Posted on Wednesday 8th February, 2017
It’s no secret that, for me, the work of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (pictured with the ‘Steptoe and Son’ book we wrote together for the B.B.C.) remains the benchmark for excellence in comedy writing. Actually, scrap that, it remains the benchmark for excellence in writing for television. Period. Alan has sadly died at the ripe old age of 87 and despite having pretty much retired forty years ago, he happily endorsed revivals and repackaging of his past successes, and regaled eager students of comedy with glorious nuggets of entertainment gossip. I was privileged to be one of those fascinated followers for well over twenty years. Whether for professional reasons, or simply over a few glasses of particularly good wine, tales of Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson, Leonard Rossiter and, of course, Tony Hancock, would enthrall me for hours and hours. This callow, nervous, comedy obsessive had a signed photograph of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson above his desk from around the age of twelve. Their work – first brought to me by my Dad, via his reel-to-reel tapes of radio ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ classics – hit me like Cupid’s arrow. This was real. This was timeless. And, above all, it was very, very funny. To this day, my iPad is stuffed with radio Hancock. It is a near-constant comfort blanket of reassuring and life-affirming comedy truth. I first met my heroes at the National Film Theatre. Back then, I was a gushing, fresh-faced devotee, having just witnessed some rare ‘Steptoe and Son’ for the very first time. You know, those fuzzy black and white videotaped copies of the early colour shows from 1970. The ones that Ray Galton had recorded off-air, just before the B.B.C. had junked the tapes. From that first meeting, Ray and Alan were interesting and interested, happy to chat about the heroes their comedy brilliance had shaped, fashioned, and enhanced. The last time I saw them was at one of the recordings for ‘The Missing Hancocks’ last year. They were still sharp, witty, and appreciative of the wave of love they got from that packed, smiling, and just plain awe-struck studio audience. Over the years, they helped with various books and projects, a friendship that reached fever pitch with our collaboration on the official history of ‘Steptoe and Son’. To say it’s a highlight of my career is to put it mildly. I couldn’t wait to get to work. That the place of work was Ray’s house, complete with his vault of scripts and bulging library of books, made the assignment all the sweeter. Always humble, always disarmingly cynical, and always grateful to be celebrated, Alan and Ray were quite simply the guv’nors. They always will be.
Posted on Wednesday 25th January, 2017
And so it’s farewell to that gentle man and fabulous actor Gorden Kaye, who gave an exemplary farce performance in ‘Allo ‘Allo as Rene Artois on television, stage, and even hit single, from the pilot show in 1982 until the final revival in 2007. A beautifully nuanced, sympathetic and, above all, relentlessly hilarious turn, it is quite simply one of the great sitcom creations. Having worked with Alan Ayckbourn, Gorden (born plain Gordon Kaye, he was mis~credited in the programme of a successful stage run and he kept it for luck ~ it worked!) appeared opposite Ronnie Barker in the film of Porridge, and Leonard Rossiter in the short subject The Waterloo Bridge Handicap. He also played Elsie Tanner’s nephew, Bernard Butler, in Coronation Street, but it was a productive association with producer/writer David Croft that led to stardom. Roles in Are You Being Served?, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and the notorious Mollie Sugden space romp Come Back Mrs. Noah, resulted in the plum role of Rene. It was life~changing. So much so, that Gorden’s 1989 memoirs were entitled Rene & Me. It’s a recommended insight into a private, precise and perfectly amusing man.
I was touched to be able to paid a personal tribute to Gorden on BBC Berkshire on the day his death at the age of 75 was announced, and BBC1 are screening ‘Allo, ‘Allo series one classic ‘Pigeon Post’ this evening from 7.30pm. Thanks for all the laughs. We shall still be watching…
Posted on Saturday 14th January, 2017
I’m really looking forward to returning to Bristol for the always excellent Slapstick Festival. This year’s celebration of custard pies and clowning begins on Wednesday, with highlights including tributes to Victoria Wood and Rik Mayall, a fascinating investigation into the collaboration between ‘Buster’ Keaton and Samuel Beckett, Roy Hudd resurrecting the Pure Gold of Music Hall, Max Miller, screenings of Harold Lloyd’s Hot Water, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and a particularly pertinent presentation of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. I won’t be arriving until the Saturday, but hope to join Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Robin Ince for a look at the Goodies in print, Neil Innes and Dick Fiddy sifting through ultra-rare telly remnants of the Bonzo Dog Band, and Jeffrey Holland’s love letter to his hero Stan Laurel. From 11am. on Sunday, 22nd. January, I’ll be on stage at the Bristol Old Vic, saluting that behemoth of buffoonery Tommy Cooper, in the company of one who oft wrote for him and knew him well, the national treasure that is Barry Cryer. If any of that tickles your fancy, and how couldn’t it?, you can find out more information and ticket availability at www.slapstick.org.uk See you there!
Posted on Wednesday 4th January, 2017
Comedy nostalgia champions Gold TV have held a poll amongst comedians to ascertain the Best British Sitcom and, unsurprisingly, it’s still ‘Fawlty Towers’! The twelve episode run of perfection, written by John Cleese and Connie Booth in the 1970s, beat other cast-iron classics including ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘The Young Ones’. David Baddiel, Jenny Eclair, Alexei Sayle and Reece Shearsmith joined 96 other professional mirth-makers for a survey that stretches from Tony Hancock to Ricky Gervais, and named Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge and Joanna Lumley’s Patsy Stone as finest comedy performances. I popped in on Phil Kennedy’s afternoon show on BBC Berkshire to discuss the findings. Top fun as usual.
Posted on Wednesday 4th January, 2017
A very Happy Two Thousand and Seventeen, and it’s a year that promises to be exciting, productive and full of laughter! The New Year honours list certainly gave 2017 a tattifelarius start, when a knighthood was bestowed on relentless giggle juggernaut Ken Dodd. One of still only a handful of comedians to get the nod – George Robey, Charlie Chaplin, Bruce Forsyth (“I’m an entertainer…”) – Sir Ken has been making the nation laugh since the 1950s and now, in his 90th. year, he is still on the road. “Absolutely delighted and highly tickled to have been given the honour”, it is a well-deserved salute to a towering behemoth of variety comedy.
Posted on Friday 2nd December, 2016
Very sad to hear that Andrew Sachs died last month, at the age of 86. It was a thrill to get to know Andrew through the official BBC celebration ‘Fawlty Towers: Fully Booked’, and later work with him more informally on the 2003 ‘Monkey’ dubbing sessions, and the outrageous comedy lunches for the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund. His comedy masterwork is, of course, Manuel; with four pop singles, public appearances and knowing resurrections of the role – notably as the hotel manager in the ‘Are You Being Served?’ film – keeping the joy flowing beyond those six perfect hours of television situation comedy. As an actor his work ranged from Brian Rix’s Whitehall farces and the Pink Panther series to an understated Doctor Watson on BBC radio; while his immigrant childhood gave an added weigh to his astonishing performance in Silent Witness: ‘The World Cruise’. His autobiography ‘I Know Nothing’ is an immensely readable record of an extraordinary, long and prolific life and talent to amuse. A talent that will keep him at the top table of actors for a long time to come.
Posted on Friday 2nd December, 2016
Delighted to be a guest ‘expert’ on the pilot recording of the BBC Radio 4 comedy quiz ‘Gaby’s Talking Pictures’. Many thanks to the charming and very welcoming producers Gaby Roslin and Gordon Kennedy for inviting me to take part at the BBC’s RADA Studios. It was glorious fun, both on-air and off, with the rest of the panel. Transmission details to follow, just as soon as I know them. And no prizes for guessing my specialist subject!
Posted on Tuesday 8th November, 2016
I’m delighted to announce that the second date of Forever Carrying On with Valerie Leon has now sold out. Following our appearance at the Leicester Square Theatre it is with great pleasure that I once again present Valerie’s celebration of six leading stars of the series, followed by an informal chat about her work with the team and their unique, lasting appeal. The show starts at 5pm. on Sunday, 13th. November. For returns please try ringing the Box Office on 0207 287 2875. If you are lucky I’ll see you there. Carry On!
