Tag Archives: television

An amoral legend of ITV in the 1980s…

My commented-upon 2011 blog

Back in the mists of 2011, I blogged about Malcolm Leach, a legendary if decidedly amoral figure in the on-screen promotion departments of independent television companies in the 1980s, breaking hearts and making trailers for programmes.

I mentioned his exploits included trying to buy a regional ITV franchise and persuading an existing ITV company to rent him a car, then selling it without telling them.

In 2012, someone called Jamie spotted the blog and commented:


I knew Malcolm Leach in the early 1990s and I have many fond memories of him. I just happened to think of him this afternoon – I don’t know why – and so my Googling has led me here. It would be a shame if he were no more, yet no surprise. 

The last time I saw Malcolm he was running a pub in Clifton. This would have been around 1993. I went over to visit, with my brother. 

Malcolm knew that I liked a drink back then, and he poured me a pint of cider which, in retrospect, was probably about 12%. An elderly gentleman seated at the bar said to me: “If you drink that, you won’t walk out of here.” 

Malcolm simply said: “Pay no attention to him, Jamie. He has angina and so may die at any moment.”

He cackled with laughter and lit one of his untipped fags. I drank the cider and another one too. And that is the last memory I have of that day and, sadly, of Malcolm.


Malcolm Leach got around, in more ways than one.

In 2014, itinerant voice-over announcer Keith Martin commented on my blog:


I met Malcolm. It could have been at HTV… but was it at Anglia, TVS or Southern?. Could it have been at Rediffusion or Thames or LWT? Perhaps it was at Border, Channel or even ATV? How about Yorkshire, not forgetting BFBS TV? I wish I could remember. Help!


More recently, ex-promo person Simon Kennedy spotted my blog and commented:


I remember from my time at TEN: The Entertainment Network:

The wonderful world of futuristic television channels in 1984

TEN went on air on the night of the 29th of March 1984. The launch party was held at The Kensington Roof Gardens with a feed from the satellite to the screens set up around the room. Industry figures from film and television were on the guest list, as well as our VIP, Superman actor Christopher Reeve. 

Champagne flowed as we headed towards the eight o’clock lift-off. 

Malcolm had prepared a ‘Countdown to TEN’, featuring clips taken from cinema trailers of movies with numbers in their titles. Ten was “10”, and so on, until seven, which used a clip from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. 

Standing between me and the monitor were a group of executives from Disney. The moment Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs hit the screen, they went into a huddle and left even before the end of the promo. No-one else seemed to notice this departure and a cheer went up from the guests as we headed into the first film. The festivities kept going into the night.

The next morning we were understandably late into the office, but Malcolm was nowhere to be found. It seems that the previous night, even before the party wrapped up, we received a communication from the Walt Disney company. 

Malcolm had not cleared the use of any of the clips assuming that, just because he could rent the trailers from National Screen Service, he could include them. And, with that, he drove another shiny nail into his own coffin. 

Disney now demanded that not only did we have to write a grovelling public letter of apology, we also had to put out an announcement on air that day stating we didn’t have the rights to show the clip, that we would not be showing Snow White, nor would we ever be showing Snow White. The hung-over Malcolm was dispatched to make up the announcement and get it on air as soon as possible.

Malcolm lasted a further month at TEN. 

Still I ate well – and often – at L’Escargot (the very expensive restaurant) on his expenses.


I thought Simon might have more anecdotes about Malcolm, so I Skyped him. Before talking to him, I looked up Malcolm Leach on the internet and there was a letter in The Guardian in 2001 from him.

Ex-Granada person David Liddiment started at their on-screen Promotion Dept in Manchester (where Malcolm had worked), then became executive producer on Coronation Street 1987-1991, Head of Entertainment at the BBC 1993-1995 and ITV Director of Programmes 1997-2002.

In 2001, he criticised BBC TV for not fulfilling its cultural responsibilities, which Malcolm took exception to. He wrote to The Guardian:


David Liddiment’s remarks put me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s observation that satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Having spent my working life in the same medium as David, I have never known him troubled before by such lofty concepts as “soul, individual acts of creation and communication: ideas, scenes and spectacle shared with an entranced and receptive nation”. Having presided over ITV’s slide from the mediocre to the downright pathetic, he is perhaps the last person to start lambasting the BBC.

