Friday, March 20, 2009

An interesting line appears in Anthony Quinn's Independent review of Lesbian Vampire Killers (I do love a good rom-com), starring Mathew Horne and James Corden. Says Quinn: "A loveable pair of mates in Gavin and Stacey, here they have flagrantly overstretched their appeal, and now look in danger of becoming the Hale and Pace de nos jours".

I'm afraid that Horne and Corden can only dream of being the new Hale and Pace. I've caught a few editions of Hale and Pace on Men & Motors recently, and they're actually half-decent sketch shows. Proper jokes, good solid comic performances and all the stuff that seems to be an optional extra in a lot of TV comedy now. The lows are pretty low, but the highs consist of good material, put over with gusto. I remember being underwhelmed at the time, but they stand up surprisingly well, especially in comparison to most of what we've been getting in recent years.

Talking of what passes for comic genius now, I've just stumbled across this unpublished article, written for the Oldie's Rant column. The editor decided, probably quite reasonably, that attacks on individuals weren't the sort of thing he wanted to include, and so persuaded me to write about people who take up the bike space on trains with their luggage instead, Anyway, here it is:


Like God and poverty, Ricky Gervais is everywhere. Otherwise sane and rational adults rave about Extras, while believing The Office to be neither as clever nor funny as its creators thought is pure H.M. Bateman material. Sadly, I can’t see or hear him without wanting to put an anvil through my television. Not being a blacksmith and knowing how to switch off, order is maintained, but I still wonder how such a mugging ninny became the saviour of television comedy.

Admittedly, he came in at a perfect juncture, with commissioners actively seeking out the unfunny. Channel 4’s Eleven O’Clock Show was one of the worst comedy programmes ever made and Gervais was the best thing on it. Amid such rubbish, a mediocre comic could only shine.

His stand-up act relies heavily on jokes about race and disability. I can’t work out what winds me up more: being told that something is never a suitable subject for humour or a middle-class white man doing darkie and spaz jokes behind a slender and not entirely convincing veil of irony. He’s just Bernard Manning with a better tailor and worse timing.

His supporters say he does comedy of embarrassment. It seems more to me like the comedy of inflating his ego. When David Bowie appeared in Extras and sang an insulting song about Gervais’ character, it seemed self-deprecating, but the subtext seemed more like “I’m a major celebrity, these are my major celebrity friends who want to be in my hit show. I own entertainment”.

Why do I know so much about his work? I’m a big comedy fan, and I want to enjoy new things. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m missing something? So I watch him, hoping to be dazzled, and each time conclude that everyone else is mad, misguided and stupid. Time to visit Anvils R Us.


Nearly 3 years after I wrote that, people whose opinions I otherwise respect still can't see Gervais for the chancer he is, a man who's made a very meagre endowment of talent go an unfeasibly long way. Am I missing something or is everyone else wrong?
Tom Driberg has long been a figure of fascination to me. He was a life-long friend of Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman, a man of the left, a rapacious homosexual, a disciple of both Lord Beaverbrook and Aleister Crowley and an alleged double agent. About 20 years ago (tempus fugit, etc), Francis Wheen wrote an excellent biography of Driberg, and, last night on BBC4, William G Stewart added to the sum of Dribergian knowledge with an excellent documentary on his friend and former employer.

Yes, the same William G Stewart that presented Fifteen to One and produced The Price is Right. Although he's probably best known for his game show work, Stewart's one of the cleverest and most versatile operators in television. Among his other achievements, he produced Bless This House and directed David Frost's demolition of insurance fraudster Emil Savundra. When I interviewed him in 2005 for my book Turned Out Nice Again, he explained that Frost could go from interviewing heads of state to presenting Through the Keyhole because, whatever the vehicle, the important thing was communication. Watching this informal but very informative documentary, I realised the same could be said about Stewart, a fundamentally serious-minded man and one of LE's genuine intellectuals. Had it not been for Grace Wyndham-Goldie's snobbish inability to countenance employing a man who hadn't been to university, he might well have made his name in current affairs instead. Certainly, the contacts he made in his time as Driberg's assistant would have come in very useful.

This is as good a place as any to note something that I didn't have space for in the book. He rescued Don't Forget Your Toothbrush after an utterly disastrous pilot. Not being an insecure sort, Stewart downplays his contribution, saying that Chris Evans, John Revell et al were very nearly there, and just needed someone with a bit more experience to tell them what worked and what didn't before they found out the hard way. Evans and Revell tell a different story, and say that without Stewart there would have been no show worthy of transmission.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The paperback edition of Turned Out Nice Again is out in the summer, and the nice people at Atlantic want me to send them any corrections and amendments arising from the hardback by the end of the month. If you read the hardback and anything struck you as erroneous or suspect, I'd love to hear from you as soon as possible on Thanks in advance. No, really.