Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ben Miller's Radio 2 thing about Benny Hill is in my current queue of things to be listened to, and it will be interesting to see how it views Hill's demise. The more I think about it, especially since a particularly thought provoking email on the subject from Matt Rudd, his worst crime was sticking with producer Dennis Kirkland for so long. Dennis was the perfect producer for him at one time, but not by 1989. I met Dennis once, and liked him enormously, but by the end of their association, his idea of what Hill should be doing had become outmoded. His continued belief in its validity can be seen in the shows he made at Central in the mid-1990s with Freddie Starr, which are latter-day Benny Hill shows in all but name.

I don't think it's madness to suggest that someone like Geoff Posner or Alan Nixon could have taken over and reinvented him. He was still a very capable comic performer, let down simply by material and format. The main sticking point would have been Hill's neediness. Throughout his career, he needed reassurance and molly-coddling from his producers. According to Brian Tesler, studio tapes of Hill's early shows are notable for the number of times when Hill stops and calls out for Philip Jones. The likes of Posner and Nixon would have understood and been able to supply that level of care, undoubtedly, but whether Hill would have trusted them is another matter. It's an imponderable that nonetheless remains worth pondering.

Of course, had he lived even five years longer he'd have had the full wanky student ironic veneration treatment, for what that's worth. Let's not forget, though, his best stuff - the BBC shows and the earlier Thames shows - is top-notch TV comedy.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

There's a slightly strange sub-plot to all this arm business. Pretty much everybody who's examined me at close quarters over the last fortnight or so, has observed what splendid working order the rest of me is in. This morning, a very nice physiotherapist reassured me that my good arm was so flexible that, when fully healed, even with a reduced range of motion, my right arm should be not that far off most people's range of motion. This specialist in the hospital offered me stronger painkillers, expressing amazement that I was chugging along on the mild ones. I am lead, therefore, to conclude that I am a strong and healthy person.

Why, then, did the Neanderthal cunts who taught PE at school spend my formative years telling me I wasn't, just because I couldn't get excited about kicking a ball around? I wasn't lazy, I wasn't averse to exercise. By the time I was in the 4th form, I was cycling the 8-mile round trip to and from school daily on my 10-speed Falcon Rapier (or Falcon Rapist, as it inevitably became known). I just couldn't see the point in what they were offering. If they told me to put on hiking boots rather than football boots, and let me go walking for the duration of the games period, I'd have been out of their hair and getting good valuable exercise in a manner that did not seem wholly futile.

I can only hope that physical education in schools has changed for the better in the intervening 20-25 years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

About a year ago, I was approached by a chap from Faber and Faber called John Grindrod, asking if I'd contribute a few hundred words on just about anything to an anthology he was editing called Shouting at the Telly. We e-mailed back and forth, and discovered that we had a lot in common, from favourite television programmes to mutual ex-colleagues, so the decision was pretty easy. I got on one of my favourite hobby horses and did a piece about ITV start-up sequences and continuity.

Last week, when most urgently in need of a boost, a finished copy of the book arrived in the morning post. Some of the contributors are more enjoyable than others, but I'm happy to admit that Sam Delaney has made me reconsider the unfavourable impression I got from him as a talking head on various clip shows, by turning in a couple of very funny articles. His feverish nightmares of being kidnapped and fed chalk by Carol Hersee and her clownish henchman were the turning point for my perceptions of him. Unfortunately, another prominent contributor fails to confound my expectations. Boyd Hilton, TV editor of Heat magazine, lists the 10 sitcoms to which he is most addicted, but does so in a bland, 'this'll do' manner at odds with most of the rest of the book - everyone else seems to relish and seize the freedom and spirit of the project. Also, with the exception of Rhoda, his 10 choices seem to come straight from those spurious polls that proliferate now.

Back to the highlights: a nice piece by Jonathan Carter about sitcom neighbours, with a foreseeable, but still enjoyable, twist; Christien Haywood's fantastic and utterly unreliable account of the development of Knight Rider; Kevin Eldon's memories of ray-gun deaths in Orlando; Susan le Baigue being utterly right and very amusing about property programmes and their responsibility for the economic shitstorm; Richard Herring's post-doctoral thesis on Goodnight Sweetheart; an affectionate and broadly unassailable assessment of Upstairs Downstairs from Andrew Collins; theme tune writer Daniel Pemberton on classic theme tunes; Framley-type Robin Halstead on Christmas television; belting efforts from Ian Jones and Steve Williams of that TV Cream; and all of Grindrod's own warm, funny linking material, particularly the story of how he chose an ad break in Taggart as the moment to come out as gay to his parents, outlining the impeccable logic involved.

The contributors were paid a flat fee, and so I gain nothing by recommending it as an ideal stocking-filler, which it is. It will be in the shops from early November. My fine words also appear in the latest issue of the Kettering, the magazine of elderly British comedy. I am assured that my copy is in the post, and I can't bloody wait.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Re: the Letterman business. Is any of this news to anyone who's watched any Larry Sanders? Dave earns points by responding to blackmail with honesty, nay shamelessness. It's the only way.