Malcolm Leach, Bath


So he was alive and thriving in 2001.

And I Skyped Simon Kennedy to see if he knew more…


Simon: “There are a lot of stories you can’t blog about…”

SIMON: The last time you and I talked was about 30 years ago at TVS.

JOHN: I guess… So… Malcolm was a bit of a character…

SIMON: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: What are some of the other Malcolm stories?

SIMON: Well, there are a lot of stories you can’t blog about, because some of the people are still alive. (I HAVE CHANGED ALL THE NAMES IN WHAT FOLLOWS)

Dick Waterstone had employed Malcolm at Granada in Manchester and mistakenly took him under his wing. When Dick got the job as Head of Presentation and Promotion at TEN The Entertainment Network, he took Malcolm down to London. 

Malcolm had a very pretty young wife whom we met once but who was then bundled up back in the train to Manchester and remained there while Malcolm began to pick off the women friends of his younger promo producers.

There were about three of us in our early twenties. Pete Beacham had a friend called Sarah, whom Malcolm took a fancy to and they were a little bit of an item for a time until she discovered about the wife up in Manchester.

We then had screaming phone calls coming into the TEN offices. “No, Sarah, Malcolm isn’t here right now. No, really.”

To go into an edit suite and watch a man swigging wine and chain-smoking Gitanes at eleven in the morning was something in and of itself. But it was the Disney thing which finally did for him.

JOHN: He seemed to be irresistibly attractive to women for some bizarre reason. Maybe it was the ‘bad boy’ image.

SIMON: It must have been that. He was one of the most remarkably ugly men I can ever remember meeting.

JOHN: I just remember him as being a bit chunky and shapeless.

SIMON: He was a pain-in-the-ass to work for – he was my boss – because he was so mercurial. ‘Hot and cold’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

The last I heard of him must have been in 1984 when he was given the bum’s rush from TEN and we had one very quick drink before he announced he would be leaving us. He didn’t tell us why. He said he was going to go over and meet his good mate Raúl Castro in Cuba, because he was good friends with ‘the Castro boys’. And that was the last I heard of him. Whether he’s still with us, God only knows.

JOHN: Someone definitively told me he was dead. Though maybe he is going to reappear in Cuba, having conned his way into power. Nothing would surprise me.

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Filed under 1980s, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Television

Rest in Peace: British showbiz legend Nicholas Parsons and other gentle men

Nicholas Parsons – much loved by generations of Brits

I was at a crematorium in Hampshire today. For a celebration of the life of my cousin’s husband, Michael. He was that seemingly rare thing: a kind, decent and gentle man. My cousin chose well marrying him.

When I left, within less than a minute of me switching on my phone again, there was a BBC newsflash that Nicholas Parsons had died, aged. 96.

And it started to rain.

Truly.

I grew up watching Nicholas Parsons on TV. He played the upper-class and slightly up-himself ‘posh’ foil/neighbour to Arthur Haynes’ working class character/tramp in a ratings-topping ITV comedy show The Arthur Haynes Show, written by Johnny Speight (before he created Till Death Us Do Part).

So, as a child, I suppose I thought of Nicholas Parsons as the character he played – a bit of a posh bloke thinking a bit too much of himself. Sort of a cliché actor type, if you see what I mean.

Later, when I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, I guess in the early 1970s, there was a story in the local Hampstead & Highgate Express about some girl who had been sexually attacked on Hampstead Heath and afterwards she went to the nearest house she found which, as it happened, was Nicholas Parsons’ home.

My memory is that she was effusive about how wonderful and helpful, how kind and considerate, caring and efficient he was, helping her with the police and so on.

I always thought much more of him after that – he was not just some posh sitcom actor/foil on a television show but a good person – a human being.

A few years later, I was working in the on-screen promotion department at Anglia TV in Norwich, where he fronted their big ITV ratings-getter Sale of the Century. (It was getting over 21 million viewers weekly.)

