Tag Archives: ITV

How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street

Many moons ago, I used to work a lot for Granada TV in Manchester, home of Coronation Street which, since its birth in 1960, has been the UK’s regular ratings-topper.

I never worked in the Drama Department at Granada – mostly I was in Promotions with slight forays into Children’s/Light Entertainment.

But I remember having conversations with two Coronation Street producers at different times about the structure of the soap and they both, pretty much, ran it along similar lines.

The first, crucial pillar to build a soap on is a central location.

In Coronation Street, the BBC’s EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale this is a pub – the Rover’s Return, the Queen Vic and The Woolpack.

River City in Scotland and Fair City in the Republic of Ireland have also taken the pub to their soapy hearts.

The pub allows you to have a central core cast – a small staff and ‘regulars’ who live locally – and a logical reason why new characters bringing new plots will enter and leave the ongoing storyline.

ATV’s ancient soap Crossroads used a variation of this by having the central setting as a motel.

In the case of Coronation Street, there was (certainly when I worked at Granada) a formula which went roughly like this…

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

  • one main storyline peaking
  • one main storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next main storyline
  • one subsidiary storyline peaking
  • one subsidiary storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next subsidiary storyline

COMIC STORYLINES (as with dramatic storylines)

  • one peaking
  • one winding down
  • one building

I have always thought that EastEnders fails in ignoring or vastly underplaying the possibility of comic storylines. When Coronation Street is on a roll, it can be one of the funniest shows on TV.

I confess shamefacedly that I have not actually watched Coronation Street lately (well, it HAS been going since 1960, now five times a week, and even I have a partial life).

But another interesting insight from one of the producers at Granada TV was that Coronation Street (certainly in its perceived golden era) was also slightly out-dated. It appeared to be a fairly socially-realistic tableau of life in a Northern English town, slightly dramatised. But it was always 10-20 years out-of-date. It showed what people (even people in the North) THOUGHT life was currently like, but it had an element of nostalgia.

This was in-built from the start. The initial ‘three old ladies in the snug’ of the 1960s – Era Sharples and her two cronies) is what people thought Northern life was like but, in fact, that was a vision from the early 1950s or 1940s or even 1930s. So modern storylines were being imposed on a slightly nostalgised (not quite romanticised!) vision of the North.

In other countries where pubs are not a tradition, of course, you have to find another central location.

But, in my opinion, if you lessen the humour and harden the gritty realism, you may maintain ratings figures in the short or medium term, but you are gambling. And if your spoken lines sound like written lines (as they often do in EastEnders) then you are a titanic success sailing close to an iceberg.

But what do I know?

1 Comment

Filed under Television, Writing

How I helped create the character of the fake American comedian Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Erich McElroy

A very young Brian Simpson (left) in Edinburgh with genuine American comedian Erich McElroy

Brownhills Town Entrance feature sculpture by John McKenna (Photo by Jpb1301 of Wikipedia)

Brownhills Town Entrance feature sculpture by John McKenna (Photo by Jpb1301 of Wikipedia)

Brian Simpson, the English character comedian who performs as American comic Lewis Schaffer, was a massive fan of Tiswas, the slapstick children’s TV show I used to work on. He was born and bred in Brownhills.

Tiswas was broadcast live from the ATV Studios in the centre of Birmingham every Saturday. Brownhills is in the north of Birmingham and Brian, then a novice  comedian, knew one of the regular cameramen on the show.

Brian would stand in the crowded studio and try not to be noticed but he had this wild laugh and people did tend to notice him. Most people assumed he was one of the crew.

A studio floor pass for the show

Brian got onto the ATV studio floor courtesy of a friend

After one particular Tiswas Christmas show in 1981, his friend the ATV cameraman told me Brian wanted to meet me. I was only a researcher on the show, but Brian told me it was a thrill to meet me. He said he loved the bizarre ‘real people’ acts I found for the show, including a ‘Talented Teacher’ segment I sorted out.

He said he was struggling to get noticed on the comedy circuit and he thought this was largely because he was based in Birmingham. He was thinking of moving to London, especially as he was having trouble at home. He was in a relationship with a young Jewish American girl at the time (she was around 19) and they were having problems. This was before he discovered he was gay.

He was disillusioned and was thinking of quitting comedy.

After our first chat, he would talk to me almost every Saturday after the show and ask me what eccentric ‘real people’ items I was working on. He was trying to develop his own eccentric stage character. He was also getting advice from his American girlfriend. He told me he was trying to develop a character act in which he would pretend to be a no-hoper Jewish American comedian from New York who had performed at Caroline’s and at the Cellar, then married a Scottish girl, moved to England and was trying to establish himself over here.

