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TALES OF BRITAIN: Summer 2019

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Molly Whuppie: From Islay to America?

A whoopy Folklore Thursday to all folktale-lovers! TALES OF BRITAIN, quite obviously, is a unique collection of tales all from one island, so today’s ISLAND LORE theme sort of allows us to pick any of our 77 published stories! But a few do take place on the isles which spatter around the island of Great Britain – The Gift Horse and The Fairy Invasion on Jersey and Guernsey, The Silkie on Unst, The Buggane of St Trinian’s on the Isle of Man, and so on. 

There’s also LUKKI MINNIE on Shetland, a horrifying tale of a vicious trow and one of the last stories we retold for the book – making sure, as we did so, to make our hero a big fan of MOLLY WHUPPIE, who we think of as the greatest hero in Scottish folklore. We placed her story on the Isle of Islay, and the forests of Gearach, but of course although the home of the original ‘Maol a Chliobain’ is documented as the ‘Western Highlands’, no one place claims Molly as their own.

As we’ve mentioned before, the discovery of Molly Whuppie’s tales, very early on in our campaign, was a revelation to us – and the fact that we grew up without knowing them is a disgrace, and one of our spurs as our campaign continues. She should be every bit as famous as Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Jack and co, and not just an obscure figure known to folklore buffs. She deserves to be a Disney Princess every bit as much as Snow White and Cinderella – let alone Merula, the entirely Hollywood creation who passes as their ‘Celtic’ character. 

Not that Molly would particularly want to put on a pretty dress and hang out with that lot, obviously, but the principle remains. Anything we can do to introduce folk of all ages to Molly’s adventures, we consider it a proud duty, just as Wullie in the Lukki Minnie tale loves her stories and aims to be worthy of her. In truth – if such a thing as ‘truth’ has any place amongst folktales – the original Molly legend is a hotchpotch of familiar story tropes, and so using some of them to flesh out the narrative-hungry legend of Lukki Minnie seems fair enough to us.

These stories of course belong to everyone and admittedly, one early capture of Molly in print was in Joseph Jacob’s ‘English Folktales’, but even then the Scottish setting is undeniable, and so the sharp intake of breath can be taken for read when you see something like this:

This is the cover of an American edition, so you can see how the confusion may have arisen, when ‘England’ is so often taken as synonymous with ‘Britain’ in other countries – Guy Ritchie’s recent abomination of a King Arthur film had the heroes banging on about ‘England’ even though the very existence of the ‘King Arthur’ figure is solely based on the British resistance to the Saxon/English invaders. So it’s clear, a little joyful, subtle education is needed worldwide when it comes to British folktales. 

And that’s always been a central part of our campaign – to appeal to the USA and Australia, partly for those who claim descent from Scotland, Wales and England, but above all, for story lovers of all nationalities and backgrounds the planet over. Irish (or that Victorian canard, ‘Celtic’) stories have their fans the world over, as do many other specific world cultures. But ‘British’ – the stories of this island in North-West Europe? There simply hasn’t been a single collection to give our combined culture any traction in other corners of the globe. Until now.

Maybe that’s why books like the Amercian one below exist. Of course, there’s always something pleasing in the idea that Molly’s tales travel and find homes elsewhere, reminiscent of the deities in Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, but the fact remains – Molly Whuppie is by no means an ‘Appalachian tale’, and it’s time for our hero to reclaim her rightful island home!

And so – BIG NEWS! – we are currently in talks with an American publisher with a view to creating a US edition of TALES OF BRITAIN. There is a slight worry that our British humour may seem to be a heady flavour abroad, but of course the great Terry Jones is our dedicatee, and if Monty Python & The Holy Grail was a US hit, why shouldn’t these stories be too? And every step will be taken to find the right tone for the US audience, without losing the essentially celebratory, humorous spirit of our book. And of course, encourage more folk the world over to come to Britian and visit the real places where these stories took place, from Islay to Shetland and back.

Wish us luck! And if we’re unlucky, maybe suggest an alternative publisher – and in Australia, or any other country? Get in touch, we want these stories to travel the whole world!

By the by, are you coming to see us in Edinburgh on 25th August? Or Cardiff on the 10th? We can’t wait to tell you some stories! https://www.talesofbritain.com/tales-of-britain-live

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Sunshine In Shropshire

Good weather-beaten Folklore Thursday,

Only a brief blog this week, as your author is up in the homelands of South Shropshire having a sad family time, which you don’t need to hear about. But here’s a wee snippet I couldn’t resist adding to The Apple Tree Man, even though it was already a muddle of Somerset and Kent and anywhere apples matter:

This is a wee bit of lore my Mum always quotes on Christmas Day, learned from her Dad, part of an old farming family in Norncott. Treasure the things your parents come out with, no matter how daft they may seem when you’re a sneering adolescent. 

Because the seasons turn all too quickly.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Merlin & The Dragons

Happy animal Folklore Thursday, all! Hey, DRAGONS ARE ANIMALS TOO!

They are in this story, anyway – or wyrms, if you prefer. It’s about 16 months or so since The Beast From The East caused Brother Bernard to record a special story to make up for missing World Book Day at a school in Frome – which, with awful sound quality (sorry!), you can find here: VENGEANCE WILL COME. So we don’t do this often, but here’s a follow-up, from the same neighbourhood of Snowdonia, at Dinas Emrys – MERLIN & THE DRAGONS!

To be honest, the main reason for foisting this upon the public is that when we were performing our special show in sunny Winsham last Saturday it became clear, just as the wicked Tegid Foel suggested an obvious contemporary hate figure in the former story, that the pathetically posh, clueless, duplicitous, weak and privileged – and unelected – King Vortigern equally suggested a despicable character closer to home…

Sometimes you just need to let off satirical steam or you’d go mad. And it’s just one more way in which folktales can come in handy, and adapt to the changing times. Centuries from now, if we’re all still here, the same story may suggest new cathartic interpretations to keep us relatively sane.

So, are you sitting comfortably…?

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Wild Hunt…

… Or The Feral Johnson? Sorry, couldn’t resist…

A glorious Folklore Thursday to you, dear readers! The theme of skies and stars threw us at first this week – because Tales of Britain is certainly a thoroughly land-based anthology! We thought, well, The Great Gormula zips around on her broonstick, that’s one option… but really, when it comes to Sky folklore, we have one major contender, the tale which actually brings our 77 stories to a close – THE WILD HUNT!

In fact, at first we were quite reluctant to include any story about the deathly Wild Hunt streaking across the skies, because it was so untethered to any geographical location, being a North European tradition which stretch from Germany to Ireland and back. Nonetheless, it was one of the first folktales which I remember being gripped by as a child, as one of the key leaders of the hunt was always said to be Eadric the Wild, a Saxon who had a few bones to pick with William the Bastard when he came, saw and Conquered – and as a Salopian, he was one of the few Shropshire figures we had to celebrate! 

But then we found the celebrated folktale of the dipsomaniac clergyman Dando of St Germans in Cornwall, and although Kernow was already one of the most tale-populated areas on our map, we had our excuse to include a Wild Hunt story. 

The other reason we included the tale, and particularly at the very end (admittedly ruining our scheme of ordering the tales in vaguely historical order – the Dando legend is certainly Medieval), is that it gave us the chance to give a final bow to some of our greatest characters in the previous 76 stories – because, of course, the ghoulish horses and hounds which are fated to hunt across the skies of Western Europe forever more include a whole host of famous names, many of them already in our book – King Arthur of course, poor old Herne the Hunter, Dorset magician Conjuring Minterne, Welsh despot Tegid Foel and many more. 

Speaking of Wales, we’ve announced a Welsh date for our 2019 tour! Come to Cardiff City Centre on the second Saturday in August, where you’ll find us doing open-air tales at the stall of kind Candy Jar books, who missed out on publishing this first edition of Tales of Britain – but watch this space! And don’t forget, we’ll be by the Scott Monument in Edinburgh at 5pm (just after Stephen Fry’s finished his Greek Myths show) on Sunday 25th!

Do come along and enjoy some stories from all over the British Isles – maybe including a certain spectral hunting party. Keep watching the skies…

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TALES OF BRITAIN: Spring 2019

Over The Hill

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FOLKLORE THURSDAY!

To celebrate, we have a double birthday-themed blog to close Spring 2019 – as it was on Brother Bernard’s 40th birthday last year that we visited TINTAGEL, the site of King Arthur’s birth!

But first, we just want to say thank you to everybody who enjoyed any of the 17 stories (and the one couple who enjoyed them all) performed to kick off the Ludlow Fringe last week. As you can see from from: https://twitter.com/TalesofBritain/status/1139932381375279105 it was a challenging day, but worth all the effort.

Besides plans for a new Halloween show in Bath, we now have nothing booked in besides honouring your pledges to come and perform Tales in Winsham (Saturday 29th), and Peterborough and Cheltenham (TBC – get in touch and let us know your plans!), so if you would like a storytelling show at your festival, fete, school, venue, theatre or whatever – just give us a shout! If we can get there and break even, we’ll do it!

Now you may have seen this news story about Tintagel this week, and the final completion of a 21st century bridge where once visitors to the ancient Cornish fort would have approached the mighty Medieval – perhaps even Romano-British – castle via land bridge. On our birthday visit last year, we had to join the tourists completing the shockingly exhausting trips up and down the cliffs, with each step about a yard high, so by the time we were back in the village, it honestly felt like we’d had three gym sessions one after another. Now we can’t wait to get back and see how the bridge alters the experience – though we hope the ‘timed tickets’ thing doesn’t extend to rushing folk as they explore the main part of the castle, idling in Tristan & Isolde’s garden was one of the pleasures of our visit, and takes all the time you want to enjoy to the full.

Obviously the castle appears in two of our Tales, in the book – it’s the court of King Mark in Tristan & Isolde, but we primarily chose it as the location for The Sword In The Stone, opening with a retelling of the undeniably sordid legend of King Arthur’s criminal conception, and then setting the rest of the narrative up the road, in Tintagel village. 

In truth – or something a little like the truth – Tintagel perhaps has more of a grip on the real history of Tristan & Isolde (Or Drustan and Ousilla if you have any faith in Fowey’s Tristan Stone) than on Arthurian lore, not least as the two Tales are so close together in Britain’s historical record that surely both can’t have any basis in reality. But as it’s a birthday theme, let’s hear three cheers and blow out some candles for Arthur!

Oh and should you be wondering, for his 41st birthday, Brother Bernard scaled Old Sodbury in South Gloucestershire – a pretty village, but a pointless visit, hillfort-wise, it’s a barely accessible mess of nettles and cowpats, with some lovely views, but zero to mark any kind of historical or folkloric interest. Just to save you the trip!

Now, Folklore Thursday – time for the bumps!

Davy Jones & The Yellow Submarine

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Avast, ye folksters! And a very maritime Folklore Thursday to ye!