One way to rate TV ‘stars’ I always found was that, if they ate in the canteen with the plebs and the canteen ladies liked them, then they were OK as human beings. The canteen ladies at Anglia TV always liked Nicholas Parsons. (A parallel was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, early in their careers, in the Granada TV  canteen in Manchester.)

His TV gameshow was getting over 21 million viewers weekly

One day, Nicholas Parsons came into the promotion office at Anglia TV and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why – I think maybe he was asking advice or plugging some travel project he had – but he – the big Anglia and ITV Network star – was, as ever, amiable, modest and charming – not in a schmaltzy showbiz promotional way but in a genuinely normal person-to-person way.

His image was, I suppose, of a constantly-smiling, slightly cheesy, always ‘on’ old style showbiz star.

But, on the two occasions I briefly met him in the flesh, he was anything but that. He was, if I have to choose a naff but exactly true term, a ‘real’ person. It was impossible not to like him.

An unlikely meeting of minds in 2007…

The second time I briefly met him was when he was a guest on Janey Godley’s Chat Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I met him on the steep stone steps behind what had been the old Gilded Balloon, was at that time The Green Room venue and has since gone through various names.

He was, again, a charming, keen-to-please and keen-to-be-helpful, slightly frail gentle man. (He was 83 at the time and I thought to myself: He is going to pop his clogs soon… That was 13 years ago and he was still going strong last year!)

As a result of being a guest on that show, he – the seemingly definitive comfortable ‘Home Counties’ man – and Janey – the definitive tough wee East End Glaswegian – seemed to bond because, as I understand it, his parents had sent him to do manual work in the Glasgow shipyards in his youth to ‘toughen him up’. As a result, despite his image as ‘Home Counties Man’, I think he felt an affinity with working class Glaswegians.

Janey turned up multiple times later both on his own Edinburgh Fringe chat shows and on his long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. The BBC tried the format on TV in 1999, but it didn’t catch on there. It has been running on radio since 1967.

On her Facebook page this afternoon, Janey posted this tribute to him:


Just a Minute – Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas

#NicholasParsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of “us” he loved stand up.

The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that “lifted” our spirits at the Fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.

He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the Fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him


That is Janey’s opinion.

TV chat show host Graham Norton Tweeted this afternoon: “Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with. His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all!”

I can’t say, personally, that I have ever warmed to men as a species. I’m more of a cat person. Cats have a nobility and (if you feed them) an amiability that is usually sorely lacking in men.

So it is a very great loss when genuinely decent gentle men die.

Nicholas Parsons had three wildly successful, long-running, overlapping showbiz peaks – The Arthur Haynes Show, Sale of the Century and Just a Minute – and, quite rightly, memories of him are splattered all over TV and radio news, in print and on the internet.

My cousin’s husband Michael – whose memorial celebration was packed to standing room only in a small Hampshire town today – tried to follow the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

Michael lived his life to the full and added to it the other key ingredient: kindness. I think he and Nicholas Parsons shared that.

At the end of the celebration of Michael’s life today, the poem One At Rest by that prolific writer Anon was read out. It ends:

And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry.
Matters it now if time began
if time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all
and I am now at peace.

RIP Michael and Nicholas.

Or, as the Tralfamadorians would say:

So it goes.

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Filed under Death, Fame, Television

Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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President Obonjo announces his chat show and starts his Brexit coup de force

Copstick & the seldom-seen real Benjamin Bankole Bello

As previously mentioned here, 

BBC Studios and E4 (part of Channel 4) have ripped-off Benjamin Bankole Bello’s well-established comedy character President Obonjo for their reprehensible non-broadcast comedy chat show pilot which looks remarkably like a wildly offensive piece of racism which could have come straight out of the 1930s or 1950s.

‘President Obonjo’, though, is not a former African strongman for nothing, even if ousted from his ‘Lafta Republic’.

In the last couple of days, a fight-back has been organised and, next Sunday, a (probably 25-minute) President Obonjo show will be recorded for unleashing on the internet. As both BBC Studios and E4 have said in writing that they believe there is room for two former African dictators in the comedy firmament (one original; one their own rip-off) no doubt they will both be rushing to take on President Obonjo. After all, surely no-one could believe there is any two-faced bullshitting going on by either. 

