Friday, 27 December 2013

Vile weather

"A tiny man? Dressed as some fog?"

Where else could such a line have sprung but the Monster Hunters Christmas Special? I'm getting some down me right now as I write this, and I recommend you do likewise pronto to achieve full Christcritical Massmas. If you're wondering by the way where Sir Maxwell House has gone, he appears to have wandered into the Radio 4 Comedy Advent Calendar as Good King Wenceslas care of John Finnemore. I can't seem to embed the clip because I'm down in France with the folks, where the sky is clear down to the mountains and the colours as crisp as the cover art on a second-hand Asimov. This link should work though. I should probably get another voice. And that's it really. Belated Yuletide tidings. Sorry, I'll write more once I've made my resolutions.
I hope none of you are stuck.
Here's Tommy Steele...

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This week's slug sketch brought to you by Manowar

Everyone should listen to this track at least once.

And of course "David Mitchell" is an anagram of "Death to False Metal".
Here then is episode 4 of That Sound, with the sketch I wrote about slugs, which went well, which was a relief, as my laughter can attest (it was originally going to be a far more naturalistic interior monologue, still a slug's, but I got stuck on that, and then I wrote a sketch about a bee's interior monologue - sitting on poison, wanting to "back into" someone, a bit intense, very easy to write, not recorded -  and thought two sketches about animals having interior monologues would be stupid, hence the adoption of Manowar's tried-and-tested Welsh Grandfather motif. Process.) I thought this was going to be the last episode, but look there's a bonus fifth episode here. I told you there was lots of good stuff at the recording. Enjoy. I'm off shopping. Shop!

Monday, 9 December 2013

"It's happening again..."

That Mitchell and Webb Sound is happening again, I mean. I guess. I guess that's what I mean. Wait, this introduction is terrible. Start again. MITCHELL AND WEBB ARE BACK!

And these dogs are highly trained.

But of course you knew that. Ah, wonderful to be writing sketches again. I hadn't had a commission since the last series of That Mitchell and Webb Look, and that was four years ago since when I'd turned performer in three series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, which is surely as useful an inside-look into how to make a sketch work as one could wish for. (I've noticed every programme I work on seems to have a really long name though, at least four stresses each - Laurence and Gus: Hearts and Minds was another. It can be a little anxiety-inducing when asked if you're up to anything, as these are difficult names to drop casually. I'd love to be able to just say "Yeah, I'm doing another series of Gag Lab"... Although reading that aloud I just said "Gad Lab"... Gag Lad. Gab.... Gag Lag. Maybe Gag Blag's not so easy a name to drop either.) What was my point again? Gag Lab. Oh yes, working on JFSP not only showed that it was possible for a single human to write an entire series of sketches and still enjoy it, it showed me a little more clearly just how an idea can become a sketch.

Not of course that I came to put any of this into practice. Of the three (rhymes with "Squeeee!") sketches of mine used last week only the first, concerning vampires' arguably supernumerary attributes, felt anything like the kind of thing someone might be looking for. The third, inspired by a throwaway gag in the first sketch, was one of those attempts at a no-rush, American-style, stuff-awkwardly-going-wrong-in-a-showbiz-setting-type sketches that I keep having a bash at, forgetting how few laughs from a studio audience such sketches eventually play to. Of course everyone is brilliant, and it wouldn't have been a worry if only every other sketch at these recordings hadn't been so dizzyingly well executed as well. It was great, but I felt like a newbie again, minus the sheen. There's an internal monologue that accompanies the first five or so seconds of each new sketch you see recorded I had completely forgotten about. It goes: "Okay who's standing up? Two men - Have I written a sketch with two men? - Yes, is this one of mine? - What's that sound effect? Did I write a sketch that starts with that sound effect? Maybe. It's a door opening. I definitely wrote a sketch that starts with a door opening. What are they saying? I don't remember that line. Did I write that line? Is this one of mine? Maybe it is and I've forgotten writing it. Is this the two men talking to each other sketch I wrote? No this is another sketch with two men talking to each other, does this mean they won't - OH BOY THAT'S GOOD. This is good. How far are they from the end? How thick are the pages they have left?" Etc.
This doesn't of course do justice to how much I enjoyed the recordings, but it happened a lot.