There’s a whole plethora of oceanic tales amongst the 77 in our book, of course – The Gift Horse’s water sprite in Jersey, The Mermaid of Zennor, and so on. But we’ll take a look at one aside which was slipped into the story of The Great Gormula, with reference to the Spanish galleon which sank off Tobermory in the 16th century:

This is actually a fair summary of who Davy Jones came to be, for sailors the globe over – even if the original Jones will remain a mystery, the first mention in literature being Daniel Defoe’s ‘Four Years Voyages of Captain George Roberts’ (my Dad’s name, incidentally). Essentially he became yet another of Britain’s many water spirits, his first description being of a demon with saucer eyes (well of course), three rows of teeth, horns, a tail, and blue smoke coming from his nostrils (quite a trick if you can do it underwater).

That said, though I’ve never seen any of the films, I understand to most people these days, Davy Jones means only one thing…

But, with apologies for professional cheek, right now I’m writing about Davy Jones in a very different context, being two-thirds immersed in my next book, FAB FOOLS (Facebook and Twitter) and as I type, I should be proceeding with telling the tale of the creation of one of the greatest feature-length animations of all time, YELLOW SUBMARINE. Well, it is surely legitimate Liverpool folklore…!

Most people are already familiar with the Beatles’ odyssey from Liverpool through the seas of Time, Science, Monsters, Holes and Green, but the immensely complicated history of the film leaves many tales untold, and one of the early drafts of the script contained a whole sequence, developed with illustrations, set in ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’, with the Fab Four and Old Fred meeting mermaids and all sorts. Sadly, only anecdotal evidence remains, but it’s a tantalising glimpse of what might have been…

If you enjoyed Tales of Britain or any of my previous works of comedy history, please follow FAB FOOLS wherever you can, and pre-order when the book is fully launched at the end of the month.

Peace and love, and shiver me timbers…

Stones And Old Sods

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

A very happy Folklore Thursday to all!

We’re sorry not to have a more detailed blog for today’s ‘stone and earth’ theme, but there is a fair excuse – it’s Brother Bernard’s birthday today! If you remember, this time last year he was down in Cornwall to visit Arthur/Tristan & Isolde’s home, at TINTAGEL.

Of course, if you have the book (why don’t you have the book?), you’ll already know we boast a wonderful, updated stone circle tale – LONG MEG AND HER DAUGHTERS!

But today, speaking of EARTH, a different fitting birthday expedition has been made by this old sod, to the Iron Age/Roman/Medieval hillfort at OLD SODBURY.

As part of the birthday traditions, here a new story will be retold – this year, it’s THE LAIRD OF CO’, a pleasingly strange little fairy tale set in the craggy Scottish castle of Culzean. If we get to create a further edition, our retelling will be there. And who knows, now we’ve heard from the dearest Stephen Fry that he’s ‘instantly hooked’ on our book, perhaps that will be recommendation enough to guarantee a special edition before the 2020s are too old!

Anyway, here’s mud in your eye!

Stranger In A Strange Land

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, folktale-lovers!

When we saw that this week’s theme was ‘strangers in strange lands’, we blush to admit that we toyed with the idea of returning to the lore of The Isle of Man, a la The Fast Show – but that’s a hoary old cliché for which we apologise unreservedly. Besides, we covered our Manx tale THE BUGGANE OF ST TRINIANS less than a year ago. 

And so, what could be more perfect than the attached video? Here is a very strange man, in a thankfully extremely strange land. Job done.

PS In Ludlow a fortnight on Saturday? See you there!

PPS In Edinburgh last Saturday in August? Come and hear some stories by the Scott Monument at 5pm! 

Guernsey’s Faerie History

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A happy-heppy and even huppy fairy-like Folklore Thursday to all!

First of all, deep fruity thanks to everyone sweet enough to have added lovely reviews of the book, since the rather unpleasant illiterate review we received last week. It means so much to know that many of you are sharing these tales at bedtime every day, and that they are fuelling journeys to some of Britain’s weirdest corners! Please do ADD YOUR REVIEW if you haven’t yet, and let others see how much fun folklore can be!

Oh, and here’s another shout out – are you in or near Edinburgh on Saturday 24th August? Please email jem@jemroberts.com or contact us on Twitter if you fancy a live show by the Scott Monument! We’re also taking over the Ludlow Fringe on Saturday 15th June, hope to see you there!

Le Creux des Fees – the ancient cave where the fairies were said to have hidden…

Now, the problem with fairy/faerie/verry/phaeughreeee/however you prefer to spell it lore, is that it probably makes up a huge chunk of our book – moreso than witches, goblins, ghosts or any other kind of creature – maybe even giants – our 77 tales are packed with fairy stories of all kinds – some of these ancient Britons are kind, some are horrific, but we’re certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to tales all about the mysterious island race.

But the beautiful image above, as many islanders will already have gleaned, is from Guernsey – the channel island said by some to be populated almost entirely by part-faerie folk. We were slightly antsy at first about including the channel islands in the book, not least as we never included Northern Ireland, but it speaks to our shared sense of history with the Continent, our natural place in Europe, and so we’re glad we took the plunge to investigate the isles’ folklore…

In truth, the Guernsey story ‘The Fairy Invasion’ turns out to be a yarn spun to avoid the blushes of the inhabitants after a cataclysmic invasion by Welsh mercenaries in the Middle Ages. In the tale, fairy folk discover the beauties of the women of Guernsey and invade to take the place of the existing menfolk, hiding in the ancient cave at Le Creux des Fees and fighting bloody battle all along to Le Rue Rouge. We took inspiration from this BBC report for our version, but no matter how you slice it, and no matter how filled with curious Iron Age and older artefacts can be found on the island, the story itself, and the legend that all the Guernsey folk who aren’t blonde are descended from fairies, was always a cover-up of horrendous rape and pillage. Strange, the terrible historic events which can give rise to fairy stories. 

However, we hope that we have gone some way to make up for this unpleasant source, by making our story essentially all about the toxicity of machismo – the men of Guernsey treat the women like second class citizens, and measure their manhoods on how they can ‘protect’ – i.e. repress – them. The magical invaders therefore simply turn testosterone-fuelled rage in on itself, so every man who is powered by his idea of machismo detonates himself, and the far more – if you’ll forgive the term – ‘woke’ faerie folk create a far more equal society. Well, we can all dream – and the Guernsey folk certainly did.

La Rouge Rue – which gets its name from the blood which flowed down in after the invasion… Don’t go thinking all faeries are fey!

Puck In The New Forest: Cold Pixie Cave

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, story-lovers! Have you reviewed our book online yet? Please do! And while we’ve got you here, we’re still hoping to hear from Scottish folklore fans about our Scott Monument show in (obviously) Edinburgh on August 24th at 4.30pm. Please RSVP, we’d love to see you there!

As you know, many pledge rewards were promised in the crowdfunding of the book, and all are being honoured one way or another! A key pledge was to have a story written specially for you, and we hope that the kind pledger who went for that option, Steve Hoppé of Yorkshire, won’t mind us blogging a little about the tale we wrote for him – we’ve requested that we could include the story in further editions, but for now, it’s for his eyes only, and we can only hint at it here!

But today’s theme of ‘Creatures from the Woods’ is too perfect not to mention it – Steve is a New Forest native, and specifically requested us to retell the legend of Cold Pixie’s Cave, a bronze age barrow on the Beaulieu Heath and one of many which are dotted around the mid-southern paradise of woody glades. The name is derived from ‘Colt Pixie’, one of British folklore’s many horse creatures which are not what they seem…

However, all the research carried out raised something of an issue, in that there’s really no STORY here to retell. This is folkLORE, not a folkTALE – essentially, folk have long insisted that the woody cave is the home not of just any old pixie, but of Puck, Robin Goodfellow himself, and it gets its name from the superstition that Puck presented himself to those lost in the woods in the form of one of the New Forest’s hairy little ponies, and led them to their doom in one of the area’s boggy marshes (of which there are few if any now, it’s hardly perilous terrain these days). This is a strange legend in itself, as Puck is usually seen as a cheeky but relatively harmless spirit, certainly not a homicidal maniac. But our main challenge in honouring Steve’s request, was to work out what the story could be here.

We sincerely hope Steve was pleased with the handwritten and digital copies of ‘Cold Pixie Cave’ we sent him, because the tale we fashioned to cover the legend was one of the few totally new narratives we have been forced to apply to thin lore to make it fit our needs, just as we did with the Loch Ness Monster and Black Shuck. In our new story, a young lad who is hooked on playing games on his phone has the misfortune of tramping into the woods and running into Puck in his Colt Pixie form, who decides that the human boy seems to be easy picking to lure to a boggy death due to his sheer ignorance… or is he? Why is Puck leading humans to their doom?

We won’t give it away. You’d have to read the story to find out, but you can’t right now – unless Steve Hoppé allows you to, and eventually gives us permission to use the tale in any subsequent book. Them’s the rules!

There are still a couple of outstanding pledges to be honoured – storytelling sessions in Winsham, Cheltenham and Peterborough – but when they are complete, that’s every pledger rewarded! But the main reward remains, of having our 77 tales in your grasp to dip into whenever you like – if you’ve been enjoying the tales, why not let the Internet know one way or another with a wee review? And remember to ask about the book in your local indie bookshop too, the more copies we get out there, the merrier!

We’ll lure many more readers into our storytelling world – touch wood.

More Rhymes of Britain

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A very happy versifying Folktale Thursday to you all!

First of all, do respond – jem@jemroberts.com – if you fancy a special Scottish storytelling session in Edinburgh this August 24th! Also, have you reviewed the book yet online…? Please do when you get a moment! Now, to the theme…

Rhymes play a part in so many of our 77 tales, it’s hard to pick out just one, so how about we share a missing ingredient of the book which was jettisoned quite early on in the publishing process – the RHYMES?

As a small person, Rupert annuals were an ever-present part of my reading material, but I always preferred the shorter rhyming summary of each plot to the actual prose itself, and that’s what inspired the idea of including a poetic summary of each tale at the beginning and end of each story text. The fact that Tales of Britain was originally entitled ‘Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Bedtime Ballads’ may have played a part in including verse, too.

So, deleted as they all were, here’s a selection of short rhymes from our collection. Okay, so they’re simple doggerel, but feel free to scribble them back into your copies… or perhaps rhymes will be worth including in any future deluxe edition…?

THE APPLE TREE MAN:
‘I picked an apple from that tree – I swear that it just spoke to me!

‘So drink up thy cider and wassail with pride, There’ll be apples aplenty by harvest-tide!’

AVALON:
‘Glastonbury’s mystic hill, Or is it the Isle of Apples still?’

 ‘When Britons all cry out in pain, King Arthur shall return again!’