Part of the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush

So I talked to comedy critic/judge (Scotsman newspaper, Perrier Awards, Malcolm Hardee Awards) and TV producer (Eurotrash and sundry sport and sex documentaries) Kate Copstick and ‘President Obonjo’ about their plans for next Sunday’s recording in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.


JOHN: So what is it?

COPSTICK: It’s a President Obonjo chat show with interview guests. It’s not a TV pilot. It’s hopefully a mind-boggling world wide viral video.

JOHN: And the basic idea is…?

COPSTICK: The conceit is that the President is not a stupid man and he realises, as I think many of us have, that Britain is falling apart, from the Mother of Parliaments downwards. Never has the time been better for a coup – a power-grab – and President Obonjo has got a bit of previous in this area.

OBONJO: Now is my time.

JOHN: Where is the Lafta Republic?

OBONJO: Close to Wakanda.

JOHN: How long were you a dictator there?

OBONJO: Well over ten years.

JOHN: Why did you get thrown out?

President Obonjo knows a lot about coup d’états

OBONJO: I didn’t get thrown out!… Just over ten years ago. I came on a state visit to Britain to meet your Queen and discovered comedy. My people in Africa found out I was no longer on a state visit, there was a coup détat and I have been here ever since – President Obonjo has been performing comedy for ten years.

JOHN: Who took over in control of the Lafta Republic?

OBONJO: No-one.

JOHN: So it is much like Britain.

OBONJO: Precisely. There is a gap in the leadership in Britain and I am the man to fill it.

JOHN: Parliamentary democracy clearly is not working. We need a strongman.

OBONJO: Change we can believe in. Now is my time.

COPSTICK: Also, this is the 21st century and we could be doing with a black man in charge.

JOHN: Are we allowed to say President Obama was not really black?

OBONJO: He was brown.

JOHN: And only half-Kenyan – his dad. Whereas President Obonjo is all Lafta.

David Lammy made an inspirational speech

OBONJO: David Lammy, when he became a British MP, was so inspirational in his speech about how he never thought he was going to be in Parliament and everyone kept rooting for him to be the first black Prime Minister… That was good, but it has not happened.

COPSTICK: Prime Minister, Shrime Minister. We wanna cut through all that because democracy self-evidently is not working. Boris Johnson has had a very good stab at being a dictator… 

OBONJO:… and it has not worked.

JOHN: And, clearly, one-man rule CAN work in Britain because our absolute monarchs succeeded – Henry V took over France. Henry VIII did us proud and took us out of a European religious union. Elizabeth I, though not altogether a man, created an English Empire. It proves that absolute power in the hands of one person works in Britain. Let’s not mention the Germans.

COPSTICK: It absolutely works and President Obonjo has an absolute groundswell of support from the live comedy industry.

JOHN: You can create the Lafta Republic right here in Britain.

OBONJO: Change we can believe in. Yes we can.

COPSTICK: This show which we are recording next Sunday is a chat show, but it is also a show of force with the guests representing large special interest groups within the UK. It will be a tour-de-force.

OBONJO: It will be a coup-de-force.

#JusticeForObonjo !

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BBC Studios and Channel 4/E4 comedy ’theft’. A plagiarist in both their houses?

Colour duplication is fully operational at the BBC in London. (Photograph by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash)

BBC Studios have become embroiled in what they are claiming is the theft both of one of their programmes and of their name by a company calling itself BBC Stewdios.

BBC Stewdios have sold a sitcom pilot idea – Stepson & Co – to E4 (part of Channel 4) about an old-man/young-man rag-and-bone man team. The show is set in the 1990s and bears some similarity to the 1960s-1970s BBC TV father-and-son sitcom Steptoe and Son, which was also about an old-man/young-man rag-and-bone man team.

However, BBC Stewdios claim their sitcom characters were independently developed by producers in their company, none of whom had ever heard of Steptoe & Son and that the setting – the 1990s – clearly distinguishes it from the BBC’s product… Steptoe and Son ran on BBC TV for around ten years.