Posted on Tuesday 8th November, 2016
Jimmy Perry O.B.E. has died at the ripe old age of 93. A long, full life of cheering people up is quite the legacy, and Jimmy’s work as a writer (Dad’s Army, Hi-De-Hi, You Rang M’Lord and, mine and his own personal favourite, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) has cheered up more than most. With a community warmth and skill for celebrating the absurd character of the British, the world Jimmy created with David Croft will stand as a winking, self-deprecating salute to the nation. However, for me, it is his presenting of the series Turns that left an even more indelible mark. With genuine affection and enthused knowledge, Jimmy Perry introduced and celebrated ancient clips of the greats of variety, and it was the first time that I witnessed such legends of Music Hall as George Robey, Lily Morris, Teddy Brown, and Wilson, Keppel & Betty. It’s almost unthinkable that the BBC would screen such remnants in prime time now but that series, starting back when I wore a schoolboy’s clothes, ignited a passion that has never gone out. Thanks, Jimmy, and Stand Easy.
Posted on Tuesday 8th November, 2016
A thrill to join series favourites Dame Barbara Windsor, Valerie Leon and Hugh Futcher at the Comic Store unveiling of Nick McCann’s brilliant Carry On painting ‘And When Did You Last See Your Feet?’, a brilliant send-up of William Frederick Yeames’ English Civil War masterpiece. Fittingly, the work will be hung, next to the original, at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, on 23rd. November. What A Carry On!
Posted on Tuesday 18th October, 2016
I’m thrilled to be in conversation with that pioneer of British rock ‘n’ roll and ageless matinee idol Jess Conrad. Awarded the O.B.E. for services to entertainment and charity in 2011, and made King Rat of the Grand Order of Water Rats in 2013, Jess will reveal outrageous tales from his varied ShowBiz career, spanning hit records for Decca Records to a long-standing self-mockery opposite Jim Davidson. On stage Jess has starred in ‘Godspell’ and ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Television credits include ‘Armchair Theatre’, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘Miss Marple’, while he scored big screen success in ‘The Boys’, ‘Konga’, ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, and as pop impresario Larry Parnes in ‘Telstar’. The legendary Jess Conrad will also be signing photographs and CDs after our show, which is at the Leicester Square Theatre, Sunday, 23rd. October, from 4pm. You can book at: www.leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com or call the Box Office on: 020 7734 2222.
Posted on Tuesday 13th September, 2016
My Leicester Square Theatre guest this month is the exquisite and inimitable Fenella Fielding, 50 years since the release of British film classic ‘Carry On Screaming!’. Join us from 4pm. on Sunday, 25th. September, for a choice clip from the Carry On favourite, Fenella’s reading from her up-coming memoirs, an exclusive conversation about her life and work, questions from the audience, and an informal signing and photograph session. Tickets are still available from leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com, or by calling the Box Office: 020 77342222. See you there!
Posted on Monday 15th August, 2016
It was Liz Fraser’s birthday yesterday, and I was delighted to take part in the lengthy celebrations over at Talking Pictures TV. Fast becoming the most essential telly channel out there, you can find them on Freeview 81; pumping out classic film and television 24 hours a day! Liz’s birthday was marked with over twelve hours of programming, including a brand new exclusive interview, introductions, and screenings of such classics as ‘Double Bunk’, ‘I’m All Right Jack’ and ‘Two-Way Stretch’, alongside rarer gems like the Children’s Film Foundation release ‘Hide and Seek’. If you want to meet Liz in person, she’s my guest at the Leicester Square Theatre, from 4pm. on Sunday, 28th. August. Tickets can be booked by telephoning: 020 7734 2222 or visiting: leicestersquaretheatre.com. It’s going to be a popular one, so book now. See you there!
Posted on Wednesday 13th July, 2016
My next Leicester Square Theatre show is a ‘Strangeness in Space’ special. Just who, what, or why is ‘Strangeness in Space’? You may well ask! Well, it’s a hilarious crowd-funded radio series written by and starring Saturday morning legends Trevor & Simon, and featuring ’80s ‘Doctor Who’ girl Sophie Aldred. The trio will be joined on stage by producer Clare Eden and, hopefully, a handful of the show’s guest stars. The cast reads like a Who’s Who of comedy, including Rufus Hound, Doon Mackichan, Alexei Sayle, and Monty Python’s Carol Cleveland, so this is not to be missed.
I’ll be interviewing the team, and there will also be an opportunity for an informal meet & greet, autographs, selfies, and even script-reading fun. In addition each ticket holder will receive a free 8×10 glossy photo of Team Strange. The show starts from 4pm. on Sunday, 31st. July; and this one is going to be epic! A handful of tickets are still available by ‘phoning the Box Office: 0207 7342222, or visiting the website www.leicestersquaretheatre.com See you there!
Posted on Wednesday 13th July, 2016
Reg Varney was born 100 years ago today. Best-loved as the star of classic situation comedies ‘On the Buses’ and ‘The Rag Trade’, Reg’s career ranged from a fledgling double act with Benny Hill to a bushel of piano recital recordings. To mark his centenary, Fairlynch Museum & Arts Centre in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, are presenting an exhibition of his life and work. In association with the British Heart Foundation, entrance is free; running every day save Mondays until 30th September. Ding! Ding!
Posted on Wednesday 13th July, 2016
For twenty Golden years, Jimmy Gilbert was a very safe pair of hands at the BBC, producing such classic shows as ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’, and ‘The Two Ronnies’. Indeed, as one of the chief architects of ‘The Frost Report’, Gilbert was instrumental in bringing together the Rons, as well as most of Monty Python. He was appointed the Head of Comedy from 1973 until 1977, during which time he commissioned, among many others, ‘Fawlty Towers'; and subsequently held the post of Head of Light Entertainment, before leaving the BBC in 1982. As a freelance producer he steered such evergreen ITV successes as ‘Fresh Fields’ and ‘The Benny Hill Show’ to even more success. Jimmy Gilbert died on 7th. June, at the age of 93.
Posted on Wednesday 18th May, 2016
It’s official! The Carry Ons are back! The 32rd. film in the series, ‘Carry On Doctors’, will go into production later this year, with a release date early next year. Produced by Jonathan Sothcott, and written by ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ scribes Susan Nickson and Tim Dawson, the film will refresh the franchise that has made the world laugh since the late 1950s. I’m more than chuffed to be involved and have been extensively quoted from the press release: “The saucy world of bedpans and thermometers has been an integral part of the Carry Ons for well over 50 years. Now, as the series carries on into the 21st Century, ‘Carry On Doctors’ returns to hospital with a cast crammed full of beloved comedy actors and a hilarious script that will have you in stitches! With a kiss to the past and a firm finger on the pulse, it’s time to Carry On. Again”. See you at the pictures!
Posted on Tuesday 10th May, 2016
Ben Elton’s ‘Upstart Crow’, the eagerly-awaited new sitcom starring David Mitchell as William Shakespeare, started at 10pm. on BBC2 last night. With a supporting cast including Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox, Mark Heap, Dominic Coleman, and Gemma Whelan, the first episode attracted audience figures just shy of 1.3 million and is perfect engaging and irreverent fare to complement the marking of the Bard’s death 400 years ago this year.
Posted on Tuesday 10th May, 2016
Gareth Gwenlan OBE, who as Head of BBC Comedy from 1983 to 1990 commissioned ‘Blackadder II’, ‘One Foot in the Grave’, and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, has died at the age of 79. A skilled producer and director, his most endearing successes include ‘Red Dwarf’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’, and ‘To the Manor Born'; returning for the 25th. anniversary special from 2007 as pictured above.
Posted on Tuesday 10th May, 2016
I spent the morning on the Wren Davis diary farm, Great Missenden, filming a brief interview for an up-coming feature on ‘The One Show’. The piece should be broadcast later this year, and I’ll give you a heads up just as soon as I know!
Posted on Thursday 14th April, 2016
I’m delighted that my Leicester Square Theatre guest this month is that fine actor and lovely chap Peter Egan. The show, on Sunday, 24th. April, starts at 4pm. and will include a whistle-stop tour through Peter’s life and work, from Big Breadwinner Hog to Downtown Abbey, via his much-loved turn as Paul Ryman in the classic BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. Tickets are available at leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com or by ‘phoning the box office on: 020 7734 2222.