BABES IN THE WOOD:
‘Two tiny tots trot through the wood, Will they meet up with Robin Hood?’

‘Remember the babes, and mind how you go. If a stranger says, “Follow me!” You just say “NO!”’

BEWARE THE CAT:
‘Can it be done, and if so how? To understand a cat’s meow?’

‘Off Steamer runs through the streets so foggy. Serves him right – he scoffed a moggy!’

BLACK VAUGHAN:
‘Is it a bull, or a dog, or a fly? Oh, it’s Black Vaughan. I HATE that guy!’

‘That’s what happens when you live to annoy – A warning for every girl and boy.’

BLADUD & THE PIGS:
‘If you are spotty, there’s no need to whine, It’s time to get grotty, so swim with the swine!’

‘Spots or swineherding – no matter what your troubles, So much can be put right by a warm soak amongst the bubbles!’

BRAN THE BLESSED:
‘A sad tale of a mighty man! Up from the depths, here comes King Bran!’

‘Some say that Bran is still not dead, He knew just how to stay ahead!’

THE BROWN BEAR OF THE GREEN GLEN:
‘Now this may sound a little weird, Who would have thought? An eagle who’s eared!’

‘With that, the old tinker drowned the dregs from his cup, “That’s all I can recall!” he grinned, with a cheeky hiccup.’

BRUTUS: LAND AHOY!:
‘White cliffs hove into our view, What is this land? Give us a clue…’

‘We tell the truth in ways that suit us, Who knows the truth of this tale of Brutus?’

THE BUGGANE OF ST TRINIAN’S:
‘They’ve built another church again? There’s nothing else for it – begin the Buggane!’

‘The clever tailor found romance, And saved the day, thanks to his fast pants!’

THE CANTERBURY TALES:
‘A whole book in one tale? It fits! But this is just the funny bits.’

‘We loved those tales, though some were coarser, To read the whole thing, brush up your Chaucer!’

DICK WHITTINGTON:
‘The streets of London paved with gold? That’s a tale that won’t get old…’

‘Dick was the mayor of all the city… And all thanks to that clever kitty!’

ELIDOR & THE GOLDEN BALL:
‘No wonder Elidor’s so flustered! How he missed his tasty custard!’

‘Put your ear close to the ground, And hear – kick! Whistle! A cheering sound!’

THE EYE OF LEWIS:
‘Brave and clever, and defiant, What happened to the final giant?’

‘You won’t find giants in Britain today, If only they could have been nicer, eh?’

THE FAIRY INVASION:
‘The island of Guernsey’s a curious place, The home of a partially magical race?’

‘The fairy blood on Guernsey lingers, Be careful of their magic fingers!’

GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT:
‘Here’s an unwanted Christmas present – A spooky knight who’s quite unpleasant!’

‘When trouble arises, Gawain heard the call – A Merry Winter Solstice to one and all!’

THE GIFT HORSE:
‘Receive a free horse, you’re in for a shock, The proof is in Jersey, if you find the rock.’

‘Mistletoe is a magic berry, Now Willy and Anne-Marie are merry!’

THE GREAT GORMULA:
‘Witches are evil, folk assume, But here comes Gormula on her broom!’

‘To save the country, she had a formula – Let’s hear three cheers for The Great Gormula!’

THE HEDLEY KOW:
‘Help the poor and don’t be snooty, Even if they’ve found some booty!’

‘Call her stupid, call her funny, But a merry mind’s worth more than money.’

HERNE THE HUNTER:
‘King or serf, pay heed to Herne – There is a lesson here to learn.’

‘The curse of Urswick’s point was clear: Spare the poor pheasant, and don’t murder deer.’

JACK & THE BEANSTALK:
‘Fe fi fo fum? You know what that means, Such a fuss over a hill of beans!’

‘Fee fi fo fum? Ha ha! Hee hee! That Giant’s worse at verse than ME!’

… Which seems a fitting place to end this there.

Festival Season!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Hello! And what fortuitous theming those lovely Folklore Thursday types do come up with – because the topic of FESTIVALS allows us to talk about all the festival activity we have going on this summer!

Uppermost in our minds is the full day we have ahead at THE LUDLOW FRINGE on Saturday 15th June. As you can see from the link, Brother Bernard has his work cut out keeping folk entertained at five different venues all round the beautiful Shropshire market town, culminating in a signing session at Castle Bookshop! Not only will requests be taken for any tale anyone wants to hear from the book, there are several other tales not in the book which we can share, not least the very first Tale of Britain we ever retold, ROBIN’S ARROW, set in Ludlow itself. Tales of Britain is a mainstay of the Ludlow Fringe by now, and it will be lovely to see as many folktale-lovers as possible as we troop around our hometown sharing yarns!

Or if you’re a little more sou’-westerly, two weeks later we’re sharing stories at the street fair in the little village of WINSHAM in Somerset, as part of our pledge promise! We still have other pledge shows lined up for Cheltenham and near Peterborough, which will hopefully be public events we can tell you about once all is arranged. Remember, you can always get in touch to invite us to your town, school, library, shop or wherever. As long as we can make it there, we’ll do what we can. Sadly, it looks like Glastonbury has fallen through for us this year – we were promised a slot, but the host couldn’t follow through on the booking, so Winsham may be the closest we get! And much less smelly and more relaxed…

However, when it comes to EDINBURGH in August, we were offered a Free Fringe spot, but sadly too late – we’d already made alternative plans! But we have a proposal, and hope it appeals to any folktale-lovers north of the border, or in town for the Fringe. On Saturday 24th August at 4pm, Brother Bernard will be at the Scott monument – hopefully in glorious sunshine – for an impromptu Tales of Britain show, with books available to buy and have signed! PLEASE email jem@jemroberts.com if you’re in the area on the day, and want to come along, so we can have an idea of whether we’ll be telling stories to ourselves, or if a chilled out picnicking audience will be there to enjoy our storytelling!

So there’s three festival dates to put in your diary – Ludlow, Winsham and Edinburgh! Check our LIVEpage for updates! Even as we wrote this blog, a further date, for the Bath Festival of Nature at Green Park on 1 June, has cropped up, and then another exciting possibility down in East Sussex, so maybe see you there too!

Oh, and returning to the subject of pledges, for the kind pledger who requested a tailor-made folktale just for you – the New Forest story of COLD PIXIE’S CAVE is winging its way to you now, Steve! And we won’t share it with anyone else right now, because it’s all yours…

The Quest For Tales of Britain

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Greetings! As today’s Folklore Thursday theme is ‘quests, missions and adventures’, this is the simplest blog we have had to post hitherto. We may have told the story of our quest to put an all-new anthology of British folktales on bookshelves in text form in the past, but now we can see what a long quest it has been – and our adventure is far from over… 

Six years ago, a jumble of retold folktales labouring under the misleading but terribly alliterative title of Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Bedtime Ballads was in search of a publisher, any publisher…

BBBBBBB Teaser (2013)

Two years ago, an official trailer was launched with Unbound…

Tales of Britain Unbound Trailer (2017)

And now, in 2019, the book is available at last. Brother Bernard has been travelling up and down the island telling his tales – once you’ve popped into your local indie bookshop and asked about getting copies in, why not look up our Live page to see if there’s a Tales show near you, or even invite us to your town for a show of your own?

Tales of Britain Trailer (2019)

Long may our quest continue!

Humpty: A Cannon and Egg Problem

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Ahhh, Easter – the unimaginably ancient time of rebirth, where we all get together to have that exhausting conversation about whether the festival stems from the pagan goddess ‘Eoster’, ‘Ishtar’, or anything of the like – or if, as smart-bums like to patronise us, that’s as much bunkum as the Christian story about the carpenter and the capital punishment.

We could rifle through our book’s 77 folktales, or indeed any extant British folktales, to find a tale which speaks of spring or rebirth, but instead, let’s go back to our Nursery Rhyme sideline, for the British tale about an EGG…

Or, as folklorists out there may already be yelling, the popular rhyme, at least a quarter of a millennium old, did not necessarily refer to a chicken ovulation at any time. It is generally believed that the verse was written as a riddle about an egg (which makes his famous, pompous, pedantic persona in Alice Through The Looking Glass all the more fitting), but as we scour the island looking for places which gave rise to popular tales and rhymes, of course we’re going to prefer Chelmsford’s version of Humpty’s origins – that he was an engine of war which broke during the siege of the town during the English Civil War.

Gloucester also makes similar claims about their own siege, and perhaps ‘Humpty Dumpty’, besides being a silly synonym for a few things at the time, such as a rotund person or a drink made with brandy and beer, was a genuine cannon or war machine of some kind used during both sieges. The story goes, anyway, that the cannon was raised up on Colchester’s town walls, and collapsed after an enemy attack demolished the wall beneath it – and no amount of military intervention could raise it back up again.

That said, ‘All the king’s horses and all the king’s men’ seems to be a later rejig. there’s something strangely cute about the way the earliest versions of familiar rhymes read like absolute crap, with poor scansion, poor choice of words, and in short, all the need in the world to get the re-edit which resulted in the version we all know. In this case, the original lines are believed to be:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.

I mean to say, what? Must try harder.

Any which way, whoever you believe, it is quite greedy of the Essex town to grab the claim to this nursery rhyme, because they already have one famous rhyme of their own – the very name ‘Colchester’ derives from Old King Cole, of pipe and bowl and fiddlers three fame. Although, as ever, the most miserable academics out there utterly dispute that connection. Because they’re miserable gets. But Coel must have lived somewhere, fiddlers or not…

However you like your Humpty Dumpty, and indeed however you like your eggs, in the morning or otherwise, do have a gorgeous Easter weekend!

And if the opportunity arises, just maybe drop us a review online when you get a minute, or pop into an indie bookshop and ask about Tales of Britain availability! Sorry to keep mentioning it, but it’s our job to, erm, egg you on.

ARGH!

Long Live The King of Cats!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

A very happy pet-themed Folklore Thursday, everyone!

Firstly, thank you to excellent children’s author Ross Montgomery for being the first to review the book – it does mean an awful lot to get good feedback, especially from a pro storyteller, so please do take a moment to add your reviews to his, in the usual places, if you can…

But today’s story is one of my favourites. I have been asked a few times which of the 77 in the book is my favourite, and it’s tricky to answer – my own hometown’s nearest tale is The Stokesay Key, and I remember that from my childhood, plus we’ve had the most fun performing Dick Whittington… but I have a special place to one side of my chest for THE KING OF CATS. You know how it goes – sooty cat zooms down the chimney of an old couple, yells “TELL DILDRUM DOLDRUM’S DEAD” and the couple’s cat responds “THEN I AM THE KING OF CATS!” – and that’s about it.

