Archive for August, 2008

Geoffrey Perkins 1953- 2008

August 30, 2008

If like me, you’re a really big comedy fan, there are few moments in life more memorable and enjoyable than sitting in front of the tv or radio watching or listening to your favourite show.

The name Geoffrey Perkins came up at the end of so many of these shows for me, that I started to remember the name – not something as a young comedy fan I would ever do consciously. But he just produced so many great shows that the name stuck. And over the years, hearing the writers and actors involved in many of his projects talking, they always spoke of how inspiring, creative and instinctive he was about comedy – and how he still maintained that infectious boyish enthusiasm for his craft throughout everything he did.
There really are very few exceptionally-talented people involved in any endeavour and perhaps moreso in comedy, which is so hard to get right even once. But he got it right on so many occassions. Of course, he started off as a writer/performer and his first big hit was as one of the stars of Radio Active on Radio 4, alongside Angus Deayton. But, it’s undoubtedly as a creative producer that he’s made his biggest mark. Some of the many shows he is responsible for producing or bringing to the screen as BBC Head of Comedy include:

The Royle Family
The League of Gentlemen
Harry Enfield’s Television Programme
The Fast Show

Then there’s:
Father Ted – as director of Hat Trick Productions.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – as producer of the original Radio 4 series.

On top of all that, he’s the guy who created Mornington Crescent for ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.’

None of those shows, all iconic British comedy institutions in their own right, would have been the same, and many of them might not have existed at all, without the skill, passion and enthusiasm of Geoffrey Perkins.
All of us who love great comedy can remember as children, teenagers and adults, the great pleasure of watching our favourite shows and the joy of enthusiastically re-living our favourite scenes the next day with our friends – surely one of the greatest simple pleasures in life. Some very rare people can keep that enthusiasm going throughout their life, using it to create great comedy and enthuse other people.
I never met him, but I feel sure he must have loved what he did, because he did it so very very well for so very very long. And in amongst the sadness, there has to be celebration for a life well lived.
Thanks for all the great moments. Truly.

Lost In Austen

August 27, 2008

In a frankly cynical attempt to cash in on the upcoming new ITV1 drama series Lost In Austen, I present a couple of my radio sketches from years ago …  
Those Charming Bennet Girls – #1
FX: 18th Century chamber music.

MAN: (posh, Pride & Prejudice) Mr Bennet, may I introduce Mr Dingley who is newly arrived in these parts from London …(whispering) …in search of a wife!

DINGLEY: Good day to you, sir.

MR BENNET: And to you, Dingley. Allow me to introduce my daughters – Elizabeth, Betty, Liz, Eliza, Bessie, Beth, Betsie, Liza and my eldest, Lizzie.

DINGLEY: Charmed.

FX: The Bennet girls giggle.

DINGLEY: I am told sir that the Bennet girls are all accomplished at needlepoint.

BENNET: Indeed sir.

DINGLEY: Do they read also?

BENNET: Reading sir? My girls? Why, they are half-wits. Like their mother. That is their charm. Why Lizzie once saw a book and had to be put to bed for a week.

DINGLEY: Indeed sir. How delightful.

BENNET: I’ll have you know, that my library is guarded 24-hours a day – by a servant with a shotgun. Should one of the poor creatures so much as stray towards it, he has been instructed to fire a warning shot over her head.

DINGLEY: An attitude which does you credit sir.

FX: More giggling.

BENNET: Ah! I see a colleague. If you would excuse me for a moment, Dingley. My eldest, Lizzie, shall entertain you.

DINGLEY: My pleasure, sir.

LIZZIE: So Mr Dingley, how are you enjoying the country life?

DINGLEY: The view is lovely. Particularly from where I’m standing at the moment.

FX: Giggling from the other girls.

LIZZIE: Indeed sir. You are too kind.

DINGLEY: Not at all. The kindness is all yours, the kindness in allowing me to gaze on such … rare beauty.

FX: Hysterical giggling from her little sisters.

LIZZIE: Sisters, please! Sir, your tongue does charm me indeed.

DINGLEY: Not at all. It is my pleasure to have the company of such –

FX: He is interrupted by the other girls giggling.

LIZZIE: Pray continue sir.

DINGLEY: I was merely remarking that it was my –

FX: More giggling.

LIZZIE: Excuse me for a moment, Mr Dingley. LISTEN! WILL YOU LOT SHUT IT! CAN’T SEE I’M TRYING TO GET A RIDE, HERE? Sorry, sir. Pray continue …

FX: Giggling and end coda of chamber music.