I thought this sounded a little unbelievable, but his girlfriend helped him ‘translate’ his jokes into American English and give it a Jewish slant.

Now firmly established as Lewis Schaffer (Photo by Garry Platt)

Brian today – now firmly established as ‘Lewis Schaffer’ (Photograph by Garry Platt)

I thought and still think he could have been a brilliant British comic as himself but he didn’t think he was funny at all.

And, slowly, he built that self-doubt into the Lewis Schaffer character he created.

After about five years of advice from me (it continued after I left Tiswas), he told me that he thought he was going to make it in the UK and that he didn’t need to speak to me as often – that there were other ‘artists’ who needed my help.

Now we see each other less often.

On YouTube, there is a rare brief glimpse of Brian as himself in the background of the crowd on the studio floor of the last ever Tiswas, broadcast on 3rd April 1982.

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Jody Kamali on what happened at the “Britain’s Got Talent” audition

Jody Kamali

Jody Kamali – a performer with bags of talent, taken aback

Yesterday, comic Jody Kamali was auditioned for TV series Britain’s Got Talent. Here is his description of what happened:


It was an experience I’ll never forget, but hope to forget.

It has never been my life’s ambition to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. I have always groaned at the format, the treatment of acts and choice of acts they put through.

So why did I do it? I really don’t know. And I still don’t. Occasionally I get these Fuck it! moments in life and, when the producer of BGT asked if I would do it, after a lot of persuading, I squirmed and said: “Er… OK then”.

My plastic bag act has always been a winner. It impresses quickly and can really win over an audience. Even Steve Bennett liked it in his 2-star scathing review on Chortle back in 2014. Harry Hill saw me do the act and, as a result, cast me in his TV pilot. The only time it flopped was in front of an audience of pensioners aged 65+ in Bristol, who stared at me blankly while I whizzed around the small stage joyously flinging plastic bags in the air.

“You do get the act, right?” I said to the producer. “Even though I am flinging those bags in the air as serious as I am… it’s supposed to be daft and silly, right? I don’t want you making me out to be a weirdo and edited to make out that I really believe I think my bag act is genuinely amazing… Please put across the irony?”

“Yes, yes, Jody. We totally get it. We love that act and think you’ll do great.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him.

I had my doubts.

I saw on Facebook that many comedians had been contacted but refused in fear they would be mocked on stage. It seems the producers were targeting the alternative acts. Really? So they can champion alternative comedian acts? Or to mock them for entertainment purposes? But maybe they really did want to find new talent other than the usual dog, dance, old folks rapping and 5-year-olds doing stand up.

Maybe – just maybe – the cards have turned.

“Do it, do it,” said blogger John Fleming. “It’s exposure. You never know who might see it.”

So I officially committed.

I arrived at the Dominion Theatre at 3:30pm, an hour late as I forgotten my passport.

I immediately got into costume and began tons of tons of non-stop interviews for BGT and BGT Extra – two different shows. There were your usual BGT wannabes there. The dance troupe featuring at least one guy with a huge Afro and also a young boy. A choir. An old couple in their 80s who do rap. A man in a lederhosen who plays an electronic accordion to rock music. An operatic transgender Filipino. And ME. Amongst others. What a bunch of oddballs we all were.

There were cameras everywhere. Hundreds of crew. I felt like I was in The Truman Show or something.

“Let’s film your entrance and exits,” said the production assistant. “Let’s have you walk in the theatre and you fall onto the BGT sign and it falls over… cos you do comedy.”

“Ah, yes. That’s comedy, of course, yes,” I said.

“Actually, let’s first film you walking up to the BGT sign there and wave ecstatically,” she said.

“Erm… That’s not really me. Can I do my own thing?”

So I settle for the ‘comedy fall’ on to the sign.

“Let’s not make it look set up,” I said. “You know, it will look cheesy otherwise?”

“Oh, we love set ups on BGT,” said the young Scottish camera girl.

So I enter the theatre, walk up the stairs and turn back and fall on the BGT sign. I actually lost control and crashed onto the sign and tumbled down the stairs, ripping my trousers, right in my crotch.

“Ahhhhh!” screamed a bunch of elderly ladies. “Help him! Help him!”

A paramedic runs over, who happens to be in the foyer.

I’m fine, I’m fine… but I need a new pair of trousers ASAP,” I groaned, covering the hole in my crotch, while the elderly ladies stood over me, concerned.

After finishing off my ‘set up’ entrances and exits, I’m whizzed up several flights of stairs to do an interview with Stephen Mulhern for BGT Extra for ITV2.

BGT Extra is fun; we can have a laugh,” said a production assistant.

After a slightly awkward interview with Mulhern, messing about with my bags, I head to do my ‘pre-interview’.

“Is this the biggest gig of your life?” asked the presenter.

