Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

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!

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SOUPY TWISTS: Fifth and Final Bit

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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!

Rik at 60: Duh-Eh-Ah-Duh

HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY, would have been nice to say, RIK MAYALL!

IMG_1278

When Rik’s final jog spoiled everything back in 2014, I wrote a blog all too soon, and was honoured to also provide a short Flashheart-themed obit for the BBC, but today seems an auspicious occasion to muse a bit more about missing The Late Dr The Rik Mayall.

A third of a decade without the People’s Poet, and still the comedy community kind of tries not to think about it too much. Not for Rik the outpourings of tribute books which marked the loss of his cohort in the Comedy God Pantheon, Peter Cook – I’ve long known that an official biography, a kind of sensible answer to BIGGER THAN HITLER, BETTER THAN CHRIST was in the works, penned by that book’s ghost-writer, but as we shared a publisher, Preface, which has since ceased to be, I’ve no idea what’s happened to it. It must have been finished a year or two ago unless it was abandoned…

IMG_1279

However, perhaps the hero’s closest mourners are now beginning to come to terms with Rik’s loss, and make comedy out of the situation. Posthumorous tributes are always a problematic gig to contemplate (Rik & Ade’s own snide appearance at Cook’s ‘Posthumorous’ tribute show rather ripped the piss out of the whole concept in the first place). It’s over ten years since the loss of David Hatch, for instance, and I still can’t quite believe there never was any kind of charity revue tribute, given the generations of comics he helped to stardom – and ditto Geoffrey Perkins.

But Rik presents an even trickier challenge when it comes to funny tributes, partly because he will always be an irreplaceable performer, so there’s little point in others performing his material – but also because it’s impossible to think of any other comedian whose output so closely went hand in hand with DEATH, from the very first. Extremely dark poor taste humour obsessed with what Rik liked to call duh-eh-ah-thuh can be a spine-chilling thing once its perpetrator has stopped pissing about and actually carked it. You can’t watch any of Rik’s oeuvre without the macabre coming along to rub your nose in it.

Rik Mayall really, really loved death. Just think of Rik’s whole comedy career from start almost to finish – Rik & Ade’s fledgling Edinburgh Show, Death on the Toilet starred Death himself in the first of many appearances, then Kevin Turvey presented his own special investigation into Death…

…His classic 50’s rock and roll number ‘Oh Gosh I’m So Lonely’ is all about death (and The Unrelated Family will be performing a version at this year’s FUNNY NOISES, comedy music fans!), and then where do you even start with The Young Ones? Besides the boys all dying horribly at the end of numerous episodes, Death showing up again as a poor loser in chess, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Rick trying to kill himself with laxatives, etc., etc. The Comic Strip is packed with death, but especially when Rik & Ade were in charge – Mr Jolly goes without saying. What about Alan B’stard, and his famous fake assassination, complete with nightmare zombie dream sequence? Then to be pedantic about it, Mayall’s many acting roles centred on death and murder, from Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis to his knock-out role in Murder Rooms – he even played Dominic De’Ath in In The Red. Bottom – again, Richie and Eddie only survived numerous unquestionably lethal attacks by being human cartoon characters, but Richie was always prone, if not to feign a heart attack Steptoe-style or self-strangulation, then to drop to his knees and beg his peer Jehovah to deliver him from eternal damnation. And right up to the end, the shadow of our eternal finale was forefront in his career, with animation ‘Don’t Fear Death’ being one of his last jobs:

You can just see him now, miming hanging himself, toes scampering on the stage, as he LAUGHS WILDLY IN THE FACE OF DEATH. How do you follow that up once he really has turned to earth? I was going to say that one of the few roles where Rik never snuffed it was Lord Flashheart, but even then, in Back & Forth, his Robin Hood ended up with a hundred arrows thunked into his body. His starring movie vehicle was called DROP DEAD FRED, for fuck’s sake. Name me one comic more obsessed with death. I won’t wait.