Posted on Thursday 14th April, 2016
What a terrible year of lose for the great, good, and gracious of the business. Ronnie Corbett’s death, at the age of 85, really does feel like the end of an era. An evergreen force of positive energy, twinkly laughter, and dogged determination, Ron C. is quite simply one of the pillars of British Light Entertainment. Such happy memories of working with him, and seeing him skilfully flex his stand-up muscles live on stage. Irreplaceable.
Posted on Thursday 10th March, 2016
I’m delighted to be welcoming my good friend and that brilliant actor Neil Pearson to the Leicester Square Theatre for an intimate chat on Sunday, 20th. March, from 7pm. Please note the later than usual starting time for this ‘In Conversation…’ show; an evening that promises to be amusing and enlightening. Expect anecdotes and analysis of ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’, ‘Trevor’s World of Sport’, ‘The Missing Hancocks’, and so much more, including ‘Hand to God’, in which Neil is currently appearing at the Vaudeville theatre. Tickets for our chat are available from the Leicester Square Box Office: leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com
Posted on Thursday 10th March, 2016
Very sad to hear that film and theatre producer Michael White died on Monday, at the age of 80. Award-winning stage productions of ‘Sleuth’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ led to filmed work with the Comic Strip Presents… and Monty Python teams. Terry Gilliam, who co-directed Michael White’s ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, said: “‘Chalky’ White is gone, leaving years of indelible graffiti scrawled across the cultural walls of the world”. The following day, legendary record producer Sir George Martin died at the age of 90. His legacy with the Beatles re-shaped music, but his comedy credentials should never be under-estimated; from ‘Right Said Fred’ with Bernard Cribbins to Charlie Drake’s ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’, Sir George’s comic and tragic cuts for laughter-makers such as Joan Sims, Terry Scott, Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov, and Spike Milligan, remain seminal. And he even cut his rock ‘n’ roll team with a youthful Jim Dale. What a back catalogue. Thank you, gentlemen.
Posted on Saturday 27th February, 2016
My monthly interview show, at home at the Museum of Comedy since December 2014, is moving to the Lounge at the Leicester Square Theatre from this month. Having been happily ensconced there for most of this year with ‘Jeepers Creepers’, I’m really looking forward to returning. This month’s guest is that award-winning actor, writer, wit, and good friend Mark Gatiss. A founding member of the League of Gentlemen, Mark’s many other comedy credits include ‘Psychoville’, ‘Nighty Night’, ‘Spaced’, ‘Sex Lives of the Potato Men’, and the ‘Dad’s Army’ film. We are chatting from 4pm. tomorrow. It’s a complete sell-out, but beg, steal or borrow a ticket. It promises to be a blast. See you there!
Posted on Saturday 27th February, 2016
Very sad to hear that my good friend Norman Hudis has died at the age of 93. A good innings for a lovely man, his work has made me laugh, cry, and think for more years than I care to remember. Obviously, as the scriptwriter for the first six Carry Ons, he created a British film legacy that continues to entertain millions across the world. His other work, from the rock ‘n’ roll biopic ‘The Tommy Steele Story’ to the animated adventure ‘A Monkey’s Tale’, via American television credits on the likes of ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ are very much worth searching out too. From our first meeting, we bonded as both writers, and friends. He looked me deep in the eyes and said: “You know, Robert, if there is a generation gap, you provide the bridge”. I’ll miss our laughs on stage, our e-mail correspondences, and our all too infrequent reunion dinners, when he found himself in London. Norman was a kind, gracious, and generous friend. Rest well, old chum. And Carry On. Always!
Posted on Tuesday 26th January, 2016
A brand new week of ‘Jeepers Creepers’ performances kicks off with the Gala Night tonight, at 7pm. Terry Jones directs my play, with the peerless Rebecca Vaughan and David Boyle starring as Lauretta and Marty Feldman. The show runs until Saturday, 20th. February, and tickets are available from the Leicester Square Theatre website www.leicestersquaretheatre.com, or by calling the Box Office on: 020 7734 2222.
Posted on Monday 25th January, 2016
Many thanks to the ever-resourceful Sarah Cronin and all at Talking Pictures TV for another brilliant Renown Pictures Festival of Film, in Rickmansworth yesterday. I hot-footed it to the event in order to interview dear chums Vera Day, Christopher Beeny and Brian Murphy, during the opening ceremony of this second celebration of the Best of British Film and Telly. Here’s to the next time.
Posted on Sunday 10th January, 2016
The start of our second week of rehearsals for ‘Jeepers Creepers’, starring Rebecca Vaughan and David Boyle as Lauretta and Marty Feldman. Terry Jones is directing, for Martin Witts at the Leicester Square Theatre. You can book tickets now at: leicestersquaretheatre.com. The play runs from 18th. January until 20th. February.
Posted on Sunday 13th December, 2015
It’s been an enjoyably hectic few weeks, during which, sadly, several beloved situation comedy favourites have died. Shirley Stelfox, who played extrovert sister Rose in the first series of ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, died on 7th. December at the age of 74. Latterly she was best known as Edna Birch in ‘Emmerdale’, but her sparkling comedy credentials include ‘Nearest and Dearest’, the Terry Jones film ‘Personal Service’, and ‘Carry On At Your Convenience’. Nicholas Smith, the ever-flustered, jug-eared store manager, Mr. Rumbold, in ‘Are You Being Served?’, died on 6th. December at 81. His other small screen credits ranged from Doctor Who: ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ (1964) to Last of the Summer Wine: ‘A Short Introduction to Cooper’s Rules’ (2008); while it was a delight to hear his dulcet tones bring the Reverend Clement Hedges to life in the Wallace & Gromit feature ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’. Robin Stewart, who played the dashing and cheeky Mike Abbott in ‘Bless This House’, died on 22nd. November at the age of 69. On film he starred in such favourites of mine as ‘The Haunted House of Horror’ and ‘Adventures of a Private Eye’, as well as playing the son of Peter Cushing in ‘The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires’ for Hammer. Farewell, and thank you.
Posted on Sunday 15th November, 2015
I spent a lovely time with Terry Jones at the Central Hall, Westminster film convention yesterday. It was particularly nice to also be sat next to Carol Cleveland, which made all sorts of sense too. Bizarrely, Terry had just signed a stunning U.K. quad poster for ‘Jabberwocky’ – yes, he was in it. Just! – when I was told that actor Warren Mitchell had died, at the age of 89. He played the foul Mr. Fishfinger in Terry Gilliam’s glorious romp, but naturally remains best remembered as the ill-tempered bigot Alf Garnett, who first stormed onto television in the BBC situation comedy ‘Till Death Us Do Part’, before appearing in feature films, stage shows, recordings and even an installation at the Museum of the Moving Image. Alf was such an extraordinary, complete performance that he tended to out-shine the rest of a diverse and prolific career, whether that be enjoyable bit parts with Tony Hancock, and the Carry On team, or weighty stage roles barking out the words of William Shakespeare, and Arthur Miller. I only met Warren Mitchell the once, for an interview for my book on his friend and cohort Marty Feldman. He was a charming and modest man, who shared tales of Marty and much else. My affectionate appreciate of him was published in today’s Sunday Express.
Posted on Thursday 29th October, 2015
It’s official! My play ‘Jeepers Creepers: Through the Eyes of Marty Feldman’, based on my biography of the comedy legend, will be staged from 18th. January to 20th. February 2016 at the Leicester Square Theatre. Monty Python’s Terry Jones will direct David Boyle and Rebecca Vaughan as one of the most intriguing of comedy partnerships. Produced by Martin Witts, the play will chart the Feldmans from Marty’s big Hollywood break in ‘Young Frankenstein’ through to the, seemingly always, inevitable decline and fall. The Leicester Square Theatre is already taking bookings for ‘Jeepers Creepers’ at www.leicestersquaretheatre.com or by telephoning: 020 7734 2222.