“No, it’s not. When you spend thousands of pounds and work year round on a solo show, then present it at the Edinburgh Fringe in front of critics, producers etc… That is the biggest gig,” I said.

“Oh no no, like um, the biggest crowd,” she replied.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Well say that you do small gigs to a tiny crowd and then here you are… the biggest gig of your life,” said the girl, goading me into saying what she wanted.

It was a long interview and strange in the way that they kinda manipulate your words into creating a story that they want. I didn’t bring any family or friends with me or give them a sob story which, as we all know, they love so much.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian; say your are going to do something amazing,” said the interviewer. “We don’t want to give it away.”

I got so bored of the interview and felt the girl wasn’t even listening as her gaze drifted to the left every time I spoke. I could have literally said I suck cows’ udders for a living and she would’ve nodded with her fixed grin. I started to entertain myself by being extremely confident – “I’m definitely going to win BGT”… “I’m going to get a golden buzzer”… “The judges will be blown away”… “It’s THE most original act ever seen.”

After the interview, I started to have cold feet. I had this intense feeling come over me – like a warning sign or something. They are going to make a mockery of me, I know they are. They are not going to get it. I considered just walking out. I rang my wife, concerned, and she recommended I call my best buddy who is ‘in the business’.

After a pep talk from Andy and the fact that his friend ‘Keith Teeth’ auditioned once and didn’t get shown, I got my confidence back, knowing full well this could go either way. FUCK IT. I am going to do it. And do it with full confidence! 

Down I went to the backstage area for… yes… more interviews.

They filmed me ‘warming up’ – I was playing up to it but warming up like I meant business, doing cheesy poses, dancing, boxing – like I was about to have a bout with Tyson. I had my final interview with Ant and Dec who were lovely. And off I went….

The stage was huge – 3,000 people in the audience. A family audience. Like an audience you might see at a panto.

“Hello!” I yelled.

“Hello,” says Amanda Holden.

“What’s your name?” says Cowell.

“Jody”

“What’s your day job? Says Amanda.

“I work part time at the Royal Academy of Art.”

“Whoooooooooooo!” whooped the audience, assuming I was some hot shot impressionist or the next Damien Hirst.

“No, no I’m not an artist… I just charm affluent people into signing up to their membership scheme, where they get to see unlimited exhibitions,” I said in a cheesy ‘salesman’ voice. The audience laughed. The judges didn’t.

“What are ya gonna do?” asked Aysha Dixon.

“Something amazing and unique,” I said.

I said this because the producers told me to beforehand.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian, otherwise it will give it away,” said a producer, moments before I went on.

Alarm bells rang but I trusted them. Ah, I thought, the judges will get the irony and stupidity of the act and will get that I’m obviously taking the piss.

The music kicks in.

I run to the left and right waving my arms to get the audience to cheer. They did. 3,000. The sound was electric. Cowell looked at Amanda with a Look at this prick! expression.

I pulled out a bag.

I threw it in the air.

I could see Cowell in the corner of my eye looking at the judges unimpressed.

BUZZ.

Cowell had buzzed. No surprise there.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

1 second later

BUZZ.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

I lasted 25 secs, if that! I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they didn’t let me at least do one minute! I walked off stage thinking that’s what I had to do. Ant and Dec were waving at me saying “No, no” and pointing. I thought that they meant I should exit stage right, not stage left… So I did. I walked over to stage right, straight into cables and a tight corner.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

“Not that way” barked the sound guy.

I walked out from stage right and went upper stage right to another exit.

“No, no, no!” cried a production assistant. “Go back to the centre on the cross. The judges want to talk to you!”

“Ohhh… OK. Shit.”

The audience started to boo me a little bit but stopped.

Cowell was shaking his head with a Who is this idiot? expression. Even David Walliams looked unimpressed. I was surprised as I actually thought David would like my act.

“Jody, are you serious?” said Cowell.

“Nooooo!” I cried. “It’s meant to be daft. It’s meant to be so serious, it’s funny!”

All the judges faces had dropped. They ACTUALLY believed I genuinely thought that my act WAS amazing with NO irony.

“But I fought ya went to Academy Royal.. Art or summink,” said Alesha Dixon.

“That’s just a job. I’m a comedian. I’ve performed many times at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

David Walliams shuffled.

“It’s not good, Jody,” barked Cowell in way that reminded me of doing a clown workshop where the teacher would say you are awful.

“How can you not like it? Floating bags are amazing,”  I said sarcastically. “Look…”

I floated a bag. The audience cheered. I pulled another bag out of my pocket. The audience roared. I pulled another out. They roared loudly. And another. And Another. The audience were going nuts, cheering me. The judges looked stony faced.

