Tag Archives: Mr Bean

Original version of BBC TV’s Pompidou series & a brief history of visual comedy

Matt Lucas (right) and Alex Macqueen in the BBC’s Pompidou

Matt Lucas (right) & Alex MacQueen in the BBC’s Pompidou

This Sunday teatime, Matt Lucas stars in the second episode of the ‘silent’ BBC TV series Pompidou.

The credits say it is written by Matt Lucas, Julian Dutton and Ashley Blaker.

Blaker produced Little Britain on BBC Radio, then wrote and produced Rock Profiles with Matt Lucas. They went to school together.

Multi-award-winning comedy scriptwriter/performer Julian Dutton started as an actor, then became a comedy scriptwriter for radio, but, he says, “I always made sure I performed in the things I wrote.” He appears in a later episode of Pompidou.

“I did stand-up for some years,” he told me yesterday. “I was an impressionist act on the circuit. Harry Hill encouraged me into stand-up when we were doing radio comedy. So I was doing this act, met Alistair McGowan, then Jon Culshaw and realised I was only No 15 or 20 or 25 in the country and the 25th best impressionist in the country does not get his own TV series.”

As a result, Julian turned more to writing, though usually appearing in the many shows he wrote.

Julian Dutton - Museum of Comedy

Julian Dutton – surrounded by comedy – in London this week

“So how did Pompidou come about?” I asked him.

“It originated as a character show,” he told me, “because I wanted to write a visual comedy that was very experimental and avant-garde, using some of the finest physical performers on the circuit – people like Dr Brown, The Boy With Tape on His Face, the Australian act Lano and Woodley – people like that who are under-used on British television.

“I approached everybody. I approached ITV, BBC, everybody. And then Matt’s production company took it on and it morphed into a more family-friendly, slapstick, mainstream entertainment on BBC2. It was decided that an avant-garde and experimental comedy show would be a little bit too niche.

“After that, the second incarnation of it was as a character sketch show like Little Britain, where Matt was going to play all the characters – like a visual League of Gentlemen: a day in the life of a town, but all visual.

“Then gradually, as the months went on, we pared things down and shaved bits off and ended up focusing on one character: Pompidou. It became more mainstream and family-friendly, rather than complex and avant-garde. But I’m happy with it being a family mainstream show, because I love family mainstream shows. It has become more Norman Wisdom and less Jacques Tati.

There is a trailer for Norman Wisdom’s The Bulldog Breed on YouTube.

“Was your series always called Pompidou?” I asked.

“Once it focused on Matt as a single character, yes.”

“What was the first Dr Brown type experimental version called?”

“The Dumb Show. The second title was The Shusssshhh Show.”

“And why the name Pompidou?”

“We wanted an international name and we thought, in the back of our minds, that the French still like mad clowns. Also there’s the pomp pomp-posity. From memory, I think he was originally called Mr Pamplemousse – French for grapefruit. The back-story is that he’s descended from French Huguenots.”

“It was always going to be a silent series?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Julian. “Well, non-verbal, because there is this distinction between silent and non-verbal. The reason I wanted to do a show without dialogue was basically because I grew up with loads and loads of non-dialogue shows on TV – Eric Sykes, Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman – Every sketch show I remember when I was young had about 10 minutes of non-verbal stuff. There was a revival of it in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I first saw silent comedy when Bob Monkhouse had a TV series Mad Movies and BBC2 brought out a version of it with Michael Bentine: Golden Silents. They used to show Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd and The Keystone Kops.

“I was inspired not just by the old, silent comedians but by the new visual comedians – in particular Jacques Tati who, just after the War, re-invented visual comedy. Then there were Eric Sykes and Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman… Dave Allen did tons of visual stuff. In every Dave Allen Show, there was about 10 minutes visual comedy – The Undertakers’ Race, tons of stuff.

The Undertakers’ Race is on YouTube.