As for any similarities in the company names, BBC Stewdios have issued a press release saying they came up with their name independently and they had not previously heard of BBC Studios. They say:


“We had obviously heard of the BBC in various contexts – the British Bathroom Company, the Berkshire Boys’ Choir

and, of course, the Blair Broadcasting Corporation based in Iowa – but not the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“Our name came about because our founder John Charles Walsham likes Irish Stew and his Spanish mother used to say it was their family’s God: thus the name Stew-Dios… and ‘BBC’ was decided on because our ideas are Big, Brassy and Creative – thus the name ‘BBC Stewdios’. 

“There is a tradition of three-letter names being used by a large range of television companies – ITV, ABC, CBS, NBC – it is the Rule of Three. We believe there is room in broadcasting for two BBCs and we see a clear distinction between BBC Stewdios and BBC Studios, just as there is room in broadcast TV for two rag-and-bone men sitcom series and we see a clear creative distinction between our Stepson & Co sitcom and the BBC’s ten-year run of Steptoe and Son shows, of which we were honestly and innocently totally unaware. 

Today’s BBC Stewdios Press Statement

“BBC Studios claim their Steptoe and Son sitcom is widely known and respected, but our producer Ken Bawdell had neither seen nor heard of Steptoe and Son.”


When contacted for comment, Ken Bawdell said: “I don’t take much interest in the broadcast television industry… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

Meanwhile Carl Columbia, Controller of E4, has been quoted as saying: “Channel 4 has a statutory public service remit that it should ‘be innovative and distinctive’. We are satisfied that there has been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Stewdios in this case and there is plenty of room in the industry for two companies called the BBC.”

A BBC Stewdios spokesperson said: “It is a case of pot-kettle-black. BBC Studios have a long-established reputation for ripping-off ideas. Anyone approached by them should expect and prepare for the worse and neither get their hopes up nor give up their day job. Sadly, it now seems necessary to give the same warning about E4 and Channel 4… #JusticeForObonjo

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The Malcolm Hardee Awards and after – President Obonjo to buy Greenland?

President Obonjo and his fearsome bodyguards attended the Malcolm Hardee Awards last night

I am in London.

The Edinburgh Fringe is, as tradition dictates, in Edinburgh.

Up in Edinburgh, the 2019 Malcolm Hardee Awards were announced and presented last night – well, this morning, because the anarchy started at midnight – in the Ballroom of The Counting House during the traditional 2-hour stage show.

The winners were – indeed still are –

Legs display their Malcolm Hardee Award to its best advantage

COMIC ORIGINALITY
Legs

CUNNING STUNT
West End Producer

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID
President Obonjo

The Awards were classier and glitzier than in previous years because, I hear, the judges were supplied with chips during their deliberations. That never happened in previous years when dry and occasionally stale biscuits were sometimes, but not always, provided.

For American readers: ‘chips’ are French fries. (Sometimes I think George III did us a favour by getting rid of the Colonies.)

President Obonjo, who was also compering the show, arrived with a group of threatening-looking bodyguards. They remained throughout the night and ushered him on-and-off stage in case the deeply-dodgy BBC Studios or E4/Channel 4 had any pickpockets or muggers working in the vicinity.

The mysterious West End Producer

Fellow Award-winner ‘West End Producer’ arrived in his mask, wore it throughout and left in it so Mysterious Mark – organiser of the Awards on behalf of the British Comedy Guide – tells me: “We still don’t actually know who he is.”

Some of the full-house audience apparently walked out after a time, reportedly confused by the bizarreness of the acts: Tom Crosbie, Lucy Hopkins, Legs, Dragos Montenescu, Mandy Muden, Charles Quarterman, Scratch & Sniff and Twonkey.

According to judge Claire Smith, the walkouts were by a few slightly dazed people with startled looks in their eyes.

Fellow judge Kate Copstick confirmed the problem was a new Fringe app which tells people what shows are about to start nearby with the result that people turn up not knowing what the show actually is, just that it’s free.