“You see,” I said, “the audience like it!”

“Well I don’t,” said Cowell. “It’s a No.”

The rest followed suit. Four Nos. I left the stage to big applause.

I was gutted. I wasn’t given the chance to do the full act but was pissed off that I was told not to say I was a comedian. I felt set up. I believe the producers knew the judges would smash me down. If I had said I was a comedian, it might have been different.

I was rushed up stairs for more interviews. I sat down in a bit of a daze.

“What’s your name?” said the presenter.

I had repeatedly said my name and occupation, where I lived so many times… I’d had enough.

“Sorry, but I have had enough now. I’m leaving. I am fed up. I’m so tired. I’m done.”

I packed up and left, being chased by the crew, trying to persuade me to have my ‘final say’ so that I could say: “The judges were wrong.”

“No no no…” I said in a huff, “cos it will only mean I would criticise the producers for building me for up for the judges to bash me down… and you’ll edit it the way you want.”

And off I went… crew still trying everything they could to get my ‘final reaction’.

I was so happy to leave.

It was a bizarre experience.

It wasn’t me at all.

I did chuckle to myself on the way home though.

21 Comments

Filed under Talent, Television

Grouchy Podcast extract: Will Franken’s lack of commitment to being a woman

Copstick and Fleming and a world of Pain

Copstick & Fleming trapped in a not totally comedic podcast

In this week’s 38-minute Grouchy Club Podcast, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I discussed The Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke ever, Lewis Schaffer (no surprise there), how BBC TV executive Alan Yentob re-cut controversial comic Jerry Sadowitz’s TV series, the power of TV advertisers, Noel Gay TV and, in this brief extract, trans-gender comic Will Franken aka Sarah Franken and a TV series with horrendous visuals. (You will have to listen to the Podcast to hear details of the visuals… that’s how teaser extracts work.)


COPSTICK
So, are Will and Sarah dividing and going their separate ways; are they alternating; or what’s happening?

JOHN
I think they’ve had a creative difference with each other… No, no. I think he might be phasing out Sarah. It was in my previous blog – worth reading.

COPSTICK
If you can’t remember what’s in them, why should I read them?

JOHN
I can’t remember what’s in it, no. I don’t read them. You know I don’t write my blogs, don’t you? I farm them out to some Filipino children who are going blind in the dark with candle light.

COPSTICK
I did say I didn’t… possibly to you in a blog but, then, you wouldn’t have remembered… that it was… not exactly a phase – ‘phase’ always makes it sound…

JOHN
Star Trek.

COPSTICK
…trite

JOHN
Phasers.

COPSTICK
…trite. I never really felt Will to be like a… There was never a woman in there fighting to get out.

JOHN
There clearly was.

COPSTICK
No.

JOHN
He never wanted to have ‘the snip’, but…

COPSTICK
It’s a little bit more than a snip I think you’ll find, John. A little bit more than a snip.

JOHN
A snip and an excavation.

COPSTICK
A snip and a scoop and a flip…

JOHN
A flip?

COPSTICK
…and a turning-outside-in and…

JOHN
Ooh! what’s the flip?… Oh! the turning outside-in.

COPSTICK
Mmmm.

JOHN
Do you have pictures?

COPSTICK
I actually do. I have an entire video which I made for a television series which I produced called World of Pain…

JOHN
World of Pain?

COPSTICK
…and we were allowed to follow a sex change. Well, ‘gender re-assignmment’ surgery.

JOHN
What was in World of Pain apart from this? It was a 6-part series, was it?

COPSTICK
No.

JOHN
Ooh! What was it?

COPSTICK
It was three 15-part series.

JOHN
Ooh, wow, ooh. And do you remember what was in them? – Because you have a better memory than me.

COPSTICK
I remember everything that was in them. Every episode had a different theme.

JOHN
As I expect from you. What was the most painful bit in the World of Pain?

COPSTICK
Well, it depends. I mean, we did people who got hooks through their skin and dangled from the ceiling. We did branding. We did…

JOHN
Sarcasm?

COPSTICK
We did shark bites.

JOHN
Intentional shark bites?

COPSTICK
John, I am not going to talk to you any longer if you continue to be obtuse.

JOHN
I’m not used to the world of pain. I try to avoid it, myself.

COPSTICK
There were some horrific sporting injuries. I mean, where you see in slow motion a leg bending backwards and forw… Yes, fairly horrific.

JOHN
So it wasn’t all self-inflicted or a welcome World of Pain?

COPSTICK
No. Of course not. What I found interesting was the way the television censors looked at it. There was a really very nice little bit of film that we did in Russia and it was called Ice Babies. Because, in certain areas of Russia, what they do with fairly new born babies is take them out, cut a hole in the ice and dunk the baby in.

