Tag Archives: Last Resort

The repeated re-invention of Tom Jones

Martin Soan in the O2 before the show started

Martin Soan discovers butterflies in stomach before the show

Last night, with comedy performer Martin Soan, I went to the O2 Arena in London to see a gig by Tom Jones and Van Morrison.

Both Martin and I are frightened of heights. Well, he is frightened of heights. I am frightened of overbalancing. So I cannot walk across the new Hungerford foot bridge over the Thames, which has no visible supports when you are on it – I can only get about 40% of the way across and then I want to throw myself down on the tarmac and hold onto the surface for dear life.

Tom Jones - the original Henry Fielding film one

Tom Jones – the original movie one

It dates back to a childhood incident.

You had to be there.

Suffice it to say that the O2 Arena is so steeply tiered that only abseilers or bungee-jumpers can feel 100% safe.

The only previous time I was there, my eternally-un-named friend tied herself to the armrest with a scarf.

But I am glad I went last night.

Tom Jones is an example to all performers of all kinds that perpetual re-invention is a good, indeed necessary, thing.

I am old enough to remember seeing his first few appearances on British TV when he tended to wear a white flowing shirt and have his hair tied into what was almost a pony tail at the back. The image was almost of a novelty act because…

… of course, he took his stage name from Tony Richardson’s film of Henry Fielding’s bawdy romp Tom Jones which had made the hairstyle trendy.

That initial surge of success took him to Las Vegas.

But, by 1987, his star – in the UK at least – was slightly fading. Then he appeared on Channel 4’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. The programme’s researcher Graham K Smith (later Commissioner for Comedy & Entertainment at both Channel 4 and Five) used to handle music on the show and refused to let artists perform their latest release or songs they were famous for. He insisted on something the audience would not expect and persuaded Tom to sing Prince’s Kiss which, as far as I remember, created another surge in his career.

And now, of course, Tom Jones is seen in the UK as one of the judges on BBC1’s The Voice – although he lives in Los Angeles.

It is all a matter of perception.

I tried to persuade Martin Soan to explore the possibility of going to China to expand his career.

“You’re ideal,” I told him. “Your act is not language-based. It’s visual. It’s surreal. It’s performance art. There are bits of mime-like things in there. Puppets. Strange characters. Bright colours. Strange props. Experimental. The Chinese would love it. You could even take Punch & Judy there.”

But I think Martin’s mind was on butterflies.

My mind was on Hungerford Bridge.

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I may well have talked trite gibberish in an Irish comedy podcast. Who knows?

Gibberish rampant, perhaps

I am not one of Life’s natural interviewees

I am not one of Life’s better interviewees.

Today, the Irish website Seven 2 Ten has released as a podcast a one-hour interview with me which comedian Christian Talbot recorded in London three weeks ago.

Considering my inclination to ramble and talk gibberish, I think it is fairly interesting. Here are two linked extracts from the podcast. The link between the two is jigsaws.

When you directly transcribe what anyone says exactly, it can tend towards gibberish. In this case, of course, that might be because it is. When I transcribe interviews with people I talk to, I normally tidy up little bits of grammar etc; in this case I have not. This is what I said, referring to my two erstwhile  TV careers – as a trailermaker and as a researcher on shows including Tiswas, Game For a Laugh and The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross:

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I‘ve never had any interest in becoming a comedian, but I think I’m quite good editorially. When I was doing television stuff, it was mostly to do with editing, so I’d see the two-and-a-half hour film and decide how to edit it down to 20 seconds or 30 seconds for a trailer and what music to put on and what voices to put on and what words to put in. And so, in the same way as I’ve always edited those sorts of visual things… I’m not a writer, in fact… I’m not a writer, I’m a re-writer.

I’ve interviewed people like Brian Clemens who did The Avengers and Nigel Kneale who did Quatermass and they’re utterly brilliant, in my opinion, because you talked to them and they were spewing out plotlines – original plotlines – like ten-to-the-minute. Extraordinary, amazing, fertile imaginations. I don’t have that. I can’t think of plotlines but, given material, I can do it as a jigsaw and make it interesting.

When I was a child, what really fascinated me was jigsaws. I loved jigsaws. You can only put a 1,000 piece jigsaw together in one way. But, if you’re editing a film or editing TV, then you’ve got 10 million pieces, 10 million elements and you can put them together in all sorts of different ways to create a variety of different good effects. There is no right or wrong way. There’s just a variety of possible ways through which you can get to a good result. And the same thing with performing, possibly.

It’s not a science; it’s an art. You can’t say, “The way to be a comedian is to do X, Y and Z” and “Structure a joke with these words X, Y and Z,” because it may not work. There is that X factor.