I’ve enjoyed the mild controversy of this very short squib in our collection, as others have been a bit put out to see Lancashire claim the narrative – insisting that it’s definitely a story from their neck of the woods, indicative of their idea of local weirdness. Some also claim there’s more to the tale than the brief version outlined in Tales of Britain, but the oddness of the story in its shortest version is one of the joys of it for us. Those who have read through the book may have noted there is a sequel attached, but the very ‘what the eff was that all about?’ element of the folktale is its charm.

©SMEngel

Plus, we’re rather glad to have gone with the majority view of the wee tale as a Lancashire happening – as it gives us a shameless chance to repeat our call from last week, to support the new book FAB FOOLS, steeped in Lancashire lore as it is… well, that is if you include Liverpool as part of Lancashire, which it certainly is historically. It will be the ultimate celebration of Beatles humour – which means Lancashire humour, of the exact kind which gave us the King of Cats. The Beatles Story is the greatest story ever told, and this is a brand new way of telling it, so please do like FAB FOOLS on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ll be launching for pre-orders in a few months!

Too tenuous? How about if we add that Paul McCartney once had a cat he named Thisbe, after the Greek mythological lover of Pyramus, since The Beatles had performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream spoof of the Pyramus & Thisbe legend? Okay, still tenuous. Last time, promise, pet. 

The Liver Birds

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

A gloriously feathery bird-themed Folklore Thursday to you all!

Thank you to everyone who came to our London and Bath shows – particularly the little lad Ben who bought not just a book for himself and his little sister, but another for his school library! That concludes our pledge launches after all these years, but we still have three outstanding visits from Brother Bernard to co-ordinate with you, in Cheltenham, Peterborough and Winsham, and a personalised new New Forest story to write for one kind pledger, plus there’s a big day ahead at the Ludlow Fringe on 15 June, and other exciting possibilities on our Live page…

But for today – a spot of folklore which we never captured in the book, but will definitely consider for further volumes and editions: Liverpool’s iconic LIVER BIRDS, and there’s so much more to them than football mascots and Carla Lane sitcoms! These two mighty cormorants atop the Liver Building gaze out over the city and over the sea, with laver seaweed dangling from their beaks…

To be honest, despite falling in love with Liverpool when I visited the Sci-Fi library there to research my official Douglas Adams biography The Frood, I never believed there would be any real mythology invested in the city’s famous birdy figures, but it’s pleasing to discover that there’s almost enough for a complete narrative, with a bit of imagination – something Liverpool is singularly bursting with.

Ignoring the real history, of King John granting the city a royal charter complete with a dodgy seal bearing the image of a bird, which gave rise to the mascots, a wonderful mythology has grown around the brace of birds in the centuries as the city has grown, over generations of endless immigration and integration, into the multicultural pride of Britain that it is today.

Although there are many representations of the Liver Bird throughout the city, not least on Liverpool FC sweaters, the story clings to the huge metal birds atop the Liver Building, built in 1911. They are chained in the ravens-at-the-Tower-style belief that if they ever fly away, Liverpool would crumble into the sea, but there’s more to them than that. The story has grown that ‘Liver birds’ are mythical beasts who have always haunted the Lancashire shoreline here, and scousers proudly call this specific pair Bertie and Bella – Bella gazes out over the sea which brought the city its prosperity as a port, while Bertie watches over the city itself, so they protect both sailors on the sea, and their families back home. Or, of course, Bertie is checking to see when the pubs are open. Either way, there’s surely a story there to develop…

Time for an admission – there is an ulterior motive to mentioning Liverpool, in that your author’s 6th book, FAB FOOLS, is heavily based in the city, and is going to launch for pre-orders this summer! It’s the ultimate comedic history of The Beatles and Beatles comedy, Rutles and all, my 5th comedy history title, and as with Tales of Britain, we do need all the support we can get, so for now, anyone out there who had a proper appreciation of the greatest band in the history of music, please join this new campaign! This is perhaps the last ever untold story of The Beatles, seen from a completely different perspective, and one all Liverpudlians cherish – that of LAFFS. Please follow on Twitter or Facebook today, and the book will be out first thing in 2020!

You say you’ve seen seven wonders, and your bird can sing…!

Home Springs Eternal

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

HAPPY FOLKLORE THURSDAY, HOMELY FOLKIES!

First of all – our website has been updated with the latest season of blogs from here, and if you check out the media player, you’ll also find Brother Bernard’s appearance on Cerys Matthews’ 6music show available for a cosy listen! Just click HERE for loads of folkloric goodness.

And now, still off-theme, a note away from home! Monday was our first ever London show – complete with Dick Whittington finale, performing a tale set only a short stroll away from our venue, The Owl & Hitchhiker! It wasn’t a huge crowd, but a very friendly and enthusiastic one, and both Brother Bernard and Sister Sal (Kate Harbour) hope it won’t be our last! There is an imminent chance to make up for missing the show, though – we’re back on HOME turf next Saturday at noon, kicking off the Bath Comedy Festival 2019 with our Bath book launch!

These two shows were for pledgers to claim their pledge rewards as VIPs – but we’re not sure how many of those who pledged for this level have actually turned up! Unbound have warned us that with all their books, the majority of pledge rewards remain unclaimed, once the book is out, as folk forget what they pledged for! Nonetheless, our offer to write a special personalised folktale has been claimed and is in the works, and we’re happy to hear from anyone expecting their paid-for rewards – are you the person who paid to come to Bath and hear the legend of the founding of the city by Prince Bladud in the actual fields of Swainswick, where the tale is based? Get in touch if so, we’re still up for it!

Bath’s founding legend wasn’t the very first story we told of these 77 (or 82 if you include further tales not in the book), but may be the one we have performed the most, and we kicked off the London show with it. Living in this astonishing city undoubtedly helped form the campaign we are still fighting, to celebrate Britain’s folklore in the places where the stories took root, so swamped with myth and mystery stretching back millennia is this bit of Somerset. If a career in the publishing industry had taken your author to, say, Birmingham or Chiswick, maybe the absence of any full British folktale collection would not have become so apparent. But in these ancient legendary hills, we’re surrounded by stories, inescapably, and we’re proud to share our own main legend with the world.

Not that we really believe a historical Bladud was the father of King Leir, or that he tried to fly from a tower in London with man-made wings, but the idea that there may well have been a Bronze or Iron Age leader who founded a settlement around the hot bubbly spa waters here in NE Somerset – and who may indeed have herded pigs, and may have had a rather nasty skin condition healed by the waters – played a huge part in establishing this warm, deep feeling that many of our stories have some original basis in reality. And to Hades with those academics who reduce all stories down to thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and deny any historicity in any of our celebrated so-called ‘mythical’ figures! There’s no fun in that, and we’re here for the FUN.

This is Bath’s home legend anyway, but if you take a look at our LIVE page, you will see that we love performing in YOUR hometown too, and maybe even your own local legends! Get in touch via Twitter or however you like, to have BB or both BB and SS rock up to your place for a storytelling show, we’d love to visit, and sharing these tales is what it’s all about.

Finally, we’ve heard some lovely things about the book from some of you already, but please do remember that online reviews for Amazon and Goodreads and suchlike really do make all the difference to a book’s success. We’re a bit cheesed off that our first two print runs have been so very cautiously tiny (still not even 1,000 books printed!) but the more folk share their positivity and perhaps even ask shops to stock copies, the more celebrated our national treasury of tales will be! Now the book is out, we’re not sure how long we will keep up this Unbound blog (don’t worry, we won’t miss a Folklore Thursday, but migration may be necessary soon), not least as we get no alerts when someone comments, and we only just noticed this lovely message from Lesley Cookman, which has made our day:

Thank you, Lesley. So please keep that feedback coming! And see you right here in Bath on Saturday at noon, when we will offer you a warm welcome you to our home turf!

TALES OF BRITAIN: Winter 2019

Rhymes Of Britain

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Happy musical Folklore Thursday! Only four days to our first ever London show – and nine to our Bath book launch! We dearly hope to see you at one of them if you’re anywhere near the bottom half of this island…

We should just take a moment to tell anyone reading who’s either awaiting a cpy of Tales of Britain, you can order one here, as this book is needed all over the world, you won’t find anything like it anywhere else! If a child in Mexico loves, say, Robin Hood, and they want to know more about the folklore of this isle… they will now know where to come.

Anyway, as today’s theme is rhyme and music, let’s talk about something which you WON’T find in our lovely book: Nursery Rhymes, and Tradition Song. For a long time it was part of the plan to include the regional rhymes from Britain which have become world famous, sources of pride for many corners of Britain. Right here in Bath, when it comes to rock and folk, we have the twin hills of Kelston Roundhill (produced by George Martin, no less!) and Solsbury Hill, but in the more traditonal stakes, there’s all sorts of Robert Burns tunes in SW Scotland, Wales is the land of the bards of course, and then there’s the historical basis for Jack Horner in Mells, Somerset, and there’s London Bridge falling down, while Gloucester and Colchester fight over whether Humpty Dumpty was originally a war machine of some kind in their own city’s history.

But a favourite such rhyme of ours is JACK AND JILL – mainly because the most pleasing basis for that rhyme is a bike ride away from where this blog is being typed out right now. Perhaps, like so many touristy claims, such as Glastonbury’s Arthurian burial place, there’s no real solid evidence that the idea that the well-loved verse began here, but certainly the Kilmersdon claim to Jack & Jill does fit the pattern of Children’s Nursery Rhymes having truly horrific historical inspirations. 

According to some reports, Jack was a Kilmersdon local, an expectant father who went up a hill in the 17th century to draw water from the local well, and was crushed by a falling boulder – when news reached his wife Jill that he was dead, she went into labour, and died just after the birth of a son. To this day, the surname Gilson remains popular in the area, and is traced back to this event. Nice. And no mention of vinegar or brown paper. 

If Tales of Britain does well enough (and is printed in suitably large amounts!), we do hope one day to provide a hugely expanded deluxe illustrated edition in a few years, and including these rhymes would definitely be part of that re-release. BUT! That will not be for a good few years, and 77 exciting stories have just been published this month, so that’s no reason not to go out and ask about Tales of Britain in your local indie bookshop, to tell your friends, and to buy copies right now – the better we do with this first ever release, the more editions of all kinds there will be in decades to come, and packed with rhymes and songs they will be!

Let the campaign continue… See you LIVE next week! We promise not to sing.

Saint Necessarily So

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday! Have you made your plans to come to our BIG EXCITING BOOK LAUNCHES in LONDON and BATH yet? Brother Bernard and Sister Sal can’t wait to see you there!