JOHN
For why?

COPSTICK
To kick-start their immune system.

JOHN
Like Sparta?

COPSTICK
Yes. I mean there’s a person in there. There’s a nurse and somebody else…

JOHN
In a hole in the ice?

COPSTICK
Well, it’s bigger than a hole. It’s a huge hole. And they throw the babies in and the babies are not massively distressed. Then they pull them out and swaddle them up and it’s kind of a kick-start to their immune system. In the rural villages where they do it, the kids don’t get colds and flus and whatnot and it seems to work in terms of being a bit of a smack in the face for your body’s reactions.

The babies were not distressed. the babies were not crying. None of that. And ITV would not let us show it at all. AT ALL.

JOHN
What is the nurse’s uniform in this? Is she wearing a frogman’s outfit?

COPSTICK
No. she’s wearing a bathing costume. You are being obtuse again, John.

JOHN
It’s very icy. Anyway, ITV wouldn’t show it because…


You can hear the full 38-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE.

Tomorrow’s blog will include a more jaw-dropping piece about Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station – more tomorrow

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Sex, Television

How Cilla Black re-invented herself, courtesy of Terry Wogan, in 1983

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Cilla Black died two days ago. So it goes.

I worked as a researcher on her Surprise! Surprise! series at London Weekend Television. I cannot honestly say I was enamoured of her. I think she was the only star I have ever worked with who behaved like a star. But she was worth every penny she earned. On screen she was brilliantly the girl and later auntie next door.

In the 1960s, Cilla was a pop star, then her career faded. In the 1970s, BBC TV producer Michael Hurll re-invented her as a mainstream, peaktime entertainment presenter on BBC TV’s Cilla. Then her career faded. Then, in the 1980s, Alan Boyd of LWT re-invented her as an ITV entertainment presenter on Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

In a TV tribute yesterday, comic Jimmy Tarbuck mentioned a TV interview in 1983 which revitalised her career. I asked writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle about that interview with Terry Wogan on the TV chat show Wogan.

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith at TVS, 1988 (Photograph by John Ward)

Nigel later wrote for People Do The Funniest Things and Beadle’s About. He wrote the lyrics for Oscar-nominated animated film Famous Fred; and Baas – an animated kids’ show about sheep for Al Jazeera TV. With David Walliams and Simon Heath, he co-devised Ant & Dec’s first show for BBC TV. In 1996, it won BAFTAs for Best Children’s Show & Best Sketch Comedy.

Over the years, he has written scripts, links and sketches for performers including Mel Brooks, Basil Brush, the Chuckle Brothers, Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Jack Lemmon, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan.

“In 1983,” he told me yesterday, “I was a researcher on the Wogan show. I had never done anything like that before – researching. I had suddenly gone from promotion scriptwriting to this world of celebrities where you had to go and interview people and ask them all the questions that a chat show host would.”

“Yes,” I said. “When I was working at the BBC, I once saw the research notes for some major film star who was to be interviewed on the Michael Parkinson chat show and the researcher (in the US) had basically done a full interview in advance – all the questions; all the answers.”

Nigel with some of his children’s books

Nigel later wrote several children’s books

“What happened with Cilla,” Nigel explained, “was that Marcus Plantin, my producer on Wogan, said to me: This week, you’re going to do Cilla Black. I remember saying: Really? She’s a bit yesterday’s news! I didn’t think she was any great shakes as a singer. But he said: No, no no. She’s up for revitalising her career. She had just brought out her Greatest Hits album – she was promoting it on the show.

“Marcus said to me: Go down and see Michael Hurll – he was the one who used to produce all her shows. Michael told me a few anecdotes about going and knocking on the doors – with live cameras! – they used to do a lot in the Shepherd’s Bush flats behind BBC Television Centre. It was real seat-of-your-pants stuff, going out live on television. And I asked him what she was like and he said: Well, y’know, she’s OK. She’s fine. She can be a bit of a perfectionist.

“Some people,” I said, “have used the word diva.”

On-screen, as I said, I thought she was worth every penny she was paid. Every inch a star.

There is a clip on YouTube of Cilla singing Life’s a Gas with Marc Bolan on her Michael Hurll-produced TV series.

“Anyway,” said Nigel, “come the day, I have to meet her and, obviously, Bobby (her husband/manager) was there. We went to one of the star dressing rooms on the ground floor at Telly Centre. In her day – the 1970s – she would have been there, so coming back must have felt to her a bit like Oh, I used to be big. She must have felt a bit Sunset Boulevardy, maybe.

“But we sat down, talked about her early life, how she started and she was very open. And also she was very, very, very funny. Absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches. The moment I finished doing the interview with her, I knew this was her moment – again. I went home and told my wife Mel: I was totally wrong. Cilla is SO going to storm it on Saturday.”

