserve it more.

As I popped up on stage at the end of her brilliant musical set, there wasn’t a huge amount of time to lavish on the ceremony (not least as she’d been rather violently ill all day), but as you can see from the video below, I did my job as best I could…

… But as she was not far away, Britishness got the better of me when singing her praises. I do believe that her two-handers with Nish Kumar on The Mash Report are uniquely brilliant (perhaps why they go viral so readily), and her delivery of a kind of common sense satire, with a smiling sheen of faux-compassion, comprises a voice we just haven’t heard before. To spare her blushes, I left out my suggestion that she had ‘become the most distinctive voice in British satire since Chris Morris’… Still, if she is reading this, she’s welcome to quote that to her Mum next time her career is called into question. ‘Stephen Fry’s official biographer says…’

Here’s a couple of reports on the shebang anyway, and my stress is turned off, on this score, for another year – my plans for the next Bath Plug are as ambitious as ever, however, and fingers crossed they will come to fruition… COMEDY.CO.UK CHORTLE

Anyway, with those duties fulfilled, the next day saw Kate Harbour and I back at the Widcombe Social Club with our most comedic TALES OF BRITAIN show yet…

And finally, on Sunday at Moles, the main event I’d been preparing for many months, this year’s FUNNY NOISES, which raised £50 for Bath Food Bank, and was a pleasantly mellow experience. In fact, if you’re a real glutton for miserable, painful punishment*, the whole thing was captured on Facebook Live. Ordinarily I’d be antsy about linking to my Facebook profile in a blog, but as anybody can just grab all my personal info from Facebook anyway, I may as well share and share alike…

* NB This statement does not in any way refer to the guest appearance from the very funny and awesome YONIC.

WHITE STRAIGHT MEN LIKE ME…

Happy Mithras, lovelies!

WSMLMSSTFU

WHITE STRAIGHT MEN LIKE ME SHOULD STFU – Download HERE.

The sad thing about funding TWO books on Unbound in fewer than two years, is it becomes a lot harder to keep a personal blog going when you’re having to blog literally every single week to get projects off the ground – and now I have TWO BOOKS coming out in 2018, that won’t change soon, but I’ve somehow found the time to create something new to be ignored by the whole universe, and here’s me telling you all about it…

You may have gleaned from this page that I have a history of pretending to be a recording artist. It all stems back to the dear, utopian days of MYSPACE. Ah, that perfect platform when any old git with a microphone could pretend to be a rock star and many hundred or thousands would back them up in that belief. In today’s fragmented social media world, there are things like Bandcamp and gawd knows what else, but nobody notices because they’re ghettoes, whereas MySpace brought everything into one place, providing the perfect playground for creatives of all kinds. Back then, pretend CDs I released would actually get sent out, to Latvia, Texas, sometimes even getting radio play, because the world was a willing audience. There was the very early offering ‘Songs To Listen To Music By’, then breakthrough non-hit ‘100% Balls’, and finally 2010’s ‘Keeping The Zeitgeist At Arm’s Length’.

The last seven years have gone all-too quickly, and the songs have kept mounting up, with increasing stress on topicality, and less burlesque-led desire to just be absolutely filthy. Although there’s still plenty of that too. I’ve amassed so much material that, although the audience may not be there any more – despite playing Glastonbury this summer! – I’ve decided, for psychologically flawed reasons, to call this collection my 4th album, in the hope that brand new songs will come splashing along all the more easily in 2018, with the cupboards bare. The link above contains the whole album in CD-ready .AIFF files, and the CD cover is the image above it, so if anyone is feeling particularly masochistic, there it is, from the cruelty of Cheer Up Sylvia Plath to the cuteness of No No No, 23 songs to… well, listen to music by.

Just in time to try out my brand new New Year’s Eve number, Absolutely Everything Is Suddenly Going To Change For The Better! I fucking hope it’s a prescient title…

MERRY MITHRAS!

