Sunday, 25 December 2016

A Christmas Reconciliation Between the Swedish Chef and Big Bird

Merry everything! Yes I'm back in Puissalicon for the festival of lights and the Queen's speech (I liked this one), but I didn't watch A Muppet Christmas Carol because I still don't like that Jim Henson was dead for it. I do like that he was still around for A Muppet Family Christmas however, so here's a lovely festive clip from it featuring a rare encounter between Big Bird and the Swedish Chef, also insight, laughs, chokes, a song, the usual Muppet magic and the deathless Muppet pertinent binary. It's wonderful.

And speaking of wonderful, John Finnemore's Christmas Special heralds in a new series of Souvenir Programme this Tuesday! Thank goodness for the good guys. Happy First Night, readers!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Seasonal Wear

Well, the show reel worked. At the time of writing this I've been put up for at least two festive jobs where sad dads stare brokenly at bills. Here's the one I got.

It was filmed last week, around what used to be the Arndale Centre back when I grew up in Wandsworth. Behind me in the above screengrab is what used to be the Ram Brewery*, and in front of it, wearing the hi vis, is director Kevin Curtis. He writes about the youtube posting below "please ignore the misleading thumbnail - it’s been a source of great disagreement here with us!" but I don't know what he's talking about. Enjoy.

And I've had a second Santa gig since, Nordic this time: long straight hair and a blue tunic, chuckling and waving carrots at party-goers while occasionally tugging at the necks of the People Pile like a consensual Jabba. That same night I dreamt the gig all over again - the only time I've ever dreamt a straight flashback -  but no photos were allowed, so here instead is a nice shot of what we did on Halloween, that particularly Mexican-themed Halloween of 2016 we spent a full week celebrating because it was the year of the dead. The invitation said "come dressed as your dark side" so here it is, you mothers!

taken by Graham Turner. More here.

October looks warm now.

* When I was four, the Arndale Centre sported a poster for butter curls on toast and I thought that's where the smell of yeast was coming from.

There's actually an updated show reel with clips from "Suicide Hotline" here.
You can see a trailer for "Nightmare on Deskteeth Street" here.
And you can see what the Arndale Centre looked and sounded like when I was four, seven and a half minutes into an episode of Grange Hill here

Friday, 18 November 2016


The world has got so unfaceable, fortunately, that this week saw me finally forced to ration my twitter and facebook use and get on with actually making something. Here is the result:

I had a lot of fun doing this, partly because I got to recut things I was in so that they were more about me, obviously, but mainly because I finally get to put David Shire's score for "The Conversation" over footage of me skulking around a city, something I think everyone should try for themselves at least once.
Youtube love here. (Warning: now includes footage of me from later than 2004.)

Sunday, 13 November 2016


I was reminded of this thread from Jack of Kent on Wednesday, looking at the front pages in Sainsbury's as they got all excited about the white supremacist sex pest president-elect's promise of a juicy new trade deal for Britain post-Brexit. "See?" was the gist. The problem is - as this thread illustrates - no deal with Trump is worth the paper it's written on. It's tough enough getting him to cough up when has an army of lawyers, what chance will we have when he has an army of everything else? And let's not pretend we haven't been here before. Godwin's law can do one - Churchill's law states you're fucked signing deals with a con man. So what's the alternative? On its own Britain is completely at this swollen clown's mercy - here's what "taking back control" looks like. We've never needed to be in the EU more than we have now. So we can't let Brexit happen, sorry. And we can't do business with Trump. And we can't let Trump/Pence happen, sorry again. How can we stop it? I've no idea. Let's sign a thing. At least put out the house-fire before worrying about the rot.

from the beautiful and prescient National Office of Importance

I want to stop Trump and Pence, then. And I want to stop Brexit. So am I completely against democracy? Well, what is democracy? It's full enfranchisement, not the dictatorship of the majority. Referenda are barmy - you can't vote for a single issue without voting for its baggage. I often think about the end of this, posted by Michael Regnier back in July:
At one level, what is more democratic than the country voting on a simple choice between two courses of action? The majority wins, of course, every time.
There is another manifestation of democracy, however, which is not about winning majorities, but acknowledging, supporting, even protecting, minorities. Human rights, freedom of movement, tolerance and compassion – simple, decent humanity.
It was 2005 when I realised this other idea of democracy existed – I was studying for a Masters degree, and a far-right demagogue was doing well in Austrian politics. One of my professors started a discussion with us about what should happen if they won power in Austria. My opinion was that if you believe in democracy, you have to accept the will of the people, even if you hate what they’ve voted for, even if they’ve voted away their democratic rights. The liberal academic’s view was that democracy exists not so much in votes but in the much broader set of rights given to people to live their lives the way they want to, and that a far-right government would undermine that and undermine democracy, so something radical had to be done to prevent this outcome, even if it was the popular choice.
So while going against the popular vote from the referendum would be, by definition, undemocratic, I think it might also be the most democratic thing we could do. Because democracy is for the losers as much as – if not more than – the winners.
Sorry there aren't more jokes. I just thought those two things were worth bearing in mind. Hey, remember when I said the centre ground was moving to the left? Ahahahahaha. And now, let's sing:


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Brave New Wuh?