Just a brief blog this week, as stories of those Christian oddballs some call SAINTS are one of the things we have largely avoided in the book. From our own experiences wading through books of British lore, amid all the ghost stories and big black spectral hounds and identikit narratives, there are just too many stories of ‘saints’, in every corner of the country, and they’re nearly all along the same lines – the usual stuff, some believer in the new religion is being chased by pagans, their head gets cut off, a sacred spring appears, blah blah blah. With some exceptions, it’s generally uninspiring stuff invented to cover up the desecration of existing communities in the name of the trendy Christ-based religion which took hold in Britain from the mid-first millennium to…, well, sometime before now. Tales of Britain is partly about peeling away all the Christian and Puritan distortion in our national treasury of folklore, so we’re promoting saintless stories as much as possible, making it clear that Britain has had its own culture and lore long before Rome even invaded Judea, let alone the invention of the Christianity business.

And yet, despite all this, our one and only saint-based story has always hidden in plain sight, as the one excerpt given to the world long before the book was in shops – CADOC & THE MOUSE. Thankfully this tale is specifically about Cadoc’s intelligence and dislike of bad teaching, and so is anything but a typical ‘saint’ story. We also enjoyed giving the tale a go on Cerys Matthews’ 6music show the other week!

Coed Fenni Fach, site of the mysterious grain store Cadoc’s mouse friend uncovered…

There is also our Xmas story surrounding St Augustine, THE LAST YULE, but A) That’s not in this edition of the book, and B) It’s not Xmas, so never mind, eh?

We dearly hope you’re enjoying the book, please do remember that online reviews really help further our campaign – and if you’re ever near a bookshop, do take a moment to ask if they have it – if the answer is now, any decent bookshop ownder will rapidly order some in if they only know the book exists. This is up to all of us… we can bring British folktales back to life again, together!

See you a week next Monday, or a fortnight Saturday…?

Standing On The Shoulders of Giantesses…

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

… If you’ll forgive the gendered term. Still, HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY and INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY EVERYONE! First of all, THANK YOU so much for sharing your excitements at the arrival of the book at last, perfect timing for such an auspicious day, please do keep them coming!

Today Brother Bernard is off at the Merlin Theatre in Frome entertaining the Year 9s and 10s of Frome School – he was supposed to do it last year too, but the Beast From The East prevented that, so he did this instead. By the way, this is a first for TALES OF BRITAIN, but if you’d like a Tales of Britain show at your school, college, organisation – get in touch and we’ll see what can be worked out!

As today’s theme aligns itself with International Women’s Day, we could point you towards last year’s blog, complete with our Disney Princess-trouncing TALES OF BRITAIN PRINCESSES…

But the theme does allow us to hopefully clear up some slight irksomeness, this topic of what’s available in the line of British Folktales. The thing is, when interviewed on radio, often you run out fo time to fully express yourself, and we’ve been left feeling definitely antsy about the claim that Tales of Britain is ‘the first British folktale collection in decades’. The backstory to this project is utterly sincere – it came about because we wanted to buy a collection of British folktales for nephews, thinking we’d have our choice of several, and our researches at the time (over a decade ago) turned up very very little, astonishingly so, and that’s what triggered this whole massive campaign!

This has changed a little over the ensuing years, and although a ‘mea culpa’ would be going too far, we’d hate to feel others’ entries in this very slim genre of publishing weren’t given their full credit. When it comes to British folkLORE studies, we’ve been hugely gratified to have the backing of Professor Carolyne Larrington, for a start, her book ‘The Land of the Green Man’ is a must-read for lovers of lore. And we already pointed you towards Dee Dee Chainey’s excellent British Lore book in our Folklore Thursday article.

But when it comes to actual stories, above all, of course, we’re talking about the true Grand Dame, Mother Goose of British Folktales, KATHARINE BRIGGS. 

Before she died in 1980, Briggs compiled the ultimate, exhaustive collection of traditionally told, raw British folktales, and although we never referred to this collection in creating our book, any of us working and playing in this area have a lot to thank her for. Her collections are now available in achingly beautifully illustrated form, courtesy of Peter Firmin, plus his daughter Hannah Firmin and Clare Melinsky. But the problem is, you will not find this Folio Society collection anywhere for less than £50. This was the only option we could find in print when we looked (although then it was £200), and that’s really what inspired us to spend so many years fighting this campaign (and that campaign will continue for years to come).

We thought we’d be choosing from at least half a dozen authoritative British folktale collections, but besides small out-of-print squibs, that tempting but terribly expensive option seemed to be it. 

Since building up this campaign on Unbound, however, other books have started to rustle out of the foliage, and make any grand claims to uniqueness harder to make. In truth, some might see it as an eccentric move to highlight these other books so soon after our own launch, but that’s just the kind of lovely storytellers we are. This is now taking us away from the International Woman’s Day theme, but the History Press worried us with the release of a book called ‘Ballad Tales’, but as the name suggests, that was specifically centred on ballads, not stories. Two great authors, the late Robert Nye and the revered Alan Garner, both published their own selected British folktale retellings, but having read both books, they are HIGHLY selective, in Garner’s case the choices utterly obscure, and neither writer had any intention of creating a full, representative anthology. Lots of authors do ‘THEIR’ retellings, as per Gaiman’s Norse and Fry’s Greek tales, and Garner’s voice is a powerful thing, but his collection is a definite personal choice of lore, unlike Tales of Britain in every meaningful way.

However, the most recent shock came from a book called ‘Between Worlds’ by seasoned folklorist Kevin Crossley-Holland, who has spent his life retelling folktales from all over. We haven’t yet read this collection, which stole a march on us by coming out last autumn, when our book was also originally meant to be published. When reminded to look forit in bookshops, in all honesty, that title, ‘Between Worlds’, keeps slipping our memories, and by calling this collection of 50 stories from Britain AND Ireland (we feel Ireland is too complex to slot into our collection, such a distinct land of lore deserves its own book) ‘Between Worlds’, it feels like Crossley-Holland has created another personal collection of favourites, just like Garner and Gaiman and co, without our intention of covering the land with tourist guides, rebooting public interest in folktales, having the maximum fun with it all and serving the widest audience inclusively, providing an all-new British folktale treasury for all.

We can’t wait to read ‘Between Worlds’ though, and we know an earlier collection of similar tales was written by the great man, so what we’re saying is, if word got back to Mr Crossley-Holland that this upstart Brother Bernard had been claiming Tales of Britain was the ONLY British folktale collection on the shelves, that would frankly break our hearts, and we want to spell out now that no disrespect to any other storytellers would ever be intended… but this is what happens when you spend 15 years working on a project, the landscape shifts as you work away. 

So what it really comes down to is, what defines our book? Four things – the intent to provide the most full collection of tales from this island imaginable (we have 77 without Ireland), the way that each story is tied to the landscape and offers tourist guides (with handy links), the way each tale has been fine-tuned for the 21st century, tastefully clearing away centuries of bigotry and distortion and making them suitable for all audiences today, and above all, HAVING A LAUGH. Folklore seems to be taken so very seriously at every turn, it’s seen more as an academic subject than a branch of entertainment, we want to turn all kinds of folk on to these stories, folk who would run a mile at the idea of the usual folkloric fare, we want them to be bedazzled, and have fun, both reading the book and attending our live shows (see you at The Owl & Hitchhiker on the 15th, and/or Widcombe Social Club on the 30th!).

The mysterious Brother Bernard is here because Tales of Britain isn’t simply one author’s British folktale book, but it’s been designed to please as many people as possible, like The Simpsons or a Pixar movie, giving our national treasury hopefully more of a chance to shine than ever before, and who retells them is immaterial. Just enjoy the tales, afresh, with confidence.

Speaking of which, it’s time to race to Frome for a World Book Day packed with folktales fresh off the printers! Have a very happy one, and International Women’s Day, and enjoy a tale or two!

Lesley Cookman says:

I’m loving the book – there are lots of laugh out loud moments which are greatly appreciated. As an erstwhile panto-scribe (and performer and director) it appeals greatly to me, and as a current novelist it’s going to be terrific for plot-plundering. Thank you!

A Traveller’s Tale

Monday, 4 March 2019

Happy Monday, Tales-lovers, from the Travellers’ Tavern next to Victoria Coach Station; consider this a telegram en route home, March is a ricochet of Bath-London and back from here on in…

If you missed our gorgeous chat with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6music yesterday morning, it’s on Listen Again here, and will be uploaded to talesofbritain.com when it drops off the iPlayer. 

It was a nerve-wracking early start on a Sunday, but thankfully all nerves were dissolved by the warmth of Cerys and her team – having had her support in funding the book, it was a real treat to finally connect in person and see that she really did enjoy what we’re up to. Not least as, if each of our 77 tales could be individually dedicated to anyone, our version of Rhiannon would be dedicated to Cerys, being wholly in debt to her must-watch documentary on The Mabinogion from a few years back. Over twenty years of loving Catatonia also puts us forever in her debt anyway.

Speaking of anyways, let’s have another anyway – anyway, those who did tune in would have heard that the conundrum of our LONDON LAUNCH FOR PLEDGERS has finally been cracked thanks to a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy connection, which led us to THE OWL & HITCHHIKER on the Holloway Road – quite a yomp from Dick Whittington’s Cat in Islington, but near enough for our first ever show in the capital to resonate. Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will be there with live stories from every corner of the British island…

It’s a fun family show, so the only drawback is that no little ones are allowed in after 7.30, but otherwise we’re really hoping to get a good crowd together for an hour of tales to kick the book off in style. Those who specifically pledged for our London Launch show, we really hope the 25th at 7.30 in London N7 works for you. Only five days later, 12pm on the 30th in Widcombe, we will be kicking off the Bath Comedy Festival, so there is a second option for you. And loads more options to come, hopefully, from Ludlow to Edinburgh fringes, festivals to be announced, and… well, get in touch if you want to be added to our LIVE PAGE!

Non-pledgers are of course also welcome, the more the merrier, but please buy a book and make a donation if you can… just to help us out with, guess what… Travel.

Stop.

PUBLICATION DAY! The Journey Continues…

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A very happy and auspicious FOLKLORE THURSDAY to you all!

We would say who needs a theme this week, when, after 15 years of very hard work, of dreaming and hoping, this week TALES OF BRITAIN FINALLY ARRIVED ON OUR DOORSTEP!? But thank you to Folklore Thursday for such a perfect theme, of TRAVEL AND JOURNEYS, as suggested by our recent article for the Folklore Thursday website

We have indeed travelled a very long and bumpy journey, but do not think that the arrival of these books in shops and on shelves all over the world is the END of it! This campaign marches on, our TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE shows will run forever, we hope (though currently struggling to find performing spaces in Wales and Scotland – GET IN TOUCH if you can help!), and we can bring our storytelling fun to you wherever you are, in the UK or elsewhere, as long as travel/accommodation is taken care of, we will do all we can to journey to your venue, festival, fete, school, or wherever!