KTZAAL.jpg

SOUPY TWISTS! Fourth Bit

You will have heard by now the horrible news that I’ve apparently written a rather good book – so good, Unbound have delayed it until 2018 to try and give it maximum coverage. I’m thinking of becoming a security guard to survive until then. But for now, here’s the latest digest of Soupy activity…

17) The Producer Said To Me… 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Okay, wrong double act catchphrase, but I hope you’ll forgive me for this mini-update: it’s been a busy week of harvesting the memories and opinions of the two men who shepherded Stephen & Hugh through ABOF&L at the beginning and at the the end.

I’m indebted to Louis Barfe for putting me on to Roger Ordish, this lovely chap…

… Who has of course had to field many far less pleasant questions in recent years, and it was a pleasure to share his warm enthusiasm for Fry & Laurie’s work, and the respite they gave him from that other programme he worked on for so much of his career. Sadly, the hint I had been given that Roger had access to a tape of S1 and S2 outtakes proved to be a red herring, but besides his memories, he was generous to share with us all the special dedication Stephen made in his copy of the first ABOF&L script book… Thank you, Roger!

And secondly, having had trouble making contact via a number of routes, Stephen’s sister Jo found an email address for the comedy Zeus Jon Plowman, who you may recognise from this off-duty photo:

… He’s the one in the middle.

Jon also had no knowledge of outtake material, although there must be a fair share somewhere deep within the bowels of some BBC edifice. Just as a rough guess, given the evidence we have, between the four series of ABOF&L I would estimate there would be enough cut material – as in, studio-recorded sketches, not bloopers – to fill well over an hour of TV. That’s obviously not including the 2 or 3 hours’ worth of ‘unseen’ scripted material I have with me. Comparably, I think Monty Python have a few ripped pieces of half-sketch that would run to less than 5 minutes, because everything else has been released, facsimiled, and shoved into a book at some point.

It was a very relaxed chat with Plowman, and an honour as he’s far from retired, and is a very busy man – this was his one afternoon off from producing the next series of Inside Number 9, which cropped up a few times in our conversation. In fact, as I don’t think any of it will end up in the book, here’s just a minute or so of our chat attached as an mp3 (eyes right!), where I’m trying to wheedle out of him whether the tone of ABOF&L S4 worried him at all (It didn’t)…

It may help to show you a snapshot of my Soupy Twists interview folder below, as a visual guide to how the interviews are coming along. This doesn’t include the people who have responded via email, like Deborah Norton, nor those pledged to at some point, Sandi Toksvig and Ben Elton. The saddest thing about the project for me so far is the unlikelihood of hearing from Tony Slattery, one of my adolescent heroes, for what can only be called ‘Personal Reasons’, as they are personal. Too personal for me to really know, but I have accepted his roundabout excuse note, and only wish him the very best, as I hope we all do.

Excitingly, however, before the month of March is through I will be taking tea with… well, perhaps it would be best to have the tea before divulging. But as my narrative wends its way to the dark opening months of 1995, and the end of the Soupy Twists story, it does seem time to pump from the source at last.

Here’s to pumping from the source,
Soupy Twists!

18) Soupy Red Nose Day!

Friday, 24 March 2017

As a special treat for pledgers, I’ve uploaded the two occasions on which our colleagues Stephen & Hugh manned the Gunge Tank on the first and third nights of Red Nose Day fun at TV Centre in 1989 and 1991 (Little & Large took over for 1989, which with the very best will in the world, gold-embossed and leaving all your money to amazing ponies, is no replacement).

The clips feature two victims, chosen by CBBC viewers – firstly, the much-missed ‘Smitty’, Mike Smith, and secondly, by sheer coincidence, his wife, Sarah Greene.