What have I been up to? Bits and bobs. I made a thing:

Apologies to Mr. Dullea.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Sour Persimmons

This is a still from "Duck Amok" "Duck Amuck". I wasn't sure if Jason had actually seen it - his writing partner Joel tells me the only film he's ever seen is the big screen outing of "Please, Sir!" - but he had seen it. Of course he had. Made in 1953, it's a hard cartoon to overpraise. All of its jokes are either visual or sound-effects-based but, to prove how great it is, I'm going to post just the dialogue below, and even without Mel Blanc's extraordinary performance or Chuck Jones' extraordinary drawing I think you can still tell that here is an absolutely fully-formed, three-dimensional character speaking with a rhythm that can only be captured when you write fully-formed, three-dimensional characters. Story by Mike Maltese, directed by Charles M. Jones (in other words I don't know who actually wrote this) here's "Duck Amok" "Duck Amuck" the dramatic monologue:

Stand back, Musketeers, they shall sample my blade! Touche! Ng, ng! Ng! Ng!
En garde? My blade?
Hey, psst! Whoever's in charge here: The scenery! Where's the scenery?
Stand back, Musketeers, they shall sample... my...
Hng! Okay. Have it your way:
Daffy Duck he had a farm, ee-yi ee-yi-oh.
And on this farm he had an igloo, ee... yi
... eee... yi... Oh. Would it be too much to ask if we could make up our minds?
Dashing through the snow, ya-ha-ha-ha! Through the fields we go, laughing all the wayeee-ee... Eee....
Farewell to thee! Farewell to thee! The wind will carry back our sad refrai-hey-hey-he-hey-ain. Our last embrace, before we say...
Hm. Sheesh. Buster, it may came as a complete surprise to you to find that this is an animated cartoon, and that in animated cartoons they have scenery, and in all the years th
Alright, wise guy. Where am I?
Cock-a-doodledoo! Buckaw kaw kaw-

... Look, Mac, just what's going on around here? Let's get organised, hm? How about some scenery?
That's dandy. Ho-ho, that's rich, I'll say. Now how about some colour, stupid?
Not me, you slop artist! Huh... huh...
Well? Where's the rest of me?
It isn't as though I haven't lived up to my contract goodness knows. And goodness knows it isn't as though I haven't kept myself trim goodness knows, I... I've done that. That's strange. All of a sudden I don't quite feel like myself. Oh I feel alright, and yet I... I, uh...
Eeeee! You know better than that!
Hm, a sea picture, eh? I always wanted to do a sea epic. Now, Mr. Rembrandt, if you'll kindly oblige with a little appropriate scenery: Over the sea, let's go, men. We're shipping right off, we're shipping right off...
Hey, come 'ere. Come 'ere! Give me a close-up. A close-up!
This is a close-up? A close-up, ya jerk! A close-up!
Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin. Now look buster, let's have an understanding...
Now what?
Brother, what a way to run a railroad. Now, as I was saying - Hng! Oof! Urgh! Oof! Huh... Huh...
Alright... huh... let's get this picture started!
NO! NO! Listen pal, let's discuss this thing sanely, huh? Look, I tell you what: you go your way, and I'll go mine. Live and let live, right? Right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there will be no further delays, so I shall attempt to entertain you in my own iniminimitable fashion.
Now what? What are you doing down there?
Down here? What are you doing up there? "Down here"! Listen bud, if you wasn't me I'd smack you right in the puss!
Don't let that bother you, Jack!
Okay, buddy you asked, for it...
Oh brother, I'm a buzz boy! Uh-oh, time to hit the old silk: Geronimooooooo...
Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands, the smith a mighty man is he, with strong and sinewy... haaaands?
Alright! Enough is enough! This is the final, this is the very, very last straw! Who is responsible for this? I demand that you show yourself! Who are you? Huh?!

Shades of Ophelia. Maybe try it as an audition piece.
 I wonder if Galton and Simpson ever considered Daffy when writing for Hancock, seriously, and here's why: Warner Brothers' animation department originally found success with Porky Pig, whose thing was stuttering, then more success with Daffy Duck, whose thing was lisping and acting crazy, before finally striking gold with Bugs Bunny, whose thing was, let's say, surviving with panache. But in director "Chuck" Jones' hands, Bugs' success also leant new depth to the stars he'd eclipsed.

"Porky Pig" and "Daffy Duck" were no longer just one-dimensional assets, but performers with an inner life you could imagine hanging round the studio lot: Porky the performer who knew his limits, professionally resigned to playing second fiddle to another has-been with a slightly better figure and slightly smaller speech impediment, Daffy the complete opposite: Bugs' rival, killing himself to get a laugh in the rabbit's presence (literally in one cartoon) while desperate for meatier, more seriously heroic stuff in his solo vehicles. You can see all this going on even in a straight spoof like "Duck Dodgers in the Twenty Fourth and a Halfth Century". It's this depth of characterisation that makes these dumb gags so ageless and the image Jason Hazeley posted above so funny.