The result last night, says Copstick was that “we got some young, slightly drunk people who mostly walked out during Twonkey’s performance”.

2016 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Twonkey apparently displayed a jaw-dropping excess of surrealism and, at one point, got thoroughly entangled in the leads of three microphones. It is unclear why he actually needed to have three microphones.

Someone who was in the audience last night tells me, though, that Twonkey managed to ignore the drunks and “pulled it around again, finishing with a blistering performance of Goat Girl – his song about a girl on a skiing holiday on ecstasy…”

Audience members try to restrain Lewis Schaffer last night

The audience contained a large smattering of other comedians including Lewis Schaffer, who may or may not have diabetes (his Fringe show is called Mr Diabetes) and who has been living for months on a diet which excludes all fruit & vegetables but includes lots of meat, some of it raw.

Claire Smith tells me: “He looks great. He has lost a lot of weight, which is good, but his breath smells horrible.”

Apparently, he has been seen around Edinburgh recently wearing a badge saying: YES, I KNOW MY BREATH STINKS.

This is, she tells me, partly because he now believes that eating no fruit or vegetables means he no longer needs to brush his teeth.

“I keep stumbling on him in Edinburgh,” Claire told me today, “crying in underpasses because he has accidentally eaten an avocado.”

Claire today also attended the other, less increasingly prestigious, comedy awards – Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards – where, she reports, significant numbers of half-starved young comedians were to be seen absconding with armfuls of the free croissants. (Dave’s sponsored Comedy Awards has a higher budget than the unsponsored Malcolm Hardee Awards).

President Obonjo salutes his Million Quid win

In later developments, President Obonjo announced he was thinking of putting in a bid to the Danish government to buy Greenland now that Donald Trump is out of the running…

And the BBC posted an online link to their World Service’s Focus on Africa which acknowledged that President Obonjo was “one of the few African comedy acts well known on the UK comedy circuit” (and, indeed, for the last ten years, the ONLY deposed African President/leader character on the UK comedy circuit)… which makes the self-proclaimed ignorance of the apparent Intellectual Property thieves at BBC Studios/E4/Channel 4 even more spectacularly jaw-dropping…

BBC Studios and E4/Channel 4 had originally been shortlisted for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character'”… but, on the night, they were trounced byWest End Producer –  a man in a rubber mask.

#JusticeForObonjo

BBC World Service – President Obonjo

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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?

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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.

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Critic Kate Copstick on the Edinburgh Fosters (ex-Perrier) Comedy Awards

The Grouchy Club live in Edinburgh (Photograph by Sandra Smith0

Copstick and I hosted the live Grouchy Club in Edinburgh (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

The latest weekly Grouchy Club podcast is now online.

During the recording, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I talked about staging monthly live Grouchy Club shows/meetings in London – in the performance area behind Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush.

Details on the Grouchy Club website.

In this very brief extract from the new podcast, she and I talk about the recent Fosters Awards (formerly Perrier Awards) run by producer and Nimax Theatres owner Nica Burns at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I run the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Fringe. Judges with me this year were Kate Copstick and fellow comedy critics Marissa Burgess, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith.


COPSTICK
There are few people I know that I admire more than Nica Burns. I think she’s an incredible woman who has done incredible things for comedy. I think she’s so genuine and she’s given so much I don’t know why she’s not a fucking Dame. There’s obviously been some kind of mistake.

JOHN
Well, if your ceiling falls on the punters, it’s not good, is it?

COPSTICK
That’s not her fault. That was nothing to do with her. Anyway, I think she’s an incredible woman, an incredible force for good in theatre and comedy and live performance.

JOHN
Yes, she is.

COPSTICK
But I do think that the Fosters are becoming more and more relevant only to the industry. That whole list – everybody on that list – it just seemed that Ooh! You can see them popping up on Radio 4 Extra or telly. They’ve all got ‘slots’ – even the clowny ones. You think: Well, they could go there; they could go here. There was no flash of genius.

JOHN
I don’t know if they still do it, but they brought in members of the public as judges.

COPSTICK
Yes, they always do.

JOHN
A terrible idea, I think – They (the public) don’t know what they want.