I did try to grill Stephen on what he recalled about these two celeb gungings, and particularly the origin of gunge tanks in Peter Cook & Dudley Moore’s ‘Not Only But Also’, in an improv section called ‘Poets Cornered’… but the total email reply was ‘Good lord, I didn’t even know NOBA had a gunge tank in fact. But I vaguely remember perhaps seeing the odd thing on TV when young, but all my knowledge of Pete and Dud came later through records.’ Not a warming series of memories, I know, but I will be having tea with the man himself next week, and promise to extract meatier anecdotes from him in person.

So neither Hugh nor Stephen may remember much/anything about their Gunge history, but you can at least enjoy them all afresh here… providing, of course, you’ve already donated something to Comic Relief, bought a nose, sat in some beans, whatever it takes to help the otherwise helpless.

Oh, and when it comes to Fry & Laurie’s other, infamous Comic Relief appearance, I actually have some very meaty memories from Richard Curtis about the day they told him what their contribution would be… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MaBQn56Ydw

Soupy Twists! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZHjl3Mk-dk

19) No Point Going At It Half-Cock…

Friday, 14 April 2017

… Whereas, going at it full-cock is for me a lifetime’s habit. Hello, a very warm Eostre to you, and welcome to what will almost certainly be the penultimate entry in our SOUPY TWISTS series of blogs, before the full draft manuscript is bicycled off to the Unbound experts in their Islington offices for editing, enjoying, and generally squeezing between chunks of paper.

Because, oh! but what a hectic time it has been since last I be-blogged you all – not least thanks to the Bath Comedy Festival and its many duties, but now I have to tell you, I am fundamentally one decent day’s work away from having a completed draft of SOUPY TWISTS, leaving just a couple of weeks’ editing and tightening and straightening and all the other things manuscripts demand, before I can hand it in and await marking.

As you can see from my current Interviews folder…

I have finally had the honour of making a supermarket dash around Stephen and Hugh’s brains. There should still be one final grey-area-removing rendezvous with both before the book is sent off to the printers, though they will be back ‘home’ in California by then. We have enjoyed the singular pleasure of having both Fry and Laurie on British soil in recent weeks, however, and first I spoke to Hugh on the phone from his new rural idyll. In fact, as we had barely scratched the surface after two hours one Friday morning, he phoned me up the next morning for an interview of even greater length, which was extraordinarily kind of him.

It was only a week or so later that I met up with Stephen in the exact same swanky locale where he had greenlit Soupy Twists 14 months earlier, for a couple of hours’ interrogation over a few drinks and oysters (I never had the latter. Bivalves escape me as a foodstuff and I had already hurled once that morning). Of course, unlike Hugh, Stephen has written three lengthy instances of memoir, so there were far fewer grey areas to cover in person.

Despite absolutely loathing autographs and selfies and such, I felt I owed it to you dear Soupy pledgers to get some proof of our meeting, and despite my number of chins, inability to locate the lens, and a definite visual suspicion that I had just eaten the late Harry Secombe whole… here you go.

But I feel you may be more interested in the linked audiofile, up there. I’ve selected 6 or so minutes from lunch with Stephen, and the same amount of chat with Hugh, and pasted them into one short eavesdropping. I think these sections are interesting, but unlikely to make it into the book, so they’re fine to share. The book, after all, is currently somewhere in the region of 22,000 words over my original contracted word limit…

And I am still adding further interviews all the time, like the fresh Robert Daws chat which occurred just this week – what a lovely fellow, not at all the asshead Tuppy Glossop always was. Obviously. Buy his books!

Until this manuscript is ready to send, then, all I can say is… Language is my mother, my father, my husband, my brother, my sister, my whore, my mistress, my check-out girl… language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God. Language is the dew on a fresh apple, it’s the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning light as you pluck from an old bookshelf a half-forgotten book of erotic memoirs. Language is the creak on a stair, it’s a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, it’s a half-remembered childhood birthday party, it’s the warm, wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl. It’s cobwebs long since overrun by an old Wellington boot.

Ner-night.

20) All My Life It’s Been A Mystery…

Friday, 5 May 2017

YOUR FACE MY ARSE.