It blows my mind that these performances never actually existed, that they're just a bunch of drawings. Chuck Jones was no slouch as an acting coach: Bugs always put his weight on one foot - he once pointed out - Daffy on both, knees bent, insecure. For almost thirty years now I've followed that advice. And this brings me to the other reason I've been thinking about Chuck Jones recently, aside from Jason's post, and that's the passing of this guy:

 Gene Wilder was miraculous and a huge influence on me as a person who does stuff in front of people, but I'd never considered his influence until his death, and that might be because so much of that influence was the same as Chuck Jones'. Both created characters who could tell you their life was about to fall apart with a single gesture, who could slip in and out of mania in a couple of frames with total conviction and total discipline. And this resemblance is only possible because as this brilliant video from Tony Zhou which I've just discovered that renders this entire post redundant affirms Jones' cartoons paid a new kind of attention to reality.

 Not Gene Wilder

Wednesday, 13 July 2016




The best thing that could be said about Angela Eagle's interview on Channel 4 last night was she did at least definitely appear to support herself. It's one thing, though, for a supporter to say they're voting for you because you're "doing a good job" and because it's ridiculous Labour hasn't yet been led by a woman, it's another to make that your whole campaign - particularly a campaign for a post that's already filled. Is this the forge then? Will this unite? "Well, look" and "Of course" and "Well, look" and "It's too early to say" and "Well, look"? Nothing about what's gone wrong and how it could be put right, and nothing about what you actually believe? No persuasion. No story. Just "I think I'm the best." That's Angela Eagle's bid to be Prime Minister?

Angel Eagle's actual resting face in that interview

She's not even trying to earn it. She must have been preparing for this for months, yet when Krishnan turned to her she looked like Guy Goma. No, she can't have been preparing for this. She can't. It was the kind of insulting, dispiriting mess half-learnt off a napkin ten minutes before you're on that reminded me with the force of a bullet train why I'd voted for Corbyn in the first place. Yes, it seemed to me time for him to go, but if eighty per cent of Labour's MPs can't work with him - okay, since they can't work with him - they surely have to field an alternative who will appear happy and indeed keen to explain off the cuff exactly what it is they actually believe in, because if they can't find that then it might not be a coup but it is a con, and they've no right with two election defeats behind them to call Corbyn unelectable. The Tory Far-Right appears to have evaporated meanwhile, and the parliamentary centre ground continues to move left. And unpopularity isn't Corbyn's problem right now. It's the least of his problems right now. People are throwing bricks through windows for him.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Dad Games

Speaking of board games, here's Dad.

He took an early retirement in the South of France and has started inventing things. Here's his solar-powered pool heater.

It's a hose painted black. It works. Here's his combined bread-board/bread-bin.

Properly handy. Now here, he assures me, is a straight-backed lilo chair fashioned from pool noodles:

It's quite had to get right. Recently he's started trying to invent board games too. Trying and succeeding. This is "Kaleidoscope":

It's hard to play, but easy to learn, and quite reminiscent of Scrabble only with colours. (Mum and Dad play Scrabble every evening.) He plans to take Kaleidoscope to the Essen "Spiel" convention in October. Here's the second game he's working on: "Stone Henge" which we played appropriately at sunset.

The Folk's porch gets great sunsets. I loved Stone Henge. Then, sometimes he just sculpts.

I don't know.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

A third use of Matter

"Snakes and Ladders" is ancient. (Although I reckon that's actually rope.)

Blow you, I'm actually plugging a show I'm in before it's finished! Yes, come to the Camden Etc. Theatre next Wednesday the 13th of July at 9.30pm, and you can see my mate Paul Thompson's latest brief, dense, light, dark attention-warper. It's a hoot and a heck, a stream of consciousness trying to tear itself free of a thorn-bush, pissed and giggly. Some of you might have seen me in Paul's last excellent miniature "It's Only a Matter of Time". I'd forgotten it was called that. I wrote about it here, saying in passing how impressed I'd been when Paul summed up what we do as "making it matter" which I'd also forgotten. The new show by the way is called "Matter", which is why I bring all that up. One night only. Tickets available here, say. I'm in it. Paul's in it. And fellow Ghost-Bus-Tour-guide Craig Hannah (also of "The Healing Room") is in it. We play Snakes and Ladders. As for the rest, we'll get it right or we won't. I can't wait. Come and see!

For most of its life the game strove to impart some kind of moral lesson. The Victorians certainly seemed down with that. I mean... I assume... I can't make head nor tails of this. Kismet.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


At first he could only make out lights, the lights and the glass in front of him. The glass was a relief, it meant he was safe.
Safest of all.
But the lights were too close to be... headlights? It was then he realised he was indoors. And on his back.
Numan looked down. 

The tall, pale figure at the foot of his hyperbaric gland-cradle spoke: "Mister Human? I am Doctor Pornweasel. Fneet. Don't make any sudden movements, I'm afraid you've had quite the accident."
Numan was too thrown to correct the stranger. Accident? "The arrows are pointing," he found himself murmur, his attention turned to the upper screen. "I can point too... Doo doo, safest of all, doo doo. Sorry." The feeling of sedation was neither new nor unpleasant to him. "Accident?"
"A car accident. You survived it pretty well for a man from your century, but there will be questions."
"Doo doo, lock all my doors, doo - It's the only way to live in... Questions?"
"Procedural questions," Doctor Pornweasel explained. "Just to check you weren't on your communicator ring at the time of the accident, or driving with your lights on during the day. The usual."
Numan considered this and gave a little cough...