“So that,” said Julian, “is where Pompidou came from, really. It struck me that, since Mr Bean – the last one was in 1997 – nobody had tried a visual comedy. And I had written tons and tons of children’s television.”

“You wrote for the Chuckle Brothers’ TV programme,” I nudged.

“Yes, I wrote for them for about four years,” said Julian. “The last three series. They’re a variety act family that goes way back to the 1930s (Their elder brothers are The Patton Brothers.) There were five of them. They were really the early British mainstream variety Marx Bros, though not as anarchic – I think the Crazy Gang were the equivalent of the Marx Bros over here.

“That’s how I cut my teeth on visual comedy, really. The Chuckle Brothers’ shows were deceptively difficult to write. They seem very simplistic and very very light-hearted and infantile, but their knowledge of physical routines was very impressive. When people see light entertainment on screen, they wrongly think that it’s light to create. But it’s not a light matter.”

“The Chuckle Brothers,” I suggested, “are maybe looked-down on by critics?”

“Clowning is a bit looked-down-on in Britain,” agreed Julian. “The French look on dumb-show mime as an art form. We look on it as just pratting about.”

“I suppose,” I said, “mime in Italy and France is an art form and, in this country, panto-mime is for children.”

“Exactly,” said Julian. “And that is why some of the reaction to Pompidou is… We are getting very good feedback especially from family audiences and we have had some very good reviews from people who ‘get’ it – that it’s a family, clown show. Some reviewers have criticised the show for appealing to children, as if that is a bad thing. But children make up the vast majority of the global TV audience. So why shouldn’t we be making comedy for children that stars a guy who was in an edgy sketch show (Matt Lucas in Little Britain)?”

Mr Bean was always accepted by adults, wasn’t it?” I asked.

Mr Bean was very heavily criticised when it first came out,” Julian corrected me, “because Rowan Atkinson had done Blackadder, which was very very ‘in’ with the university wits. Mr Bean was originally looked-on as a downward step for Rowan Atkinson.”

Julian Dutton - Keeping Quiet

Julian’s book on comics Keeping Quiet

“I bow to your superior knowledge of comedy history,” I said. “You’ve written a book about visual comedy – Keeping Quiet: Visual Comedy in the Age of Sound – which is coming out next month. Surely there have been lots of books before on the subject?”

“Oddly, no,” said Julian. “It struck me when I was working on Pompidou that there have been thousands of books about silent comedy, but they always stop at 1927. There has never been a book about the history of visual comedy after the advent of sound. Kevin Brownlow, Paul Merton, Walter Kerr – all the authorities – stop in 1927.

“But visual (non-verbal) comedy didn’t stop then. There have been books on the individual people, but there’s never been a comprehensive history of it as a distinct genre… And it IS a distinct genre. It’s not silent comedy. It’s visual comedy in the age of sound. None of it is silent. There’s sound effects, music gags… Laurel & Hardy introduced sound gags. Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati used sound gags: it’s a different type of comedy. People like Jerry Lewis, Norman Wisdom…”

“I used to like Jerry Lewis when I was a small kid,” I said.

“And European adults like him,” said Julian. “He’s a hero in France and Norman Wisdom is a hero in Albania.

“In the early 1960s, Norman Wisdom’s films were bigger at the box office than James Bond. I think he’s very under-rated as a subversive comic. At his height, in the 1950s, he was making very subversive comedy.”

“Which is why his films were acceptable in Albania,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Julian. “It was always at the expense of the British Establishment. It was as satirical as most of the Boulting Brothers’ films, which were seen as ‘serious’ satire. I think Norman Wisdom is exceedingly under-rated.”

“After Charlie Chaplin,” I said, “the two most successful British comedians worldwide were Benny Hill and Rowan Atkinson.”

“Absolutely,” said Julian. “Benny Hill’s early work was very very visual, very influenced by continental mime. Very under-rated. And there was a motive when we made Pompidou to make a comedy that would appeal to all nations. Visual comedy has sort-of exploded on the internet – almost all the viral YouTube posts are visual, are slapstick. But mainstream TV has not caught up with the fact we are living in a global visual age.