No, sorry, that’s no way to impart information, is it? Let’s begin again.


I’m very well aware that I promised the last update would be the penultimate before the handover of the Soupy Twists manuscript, but well, it’s a dismal Friday, given the Local Election results, and any source of levity is welcome on a day like today. Despite the mammoth challenge I face preparing this book for the publishers, of which more anon, I still had a few nagging questions for our colleagues which, Columbo, style, I could not let lie while I had access to such great stores of comedy knowledge. And anyone who’s seen the “A Bit of Fry & Laurie” pilot will not be able to forget this:

 

It’s a short extract from ‘Selected Video Works 1970-78’ by American Artist William Wegman, and it’s never been remotely explained, as the one SPECK of material in all of ABOF&L not created by Stephen & Hugh. Was Wegman perhaps a friend of the colleagues? Did they owe him a favour? What could have possessed them to go with this? Well this morning, an answer to this question came directly from a freshly caffeinated Stephen, in no time at all:

Q: The William Wegman deodorant clip in the ABOF&L pilot – how, why, etc? Such a strange incongruity, with hindsight, but are you happy it’s there?
A: We had thought to ask art students in the very very very nascent branch of video to contribute little clips that might be worth inserting (rather in the way Python had Gilliam) unfortunately WW’s was the only one that was submitted! So we shoved it in the pilot but lost belief in the idea once we went to series.

I hope there are many comedy geeks out there who will sleep better sleeps tonight as a result of this mystery finally being solved. I know I will. Try to.

Anyway, returning to this big woolly elephant of a challenge. I’m sorry to say my finished manuscript is around 7,000 words over, with no hope of an extension, and I have written very tightly throughout – for instance, I would have loved to lavish pages on Delve Special and David Lander, a crucial early comedy character for Stephen, with lots to write about. Fearing the editing process, I had to keep the total coverage of the whole Lander project to maybe a couple of paragraphs, less than a page. I’ve done this throughout, for fascinating topics which aren’t 100% germane to ABOF&L itself. And ever since my first book was slashed to pieces, I’ve always tried to avoid waffle. So where the 7,000 words of cuts will come from, I cannot fathom.

Admittedly, this time I do have the option of posting any cut sections on this blog, but I know there’s a lot of heartbreak ahead for me as chunks are considered for deletion. Right now I am combing through the book from start to finish one last time, tightening everywhere I can, in the hope that the cuts I make will reduce it enough for Unbound to somehow squeeze what remains in (do you pledgers really need legible typeface size? Is it really that hard for you to buy a magnifying glass if we print it in 8 point font? Come on, work with me here). But over the coming weeks/months, I can at least share with you some of the stuff which I’ve had to drop from Soupy Twists in order to get the book out for you.

Until next time, then, you will never understand how much I love you, and of course:

21) You Got It! (I don’t think I have…?)*

Friday, 19 May 2017

I bring momentous news, which is very much of the moment.

Today, Friday 19th May, the full manuscript of Soupy Twists, the official Fry & Laurie story, has been digitally posted over to the good people of Unbound for editing, fixing, and making into one of those books which I hear are very much not all the rage. What a birthday present for company co-founder John Mitchinson! And yet, the pain of the non-fiction writer, nothing ever pauses for one second – just after sending, this was announced: Cell Mates Revival – and we’ve had the sad cancellation of The Great Indoors only announced at the last minute, and Stephen’s cameo in Veep! We’re right up to the line on topicality with this one.

I would take up space here thanking everyone who has pledged, who has offered advice or even content, but all of those Acknowledgements will be in the book, so let’s not waste precious pixels, shall we? I’ll just say ta. You may recall agonies over just how much over the word limit the finished book was – a fortnight of very patient combing through and tightening up has reduced a 7k word excess to about 2.5k – it’s the editor’s job now to hopefully fit all that in. Fingers crossed, and I’ll keep you updated on the progress as Soupy Twists travels from Word document to big papery thing tied up with string (String not included).