Posted on Saturday 10th October, 2015
Sad to hear that that very fine actor Richard Davies died on Thursday, at the age of 89. Probably best-loved as the cheerfully cynical Welsh school teacher Mr. Price in the LWT sitcom ‘Please Sir!’ (I vividly remember being delighted when he popped up in the School Days episode of ‘Paul Merton’s Life of Comedy’ in 1995), he skillfully straddled mainstream japes with a flair for the anarchic. Students of such high octane lunacy should embrace his Clive Jenkins for ‘Not the 9 O’Clock News’, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer in ‘Whoops Apocalypse'; although his turns for ‘Fawlty Towers’ (The Kipper and the Corpse), ‘One Foot in the Grave’ (Monday Morning Will Be Fine), and the butcher in ‘Steptoe and Son Ride Again’, are no less frantically funny. Other roles ranged from a brilliant Mr. Pritchard in Andrew Sinclair’s 1972 film adaptation of ‘Under Milk Wood’ (naturally) to the passionately Welsh (naturally) Burton in ‘Doctor Who’ (Delta and the Bannerman). One of my personal favourites is his one-off appearance opposite Sid James in ‘Two in Clover'; Super Sub. for an indisposed Victor Spinetti, and giving a beautiful performance. Rest easy, bytty.
Posted on Friday 25th September, 2015
I’m *very* excited about the next Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure… show at the Museum of Comedy. It’s with ‘Going Live’ gurus Trevor & Simon. As well as talking about their long and lively comedy careers, Trev Neal and Simon Hickson will discuss their new sci-fi romp ‘Strangeness in Space’. They’ll also be more than a little swinging of pants. Probably! Tickets can be bought on the door; from 3pm. on Sunday, the 27th September, at the Museum of Comedy, The Undercroft, St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury Way, London, WC1A 2SR. Or telephone: 020 7534 1744.
Posted on Monday 7th September, 2015
Peter Sellers would have celebrated his 90th birthday today. So, in association with Dick Fiddy of the British Film Institute and The Goon Show Preservation Society, I’m hosting a special celebration of his genius at the Lost Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Road, SW8 2JU. Peter’s daughter Sarah will be in attendance, as well as director Joe McGrath (‘The Magic Christian’, ‘The Great McGonagall’), co-stars Liz Fraser (‘I’m Alright Jack’, ‘Two-Way Stretch’) and Francoise Pascal (‘There’s A Girl in My Soup’, ‘Soft Beds, Hard Battles’), and Goon record producer Marcel Stellman. In addition, Julian Dutton, who’s book ‘Keeping Quiet: Visual Comedy in the Age of Sound’ was published recently, will discuss Peter’s physical clowning. There will also be copious rare clips of Peter in interview and in character. The fun kicks off at 7.30pm., and tickets can be bought by telephoning: 0207 720 6897, or on the door.
Posted on Tuesday 25th August, 2015
August is always a deliciously busy month; not least of all because it’s Edinburgh time! A fun wallow in networking and rubbernecking: and it’s not just comedy. Not by a long chalk! In fact, this year’s theatrical landmark isn’t even part of the Fringe. It’s the truly revolutionary Simon McBurney solo show The Encounter, from Complicite. An extraordinary experience. Other theatre ranges from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Shakespeare Musical Willy’s Bitches, to the powerful Simian parable Kafka’s Ape, starring Howard Rosenstein. There’s beautiful clowning in Eric the Fred, spirited stand-up from Suzy Bennett at the Counting House, and even balletic juggling in 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures. Hey, Edinburgh in August has *everything* you could possibly want. That includes celebrations of comedy’s past; notably this year Kevin McNally and most of The Missing Hancocks team taking the BBC recording experience North of the Border, Simon Cartwright’s uncanny Bob Monkhouse at the Assembly Hall, and Simon Schatzberger’s beautiful Woody Allen ’60s stand-up set at Frankenstein’s. Simply exquisite!
Posted on Sunday 9th August, 2015
I saw the matinee of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ at the Vaudeville theatre today. An outstanding production, directed by Adrian Noble, and with David Suchet’s performance as Lady Bracknell as its epicentre. Without an ounce of grotesque, his wonderfully mannered, precise, and fluid rendition of Oscar Wilde’s bon mot powerhouse was supported by a uniformly excellent cast. Old pros. Richard O’Callaghan and Michele Dotrice sparked off each other wonderfully; while Imogen Doel made for a particularly enchanting Cecily. Philip Cumbus as Algernon pretty much walked off with the show, with a performance straddling pioneering ‘Punch’ and cyber cheek. It’s a quite extraordinary turn. Booking until 7th November, I highly recommend you see it. You’ll thank me.
Posted on Thursday 6th August, 2015
Very sad to hear that that peerless actor George Cole died yesterday at the ripe old age of 90. What a life. What a career! From Flash Harry to Arthur Daley, he effortlessly personified the cockney rogue, but there was a depth to his performances that mark him out as one of our truly great actors. Even before St. Trinian’s, he had sparred with his childhood benefactor Alastair Sim, notably in the 1941 propaganda thriller Cottage to Let. He would became an almost constant talisman for Sim; playing young Scrooge, doing anything for money in Laughter in Paradise, and even popping up unannounced in An Inspector Calls and The Happiest Days of Your Life. Later the two pitted wits in the wickedly dark comedy The Green Man. With the immense success of ‘Minder’ on television, his classic British films of the fifties were often over-looked, but treasures like Too Many Crooks, Will Any Gentlemen…?, and The Intruder are personal favourites that I can re-visit time and time again. Then there was the Hammer comedy Don’t Panic Chaps, and the subsequent horror outing in The Vampire Lovers. And so, so many telly highlights: ‘Comrade Dad’, ‘Blott on the Landscape’, a tail-ender reunion with Dennis Waterman for ‘New Tricks’, to name but a few. Still, perhaps the finest of all is as The Firebug in an episode of television crime series ‘Gideon’s Way': a truly extraordinary picture of mental obsession that will leave you gasping. Rest well, sir, the world really was your lobster!
Posted on Wednesday 5th August, 2015
The inaugural Great Yorkshire Fringe finished today and what a glorious event it was – well, the small but beautifully formed bit of it that I saw in any case. Congratulations to Martin Witts and his spirited, super-efficient, and ever-charming crew. For the first time, we took my ‘Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure…’ out of the Museum of Comedy and, indeed, out of London. The name of the event and the fact that Saturday 1st August was Yorkshire Day made my first guest obvious to me. It just had to be one of the original Four Yorkshiremen, and that meant the legendary Tim Brooke-Taylor. We travelled up by car together, and Friday evening was a delirious time. We may even have talked about the show. Maybe! Local boy Mark Addy also agreed to be interrogated and, by contrast, we had never met before. Thankfully, both shows were a joy, and many thanks to all those who attended. The podcasts should be available shortly. I only had time to actually see a couple of shows, but what shows they were: Slightly Fat Features presented a family-friendly variety of circus tricks, song, puppetry, and sheer high-energy entertainment. While Canadian Commander Tom Stade dished-up some fresh material which was typically pithy, witty, and frantically independent. Oh, and I bumped into the delightful Henning Wehn; long enough to share a joke and a few vegan restaurant tips. All in all, a splendid time was had by all. Here’s to the next time… But first, the Edinburgh Fringe beckons!
Posted on Friday 24th July, 2015
There’s a flock of Carry On Girls attending the London Film Convention at the Central Hall Westminster tomorrow. Veteran of four films and the ‘Carry On Laughing’ stage farce Liz Fraser will be joined by ‘Carry On Abroad’ duo Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins, regular supporting turn Patricia Franklin, and, in a signing debut, ‘Carry On Nurse’ star Ann Firbank. The show runs from 10am. to 4pm., and I’ll be there and happy to sign any Carry On book or DVD of mine you may have on your person. On Sunday, I’ll be back at the Museum of Comedy, where my Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure guest will be the mighty Barry Cryer. Booking on 020 7534 1744 is advisable, but tickets should be available on the door.
Posted on Friday 24th July, 2015
Joyous company for the matinee of Richard Bean’s new comedy ‘The Mentalists’ at the Wyndham’s Theatre. Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri in a complex, hilarious, and poignant stake-out situation tackling philosophy, technology, and the poor state of London bed & breakfasts! A recommended treat. Later in the day, we were delighted to attend the recording for two of the new batch of ‘The Missing Hancocks’. Once again Kevin McNally is impeccable as the Lad Himself, with pitch perfect support from Kevin Eldon as Bill Kerr, Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams, Simon Greenall as Sid James and Susy Kane as Andree Melly. Thanks to producer Neil Pearson for the invitation; and a thrill as ever to embrace the guv’nors of sitcom Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who were in the audience and received a totally deserved ovation for their glorious work. News on when these resurrected gems will be broadcast nearer the time, although if one of the episodes is any clue at all my guess would be around Christmas! In the meantime, Kevin McNally and The Missing Hancock team will be taking the Edinburgh Fringe by storm at the Assembly Rooms, from the 5th August. Showtime: 4.15pm. File it under ‘Essential’!
