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HALLOWE’EN ON JEKYLL ISLAND

“Unless, of course, I’m absolutely entirely wrong, again.”

To be fair, it’s still a remake – they just went with Brexit’s ‘DICKS ARE RUNNING EVERYTHING’ finale instead.

Jem Roberts

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HAPPY HALLOWE’EN, SOUPY TWISTERS!

https://twitter.com/JemRoberts/status/792080187324334080

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…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6u-WFlvZ2o

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!

File 30-10-2016, 20 10 46.jpeghttps://soundcloud.com/jemroberts/jem-roberts-halloween-on-jekyll-island

(I’ll probably only leave it up for a few days, fill your booties…)

But now, forgive me. Having been mooching around…

View original post 469 more words

HALLOWE’EN ON JEKYLL ISLAND

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HAPPY HALLOWE’EN, SOUPY TWISTERS!

https://twitter.com/JemRoberts/status/792080187324334080

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…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6u-WFlvZ2o

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!

File 30-10-2016, 20 10 46.jpeghttps://soundcloud.com/jemroberts/jem-roberts-halloween-on-jekyll-island

(I’ll probably only leave it up for a few days, fill your booties…)

But now, forgive me. Having been mooching around Georgia USA for a couple of weeks, I can’t resist an unusual and regrettable dip into topical observation – that is to say, that I’m pretty confident that Donald Trump will not win, solely due to the nature of American remakes.

I always loathed US remakes – in my worse-than-callow youth I even had a webpage listing them and screaming in agony, which I will not link to via Internet Archive Wayback, to share my own sunburned blushes. No matter how successful Kevin Spacey’s remake of House of Cards is, it’s still a less sophisticated version of what Ian Richardson did a lot better, first. The US version has veered miles from the UK original, it’s true, but it’s still discernably a direct interpretation, and now with the US Presidential Election, it seems like the same thing is happening in real life. We have two badly split countries with rising racism and right-wing dissent against a glassy-eyed government, and a crucial vote – on the one hand, the same old shit, on the other – unimagined oblivion (and potential bedlam either way). But Brexit for us was a vote where folk like you or I felt that, yeah, despite everything, we’d wake up in the morning with the same old shit, and all the fear-mongering of recent weeks would be disproved.

If there’s twenty-eight things I despise, then Conspiracy Theories are certainly on the list. But in recent years I had almost got sucked into this narrative that, no matter what we wanted, Boris Johnson was going to become PM. The destruction (or apparent temporary derailment, but please Oh God, no, not that) of that plot point on the morning of Brexit was one of the few saving graces of the whole feculence-typhoon. Perhaps there really is no dark force out there pulling all the strings, handing poor Neddy Muldoon a bomb to put in a restaurant to control democracy. And perhaps, like his UK source material, Trump will see his dreams dashed, and of course stick around making a stink no matter what happens. But for the series parallels to hold, America needs to end up with a helmet-haired Ice Queen in charge (this is after all a reboot of 1980’s politics), so maybe this time, no spoilers, you can relax – by Christmas, we’ll all be back in the same old shit.

Unless, of course, I’m absolutely entirely wrong, again.

(By the way, you won’t find any TV-themed musings like this on @BingeBoxMag, but do check in if you can, as I’m the Comedy Editor of the fantastic new fortnightly* mag, and helming the Twitter account to boot.)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN… IF YOU CAN!

http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/yBCScDONvHg

*Apparently you should never use this word in the US unless you want to sound like a mad olde world gifte shoppe ownere.

SOUPY TWISTS! Second Bit

Having neglected my own blog for a long time, here’s a digest of all the activity which has ensured my fourth book, SOUPY TWISTS: The official story of the sophisticated silliness of Fry & Laurie is going to be a reality next year!

Now read on, dot dot dot…

  1. OH GIVE THE MAN A BLOODY MEDAL!

Good time of day to you, kind and undeniably attractive SOUPY TWISTS pledgers!


(Image © http://www.jaredmobarak.com)

I was umming and even ah-ing about whether to make this first Shed post public or private, but if I keep it purely for you good folk who have already parted with some theoretical cash, it will allow me to be a bit more open and share some things that wouldn’t really do to get in the public domain. Specifically, although I shared the gist of the book’s genesis on my own site here, for those committed ABOF&L fiends like yourselves, there’s a bit more to it than I wanted to share openly.

You may have already gleaned, that Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are pretty near the top of the list of Famous People It Is Very Hard To Track Down Or Otherwise Keep Up With – and even with their personal blessings and promises to help with the creation of Soupy Twists in place, the next year or so will be a case of very slow, very careful diplomacy. This is a process made a thousandfold more tricky by the fact that both colleagues will be busy in America for much of the time of the book’s composition, so any hopes of sharing cocktails long into the night may be beyond possibility.

Stephen has just had his CBS sitcom with Joel McHale, The Great Outdoors, picked up (though of course, in US TV, that is no guarantee of a long run) and he talks of being more permanently based in LA, whereas Hugh is once again locked in to a US drama in which he plays a doctor: Chance. Grilling an actor about the fun he was having 30 years ago is rather tricky when they’re immersed in playing a character on a film set 5,400 miles away, and we only get maybe one nudge window for Hugh every fortnight – hence the dear chap not yet tweeting about this book. He has pledged to, and cordially, but it won’t pay to hound him about such things.

Similarly, Stephen also solemnly vowed to tweet the arse off Soupy Twists, but that was back in February, and as we know, things have changed. (Although, purely entres nous, it’s not beyond possibility that the account could be revived by proxy, as an official @stephenfry account run by a friendly elf, which I think is a wise compromise – he does certainly seem to have rather nailed his colours to the mast as far as elbowing social media goes.) Back in February, when I was glad to get an hour with The One And Only Gelliant Gutfright at his chosen rendezvous (a quiet tea room just round the corner from The Ritz) he was on a brief break from rehearsing his presentation of the BAFTA ceremony, and as we know, an ill-perceived personal joke with a friend of his on that occasion brought him his first Twitter roasting of the season, and only a couple of months later another rather unfortunate bit of chat about the perils of self-pity (where, as part of the wrap-up to a US TV interview, an overly relaxed SJF mentioned childhood abuse as a regrettable example of times when fortitude is needed) somewhat finished off the job, as Twitter’s kneejerk hordes grabbed their pitchforks and sent him racing off over them thar hills. This has been a blow to his millions of fans, and let’s not be disingenuous about this, it’s hardly helped Soupy Twists, but we shall labour on as best we can.

Returning to that convivial tea (actually, as I mentioned, it wasn’t tea in the end, but Stephen was in the mood for a knickerbocker glory, and I wasn’t one to demur joining him in one) we did have time to talk over all elements of how I would write this book, and left each other warmly confident that Soupy Twists would be a worthwhile pleasure for everyone involved. But now can be told the true fist-gnawing nightmare I experienced on that occasion. Knowing that a launch trailer was going to be needed, I asked whether I could film a short clip of approval from him there and then on my iPhone – cue one of the greatest moments of my life, when the man who has been perhaps my greatest living influence for the last three decades poured out a honeyed barrage of praise for me and the books I write. I was truly in eighth heaven at least. Until we went our separate ways, and I examined my iPhone camera roll, and found only this:

… Yes. Yes, double damn, blast and fuck you, yes – in the excitement and rush, I had forgotten to flick the phone onto Video mode, and had only taken this photo of Stephen, pre-glowing-tribute. So dizzying a pleasure and so crushing a disappointment in such close juxtaposition was rather hard to deal with, but thankfully, an hour’s badinage on the phone with Hugh from LA (or was it Baltimore? I think he was still filming Veep) the next day was quite a considerable balm.

Which brings me to my reason for writing this first Shed post – I’ve put together a 6-minute audio clip, attached to this post, beginning with a snatch (and yes, I’m sure snatch) of the first time I ever interviewed Fry, for my I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue book in the last decade – and then a carefully chosen snippet (yes, also sure snippet) of this recent chat with Hugh. It was such a pleasure, because he was one of the very few I left in peace when writing The True History Of The Black Adder, as he was filming the last few episodes of House at the time. Hugh has been no less of a hero than Stephen for most of my life, so to have his personal blessing in this way was a long overdue treat.