The death obsessions will always add an extra layer of complication to any kind of tribute to the brilliant chap. But, it seems like finally his friends are beginning to think about how it can be done, with Nigel Planer recently letting slip that he’s working on a final instalment of The Comic Strip Presents’ ‘Four Men’ films, Three Men & A Funeral, which will surely be anything but in good taste, and perhaps will lay many ghosts for all of them. It seems somehow perverse not to laugh about Rik’s death, because it’s so very clearly what he would have wanted, with the utmost sickness.

I was quite pleased to have possibly planted the tiniest seed of a different anti-tribute too, when I attended the Bristol Slapstick Bad News event with Ade & Nigel back in January – as the bootleg linked there should attest (can’t find the actual moment, sorry – somewhere near the end), I had the thrill of my life when my question triggered the biggest woof of laughter from Ade, and the whole theatre, much to my own surprise (rather annoying way to get one of the biggest laughs of your life, but there we are). In the Q&A section, I posited the idea of new Bad News by saying something along the lines of: ‘Do you ever think about what the Bad News guys are up to now, and dare I ask, would Colin’s death not be more of a boon to the surviving members than a hindrance?’ The huge laugh arrived round about the word ‘boon’, and Ade didn’t wallow too long in the possibilities, but it seems such a crime not to have Vim, Den and Spider reunite to remind themselves just how much they despised Colin. We can only hope.

In the aftermath of his death, it was impossible to think any of these things out loud, because in the forefront was the stunned realisation that THE RIK was a husband, a father, a brother and a son, and even he couldn’t make the reality of sudden death funny. But that huge laugh at the idea of being glad that Colin is dead is a wonderful indicator, that the time has come to slip off the black armband and celebrate Rik in the right spirit.

Without wishing to turn this blog into self-promotion (Moles gig plug aside), Rik does have a crucial role in SOUPY TWISTS, as Stephen’s co-star in Cell Mates, there’s some time spent on the Fry/Mayall partnership… but above all, Rik’s spirit, should such a thing exist, has been constantly on my mind throughout the production of TALES OF BRITAIN, my forthcoming British folklore collection – because I basically wrote all 77 stories for him to perform. Top of my To Do list in early summer 2014 was ‘finally get through to Rik about TOB’. Rik’s Grim Tales was consciously my inspiration from start to finish, and nothing would have been more perfect than to have him present a TV show version. Now that is eternally impossible, I find myself editing the tales for publication, dealing with the copy-editor’s sense-of-humour-failing notes, queries about weird jokes that were written expressly for Rik. And all I can reply to them is, ‘it would be easier to understand in Rik’s voice’. Not all the tales are balls-out daft, some have to be proper tear-jerkers, or genuinely scary – and nobody could zoom from no-limits hilarity to sensitive sincerity with the speed and agility of The Rik Mayall. Maybe I’ll be pilloried when the book comes out for its esoteric blend of anarchic silliness and sincerity, but I can’t dilute the book now. Frankly, the more Rik there is in Tales of Britain, the more proud of it I will be when it finally comes out this year.

Everything’s just shit without him, let’s be honest. But let’s equally hope that his inspiration will give us many more laughs to come. Happy birthday, you dead bastard.

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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!

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BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL 2015: The Party’s Over

Waking up on Bank Holiday Monday after a week of frenetic activity for the Bath Comedy Festival has felt a little like being Wile E. Coyote several yards over a cliff edge, with no ground beneath. Back to the workaday author’s world, of staring at email Sent boxes lighting candles and praying to the God of Humanist Atheism and suchlike.

But, for all the dodgy gigs arranged by Somerset crazies with about six people in the crowd, for all the singing on stage with my band all night, my cold-wracked voice functioning at about 20% capacity, for all the wonderful fun of reuniting with some of the stalwart Unrelated Family members to do some of our filthy old sketches, it certainly does all feel bloomin’ well worth it, governor.