Another fillip is that this time last week I had a very long and extremely wonderful chat with Mrs. Jo Laurie née Green, who has fiercely guarded her privacy for over 30 years since first falling in love with a big blue-eyed ex-oarsman, and although she maintains her silence officially, as I knew she would, I was afraid that writing Soupy Twists was infringing on her privacy, and she may not like it… Reader, let me assure you, Hugh’s other half is about as warm and lovely a person as I have ever happened upon in my years of writing these books. No doubt millions of women envy her, but you can certainly tell why Hugh picked her as a keeper! Now we’ve spoken, Jo will be able to help make this book as good as it deserves to be, providing some exclusive photos and such. So an extra grovelling ta to her.

I shall leave you for now with a truly extraordinary extract which had to be plucked from the manuscript to slim it down. I now only refer to it rather than quoting it, or including it in full in the archive section at the back (which will be a very small print digest, so short-sighted types, invest in a magnifying glass right now!). This sketch would have been written, ooh, any time between 1993 and 1996 (sorry to be so vague, all this material is salvaged from undated old corrupted files), but I think you’ll agree, unless you’re extremely stupid and/or argumentative, that it was gob-slappingly prescient work from Gadget Man Stephen – what will the world be like when video calls come in…? Nigel Havers, look away NOW. Everyone, make sure Nigel’s not looking. And… read.

Until next time, if you have been, we are all blessed.

*A very special Soupy Twists Chequebook & Fallacy to the first person to recognise this snatch

22) Knickers Off Ready

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Listen to me, lovelets…

It is now far more than nigh on 8 months since my pilgrimage to Hugh Laurie’s Oxford, at which time I had no belief that I would be able to get as far out as Norwich, despite Stephen’s Norfolk background, and there was plentymuch written about the county’s metropolis in Soupy Twists.

Well, as you know, I delivered the completed ST manuscript back in the spring, but a lovely friend gave me an opportunity to head out to the far east for the first time in my life, and hoover up a little of the atmos of the young Fry’s regular haunts. In truth, as a biographer I’m not sure how much solid wordage is inspired by walking in footsteps in this way, but it does at least feel highly respectful and seems like The Done Thing for any biographer.

So now I have some idea of what Norwich is like, outside of Alpha Papa and general Norfolk jokes. The city was never Stephen’s real home, just the biggest town in the county which became his home as a small child, the county where he still maintains a home now, and clearly loves the place.

That said, it was hard to find places I could pin young Fry down – the hangout he mentions in his memoirs, ‘Just John’s Delicatique’ is unquestionably long gone since the early-to-mid-70s, with the only mentions of the intellectual salon online coming from Fry’s own books. I mean, it’s all very easy to stand in the gates of Norwich cathedral…

… See? But it’s tough to claim expenses on a Soupy Twists trip for that. (Impossible, in fact, as expenses are simply not a thing for a project like this.) Stephen was until quite recently a very proud director of the home association football sport team, the Canaries, so I asked my friend to photograph me here…

… But again, very little in the way of comedy non-fiction material was gathered here. Stephen’s crucial link to the city is that he took his A levels here. Originally he was in King’s Lynn, but that was pre-prison, and eventually he came to City College. Here I am after a lengthy yomp out of town to find the place, though it may still be the wrong bit of it:

…Just to unnecessarily prove to all Soupy onlookers that I have travelled far and wide in my loving documentation of the two erstwhile comedy colleagues’ careers. But all in all, the fact that I reached the conclusion of the Soupy Twists manuscript months ago was not hampered by my Norvician virginity hitherto.

One very lucky boon from the timing of my visit was that I could visit the BBC Comedy Photo Exhibition at Norwich Library, curated by Paul Merton and Adil Ray. But although I saw a Blackadder photo entirely new to me, and Alan Partridge was present and correct, I was naturally disappointed to find not one image of Norfolk’s favourite son Fry anywhere. It would probably be reading too much into it to wonder whether this is down to Merton and Fry’s old falling out over the HIGNFY/Deayton business (they have done Just a Minute together since then anyway), but it seemed a big omission. Glad to have visited, anyway.