"Here in my car, I feel safest of all, doo doo. Cough."
"Fneet. I'll let you rest." 
Doctor Pornweasel briefly opened his danger robe, then left.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

We Need to Talk About Corbyn

But, hang on, why do we need to talk about Corbyn?

Hasn't everyone been talking about him for months at the expense of any attention towards Tory infighting? And wasn't it that Tory infighting which led to the referendum, which led to "Leave", which led to us finding ourselves suddenly flash-forwarded eighteen months into a Baltar presidency on New Caprica scratching a living on bare rock, stuck in a civil war and about to be marched into a ditch by killer robots? Why - some will ask - why do we need to talk about Labour when it's the Tories who got us in this mess? Well, because the ship of state's been steered into that iceberg and so our first priority now has to be to check on the lifeboats, surely?
So what's going on with these lifeboats then?

Shit, he's found the truth glasses! Is everyone who's calling for Corbyn to resign a Blairite then? Because that would make Gordon Brown a Blairite and that can't be right, can it? Is Ed Miliband a Blairite now? Is this whole drip drip of resignations a coup organised by Portland Communciations as reported by The Canary, or just a snowballing manifestation of grievances borne by workers who feel completely unsupported by their boss? If Portland organised the coup, did they also pay Ken Livingstone to bang on madly about Hitler? Are they paying John McDonnell to alienate his entire party by not employing anyone from it? Are they firing a keep-being-shit-at-sight-reading ray at Corbyn every PMQs?

I joined the Labour party last year and I wrote here why (in short, it was because I wanted the opposition to become more involved in the grass roots anti-austerity movements that had sprung up under the coalition, and because I could finally bear to watch Ed Miliband talk) and I voted for Corbyn this year and wrote why here (again, it was because he was the only member standing who opposed austerity). I voted for him because I wanted to see. And now we've seen. We've seen that the PLP is more than happy to take a stand against austerity and actually do some opposing now...

And we've seen that Jeremy Corbyn still can't sight-read for shit. But so what? Let him be the manager and send shadow ministers onto the pitch with more fire in their bellies. Shadow ministers like Angela Eagle - Oh, she resigned... or Heidi Alexander - Oh, she's resigned.... or Chris Bry- Oh...

So who's snatching defeat from the jaws of victory here? The "traitors", for turning on their democratically elected leader just as the Tories are in disarray? Or Corbyn, for showing himself ready to risk splitting an opposition finally dedicated to ending austerity? Should I be worried? The Canary called those resignations a "call for celebration", so... hooray? Is it really impossible for Labour to unite under Corbyn? When his own grass-roots mobiliser "Momentum" proposed this petition under the headline "This is a time for Labour to be united" I asked one of those sharing the petition on twitter a question that had been bothering me ever since I'd read Chris Bryant's resignation letter - "How will keeping Corbyn unite Labour?" This was his response:

And that really does seem to be his plan: unity by means of getting rid of everyone who won't unite on his terms or, to give it its technical name, division. Or else he has no plan. Sure, there are far smarter people than me who think Corbyn is the saviour of the party, especially with the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War still yet to be published, but there are also far dumber people. And where's the integrity in treating the support of your MPs in such a cavalier manner, in dismissing them as "right-wing"? Was Jo Cox, shot and stabbed to death in the lead up to the referendum, right-wing? Would she have joined the "traitors"? We'll never know. I've certainly changed my tune.

The thing is I've supported a lot of strikes recently (in my head I mean, I haven't left the house or anything), strikes called by workers at their wits' end because of a management that shows more interest in alienating its own workforce than doing its job. And this, to me, is definitely that. Corbyn won. He really did win. The opposition that in 2015 seemed perpetually stupified by its own history into a scared fug of meaningless soundbites is unrecognisable now, government policy after government policy has failed to make it through the house, and finally the Prime Minister's resigned. So Corbyn won. And now I, one of the thousands who democratically elected him, think we should let him go. Yeah, perhaps you gathered that. I'm going to leave things with more Angela Eagle. Whatever your opinions on Brexit, Corbyn, or the Parliamentary Labour Party, I think you'll find that this clip - particularly from 4 minutes, 20 seconds onwards - provides some excellent, horrible foreshadowing of the last seven days in politics. And there's braying, be warned. But maybe that's what winning sounds like.


(Thanks to Adam Macqueen for the screenshot at the top.)

Saturday, 25 June 2016


We're still in France. This river's called the Orb. My parents here receive a monthly pension in pounds. Hopefully by the time of the next payment that pound will have stopped wobbling or the euro will have dropped as well. That's what they're hoping. I figured out yesterday what the Brexit result felt like, over here, not in Britain. What is feels like. It feels like being dumped. I don't mean that as an analogy. I think both me and my girlfriend feel like we've been dumped. And yet here we are, still on holiday, together, which is weird.

Here, I think is where "Remain" may have gone wrong (and it's also where Labour may have gone wrong last election): If trust in politicians is as low as it is right now, you're wasting your time trying to win it back, that's too slow a game. Just promise more stuff. That's what won last year's election for the Tories and it's clearly what won this referendum for "Leave". It's also why those who claim to  trust politicians the least always perversely vote for the least trustworthy politicians, because they're the ones promising the most stuff. (And it doesn't bode well at all for Hilary Clinton.) But here's my plan. Here's how we stay in the EU:

We never actually leave, we just tell everyone who voted to leave that we have.