Then there's a second internal monologue which goes: "Aw, hey! This is my sketch! They're doing this sketch! I love this sketch! I'm going to enjoy watching this... I haven't put any jokes in. I mustn't laugh. This is my sketch. They're playing this brilliantly. I love it. Nobody's laughing though because I haven't put any jokes in. I'd laugh though. But I can't. It's mine. I'm normally a big laugher. I'd definitely be laughing at this right now if it wasn't mine, or somebody else was laughing. Shit. Everyone was having such fun a minute ago, with those good sketches written by people who do it properly. What are you playing at, dramatising your midnight qualms, Simon, you dope? You think anyone's interested in whether or not you want to watch Last Action Hero? Remember that Caesar sketch you wrote in Series 4? Why didn't you do another one of them? There you are, hill-walking in Belfast on the Ring tour, haunted by the ghost of Acker Bilk*, doing tortoise voices, tinkering at your laptop in front of a Prayer Channel in various Premiere Inns over yet another draft of your messy sci-fi pilot that you've only said is inspired by Robert Anton Wilson because you can't actually be bothered to work out what's happening in it. Sending in your ten-minute-long, five-year-old sketches about Elizabethan alchemy. You think Toby Davies tries to pull this shit? No, he applies himself. Wow, still nobody's laughing. I wish I could laugh. Why do we have to worry about whether or not people are laughing? Why can't we use canned laughter? If people were told this was funny I'm sure they'd find it funny. It's not fair. Aw man they're not even laughing at the Ali Bongo reference. I knew I should have put the Great Soprendo. Guys, I'm so sorry. What have I made you say?" Etc.

Okay, that's rarer. What I'm really saying is, I'm stunned and delighted the Last Action Hero sketch made it in. It's beautifully played and I'm fine in the end with the amount of laughter. It seemed a popular idea at the writers' meetings, and I'm conscious how little I normally contribute to those. ("Man's Hour", probably my favourite sketch of this episode, I remember Rob spinning pretty much verbatim at the same meeting. That was great, as was Toby wondering aloud if there might be anything in a sketch set in a shop that only sells cash registers. I got a bit overexcited at that.) In the end, sad and beautifully played to total silence as this new stuff has turned out, it contributes a little I hope to the episode's very effective air of hopelessness. Wait until you hear episode 4 though...

So episode 2 is available here. It's brilliant and I am lucky.
And the first episode is still available here, brilliant again!
Thanks also to here, for the Last Action Hero gif.
Finally, any "Monster Hunters" fans might be interested to learn that the Klaus running the Carpathian Open Mic night is indeed distantly related to the Klaus who runs the inn at Karnstadt in this.
Tank you, tank you.

*Every performance of Ring ended with "Stranger on the Shore".

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

My favourite film

... is up on youtube. It's very difficult to find elsewhere, so I've posted it below, because that is the reason to have a blog. (It was never released theatrically, it seems, and like another of my favourites - Karel Zeman's "Baron Munchausen" - it's not available on DVD. Nor is Gilbert's Fridge. Posterity's taking the piss.) You should watch it. It's personal, like a dream, like someone's made a film just for you. By which I mean "me". Maybe its rarity explains why I'm so happy to call it the favourite - I won't have to defend the choice because who else will have seen it? But I've sat friends down in front of the VHS and they seem to have loved it, taped on a whim unseen when it played once on BBC2's Moviedrome over twenty years ago. Presenter Alex Cox's introduction is on that tape first, and I force them to watch that too, because I want them to have as great a time as I did. It all has to be done just right. In case I'm wrong. And that's why actually I'm going to shut up about the film now and instead put up a transcription of that perfect introduction. Then we can talk about it after, yeah? Here:

"Nothing Lasts Forever was directed by Tom Schiller in 1934. Schiller was assistant prop man on King Kong. (It is he, covered in boot polish, who stands on top of the giant gates on Skull Island, shouting 'Kong Konga Kong!' as the giant ape comes looking for Fay Wray.) The same year, 1933, he directed the first of a series of docudramas about the lives of great pianists. Nothing Lasts Forever, the story of the concert pianist Adam Beckett, is the second in his long series of piano-oriented films. Beckett - a vastly popular concert pianist of the teens and twenties - died tragically in 1928, when he was mistaken for John Dillinger at a Chicago rooming house. The young man was leaving the building with a packet of curtain rods wrapped in brown paper, when he was accosted by two nervous FBI men who believed they had caught America's most wanted fugitive. What they didn't know was that Beckett, like Beethoven before, was completely deaf. The tragedy that followed forms the climax to Schiller's moving film. Interestingly, there was also a Russian biopic about Beckett made only two years later. Known, rather improbably, as Last Streetcar to Manhattan, it told the story from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, depicting Beckett as an impoverished proletarian who attempts to organise a Young Workers' and Pianists' Communist League. The Russian version, directed by Boris Turnovski, was later denounced by Stalin at the 25th Plenum of the Supreme Soviet. Even as Turnovski and his fellow filmmakers departed for internal exile, the original American Nothing Lasts Forever began to enjoy a covert popularity behind the Iron Curtain. Both films were removed from the banned list by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reputedly declared that only Schiller would be allowed to direct the feature version of The Gulag Archipelago. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev apparently discussed Nothing Lasts Forever at length during their first historic summit, Reagan having tried out for the role of Mendehlsson in another of Schiller's biographies of great composers (the role eventually going to Randolph Scott). Now aged almost ninety, Schiller lives in New England, where he and Solzhenitsyn still meet regularly, discussing their adaptation of The Gulag. The money's already in place for this big-budget, American/Russian/French co-production. The only delay apparently is caused by a disagreement between Schiller and Solzhenitsyn as to how many musical number shall appear in the film."

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


"If I must sit I do so in the bath."

From wikipedia:
'After the war, Lee, who can speak fluent French and German, among other languages, was seconded to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Here, he was tasked with helping to track down Nazi war criminals. Of his time with the organisation, Lee has said: "We were given dossiers of what they'd done and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority ... We saw these concentration camps. Some had been cleaned up. Some had not."'

"We, that are so you young..." etc. Gentlemen of Horror opens tonight at the Woolwich Grand if you fancy it (which means I've three more hours to learn how to sit up straight) followed by a screening of Dracula AD 1972, featuring this shot of Stephanie Beacham:

The venue is amazing by the way. And I got my hair cut especially (which is stupid because look how long Christopher Lee's hair is).

Also - kerching! - "That Mitchell and Webb Sound" is back on the radio, complete with James Bachman, Olivia Colman, and the ghost of Acker Bilk. Here. More anon. Nothing of mine in this episode, but it's all gold. You might want to hazard a whoop.

*Christopherly: - A bit like a Christopher.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Lee and Cushing's Fist of Fun

A quick plug for something I'll be in next week, featuring a number of subjects dear to me, among them the opportunity to hang out with Matthew Woodcock.

"Matthew and Simon are very enthusiastic, and old friends who've worked together a lot... They're still working on what they'll do. One caveat, though - if you're coming along, please don't expect two people who look and sound identical to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee."

Wise words indeed from playwright James Goss. (Here's the interview.) And - ah! Brilliant! - here are rehearsal shots of Bishop as Cushing and myself as Lee, taken by our superb director Kate Webster yesterday. I know. Uncanny. It looks like it's being billed as a comedy, which is maybe just as well. I can do Lee's voice in my head, but we all sound a bit like Christopher Lee in our head. It's beautifully written though. Utterly believable. And we're great. Also I ditched the beard today and, Christ, my teeth are feeling the cold as a result. So come. Watch us be actors at the Woolwich Grand. It will be sweet. Here.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Take Two Elements!