I hope this little insight into my gabbing away with the two colleagues we are all here to celebrate is almost as much of a treat for any of you reading this. In the coming months I will carefully select a few pieces from the ABOF&L archives to share with you pledgers, and otherwise generally keep you updated as to how the book is coming on – I’m already booked into the dear old home-from-home BBC Archives in reading next month, will be getting up at 5am one day in July to visit the Footlights archive at Cambridge University, and have made in-roads into interviewing all sorts of excitingly talented friends of Fry & Laurie.

And keep spreading the word – 25% in a week is pretty good going, and will hopefully somersault when Hugh alerts his Twitter crowds, but the sooner we hit 100%, the more relaxed and pleasant the march towards publication will be.

If you have been, please do so. For now, best to leave you with a simple valediction:

SOUPY TWISTS!

2) HAPPY TOWEL DAY

The links between The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Fry & Laurie are of course blatant and exhaustive – Stephen and Douglas Adams were particularly close friends for many years, both vying for the title of biggest Apple geek in the UK, while Hugh was at one point odds-on favourite to play Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker movie, for which Stephen was the perfect Voice Of The Book.

To celebrate Towel Day, enjoy some highlights from the original Frood launch event, with the excellent Toby Longworth and myself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73aJvOdJJYw

It would be wonderful to have a similar event for Soupy Twists when the time comes, watch this space…

HAPPY TOWEL DAY!

3) BFI: Sale Now On

It’s coming up to nine or ten years – nigh very much on – since I first began writing books on comedy history, and yet, disgusting though the fact is, I’ve never been here before. It’s taken the Fry & Laurie story to bring me to famed haunt of cultural historians the world over – the BFI. The BBC Written Archives have long been a second home, and I’ve seen many a mind-blowing rarity thanks to the kindness of individuals, but not yet had cause to spend the small fortune required to feel like a proper archivist and mosey into the BFI building, ready to see something it would otherwise be impossible to get your eyes on.

We’ve all seen those few seconds of Hugh turning up on almost-forgotten* late 70s BBC 2 show Friday Night, Saturday Morning – appearing from behind a potted plant in redcoat army regalia – and that just wasn’t enough for my purposes, frankly. I needed to see those shows (because there were two Footlights specials, in November 1979 and 1980) in full, the clips in context, and maybe find out if they were at all… well, funny.

Thanks to the helpful Kathleen and Steve, my visit to the BFI Archives was a cosy enough affair, and I was given a surprising level of freedom – and I only hope that what I’m doing now isn’t against the rules, and taking unfair advantage of that trust. I can always remove everything from the internet if I’ve gone too far over the line legally, and it’s not as if I’ve actually pirated the two tapes I saw and put them up online in their entirety. What I have done is made audio recordings, and in a few key areas, short iPhone videos for my own use – and the odd quick snap of the TV screen as I viewed the episodes.*

These timecoded archive TV leaders make some archivists positively engorged. But I prefer girls, personally.

Innocent young Hugh in a most unfortunate Jimmy Savile skit, featuring Rory McGrath as the criminal.

As this photo devastatingly proves, the trite but overwhelming chief impression is just how insanely baby-ish Hugh Laurie is in his TV debut (the first episode, showcasing the 1979 Footlights show Nightap, was recorded several months before Hugh rowed against Oxford in the 1980 Boat Race). And this is why I feel it was worth the £100-odd the whole BFI experience cost me – Hugh was only TWENTY YEARS OLD (and about five months) when he first appeared nationally on our TV screens, on BBC 2, performing comedy sketches. That’s a ludicrously tenderfooted age for any comedian to gain a national audience, and key to the context of Hugh’s performance in The Cellar Tapes broadcast in 1981 – he was practically an old hand by then. There was also a Radio 4 broadcast of Nightcap that summer, so it was all go for the undergraduate who was only messing around with his theatrical friends while he rebuilt his strength for the Boat Race.

The first programme was very Nightcap-oriented, and featured the cast of Hugh, Emma Thompson, Simon McBurney and Robert Bathurst, while the second, recorded almost exactly one year later, replaces McBurney with older ex-Footlighter Rory McGrath.

Are these two hours funny? Let’s dispense with the usual truisms about humour being subjective to say: ‘barely’.

Even special guest Peter Cook wasn’t quite on the ball in this late-night slot, and although I sniggered a few times at random silly moments, viewing the programmes was more a case of absolute fascination than hilarity. The Friday Night, Saturday Morning strand was designed to be different every week, with no set presenter or format, and these two Footlights shows are pretty much The Frost Report, updated. Martin Bergman is the presenter, and despite his being now known primarily as Mr Rita Rudner, it’s astonishing how clearly he was being lined up as the new Frost here, it’s quite uncanny. He may not have become that at all, but he plays a crucial part in the Soupy Twists story, and it’s interesting to see him in action here.

By 1980 Bergman was performing with his Footlights contemporaries Jimmy Mulville and Rory McGrath on the Radio 4 series Injury Time (also featuring Emma and Robert, and on one occasion, Stephen Fry), and these programmes do have a slight feel of being an attempt at a TV version. There are skits on how awful The Sun is (with plenty of shots of Emma in a bikini which have it both ways, being satirical while appealing to Sun readers anyway), a bizarre corpse-filled two-hander between Hugh and future Cold Feet star Robert Bathurst as two cowboy old-timers, and an extended riff on Billy Bunter at a comprehensive school which only has to be seen to be absolutely horrified by – and yes, that is mainly down to Rory McGrath’s appearance as a dreadlocked rasta. Although Hugh’s terrifying punk isn’t much more convincing:

Emma sings a number of songs, but there’s no singing from Hugh this time. He does, however, crop up with his by then ex-girlfriend in a Mrs & Mrs spoof, and makes a very first appearance in American guise, playing a kind of pretentious TED Talk figure who can’t help filling his speech with too much multisyllabic jargon:

Anyway, the greatest risk I’ll take with the material I amassed is the video below, as I feel strongly that any and all Peter Cook material which can be found should be shared ASAP with all his devoted fans, like myself. Given the endless connections between Peter and his good friends Stephen and Hugh, it’s not too out of place to include it here – I only wish it was more of a forgotten jewel, but the truth is Cookie tells a fair few stories which will be familiar to fans from other televised chats over the years, and they have been more highly polished in the other tellings. But here, for your entertainment, at least until I receive word that I have broken endless rules and have to remove everything from the internet, is a very rare Peter Cook interview for you all.

If I’ve got away with this, I’ll consider uploading a few other snippets in the coming weeks and months. In return, do keep spreading the word and helping Soupy Twists to reach that all-important 100%!

*Forgotten, that is, except for the memory of Harold Wilson being awful at hosting, and especially for the endlessly repeated – even restaged – Cleese & Palin vs Muggeridge & Stockwood Life of Brian debate which I don’t think I could possibly see again in any form without smashing someone.

*PLEASE try not to download these images, or any material, and share them on social media. No matter how much you love Hugh. These images are really intended for use only in direct connection to the Soupy Twists book, and I might get in awful trouble if they travel too far… Thank you!

4) Archives & Endives*

Dear “A Bit Offers”, as literally nobody ever calls fans of Fry & Laurie,

Funding has slowed at 45% so everyone out there who wants this incredible laugh-packed celebration of Stephen & Hugh’s careers in their stockings next year – please do keep spreading the word, tell anyone who loves quality British comedy, and any and all help is gratefully received! I’ve just been in touch with Stephen and Hugh, and there are plans afoot which should make the 100% feel nearer, but it’s too early to say anything else at this point, and we really do need to keep the total rising and rising…

Anyway, it’s time for another update from the archives, after a fraught and painful week or two! So here’s far too many pictures of me simpering in front of places important to this book.

