Tag Archives: trailers

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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Old-fashioned British TV, with in-vision announcers & the un-named Mike Hunt

Reginald Bosanquet, alleged drinker and serial libel accuser

I’ve been to a couple of TV events at the National Film Theatre in London over the last couple of days.

At the first one, Spitting Image/Not The Nine O’Clock News and QI producer John Lloyd opined that he had been quite lucky in that he had never been sued – except by legendary newsreader Reginald Bosanquet who, it turned out, made quite a good living from suing people for not-too-high sums if they said he drank too much.

Like John Lloyd, people tended to settle out of court rather than risk the vast costs of any court case (even if Reginald Bosanquet was an epic drinker) so Reggie made a lot of money out of a large number of small settlements.

Yesterday, the NFT event was about TV promotions and presentation (the trailers, the announcers, the branding) – an area I worked in for over 20 years.

Anglia’s much-admired weatherman

I started at Anglia TV in Norwich. It appeared to be a very genteel station. Their weather man Michael Hunt, an amiable moustachioed man, was never introduced – perhaps for an obvious audio reason – as Mike Hunt. But I suspect the obvious reason was never thought-of at Anglia.

From Norwich: Nicholas Parsons with the Quiz of the Weak?

It had a reputation for pulling above its weight. Although a small regional station, Anglia produced major network shows like Tales of the Unexpected (a drama series with big-name stars), Survival (nature films shot worldwide to rival David Attenborough’s on the BBC) and quiz show Sale of the Century hosted by the eternally gentlemanly Nicholas Parsons.

The reality of Anglia was that Tales of the Unexpected was produced in London with non-Anglia crews by Anglia board member Sir John Woolf. His cinema movies included Oliver!, Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.

The award-winning Survival films were made by a unit in London separate from Anglia TV.

Sale of the Century and other game shows were, indeed, made by Anglia in Norwich with Anglia crews, but the prestige drama and natural history programmes were made well away from the Norwich studio complex where most staff seemed to live for their evening and weekend lives in comfortable rural villages while the Anglia bosses seemed to live a slightly old-fashioned life of country house shenanigans and grouse-shooting.

Anglia Television’s quickly old-fashioned knight to remember

The originally classy but quickly rather old-fashioned looking Anglia knight logo eventually had to be updated to a more modern look well after it should have been retired.

I remember the presentation to staff by image/style consultant company Lambie-Nairn in which a believable young man explained how they had come up with a new brand image for the company.

The altered logo – a complex heraldic tradition or a triangle?

They had replaced the old-fashioned knight figure with what was, in effect, a crisp, brightly-coloured triangle like the letter A in Anglia. This had cost (I think) millions and was a good-enough logo but – Ye Gods! – the pseudo-intellectualising spiel that went into explaining how they had come up with this simple triangular design was a master of the marketeers’ art. A heraldic continuation of the Anglia knight’s up-market image seemed to play a large part.

Jesus! I thought. It’s a triangle like the A in Anglia with some other triangles in it – the first thing anyone would come up with!

The highly talented and highly amiable Martin Lambie-Nairn himself – a man I much admire – was on stage at the NFT last night and gave some other background to that re-branding:

“Anglia Television,” he said, “was a very interesting company, a very nice company and we were there getting rid of the knight. We spent a lot of time presenting ideas to the board and there was a kind of detachment in the sort of people we were presenting to on the executive board and the non-executive board. We were presenting to these people and Lord Townshend was Chairman of the Board. We started our presentation and Lord Townshend said: One moment. Where’s John? Someone turned to Lord Townshend and said John Woolf was shooting at Elstree m’Lord….. Oh? Oh! said Lord Townshend. Who owns the shoot at Elstree?”

Martin Lambie-Nairn says he was partly responsible for ending what was eventually seen as the old-fashioned idea of having on-screen announcers on British television – by getting rid of them at the BBC and at ITV stations including Anglia.

When I started as a Continuity Scriptwriter at Anglia – writing scripts for the on-screen announcers – the only facilities were the announcer sitting in his/her booth with no autocue (he/she had to memorise any script you wrote), a slide machine and (if it was not being used for transmission or by a programme) a videotape and telecine machine. Edited trailers were rare. Feature film trailers tended to be single sections chosen from the film and were run unedited off a telecine machine.

Because ITV was a network of independent companies transmitting local programmes, networked programmes, part-networked programmes and local ads (which were sold and might be cancelled up to around 5.00pm every day) the presentation and promotion ‘bits between’ had to fit to the half-second. If you over-ran by one second, you would be cut off; if you under-ran by two seconds, there would be an unsettling gap. Equally, if a live programme over-ran or under-ran there were ‘gap’ problems.