COPSTICK
Well, to be fair, they have to go through a much more stringent process than any of the industry judges and it’s just as possible, if not more likely, that you’re going to find some numpty who’s some kind of line producer for BBC Comedy. There are some very dull people working in professional comedy, John.

JOHN
So you’ve given up working in television again?

COPSTICK
(LAUGHS) I have indeed. But there are some very very dull people.

JOHN
Yes, but they can spot talent, whereas…

COPSTICK
What do you mean they can spot talent?

JOHN
No, I take it back. I take it back.

COPSTICK
Wash your mouth out. Have another Crunchie biscuit. (SHE STUFFS A BISCUIT IN MY MOUTH) And, while John’s munching on the Crunchie biscuit… Of course they can’t. Otherwise a completely different lot of people would be on telly and the programmes that are on telly would be much better instead of little comedy production line sausages, which is what they are. When I started working in telly, someone said to me: There is a reason why television is called a medium. I even said to… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this; I hope she doesn’t mind… I bumped into Nica Burns and said Oh, has the panel been to see Jessie Cave? and Nica said Oh, Marmite! Which I can understand. Some people loathed her; some people loved her.

JOHN
‘Marmite’ is almost a compliment.

COPSTICK
Exactly. I said: Isn’t that great! and she said Well, you know, it divided the panel and I said Well, what are you going for? Lowest common denominator? And I suppose, because it comes to a vote at the end, that’s exactly what it is. It’s the kind of blandy people that everybody liked. It’s the Mirandas and the Jack Whitehalls… And I’m not saying… I mean, Jack Whitehall was a little superstar when he started, but he’s a very smart boy with a very smart dad and they know…

JOHN
… and a very smart mum…

COPSTICK
I haven’t met his mum. But they know where to go, how much to dumb yourself down to keep yourself in a lot of work in a lot of television programmes and it is lowest common denominator. That lowest common denominator might be different… Twenty years ago, that lowest common denominator was Les Dawson; it was Michael Barrymore….

JOHN
… who were great…

COPSTICK
… and nowadays… it’s… I don’t think an award should be looking at being given… that a panel, a judging panel should not be looking at giving an award to the lowest common denominator. There need to be people on that panel passionate enough to do the Twelve Angry Men thing – persuade the rest of the brilliance in somebody who is… I am not saying Jessie Cave should have won. She IS Marmite and I thought I would hate her and I loved her. It was an extraordinary performance…. I just really think it’s a… a worry almost everybody on that list was so forgettable.


The Grouchy Club podcasts are on Podomatic
and can also be downloaded from iTunes.

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Comic Philip Simon notices a Jewish change in the UK and fears for his knees

David Mitchell - not Philip Simon

David Mitchell, 2009 – not Philip Simon, 2015

A few weeks ago, I was a judge on the Last Minute Comedy Comedian of the Year awards.

The winner was Philip Simon.

“You mentioned in your act at the Awards,” I told him in Borehamwood this week, “that you look a bit like David Mitchell.”

“I don’t get mistaken for him in the street but, when I say it in gigs, there’s enough people who go: Ah! That’s what it is!

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

“The day after the General Election a few weeks ago, I did an Ed Miliband lookalike job where I had to eat a bacon sandwich. I was brought in late to replace a previous lookalike because they had decided the previous guy looked too Asian to be Ed Miliband.”

“You ate a bacon sandwich?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re Jewish?”

“Yes. I don’t consider myself a ‘Jewish’ comic, but I like that there is that niche I can fit into”

“And you were telling me,” I said, “that there’s been some anti-Semitism creeping into UK audiences.”

“I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitism,” Philip corrected me. “But it used to be I might mention in my set that I am Jewish and, depending where I was in the country, most people would probably think: Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know much about Jews. Tell me more.

“Now there’s a real sense of – intake of breath – What’s he gonna say? As if, by mentioning you’re Jewish, it means it has to be political. There is now a noticeable atmosphere that is created in rooms round the country that I don’t think was there a year ago.