“Visual comedy is not just clowning. There has been some very experimental stuff. Ernie Kovacs in the 1950s was a television pioneer in the US and made silent TV sketch shows. Mainstream, primetime, early-evening NBC shows. And not just silent, but he made sketches with no human beings in them: comedy sketches with (stop-frame) household objects. This was surreal, avant-garde TV as art in the 1950s. And it was a huge, Emmy-nominated success.”

There are several Ernie Kovacs clips on YouTube.

“And now?” I asked. “After Pompidou, what for you?”

“I’m focusing on feature films now,” said Julian. “I’ve had a feature film optioned and commissioned and the scripting is underway. It’s a British-American animated comedy film. And I’m also pitching a live-action high-octane film to America.”

“American TV is very keen on British comedy at the moment,” I said.

“Funnily enough,” replied Julian, “I’m also writing a cartoon series for American TV called Little People that’s coming out at the end of the year.

There is a BBC TV trailer for Pompidou on YouTube.

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The comedy girl who throws breakfast cereal in her face and WANTS to be mad

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Candy Gigi at Pull The Other One with cereal and lipstick

I have mentioned comedy act Candy Gigi a couple of times in earlier blogs. I saw her stuffing massive amounts of Corn Flakes into her mouth at Pull The Other One comedy club and I saw her attack people – including me – with some sort of green vegetation at Lost Cabaret.

When I talked to her this week, she was rather less manic in Soho.

“You studied musical theatre at Mountview Acting School,” I said to her. “So you wanted to be an actress?”

“I could have been doing musical theatre,” she told me. “But I didn’t want to be in a cast.”

“You don’t want to soil yourself with money?” I asked.

“Well, there’s probably more money in comedy than in musicals,” she told me. “A lot of my friends are in musicals and they make virtually nothing. My friend has a secondary part in The Book of Mormon in the West End and he doesn’t get a lot.”

“But odd, surreal acts are a difficult sell,” I said. “If you want to make money, why not just do straight stand-up?”

“My mind doesn’t work that way,” explained Candy Gigi. “I need to be physical. And I don’t actually want to change or tone down the act. I think if people like me, they’ll come to me; my audience will find me. If I just adapt and become like everybody else, then what was the point of doing this in the first place?”

“What WAS the point of doing it in the first place?” I asked.

“Hopefully,” she replied, “I’ll make a lot of money from it and become a huge star.”

“Any showbiz in your family?” I asked.

Candy Gigi in Soho this week

Candy Gigi – the non-meshugenah version

“My third cousin is Ron Moody who was Fagin in Oliver! and my dad was an impersonator. He’s a lawyer now and he really misses the… He would have loved to have done what I’m doing. He’s a lawyer, but he hates it and wishes he could have done comedy.”

“When did he stop?” I asked.

“When he went to university, because his parents wanted him to be a lawyer. My parents are very supportive about what I do. When my mum comes to my shows, she loves them.”

“But why the Corn Flakes in the face?” I asked.

“I really don’t know; they just work.”


“I do have a script for everything I do.”

“When I saw you at Lost Cabaret,” I said, “in the interval you went on stage while people were off getting drinks, turned your back to the room and you were rehearsing.”

“Yeah. People think I just come on and go mental, but there’s thought behind it.”

“What’s the thought?”

“I can’t explain it. You can’t just act mad, though sometimes I’m aware most of the time it’s just crazy. What I’m trying to find is the up-and-down, the light-and-shade. I think, once I find that, I’ll be more suitable for mainstream audiences because there will be more colour and it won’t be just crazy. I’ve only been doing comedy for a year-and-a-half.

“I think what people tend to find shocking about my act is that I’m quite… not feminine, not girly… but maybe I seem like a stereotypical girl, into fashion and so on and then I go on stage and I’m quite grotesque. I really ugly it up.”