“You had originally thought,” I asked, “that she might not be interesting?”

Cilla Black became cuddly girl/auntie next door

“I really had thought she was past it – and this was in 1983! I thought she’d had her moment… She had had two bites of the cherry – the 1960s as a pop star and the 1970s as an engaging TV personality. Now, come 1983, she was just trying to flog her Greatest Hits album.

“Going on Wogan had maybe seemed like an act of desperation, but it wasn’t. It was a clinical assault on stardom – again – and – My God! – it absolutely worked! She made her career that night – revitalised it. She was terrific.

“She did the show (there is a clip on YouTube) and she was hilarious and the audience were absolutely loving her. She did all the stories about John Lennon and she was big mates with Ringo – I think there was a family connection. Paul McCartney wrote Step Inside Love for her. She did all the nostalgia about the 1960s and then what it was like being a Liverpudlian and that is really what engaged people. She came across as the girl next door.

“We recorded the show on the Friday and it went out on the Saturday night. As I understand it, on the Sunday morning, Alan Boyd (Head of Entertainment at LWT) phoned her up. I think Jim Moir (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC TV) was waiting until Monday morning to phone her up but, by that time, it was too late. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that, on the Monday morning, Marcus Plantin was saying: Well, the Beeb missed a trick there. And she went to LWT for Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

The panto Nigel Crowle wrote for Cilla

Jack and Cilla and Beanstalk, but no giant

“By that time, I was ‘in’ with Michael Hurll and I wrote a panto for her – Jack and The Beanstalk at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Michael told me: We’ve spent most of the budget on Cilla. So much so that we have not got enough money for a giant. We’ll do it all as an off-stage voice. So we did Jack and the Beanstalk without a giant.”

“Did you have a beanstalk?” I asked.

“We had one which kind of fell on stage when the giant… We had a pair of giant boots. The character Fleshcreep was played by Gareth Hunt. She had a sword fight with him. After it ended, she went to the front of the stage with Fleshcreep lying on the floor with her sword at his throat and she asked the audience: What shall I do with him, kiddies? Each day, they would all shout: Kill him! Kill him! So then she would ask them: How shall I kill him? And, one day, a kid in the front row just yelled out: Sing to him!”

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I said. “When I worked at LWT, I remember someone told me you should always avoid mentioning what size car Michael Barrymore had to pick him up or share the information about the cars with anyone because, if Cilla ever found out – and vice versa. There was rumoured to be a bit of rivalry.”

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

“I was told,” said Nigel, “there was a little bit of jiggery-pokery about where the pictures were. When Cilla came out of the lift on the Entertainment floor at LWT, she had to see the Cilla picture on the wall there, rather than the Barrymore picture.”

“Did they move them around?” I asked.

“I think there was probably a bit of that,” said Nigel. “Certainly I heard the cars mentioned. And the worry that, if you had Barrymore and Cilla doing a show at the LWT studios on the same night, who would get the star dressing room? Because there was just one star dressing room.”

“But,” I said, “on-screen she was wonderful. Worth every penny. And she reinvented her career so successfully.”

“Yes,” said Nigel. “Well, what was incredible was not that she had these peaks and troughs in her career but that the peaks were SO high. Everyone in Britain knew who Cilla was. Everybody could do a Cilla impression. That is real fame.”

2 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Fame, Television, UK

Kate Copstick on UK comedy’s jihadists, sexism & why an ITV show failed badly

Kate Copstick during the recording of the first Grouchy Club podcast

Copstick, oft called a horned beast, proves the point

In 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe, I chaired two debates about the comedy business and arranged two spaghetti-juggling contests; the latter could be seen as a simile for the former.

At the 2013 Fringe, I chaired five chat shows on comedy-related subjects. Most included comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Throughout the 2014 Fringe, Copstick and I chaired The Grouchy Club, in which there were no guests. We (well, to be honest, mostly she) chatted to the audience and it was mostly but (like this blog) not entirely about the comedy business.

Yesterday, Copstick and I recorded the first in a weekly series of Grouchy Club “mostly comedy” podcasts. 

I suggested we should start off these weekly chats simply – with just us alone in an empty room and no audience because of the audio distraction. So we decided to record the first podcast at Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush because it was a controllable space and, on a Sunday, closed.

So we thought.

In fact, the shop was open and, on a Sunday, has a music tradition. So there is an African drummer rather distractingly plying his art over the first 16 minutes of the 43 minute recording available online at http://thegrouchyclub.podomatic.com

The subjects covered include: sexism, the controversial comedians Dapper Laughs and Andrew Lawrence, why ITV’s  Show Me The Funny comedy talent show was crap, Copstick’s encounters with criminals, rape victims, police corruption, and the comedy industry’s new ’political correctness’ Fascists… Oh!… and Copstick sings.