I mean, what are they going to do? Check?

Anyway that was yesterday, here's to today. Today we went to Sete. It's the second biggest port in the south of France. It has THIS terrifying fountain honouring Cthulu in one of its town squares. And it has jousting gondolas. And we caught some of that. We're still in France.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Optimist of Earl's Court

I was filming a short in Earl's Court over the weekend. As I sat in a cab, waiting to roll, a tanned middle-aged couple swept by chanting "British Laws for British People!" - I'm inferring the capitals - and waving "Leave" stickers like Madame Bertaux swinging the Tricolor. That is to say, jauntily. "No! No! Why?" I howled out of the cab window. The woman beamed as she headed out of view: "Yes! Yes! We should be able to write our own laws!" There was no one around to ask what she meant by "we".

Three hours earlier she and I had struck up a conversation in Philbeach Gardens. The crescent was plastered with "Remain" and "Leave" posters.* It was a quiet street. The woman was heading indoors with some purchases and had seen us filming. As we chatted I tried to maintain eye-contact through her shades and not let my gaze drift to the sticker in her window. She asked when she could see what we were filming and I didn't know. I did know the short was part of some council initiative because I was getting very nicely paid for it (we weren't allowed to say anything nasty about the Royal Family in Brompton Cemetery, that was part of the deal.)
"So will this be on at the New Art Centre?" she asked.
I didn't know about any Art Centre. Apprarently - I didn't know this either - Earl's Court exhibition centre is no more. "But do you know what they'll be building in its place?" she confided, "Housing obviously, but - and we've been pushing very hard for this - Do you know Covent Garden? A Covent Garden! But here! A cultural centre. Here in Earl's Court."
"Crikey!" I offered "So... like... Covent Garden?" I was picturing gift shops fringed by gangsters dressed as floating Yodas.
"Yes. Or an Arts Centre or something. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We have two Tory councillors who are absolutely behind it all the way, and one Lib Dem who is proving a proper pain. Wants nothing to do with the redevelopment."
"So it would be...?"
"A proper venue, a thousand-seater. Because I mean they've got to put something. They can't just tear down Earl's Court. Everyone's behind it."
"And do you think it will happen?" I asked, trying to think of a precedent.
"Well they've got to."
"But do you think they actually will?"
"No," she corrected me, "They've got to."

Serena from make-up came over and asked to see what the lady was holding. I'd been so busy maintaining eye-contact I hadn't noticed the square, lacquered box. She opened it. A clock rocked between several brass hoops.
"It's a chronometer. Isn't it lovely?"
It was. My brain translated "time" and "meter"... "Oh wow. What's it for?"
"It's a chronometer."
"Is it like a clock? I mean, what would it have been used for?"
"Telling the time."
"But I mean, what's the difference between that and a clock?"
"I don't know. They had them on ships."

Three hours even earlier, I was hobbling down Earl's Court road in clogs and a dressing gown splattered with fake vomit, howling red-eyed into paving stones.
Speaking of the referendum, remember this from 2011?

*That would have been a good photo. I wish I'd taken it. I'm not supposed to share any photos of the shoot either, so accompanying this post instead is a picture Keeps took of what I did yesterday and where I did it, which is why I couldn't be at the polls today. Sorry, history.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The After Party

Jimmy Fallon goes to a party in Heaven in the year 2017...


And everyone's thinking about Prince right now, and it's wonderful.

Monday, 29 February 2016



    Zuniform's heavier gravity was already beginning to take a toll on what Captain Corny still insisted on calling his "junk".
    "If I can just rest my junk on that rock yonder," he said aloud for some reason, "that'd free up my good hand. Who knows how many hands I'm gonna need free on Zuniform!"
    "Your helmet."
    "What?" Corny immediately turned, drawing his Shrill Ray from its sling... "A mirror!"
    "What mirror?" said the voice "You must remove your helmet. Please listen. It is too heavy for your brain."
    "By the three moons, my own reflection! Talking back to me!"
    "No." His reflection sounded tired. "I am not... Please, just take off your helmet. It serves no purpose and is making you stupid."
     "But the rock I'm resting my junk on. It's not showing up. Is that..."
     "Traveler, please..."
     "A vampire rock?!" 
     The Zuniformian Cleft-Wraith hung its head. Captain Corny did the same. Noticing this the Cleft-Wraith began to mime removing a helmet.  
     It worked.  
     His helmet off, Captain Corny waited to see what he would do next. 
     It was sigh.

The BBC is full of wonders.

Grafton House, Writers' Room script-reading - Thursday 25th February...





Monday, 22 February 2016


 "No, Z'dan, my left! MY LEFT!"

Back Channels


Holy moly this is late! As I'm guessing pretty much everyone who reads this blog already knows, series five of "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme" has gone out now and is (nearly) all up on Her Britannic Majesty's extant iplayer for further study. (Alright, a couple of episodes have dropped out of earshot but at least I plugged it in advance so I'm not a total idiot). Among other things, this series must have marked the most perilously concentrated period of writing I've seen the great man yet subject himself to, written as it was in Goodies-style-trandem with both "Double Acts" and the live show. The fact that everything turned out totally fine is a little worrying: He's not going to try and do all that again this year, is he? (On the Finnemore scale, "fine" of course means "won an award". Yes! "Double Acts" won best sitcom. Elsewhere, Cabin Pressure was nominated for best drama. John's producing so much that his work has literally spilt over into the wrong genres.)