My first visit to the unprepossessing little Reading bungalow known as the BBC Written Archives was almost ten years ago, and it would be unthinkable to miss out such a crucial stage of a book’s composition now. I was forewarned that, as the available archives only reach up to the mid-80s, there wouldn’t be a huge amount to find on Fry & Laurie, but I was sure it would be worth the pilgrimage, and I was proved right…

In truth, I’ve hardly ever gained much from sifting through the old contracts like this – the names of a few forgotten shows worth chasing up perhaps, the evidence that both S and H appeared in the first series of The Lenny Henry Show (though how I’d see their performances without paying lots of money to the BFI I do not know). But the real value in the ticket to Reading comes from threading their script microfilm reels into the machine, and trawling through the BBC’s nightly output on paper, in the hope of turning up something exciting. This is more rewarding for older shows – my time researching Blackadder seemed to suggest that in the mid-80s some directive went out, telling producers to mainly save exact broadcast transcriptions of shows, rather than the cut-material-packed rehearsal or shooting scripts, which reveal staggeringly exciting scraps which were never meant to see the light of day.

Nonetheless, the early ABOF&L scripts did reveal a fair few extracts which never made it to the screen – or even to the ABOF&L scriptbooks, which often parted from the broadcast sketches as we knew them.

Forgive the bad quality of these grabs – they are white-on-black files, appearing on a screen and then literally just snapped with an iPhone, and then inverted in Photoshop. Murky is not the word, but at least I can make out the words and salient details. The scripts for Saturday Night Fry were particularly pleasing, elegantly formatted by Fry on whatever early Mac he was using at the time – and, surprisingly, with many pages of cut material, as well as clear indicators as to what was written by Stephen (the vast majority) and which bits by Ian Brown and James Hendrie – generally the ‘The Show That Shall Not Be Named’ spoof sections, ‘Stephen Will Do His Level Best To Comply With Your Wishes’.

Besides the scripts, the BBC’s cuttings are also worth a look – although there were around 12 times’ more for Stephen than Hugh, of course. The weight of copy written by and about Mr Fry over the last forty years would fill an entire library, to Mr Laurie’s modest scrapbook.

And at the risk of overdoing the ‘posthumously disgraced celebrity’ motif, here’s a just-about legible Fry article by Clement Freud which I have no use for:

To conclude this update – as I have been busy trying to earn a few pennies and otherwise live my life since returning from Reading – I was lucky enough to get a lift to the ridiculously idyllic Gloucestershire village of Uley a couple of days ago, to have a look around Stephen Fry’s own personal Hogwarts – Stouts Hill, once a prep school, but now imposingly beautiful (and surprisingly reasonable) holiday accommodation.

I very much enjoy walking where my comedy heroes have walked if I’m writing about them, soaking up the atmosphere of their lives and so on. There was little practical reason for being in Uley except to marvel at a village in 2016 that boasts not only a shop (perhaps the very one wee Stephen truanted to when in need of better sweets than the tuck shop could provide, it’s hard to say) but also a pub, brewery and even an arts centre! I’m very glad I visited, and it’s only just up the road from Bath really…

Next stop – Cambridge! For which I must set my alarm for 4.30am next Wednesday… come on, I can do this…

* There are no endives in this post. It doesn’t even rhyme.

5 69% FUNDED!

SOUPY TWISTS is now 69% funded!

As that number obviously has no connotations of any kind, here’s a Fry & Laurie sketch to celebrate: CONSENT https://new.vk.com/video7575647_163917896

I have mixed memories of performing this sketch for a Comic Relief show in 1999. With full approval from their agent Lorraine Hamilton, of course. I played the male silent client, and am no Robert Daws. Plus, it was decided that the sketch would be enlivened on stage by having the clients act out their lawyers’ descriptions, which totally negated the humour of the sketch, and required a lot of theatrical dry-humping. It was not my idea, okay?

In further news, a week or two after the Hugh Laurie on Tracey Ullman video, to redress the balance, I just uploaded a rare Fry sketch from ‘Rita Rudner’ – the American star’s 1990 BBC 2 show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGwGoSwpBYg

Some exciting interviews are lined up, and both colleagues have just received the first batch of email questions (there will also be in-person interviews, of course). The manuscript itself is flowing out quite pleasingly, but I’m already terrified of wordcounts – just writing in a frothy, non-obsessive manner, I’ve reached 5,000 words without quite introducing Stephen into the story just yet… Anyone for an extension?

I’ll leave you for now with this remarkably prescient article from the Mirror, in 1982. You can’t say that paper is composed of nothing but mad people sending in letters about miserable bus conductors and good ways to keep your money safe, in a special pocket sewn inside your coat…

6) CHEER OH, CAMBRIDGE!

Happy weekend eve, kind Stephen & Hugh-philes!

Biggest news first, the latter hero has admitted his participation in this project to the world:

… Five months after promising to do what he could to me in person – at the time, we didn’t know this would be an Unbound book, so nobody thought so much early publicity would be necessary, so it is extraordinarily kind of him, and allowed us to creep up to a two-thirds total! And we’re confident that 100% will be reached before the autumn, but for reasons we cannot yet divulge… Until then, do you have 200-odd Fry & Laurie-loving friends? You surely must. Give them a ring.

Research for Soupy Twists is something of a challenge. Go to YouTube, and type in “stephen fry interview”, and you may get an inkling of the similarity between what I’m doing, and capturing the entire firmament in a small woolly hat. Not that wallowing in Fry & Laurie’s past is anything but sheer unvarnished pleasure, of course, but it’s not for the faint-headed.

Lest you think this unpaid work is all transcribing videos from a pillow throne, the greatest chunk of research for this book took place last week, when I arose at 4am to spend a value-packed day at F&L’s magical alma mater, Cambridge – a double slog of a journey from Bath, and I wasn’t back home until 1am the following day, but I made sure to get maximum use of my time in the city. Living somewhere as breathtakingly beautiful as Bath, it takes a lot to impress me, but Cambridge’s gargoyle-packed Medieval majesty makes it one of the very very few places that can manage it.

The last time I was here, researching for my Douglas Adams biography The Frood, I was given splendid dons’ quarters at St. John’s College, with complimentary decanters of port, but this time I was itinerant, and many miles were walked. As my time at the University Library to go through the relevant years of the Footlights archive was not until the afternoon, one thing I did feel the need to do when there was retrace our heroes’ steps.

And so I wandered out into the leafy suburbs, where I found Hugh’s home, Selwyn College – just over the road, practically, from Newnham College, where Emma Thompson was stationed…

From there, walking into town brought me to Queens’ College, Stephen’s home for much of the duration of his education. It was surprisingly tough to pinpoint for me, due to so much of the building – or rather, estate – being relatively new, and, as I’ve never been to Cambridge in term time, the area was absolutely swamped in tourists (“He is a tourist, you are a holidaymaker, but I am a traveller…!”).

Anyway, from Queens’, you’re almost in the centre of town, and the Footlights cellar clubroom beneath the Union, just around the corner from the ADC Theatre, where it all happened. I even had a jolly good go at identifying which shop used to be the Whimburger joint where the Cellar Tapes gang habitually hung out – the poor staff in the shops had no idea, but it was presumably one of these… A blue plaque must surely be in the post.

Even (do excuse me for saying, Stephen and Hugh) 35+ years on, it was all too easy and too pleasurable to picture Hugh heading off to for a rehearsal, picking up his pals as he travelled, and stopping off for a burger or three on the way.

… Returning to the subject of the ADC, quite pleasingly, Spamalot, the creation of another Footlights alumnus, was running there at the time, and I was very lucky to be shown around by the theatre’s kind staff, so I could drink in the atmosphere of the arena where Stephen and Hugh really began their careers.

The author exercises his continued right to ruin every photograph by turning them into selfies.

But atmos imbibement only gets you so far, and the main thrust of the costly and exhausting expedition was to see what remained in Dr Harry Porter’s archaic Footlights collection at the library. At the risk of in any way raising an eyebrow at our heroes, there’s no denying that there was considerably less paperwork remaining from Hugh’s presidency than most eras – sadly, there was to be no excited script discoveries, just a few typed running orders for smokers, a host of cuttings, programmes, and – the biggest treat – the original posters for The Cellar Tapes, and Hugh smoker Memoirs of a Fox. Perhaps I should be grateful that this is all I found, as it was tough enough to squeeze every document in before chucking out time, and a pint or two at the Baron of Beef before making the long journey home.

See above. Or rather, don’t.