Any two elements... say, Electricity and Water.
On their own, perfectly harmless.
But mix them together
maybe in a bowl

Roy Steel!
Second Best Big Game Hunter in the world!
Fighter! Lover! A man of action, with all the actions of a man!
The ancient Mayan word for "fist"!
His passport says "Beast Slapper"!
And Lorrimer Chesterfield -

Leading Professor of Occult Studies at London's London University!
A brain in the shape of a man!
Demon handler and Myth wrangler!
He reads books! He writes books! Sometimes he reads the books he writes!
His brain can fell an ox!

My name is Sir Maxwell House. I took those two elements, and like some kind of scientific blacksmith I forged them, forged them into a team that would look Danger in the eye and bring it down with the Knowledge of a Man, and the Fist of a Man! They are...

The Monster Hunters!

And, oh, how I love them. Over the past two years the writing team of Peter Davis, Matthew Woodcock and J. P. Chenet has produced - in addition to the above - two stage shows, two series of webcast adventures and three specials all available to listen to at the link above NOW... and I'm lucky enough to have been invited along for the lot. I like being in a series. I've never played a recurring character before, someone whose story I didn't know the end of, and the generous attention paid to Sir Maxwell with each new episode has made for a very happy inbox. Happier still, my sister joined us for the last series, a series whose twisted arc the chaps played scrupulously close to their retro-fitted chests in the happiest tradition of this mattering. And it's surprisingly well researched. It turns out the Post Office Tower really was an official secret. And there really was an MI16. (There have actually been eighteen sections of military Intelligence in all, numbered 1 through to 19 - there was never an MI13 -  In fact I found out only very recently my uncle used to work for one: After an Oxford performance of Ring he casually mentioned over drinks above the Samuel Beckett Memorial Car Park how much the experience of sitting in complete darkness wearing headphones had reminded him of his "anti-interrogation training in the foreign service". I suppose the thirty years are up then. Mum always suspected he had spent too much time in Egypt for a playwright. The Egyptians at the time must have agreed - "I stepped into a taxi, turned out it wasn't a taxi. I said, 'I have my daughters with me.' They said, 'Do they eat eggs?' I said, 'Yes.' So they boiled up some eggs and took me away. Of course, what saved me was that I didn't have a gun on me. Everyone always says carry a gun. But I was supposed to be out there teaching, if they'd found a gun on me that would be it. So they let me go." Here if you're interested is a lecture he gave recently about his childhood in Epsom growing up beneath the Battle of Britain. This is all true. But I digress.)

The Beast Must Dies' notorious werewolf break
Back to the silly voices, the final episode of Finnemore should still be available to listen to for a day or so, including four minutes of drunken American rambling (shaved down from eight) that I never thought would be John's kind of thing, and which I am very glad he decided was. While writing this series he actually scheduled a meeting in the "Douglas Adams Room" of the Beeb's new Grafton House digs specifically to try out silly voices. Its decals, famously misquoting classic BBC comedy, did not disappoint. You may have thought it impossible to misquote "42".

They managed it. 
Ah, as I write this, Peter has just sent me this year's Monster Hunters Hallowe'en special. Dynamite.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

1. Be nice. 2. Have fun.


Quick! You have only about an hour left to listen to the first of the new series of "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme" - featuring the Funnimore himself (not pictured), Lawry "Legs" Lewin, Carrie "Feet" Quinlan, Margaret "Cabourn" Smith and my weird, slurpy voice - before they go and put out another ("they" being Radio 4 at half past six this evening) and, really, whose fault is that? Having gone to the trouble of setting up this blog, picking out the wallpaper etc, you might hope I'd be a bit more on the ball when it comes to plugging stuff like this, the perishables, off-the-air in a week, but there you go. Apologies. Plugging the show means writing about John, and that's quite a trick to manage without sounding utterly sycophantic. And I have to take a step back, and then - it turns out - another, and then another, because it's simply impossible not to still feel close to him. I can't imagine what it's like for his fans. He's good as gold. Let's leave it at that. "Says you!" says you. Fair enough. Bit rude, but here's some proof, as he makes a bad ting good at the Chortle Awards:

There's pleasanter proof of his brilliance online than this, obviously - the anarcho-syndicalist idyll of Cabin Pressure most obviously, his stirring Now Show spots, his piece on badgers, his blog, anything he's done for Mitchell and Webb of course, fuckyeahjohnfinnemore. Or this. Or indeed the show itself, quick! I guess the point of posting this particular clip was simply to show how, yeah, we won an award he's always that good.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Not nearly enough of someone reading "Three Men In A Boat"

Taking the long way back back from the shops this afternoon through Nunhead Cemetery, a rolled-up copy of 2000AD rubbing its stupid ad for some paperback off on my hand in the usual manner, it suddenly occurred to me that that thing about always keeping to the left only really works in mazes. I have had a stomach bug so my mind's not the sharpest right now. This, nonetheless, I duly tweeted, receiving a reply from somebody, "Apart from when it failed miserably in Three Men In A Boat". Well I've read the book, but I don't really remember it, and certainly not this bit. So, heading onto youtube in search if an enlightening clip, I hit upon this. And it was not what I expected. And it made me laugh more than anything I can remember. And I will not rest until everyone has seen it. (And I do not yet care if that makes me a bit racist). Thank you, Paul!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Let It Spread

Being on the internet is - just a little bit - inherently depressing. It's a beautiful day outside, or else you should be asleep, and either way you know an hour or two's undistracted boredom might provoke a little creativity, yet here you sit/lie/steam spinach before update after update of things that are going to make you angry, no more genuinely interacting with others than if you were passing notes in class, or perhaps more accurately - since the internet isn't a public space but rather a shared private space, a public toilet, not a town hall - writing something under a message left on the cubicle wall. Even when the good stuff is shared online, chances are it's old, or new and brave and tragic. Or if it's new and not the News, if it's something brilliant that someone has made, that too is a little depressing, because what's it doing on the internet? Why is nobody being paid to broadcast this work in a medium with proper start and stopping times, independent of the likes of us having to pass it around amongst ourselves like a pamphlet? Who's in charge? And what's happened to Alan Partridge's Mid-Morning Matters!

But I'm glad I was on the internet for this clip. It's American, like a lot of what I seem to watch online (particularly now The Daily Show is being hosted by John Oliver* - I've aways loved it, but now I'm rooting for it.) And while there's a lot to be said for keeping up with The American News (if for example the words "Carlos Danger" mean nothing to you, you might well be missing out on one of the greatest and most hilarious and simultaneously enervating mysteries ever thrown up, and I mean literally thrown up, by a political career - yes, that is what "literally" means, I've checked...) still I'm unused to hitting upon something as cheering as this Stephen Colbert clip. It's a heck of a curveball. It's big. It's good. It's a fear-killer. Shoot-to-kill laws, Piers Morgan, Putin and the trolls all turn to steam while it's playing. You should watch it.

"It's spreading."

* By the way, discussing Egypt with Andy Zaltzman in their Bugle podcast John came up with one of my favourite ever political observations:
"Under a dictatorship, you get used to a dictator kicking you in the balls. Under a democracy, you have to get used to 50% of your own population kicking you in the balls."

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Power Socket 7: "Aw, sneck!"

This issue must have taken me ages. I was heavily into 2000AD by now, and who can blame me? My imagination had been pretty traumatised by a sudden move to public school at the age of nine, starved suddenly of mythology, baffled by "catalytic cracking" and "the ablative" and the absence of girls, sectioned by separate desks for every boy and separate teachers for every subject, sustained only by the scraps afforded by Mad Magazine and Oink. But then, in 1985, for just 24 pence a week, it found its salvation.

The late Massimo Belardinelli, just doin' his thing.