Those Charming Bennet Girls – #2

BENNET: Watch Dingley! See how the creature dances to the music. It’s almost as if she understands what’s happening. (He makes whistling noises like on “One Man And His Dog’) Come by girl! Come by!

DINGLEY: Charming, sir. And this, Eliza, would be your … youngest daughter?

BENNET: That’s right Dingley. Just sixteen and as thick as her mother.

DINGLEY: Indeed sir.

BENNET: Why she is so dizzy she cannot even find the drawing room in her own home – and has to be led there by servants.

DINGLEY: How delightful. Tell me sir. Young Eliza. In temperament, is she anything like her sisters?

BENNET: Exactly sir.

DINGLEY: Ah! I see.

BENNET: I notice Dingley, that in the past week you’ve caught the eye of many of my daughters – all fourteen, in fact.

DINGLEY: Yes sir.

BENNET: But, none of them, alas, seems to have pleased you.

DINGLEY: Not at all. They are all quite charming. It is merely that I am …

BENNET: Do they not dance as well as society ladies?

DINGLEY: No sir. They dance admirably well.

BENNET: Do they not play piano? Needlepoint? Why they can even eat with a knife and fork sir. What more do you want?

DINGLEY: Mr Bennet, I …

BENNET: Do you drink from the other side of the glass?

DINGLEY: I beg your pardon?

BENNET: Do you bat for the other side?

DINGLEY: I’m sorry sir. I don’t undertand what you’re –

BENNET: Do you wear your trousers backwards? Have you a friend in the town? Do you approach the racecourse from an all together diff-er-ent angle?

DINGLEY: Sir, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re –

BENNET: Do I have to spell it out for you man? DO YOU TAKE IT UP THE A–

DINGLEY: Aaaah! I see sir. I understand. No, no. Quite the opposite.

BENNET: Glad to hear it. I don’t have any boys. Just daughters I’m afraid. I do have a younger brother – but I only use him in emergencies. I do have a cousin Bethany however. She might fit the bill.

DINGLEY: Indeed. Is she pretty?

BENNET: In an ape-like fashion, yes. If looking like an ape could be deemed pretty then she’s a stunner sir.

DINGLEY: Right, well perhaps then, if you have any other cousins …?

BENNET: Afraid not.

DINGLEY: Or younger sisters?


DINGLEY: Right, well, in that case, ehm .. I … Oh, forget it! Shove it up your arse, Bennet! I’m going back to London to smoke opium and live with some prostitutes.

FX: End coda of chamber music.

Have You Got The X Factor?

August 17, 2008

(Top: Have You Got The X Factor? Above: Sharon Osbourne. The Wicked Witch of the West Country)

Across the land, chicken factory workers, world-weary nine-year-olds and old men with young hair, will once more be queuing down the yellow brick road outside various regional TV stations. The X Factor is back.

Who will make it to Emerald City bootcamp and eventually win? Will it be the lovely 80-year-old lady who sings quivery songs from the last war? The precocious teen with the conveniently-timed personal tragedy? ( ‘I hear your entire family just died in a car crash on the way to this audition. Well done for carrying on. Just pop the wire-cutters on the floor and tell us what you’ll be singing’) Or will it be the cute 19-year-old with the nice bottom? It’s a completely open contest, as they keep telling us.

As part of my extensive research on the show, last week I went to see a fortune teller and she told me, ‘In 2006 the winner’s name was Leona. In 2007 it was Leon. In 2008, watch out for someone called Leo.’ (My Great Uncle Leo is 84-years-old and resides in a maximum security twilight home – but I’ve got £200 on him to win the final, just in case. )

180,000 people applied this year and the kindest act of euthanasia is always when Simon Cowell tells some starry-eyed teen with no discernable talent to give up chasing the dream. It never works of course, but God bless him for trying. Along with Simon on the judging panel, we still have grumpy munchkin Louis Walsh and failed Aussie popster Dannii Minogue.

As usual, at some point Simon will suck on his pen and make the following comments:

1. You might be something special.
2. This competition needs someone like you.
3. I really really like you, you know.

At which point, he’s done talking to himself in the mirror and leaves the house for the X Factor studios.

Sharon Osbourne has gone of course, to be replaced by Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Cole. What really happened to The Evil Witch of The West Country has never been revealed, but here at Tales From An Empty Room we can give you an exclusive. Apparantly Louis Walsh threw a glass of holy water at her and she melted into a giant puddle of dog shit – which Ozzy then stepped in, saying ‘Aaah, those fookin’ dogs. Shaaaaron!’

Some highlights from week one:

Rachel, a 26-year-old singer who had the first of her 5 kids when she was just 13 and has a background of drugs and prison. She was a very likeable larger-than-life character and thank God she had a good voice as you could see Simon’s fruit-machine-eyes roll back into his head with the tabloid potential.

