Thursday, 30 June 2022

"Where there wasn't mud there was fog, and in between was us enjoying ourselves."

 Victorian teenagers reminisce...
"Of course, there was no such thing as anything but of course." 
  Former "grizzleguts" Effy Jones recalls her graduation from mooning about, to bicycles and typewriters, while existentialist art student Berta Ruck gives us a song from the gutter, in this cracking clip from the BBC Archive. Accompanying it: more great shots from Pamela Raith of "Bleak Expectations", tickets for which you can still buy here. But be quick, because it ends Saturday. "Well, why weren't you quicker plugging it then, Simon? It's clear from these pictures you've quite a lot of time off." Well, why don't you shush?

Teenage Wasteland!

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

A Dullish Life Re-Thrilled!

 What larks, Pip? These larks!
 Time is like butter. When I buy a tub, it seems to remain nearly full for ages, until somehow, suddenly there's just two days' worth left. I voiced this thought to Alicia (pictured below, enjoying rose petals) in the kitchen we share in Newbury, while I was making breakfast at two in the afternoon, and she suggested I put it on the blog, since I hadn't posted anything since December. This was three weeks ago.

 And now here we are, after a month's run, with just four nights left of Mark Evans' theatrical adaptation of his Radio Four Bildungsroman Behemoth "Bleak Expectations" – I can hear the piccolos from "Whistle Down the Wind" rehearsing what will replace us as I write – and so here's the plug for it. Come if you can, and haven't. Tickets are here. (I've been plugging the show relentlessly on other social media, obviously, but have you seen how depressing things are over there?) Really, I couldn't be happier to be in this. I get to play a baddie previously played by Anthony Head, and Mark and director Caroline Leslie, and, well, everyone, have done a miraculous job of not only taking capital N radio Nonsense and making it work onstage, but also probably more trickily, chanelling five series of a sitcom into a moving, two-hour, cod-Dickensian narrative. We perform it in a real old watermill too, which is gorgeous, like Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room" but with Victorians instead of toucans, and if it's a bit out of the way, it still gets National Press. Here we are in The Metro!

We also received a nice review in The Times, which you can read the top bit of without paying, as well as maybe the best three star review I've ever read in The Guardian - its only rival being the review from which these quotes accompanying Pamela Raith's gorgeous photos have been taken, HERE.
 Some other reviews, for – if no reason other – my own miserable hoarding:
 A five star review from Caitlin's dad, presumably, Mickey Jo Theatre
 The original exciting cast announcement in WhatsOnStage
 An interview with our producer stroke star, Dom "Pip Bin" Hodson, for West End Best Friend (he honestly auditioned other Pips)
 And this single tweet from another Dom:

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

"Perfectly Buoyant" - further chronicling of the tosh

willoughbies.jpeg by John Finnemore

 We had tried all manner of things with "The Willoughbies" in previous series of JFSP, both at sketch try-outs and live recordings: We'd tried it with John as the Dad, with me as the Dad, as a "runner" – catching buses, or winning points for spotting spelling mistakes in a menu – and as a standalone sketch, but they never made it in. And I didn't really get them. I am – as should be clear by now from these posts – a lot slower on the uptake than most listeners, and cold as a stone. Possibly the point was to show a generically happy, Ned-Flanders-type family in a less annoying light, and to let an audience – specifically John's audience – love something more commonly mocked. Posssibly it was less pointed than that; sometimes John just enjoys painting portraits. Anyway, I was surprised how doggedly he kept trying to do something with them.
 So when he first mooted over Zoom his plans for Series Nine, and for the family formerly known as Willoughby, I immediately anticipated how out of my depth I might be. This wouldn't be the normal rough trade John gets me to do. I'd need a buoyancy aid. That buoyancy aid turned out to be a fond memory of Jim Broadbent at his most "heigh-ho" augmented with a weak "r", and I clung onto that aid for dear life when recording Jerry's first scene – the restaurant scene from Episode Two. As I said on twitter during the tweetalong
 "I reckon it might have been this scene that made me consider giving Jerry that voice. I was worried my own voice might sound a little too punching down. Among other things"
 You know. Bullying. I'm making it sound like it was hard, aren't I. It wasn't hard, of course. I had John's writing to play, John and the rest of the cast to play off, Sue's tunes to sing, and Ed to tell me how much Jerry reminded him of his dad. But this was unlike anything I'd done on the radio before*, Jerry wasn't a character in a sketch, he had a whole series, a series in which I'd also be playing quite a few other roles which we'd have distinguish from him, so whatever voice I used in that first recording of that first scene would have to stick. Fortunately, Jim Broadbent is a very versatile actor. 
 Oh, here's something about that restaurant sketch I didn't know:
 And this might be my favourite revelation of the week. I've loved Willie Rushton ever since I received a copy of his comic "The Gernaium of Flüt" as a child, and I wish I could find it now. His son in that is called Toby, I think. His dog might be called Toby as well. I sang his praises here, back in 2008. And here he is playing Watson opposite John Cleese's Holmes.
 But he wasn't just the dry, avuncular fantasist of my childhood. Ruhston was there at the beginning of Private Eye and That Was The Week That Was, a stalwart of the sixties' Satire Boom that Jerry fails the audition for in Episode Six. In real life there are people who remind you of people, and I love that Jerry had that, whether I knew it or not. What I remind myself most of in fact, listening to Jerry now, is my childhood friend Tom. He was big fan of Willie Rushton too.
 Here's something great that William Shaw wrote about the series' approach to failure. And here, before I go – because, despite what it says at the top of this post, it's actually New Year's Eve tonight – is another thing John told me about the inspiration for Jerry when we first Zoomed:
 It goes up to 63, by the way. 
 Series Nine is still being repeated at 11pm on Radio 4, the final episode is tonight, if you have any questions you can post them below, and you can still hear the whole thing any time you like here. (I recognises that, despite all this talk about buoyancy aids, I haven't once mentined the lilo.) Happy New Year, Unattendees!

*(I know I've played Sir Maxwell House over a few series of "The Monster Hunters" {who also taught crows to do tricks}, but Sir Maxwell is a character from a sketch, which might be why the show outgrew him.)

Monday, 27 December 2021

Some Things That Might Not Be Obvious About the Making of Finnemore's Ninth

 I'd forgotten I'd already written about the production of JFSP Series Nine back when we first started recording in March, here. The home recording set-up in that first session turned out to be insufficiently broad-bandy, however, and so most of my remaining lines were recorded half an hour's stroll away, in the Nathan-Barley-themed escape room of Bloomsbury's Syncbox studios...
  I would usually have had about two hours' sleep the night before, from the excitement of knowing this was coming. And sometimes I'd be lucky enough to be joined – in the opposite corner of the studio, no hugging – by Carrie, taking a break from the ambulances she's now driving, also on about two hours' sleep. John, being John, wouldn't have slept since Christmas 2020. On this little sleep, a crucial advantage of not performing the series live turned out to be the opportunity for retakes, and the chance for our producer Ed Morrish to direct, well, specifically, me. "Try that again, warmer," was a common note. 
 Carrie, meanwhile, got it, and got on with it. I'd hoped my tiredness might help me stop overthinking "the point" of a scene, but I'm suddenly remembering as I write this how she would still occasionally have to give me an additional note to just "do the thing John asked"... Was it really necessary to have so many scenes of Jerry making up poems, I remember thinking for example, having no idea yet of the revelations in Episode Five... As I said on the tweetalong (and I've enjoyed seeing how many listeners are surprised by this), we all knew that John had a big idea for the shape of this series, but none of us – with the possible exception of Ed – knew what that shape was. And John, again being John (one of his best qualities) would still ask open-endedly for feedback or suggestions, but to take him up on this felt like kicking the tyres on the batmobile. 
 In fairness to my lack of understanding, quite a lot of Jerry's episode was recorded first – only tyrants have favourites, but Jerry might have been the character John found least inherently difficult to create – and there wasn't that much to piece together back then. Even the author didn't have a clearer idea than was needed of the big picture two sessions in. Take the first recording of the scene where Alex asks Russ about his tattoo...