The other thing this series marked was our first recordings post-"Souvenir Cabin". A bit off book, with a nod to costume and another nod to banter, it was the first live sketch show I'd ever done. I loved doing it, and felt by the third of my three nights pretty justified in loving doing it, but I'm not sure what I picked up helped me in Series 5. I'm talking about the grunting. I'm talking about the weird unscripted grunting before you even realise my character's in the scene. I don't know. No point worrying about your craft now, sunshine. Plough on...

Thank you, thank you, Ste-eve Ullathorne.

What else? Our gallant Producer Ed did some behind-the-scene production notes. I'll do that then. Here then are my own solipsistic titbits.

Episode 1 - Okay you can't hear the episode now, but... I'd say by the time Episode 1 aired there was still about a third of the series as finally broadcast yet to be written. Exciting. Unrelatedly, when I first saw John perform the final story, about crossing the Atlantic on a horse that thought it was a cat, it didn't have that ending - the ending where the day is saved by the horse landing on its feet - you know, the punchline you might have thought was the whole point of including a horse that thought it was a cat. No, he'd simply decided to include a horse that thought it was a cat and see where it went. Come on, that's fascinating! Another tiddlebiscuit: I think "School Slogan" marks the only time Margaret and I have turned up to a sketch accidentally wearing the same accent. Incidentally, Jason Hazely turned up to play the piano for this one having just learnt that six out of the top ten non-fiction books for that week were the Ladybirds he'd co-authored with Joel Morris. By Christmas it would be eight. He looked terrified. I remember bumping into Joel on the day of a tube strike back in Summer when the two of them were just getting started: they do a Christmas book every year and this year decided to have a proper think about which publisher they'd really like to write for. Joel was so happy showing me the caption for the dog rack. The secret of comedy is love. Timing's just a symptom. I've changed the subject. Anyway, I love Jason and was very happy to do stuff in front of and with him.

Here him in the actual Ladybird archive

Episode 2 - For some reason when playing the voice in John's head I found it very hard not to think "How would Rob Webb play this?" I'm not saying I could guess the answer, or that I would think it ethical to act upon it if I could. I'm just saying... I'm just saying. Similarly I first encountered the Wrong Friend sketch rehearsing "Souvenir Cabin" with John and his comedy partner of yore mum Kevin Baker. Kevin was unmatchably hilarious in this role. I tried to match him regardless, which is why I am shouting here more than acting.

Episode 3 - Oh, Ed hasn't done any notes for this. I remember we went to see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" on John's birthday - the one where Mark Strong hits a burning owl mid-flight with a cane. Back when the circus really was a circus. The spy story here, set in a zoo which is actually not a spy story at all, was first performed in "Souvenir Cabin". It was here I learnt to keep schtum through a laugh and hold out for a second wave, like some BMX skillz. Obviously stillness doesn't show up on radio though. It's like the grunting. Plough on. What else? I don't think Jurassic Park 3 is a worse movie than Jurassic Park 2.

Episode 4 - We do a thing called Silly Voices Day: a closed-plan, blue-sky, coffee-and-biscuits ideas ramble that helps give John something to write for. That's where "Kirates" came from. The first time we tried out "Word To The Wise" at the Canal Cafe I could barely get through the sketch with what the Americans call "breaking". In retrospect I think it helped. By the time of the recording I could rattle right through them, and I wish I hadn't. "Kirates" of course is all about not getting through it - the building pressure that corpsing (no pun intended) can provide is written in. (To see what the real thing can add to a sketch, watch the wave after wave Rachel Dratch catches with the line "I can't have children" below.)

Episode 5 - Silly Voices Day probably paid for itself with just this episode, which I adore. "Schmoogle" came from that as well as pretty much everything Lawry suggests here. That extra recording in January really paid for itself too: John had had a month off (on the Finnemore scale of course, "a month off" means "a month spent writing just the one thing") and returned carrying gold, bright-eyed and bushy tailed... a phrase I realise is a lot easier to imagine applied to John than to most other humans.

Episode 6 - I'm not saying you can't act and shout at the same time. What I find oddest about the self-proclaimed "Most Self-Indulgent Sketch In The World" is just how much I enjoyed playing someone not enjoying playing someone playing themself. It's all a bit

The story about putting Queen Victoria's brain in a robot was apparently inspired by this film, and the robot hedgehog itself was inspired by a remote-controlled hedgehog from the charity Christmas cabaret where the story had its first performance. (Go, Mighty Fin!)

(Before I deliver my final tildaswintonbids: if anyone is wondering if Lawry Lewin, Carrie Quinlan, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Sue Pearse and Ed Morrish are not just brilliant at their jobs but also fun and kind, they are.)

Final tin lid: When I sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" to John as the train manager, we had to retake the whole thing because the audience joined in.

Monday, 15 February 2016


Zwareth turned to behold the most hideous creature he had ever laid eyes on...