Posted on Friday 10th July, 2015
There’s been a change of guest for my Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure… show at the Museum of Comedy on Sunday, the 26th July. The mighty Neil Innes will now be appearing on the 25th October, while this month I welcome the Godfather of Comedy himself, Barry Cryer. Naturally, our chat will range from Baz being given silly things to do, to writing for practically every top comic of the last sixty years. There will also be a little time to plug the ‘Forgotten Heroes of Comedy’, my book for Unbound. The fun kicks off from 4pm. See you there.
Posted on Tuesday 16th June, 2015
Many thanks to Ross Owen and all at the International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society for an evening of Stan and Ollie back where they belong, in the cinema: the Vue, Piccadilly, to be precise. On the eve of the 125th anniversary of Stan’s birth, Lucky Dog Theatre Company recreated a classic stage routine, followed by ‘County Hospital’ and ‘Sons of the Desert’ being screened to wild applause and gales of laughter. As Robin Ince tweeted, the cinema was: “packed with comics, writers, musicians all paying homage”. These included Sir David Jason, Terry Jones, Reece Shearsmith, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington, Andre Vincent, and Johnny Vegas.
Screenings across the country in June have brought Laurel & Hardy to the attention of fans old and new alike. A fitting tribute to the Fiddle and the Bow; the finest there has ever been. Hats off to them.
Posted on Monday 8th June, 2015
It’s my Doctor’s birthday today! Old Sixy, that is. Many happy returns to that fine actor and splendid chap, Colin Baker. You can celebrate by purchasing one of his many Doctor Who adventures for Big Finish. Ideally, one written by me! Go to the CD section for more information about ‘Medicinal Purposes’, ‘Pier Pressure’ and ‘Assassin in the Limelight’. Enjoyed at their best as a trilogy!
Posted on Monday 8th June, 2015
There are plans afoot to erect a statue to Keith Harris and, undoubtedly, Orville the Duck too, in his beloved Blackpool. Please take a moment to read about the campaign, support it, and spread the word. Let’s make this beautiful project fly! Thank you. www.change.org/p/blackpool-council-grand-theatre-blackpool-acknowledge-the-life-achievements-of-keith-harris-in-the-form-of-a-statue-in-blackpool
Posted on Tuesday 2nd June, 2015
Lovely to see the ‘Carry On Forever’ documentary getting its first outing on ITV1 over three consecutive Monday evenings. Nice viewing figures too. Part one was followed by a screening of ‘Carry On Cowboy’, while tonight’s episode was coupled with ‘Carry On Cruising’. The third and final part airs on 8th June from 10.40pm. ‘Carry On Screaming!’ follows.
Posted on Tuesday 2nd June, 2015
A wonderful afternoon at the Museum of Comedy with the legend that is Bernard Cribbins. Following a very rare and hugely appreciated screening of his 1969 sketch show ‘Cribbins’, Bernie joined me on stage for over an hour of outrageous and hilarious tales. Covering everything from Peter Sellers and the Carry Ons, to ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Right Said Fred’ (both the song and the group!), there was even time for a Wombles masterclass: an impromptu moment where that wicked old Great Uncle Bulgaria tried to get Orinoco drunk!
That alone rather made my year! The podcast will be available for download shortly. It’s a ‘keeper’!
Posted on Tuesday 2nd June, 2015
The Press Night for ‘Just Jim Dale’, with the legend of pop stardom, Carry On, National Theatre and Broadway making a triumphant return to the West End. A glittering gallop through ancient stand-up routines, Oscar-nominated material, classic musical numbers, and even a slice of Harry Potter audio book recording; this was an extraordinary performance which attracted an extraordinary audience. Famous faces in attendance included Sir Derek Jacobi, Ronald Pickup, Charles Kay, Anita Harris, Ian Lavender, Mark Gatiss, Jessica Martin, Robert Lindsay, Anthony Andrews, Roy Hudd, and Bonnie Langford.
It was also inevitable that before curtain up, Jim would don a white coat and join Barbara Windsor in re-creating that now classic moment from ‘Carry On Again Doctor’ 46 years on. Wonderful stuff.
Jim is in residency at the Vaudeville theatre until 20th June. You can book tickets at www.nimaxtheatres.com or by ‘phoning: 0844 4829673.
Posted on Wednesday 20th May, 2015
Sadly, due to filming commitments, that delightful gentleman Mark Gatiss has to pull-out of my ‘Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure…’ show at the Museum of Comedy on Sunday, the 31st May. Mark has vowed to appear at a later show. However, my suber-sub. for the 31st May is super indeed. None other than that National Treasure Bernard Cribbins, who will be chatting with me about everything from ‘Fawlty Towers’ to fighting Daleks! You can secure tickets by ‘phoning the Museum Box Office on: 020 7534 1744.
Posted on Thursday 30th April, 2015
I’m very sad to hear that variety favourite Keith Harris has died at the age of 67. With his beloved puppets Orville the Duck, Cuddles the Monkey, and, yes, even that Punk Skunk, he was a vital weave in the fabric of my youth. Whether it be his own show, several appearances on the Royal Command Performance, or as the host of ‘Disney Time’, Keith Harris was brilliant at what he did and, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent chap. Speechless.
Posted on Thursday 23rd April, 2015
I’ve got a couple of fun shows coming up this weekend. First up, tomorrow from 3pm, I’m celebrating the knockabout legacy of Norman Wisdom at the Concert Artistes’ Association, Bedford Street. With clips, familiar and rare, as well as memories of working with the great man himself, this affectionate salute marks his centenary earlier this year.
On Sunday, the 26th April from 4pm, I’m at the Museum of Comedy, Bloomsbury Way, requesting the pleasure of one of Norman’s film co-stars, Sally Geeson. In a special tribute to my comedy hero Sid James, exactly 39 years since his death, a screening of a ‘Bless This House’ episode will be followed by Sally sharing her memories of the series. She’ll also recall other acting cohorts, from Vincent Price to Kenneth Williams!
Tickets for both shows will be available on the door.
Posted on Monday 13th April, 2015
I’m still getting lots of lovely feedback after ITV3’s ‘Carry On Forever’ weekend screening over the Easter holidays. Our fantastic producer, Ali Lynch, tells me the viewing figures were very pleasing. She always is so modest! In fact, Friday evening’s showing of part one attracted a record audience of 520,000, well over double the usual ITV3 high. Part two, on Saturday evening, was the third most watched digital channel programme of the day, with 481,000, while the concluding part on Sunday evening held its audience at 466,000, against stiff competition from the James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ on ITV2, and ‘Poldark’ on BBC1. Blimus!
Posted on Monday 13th April, 2015
Over the weekend, my dear chum Jim Dale brought his celebrated one-man, autobiographical show, ‘Just Jim Dale’, to his home country. Indeed, it was in his home county of Northamptonshire that the preview performances wowed the audience at the Corby Cube. ‘Just Jim Dale’ takes the West End by storm at the Vaudeville theatre from the 26th May to the 20th June. Beg for a ticket, it’s going to be quite a performance!
Posted on Monday 13th April, 2015
A fun afternoon chat with Paul Ross who (as he kept saying): “is no relation, sadly!” on BBC Radio Berkshire. We had done it before, and I’ve no doubt we’ll do it again, for the chat was all about the Carry On films, and in particular their location connection with the county. I was followed on the show by the delectable Anita Harris. That too is always a pleasant experience!
