Posts Tagged ‘blackadder’

SOUPY TWISTS! First Bit

SOUPYCLICK.jpgDear Madam, or Sir –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUPY TWISTS!

SOUPYCLICK

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THE FROOD: Fit The Fifth

THE FROOD – Fit The Fifth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, will somebody please buy me lunch?

THE FROOD: Fit The Third

A VERY VERY FROODY TOWEL DAY, EVERYONE!

Update on The Frood? To quote Sir Guy, “GETTING IT READY FOR YOU NOW.”

This article made a rather good point yesterday, that Douglas Adams would probably have been more bemused and befuddled by the concept of folk all around the world celebrating his work via bathroom linen than anything else – but then, as we only do it because he’s no longer here, that’s no reason for anyone to hold back, from Innsbruck to Santa Barbara, grab your towel and have a good time…

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The last time I had a pass for this building, I was pitching a show to a Radio 4 producer circa 2001. A callow youth.

The high probability that fans somewhere will still be celebrating this day after we have all joined Adams is a very pleasing thought, but even though last year was the 35th anniversary of Hitchhiker’s first leakage into public consciousness, 2014 has turned out to be a particularly auspicious year for towel-carriers everywhere. Of course, it’s the 35th anniversary of the publication of the novel that turned a cult Radio 4 comedy into an international sensation, but it could well also be the year when that radio titan finally reached its conclusion.

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A thoroughly unprofessional photograph of a thoroughly geektastic experience – being the one audience member for the Hitchhiker Live technical rehearsal.

Returning to probability – or this time, Improbability – what odds would you give? That one year ago I would sit down and begin to write an all-new updated history of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, roughly ten years on from Nick Webb’s previous Official Biography but without any particular anniversary guiding me… And then, within the very last FORTNIGHT of the writing of The Frood, I would find myself in the BBC Radio Theatre watching the ultimate embodiments of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trilian Astra-Mcmillan, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Random Dent, and TWO embodiments of Marvin, taking their quite probably final bows for a brand new live broadcast of the programme that started it all? I still hadn’t quite recovered from the honour of being handed an unproduced Blackadder script by Richard Curtis two years earlier, but this was further off the scale.

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And yes, the Hitchhiker Live experience was made even more exciting by discovering this book in the small BBC shop, one of only three or four titles they were featuring. Still available in all… places.

The other way in which ‘Blackadder In Bethlehem’ was just a taster for the archival treats to come has already been detailed in this blog, but it has deepened since, with my second trip to Cambridge. Sadly no palatial quarters for me this time, I had to find myself thrillingly seedy digs as I documented every last scrap of the private Adams Archive at St. John’s that I could – very hard work, and worth every millisecond.

THE FROOD will now be out this September (pre-order here why don’t you? Have Amazon started paying their bloody tax yet? Apologies if not. Buy it from a proper shop in four months then), and in addition to the teases already teased, I’ve been able to work in whole chapters of a totally different draft of ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ previously believed destroyed, sections from the planned second TV series which never got beyond the rough script stage, and… well, too much to document here. We could only fit the cream of the discoveries into the book! And last time I shot my mouth off in this arena the lovely folk at St. John’s College told me off, and I had to remove images and await rights clearance, so for now, perhaps this Fit should keep shtum.

There will be much more to come at the start of the autumn – including special Hitchhiker events in Cambridge and as the centrepiece of this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival, so keen Froods should keep their eyes non-literally peeled for further information. But if they’re real fans, they will quite probably BURST. Like a Drubber. Sorry, that’s a Hitchhiker reference which will only make sense to you after reading THE FROOD…

Right, I have an afternoon gig at the Spiegeltent as part of the Bath Fringe, and as it’s Towel Day I’ll be ending on ‘So Long & Thanks For All The Fish’, so I’m off to get ready. For now…

WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

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Blackadder & Nicola Bryant: An Annoying Apology

In the early hours, my first indication after 17 months that my brother had read The True History of The Black Adder came with a text, pointing out that, although the great Nicola Bryant had been properly credited in the Appendixes, in the text itself I had passingly called her ‘Nicola Bradbury’. He then went on to talk at length about her cleavage in Doctor Who, of course.

This mistake was made in spite of the fact that I was perfectly aware that her name is Nicola Bryant, had always had as much of a thing for her as any other male or lesbian TV geek, and had never knowingly for any one second thought her name was, would be, or ever could be, Nicola Bradbury. And yet, there the error is, in my original text, totally uncommented on by anyone until this day.

When you consider the immense and painful battles which have been fought over every single tic in the TTHoTBA text at every stage, from composition to paperback and e-Book, the pain of this one single clunker sitting right in the middle of the ultimate version of the text is something which I don’t believe anyone in the world can quite imagine. All that quadruple fact-checking, all that agonising over formatting errors. Nicola Bryant.

Well that’s my weekend greatly marred. Blessed as I am with a head that is emptier than a hermit’s address book…

ImageSorry Nicola.

EDIT: And Craig Charles’ ‘Captain Butler’ was somehow rendered as ‘Captain Blood’. But only Darrell noticed that one…