His mind raced: How had it got here?... What did it want with him?... What were those hideous glistening things at the end of its legs? Some form of cover?.. And where... Dear God!... Where were its wings and tail?!!!
"Your mandibles were moving. Are you talking to yourself?"  
"Oh - No. No. Nothing, my nectar. Just thinking."
Zwareth would have to watch himself. It would do no good for Zwarina to suspect... What? What had he done wrong? Nothing. So he'd seen the vide-saga before. No reason she had to know!
"Zwareth, you're doing it again."
"Muttering. What's on your mind, pupa?"
Boots the glistening things were called. Hideous. So hideous. And the creature's chest. Too broad. Far too broad. It didn't even have wings, why did it need such a large chest?! No matter how often Zwareth had watched this clip, it still all seemed so unnatural. Why was it so smooth? And those trousers!
"Zwareth. What?"
"Am I doing it again? "
Zwarina's tentacles loosened.
"We don't have to watch this."
"No. No no. I'm enjoying it. But I mean... Whatever you want, my nectar."
"Okay. Well... I might open another bottle."
"Not for me, thanks. But sure."
Zwarina paused the vide-saga and hovered over to the drinks cleft. Zwareth considered humming, but then decided remaining silent and stock still until his wife's return might better convey the impression of contentment.

Illustration by Rowena Morrill

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


On the topic of under-appreciated books about supermen...

Some people find Superman boring because he's invulnerable. But he's not of course. He cares, which makes him extremely vulnerable. Here's Elliot S. (later S!) Maggin's "Superman, Last Son of Krypton" originally published in 1977 to accompany the release of the Motion Picture and yet nothing like a novelization. In fact it reads like a very early Kurt Vonnegut. It's careful and witty and full of aliens, and was happily brought to my attention by Colin Smith here (with surprise input from S! himself in the comments below - "Of course Alan Moore read my book"). Below is one of my favourite paragraphs from it, the opening of Chapter 6 - "The Penthouse", a beautiful and unfamiliar introduction to an archetypal megalomaniac:
"Yesterday Luthor was dressed in skin-tight pyjamas and crossed ammunition belts. The outfit was the only affectation he had for a purpose, and therefore the only one he recognized as an affectation. The penthouse hideaway four hundred feet over the city, the medieval tapestries hanging over the faces of the computers and wall consoles, the Egyptian sarcophagus whose mummy was replaced by a mattress covered with Snoopy sheets and pillowcases, paintings on the walls by Leyendecker, Peake, Frazetta and Adams, those weren't affectations. Those were matters of taste. Luthor was flying in the terrace window with his jet boots for the seventeenth time and he was running out of videotape."

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Kid's Show

"You must remember that Homo Sapiens has little more to contribute to the music of this planet, nothing in fact but vain repetition. It is time for finer instrument to take up the theme."
Before I leave Bowie behind entirely...

I assume he read Olaf Stabledon's 1935 novel "Odd John" - about a pan-sexual, permanently adolescent, hyper-intelligent super-being.  It seems a more probable source of the phrase homo superior than "The Tomorrow People" anyway. 

Olaf Stapledon's a rather unsung figure in British Sci-Fi. He's best known either for 1930's "Last and First Men" - in which he wrote more broadly about the future evolution of humanity, really broadly in fact, I forget how broad, millions of years - or for 1937's "Star Maker" - in which the narrator pops out for cigarette and ends up voyaging to the end of the Universe, again I forget the details, I think he meets God. Its final pages, I do remember, set out very clearly the case for war against the Nazis. Christ, imagine living then!
"A nation, after all, is just a society for hating foreigners."
With subjects these humungous (and unfilmable) perhaps it's clear why Stapledon's not more widely known, yet he relates these immensities about as sanely as any writer can I guess. There's always a sense of fun. The wit is more apparent in a work like "Odd John" though, where the human scale allows for actual dialogue. Here for example, is an eight-year-old John in conversation with a business magnate:
"It must be so snug to feel both safe and important."
I love that. 

Homo Superior's childish curiosity takes a much darker turn later on in the novel, but Stabledon's a canny enough writer to suggest that this journey - like much in nature outside the experience of homo sapiens - has nothing to safely teach us. All the quotes come from the younger John's Gulliver-like observations of life in the thirties. We've had capitalism, here's communism:
"Funny, too, what a religious fellow that Communist really is... Of course he tells you the Class War is needed to emancipate the Workers. But what really gets him about it isn't that. The fire inside him, though he doesn't know it, is a passion for what he calls dialectic materialism, for the dialectic of history. The one selfishness in him is the longing to be an instrument of the Dialectic, and oddly enough what he really means by that, in his heart of hearts, is what Christians so quaintly describe as the law of God." 
Okay, that quote wasn't so much fun... 

Maybe it was "The Tomorrow People".

Beyond Good and Evil with Pete and San

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Station to Station with Buster Keaton

He's standing in the wrong place!
Speaking of obvious Mirrorboy influences, seeing this image from The General recently, made me realise how much of Buster Keaton's comedy (and influence) can be derived from that one statement: he's in the wrong place. It's character comedy of a sort, but a classical figure in a non-classical landscape that's modern and breaking down and falling apart and moving differently to what you've braced yourself for is also pleasing just visually. You could say it predicted surrealism if Keaton didn't normally like people so much.
"The Frozen North" is an exception...