And then there was 16-year-old Alexandra from Bridgend, hoping the recent spate of teenage suicides in the area would help her singing career.

And one of many lowpoints, Welsh brothers Ant & Seb who looked and sounded like Baz and Dave from The Fat Slags cartoon in Viz magazine. Baz could sing a bit, so as he gave us Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’, Dave accompanied him with what I suppose was meant to be rapping. Unfortunately for all concerned it sounded more like he was experiencing a bout of Tourette’s Syndrome, performed in a Welsh-Jamaican accent.

Some people prefer these early rounds so you can laugh at all the crap singers. I get pretty bored with all that after a while and much prefer the later rounds when we arrive at bootcamp and start to get to know the people involved. After seeing them every week for three or four months you really do start to care about whether they win or lose and it’s easy to get swept along on the emotional rollercoaster of their journey. But, isn’t that the whole point?

Last Christmas I sat with tears in my eyes as Leon and Rhydian and Co sang their hearts out in the final. I thought Leon was great. A really genuine guy and a worthy winner. However, a few weeks later, I turned on my telly and saw some gurning little twat warbling his way through a turgid Number One single. Could this be the same little Leon I’d championed just a few weeks earlier? Of course it was. He hadn’t changed, I had.

It’s the singing equivalent of soap operas. Have you ever come back from a long holiday and turned on your favourite soap only to think, ‘What a load of shit.’ We get so caught up in it all, we often lose our critical faculties.

But that’s all part of the glorious experience that is The X Factor. It’s not just the contestants that go on the journey – it’s us lot too. Oh yes, hang onto your pigtails. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

The Dark Knight – Shitting On The Audience From A Great Height

August 1, 2008

Surely when you’re planning to re-create an esteemed comic book franchise on screen you first need to decide what sort of universe you’re striving to create.Will it be other-wordly and fantastical like an actual comic book. Or will you try and shoehorn in tedious contemporary references in the hope you’ll be taken seriously.
Batman Director Christopher Nolan couldn’t make his mind up, so he’s gone for both.

So we get Christian Bale’s Batman and Heath Ledger’s Joker appearing in different movies, but sharing the same screen. It seems Nolan must have told Heath Ledger they wanted it edgy and real like a proper psychopath. But appears to have forgotten that he’s playing up against A MAN IN A BLACK RUBBER SUIT who’s apparantly just stumbled in from the Village People video they’re making on the set next-door. And who has further decided to camp it up by borrowing the voice of Barry White – The Walrus of Love and, now it seems, Masked Crimefighting.

If Ledger had given this jittery psycho shtick in another movie, a standard child-killer thriller type of affair, maybe it could have worked. But he’s playing against A MAN IN A RUBBER SUIT who, when he’s not flying through the air encased in rubber, is the rest of the time sipping champagne on Duran Duran’s Yaught with big-titted ballerinas.

Have you ever met a ballerina? I have (extra work, years ago) and big-titted is not how you’d ever describe them. Bony, twitchy, chain-smoking, torn-faced and, mostly Russian. Yes. Big & Titty. No.

I don’t ever remember Dame Margot Fontaine being invited to appear in Razzle. Though, I’ll freely admit I don’t have the complete set. Not as yet.
Anyway, whilst these two muppets were busy starring in two different films, the director was busy making yet another movie, packed with naive leaden Guatanamo and 911 references.

Okay Chris, we get the idea. You don’t like Bush, you don’t believe in the war, you don’t like all this surveillance. What a brave maverick, out there on his own, saying it like it is, sticking it to the Man … making 100 million dollar franchise-driven movies. That’ll show ’em.
Anyway, as if the average Batman viewer (the 12 -year-old boys sitting behind us who clapped at the end) could give a fuck about all that.

Maybe it’s possible to convincingly weave realism into a film about a billionaire who shags big-titted Russian ballerinas and dresses in rubber to save the people. But you’d need a far better leading man, script and director than this to make it convincing.

Also, I found Heath Ledger’s performance way too disturbing. For all the wrong reasons. It was like watching someone having a nervous breakdown on screen. I guess the film maybe came along at a fateful time for him, and playing a man on the edge wasn’t much of a stretch.

However, I suspect if he’d been cast in Mamma Mia instead of Batman, we might well have got the same performance. Not quite so appropriate perhaps, but probably far more entertaining than this big pile of shit.

And it’d be worth it just to see his rendition of ‘Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out’ in full mad hair and clown make-up.

Or did Meryl Streep do that already? I haven’t seen this one yet, so don’t spoil it for me.