Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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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

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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!

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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!

UPDATE: 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!

©GARY

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

 

vwberet

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.”‘

sup