Famous announcer/host David Hamilton: Diddy? Yes he did

Iconic announcer/presenter ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton was at the NFT last night. He was the continuity announcer one evening when, on the live Sunday Night at the London Palladium show, Shirley Bassey decided not to sing a song and the programme under-ran by five minutes, leaving a sudden gap which he had to fill with no warning, no autocue on a locked-off camera with no tape, slide or film back-up and only a copy of the TV Times listings magazine to ad-lib round. Presumably every announcer at every ITV station around the country had the same problem.

David was a promotion scriptwriter at ATV in 1960. He remembered:

“We had a boss who said to me one day: Think about how much people pay for a 30 second ad. You have got 30 seconds to sell our programmes. This is very very important and very valuable time and you must make those scripts pay.

Later in his career, he said, he remembered “one night introducing Crossroads, the long-running soap in which the sets moved more than the actors…”

Crossroads, like all good soap operas, had a central location which allowed new characters and storylines to naturally appear and disappear. In Coronation Street and EastEnders, the pub is central. Crossroads was set in a motel, which allowed new characters to appear and leave naturally.

“That evening,” said David Hamilton, “I read what the continuity writer had scripted for me: Tonight an actor arrives at the Crossroads Motel and I saw I had a second or so left on the clock and I added: Not before time.

“Two minutes later, the phone rang and it was Noele Gordon (star of Crossroads) who said: David, I didn’t like what you said about my programme. I was working for Thames and Crossroads was an ATV programme so I didn’t get too much of a bollocking.

“We weren’t really announcers,” he remembered. “More of an evening host. You became a friend in the home.”

He once got a letter from a woman living alone who explained he was the only person who talked to her during the day.

“People felt there was someone there watching the programmes with them,” he explained. And, because they were in people’s living rooms, they were famous faces.

McDonald Hobley was happier than Larry

McDonald Hobley was one of the early BBC TV announcers and had a very small part in the movie version of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, which was being filmed on the seafront at Blackpool with Laurence Olivier.

“During a break in filming,” David Hamilton remembered, “the two of them were walking along the Golden Mile and a couple of ladies came walking towards them. One of them said: Ey up! Are you McDonald Hobley? He straightened his tie and said I am, indeed. And she looked at Laurence Olivier and asked MacDonald Hobley: Who’s yer friend? Is he anybody?”

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One of the legendary characters of ITV

ITV used to be made up of separate commercial companies.

In Cardiff last night, I had a chat with some people I used to work with at HTV.

The name Malcolm Leach came up and the general consensus was that he was dead. I have heard this too, though no-one seems to know the exact details.

I asked, “Didn’t he die before?” which is not as silly a question as it sounds, given his past.

He used to freelance around the then ITV network, mostly in Promotion Departments, making trailers for forthcoming programmes. The last time I heard of him – in 2003 – he had been staying with a long-term friend of his from Yorkshire Television, but he had been asked to leave after two days because he was scaring his friend’s children – he had developed a tendency to get up without warning or provocation and start talking to the wall.

Whereas other people might drink a few cups of tea during the course of a day, he replaced each cup of tea with a bottle of wine.

I only worked with him once, at Granada TV, and was amazed that he was so apparently charming.

I should not have been surprised – that is how he got away with so much.

If he really is dead, the word “plausible” should be inscribed on his tombstone.

His exploits were many, including an attempt to buy an ITV franchise to broadcast. Many people lost money. The most definitive Malcolm Leach story I every heard, though, was one which, depending on the telling, either happened at Granada or at BBC TV.

As a freelance, he had either managed to get Granada to provide him with a company car or got the BBC to provide him with a hire car.

After he left the company, they realised the car was missing.

He had sold it.

Men and women die. Legends live on and this story sounds entirely in character.

In fact, it sounds quite low-key for him.

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How to pretend in a blog that you are successful in showbusiness by targeted, relentless b***sh****ng…

Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.

Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.

However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.

Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”

So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.

After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.

(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)

The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.

(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)

I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.

(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)

Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:

“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”

A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:

“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”

And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.

I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.

(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)

I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)

Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)

At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.

After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:

“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”

(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)

As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)

John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.

(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)

“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.

“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”

“Eh?”

“We have a porpoise,” John told me.

“You have a purpose?”

“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”

“I don’t.”

“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”

“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”

In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.

“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”

“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”

“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”

“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.

“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.

(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)

Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?

I live it every day, luv.

While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”

“What?”

“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Did he recognise me?”

“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.

“I suppose so,” I agreed.

By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.

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Write it as Art, sell it as baked beans… How to publicise stage shows, movies, books, TV and Shakespeare

Sit back, relax and have a cup of tea.

Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been asked what I do, I have never been able to give any understandable answer because the truth is I’ve really just bummed around doing overlapping this, that and sometimes the other.

One thing I used to do was review and write feature articles about movies, so I saw previews a week or a month before the films were released, having read little or nothing at all about them.

I saw them ‘cold’ as they were structured to be seen.

That blissful ignorance happened again last night with the movie The Adjustment Bureau. I had read nothing at all about it. I knew it starred Matt Damon, was based on a short story by Philip K Dick (who wrote the stories on which Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report were based) and, on the poster, Matt Damon and a girl in a red dress were running away from people chasing them in a city.