Further updates to come, but for now, thank you for a lovely weekend, and the photos, ©Polly Logan-Banks…!

Oh, and also: OSBERTO PARSLEY!

SOUPY TWISTS!

PS Did you know there’s no such thing as a British folktale collection? Help us put that right here, please – my fifth book: TALES OF BRITAIN. Comes with a Fry & Laurie guarantee of quite interestingness.

23) DAMN, HELL AND CUSTARD

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Anyone seen a pithy, fascinating biography of Fry & Laurie anywhere…? Deborah Munnings…?

If you were to take a sky-diving course – and why wouldn’t you? Life is dull enough – you would obviously be very keen to get out to feel the thermal currents filling your body with endorphins. But if your sky-diving instructor took a look at your parachute, and told the pilot they’d have to land and find a safer one, would you say “Screw you, Nazi!” and leap out into the wide blue yonder? Only if you wanted to do an impersonation of mince.

And so I have no option but to relay to you the deeply disappointing news that Unbound Publications has requested more time to ready Soupy Twists – The Official Fry & Laurie Story for release. In fact, all you darling pledgers should hopefully already have received this update from the very equine mush*:

“Dear Subscriber

Every now and then a book is delivered that exceeds your expectations. I’m pleased to say, Soupy Twists, the official story of Fry & Laurie, is just such a book. Jem Roberts has exceeded his brief and delivered a manuscript that bursts with energy and bristles with remarkable research. It will in time, I feel confident, be considered a one of the very best comedy histories ever published.

However, to do it and its subjects justice is going to take time. It’s a big editorial job and not one we want to rush. So the end of the year deadline we’d hoped to hit has receded to early summer next year.

I know this will be a disappointment for many of you – for us too – but the final book will be more than worth it.

Expect Jem to tantalise you with extracts and updates over the coming months. And there’s now plenty of time to encourage your friends to pledge and get their names in the back of a stone cold comedy classic.

Thanks for your support and your patience,

John Mitchinson, Co-founder & Chief Publishing Officer”

As you know, I delivered the finished manuscript back in May, and we were on for a summer of sourcing images, finalising design and so on, all in time to hit the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of the A Bit Of Fry & Laurie pilot this Boxing Day. The bookish folk at Unbound told me they were all so very happy with the way in which I have told F&L’s story, they don’t want to risk the book disappearing in the pre-Xmas crush (which admittedly has happened with most of my previous releases, all that loving hard work, evaporating on release to the public – even writing Douglas Adams’ official biography failed to gain the kind of notice you’d expect), and so although I argued bitterly that all of you who have supported and pledged for the project were promised the book this year (and I hope I have still managed to get pledgers an earlier release), it now seems that 2018 will be the year of Soupy Twists, not 2017. To be fair, ABOF&L the series really began in 1988, so on the 30th anniversary front, it does still work either way.

But you must believe me, this delay is an absolute dagger in my giblets, having promised the book to you in time for Yule on more than one occasion. And if you’ll forgive my indulgence, on a personal level the delay is utterly disastrous, as the state of the magazine industry means crucial freelance income has dried up almost entirely, and I will be down to £0 before the end of the year, with no timely book release to come to my aid. Though none of my books have been written with a financial motivation, the planned timing of the Soupy Twists release was going to just about save my streaky, so this has knocked me for a lot more than six.

In fact, straits are so dire, I have done something I never thought imaginable, and started a Patreon, patreon.com/jemroberts, should anyone out there sympathise, and be lucky enough to have the breadline somewhere beneath them.