With this journey taken, it’s fast becoming time to declare the research period of Soupy Twists production at an end, and it is time to settle down and start chewing pencils hard as the actual act of composition begins. This is slightly less blogworthy stuff, but of course what does remain is the need to interview a whole host of beloved famous names who feature in this rollickingly good story, so I will keep you all updated on how that process is coming along, as Soupy Twists marches towards glorious existence.

Finally, I will leave you with this extraordinary discovery, from Tracey Ullman’s 1997 HBO sketch series. To have found this literally on the day that David Cameron finally resigned is the most bitter-bitter experience – I swear to Satan that had this been uploaded a year or two ago, it would have gone viral, mocking as it does the kind of Bullingdon Club pig-loving behaviour of our previous Prime Minister in an eerily prescient way… PORKY BOY!

7) STEPHEN’S DOG

Stephen Fry turned 59 this week! And what do you do the day after your birthday, when everything feels rather hollow and back to business as normal? Why, you send a very well-received tweet, of course!

And so, six months after The Great Withdrawal, the consummation devoutly to be wished has been… consummated. Mr Stephen Fry has joined his colleague Hugh Laurie in admitting to the world that their joint careers are being plumbed by yours sincerely!

I’m deeply grateful for the 1000+ Likes and 227 Retweets his tweet has garnered – perhaps the hope that it would spurt our total up beyond the 100% mark was a little ambitious. But then, if only a fraction of those who Liked the tweet actually followed its sentiment to the full, we would be sitting very attractive indeed right now. Fear not, pledgers, there’s now absolutely no question of the book not happening, but it looks like it will remain a rather slow crawl to 100% – and will go beyond in the several months that will remain to actually put the book together for you all. The love out there for Stephen and Hugh meant that this was never in doubt.

But the modesty of the spurt we have had does make me want to reward those who have put their money where their hearts are all the more, and so, with Stephen’s express blessing (he had zero memory of the sketch, and laughed as much as any discerning punter when I sent it back to him), here’s a lovely opener for an episode of A Bit of Fry & Laurie that will never be performed.

Choosing the right piece to share out of the IMMENSE treasury of unused material SJF sent me is not easy – as I’ve mentioned before, only a fraction of this overwhelmingly publishable, funny sketch material can be squeezed into Soupy Twists, and there’s an embarrassment of riches which will remain in shadow (although much more material can be read if you pledge for the separate bonus print-out). This sketch is definitely publication-worthy, but it has no real connection to any of ABOF&L’s themes which would make it easy to reference in the text, and so here is perhaps the best place for it, to whet appetites and reward the faithful.

Only pledgers will see this blog, and for those who would love to enjoy ‘fresh’ F&L material, but haven’t yet pledged, they have only themselves to blame!

And so, I give you, the really rather nasty tale of STEPHEN’S DOG…

8) SOUPY TWISTS IS GO: REVOLUTION!
Ladies and gentlemen, bear with me, bear with me, don’t stop bearing with me…

Soupy Twists, the official story of the sophisticated silliness of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, is now… ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FUNDED!

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I cannot thank any of the kind, discerning, clever pledgers enough – and nor can Stephen or Hugh, because they’re both on TV sets over in the western half of the USA right now. Of course, pledges can continue to tumble in over the next several months of hard work, but the hardest part (bar the publicity seeking when the book is out) is now over!

What does this mean? This means that without question, a pleasingly designed and potentially wipe-resistant copy of SOUPY TWISTS will now be with nestling in your special book cranny, containing your particularly splendid name, with gratitude, sometime around one British year from now. It will be available in all good, bad and indifferent comedy history shops, but pledgers will receive their copies – plus chosen boon – in advance.

Between then and now, I simply have to build this history, and be sure to do full justice to the tummy-shakingly funny legacy of ABOF&L. Work continues apace – I will be speaking to Emma Thompson this week, which is a life’s ambition partially realised (it will be via phone, no chances for me to ask her nicely if she would care to drink clarified butter from my armpits), and, narrative-wise, young Stephen is poised to go on a nefarious spree, with around 13% of the wordcount spoken for. An intense winter of fierce composition beckons – you have paid for the job, now I must get stuck into it.

But for now, as a reward for all your hard pledging, I’m attaching another extract from my very first conversation with Mr Fry the best part of ten years ago for my first book, The Clue Bible. This is just the opening wag-of-chins about ISIRTA, ISIHAC and how Stephen first came to be drawn into the Clue coterie, hope it’s interesting and I don’t yammer too much…

And, with the colleagues’ blessing, another extract from the vast treasury of completely unseen, unbroadcast sketches I have been given. This is another non-sequitur I may have struggled to tie in to the manuscript, but I think you’ll agree, it wouldn’t do to let it waste.  It also, like so much of this 20+-year-old comedy material, contains startlingly topical elements…

VIVA LA REVOLUTION! And of course, Soupy Twists…

SPREADING 72 BAPS FOR VICTORIA

 

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AN AUDIENCE WITHOUT VICTORIA WOOD
An evening of very funny songs and sketches, in aid of Victoria’s chosen charities.
Widcombe Social Club, Bath Saturday 28th May, 8pm

“If there’s a noisy party going on in the block, I don’t complain, I just zip up me cocktail slacks & get over there & get frigging. Or whatever the current dance craze may be.”

My early comedy memories can be hazy – I have half-remembered infancy nightmares about three strange men being chased by a giant Dougal from The Magic Roundabout, and distinctly recall as a tiny tot blowing up balloons for one Christmas with Benny Hill on the telly – even at that very ignorant age, there was something about the way he slapped the little bald bloke and ripped off women’s clothing that I found distinctly unfunny. I also remember the first time I switched on what seemed to be a Tudor costume drama, and something about the rubber face of the man in black kept me glued to the screen.

But I only have one memory of my entire family all sitting around the television equally laughing until the tears rolled down our faces, as the cliché would have it. My parents generally preferred Are You Being Served? or Jim Davidson, and the anarchy of The Young Ones I’d discovered on friends’ parents’ VHS tapes when I was only six were clearly anathema to them. But An Audience With Victoria Wood was obviously for all of us. Her incredible achievement in the solo writing of As Seen On TV had passed us all by, but this time she was on ITV – Central – the channel to which the family TV was pretty much perma-tuned – and so all five of us could discover her natural charm, her unparalleled skill with turning everyday language into a stream of jokes, and above all, her musical comedy mastery, which was what really had us all in uniquely synchronised hysterics, The Ballad of Barry and Freda reaching as great a crescendo as any hour of comedy has ever achieved.

It’s a song which closed my band’s Folk N Funny show last summer, and just a month ago I was performing It Would Never Have Worked as a duet on stage at Moles. I’ve performed in or directed versions of Wood’s sketches a few times in my life – Spaghetti, Medical Student, Hamlet Notes – and never had any doubt about her place as one of the all-time great comedians, totally irrespective of gender. If anyone proved how pointless the word ‘comedienne’ was, it was Wood. Fry & Laurie’s writing of all of their work together is an incredible achievement, but they were two men. French & Saunders similarly had no ‘Addition Material’ credits on their shows, but again, there were two of them. Victoria Wood did it all, on her own, and her output was mind-boggling both in terms of quantity and quality. Dave Allen could be called a ‘genius’ and I’d not demur, but he had a whole team driving his show. Victoria had one of the best ensemble casts to work with of all time, and Geoff Posner was a catch for any comedian to be steering the ship – but when it came to the writing, the stand-up, the songs at the piano… it was all her. So much funny from one mind, and now we’ve had our lot.

Just under a month ago we presented Peter Richardson with the second ever Bath Plug Award for achievement in comedy, and I had zero doubt in my mind about who I wanted to be the winner of The Bath Plug 2017. I’d already talked to the Festival boss Nick Steel about my plans to approach Victoria Wood’s ‘people’ in the hope that she’d see the gig as a fun day out in a beautiful city next April. One of the tricks of The Bath Plug is that we also show some of their work up on the big screen at the Little Theatre, and I thought nothing could be more perfect than an hour’s chat with Victoria, and then we would show her faultless Morecambe & Wise biopic Eric & Ernie, in which she starred as Eric’s Mother Sadie. That was the plan, and what an evening it was going to be.