 John on Zoom: "Okay. Simon. Could you read Alex in this?"
 "Okay. Who's Alex?"
 "Yes. I should probably decide that, shouldn't I."
 "Someone Russ is meeting at a party?"
 "No. Maybe Russ's partner, or husband. Let's decide... Okay, yes, his partner or husband."
 "And is this them meeting at a party?"
 "No. This isn't a party."
 "Shall I give Alex an accent?"
 If you haven't listened to the series, Alex ended up being an Australian played by John. So, yes, of course there was a plan, is what I'm saying – a pretty perfect plan as things turned out – but there was also, perhaps the greatest advantage of the costume-less, set-less, on-book medium of radio: a big temporal overlap with that plan's execution.
 Series Nine is still being repeated nightly at 11pm, the tweetalong will be continuing tonight or, if you have any questions, you can post them below, and you can still hear the whole thing any time you like here.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

"I hear you let your forefather out of the cupboard!"

 *Duck call as used in John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme!* 
 ANNOUNCEMENT: Series Nine of JFSP is getting a second airing on Radio 4 tonight at 11pm, and every night thereafter until New Year's Eve, and producer Ed Morrish is planning a tweet-along to accompany Episode One tonight – the one starring Lawry Lewin. I might be asleep because I'm an hour ahead, Carrie might also be asleep as they've started allowing her to drive ambulances, and Lawry's not even on twitter, but I'll see if I can get that fake account pretending to be him to join us instead.

 Of course, you can still hear any you episode you want any time you like on Sounds, and I say "of course" because I'm still rashly assuming that everyone reading this blog will have already heard it anyway. If you haven't however, I've written a little about how much I love it, and why you shouldn't necessarily be expecting a sketch show, here
 In keeping with the theme of Series Nine, here's a Moomin being startled by his ancestors:

 I loved hearing John play Moomintroll on the radio yesterday, by the way, and really recommend you listen to the production of "Moominland Midwinter" in which he did it. It's possibly my favourite adaptation yet of possibly my favourite books; I'm still trying to work out what my love of Tove Jansson says about me. The increasing marketability of her characters isn't helping, but I think what she taught me, uniquely among the childrens' authors I read, was that a story can be packed with fantasy and drama without any need for "adventure". This probably wasn't a particularly useful lesson to learn as a writer, but there's no unlearning it. 
 Here's another Moomin winter to enjoy.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Lembit Opik...

 O HOU, everyone! Happy First of Leo! Let's all celebrate One Humanity, One Unity – but not necessarily in that order – with Asgardia's plucky "Chair of Parliament" Lembit Opik, an uncredited Lena DeWinne, and their tiny "Head of Legal Affairs", none of whom outstay their welcome. If that wasn't enought to make this a Unity Day to remember, joining them is a computer-generated woman from 2005: "All Asgardians will be awarded celebrating in all corners!" Imagine that!

  Speaking of all corners, I see Dennis Shoemaker has found the perfect place for his map of the US. Okay, so it turns out that Unity Day was actually six months ago, but that's my fault, not theirs. I wasn't going to let the year go by without sharing the latest from Asgardia with you anyway, and every day's Unity Day here at Unattended Articles, so let's hear now from their Head of Information and Communications. Take it away, Dennis!
 Of course, Asgardia won't just be about law and information and recruiting women to give birth in outer space. There will also be a strong cultural element. But what will the Art of Earth's First Space Nation look like? It will look like Hell. O hou, Cheryl!

 Oh, who's this at the door now, but Asgardia's Minister for Trade and Commerce, Ben Dell, who maybe hasn't had that much to do this past year? I don't know. That's just a guess. Maybe sloppily photoshopping the Starship Enterprise onto pictures of himself sitting on a space swing was exactly how Ben was meant to be spending his time. It certainly wasn't wasted anyway. That's one tasty vision. Here's still to the future, guys. O HOU!

Deck the Stars!

 Season's Merries to all of you, ol' Unatendees! From the tasteful opulence of this Notting Hill window display, to the simple star atop the town down the tracks below. I hope, however you spend this day, and whomever you spend it with, that incorporated into it at some point will be your idea of fun, and I hope you're all doing tremendously!