I also have more works of comedy history I’m burning to create, as well as the crucial campaign that is TALES OF BRITAIN, which is by far the most important project I have ever attempted, so all help is sincerely appreciated. In fact, if you have any desire to help support Soupy Twists, and myself, pledging for this unique story collection justhere would be perhaps the kindest thing you have ever done! Stephen is already aware of the book, and I hope we have his support as the campaign continues – maybe I’ll get the gumption to alert Hugh too, both are patriotic types, I hope. There’s literally NO single collection of UK folk and fairytales in existence, so do join the movement for a 21st century retelling.

But in the meantime, this Soupy Twists project will just take a little longer, and I will do all I can to keep you informed and entertained, with Stephen & Hugh’s help (both have reaffirmed their proud support of the book, despite the delay), until you really do hold their official story in your beautifully manicured hands. In a way, this is good for Fry & Laurie fans, as it will require me to share even more material than I ever envisaged (always with their approval), and I will not neglect updating this blog, making it a continuing celebration of everything Fry & Laurie did together. For instance, there’s this wonderful 1982 photo from the Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury I took a snap of when combing through the Footlights collection in Cambridge:

What an image. Behold Stephen’s gaze of sheer withering hatred for the beaming star of the show, see Hugh’s face of literal disgruntlement, Paul’s blank stare and Robert’s… blank stare, also. I would so love to have this cutting in the book, but I’m not sure if iPhone pics of old newsprint are considered publishable by Unbound, so this may be my only chance of sharing it with you. I just hope bits and pieces like this will be some recompense for your kind support, and above all, patience. Please remember that nobody is more crestfallen by this delay than I am, and when the book is ready early next year, it should be even better than if it had been ‘rushed through’ for a 2017 release.

I’ve enjoyed being fabulous with you, and I aim to continue to be so. In conclusion, then: VILN.

*I am not saying the Unbound CPO’s mouth bears any resemblance to a horse’s. No horse could grow a beard that impressive.

24) Hugh Laurie’s Face

Friday, 4 August 2017

Happy Soupy Twists Friday, FAL-fans!

This isn’t much of an update, but it had been bothering me for a while that this sketch wasn’t online as a standalone piece, and to my mind, this is the funniest 38 seconds of wordless comedy in the entire history of funny things. Even without the punchline.

And all down to Hugh Laurie’s face… and, admittedly a very amusing wig. In fact, I feel it deserves a GIF to go with it:

I wouldn’t hesitate to draw parellels between Hugh’s physiognomy and that of Buster Keaton – it’s a wonder they’ve never built a biopic around them. With those features, and that physicality, Laurie could have been dropped into any silent comedy studio at the start of the last century and become a legend.

I’m aware that a lot of you lovely supporters have come to this book from a love of House, and I wouldn’t hear a word against that frankly brilliant series. But it’s one of the main aims of Soupy Twists to provide a permanent record of the all-too-easily forgotten fact of Hugh’s comedic brilliance, totally separate from Stephen’s own brand of comic excellence, which has always been to the forefront, due to his sheer profligacy of talent. But as his colleague has always loudly insisted, Hugh’s talent for physical comedy has always stood alone, far beyond his own skill in that area, with words being, of course, Fry’s metier. Nowhere is Hugh’s skill more in abundance than in this balloon animal quickie, it’s a sublime sub-minute.

It’s also essential to this book that I sing Hugh’s praises as a comic songwriter, which I was glad to get to discuss with him in person – I did my best to assure him that songs like ‘Little Girl’ and ‘All We Gotta Do’ belong in the echelons of Lehrer and Wood, and that funny songs are not a cheap novelty side-genre, but about as specialised and difficult an artform as can be imagined. Anyone can twang a tune with asinine lyrics, but to write and perform a catchy song that is also packed with gags, is far beyond the skill of 99% of the world’s musicians. I’d like to think I sowed a seed which may see Hugh performing more original material with the Copper Bottom Band, live and maybe even on record. His brand of compassionate satire could do a lot of good in this naughty world. But we’ll have to see if he takes this on board.