A complete break in character: here the Great Stone Face snarls, robs, murders the innocent, and incorporates a giant comedy beard into a rape scene in a way that had me genuinely gasping with laughter. It's alright though because it all turns out to be a dream or a film, or a dream in front of a film. I first watched it with the sound down, bewitched. It was only watching it the second time with the piano accompaniment up that I recoiled: this isn't a story that benefits from being buoyed up by ragtime, it needs music from the abyss, something that could sell a burning rose. Looking for a better accompaniment I went to Ralfe Bande's (the Ralfe Bande's?) fab absurdist-friendly score for Paul King's film "Bunny and the Bull", but reviewing the resultant mash-up I think it turned out a little joyless. Then I saw the photograph below, and went to Bowie. "Station to Station" is nice and long (if not long enough), but it's also fierce and I think it fits. See what you think. I'm going to pretend that this is Keaton's Bowie tribute.

On the subject of thin white dukes, David Cairns' blog introduced me to the film and explains here how the whole thing was actually a satire on a peculiarly gaunt contemporary - the unfortunately named William S. Hart - a star of the silent western who'd kicked Buster's friend and mentor Fatty Arbuckle when he was down. So much surrealism, it turns out, is just spoofs of things I haven't seen. (By the way the other name above the title - Eddie Cline - went on to direct most of W.C, Fields' features. His last, "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break", features Fields chasing a bottle of whiskey off the observation deck of an airplane only to land in a screwball interpretation of The Tempest, a mountain nest occupied by Margaret Dumont, her virgin daughter, and a gorilla. Recommended obvs.)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

It'll Hurt More

Of course Alan Rickman's death hasn't really sunk in yet.
I rewatched "Truly Madly Deeply" only a few months ago, on an old VHS appropriately enough. And, once again, skiving off work to hang with Rickman's prickly ghost seemed a far more beautiful fate than having to move on to Michael Maloney and his hopping sack of quirks. "Wait," I thought on this latest rewatching "Is this subconsciously why I found grief so attractive? Because of Maloney with his sleeves stuffed with doves, trying too hard? Because of this film and Bach and Barrington Pheloung? Because of Juliet Stevenson? Because Alan Rickman made self-indulgence look so dashing?" Might this also have been why I spent so much of my twenties keeping my coat on indoors?


 Probably. It's still there, under my skin, if I think about it. Look up: his influence can be seen even in the banner of this blog. Let's not mince words, for anyone of my generation acting as they entered adulthood Alan Rickman's performances really - really - broadened our options. The key supporting player in a lot of late adolescences, I can't think what it would have been like without him.
The Goblin King gone. Now Gruber. It hasn't really sunk in yet. After the count of three.
One -

Monday, 11 January 2016

Sweet Thing


Okay. "Blackstar". But David Bowie was always saying goodbye, wasn't he? That's what's so devastating. Space Oddity. Changes. Time. Let's Dance. Love Is Lost. Was there ever a work where he wasn't, if not raging against, at least charting the dying of the light? Even when he sang about the future it was to sing about a world without him in it. It's ageing to think that now might have stopped.
Not might have. Has.
Maybe they've uploaded him into Roy Batty. Facebook and Twitter are full of Bowie right now, but weren't they always? That's the other thing. Wasn't someone daily finding something Bowie-based which delighted them and inspired them and which they wanted to share? This is so much less fun than when Lemmy passed.
I tweeted, as far as I could within 144 characters, "Here's how it will have to work: We're all Bowie now. Someone dies you take all you loved in them and and become it... Too much isn't there?" Someone else tweeted that they understand now how our parents must have felt when Elvis died. Maybe. But I think it's bigger than that, because THOSE TUNES... Just as Shakespeare would be a genius if he'd only written "Measure For Measure", we'd be honouring Bowie today if he'd only written "Sweet Thing" (the first song of his I went to when I read the news today)...

But that's not how writing works. I guess you keep making things. Last year I lay in and learnt to enjoy not making things and to just take things in, and the year passed as slowly as it would have if I were ten, because it turns that out taking things in - even on youtube - counts as change, and the more change you experience the slower time passes. It was beautiful. This year might have to be different however. I'm sure time will pass slowly if I make things too.
His first wife's in the Big Brother House. Major Tim's in space. I wonder if they know yet. He was beautiful, but it was never about being beautiful. He was sweet too, let's not forget that either. Let's dance.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

As Many Stars as there are Ears!

As you can see it's been a fun winter, apart from the gas leak and the prospect of having all of our floorboards ripped up and - Forget that. Why not enjoy some of the fruits of that winter down the side of your head? And forget about not having any heat, or floor - Boiled eggs or floor, that's the deal - But don't worry about that! Here:
The Monster Hunters Christmas Special! "The Rapping on The Mirror" - NOW with added SCRYING. And a whole Series 3 is on its way! I'm listening again to Series 2 as I write this. Much happy.
North by Northamptonshire: Full Stop! A "bottle episode", which means I get to do a massive, long scene with Katherine Jakeways and Felicity Montagu and Penelope Wilton AND Geoffrey Palmer AND Sheila Hancock AND John Biggins, and TWO Kevin Eldons! All in a bottle! The kind of morning one files under "Christmas has come early", hence the jumper.
And finally, this very evening on the BBC's own Radio Four, a BRAND NEW SERIES of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme will be broadcast at half-past six! And then HERE!
Okay, enough fruit... I wonder if there's any pizza left for breakfast.