That was it.

So last night I saw The Adjustment Bureau cold and thought it was a fascinating film – quite often totally doolally, but fascinating. It is severely weird for a commercial film and it is well worth seeing.

But the poster bears no relation at all to the basic content of the movie – to the extent that it even implies The Adjustment Bureau is in one particular type of movie genre when it is actually a totally different movie genre (I don’t want to give it away).

So that’s an example of a misleading movie poster successfully attempting to get bums on seats. It’s a potentially counter-productive strategy because word-of-mouth soon gets round.

I’m interested because another thing I did – for over twenty plus years – was make on-screen TV promotions – ‘trailers’.

I was a writer or producer or director or writer-producer or writer-director or whatever it took a company’s fancy to call the job.

So I am interested in how creative products are ‘sold’ to the audience.

A couple of days ago, someone asked me about their 40-word show entry for the Edinburgh Fringe Programme.

My advice was the same advice I give on anything creative.

Write it as Art.

Sell it as baked beans.

If the content is high quality in itself, it won’t be demeaned by a tabloid headline type of publicity.

There’s nothing wrong with being populist.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

The creative work itself is what you want people to read, hear or see. It can be as subtle and/or as sophisticated as you want. Publicity is another matter. Publicity is like someone standing outside, in a busy street, with lots of other audio distractions, yelling through a megaphone to try to get people to notice you and your creation exist.

If it fails, no-one will see what you have struggled to create. So don’t knock it.

If you are in Piccadilly Circus or the High Street in Edinburgh amid 150 other people yelling about what they’ve done, then you need to be loud to be heard and you need to wear bright colours to be seen.

I’ve also written books. In standard publishing contracts, the author gets total control over the text inside a book – the publisher cannot change it without the author’s permission. But the publisher has total contractual control over the design of and text on the cover. There is a reason for this.

What is inside the book is the artistic creation you want people to experience. What is on the cover is advertising and promotion aimed at intriguing potential readers into picking up and buying the book and its unknown content.

Publicity is persuading as many people as possible to buy an invisible pig inside a bag.

In its own way, it is equally creative. But it is different.

Content is a different form of creativity from publicity.

In television, the last thing you want is for a director to make the promotion for his own TV programme. The result is almost always shit. For one thing, he or she is too close to it to be objective. Also, he or she may be able  to make a great 30 or 60 or 90 minute TV programme, but, trust me, he or she knows bugger all about selling a programme to the viewer in 20 seconds in the middle of other promos amid forests of £500,000 adverts for soap powder, cars and insurance companies.

There is a difference between creating something which will give a pastel-wearing theorist at the Arts Council a creative hard-on and creating something which will get people en masse to pay out money and/or spend time to read-hear-watch it.

Repetition is also not always bad.

There is nothing wrong with populism.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

‘Populist’ is just a word meaning ‘popular’ made up by people who can’t create anything popular themselves and want to save their egos by trying to seem culturally superior.

Shakespeare was never less than populist.

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare because the new English King James I was actually King James VI of Scotland who was interested in witchcraft and the supernatural. So what better way to suck up to the new King and revived public interest in the supernatural than to write a Scottish play with witches and ghosts in it? And bung in death, destruction, gore and swearing.

The best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Baz Luhrmann‘s movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet – a movie so untraditional and in-yer-face that, the first time you see it, it takes about five minutes to adjust to the OTT style.

The second best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, financed by Playboy magazine, with Lady Macbeth nude in the sleepwalking scene and awash with more blood than the Colosseum on a bad day for Christians. It was the first film Polanski directed after his wife Sharon Tate was butchered.

I’m sure Shakespeare would have loved both movies because they are real audience pleasers. Once you get people in and watching, you can communicate any in-depth piece of philosophical seriousness you want.

Reverting to my chum who wrote 40 words on their Edinburgh Fringe show… The first version was ineffective because it described the plot rather than push the unique selling points of the show.

I asked: “Don’t tell me what’s IN it, tell me what it’s ABOUT.”

You want to say what it is ABOUT – what made you want to create the thing in the first place. And that, in fact, is how to promote bad productions too.

My rule of thumb in TV promotions was never to mislead or lie about a programme to the audience. If it was shit, I tried to figure out what the original concept was that got the producer, director and cast keen to make it.

No-one intends to create a shit book, play, comedy show, TV series, movie or whatever.

In promoting anything, part of what you want to communicate is whatever made the people involved keen to create it in the first place. If the audience can be interested in the concept as much as the failed creators originally were, then you may get an audience and they won’t feel too let down because what they have been told is there actually IS there. Even if it’s not very good.

If the creative product is good – as The Adjustment Bureau is – then that’s even better.

Pity their poster was so misleading.

Of course, some things are so shit, the only thing to do is to get in and get out fast before the word-of-mouth gets round.

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