And so, plans have had to change. But I’m left with this strong desire to do SOMETHING to mark the insanely early loss of one of the finest comedians Britain has ever produced, and so a group of us are arranging a special evening of live performances of her sketches, jokes, monologues and songs. We already have a date and a venue, the brand new Widcombe Social Club in Bath, on the evening of Saturday 28th May. Originally the plan was to raise money for charities that attempt to kick cancer in its stupid face – but it’s since been pointed out that supporting the charity of which Victoria was already a committed patron, www.jessiesfund.co.uk, may mean the money raised has more instant value, and we can be sure it’s supporting something Victoria was passionate about.

Hours and hours have been spent quoting Victoria Wood’s oeuvre in the last 24 hours, not least by me, but I’ll close with this. It’s not my favourite piece of her work by a long chalk – sometimes I think her self-penned 1989 sitcom one-offs gave me the most pleasure, particularly Val-De-Ree – but it’s a perfect example of how much British Comedy owes to Victoria Wood. This is what inspired Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, and in turn Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay – this is the roots of naturalistic real-life mockumentary, of The Office, Parks & Rec, and so on.

Thank you, Victoria.

‘”What’s that awful smell?” She said, “It’s my grief.” I said, “Well, it wants washing.”‘

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PETER RICHARDSON: FULL STORY & PICS!

And so, the most stressful time of the year draws to a close yet again – The Bath Comedy Festival 2016 is, for me at least, bar a silly afternoon of Unrehearsed Monty Python & The Holy Grail, drawing to a close. Between the shows I have run, the work I have had to do, and numerous personal lifebombs, the last week of March may have taken me to the very limit of stress forbearance. But it sure was bloomin’ well worth it, guv’nor.

In 2013, my band The Unrelated Family played upstairs at Moles Club on a Sunday afternoon – and we were rubbish. But it only took three years to get back to the hallowed music venue (where Steven Morrissey’s combo The Smiths had once launched an album, and Oasis and Blur had both pissed in the dressing room sink) with a full evening of comedy music. As ever, I live my life by the creed that music is one of the most important pleasures in life, and comedy is the highest art form, so bringing them together pretty much constitutes not a load of novelty songs, but the very toppermost of entertainment possibilities. And so, Saturday night was a blast for everyone who made it down to the cellarful of noise we filled with the sounds of Spinal Tap, Flight of the Conchords, Bill Bailey, Rambling Syd Rumpo, The Bonzos, The Rutles, and so on. I’m eternally grateful to guests such as Gavin Lazarus, Matt Bragg, Meat Market, Tin Cards and Martin Roberts (no relation), and we very much hope that Moles (now run by the nephew of none other than John Du Prez, the Python’s maestro) will welcome us back for a 6th FUNNY NOISES in 2017.

And of course, we paid fitting tribute to those ageing or deceased legends of rock Vim, Colin, Den and Spider – otherwise known as BAD NEWS!

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Uncle Simon Williams, Nephew Sam Bligh and Daddy Jem Roberts make noises.

However, while everyone else on the bill was free to indulge in post-gig abandon, I had another epochal event to see to – the second BATH PLUG AWARD at The Little Theatre Cinema, which this year was of course designed as a special night of tribute to THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS, honouring the career of Alternative mastermind PETER RICHARDSON.

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I’m very glad to say that from the opening shots of the latest entry in the TCSP canon, Redtop, a sizeable crowd of diehard fans were in for a real treat – seeing that iconic bomb heading towards earth with HAVE A NICE DAY emblazoned on it up on the big screen in such a wonderful cinema put thrills up my spine. The initial idea for having a special evening of chat with great creators of classic comedy, while enjoying some of their work on the big screen, actually came from a Stella Street event at the Bath Komedia in 2014. Richardson took to the stage with John Sessions and Phil Cornwell in character as Mrs Huggett and David Bowie, and a special clips package was shown on the big screen. This was hugely enjoyable, but it only created a greater hankering to see Peter’s most celebrated work in a cinema setting. It took two years, but with the help of the man himself, Bath Comedy Festival’s evening of tribute to the Comic Strip gang, from our guest’s old friend Nigel (only a fortnight after reviving their Outer Limits duo for a special Rik memorial), to Ade and Rik himself, to Jennifer and Dawn, to Alexei and Keith and Robbie, right the way up to Maxine… was well worth the wait.

I’ve spent the lion’s share of my entire life researching the subject, which seemed to please my guest pleasingly – and yet the answers given to some of the left-field questions provided even greater delight to me and the massed fans that almost filled the Little Theatre Cinema’s velvety main house. Unheard-of comedy facts and anecdotes spilled out. We were treated to stories about how Paul McCartney ended up cameoing in half-forgotten 1980’s feature Eat The Rich (a satirical swipe at Thatcherism badly needing a modern sequel), about the shoestring creativity which went into Redtop (filmed in just 15 days, almost none of it east of Dartmoor), and were even gifted with the slightest idea of what the 43rd entry in The Comic Strip Presents series may be – a narrative about successive owners of one Mini car, currently to be titled ‘One Careful Owner’. We also had a strong refutation of Dawn French’s story about the last line in ‘Suzy’…

When the loquacious, gracious and irreverent guest finally received his golden gong from Bath Comedy Festival boss Nick Steel, the audience rightfully raised the roof, before a special showing of the feature length 30th anniversary Comic Strip documentary. I have recorded the interview, and may be able to share it on here sometime…

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Yours genuinely, Sir Spider Webb, and Nick Steel.

And so, for the second year running my evening ended with a life-long comedy hero getting me incredibly drunk on ruinously expensive wine. Which is after all what it’s all about. He even forgave me for asking about Carry On Columbus. With so much to wallow in for extreme comedy aficionados and even casual fans of Bad News, The Famous Five, and all the other myriad Comic Strip classics, this second Bath Plug presentation left everyone present hopeful that it will not be the last. Keep your wits around you to discover who the third winner of the award might be…

Thank you, fascist young Julian, Arthur Scargill-via-Al Pacino, the seedy Miguel, Mr Lovebucket, shady agent Tiny Townsend, wise Tony Benn-via-Lee-Van-Cleef, cricketing Policeman Mr Chipstick, Genghis Khan, James Blonde, Whispering Bob Harris, and Bad News’ own drumming legend Spider Webb! THE OUTER LIMIT: PETER RICHARDSON!

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THE BATH PLUG AWARD

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Happy springtime! That most insanely stressful time of my year, thanks to the Bath Comedy Festival, now entering its… what? 8th year you say? That sounds about right, and I’ve put together shows for all of them. In fact, thanks to working on my first book at the time, I’d semi-retired from performing when the Festival first reared its head, but I wasn’t about to let it pass without sticking my tickling oar in one way or another.

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In terms of sheer effort and terror, my main focus this year is FUNNY NOISES – the festival’s musical gala. This is the sixth time of bringing together funny musicians to stage a whole night of tributes to the greats – Victoria Wood, Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall, Bill Bailey, Tim Minchin, Spinal Tap, Hugh Laurie, Monty Python, etc., etc. But this year has to be the biggest and bestest, as we’ve been taken fully under the wing of the relaunched Moles Club – that south-west musical legend, where Oasis and Blur nutted each other and The Smiths had an album launch, and you-name-it has performed over the years. If it all goes well, this may become a permanent Moles event every year, and we can keep it fresh with different classic comedy songs as the festival progresses…

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But when I wrote about the last festival, I rather glossed over my other primary concern – THE BATH PLUG AWARDS. Having basked in the warm company of Monty Python deity Terry Jones, with showings of his Wind In the Willows and Monty Python & The Holy Grail (which is this year’s Unrehearsed Theatre Company show), Comic Strip supremo Peter Richardson is the second winner of The Bath Plug Award, and will be on stage with me on Sunday 3rd April to chat about every aspect of The Comic Strip Presents’ 30 years of movie-making – in between showings of the latest caper, REDTOP, and a special big screen viewing of the 30th anniversary Comic Strip documentary. The latter choice was agreed between Peter and I because we simply couldn’t agree on which films to show – and embarrassingly, some of my favourites, Mr Jolly Jolly Lives Next Door, Bad News and Didn’t You Kill My Brother, weren’t written or directed by him (although he is of course brilliant in all of them). By showing the 30th anniversary celebration, we pack in as many bits of the films as we can all at once, with surprise appearances throughout. The night is a chat with Peter, but it’s a celebration of Peter, Rik, Ade, Dawn, Jennifer, Nigel, Alexei, Robbie, Keith, Pete and so many more…

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It’s a huge honour to be sharing the stage with the mastermind of The Comic Strip, of course – but all the more so, because he pretty much inspired The Bath Plug Award in the first place. Having seen him chairing a live Stella Street event at the Bath Komedia a few years ago, which involved a screening of the movie, and also seen some TCSP footage up on big screens at Rik Mayall tribute evenings, I selfishly decided that I wanted to see some of my favourite Comic Strip films in the cinemas – and set about finding a way to achieve this. I do also feel the story of Richardson & chums has been villainously overlooked, and it’s insane that there’s never been a book covering the whole Comic Strip oeuvre, and these two musings converged to give me the idea of meeting Peter, as part of an evening showcasing his work.