I was watching a programme on Tommy Cooper last night and Tommy Cooper was basically telling rather bad jokes or rather silly, childish jokes. But he was absolutely brilliant. And Barry Cryer was saying on this programme that no-one could explain why Tommy Cooper was funny. You knew he was funny. With just a blink of the eye or a look at the camera or an intonation he was funny. But you couldn’t really explain why. Comedy is an art not a science.

I can perhaps be objective with comedians and say to them, “This isn’t quite working,” and almost academically explain to them why I think it’s not working, but I couldn’t do it myself.

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I had a reputation for finding bizarre acts, which wasn’t altogether justified. Anyone can find bizarre acts. You just take out an ad in The Stage for three weeks in a row and they come out of the woodwork. The thing is to know how to use them.

A producer on Game For a Laugh decided he was going to go with me to see various acts and we saw a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant slackwire act – absolutely, utterly brilliant… Slackwire instead of a tightrope… So, instead of a tightrope or a tight wire, this was a slackwire which sags in the middle and he swings all over the place. Utterly brilliant. And I said to the producer: “It won’t work on television,” and he said, “Yes it will,” and he had him on the show.

I said, “It won’t work on television because we’re watching it live in a 3D environment and it feels dangerous – you can see what’s going on, you can FEEL what’s going on and how dangerous it is. But, if you put it on television, it’s a two-dimensional image and it will just look like a man walking along a line.”

And it didn’t work and the producer admitted it didn’t work.

What I was good at wasn’t finding bizarre acts – because anyone can find bizarre acts – it was actually manipulating bizarre acts. So I could see someone perform something that wasn’t very good live, but I could see that it would work on television if you made a few changes. Or I could see that someone was utterly brilliant live, but the act wouldn’t work on television. I could manipulate the component parts of a performance in that way – I think – I think – and therefore, with comedians, I can say to them without being too offensive why I think that bit works or that other bit doesn’t work. Or that bit, if you tweaked it, might work. In that sense, I can sort of direct or produce comedians, but I’m not myself a comedian at all. I’m not funny at all.

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YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE PODCAST BY CLICKING HERE.

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Britain’s Got Talent? Well, let me tell you – you ain’t heard the half of it…

Yesterday, I went to see my chum, the professional farteur Mr Methane, being filmed in the basement bedroom of a hotel near Primrose Hill in London – for a TV show which, alas, I am not allowed to describe until late next month at the earliest.

Apparently the series gets around 20 million viewers worldwide – more than the almost 14 million hits his Britain’s Got Talent clip currently has on YouTube.

While sitting around during the filming, I did have a chance to meet for the first time Paul ‘Burper King’ Hunn, the man who holds the record for the loudest burp in the world.

These two great audio entertainment legends had not met in the flesh until yesterday, so it was a historic day in bodily function circles. I felt privileged to be there.

Paul Hunn has held his distinguished Guinness Book of Records title since 2000 and still does but, he tells me, he is not in this year’s printed book because Guinness do not print every record every year – something which I had not realised.

How strange, I thought.

But the logic, it seems, is that if they printed every record every year then, with some records standing unchallenged over long periods, the book might seem too ‘samey’ every year. So not every record is printed every year.

Paul’s friend Steve Taylor holds the record for having the world’s longest tongue but, this year, he tells me, the Guinness Book of Records only includes the girl with the longest tongue.

According to The People newspaper in 2007, Steve Taylor can “fit five ring doughnuts on his monster. And he is only millimetres away from licking his own elbow – a feat always thought impossible.”

The full abilities of the girl with the longest tongue in the world remain strangely unreported.

I felt a slight tremble of trauma when Paul, the Burper King, mentioned the Guinness Book of Records to me, as I am still recovering from the emotional turmoil of them rejecting spaghetti juggling as a legitimate activity for their records during Malcolm Hardee Week at his year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

At the time, I felt spurned and strangely soiled.

They said spaghetti-juggling was “a little too specialised”.

Now, having recovered a little from the worst of my grief, I feel they simply did not show fitting respect to the sense of adventure and exploration of the unknown which made Britain great.

After leaving the hotel yesterday, with the sounds of Mr Methane and the Burper King still ringing in my ears, wistful memories came into my mind of booking Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley, a man from the West Midlands who could play the tune Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with only his nose.

Well, rumour had it that his nose was not the only one of his bodily protuberances with which he could play the electric organ, but modesty and a presumed inability to actually screen anything else on national TV meant I questioned him no further on his other physical abilities.

Sometimes, in the lengthening twilight of my years, I think fondly of Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley and sigh a sigh of contentment that, after booking him on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, my life has perhaps not been totally in vain.

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