But, as I say, it’s his personal comic voice and – obviously – face and body which I fear is in danger of being put out of mind by his international success as a straight actor, and I would take these 38 seconds above all the many hours of TV he has created in the last 20 years. You have to recognise the distinct qualifications that go into the overused term ‘genius’ in any artform, before daring to trundle the word out. And having done that, I will now employ it: Genius.

Bath Plug Award 2017: BAZ!

Well, another Bath Comedy Festival tucks itself up in bed, and levity flies from the city once again for another year. This was a particularly light year for me, as my usual multiple duties mainly boiled down to just performing at Moles club on Sunday 9th, for this year’s FUNNY NOISES: MY LOVELY HORSE!

True, a few days before I enjoyed the honour of introducing the arrival of I’M SORRY I’LL READ THAT AGAIN, AGAIN in our city, explaining my part in the original scripting of the show, and my suggestion in The Clue Bible all those years ago, and even playing Bill Oddie’s immortal BLIMPHT before the real new Wonder Team took to the stage. It really does make for the most extraordinarily hilarious night, and there are still plenty of shows to go, so check out:
http://www.offstagetheatregroup.com

17903933_10155036112281203_3783583793282978122_n.jpg

Offstage Theatre boss Barnaby Eaton-Jones and I – there’s a chap who knows how to get things done…

And indeed, the night before that, I was honoured to get up on stage as soon as Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden had finished their show at the Wiltshire Music Centre near Bradford-on-Avon, to present Baz with this year’s Bath Plug Award. He’s a long-standing patron of the festival, and of course I owe my entire career to a phone call he made to me after I wrote some fanzine articles on ISIRTA and ISIHAC about 12 years ago, so it’s all his fault I’m so poor! But the funny thing is, all these years I’ve never really drunk with Barry, which seems remiss, but I always respected his privacy, which it turns out is not at all what he wants, he wants a laugh and a pint. And that night we all had quite a few. It wouldn’t be the Bath Comedy festival without getting legless with a true comedy legend at some point.

baz.jpgBCF boss Nick Steel, Baz, Ronnie, and I. Nick and I still look like bouncers.

Ordinarily we have a special event for the Bath Plug, but as I said on stage, it turns out that the very last possible question about comedy that Barry had never been asked was used up by Matthew Sweet at the Melton Mowbray Comedy Festival in 2013, so we thought it best to save him the inquisition. Interviewing Barry Cryer is the comedy equivalent of playing Stairway To Heaven on a shop guitar.

But questioning him over numerous beers is a very different thing, and a great night was had by all, including his partner Ronnie Golden and Bath festival boss Nick Steel, as we heard about Max Miller and Willie Rushton (the campaign to create a Rushton tribute book starts here) and many other comedy jewels which littered the carpet all night long. A night to cherish – and Baz being Baz, he even had the decency to ring up the next day when safely back home in Hatch End, to thank MA for such a great night!

17799905_1699264540100294_1720271781427363840_n

Uncle Simon, Auntie Zoob, Stepmummy Bea and Mama Rhi, plus Daddy Jem, making folky funny noises at Moles Club, April 2017.

And so Sunday’s mellow musical gala was my main worry for this year’s festival, and it was certainly the most laid back one of all, which has just left me otherwise working on Soupy Twists day in, day out… but I am no more than one decent day’s work away from completing that, my fourth book, and so a big announcement is in the offing…

FUNNYNOISES17

SOUPY TWISTS! Third Bit

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:

SOUPY TWISTS!

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…

SOUPY TWISTS!

13) Stephen Fry DANCES!

video

📹 Watch video

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!

Soupy Twists!

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!

SOUPY TWISTS!

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.

B’bye.

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!

Comments
Ryan Mooney
February 24, 2017

Great stuff, Jem! Looking forward to paging through this mighty tome and filing it twixt Frood and Bladder. What is Unbound if not a giant Trying to Borrow A Fiver Off?

Sam Knowles
February 24, 2017

An investment not as batty as it appeared at 1st, 2nd and 34th glance after all!