Posted on Tuesday 7th April, 2015
It was a right old Carry On over the Easter weekend on ITV3 as a glut of classic films including ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’, ‘Carry On Camping’ and ‘Carry On Up the Jungle’, jostled for the biggest titters. Undoubtedly the centre piece was the brand new three-part documentary ‘Carry On Forever’. I enjoyed a lengthy interview for the programme, and worked as consultant on the project for much of last summer. I was delighted with the outcome. Dear chums like Jim Dale, Jacki Piper, Shirley Eaton, Valerie Leon, Norman Hudis and Liz Fraser, were on hand to remember the series with affection, while location visits for Rosalind Knight, Fenella Fielding and Anita Harris, were fun and emotional. None more so than the reunion of Bernard Cribbins and Juliet Mills at Frensham Ponds, Farnham. I’m convinced Cribbins now has a clause in his contract that specifies he must made me cry on his every job now! My favourite day of filming also became my favourite part of the show; Jeremy Connor and Tyler Butterworth reminiscing about their dads Kenneth and Peter, in the blue book archive. It’s a thing of beautiful, as was the whole show. Love and respect to producer Ali Lynch, director Simon Paintin, and the whole team. Long may we all Carry On!
Posted on Tuesday 7th April, 2015
The latest ‘Requests the Pleasure…’ event at the Museum of Comedy was an almost instant sell-out once it was announced that National Treasures Terry Jones and Michael Palin would be my guests. It was literally standing room only, and that included the three of us! It was quite an experience to be stood in the dark, occasionally nudged from behind by Mike Palin with a whispered: “This is good, isn’t it?” Indeed it was. The screening of the very first episode of ‘The Complete & Utter History of Britain’ got a great reaction, and our conversation covered everything from the Oxford days to Terry’s latest film, ‘Absolutely Anything’, in which Mike joins his fellow ex-Pythons as the voices of the aliens who bestow the power to do absolutely anything upon humble school teacher, Simon Pegg. The Terry Jones and Michael Palin podcast, along with the previous three episodes of ‘Requests the Pleasure…’, will be available for download later this month.
Posted on Tuesday 24th March, 2015
Today marks the eightieth birthday of that lovely, comedy hero Barry Cryer O.B.E. Baz has been an influence, a support, and a dear chum to me for many years; a gentleman fuelled by booze, fags, laughter, and loyalty. He also remains a champion of great comedy, past, present, and future. One of these days, our pet project of the Forgotten Heroes of Comedy, will emerge. In the meantime, those splendid chaps at the Slapstick Festival and Aardman Animation, decreed Baz a Comedy Legend at a special celebration at the Bristol Old Vic last Friday. Quite right too! Graeme Garden proceeded over the event. Alas, I couldn’t attend but, along with other friends such as Jack Dee and Jeremy Hardy, I contributed an especially filmed tribute. Here’s to you, Baz. A God amongst men!
Posted on Wednesday 18th March, 2015
Sad to hear that Shaw Taylor died at his home of the Isle of Wight today. He was 90. I was fortunate enough to spent some time with him when he starred opposite Jack Douglas in a Shanklin Theatre production of the Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner comedy thriller ‘A Sting in the Tail’. An actor before, during, and after ‘Police 5′, Shaw Taylor left a mark in comedy with a cameo as himself in the 1977 film ‘Adventures of a Private Eye’. He also hosted the 1973 television programme ‘What A Carry On!’, which showcased the opening night of the West End revue ‘Carry On London!’. He was a thoroughly charming chap.
Posted on Wednesday 18th March, 2015
It was off to Jongluers Camden last night for the Chortle Awards. The laughs and wine flowed, with such diverse talents as Richard Herring, Su Pollard, Matt Berry, Nancy Dell’Olio, Christopher Biggins, Norman Lovett, and Hattie Hayridge dishing out the prizes. I was delighted to see Reece Shearsmith pick up the TV award for ‘Inside No. 9′, while other notable winners included Stewart Lee for Best DVD, ‘No Such Thing As A Fish’ for the Internet award, and Katherine Ryan for Club Comic. The final accolade went to the Monty Python team, their O2 reunion shows being named Event of the Year. Terry Jones was on hand to accept the award.
Posted on Monday 9th March, 2015
This month’s ‘Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure…’ at the Museum of Comedy in Bloomsbury is on Sunday the 29th March from 4pm. It promises to be an epic occasion as my very special guests are Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Through conversation ranging from their first meeting at Oxford University, to the O2 Monty Python reunion shows of last year, this will be a gallop through 50 years of classic comedy you simply can’t afford to miss.
Posted on Monday 9th March, 2015
A reflective day of celebration on what *should* have been the 57th birthday of Dr. The Rik Mayall. It still seems utterly, utterly wrong for me to write of Rik in the past tense. In London, The Rik Mayall Marathon Convention saw fans, friends and colleagues foregather in his name, while across the nation and beyond, social media was awash with his devilish grin, poignant words, and affectionate two-finger salute. Quite right too.
Posted on Monday 9th March, 2015
It seems impossible to believe that it is twenty, long years since we lost the unique Vivian Stanshall: singer-songwriter, poet, communicator extraordinaire, multi-instrumentalist, mentalist, professional eccentric, and purveyor of inspired, therapeutic lunacy. A glass or two was raised in his honour. It’s what he would have wanted…
Posted on Wednesday 25th February, 2015
Great fun at the Museum of Comedy with this month’s Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure requesting the pleasure of my old friend, Liz Fraser. Following a screening of the first episode of ‘Citizen James’, the BBC series Liz starred in opposite Sid James and Bill Kerr, the appreciative audience was regaled with tales of Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers and, suitably enough in the Cooper Room, the mighty Tommy himself. There was even the inevitable duet on ‘Daisy, Daisy’ with Liz’s beloved Basset Hound, Brodie!
Posted on Wednesday 11th February, 2015
A thoroughly enjoyable first Renown Pictures Film Festival at the Watersmeet theatre, Rickmansworth. It was a delight to bump in to my old chum, Brian Murphy, and follow his official opening of the event with a truncated chat on the ‘Forgotten Heroes of Comedy’. I was thrilled at the huge audience and, thankfully, they all laughed in the right places! I fashioned the talk to be more Renown friendly, so gems featuring Freddie Frinton and Hylda Baker took centre stage. Many thanks to Sarah and her team for a brilliantly organised event, and here’s to the next time!
Posted on Wednesday 21st January, 2015
A delightful interview at the Museum of Comedy when I requested the pleasure of the delectable Francoise Pascal for my monthly live podcast recording. An enthusiastic audience laughed in all the right places at ‘Kill or Cure’, the Mind Your Language episode screened, and were entertained by tales of Barry Evans, Peter Sellers and Rex Harrison, to name but a few! My next Museum of Comedy event is on Sunday, the 22nd February.
Posted on Monday 12th January, 2015
On Sunday the 18th January, I’m requesting the pleasure of Francoise Pascal at the Museum of Comedy. You can expect tales of Peter Sellers and saucy seventies sitcoms. If you want to be in the audience, tickets can be bought here
Posted on Sunday 11th January, 2015
Sad to round up a few show business deaths of people who I admired professionally and adored socially. Just before Christmas that twinkling wag Jeremy Lloyd died at the age of 84. As an actor – in everything from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to ‘Doctor in Clover’ – he had an impeccable, raffish charm. As a writer – of such perennial sitcom favourites as ‘’Are You Being Served?’ and ‘’Allo, ‘Allo’ – he had a robust flair for the bawdy. A fortnight later, Jeremy’s ‘Whodunnit?’ co-creator Lance Percival died at 81. As a member of the ‘That Was the Week That Was’ team, his satirical calypsos touched several nerves and he made his mark in the films of Gerald Thomas – ‘Carry On Cruising’, ‘Twice Round the Daffodils’, ‘Raising the Wind’, ‘The Big Job’ – as often as not opposite his good friend Sid James.
Brian Clemens, who died at the age of 83, remains one of the most imaginative and inspiring of television writers. Creating ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Professionals’ and ‘Thriller’, his Hitchcock-like anthology series, Brian also wrote and directed the revolutionary Hammer horror film ‘Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter’. A brilliant, modest man, his work philosophy was simple: “There’s no mystery to writing: arse to chair, pen to paper”. Rest in peace, gentlemen.
Posted on Monday 5th January, 2015
It was a speedy return to BBC Radio Berkshire for another chat with Mike Read, this time about the glories of ‘Fawlty Towers’. 2015 marks 40 years since this perfect situation comedy was first broadcast although, as usual, our conversation veered off topic to embrace everybody from Tony Hancock to Ricky Gervais.