I can’t deny there’s a certain element of admiring jealousy for the Bristol Slapstick Festival’s own annual award, where comedy greats receive an exclusive Morph made by Aardman for them. Having attended many of those events, I wondered whether I could ask a few more interesting questions than seemed to crop up in Brizzle (one Q&A event kicked off with the interviewer admitting he’d not even seen the thirty-year-old classic comedy movie they were there to discuss until the previous evening), but the main question remained – what could The Bath Comedy festival offer? Some crappy perspex trophy designed to do nothing but gather dust was hardly going to attract comedy greats to the city. But then I figured – the logo for our festival is a bath plug, why not commission a special gold one every year, engraved, and then the winners can hang it anywhere they like, or even actually put it in their bath, and use it for real? I admit there’s also the cheesy added interpretation of them being invited along to ‘plug’ their next projects, which may have clinched the idea for me, but it seemed to be a winner all round,a great evening for comedy geeks in Bath and beyond, an extra reason to come and support the festival, and a fun idea which would encourage the best names in comedy to come on board (they don’t get paid, just the award, a nice hotel room and the chance to see their work on the big screen, in the lavish velvety Little Theatre Cinema, which is a gorgeous place – it’s even scaled down and mapped into the Wes Anderson Fantastic Mr Fox movie, if you look hard enough).

Hopefully this will be the second of many Bath Plug Awards – the need to have a movie to show always be part of the event is slightly problematic, not least due to rights issues, but we have exciting plans for future years (Does anyone feel like editing together a 2-hour version of ‘Catterick’?) and we just hope more and more people support us in celebrating the very best of British Comedy in this way, as the festival ripens and grows…

And as for all those other Comic Strip classics we’ve not yet arranged cinema viewings for – The Strike, Eat The Rich, other topical classics – there maybe something we can do about that for future events…

If nothing else, it does mean that I personally have dreamt up a concept which has become a question on the never-popular ITV1 quiz show, The Chase. Give me a shout when you achieve this distinction.

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ISIRTA: AGAIN! #2

Well, what a treat, above all.

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That’s the main thing to take away from Offstage Theatre’s live tribute to the wonders of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again – how lucky we all were that they put that show together, and those of us who were born long after the last proper episode of ISIRTA had been recorded at London’s Playhouse in 1973 (and too young to even know about the real final reunion recording 15 years later), should have nothing but gratitude that we could finally get an approximation of the dizzying Prunemania that the original rowdy audiences enjoyed up to 50 years ago.

As a professional ISIRTA bore, yes, if this was a first night of a run, there would be ‘notes’ to offer the cast and whirlwind writer/director/producer/performer Barnaby Eaton-Jones, to make a great show greater. If one was sat at a mixing desk for the show, the tempo could certainly have been upped by at least 20% – and a fair bit more material squeezed into the script as a result. And the absence of Totteridge was certainly a shame. Oh, and… that’s really not how Grimbling sounds. Funny voice, though.

Churlish stuff – over with.

We all hope there are more iterations of this show, not least considering the incredible effort everyone has gone to, to stage such a professional production. Coming from an inveterate flake like myself, with my Unrehearsed Theatre Company and Ukeaoke making a virtue of total and utter lack of preparation, very much the badger-wrapped-in-a-curtain school of entertainment, Barnaby’s achievement is astonishing, from the cast caricatures that dominate the stage to the old BBC microphones where they stood performing these old howlers. And what a cast – William KV Browne and David Clarke not missing a beat, Hannah Boydell doing full justice to the brilliance of Jo Kendall, Ben Perkins a dream booking as the BBC personified, and then there was Barnaby’s own vocal dexterity. His Professor Prune was the one time in the show where you could close your eyes and SWEAR that any of the originals, in this case, Graeme Garden, was actually on stage – as it happens, the one veteran of those crazy teapot years who was present was the ever-huggable Tim Brooke-Taylor. With Tim in my eyeline, I admit I spent half the show soaking up the fun on stage, joining in the groans and the giggles, clapping along to ‘Stuff That Gibbon’ and so on – and another eye on Tim himself, laughing along with all the hoary old material afresh. He was unmistakably loving every moment, commenting with pleasure to his wife when every familiar trope turned up, from the Babies to John & Mary to, inevitably, Lady Constance herself.

It was an achievement few could pull off, but they all did. I hope everyone involved woke up this morning with a feeling of deserved accomplishment, and perhaps a desire to do more.

However, besides gushing approval, the reason for this blog is to return to that earlier point about re-inserting material, because when I submitted my script for Part 1 of this exciting revival (a script which admittedly ran at about 90 minutes in itself), it was quite a different animal. I was working from isolation, without having met any of the cast, and it was still uncertain whether any attempt was going to be made to put each of the cast roughly in the shoes of the original Wonder Team – the only logical decision made being the impossibility of finding any kind of ersatz Otto Cleese. But I argued strongly that the show needed a strong context for all the old jokes to thrive, and the original series always began with the ever-missed David Hatch bringing the team together while acknowledging the appalling nature of the jokes they were uniting to perform, and I wanted to find a way to do this for a modern reboot, while as exclusively as possible using material directly taken from the old shows. The original programme rarely started with The Angus Prune Tune, as with Monty Python’s credits, the beginning often came in after quite a lot of silliness, and I felt this was an important feel to get across, as well.

The honest truth is, as irritatingly Uriah Heap-ish as I tend to be with most things I do, I was immensely proud of what I achieved in this line. The script I handed in was, for me personally, the ultimate all-time ISIRTA celebration there could ever be – ‘for me personally’ being the clincher there. I love the show in a way I suppose few do (having spent years writing the official history of it), and so I wrote the tribute I wanted to see, and I have no qualms about saying it was perfect, in my head.

Of course, translating these things to an actual two hours of people saying things on stage in front of an audience requires endless concessions, changes and fudges to make it happen at all, and so I did specifically request that Barnaby and script editor Dirk Maggs get on with it, do what they needed to, and didn’t involve me in the editing process because it would just tear me to bits, and I’d never agree with some decisions they had to take, just to make it happen. So I absented myself from that particular grief. And of course the show they ended up with was a joy. I was stunned at some of the stuff they did keep – my mention of twerking (which seemed a reasonable update of ‘miniskirts’ as a sign of modern society gone to pot), which I was happy to see jettisoned, wanting to avoid too many modern references, was actually extended, and loads more modern references thrown in, to boot. And then there were odd errors, such as a French Count character in the Prune Play ‘Moll Flounders’, who I renamed ‘Hans’ purely to do the ‘Hans knees and boompsidaisy’ gag, staying with the incongruous name even though they cut the actual gag. Similarly, the ultimate fish pun sequence was cut, but the desperately-crowbarred-in introduction to it was still in there, inexplicably. I blame nobody, of course, I could have offered a little more after-care service perhaps for these details – and above all, nobody there noticed or gave a toss, I was the only one who knew where the joins were.

But I am so proud of the script I wrote, I would like to share the opening section here. There’s lots of other stuff I included which hit the floor before the show began yesterday – the cherished Top Of The Form sketch, Butterling the Zookeeper, the song BLIMPHT, ‘Orrible ‘Airy Spiders – probably about 30 minutes’ worth of material which never made it to the final square. But the biggest absence was all the business about the ‘poor old grey-headed jokes’ which I made the absolute raison d’etres of the show being staged at all, that the crappy semi-sentient old puns protected by the original Wonder Team were being handed on to a new generation. I’d say this is the one and only thing which definitely weakened the show by being cut. So now you can see the kind of concept I was aiming at.