“I have personal beliefs about the situation – I’ve got family in Israel; we’ve gone to Israel for holidays most of our lives; I believe in a self-governing two-state solution – but I don’t write jokes about it. I don’t want to talk about it on stage because there’s no comedy in it for me.

“Another Jewish comedian I know says he has also noticed a decline in the acceptance of Jewish comedians. And he’s not particularly in-yer-face Jewish or political. I don’t think it has stopped me getting any bookings, but it’s certainly an interesting new dynamic.”

“Well,” I said. “Now you’re an award-winning comedian…”

“Apparently so.”

“So offers have been flooding in?”

“E-mails have been filtering in. Someone did try and introduce me the other night as lastminute.com’s comedian of the year instead of Last Minute Comedy’s.”

“You’re doing your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe but not until next year?”

Philip Simon in Borehamwood

The real Philip Simon in Borehamwood has dating show plans

“Yes. It’s in its very early stages. It will be a show about Jewish dating and Jewish parenthood.”

“Is Jewish dating different from any other dating?”

“Oh yes. Laced with guilt. The premise I have is that we all know each other, so it becomes very complicated. You could never have a dark side to your life, because everyone knows everyone.”

“Surely,” I asked, “South London and North London must be separate?”

“Not now,” said Philip. “With Facebook, mutual friends pop up all over the place. If you go on a blind date and want to find out about the person, you just go onto Facebook and find three or four mutual friends – which could end up good or bad.

“The premise of my show is…Young Jewish boy, out on the dating world, meets someone, they get pregnant … All anecdotal…”

“And autobiographical?” I asked.

“Yeah. We have a baby. But things are going very very well. I mean, it’s not an EastEnders/Jeremy Kyle situation.”

“Is she a full-time mum?”

“She’s a clinical psychologist.”

“And you’re a comedian.”

“Yes. She is actually really good to take to a comedy gig, because she won’t necessarily watch me. She will watch the audience and can tell me at what point they stopped laughing or laughed more and she can read an audience far better than I can.”

“You used to be an actor,” I said, “but now – apart from occasional Ed Milibands – you’re mostly a comic.”

“Yes. I used to do a few TV bits, a couple of bits in sitcoms. I had three lines in My Family.”

“Not a series much admired by comedians,” I said.

“Well,” said Philip, “it was an American writer who came over here and said: This is the format they do in America, so let’s do our show like that.

“What would happen would be they would have a really good original script. Then everyone got their little paws on it – I want that joke – Let’s change that joke – and, by the time, it goes to air, it’s been edited to a different thing. When we did the read-through round the table, it was hilarious. Really strong comedy. But, by the time it was whittled down to the half hour that went out…”

“A bit bland?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But it was a good fun job to do.”

And you were in Peppa Pig on stage,” I prompted.

Not Peppa Pig but Philip Simon again

Not Peppa Pig’s daddy but Philip Simon in Borehamwood

“Yes, that was an amazing job – a year and a half of touring the UK, doing the West End. It was like Avenue Q where the actors were on stage holding the puppets and you could see both. We were onstage talking, singing, acting, dancing with the puppets. I was Daddy Pig, which was the biggest and I’m not officially allowed to say it destroyed my back, but it destroyed my back. I was attached to him with a kind of harness. It was just such a ridiculously heavy puppet. But there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying: Philip Simon Brings Home The Bacon.”

“And it may or may not have buggered your back.”

“I now do puppet workshops,” said Philip. “Teaching teachers how to take puppets into the classroom to work with the kids.”

“So what’s next for you?” I asked.

“I’ve signed up to do a stupid bike ride this weekend – London to Amsterdam via Harwich. We finish at Anne Frank’s house and get a tour of the house. We are cycling nearly 150 miles.”

For charity?”

“Yes. The Anne Frank Trust. It should be fun, but I’m a bit worried my knees are going to give way.”

“Have you cycled 150 miles before?”

“No. I’ve done London to Brighton for charity a couple of times in the past and that’s 60 miles. On this Amsterdam ride, the first day we do 80 miles and that will probably destroy my knees. The organisers are calling the route ‘undulating’. On Saturday, I will either be in Amsterdam or in Casualty at some hospital.”

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