Posted on Tuesday 23rd December, 2014
I’m signing off from work for a whole three days, folks, so I wish you all a fantastic Christmas. A Carry On heads up before I go. Channel 5 is awash with innuendo on Boxing Day, with four black & white classics, the first TV Christmas special and the documentary ‘Greatest Ever Carry On Films’. Broadcast from 11.30pm, I’m in this quite a lot and it’s fun for all the family guessing which Carry Ons make the grade! ‘Carry On Christmas’, ‘Greatest Ever Carry On Films’ and ‘Carry On Spying’ are repeated on Channel 5 from 10.20am on Sunday, 28th December.
Posted on Monday 22nd December, 2014
I did a quick live lunchtime interview with Richard Latto on BBC Radio Solent with regards a beautiful, recently discovered filmed interview with Harry H. Corbett. Discussing pantomime, Shakespeare and, of course, Steptoe and Son, this is a brief insight to an actor of truth and integrity. The interviewer is a little impertinent but Harry survives with his dignity totally in tact.
Posted on Sunday 21st December, 2014
To the Museum of Comedy, Bloomsbury for the very first Robert Ross Requests the Pleasure… interview. I was requesting the pleasure of one of my all~time comedy heroes, Bill Oddie, and he was on fine, funny and candid form throughout. The interview should be available as a podcast very soon, while my next Museum of Comedy event is on Sunday, 18th January 2015.
Posted on Friday 19th December, 2014
Posted on Monday 8th December, 2014
I guested on Mike Read’s BBC Radio Berkshire show, discussing the news item that the funnier the comedian the more likely of an early death. We both agreed that this was a nonsense, but it was a fun and respectful chat about such comic heroes as Tony Hancock, Norman Wisdom, Eric Morecambe and Graham Chapman.
Posted on Sunday 7th December, 2014
‘Missing Believed Wiped’ at the National Film Theatre, as a cheerful and blissfully articulate John Cleese presented two prized episodes of ‘At Last the 1948 Show’.
Posted on Thursday 4th December, 2014
40 years since the last episode of ‘Monty Python’ aired on BBC Television. Suitably, dinner was with Terry Jones, following a filmed tribute assignment for Bristol’s Slapstick Festival.
Posted on Saturday 29th November, 2014
Off to Deal in Kent for a weekend in tribute to Charles Hawtrey’s 100th birthday. Carry On rebel rousing!
Posted on Tuesday 25th November, 2014
This year has been very Monty Python-centric. No complaints from me. This morning I did an enjoyable pre-record for John Fardy at Newstalk Radio in Ireland. It’s due to air next Thursday, which marks 40 years since the last television episode was broadcast on the BBC. Tempus fugit. As do circuses!
Posted on Wednesday 19th November, 2014
A splendid week of West End theatre kicked off on Friday evening with ‘Shakespeare in Love’ at the Noel Coward. A stunning realization of the film by director Declan Donnellan, Tom Bateman’s energetic and winning Will Shakespeare leads an excellent cast. The following day it was the annual embrace of the murder pantomime that is ‘The Mousetrap’! This year’s experience had a poignant edge since the death of Richard Attenborough the original Sergeant Trotter, but all the familiar elements warmed the cockles. There’s even added Max Miller as an illustration of the filth playing on the radio. Fantastic! Finally, it was the Wednesday matinee of Mike Bartlett’s outstanding history play pastiche ‘King Charles III’. Delicious iambic pentameter, portentous direction by Rupert Goold and a uniformly perfect cast headed by Miles Richardson, it’s booking at the Wyndham’s until January. I urge you to see it.
Posted on Monday 10th November, 2014
To the London Irish Centre at Camden Town this evening for the Chortle Comedy Book Festival. I was hosting a double bill of Monty Python, with Carol Cleveland promoting her memoirs ‘PomPoms Up!’, followed by Terry Jones in conversation about the ‘Forgotten Heroes of Comedy’. A shed-load of fun clips included Arthur Haynes, Jake Thackray and Olsen & Johnson. I even sneaked in a little Marty Feldman. Well, any excuse to promote my biography of the great man. Terry also had some copies of his short story anthology ‘Evil Machines’ on hand. If you want to buy Terry’s book or pledge for our ‘Forgotten Heroes of Comedy’, head on over to the Unbound website.
Posted on Thursday 23rd October, 2014
Today’s most thrilling news is that that splendid fellow Dick Fiddy, of the British Film Institute, has announced the discovery of two ‘At Last the 1948 Shows’ in the private archive of its executive producer, the late Sir David Frost. A monumental find, this 1967/68 sketch show written by and starring Marty Feldman, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Tim Brooke-Taylor paved the way for ‘It’s Marty’, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and ‘The Goodies’. With beautiful symmetry the recovered material is the very first and the very last editions of the show, and will be screened for the first time since their first transmission at the eagerly-awaited annual ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ event at the National Film Theatre on December 7th. See you there!
Posted on Monday 6th October, 2014
A top evening of chat and clips with ‘Avengers’ girl and so much more Linda Thorson, at one of my favourite places to be: the Cinema Museum. Lovely to see Linda’s fan and friend, Paul O’Grady lapping up the gossip. A splendid time was had by all.
Posted on Sunday 5th October, 2014
I was delighted to introduce The Wednesday Play: ‘Double Bill’ at the National Film Theatre. It was screened alongside the equally weird and wonderful ‘The Portsmouth Defence’ by Nemone Lethbridge as a final part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the series. The opening treat was written by Johnny Speight and starred Marty Feldman in arguably his most captivating and impressive performance. The presentation consists, ostensibly of two two-handers: ‘The Compartment’ and ‘Playmates’. Train passenger Joby Blanshard and disturbed loner Eileen Atkins face a Marty onslaught of black humour, guarded threats and nervous energy. Truly wonderful television.
Posted on Wednesday 1st October, 2014
My dear chums, John and Rachael Hewer of Hambledon Productions, have taken up residency in the Cooper Room at the Museum of Comedy in Bloomsbury. ‘Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show’, stars John Hewer as the beloved comedy genius, and is an officially approved showcase of some of his finest and most obscure routines. Essential fun. I’ll be at the press night on Friday the 3rd.
Posted on Friday 26th September, 2014
That delightful and vivacious actor Maggie Stables died today. Full of infectious joy, dazzling wit and a gleeful air of mischief, her career had been long and varied. Notably, she displayed a love and skill for music hall in the television series ‘The Good Old Days’. However, it was late in life that cult stardom came her way. Long admired by Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs of audio drama production company Big Finish, she was cast as “game old girl” Evelyn Smythe in a string of popular ‘Doctor Who’ adventures, including all three of the ones I wrote. Teamed up with Colin Baker’s Doctor, Maggie matched his caustic charm, sharp intelligence and pedantic manners tit for tat, both in the studio and out of it. Colin himself described her as the definitive champion for Old Sixie. She was great fun and a supreme professional. Rest well.
Posted on Monday 15th September, 2014
This coming Friday, the 19th of September, sees the annual Best of British Comedy lunch at BAFTA. I’ve been a committee member of this worthy bash since its inception and behind the laughter and the food fights and the gallons of Pinot Grigio, there is a very good cause. It’s all in aid of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund, who help industry folk who have fallen on hard times. This year’s proceedings are in the more than capable hands of Mr. Barry Cryer, with games, an auction and live comedy from stars of the Comedy Store. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can attend. See you there!
Posted on Friday 12th September, 2014
Very sad to wake up to the news of the death of Sir Donald Sinden, at the age of 90. He was part of the foundation of the British film industry, with outstanding performances in ‘The Cruel Sea’, ‘Above Us the Waves’ and ‘Eyewitness’, and a theatrical behemoth with notable roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company including the Duke of York in ‘The Wars of the Roses’, Lord Foppington in ‘The Relapse’ and Malvolio in ‘Twelfth Night’. He was also an excellent droll in hit television sit-coms ‘Our Man at St. Mark’s’, ‘Two’s Company’ with Elaine Stritch and ‘Never the Twain’ with Windsor Davies. He had already proved himself adapt at comedy in the films ‘You Know What Sailors Are’, ‘Twice Round the Daffodils’ and two in the ‘Doctor’ series. Recording the commentaries for both ‘Doctor in the House’ and ‘Doctor at Large’ was one of the happiest of many happy encounters I had with Sir Donald over the years. Always with a twinkle in the eye and poised with a lit cigarette and an amusing anecdote, he’ll be greatly missed in the material Green Room.