But all that said, after 15 years of dreaming, of course it’s a joy to hold these books in ourhands at last. These paperbacks are beautiful things, 365 pages of refreshed folktales from Land’s End to John O’Groats, with little tourist guides for the location of every story. True, it may not yet have lavish illustrations and full-colour maps, but that’s a dream for a future year – for now, it’s enough to have fulfilled our mission, to fill this criminal, ridiculous gap in the world’s bookshops and libraries with a book which doesn’t just regurgitate the same old stories, but which brings them back to life for a new century. These tales are for sharing, and the books are packed with so much to share.

78 copies to sign and send on to pledgers – best get stuck into it, Brother Bernard!

You won’t find TALES OF BRITAIN at the Tesco’s checkouts, we’re afraid, but besides buying online, you can go to your nearest bookshop now and ask about TALES OF BRITAIN! If it’s a big chain like Waterstones or WH Smiths, they will need to order them in – in which case, PLEASE DO ASK! The more shops know about this release, the more will stock copies, because there really isn’t anything else like this out there, and no self-respecting bookshop should be seen dead without an exhaustive collection of British folktales! Indie bookshops will hopefully have them in, and we have been BEGGING The Powers That Be Unbound to see the blatant logic for getting them in garden centres, tourist offices and travel shops – service stations and the like. This is where they will fly off the shelves, and deservedly so. Again, maybe ask for them in your nearest shop of that kind, and it may all snowball from there…!

We told the publisher it should be DEE DEE not just DEE! So sorry, Dee Dee!

There’s so many people to thank for their belief and help to make this book a reality, but we don’t want to end up sounding like Olivia Colman (we’d happily blow textual raspberries at the odd misanthrope, but let’s not get too Father Ted), and your names are probably in the book either as pledgers or as specially thanked in the Acknowledgements.

Next, besides publicising the book – and BLIMEY Brother Bernard will be chatting to our lovely supporter Cerys Matthews on BBC 6Music this Sunday morning at 10AM, and then a long interview on FROME FM at 12 noon the same day! – we really must get on and organise an audio version. If anyone out there can help us organise a platform, if not a recording and the whole shebang, we think this could be an awesome pillar of the TALES OF BRITAIN campaign, well worth getting involved with.

And of course the live tours continue – sadly we have been terribly messed around by venues for the London launch which some of you have so kindly pledged for; it was to be on the 12th March, but we’re waiting for the happy ending to emerge on that score. LONDONERS! Do you know of any free performing spaces in London, a nice friendly pub who’d be proud to host the launch of the first comprehensive British folktale collection in decades? Please get in touch, we’d love to get this wonderful show locked in for you all to enjoy. 

In the meantime, Sister Sal will be joining Brother Bernard to kick off THE BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL on Saturday 30th March, and books will be available on the day!

As for other pledges, it will be tricky to find a perfect time which suits everyone who pledged to come and hear the legend of Bladud retold in the real meadows where the story is based here in Bath, but if you email us hopefully we can find a way to make it work. And Bernard is already at work on a special folktale just for one lucky pledger! Besides signing copies like mad…

But for now – please just enjoy these very silly, anarchic, updated British folktales, and if you do, please do let the Internet know in the usual places, a good word on Amazon and/or Goodreads could mean more people get to have the pleasure of diving into our all-new national treasury, on your recommendation! SHARE AND ENJOY, and READ BRITANNIA!

Wayland the Smith, And Other Artists

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, to all our fellow ARTISTS!


How exciting! Our book is headed from the printers right into our open arms, a work of art which has taken us up to 15 years to make a reality, with your kind help!

Crucially, some of you pledged good money for extra perks, and we need to hear from you ASAP about how we can honour those promises to you. We’re particularly keen to arrange the LONDON LAUNCH, where Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will perform an hour of stories exclusively for you, but we just need to arrange a time and place where pledgers from all over the UK can make it to the capital and enjoy the entertainment. And time is very short, so any issues, PLEASE get in touch and let us know! 

We have been blogging for so long, trying to crowdfund this collection of 77 British folktales with tourist guides, that the themes have started to come round again, and we have a few crafty tales which suit the artistic theme – the North Country giant Wade & Bell who crated much of the scenery around Whitby, for a start, the writing artistry of Chaucer and Robert Henryson, perhaps even the artistry of that little spider spied by Robert the Bruce! And of course, there’s the great intricate metalwork of the great Norse God Wayland, who keeps his smithy in Oxfordshire – see above – and in our story, fails to train his naughty apprentice Flibbertigibbet…

As for our own artistic endeavours, some of you will swiftly notice when you get our book in your hands that although the treasury is bountiful and gorgeous, some of our original hopes and plans for Tales of Britain’s design have simply not been possible to put into practice. The reason for this is simply that our crowdfunding did not extend to paying an illustrator or designer to take our rough designs and make them happen, this time round. Even though we provided icons for every single story, plus maps complete with grid references, as part of the original plan to make this a road atlas of stories, we’re NOT artists, and so the full elements that make up the road atlas/holiday brochure concept would have required reworking by more talented professionals…

The editor only retained one element of the design – the Tale Key which we mentioned LAST WEEK, which we came up with as a scheme to show the reader at a glance whether certain stories were suited to their intended audience. Sharing these retellings aloud with all ages is a crucial part of why this book is being published, and so we hoped that little icons to show if a story has slightly adult themes and so on might be a handy way of ensuring that minimum embarrassment is caused if you start the wrong kind of story for a nursery group!

We really hope that this remnant of our intended design doesn’t seem incongruous on its own now – in years to come, there are plans to release further editions, follow-ups, extra volumes and deluxe reprints, which will restore all the wonderful original design concepts, but after so long, we’re just so glad to get these STORIES to you, words to share and enjoy, and we’re proud of every last one of them. Words are our most important artistic tools, after all…

SO NEAR AND YET SO NEAR! One more Folklore Thursday to publication!

Tristan 4 Isolde 4eva

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

A very LOVELY Folklore Thursday to you all, this Valentines!

The usual FT crew may be taking the day off, but we can at least give you a very crucial update – a week after a horrifying false alarm when Amazon messed up its setting on our eBook, so it looked like the book was cancelled… we can finally reveal that, despite some over-ambitious early release date teasing beyond our control, and all sorts of publisher woes which slowed down the crossing of T’s and dotting of I’s…

TALES OF BRITAIN IS FINALLY WITH THE PRINTERS RIGHT NOW!

Yes, we have been told to expect physical copies in our hands by the 20-somethingth of February, and will consider March the release date – we’ll be chatting with the wonderful Cerys Matthews on 6music 10.30am on Sunday 3rd March! And to her, and indeed all our other supporters, what can we send this Valentines Thursday but ALL OUR LOVE…

We still need to do everything we can to arrange interviews and publicity in print and on air, so please get in touch if you want to talk British folklore in any arena. And we’re booking up our festival appearances and storytelling shows all over the UK right now too, so do email bernard@talesofbritain.com or jem@jemroberts.com if you would like a storytelling experience in your neck of the woods, tailored to your region!

We’ll take a closer look at how the book has evolved next week, but for this special lovey-dovery Folklore Thursday, we bring you Brother Bernard wandering around the Dark Age walled garden (okay, medieval, but how about some willing suspension of disbelief?) at Tintagel Castle in Kernow, where Tristan and Isolde were said to have had their midnight trysts away from the jealous eyes of King Mark.

Not that the two future Wagner stars are the only lovers in Tales of Britain, not by a sizeable chalk. As you can see from this sneaky peek at our TALE KEY, we have both sexy elements and heartbreak in numerous stories. The Tale Key is an eccentric addition, we know, but as we wanted the book to be suitable to share with everyone, we thought it might be neat to include indicators of whether certain tales are suitable for wee ones, and so on, as part of the tourist guides. Each story is intended to have a full info box, halfway between a holiday brochure and a road atlas, and although our budget means we haven’t been able to fully put these boxes together, the icons remain as a handy story selection aid. We’ll explore this more in coming weeks!

As for the book’s lovey-dovey quota, there’s Janet and Tam Lin debating whether to keep their lovechild, Rhiannon and Pwyll trying their best to get married against the odds, the saucy mermaid who lures a Welsh Prince to her bed, while the dam cracks open and floods Cantre’r Gwaelod, plus the other Mermaid of Zennor, running away under the waves with Matthew Trewella, and there’s the courtship of Dick Whittington and Maria Fitzherbert – not to mention Robin and Marian, and the marital woes of Arthur and Guinevere… love is certainly all around in our 77 tales. And heartbreak.

Tristan & Isolde is of course one of the world’s greatest love couplings however, and with a definite place to go and visit as part of any kind of romantic folky outing. Tintangel’s love garden is not so romantic on your own, of course, but it’s as gooey as we get, so all we’ll say for now is HAPPY VALENTINES – your present is on its way…!

Tales of… Where Next?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Happy Worldwide Folklore Thursday, pledgers!

Well, we had a bit of a wobbly day yesterday when emails went out suggesting that our eBook had been cancelled, but thankfully it turned out to be just an Amazon blip. We do so hope that’s the last negative tremor we feel, and that the book’s release will now forge ahead without a hitch. Not least as we’ve already been on TalkRadio and BBC Shropshire assuring listeners the book is imminent! You can hear the latest chats on our media player HERE. And we’ll be announcing our 6music meet-up with our wonderful supporter Cerys Matthews soon!

And further, very proud to have written an extended article for Folklore Thursday once again, please give it the once-over: A LONG EXPECTED JOURNEY all mapped out for you.

Anyway, as we were asked by Jim Hawkins on BBC Shropshire, what happens next, with the book finally out? Well first of all, of course, we hope folk enjoy this release! And we’ve spoken at length about so many aspects of this book – the tourist guide stuff, the way in which we retell stories with dodgy bigoted morals, the way our national treasury proves we’re all immigrants… but what we’re worried keeps getting lost amidst all this is just how FUN, DAFT and ENTERTAINING we’ve aimed to be, such a rare thing with folklore. Please don’t get us wrong, we obviously love a bit of incense and an olde worlde voice of folkiness as much as anybody, but folklore can comprise so many styles and approaches, and we just feel, any time we pick up a collection of folktales, that there is a kind of standard style which is… well, a combination of dry, and wet, and tiresomely archaic. Flowery. Even the best writers, when working within the realm of folklore, often seem to start writing as if they were Terry Gilliam’s Bridge of Death keeper in Holy Grail, it’s the kind of thing which does turn some readers off, keeping folklore somewhat ghettoised as a crusty interest. We’ve spoofed that cobwebbed old style here and there, but ultimately what we’re doing here is trying to bring these dusty legends back to life – we want them fizzy, surprising, laugh-out-loud… in fact, as we’ve stressed from our very first blog, our number one hero here is THE RIK…

…And equally, his scriptwriter, Anthony Horowitz, with a big dollop of Anthony Minghella’s The Storyteller for Jim Henson, a dash of Sir Tony Robinson’s frenetic enthusiasm, and of course, a loving dollop of Terry Jones’ anarchic fairytale-telling – our book is devoted to Terry.