The audio podcast is 43 minutes long. We also videoed the chat and I have posted a single 10-minute chunk of the podcast on YouTube.

Kate Copstick, John Fleming at The Grouchy Club

Serious stuff: The Grouchy Club podcast recording yesterday.

There will be a live Grouchy Club show next Sunday as part of the Jewish Comedy Day in London, despite the fact neither of us is Jewish.

And The Grouchy Club returns to the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

Below are two low-key excerpts from yesterday’s podcast. You will have to listen to the original to get the fully venomous rants.


COPSTICK
Have you looked recently at any of the comedy forums? They are all grouchier than me.

JOHN
No-one is grouchier than you. Adolf Hitler was not grouchier than you.

COPSTICK
To be fair, OK, I am grouchy. But comedy recently, I think, has just become so fucking judgemental.

JOHN
It’s always been judgemental. You’re a critic.

COPSTICK
But I’m fairly and intelligently judgemental… I mean, look at what has happened. Currently we have questions being asked in the House of Commons because Channel 4 want to do a sitcom based on the Irish Potato Famine. Because, apparently, you’re not allowed to be funny about the Irish Potato Famine.

That is two steps away from creating a jihad because someone has drawn a moustache and a pair of funny specs on the face of the prophet Mohammed – who probably had a moustache anyway, to be fair.

JOHN
We should point out this is being recorded the day after people were shot to death in Denmark for daring to speak things.

COPSTICK
Exactly! That’s what I’m saying. No, it’s not what I’m saying! People within the comedy industry seem to be becoming as judgemental as people outside the industry. I mean, when was the last time ever, in comedy – the answer is never…

JOHN
Never.

COPSTICK
Too soon.

JOHN
Timing.

COPSTICK
Essence… Comedy.

JOHN
42.

COPSTICK
We’re not talking universe here, we’re talking something much more important, John: we’re talking Comedy.

JOHN
I should point out that, when I arrived, Copstick said (a) I’m very angry and (b) I’m pissed. She is. Not me.

COPSTICK
Well, I was angry.

JOHN
And pissed.

COPSTICK
No, no, no. I was angry, I was in pain (Copstick has lupus), I was upset, I was depressed and I was frustrated.

JOHN 
Ideal for an Edinburgh comedy show.

COPSTICK
And then my lovely volunteer here in the Mama Biashara shop suggested Southern Comfort but we didn’t have any Southern Comfort, so I fell back on Jägermeister and I can’t tell you how warm and cuddly and friendly I’m feeling… Except to the people in the comedy industry who have suddenly turned into the Spanish fucking Inquisition.

Back to my question. Whenever in the history of comedy did people from within the industry turn on one of their own and kill… I’m talking Dapper Laughs.

JOHN
But he has revived, like the good lord on the third day.

COPSTICK
I’m speaking now as somebody who I think we can all agree… Look, it’s been some time since I’ve been well-moist. I think I’m sticky at best, crusty at worst… But what is wrong with Dapper Laughs? It wasn’t the greatest comedy series on television, but…

JOHN
We should point out to any foreign listeners that happen to be out there that Dapper Laughs was said to be a sexist and…

COPSTICK
He WAS sexist! He IS sexist. But what’s wrong with comedy sexism?

JOHN
Sexism is a bit like making jokes about rape. In theory, you shouldn’t make jokes about rape, but it depends how it’s done.

COPSTICK
Exactly…Well, no… I don’t think it is. Because rape is a terrible thing, despite what some people who subscribe to your blog might think that I think. Rape is a terrible thing. It’s an act of aggression; it’s an act of violence. Sexism is just making fun of different sexes in the ways that they are different.

JOHN
That’s comedy sexism. But sexism is actually demeaning someone else.

COPSTICK
But he IS comedy sexism.

JOHN
But it’s like saying there’s nothing wrong with racism. There is nothing wrong with jokes about people of another race, but there is something wrong with racism, where you say that person is not worthy of anything and should be spat upon. Women are pointless, they’re awful, they’re mentally inferior…

COPSTICK
That’s not what he said.

JOHN
That’s sexism, though.

COPSTICK
Yes, but that’s not what he said,


JOHN
You did an ITV1 comedy talent show.

COPSTICK
Yes, it was called Show Me The Funny and it didn’t. It hardly showed any funny, because it was too busy wandering off round Liverpool watching people trying to find somebody called Michelle.

JOHN
Without slagging off anyone or causing a legal rumpus, why did they do that?

COPSTICK
Well, without slagging off anyone or causing a legal rumpus…

JOHN
We both know the executive producer, who is wonderful.