Of course, there may be many ISIRTA fans out there who bloody hate what I attempted to do here, and I can certainly identify with anyone who comes out in hives whenever they hear words like ‘reboot’. But as I explained above, I’m afraid I don’t care, as this is the show that I wanted to see, the ultimate tribute to what I consider to be the greatest radio sketch show of all time. The fact that Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden were the main writers of the original material gives me licence to be arrogant about it, these aren’t my jokes (with one or two minor exceptions), I’m just arranging them – and so my personal dream ISIRTA tribute show can remain in my head. This is, however, an idea of how it started…

But before the cut-and-paste moment, let’s just return to the main thrust of this blog: What. A. Treat. Thank you for involving me, Barnaby, and well done to every single person who made last night’s lifetime ambition realisation such a joy. Let’s hope there’s more to come…

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ISIRTA… AGAIN!

A tribute live radio script written mainly by Graeme Garden & Bill Oddie, freshly stitched together by Barnaby Eaton-Jones & Jem Roberts, and script-edited by Dirk Maggs.

DAVE           It is 2016.

BARNABY        Nah, more like five past eight.

DAVE           Can we not at least get the show STARTED? It is 2016, somewhere in the bowels of BBC New Broadcasting House.

BUFFIES        Blah blah, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb…

BUFFY 1        Rhubarb tart, anyone? (THEY ALL MAKE APPROVING NOISES)

BUFFY 2        Well, if it isn’t you, Humphrey!

BUFFY 1        Well, if it isn’t you, Peter!

BUFFY 2        Well, if it isn’t either of us, we’re wasting our time.

BUFFY 3        Gentlemen, gentlemen, we have a problem. The BBC is no longer funny!

BUFFY 1        I don’t know, it makes me laugh.

BUFFY 2        Not deliberately! Not like in the war.

BUFFY 4        Oh the war, the war!

BUFFY 3        Yes, we all had such a laugh in Iraq.

BUFFY 1        I had all my hair blown off in the war. Look, I’ve got a wooden wig!

BUFFY 2        Oh yes. I thought it was odd, you combing your hair with a chisel.

BUFFY 3        When I was in France, I lost three legs. And a gramophone!

BUFFY 2        I had my gramophone blown off.

BUFFY 3        I had my hat blown off.

BUFFY 4        I had EVERYTHING blown off! I’m completely wooden, you know.

BUFFY 1        You tell that to these modern youngsters they’d laugh in your face.

BUFFY 2        Flared trouser wearing pippies… (ETC.)

BUFFY 1        AND ANOTHER THING! All this twerking they do these days…

BUFFY 3        The twerking! The twerking! (ALL JOIN IN)

BUFFY 4        What about it?

BUFFY 1        I mean, it’s alright for you but I just haven’t got the cheeks for it.

BUFFY 2        Anyway, we must cook up a plan to return BBC Sound Radio to the glories of its hilarious past!

BUFFY 3        The problem is there’s just NOT ENOUGH TO COMPLAIN ABOUT on the radio nowadays! (THEY ALL AGREE WILDLY, CRIES OF ‘NOWADAYS’ ETC.)

BUFFY 4        Something must be done! Where’s that hot new controller of BBC Radio Comedy?

FX             DOOR CREAKS OPEN

TOTTERIDGE     Ah, good evening good evening good evening! How d’you do, d’you do, d’you do, do you…?

BUFFIES        Good evening.

TOTTERIDGE     And good evening to you too, sirs!

BUFFY 1        Arnold P Totteridge, you slip of a thing, what would you do to bring back genuinely funny… I mean, offensive radio comedy?

TOTTERIDGE     Well, I seem to recall… I do seem to… Yes, I’m sure if I think hard I can recall there was this one presentation, broadcast on The Light Programme. Ah, yes! The Wonder Show, they called it.

BUFFIES        The Wonder Show!

TOTTERIDGE     Yes, and now I come, I come to, now I come to think of it, which I do, I believe it was entitty-tittly-eye-tittled I’m Sorry I’ll, I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry I Will… I’m Sorry… I’m sorry, I’m not boring you, am I?

BUFFY 4        What was it called???

TOTTERIDGE     I’m Sorry, I… Haven’t A Clue.

BUFFIES        NO! NO NO NO!

BUFFY 2        Too many panel games!

BUFFY 1        We need something old, but with new catchphrases, new ideas, new blood, new guts – giblets, dismembered weasels, oh I love it, I love it…

FX             DOOR OPENS

BBC PA         Excue me, but what are all you old Buffies doing in Alan Yentob’s Thought Palace?

BUFFY 4        Well, he won’t be needing it any more!

BBC PA         Come on, out of it now, you twentieth century anachronisms, and never darken the BBC’s airwaves again! (BUFFIES COMPLAIN AS THEY ARE USHERED OUT)

FX             FOOTSTEPS, DOOR SLAM! BIG ECHO!

BUFFY 1        Well, what do we do now?

DAVE           Somewhere, in a theatre in Gloucestershire.

BUFFY 2        Who said that?

BUFFY          Hey, you young gaggle of long-eared layabouts! What do you know of this fabled Wonder Show?

ALL            The Wonder Show?

BARNABY        I think I’ve heard of that.

BEN            Some mystical old legend, from long ago times of yore.

HANNAH         Your what?

BEN            Your great granny’s infancy!

WILL           I seem to remember something about ferrets.

DAVE           Terrapins and teapots!

BARNABY        A cactus down your Y-fronts!

BEN            The Ferret Song!

WILL           Rhubarb tarts! Gibbons!

ALL            GIBBONS!

BARNABY        GIBBONS GALORE!

HANNAH         And John Davidson!

EVERYONE       Who?

BUFFY 1        Yes, that’s it! We’re looking for a load of pathetic old gags, feeble puns, stupid voices, appalling songs, so naturally we’ve come to you. What we need to bring that magic back to the sad austerity-struck folk of Britain in the twenty first century…

DAVE           Is for some gang of relatively young comedians to come along…

HANNAH         Dig up a few old ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’ scripts…

WILL           Yes, then cut out all the jokes that are rude or offensive or bad taste or horribly out of date or unfunny…

BARNABY        Then stick them all together to make a show!

EVERYONE       YES!

DAVE           Of course, you’d have to make a few careful cuts, to make sure it was palatable for a modern audience…

BARNABY        (FRUITY) You edit us, and I’ll scratch your eyes out!

BEN            (FRUITY) Ooh yes, touch my howlers and I promise you I shall wince!

WILL           Hello, cheeky!

DAVE           Now, that’s enough of that, you can cut that out for definite.

HANNAH         But do people really want to spend their evenings remembering a time when Bruce Forsyth and Come Dancing was on the TV and Tony Blackburn polluted the radio?

WILL           And besides, how could we ever find a gang like that original lot, eh?

HANNAH         They must be really old by now.

BARNABY        SO old…

BEN            Yes, who on Earth can replace the original Wonder team? The Magnificent 6 and a half? ‘Tis written in legend that they roared across the airwaves like gods!

WILL           Nobody ever came close!

DAVE           They wouldn’t dare…

BARNABY        Well at least we’ve got an Announcer, that’s something to start with.

DAVE           Yes indeed. (ANNOUNCER VOICE) And so, a new Announcer was found… who is it?

ALL            It’s you!

DAVE           No! I don’t wanna be the Announcer! Boring old kipperfeet straight-laced Announcer, who never gets any of the fun! I can do voices and be all kinky as well, you know! I can be as kinky as they come!

BEN            Who’s a great big fibber, then?

DAVE           I am. It’s alright for you. You’ll play all of the characters getting all the good jokes, and what will I get? All the boring bits. This is no work for a man to do. Mother was right, I should have stuck to flying. At least you meet interesting people when you’re an air hostess.

HANNAH         Aw, poor little Announcer David! You know you want to.

ANNOUNCER      Oh all right then. I’ll take the short straw. It’s tough at the top! And it’s a little bit bendy in the middle. Now, who else was there in this old Wonder Show team of yours…?