Posted on Thursday 11th September, 2014
A fun and frantic filming schedule for a new ITV documentary culminates with six hours of me in front of the camera. That will probably be edited down to around three minutes, but the result should be on your screens sometime in the spring of next year.
Posted on Thursday 4th September, 2014
A hilarious and emotion time in Finchley to attend the unveiling of the beautiful Spike Milligan bench in the grounds of St. Stephens’ House. The life-size bronze by John Somerville incorporates elements of Spike’s army life, his early days in India, crazy times with the Goons and his writing for children. Terry Gilliam, Roy Hudd and Denis Norden were among the comedy elite who came to remember a beloved pioneer of the daft.
Posted on Friday 29th August, 2014
Sad news from down under that Bill Kerr has died at the ripe old age of 92. Very close to my heart as Tony Hancock’s slow-witted chum in so many cherished radio half hours, he also starred opposite Sid James on television in ‘Citizen James’ and Peter Sellers on screen in ‘The Wrong Arm of the Law’. Even during his Hancock days, he had proved himself an actor of intensity. His supporting roles in British war films like ‘The Night My Number Came Up’ and ‘The Dam Busters’ are proof enough, all the more endearing because these dips into drama were mercilessly sent-up in his radio comedy successes. Having returned to his homeland, he impressed in ‘Gallipoli’, ”The Year of Living Dangerously’ and ‘Let’s Get Skase’, but it’s his knack for comedy that will endure. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve listened to ‘The Wild Man of the Woods’ or ‘Sunday Afternoon at Home’ or ‘The Last Bus Home’, and I’m not about to stop now. Reassuringly, the final sounds his neighbours heard were of Bill Kerr laughing uproariously at ‘Seinfeld’ on the telly. Pretty much the perfect way to go. A long life, well lived. I would write more, but I’m only here for four minutes…
Posted on Thursday 28th August, 2014
A fantastic evening saluting Sergeant Bilko at the National Film Theatre, a prelude to the long-awaited release of the complete series on DVD. Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Phil Silvers’s daughter, Cathy, waxed lyrical on the man and the series. Familiar classics and splendid rarities in the clip choice as well. The 20 disc Bilko Complete Collection from Mediumrare is available from the 22nd September.
Posted on Friday 25th July, 2014
A wonderful and exciting day at Pinewood Studios today. It’s been a while and I’ve missed the place, but it can still fill me with delight. The ghosts are getting restless. Watch this space…
Posted on Wednesday 23rd July, 2014
Sad to hear that dear old, dotty Dora Bryan died today at the ripe old age of 91. Our paths crossed many times, notably during the recording of the DVD commentary for ‘Carry On Sergeant’ and several hilarious weeks on location for ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. A delightfully funny and beguiling talent, her vibrant prowess for musical theatre may be restricted to recordings but her film work – from the sublime ‘A Taste of Honey’ to the ridiculous ‘Mother Riley Meets the Vampire’ – will entertain for always.
Posted on Monday 21st July, 2014
I was the guest interviewer for the Max Miller Appreciation Society evening with actor Christopher Beeny. Chris, whose career stretches back to the late 1940s, first found fame as young Lennie Grove in the BBC soap ‘The Grove Family’. He was still working for the corporation during the very last of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ in 2010. Along the way, he has starred in such popular ITV successes as ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and ‘In Loving Memory’. It was an elephantine evening, packed with outrageous anecdotes and nostalgic delight.
Posted on Sunday 20th July, 2014
The very last night of Monty Python Live (Almost) and didn’t they do well? A production packed with familiar old favourites, brilliantly staged musical numbers and an energy that belied the seventy plus ages of its principals. To see Terry Jones and Eric Idle resurrect ‘Nudge, Nudge’ again, forty five years after first performing it. Or to revel in Mike Palin and John Cleese merging the Dead Parrot and Cheese Shop sketches. Or to gasp as Terry Gilliam, one of the world’s finest, most respected film directors, dangling high above the stage to warble ‘I’m Got Two Legs’ one last time. A triumph from start to finish. The guest list for that last night was, unsurprisingly, lavish. It’s not every night one can hang out with Professor Stephen Hawking and Tim Brooke-Taylor. This was one such night. Unforgettable.
Posted on Tuesday 8th July, 2014
It would have been Marty Feldman’s 80th birthday today. Perhaps this should be National Hump Day from now on!
Posted on Saturday 5th July, 2014
Having broadcast across the BBC regional studios, I finally got to see Monty Python Live (Almost) tonight. No spoilers, but if you haven’t yet got tickets and you can get some, get some. You’ll thank me.
Posted on Sunday 29th June, 2014
I’ve written ‘Pythons’ Last Laugh, Again’, a piece for today’s Sunday Express in celebration of Monty Python and their eagerly-awaited, sell-out concerts at London’s O2. Monday sees the release of ‘Monty Python Sings (again)'; a re-sequenced and re-mastered resurrection of the team’s hugely successful compilation album from 1989. I’ve written a track-by-track liner note alongside exclusive comments from the surviving members of the team. Also released is ‘Monty Python’s Total Rubbish'; a lip-smacking collection of their nine U.K. albums. Available as both a CD and vinyl collection, the set comes complete with the 7″ ‘Monty Python’s Tiny Black Round Thing’ and a 64-page book featuring my album-by-album essays and new interviews with the Pythons. The first O2 show is on Tuesday the 1st July and a further nine performances take place up to the final, final show on Sunday the 20th. For further information and tickets please go to www.montypythonlive.com
Posted on Thursday 19th June, 2014
So, at 2pm Rik Mayall was finally laid to rest during a service at St. George’s Church, Dittisham, Devon. The very concept of Rik resting at all is completely wrong to me, so I like to think he’s being utterly, utterly outrageous somewhere. It’s just we can’t see him doing it! By a beautiful coincidence, the day also marked the 30th anniversary of the last broadcast of ‘The Young Ones’. There was something comforting about the movers and shakers of the revolutionary comedy vibe that shaped my childhood, and thus my life, gathering on that day, albeit for the very worst of reasons. Here’s to you, Rik. ITV1 are screening a rather lovely tribute to his stupendous talents on Sunday evening, with the first episode of The New Statesman: ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ and Rik Mayall Presents: ‘Dancing Queen’ from 10.30pm.
Posted on Tuesday 10th June, 2014
It’s one of those days when I scoop up *all* the daily newspapers for the archives. For the most tragic of reasons. I’m completely floored by the sudden death of Rik Mayall at the insanely young age of 56. Rik’s importance can never be over-stated. He was the best of his generation. The best of *my* generation, falling under his spell in ‘The Young Ones’ when we were even younger than he. A source for playground impressions, comic strip violence and hours upon hours of laughter. Suffice to say, I won’t reel-off an endless list of credits. Rik was simply bloody good. In *everything* he did. I caught, quite by chance, his lovely guest turn in Midsomer Murders: ‘The Creeper’ just the other week. One of those relentless repeats on ITV3, but there was Rik being engaging and cheeky and profound and riveting and utterly, utterly brilliant. A gigantic, arrogant talent. A good, humble man. I’m glad he passed our way while I could meet him and embrace him and thank him and applaud him. Another twenty years would have been nice though! I can do no more and no better than to quote *in full* (*cough* BBC news, shame on you!) the perfect tribute from Rik’s lifelong friend and fellow comedic anarchist, Ade Edmondson: “There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree, stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard”.
Posted on Tuesday 3rd June, 2014
As usual, I find myself working on several projects at once. The latest is another memoir, set for publication early next year. This one is with a good friend of mine. I’ve known this person for over a decade but I’ve already found the process to be a revelation. It’s also great fun. The reason we are doing it, of course…
Posted on Monday 19th May, 2014
Where have you been? Ha! Expect regular, personal updates from now on. Lots of exciting things happening. In the meantime, I’m still up to my googly eyes in the glorious slapstick antics of Marty Feldman. I enjoyed a lovely illustrated chat about his life and work at the Concert Artistes Association on Wednesday the 14th May. My book, ‘Marty Feldman ~ the Biography of a Comedy Legend’, is still available from Titan Books, and there’s something very exciting coming for the end of the year. Keep ‘me peeled!