“When you were a kid,” I asked, “did you like grotesques?”

Candy Gigi likes grotesquery and discomfort

Grotesquery and discomfort in Soho this week

“I always liked Jim Carrey and Mr Bean.”

“Jim Carrey because he is….”

“Facially grotesque and visual,” replied Candy Gigi.

“You like to be grotesque on stage,” I said. “Is that some sort of defence mechanism?”

“Probably,” said Candy Gigi. “I like looking ugly. I like the part where it’s a bit unsettling. I like that.”

“You like controlling the audience?”

“Yeah. I like giving them that sort of feeling of discomfort. Also, most people have got that level of insanity within them – that twisted, warped darkness.”

“Maybe only performers?” I suggested.

“I know a lot of people who are mentally… Well, maybe…” admitted Candy Gigi. “Predominantly performers, possibly… I think my personality is bizarre. I’m just being me and that just so happens to be bizarre.”

“How are you bizarre?” I asked.

“I’ve probably got a bit of a personality disorder. “


“No, but I’ve probably got something. I’m very up-and-down.”


“I don’t think I’ve actually got it, but I’ve possibly got a few elements of that.”

“Like being Stephen Fry but without the buggery?” I suggested.

“I love him,” said Candy Gigi. “How could anyone not?”

“Your dad is a frustrated performer?” I asked.

“My dad is…” said Candy Gigi, “He’s… Imagine Basil Fawlty… He is just like Basil Fawlty, but possibly more irate and frustrated and hysterical – like the episode where he’s beating up a car with a tree. He’s the shouty Basil Fawlty where he gets irate and crazy over nothing; on the brink of a heart attack. He’s good at his job, he works really hard, he’s a really good dad, but he’s crazy. My elder brother’s quite straight but me and my little brother are just completely gone with the eccentricity.”

“Is your mother eccentric?”

“She’s a little Jewish crazy lady.”

“Anarchy and chicken soup?” I asked.

“She’s wonderful and lovely and kind,” said Candy Gigi.

“Does she work?” I asked.

“She looks after old people with Alzheimer’s. They come round our house. We were brought up around a lot of odd people and a lot of my family are… a few mental illnesses.

“I once had something written about me saying my act was taking the mickey out of people with mental health problems, totally tearing into me… And it’s just not true.

“I really am very familiar with mental health problems and I don’t know anyone who’s got a mental health condition who throws Crunchy Nuts in their face and scrawls red lipstick all over their face and behaves like I do on stage. How is that taking the mickey out of people who are mentally ill? That’s actually very offensive to people who do have bad mental health. They don’t behave like that.

“Even if that were the case – that I was taking the mickey – and it isn’t – I would still stand by it, because why do you have to tip-toe round Society and people’s problems? Why not laugh? Why NOT laugh?”

“To be a comedian,” I suggested, “you have to perform or view things abnormally, don’t you?”

“I’m very familiar with mental health problems,” replied Candy Gigi. “I’ve got it within my family and I think I’ve got it within me, otherwise how would I have thought of my act? Where does it come from? Your act comes from you. It’s just an extension of myself.”

“There is a showbiz tradition,” I said, “of grotesques and people doing mad, surreal things.”

Candy Gigi last, spitting out vegitative matter

Candy Gigi, last seen spitting out vegetative matter at Lost Cabnaret

“Yes,” said Candy Gigi. “Basil Fawlty – mad. Mr Bean – autistic. There’s loads of characters throughout the years who have been incredibly successful but have definitely got some form of mental ill-health. David Brent in The Office. There is something not right about THAT man.”

“So, you’re 24 now,” I said. “Where will you be when you’re 29?”

“Fucking successful,” said Candy Gigi. “I really want to be big in comedy. But, even if I become famous, I’ll still be a bloody mentalist. If anything, I’ll probably be even worse, because I think the fame will make me go meshugenah – I’ll turn to alcohol and food and I really will be throwing Crunchy Nut at my own face.”

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