BUFFIES        CAN’T REMEMBER! (NOPE, NO IDEA! ETC.)

BARNABY        Well naturally, you’re going to need a Man of 1,000 voices, someone capable of being everything from a tottery old man to a cheeky charlady!

ANNOUNCER      Go on, then, give us your best?

BARNABY        Well, er… (GOES INTO UNMISTAKEABLE EDDIE WARING NOISE, WITH A MESS OF VOWELS CONTAINING ABSTRACT PHRASES LIKE ‘HULL KINGSTON ROVERS’, ‘AND IN ACTUAL FACT’, ‘EDDIE WARING ACTUALLY’ AND ENDING WITH ‘AND THAT’S ALL YOU’RE GETTING!’)

WILL           Who in HELL was that supposed to be?

BARNABY        NOBODY EVER KNEW! AH go on, I can do them all I can, Eddie Waring, Hughie Green, David Frost, Kenneth Wolstenholme, Mrs. Dale, Joe Grundy…

WILL           Never heard of ‘em!

BARNABY        I can do you and all!

ANNOUNCER      Right. And do you have a medical qualification?

BARNABY        None at all.

ANNOUNCER      Well, you’re in now. Who’s next?

WILL           Um, I could be Oddie!

ANNOUNCER      I’m sure you could. Give us your best rock scream.

WILL           (ACTUALLY RATHER GOOD) Waaaaaaarrrrghhh-hooooo!

ANNOUNCER      Not bad, okay you’re in.

WILL           Thank you. Now, please let go of them.

ANNOUNCER      Oh yes, sorry. Now of course, there’s an absolutely crucial place to fill. Someone who can somehow recreate the sheer talent of one of the finest trailblazers in female comedy history, a woman of endless skill and verbal dexterity, a true Queen of the comedy wireless airwaves! THE UNDER-APPRECIATED PARAGON OF FEMINIST COMIC BRILLIANCE!

HANNAH         Do you mean… ‘The Girl One’?

ANNOUNCER      Yes, yes I do.

HANNAH         Okay, well that’ll be me, then.

ANNOUNCER      Splendid. But we’re still holding out for a hero.

BEN            Hello!

ANNOUNCER      A fine actor, young and dashing and handsome, capable of being the everyman figure for every plot from Beau Legs to The Curse of the Flying Wombat, a fine singer and all-round entertainer, always ready with a quick barb and a cheeky grin…

BEN            IT’S ME, IT’S ME, IT’S ME!

ANNOUNCER      … Who can also inexplicably bring to life an enormous amorphous blob of a pantomime dame with a warble like a horny flock of chickens?

BEN            Oh, ah, er, maybe not.

BARNABY        Let me do her! I can play the part, I can play them all!

ANNOUNCER      Okay, okay! Well it seems that we do have a cast for you, old BBC Buffies.

BUFFY 1        But haven’t you forgotten somebody?

BUFFY 2        A true collossus?

BUFFY 3        A great big, skyscraping ogre of comic genius?

ANNOUNCER      Oh… HIM!

BARNABY        You don’t mean… the one they called… Otto?

ANNOUNCER      Oh no, we can’t find one of them.

BUFFY 1        Yes, you won’t get him!

BUFFY 2        You won’t get him! (GENERAL GRUMBLED AGREEMENT.)

BUFFY 3        You know, his career’s really sky-rocketed since he did that advert for Sainsbury’s.

BARNABY        Yeah, forget it. Let’s just say he’s at home, mowing the kittens or something.

HANNAH         Ah! Here’s the perfect stand-in for Otto, I’ve found this stuffed ferret.

BARNABY        Excellent!

ANNOUNCER      I still smell a rat.

FERRET         EEK!

ANNOUNCER      Not you. If we’re going to take this job on, I want to hear some statements from top BBC officials.

BBC OFFICIAL   “I never touched her!”

ANNOUNCER      A likely story. You, you BBC throwbacks, can we ask what sort of audience you’re aiming at?

BUFFY 2        Anyone who’s too slow to get out of the way, basically.

ANNOUNCER      Well I’m sorry, but it’s a no from me.

BUFFY 1        But you must!

BUFFY 2        You must, you must!

ANNOUNCER      I’ll do it for an OBE.

BUFFY 1        Here’s a dozen!

BUFFY 2        It’s imperative that you help us!

BUFFY 3        You see, if we cannot bring this ragbag of old schoolboy woofers, strangulated songs and disgusting double entendres back in the new century, then all the jokes will die!

HANNAH         What jokes?

BUFFY 4        These jokes!

FX             A CREAKING CHEST OPENING. WITH AN AWESOME WHOOSH DESIGNED TO PRICK DIRK MAGGS’ PRODUCTION GENIUS, WE HEAR A MAGICAL BABBLE OF TITTERS AND HOARY OLD LINES, HOOTER HONKS, RIMSHOTS AND JOKE SHOP EPHEMERA. PLUS COUGHS AND GROANS. PERHAPS THERE ARE DISCERNABLE SNATCHES OF ‘SHE WENT OF HER OWN ACCORD’, ‘IF I COULD WALK THAT WAY’, ‘MY MOTHER-IN-LAW’, ‘TEAPOT!’, ‘OH, WHAT A GIVEAWAY!’, ‘WINTER DRAWERS ON’ AND SO ON. THE SOUND SWARMS IN THE AIR.

BEN            OH MY GOD!

HANNAH         The poor jokes!

WILL           Trapped in that box for decades!

BARNABY        Won’t somebody think of the woofers?

ANNOUNCER      Yes, a miasma of hoary old gags floated in the ether, coughing and ailing and groaning all at once.

BARNABY        Well announced!

ANNOUNCER      Thank you. Shut up! You know, I’m still not sure.

MUSIC          ‘LAND OF HOPE & GLORY’ BUILD BEHIND THIS SPEECH

BEN            I am! YES! Yes of course, you poor old BBC Buffies, of course, we will care for these poor bed-ridden, grey-haired old jokes. Jokes that make us all proud to be British. Woofers, howlers, shaggy dogs, double entendres, witticisms, quips and pleasantries, and of course, puns puns puns and more puns. They will serve us well as they did so many many many generations before us. We won’t let them die. WE WON’T EVER LET THESE POOR JOKES DIE! NEVER EVER EVER! … Was I alright?

WILL           Here, there’s a note on this joke chest.

HANNAH         “We’ve saved these good old jokes, so when we’re gone, keep using them and if you bump into them let us know how they’re getting on. And perhaps you’d like to write for details of our ‘Adopt An Old Jokes’ scheme…” Signed, the Wonder Team!

ANNOUNCER      Okay, then. Let’s do it, but let’s do it our way. Let’s throw tradition out of the window!

FX             SMASH, TINKLE!

ANNOUNCER      Let’s get rid of the old BBC image!

FX             BANG!

VOICE          Argh!

ANNOUNCER      Let’s get rid of the old programmes!

GRAMS          THE ARCHERS THEME, QUICKLY SLOWED TO NOTHING.

ANNOUNCER      Let’s astound the critics!

CRITIC 1       I thought the whole thing was quite magnificent.

CRITIC 2       I do agree, it was quite fantastic.

ANNOUNCER      Let’s experiment with Time!

FX             BIG BEN CHIMES SPEED UP.

ANNOUNCER      Let’s do a whole new Wonder Show!

WILL           Nah, let’s just recycle any old rubbish.

ANNOUNCER      Okay.

BUFFIES        GOOD LUCK!

FX             RUNNING FOOTSTEPS, CAR DOORS SLAM, ENGINE TEARS OFF INTO THE DISTANCE

ANNOUNCER      Charming. And so…

MUSIC          DRUM ROLL/EXPECTATION!

ANNOUNCER      The entire nation trembled as it heard once more that dreadful sound – a sound lost in the twentieth century, forgotten in the mists of time, a sound that the entire human race hoped never, EVER, EVER! to hear again…

FX             BUILDS, UNDER THE ABOVE: A WWII SIREN, NUMEROUS WARNING ALARMS, THE SOUND OF IMPENDING DISASTER, BUILDING OMINOUSLY RIGHT UP TO…

MUSIC          ‘THE ANGUS PRUNE TUNE’!