And so, returning to the worldwide theme, if this approach wins fans, we hope to continue telling tales in this vein until we drop down dead! There are of course many many more British tales to collect and squeeze in to further volumes (there’s been five more written since the book was handed in), but then what about travelling further afield? There were so many exciting tales we uncovered, only to realise they were Irish, not British, and we can’t wait to reward ourselves the licence to start retelling those (especially that one we were once told about the transsexual saint, but we’ve forgotten their name!). And then what about Tales of America? (Johnny Appleseed would be great fun for a start!) Tales of Europe? (Tricky, because there’d be so much to squeeze in, all those Grimm tales and so on… but we could pick the best.) Tales of Australia? (Would it be cultural appropriation to retell Aborigine tales, or a celebration of a unique mythology?) 

We truly hope this first edition of Tales of Britain is just the very start of a long and wonderful treasury of anarchic, daft and exciting 21st century retellings of ancient legends, from all over the world. We’re hoping to devote the rest of our lives to doing this, living by our storytelling – but just as long as what we’ve done so far touches a chord, as our live shows seem to suggest they do, and that folk enjoy our way with dusty old stories. See you on the road…

77 Stories To Rule Them All…

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, and happy National Storytelling Week to boot, Tale-lovers! You want to discuss folktales? We have 77 to choose from, each with tourist guides! Who else can claim that this story-steeped Thursday? The question is, which to start with? The familiar famed folklore of Robin Hood, King Arthur, Jack or Godiva? Or the stories which deserve more love, like Molly Whuppie, Bran the Blessed, Jack O’Kent and co? The British treasury of tales offers an embarrassment of riches…

CAN YOU HELP? We’re keen to find any and every suitable platform we can to discuss the many many different facets of the Tales of Britain campaign! Last week, we had a late-night feature on Talk Radio (now on our media player on www.TalesofBritain.com) and this morning we had a glorious chat with Jim Hawkins on BBC Radio Shropshire! Check out Thursday 10.10am-ish for Listen Again. This is all a wee bit early for listeners to grab the book, but at least they can pre-order both online and in shops, and get this wonderful story ball rolling! 

We were also chuffed to talk TOB on popular ghosty podcast THE SPOOKTATOR, interviewed at the British Library, no less! Oh, and fingers crossed we’ll have good news about our interview with CERYS MATTHEWS SOON! But in the meantime, please get in touch for any coverage you can offer, we love to talk folktales…

To celebrate National Storytelling week, as it’s a bit chilly out, above we’ve also attached the video of our version of nasty Welsh story ‘VENGEANCE WILL COME’ which we performed in the snow 10 months ago, when our World Book Day event in Frome was cancelled by the cold. It’s not a great recording – speakers pushed up to the max! – but we nearly caught pneumonia doing it, so make it worth our while…

These wonderful story-based themes we’re getting each Folklore Thursday are all perfect for us to officially launch TALES OF BRITAIN as a real, purchasable book in shops all over the world! Sadly, the release date Unbound originally set us in mis-January has slipped and slipped – last we checked Amazon said the book is available today, but we haven’t had our own copies yet… Though here is a sneaky peek at a page from the current build of the manuscript…

HOWEVER, do not fret, dear pledgers! We know it’s frustrating when you just want to get stuck into reading the book, but we do at least now know what has happened – the book’s editor over in London has been in and out of hospital this year, and so the finishing touches of the manuscript have simply not been added, and once they are (and we still need to give them the final OK before printers start to roll), we’ll be looking at a week or two before the printed books are likely to be plopping onto doormats, perhaps a bit less for eBooks to be downloadable.

We’re all really sorry for the delay, obviously and sincerely, but this is such a weird time of year to publish a book anyway, mid-February would always have been as good as mid-January to us after 15 years of waiting! And at least we now know exactly what’s going on – and of course, I’m sure you all join us in wishing the editor’s family the very best at this difficult time!

Raising awareness is so much harder than telling stories, but we’ll keep at it, and in the meantime, to keep you going, here’s a few non-Xmassy tales, both in and not in the eventual book, which we’ve shared over the years: AVALONROBIN’S ARROW and CADOC & THE MOUSE!

Enjoy, and share, all the stories you can, and before long, you will have 77 more to immerse yourselves in!

The Gift Horse: You Know What They Say…

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

HAPPY PLANT-PACKED FOLKLORE THURSDAY!

Those of you keeping a close eye on the release date for our book may be wondering what’s happening on this delayed day of release and celebration – hold tight, we’re sure the clouds will clear soon! This has been such a long and painful journey, but we’re so close! At the time of writing, Amazon is showing NEXT Thursday… so let’s keep everything crossed!

We would use a popular saying to explain our disinclination to fuss too much over the details of what’s happening at this very late stage of the book’s publication, we’re just so glad to finally make the book a reality. That typed, seeing as we really have all worked so insanely hard and for so long to put a British folktale collection on shelves at last, the publication of TALES OF BRITAIN is ANYTHING but a ‘gift horse’! Nonetheless, the Jersey tale of The Gift Horse is a fitting story for this week’s Folklore Thursday theme of PLANTS, as it’s the one tale of our 77 which centres on that most magical of tree parasites, MISTLETOE. 

From Christmas kisses to druidical mysteries, mistletoe’s significance to folklore has never been anything but a series of guesses, from generation to generation, and although evidence of the berry has been found in ritualistic killings and whatnot, we really have dropped the ball somewhere along the line as to how the plant functioned as part of our pre-Christian society. All we really know is that these poisonous bushels which clump themselves on oaks and apple trees every winter somehow MATTERED.

The plant certainly matters in the story of The Gift Horse, which takes place in the Jersey resort of Bonne Nuit, and centres – as we mentioned when last we covered this tale, as part of ‘Island lore’ – on two young lovers whose happiness is threatened when an evil water spirit falls in love with the beautiful woman, and takes the form of a horse to gallop away with his rival, intending to drown him. No version of the legend names the water demon as a Kelpie, which is a more Scottish term – quite a distance from the Channel Islands – and so we have also avoided calling him that. 

Ultimately, of course, the murderous freshwater villain is defeated with a simple bashing around the head with a bunch of mistletoe – donated, with a nod towards the druidic connections, by the hero’s wise old grandfather, Drew. To this day, one of the rocks in Bonne Nuit bay is said to be the petrified water horse, and you can spend many a weird hour on the golden sands trying to identify which one it is.

Sadly we haven’t done this ourselves yet, as we have no money at all, and Jersey’s quite a trip away. But we hope to do so one day, perhaps if enough folk do go out and buy Tales of Britain when it finally does reach shops! Or at least, you know, maybe Weymouth or somewhere. As long as our stories are enjoyed, that’s all that matters – and gift horse gob explorations be blowed.

Hopefully next week will be our big release announcement Folklore Thursday! We’ll be on TalkRadio this evening talking British folklore any which way – tune in if you’re a night owl or nocturnal bird of any kind, or if not, we’ll post it up here as soon as we can!

TALES OF BRITAIN COMING TO YOUR TOWN!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Merry Folklore Thursday! Families, places and communities is the theme? Nothing could more perfectly sum up TALES OF BRITAIN!

However, keen supporters of our campaign may be wondering where our big launch announcement is, as 17th January has been on the Amazon page for our book for a long time… but it looks like the release has been delayed a week. This is such an odd time to release a book, and we’re so fogged as to what’s going on, we’ll be kept on our toes awaiting the book next week. Maybe we’ll get a box on our doorstep before then, maybe it will take longer. When we know, so will you, but we’re sincerely sorry for any delay. 


Keep an eye out for this at your local indie bookshop – and please do ASK FOR IT at Waterstones/WH Smiths so they can order some in!

As mentioned last week, we have a mighty challenge ahead to spread the word about the release of the first full British folktale collection to be released in over 30 years, with limited PR capability – though thank you to Folklore Thursday and others who have offered us articles and some assistance, PLEASE do get in touch on TwitterFacebook or via jem@jemroberts.com if you can join the fight – radio, TV or print, there’s so much to discuss about TALES OF BRITAIN, from the way stories are able to bring the people of this fractured island back together in the face of the Brexit poo-show, to how the old legends can be retold afresh without the old misogyny, racism etc. inherent in much of the old mythology, to of course, just SHARING THE FLIPPING STORIES, and having lots of fun. Because that’s what this is all about, sharing our national lore!

It’s getting on for 15 years since the birth of my first nephew (voice now broken), which inspired me to seek out a folktale collection which covered the whole of the British island… and then discovered that there literally isn’t one in existence, just ruinously expensive leather-bound old collections, localised collections based on the borders drawn on maps by rich white men ca few centuries ago and so on. Nothing for Britain. NOTHING. Since then, there have of course been further folktale collections released, themed in the weirdest ways – plants, horses, you name it, folk have kept on bringing out themed folktale collections, as if there was a healthy array of British folktale collections already on offer, as opposed to NONE.

Well, here we are, so tantalisingly close to holding the real thing in our hands at last. And hopefully, as it’s not a children’s book, but for FAMILIES and FOLKIES of all kinds, my nephew will still find it entertaining when he gets to read it in the coming weeks!


Brother Bernard and Sister Sal ready to blow your lovely minds.

But of course it’s not just about the book – nor the audio version which we’re working on this year – but TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE, which journeyed all around Britain in 2018, from Edinburgh to Abergavenny to Tintagel, usually with Brother Bernard performing alone, but also with the wonderful Kate Harbour (Bob the Builder, Shaun the Sheep) as Sister Sal too. 

As you can see from our tour page, we don’t have a lot lined up for this release year so far. Pledgers can attend a special London launch show, and we’ll create another one for Bath, besides the Bladud walk for which some of you pledged. We’re trying to arrange another Edinburgh Fringe outing, ditto the Ludlow Fringe, and even hopefully Glastonbury in its new guise come the summer. But we want to go further! PLEASE let us know of festivals, fetes and events where Tales of Britain shows will be welcome this year, be it spring, summer or autumn, now we have actual books to offer as well as oral tales, we just can’t wait to fill up our diaries with shows, in all the places where our stories occur, and beyond:

This is a rough version of the story guide which you’ll find in the books – the idea has always been to hopefully have at least one tale within 50 miles of everyone in Britain, so anyone can head out and explore the real places where the legends arguably took place. And we aim to travel all around the island to all these PLACES performing these stories, and more (we’ve written another several since the text was completed for Unbound, and there will be further volumes!), so if you can think of any way to offer us a gig, if we can break even, we’ll be there! 

For all that this Unbound campaign has almost culminated in us having the book on our shelves, this collecting, updating, publishing and performing of ancient folktales is intended to now be a life-long occupation, and this early volume is just the very first step. So PLEASE give us a shout, and let us entertain your COMMUNITIES with these ancient stories, resounding afresh in the 21st century. You won’t regret it.