COPSTICK
He is a marvellous man. As I understand it… and let me preface this by saying that, if anyone in ITV1 would like to offer me a comedy series, I would be only too happy to say Yes… However, what seems to me to have been the problem with Show Me The Funny was that somebody said: Let’s do X-Factor for comedy. and they went: Great! Fucking hell! Nice! Yes! 

However, at the point where they take a good or reasonable or very basic idea to a boardroom where lots of pointless executives sit around, they then said: Yes, X-Factor. Huge! Marvellous! Everyone loves it! But The Apprentice is really good too and it gets fantastic ratings. So why don’t we just… In a criminal enterprise, this would be called a cut-and-shunt.

JOHN
Shunt?

COPSTICK
Shunt.

JOHN
Just checking.

COPSTICK
Rhyming with… It means you take the back half of one (car) and the front half of another, slam them together and hope that it works. Guess what. It didn’t.

They had a choice: take the entire production team from the entertainment show or take the entire production team from The Apprentice. And guess what they did. They took the entire fucking production team from The Apprentice. How funny was The Apprentice? Not at all.

JOHN
That’s literally true, isn’t it? They came from The Apprentice.

COPSTICK
That is true. Lovely people. But about as funny as genital herpes.

JOHN
It’s very difficult to do a comedy show or a light entertainment show if you don’t have the light entertainment gene.

COPSTICK
Very sweet people but… bloody hell!


YOU HEAR THE FULL PODCAST HERE
AND WATCH A 10-MINUTE SECTION OF VIDEO HERE

 

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Sex

Last night I remember I dreamt of several dead British television stations

A photo of me in the ATV promo office in the 1980s.

A photo of me in the ATV promo office in the 1980s.

Last night, I went to bed early, but kept waking up with an erratic cough, so I am just as tired as I was when I went to bed.

One benefit of constantly waking up, though, was that I remembered a dream. Regular readers of this blog will know I am semi-obsessed with NOT remembering my dreams.

Once upon a time, there was no single ITV in Britain. It was a network of 15 independent companies with geographically separated franchised contracts.

For around 20 years, I worked in TV promotions – writing and producing programme trailers – for Anglia, ATV, Central, Granada, HTV, LWT, Southern, Thames, TVS, Yorkshire and for a centralised ITV unit. I also worked on programmes – for example, the ITV Saturday morning children’s show Tiswas, produced by ATV in Birmingham.

Over those 20 years in Promotion Depts, I worked on very short-term contracts – perhaps a week, perhaps two, very rarely more than three weeks, although I did once work at Granada TV in Manchester for around six months solid on a series of rolling contracts none of which (from memory) was more than three weeks long.

Last night, I dreamt I arrived in the ATV/Central ITV building in Birmingham at the start of a new contract (I had been there before lots of times) and went to the open plan Promotions Dept office at Granada TV in Manchester.

The Promotions boss from Anglia TV in Norwich was there. He was distracted and asked me to record some programme. “Look it up on the list,” he told me.

But I had not been there for a while and did not know which list nor where they kept it.

All the Promotion Depts at the fifteen ITV companies were organised slightly differently and even one department in one company might have changed its system between my visits.

A couple of people I knew from HTV got chatting to me and, when I looked at myself in a mirror, there was a small black plastic comb stuck in the left side of my long, thick, black hair. I have never had black hair though I did once have hair. It was never thick. I think, in my dream, I may have stolen the hair from Dave Davies of The Kinks, as I saw the Kinks’ tribute musical Sunny Afternoon a couple of weeks ago in London.

How did that comb get there? I thought. It must have been there since London and now I am here in Cardiff. There was dust on the front of my black pullover where I had cleaned the lenses of my spectacles.

Then the fastening of my gold-coloured (but actually brass) watch strap was not working.

“Where’s the nearest place I can get a new watch strap?” I asked the couple from HTV in Cardiff.

We were in Birmingham.

And then I woke up in my bed in Borehamwood.

The entrance to the ATV/Central studios in Birmingham

The ‘new’ entrance to the ATV/Central studios in Birmingham

What must have triggered my dream was that, yesterday, I was sent photos of the demolition of the ‘new’ ATV/Central ITV building in which I made promotions and in which I worked on Tiswas and The (originally Big Daddy’s) Saturday Show. It was a new and fairly modern-looking building when I worked there. Now it is being demolished.  At one point, I had worked there in Birmingham on The Saturday Show programme while simultaneously producing Children’s ITV continuity links in London.

There has been a lot of overlapping in my life, a bit like a dream.

Below are the photographs I saw yesterday, as posted by Tiswas fan Mark Neun:

ATVstudiosDemolition_byLeeBannister

Leave a comment

Filed under Dreams, Television, UK