In fact it was struggling now to keep up. My hatred of that school had become so bad that I persuaded my parents to send me to a therapist, and of the one session I finally received the only detail I can remember now is me confessing my frustration that my imagination seemed so tiny compared to these guys'. How did they do it? Where - as Alan Moore was often asked, and possible went on to suffer a nervous breakdown trying to find out - do you get your ideas from? And it wasn't just the Alan Moore's stuff. There were the richly researched and nightmarishly illuminated worlds of Pat Mills, the surrealist panache of Peter Milligan's teen-friendly metaphysics, the aspirational shopping-mall dystopia of John Wagner's Mega-City One which teemed with poor, beaming, fad-chasing bastards seeking their fix of fun even in the cannon's mouth, and all of this served with wit - with jokes even - and monsters! So many monsters.

"Get off my back, Father!"

There were no supermen, or at least none I was interested in. There were wanderers, terrorists, deserters, smugglers and surfers, very few of whom looked recognisably human. Everything 2000AD was teaching me was stuff I wanted to learn, and to this day I'm still playing catch-up as a writer. (The scifi pilot I've been hawking around, subtitled "Prog 1", has perhaps as a consequence been deemed "too dense" for Radio 4. Which it is, but that's another post.) Yet for some reason Issue 7 of Power Socket was to be the last I completed. I'm not sure if I gave up, or decided to wait until I was better at it, or maybe I just started enjoying school a bit more. I suspect the truth is - and my "visual notebooksW back this up - that there was just so much out there now to copy, why bother sticking with a super-hero serial? In the Autumn of 1986 Dad suggested we take Power Socket Issue 7 along to show to my new heroes at a signing. I did. "What do you think?" he asked. Alan Moore said "Um, I'm more of a writer," and was lovely. Kev O'Neil (responsible for the image above) said "Do you lay it out first? You should try laying it out." And Pat Mills, to my surprise, turned out not be a woman. I can't remember what he said. Or John Wagner. But I've got the signatures. And all have remained my heroes.
And one day I hope I'll get to show them what I've made since.

Power Socket 6: A true account of the fates of Ortlay, Sendado and Offaldien

There is a skill to making up a name. Clearly I hadn't learnt it by the time I was eleven. Who knew the Wombles were named after places?
And so begins the second, never-completed adventure for our useless heroes in which we find out not only what a soul looks like, but what happens if you accidentally fall into one. The symbol on the Vulture's forehead, chest and earrings of course firs appeared to Sgt. Lonnie Zamora, painted in red on a large silver egg-shaped object which landed in Socorro, New Mexico back in 1964...


In case you were wondering where you'd seen it before. I loved that symbol. Enjoy, Earth-things.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Power Socket 5 "Who let him at the laser cannon?"

Here it is then, 1985's action-packed conclusion to the Black-Shark arc. With arks. I like the robots in this, and the signage, and the signage on the robots. I hope everyone's keeping cool. Ka-bluey!


Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Power Socket 4 "Oxygen Percentage: Normal"

Today's dose of slobbering, massive-jawed beast-encountering sees our stiff heroes finally eschew the random violence of earlier issues for rubber-tipped arrows, while our villain comes into his own now as something genuinely entertaining, in my opinion anyway. I love Black Shark's scenes in this.
The main influence here was of course American International's "At The Earth's Core", which I was quite surprised to discover recently is an actual film, with a beginning, a middle, an end, and a finite running time - and not, as it seemed in 1985, just an endlessly self-replicating series of randomly-generated sugar hallucinations muscling its way into the schedules with the unheralded regularity of pages from Ceefax.

I honestly think it was this film that first taught me that adults sweat. I wish I could still rip off ideas this easily. Natchtka!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Power Socket 3 "Gollup Gollup"

Tomorrow sees me back in the Ring - and the murk and the leg brace - for a week at the BAC again before a short run in Edinburgh. Do come along, although the durned thing keeps selling out - I know - so I will understand. Appropriately enough though, today's Power Socket also explores our darkest imaginings. (Is that how you spell imaginings? It looks silly.) I pull no punches. Ipso facto: not only does the baddie have a hood and a scythe, he has a horn.* You have been warned. Yes you have.

Did Fang go out for Chinese because they were so nasty about his cooking in Issue 1? I'd like to think so. Anyway, yes, exciting.

* And his hood has a clitoris. Okay, I'd only just noticed.