WORK WORK WORK… HELP!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A VERY MERRY WORKADAY FOLKLORE THURSDAY TO ALL OUR LOVELY SUPPORTERS!

Or, it would be a workaday Thursday, had your author managed to rise from his sickbed by now, but – despite having a gig at THE FLIPPING BRITISH LIBRARY on Sunday, sadly this is one storyteller whose tubes are still full of gunk and nastiness. Wish us well…

Despite this, of course, the work has to go on – and now, with the release of our book so very close, more than ever. We miss tailoring our weekly blogs with a themed story – what would work with WORK? Wayland is a Smithy, of course, Dick Whittington is worked hard as a skullion, the Shrewsbury-hating giant is defeated by a cobbler, and so on. But ultimately, WITH ONE WEEK TO GO UNTIL THIS BOOK IS RELEASED, the work which concerns us is that of Robert Henryson in our tale ‘The Whikey Tree’, or indeed Brother Bernard himself – the hardest job of all in this century, in terms of making a living, the SCRIBE, the poor penniless author…

10 years so far, man and boyish man – not including more than 10 earlier years as a magazine scribe. It never gets any easier. And when it comes to WORK, we’re up to our eyebrows in it as it is. And we do need your help…

Those who have been following this campaign all the way back to its inception in the summer of 2017 (and the entire saga is laid out HERE) will recall that the massive target we were originally given had to be cut down to something more manageable, if this book was ever to be published – and we never quibbled about the reduction to paperback only, nor even the fact that Waterstones and WH Smiths would not automatically stock the book (though we still hope discerning store managers will recognise the unique appeal of this collection and order some in anyway – PLEASE ask your nearest store, if you can). We regret that the lower budget would prevent us from including all the wonderful illustrations we would have liked, these tales deserve some marvellous pictures… But it simply never crossed our minds that the reduction in budget would go so far as to prevent any kind of publicity – we were told this week, ‘There is not allocated PR budget for books on the paperback list’ – so, the upshot is that your faithful scribe, storyteller, author and performer, not only has to double up as crowdfunder, but now also a PR officer and sole publicity wrangler – talk about hard WORK! To this end, we have prepared an all-new press release to send out to… whoever we can:

Does the trick, d’you think?

But we can do so much more, and reach so many more people, if you help us – have a think, do you know of a good place to spread the word? Are you – or are you pals with – a TV or radio producer or paper/magazine editor looking for some truly fascinating (please forgive the use of the following word) CONTENT, which effortlessly ties in to the constant blabbering about Brexit, and national identity? We believe that celebrating our ancient national treasury of stories CAN bring this fractured country back together – and in addition, our stories make every effort to present our stories for a new generation, with greater gender parity, a recognition of the crucial role of immigration in creating Britain, and so on. There’s so much to talk about, and it’s great stuff be it on air, on TV or in print. Get in touch, and let’s talk.

Or would you just like some stories shared as part of a special local celebration? We are lining up shows at festivals in The Netherlands, at this year’s Glastonbury, as well as regular spots at dear old Ludlow Fringe and beyond. If you can help with travel/accommodation, we will consider all kinds of events, no matter where. Please let us know!

Plus of course, we have all your kind pledges to honour – there’ll be a London launch show, the same in Bath, plus promises of exclusive stories, tours around Bladud’s Bath and more. Do get in touch if you pledged for any of these treats, and would like to arrange fruition of the pledge!

Okay. The book will be downloadable one week from now, as well as available to order in paperback online and (we hope) in the more discerning bookshops of Britain and beyond. We keep begging that the book is distributed to the right shops – garden centres and tourist offices are particularly perfect for a road atlas of legends like this. 

So much hard WORK has got us this far, after so many years. And so much hard WORK lies before us, to help folk know what pleasures await them in Tales of Britain’s pages! But, lest we have a WORK-related nervous breakdown, I think we can all take a moment to congratulate ourselves, simply on helping to make this, the first full treasury of British folktales to be published in generations, actually exist. There’s nothing else remotely like it out there, and maybe, just maybe, that should be enough. Whenever anyone, from any area of Earth, fancies finding out about British folktales, a quick search online will now bring up our book quite prominently, and they now have a one-stop source of the finest stories Britain has produced. Which is all we wanted in the first place, and why we had to start this epic campaign 15 years ago, when we discovered there was no such book in existence.

Hard work sometimes pays off. Well done, everybody. Now – HELP SPREAD THE WORD!

FIRST FOOTING!

Thursday, 3 January 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM BROTHER BERNARD, SISTER SAL AND ALL AT TALES OF BRITAIN!

And, for that matter, happy first Folklore Thursday of 2019!

Except… it’s not as happy as we’d like, as your storyteller is currently in bed, in quarantine, with a chest heaving with burning demons and pained spirits. 2019 kicking off with a massive cold is not quite the jolly new beginning we were hoping for, but what can we do but stay in bed, drinking all the liquids, sleeping all the sleep and hoping all the hopes?

We also have this strange book to keep us company – a second hand find called ’Britain Discovered’ from a few decades ago. It’s packed with fascination… but we present here the one spread that covers Britain’s rich folklore.

This is it – one spread, about the same amount of coverage as ‘cotton production’, and considerably less than you’ll find on the subject of war machines. The fact that this tiny map of British lore is packed with stuff which we’ve not covered in our book shows just how ridiculously rich our folk inheritance is… but how long has it been so ill-respected?

To many folk out there, the stories in the British treasury aren’t seen as important, they haven’t given them much thought because they are hidden away, unlike German folklore, which has never gone away! Our own lore has been ghetto-ised, kept dry and worthy and academic, anything but bring the stories back to life for a 21st century audience in a freely enjoyable way. There’s a lot of jealous guarding of folklore, reducing our precious tale treasure to obscurity, where there should be celebration and sharing.

So that’s what we have set out to do, celebrate and share our stories in a brand new way, creating this unique book for you all. For story lovers in Britain and all around the world, of all ages, creeds, shades, genders and heights. And above all, to make it FUN FUN FUN.

It’s too early in the year to know what Unbound have up their sleeve to help us get this word out to the country and the world – we sincerely hope to hear from them soon with a whole big list of radio spots, interviews, articles, and myriad publicity opportunities to help folk know what’s going on. There’s so much to talk about – our tales tell us so much about ourselves, throughout every region and from coast to coast. For any radio producer, podcast maker or magazine editor, it’s the greatest ‘content’ imaginable – Britain has never been in such a mess as it is now since the end of WWII, and we believe that our stories, our shared ancient culture, are one of the key things that can keep us together. ASK US HOW.

If you know of ANY way of helping us spread the word, PLEASE get in touch: bernard@talesofbritain.com – but with only two weeks to go until the official release, we will grab every opportunity we can to help celebrate our national tale collection.

Because 2019 is going to be THE year of British folktales. CELEBRATE WITH US!

SOUPY TWISTS: Fifth and Final Bit

Screenshot 2019-01-18 at 11.08.49.png

42) Soupy Twists, and GOODBYE!

Friday, 18 January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUPY TWISTS LIVE 1

SOUPY TWISTS LIVE 2

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

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

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

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

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

41) Have Yourself A Very Soupy Twistsmas…!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40) Permission To Shout BRAVO…

Friday, 23 November 2018

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

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

Well, quite – FRY & LAURIE… REUNITED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring me lobster on a clean plate.

39) He’s Just A Child Really…

Thursday, 25 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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


(He’s just a kid really)

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

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

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

If you have been, that’s nice.

38) The Ballad of Neddy Muldoon

Friday, 12 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOWZAT?!

37) Soupy Twists LIVE!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See those faces. You can hardly blame them…

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

Thursday, 6 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35) Fry Birthday Fun: MAGIC EYE

Friday, 24 August 2018

Happy 61st, Mr Casilingua!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34) Actual Cocktail Time This Time

Thursday, 2 August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

33) Cocktail Time

Thursday, 5 July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chin chin, anyway…

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

THE INTRO BIT

THE FIRST BIT

THE MAIN BIT

THE LAST BIT

SOUPY TWISTS!

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

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CLUE BIBLE EVOLUTION

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

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

THE TRUE HISTORY EVOLUTION

THE FROOD

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

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

THE FROOD EVOLUTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31) The Jeeves & Wooster Family Tree

Thursday, 10 May 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30) Oh Lordy! It’s…

Friday, 16 February 2018

An oleaginously indulgent Soupy Twists Friday to all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have been, happy weekend.

29) Jolly Well Done, Hugh CBE!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

HAPPY 2018, the year of SOUPY TWISTS!

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

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

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

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

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

28) SOUPY CHRISTMAS AND A TWISTY NEW YEAR!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I BRING YOU THIS MUCH GREETING:

27) HORROR TWISTS: An Unprofessional Blog

Friday, 27 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

©Charles Burns @roving_artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

26) If You Have Ears…

Friday, 29 September 2017

Gorgeous Soupy Twists Fridays to all our lovely backers!

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

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

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

This is what it’s all about.

 

25) Better To Be Sixty & Racy…

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

TALES OF BRITAIN: Autumn 2018

MERRY YULE, AND MARI LWYD!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Happy festive Folklore Thursday everybody!

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

FREE BONUS FOLKTALE: MARI LWYD!

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

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

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

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

Merry Yule,

Brother Bernard xxx

HAPPY YULE! PUBLICATION DAYS AWAY!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Saxon Yule Feast: THE LAST YULE

Thursday, 6 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Redbreast’s Snowy Mission

Thursday, 29 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s… Panto Folklore! Oh Yes It Is.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But: no Krankies.

SEAQUAKE! The Drowning of Cantre’r Gwaelod

Thursday, 15 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community Folk Magic From Tintagel to Edinburgh

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Merry Folklore Thursday, all in our wonderous community!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us bring some folk magic to your community!

Our Hero, TERRY JONES

Thursday, 1st November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Jones is Our Hero.

Black Vaughan’s Revenge: HALLOWEEN TALES!

Thursday, 25 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Afraid: Of THE LAMBTON WORM!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

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

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

©Osweo on DeviantArt

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

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

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

The Exorcism of Jan Tregeagle

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Spooky Folklore Thursday to all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Loch Ness Story

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A monstrously jolly Folklore Thursday to you, pledgers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps even, a famous monster or two…!

Stone Dogs & Dragon Hills in the New Forest

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bath Plug 2018: Rachel Parris

It’s that time of year again!

Previous winners: TERRY JONES, PETER RICHARDSON, BARRY CRYER

Now read on, dot dot dot…

bath_plug_award_rachel_parris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE STRAIGHT MEN LIKE ME…

Happy Mithras, lovelies!

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WHITE STRAIGHT MEN LIKE ME SHOULD STFU – Download HERE.

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

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

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

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

MERRY MITHRAS!

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