Like many a comedy geek, I had long looked forward to one day meeting the legendary Helen Lederer – but I never envisaged doing so after two hours of rolling around in a pub courtyard dressed in a frock switching between skullcap and roman helmet to portray numerous characters in a live rendition of Life of Brian. Nonetheless, it was probably the most successful Unrehearsed Theatre production to date, thanks to a wonderful ad hoc cast and a very willing crowd, happy to hold up shoes and join in the ‘He IS the messiah!’s and of course, the final singalong. It was about as perfect a text as we could have had for an Easter Saturday – and best of all, we raised £100 for Comic Relief, to make up for stealing the intellectual property of the Pythons.

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Left to Right: Steph (Judith), Sam (Brian), Elizabeth (Mandy), Matt (Mainly Idle), Gavin (Mainly Palin), Gus (Jesus), Other Matt Inexplicably Dressed as Sherlock Holmes (Mainly Gilliam), Simon (Simon), and Jem (Mainly Cleese).

Nonetheless, it was a slightly glowing and dishevelled Roberts who greeted Lady Natasha Letitia Sarah Jane Wellesley Obstromsky Ponsonsky Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Oblomov Boblomov Dob at the Bath Cricket ground afterwards. Having been up and down the country doing author events for The Frood last autumn, I was well used to literary events, but this was my first ever experience as a host, so I’d had a nervous time, watching old episodes of ‘Hello Mum’ (I never did ask her how Clive Mantle is these days, let alone Nick Wilton), and hoping she would ease me into what I would like to think is a whole new line of work. I needn’t have worried, I couldn’t have had a better deflowerer as an on-stage interviewer, and each nudging question I asked Helen thankfully, wonderfully triggered a fountain of sparkling monologue from her, which had the crowds cackling throughout. She was as happy to talk about Rik and Ben as herself, and although her debut novel Losing It was well worth the read (and irresistible to mentally cast with the finest Ab Fab actors as I read), she wasn’t one of those authors who is constantly trying to refer back to it, in fact she wanted the crowd to buy it as unmarked by spoilers as possible. The hour just flashed by.

11111046_353717754821507_2704878312430191558_nHelen, Me. All I had to do was listen…

It was always very clear that my second go in the interviewer’s chair was going to present a different challenge, as I have known and interviewed Terry Jones in the past, and by his own admission, he’s not the easiest person to winkle anecdotes out of. When sat with his fellow Pythons, he throws in fascinating vignettes and jokes, but the idea of our Q&A for the Bath Plug Award, sandwiched neatly between a glorious showing of his 1996 underrated classic adaptation of Wind In The Willows, and the previously blogged-about Holy Grail, was that we were celebrating his own career away from the Pythons – Personal Services, Erik The Viking, and of course, Absolutely Anything. This time it was more my job to be there for Terry throughout, guiding him through his career, rather than just nudging him into monologue. I was well prepared, and although I may have ended up speaking ten words to Terry’s every one (which I truly hope wasn’t too onerous for the crowd), there were many happy faces there, just glad to be in the presence of a genuine comedy hero. And he was very pleased to have indirectly raised Comic Relief some cash, even if it was via a gang of pissed actors wrapped in curtains.

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Muggins, Mandy Mother of Brian, BCF boss Nick Steel. We look like the poor chap’s minders.

As a patron of the festival, Terry’s acceptance of the inaugural Bath Plug above all opens the door for whole hosts of huge names to follow in his wake for years to come, which is incredibly kind of him. Having had such nightmares clearing WITW for viewing, we’re already well-immersed in a very exciting idea for the Bath Plug Award 2016, which will quite possibly be announced right here, when we know it’s definitely happening.

Huge congratulations to Nick Steel and everyone who made 2015’s Festival the biggest and best yet, and I will continue to do all I can to make 2016’s another step forward. But for now, it’s back to trying to find a safe home for a fourth book of comedy history, and my other manifold projects, and–

(Plunges down into an abyss. Road Runner passes by, goes “Meep meep!” over my pulverised body. That’s all, folks.)

BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL 2015

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The Bath Comedy Festival originally took me by surprise, when it kicked off several years ago. For a while, I felt like I was the only person in the city running any kind of local comedy scene, with The Unrelated Family sketch shows (there was Mirth Control, but this tended to be very catholic stand-up populated by London acts), which I then had to curtail to get stuck into my first book, The Clue Bible. Having moaned about the lack of a comedy scene here for years, it seemed to rather be taking the piss that a whole festival was starting just as I was busy moving onto something else.

Nonetheless, I reformed The Unrelated Family and set up some shows to take part in the very first festival, and I’ve done all I can for every subsequent year, now it’s run by the very determined and enthusiastic Nick Steel. For a few years now, I’ve striven to take over the city’s greatest music venue (The Bell Inn, co-owned by Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel and sundry Wurzels) and stage a whole night celebrating funny music, COMIC NOISES, with musical comedian guest acts and new interpretations of classics by Bill Bailey, Hugh Laurie, Victoria Wood etc. I’ll be doing this again this year, and a week after that, reuniting with Unrelated Family stalwarts for a series of sketches in the same venue. The Bell will also play host to another instalment of Unrehearsed Theatre on Easter Saturday, with Unrehearsed Life of Brian. We’re performing a script which brings back in all the sequences cut from the film as we know it – and all of these events are completely free! Maybe a collection for Comic Relief…

Our own ragged restaging of that classic comedy out in the courtyard on a (hopefully sunny) Easter Saturday will be just the preamble to the real main event – interviewing the director of that film on stage! I will also first of all be racing from 1st Century Judea to the Bath Cricket Club to interview Alternative comedy hero Helen Lederer about her new book LOSING IT, which is extraordinarily exciting, I look forward to asking her all about the early days with Rik & co, and my books will be available as well as Helen’s… so I hope to see you there! However, the day after, Easter Sunday, will see the launch of what will hopefully become a defining mainstay of the Festival from now on – THE BATH PLUG!

It struck me that having a central award for each year’s festival was always a great excuse to wallow in some great comedy with the very best artists, and as the Bath Festival’s patron, who better to receive the first award than Terry Jones? Hopefully he will be the first of many to appreciate the honour, not least as it’s not a piece of crappy perspex to throw in a dusty cupboard, but a proper gold bath plug, which can even be used if need be. Recipients can also use the event to ‘plug’ whatever they’re up to. Do you see? Do you see how many levels this works on? Thank you, yes you do.

Naturally, I’ll be doing all I can to get fresh anecdotes out of the esteemed Python, concentrating on his cinematic career above all else – as an obliging chap, this is one of a dozen Q&As he’ll be doing this season, so I want to make this a distinct celebration of his screen output. Terry himself specifically requested we show his undervalued 1996 adaptation of The Wind In the Willows, and what jollier way to spend Easter afternoon could there be than to join us? And after a break, we’ll chat, and then there’ll be a chance to see Monty Python & The Holy Grail on the big screen.

The temptation to put Life of Brian on, on Easter Sunday, was immense, but, well A) We’d already decided to do Unrehearsed Theatre, and B) LoB’s infamous history with cinema bannings etc. means that few films have been re-released into cinemas quite so often. I myself have seen it at least twice on the big screen, and saw Meaning of Life in the cinema last year in Bristol. If it had been up to me (in lieu of Terry’s brand new sci-fi caper ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, which simply isn’t ready for release yet) we’d have shown And Now For Something Completely Different! Because, yes, it’s not a great film, but what’s the point of doing these things unless you’re showing something really unusual, something you wouldn’t normally find in cinemas? But as it is, the nightmares clearing the 19-year-old WITW movie have been bad enough, we’re only getting to show it due to round-the-clock hard work from Nick Steel,  Will Sansom, and producer John Goldstone, so Holy Grail it is. You can’t exactly complain about one of the funniest movies ever made being shown. So at last, we have a jolly Pythonesque Easter evening to look forward to.

I hope I can catch any random readers of this blog at any one of these events, and that next year’s Bath Plug will be a second huge success! ‘Have a nice day…?’

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?