Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category

Radio Radio

Neil Pearson

An article by Robin Parker in Broadcast this week about my The Radio Play’s The Thing commission, a project I’ve been working on for two years now and which is just concluding its production phase.

I conceived it as an experiment in what I called (back in 2006) ‘User Commissioned Content’, which was sloppy short-hand for ‘User-Generated Content where you give the User a few quid to help realise their vision’ (for some studio time, a special actor, whatever). As it turned out I was applying a TV/video paradigm to the Radio medium where the gap between writer and producer/director is much wider so I adapted the project on the fly, eventually bringing in professional directors from other disciplines (TV, experimental theatre, etc.) to produce the radio dramas professionally but with the freshness of never having worked in the Radio medium.

4Radio sounds off with dramas ahead of launch

  • Published: 07 May 2008 11:45
  • Author: Robin Parker

The first fiction commissions for Channel 4′s fledgling 4Radio venture are to debut online later this month when the broadcaster unveils four audio dramas.

The plays are all by new writers and will be directed by TV and theatre directors making their radio debuts. Neil Pearson and Hollyoaks actors Gerard McCarthy and Jennifer Biddall are among the cast.

The scripts were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted to an online competition launched last year off the back of C4 theatre talent search The Play’s the Thing.

They were originally intended to be shared with OneWord before C4 pulled its funding from the station in December.

C4 now plans to use the web to launch the plays ahead of 4Radio‘s planned start at the end of this year and will also make them available as podcasts.

The 15-minute plays tackle heavyweight themes. Hospital doctor Andy Prendergast’s To the Broad Shore explores euthanasia; DA McIllroy’s The Interpreter features a confrontation between a Belfast police officer and a Chinese illegal immigrant; Stephen Todd’s Proud Songster looks at the impact of genocide in Rwanda; and Caroline Gilfillan’s The Colonel reflects on Chilean torture that took place in the 1970s.

All four are produced by Maud Hand of Maud Hand Productions and John Dryden of Goldhawk Productions. Hand has developed the project since January 2006. Dryden was invited latterly to come on board and is an experienced radio producer who has specialised in recording plays on location, most notably Radio 4′s The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif.

The 4Radio plays are also made out of the studio in locations around London.

Directors lined up include Noreen Kershaw, the Life on Mars actress who has turned to directing Coronation Street and Shameless, and Andrew Foster, the New Zealand theatre director who developed cult comedy Flight of the Conchords for HBO and directed the feature film Eagle vs Shark.

C4 new media commissioner Adam Gee has championed the plays at C4, developing the project in his earlier role as head of 4Talent.

Also involved have been writer Annie Caulfield, Radio Academy director Trevor Dann and Shameless creator Paul Abbott.

“Having created some content for 4Radio, much of it linked to established C4 shows, this is our first experiment in making radio drama sound different,” said Gee.

Article reproduced courtesy of Robin Parker and Broadcast

Life afta Bafta

Bitter Lemon

I think it was Sartre who said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.” Well, I was trying my best last night at the TV BAFTAs after Big Art Mob lost out to Spooks in the Interactivity category. I tried to put on my least bitter look, so more mandarin than lemon but not really peachy.

That said, I had an enjoyable enough evening. Besides my co-nominees (Alfie Dennen of Moblog and Clifford Singer of Edition, who showed an admirably rigid upper lip) at my table was the dapper Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of Britz (for Channel 4), which caused the biggest upset of the night by stealing the Drama Serial category from hot favourite Cranford. He gave a lovely acceptance speech acknowledging his late father, an aspiring writer who never achieved recognition. Accompanying Peter was his wife Helen who works for Artichoke, the outfit behind The Sultan’s Elephant – which I had the great pleasure of stumbling on by accident as I left a meeting at the ICA, one of those unexpected pleasures which make life worth living.

The two leads from Britz were also at our table, Riz Ahmed and Manjinder Virk, the former filling us in on his non-acting activities as Riz MC – I’ve just downloaded a track (The Post 9/11 Blues) and it’s a jolly little choon with a nice twist of politics. Talking of twist, he told an illuminating story about coming back from the Berlin film festival (where Britz won the Silver Bear) and being detained and roughed up by British immigration when he reacted with incredulity to their bizarre full-on questioning as he arrived home-sour-home.

Among our number was also a trio of filmfolk – David Aukin, formerly head of FilmFour (in the Trainspotting era) who told us a bit about his new movie that kicked off production yesterday starring the marvelous William Hurt (The Big Chill, Altered States, Smoke); Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s long-time producer; and Kierston Wareing, up for best actress for It’s a Free World (not bitter either), who was sitting on the other side of a large clump of decorative foliage from me so never had the pleasure of engaging with her beyond admiring her LBD+ (second only to Joanna Lumley’s flowing tangerine Grecian number).

Otherwise caught up with Ben Miller (of Miller and Armstrong) who co-wrote MindGym with Tim Wright and me. The best thing about working with him was that he insisted on performing the stuff he wrote before he would hand it over. He was also being philosophical about things having lost out in the Comedy category to C4′s Phonejacker.

Another philosopher was Matthew MacFadyen who, having missed out on Best Actor (in his role in Secret Life) to Andrew Garfield (Boy A), confirmed it’s all a pile of crap (the classic default position until you triumph), backed up by his Mrs Keeley Hawes who confirmed it’s all down to who’s in the room the day they do the judging (the back-up default position).

Other highlights of the evening included having a piss beside the Top Gear boyz Richard Hammond and James May which impressed the Enfants Terribles no-end (they’re Dave addicts); getting picked up from my gaff by a chauffeur-driven posh Audi (driven by an off-duty road cop from Northampton) – I took as long as I could decently do getting from the front door to the car for maximum neighbour-exposure; meeting various Skinsfolk including Tony and the late Chris; and spotting a psycho-stalker-autographhunter (complete with two cameras round his neck, the cover of an Emmerdale video among his equipment, and seriously deranged teeth) as we went into the Grosvenor bash, who, together with the red carpet experience before the Palladium show, made you happy not to live the celeb life-style and truly content with the Simple Pleasures.

Lean on me

Rudolph Valentino in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Having just written about the Oirishness of Ryan’s Daughter in Sons & Daughters below, an irony occurred to me today. The great cinematic inspiration which drew David Lean into the world of cinema was in fact an Irish film-maker, Rex Ingram. Lean was much taken with silent cinema and Ingram’s Mare Nostrum (1925) was the movie he saw as a boy which opened his eyes to the potential of the medium.

The only Ingram film I’ve experienced to date was Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino [above with Alice Terry, his leading lady and Ingram's devoted wife] which I saw as a Channel 4 Silent at the Parkway Cinema in November 1992. Those performances were dedicated to Lean. The film had been lovingly restored by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow, to whom a few years later I had the pleasure of explaining the potential of interactive media (at that time, CD-ROM) and how it might be applied to silent cinema. I met them at their Photoplay Productions office in Primrose Hill and soon came to realise that these were people who did it For Love Not Money. That was a real inspiration.

The music that night was conducted by Carl Davis. I remember seeing him just before in George & Niki’s, the little caff on the corner beside The Parkway. Those were days when there was cinematic magic to be had in Camden Town.

The Parkway, and Peter the cinema manager who dressed in a tux for every evening performance, are now history. The building still stands but the soul has departed. I worked as one of the Friends of Parkway to save it from the developers (organising, among other things, a premiere of one of the Lethal Weapons (the one with Patsy Kensit as a Sowd Dafrikan) – look, we just needed the dough, beggars can’t be choosers) but in the end I guess we only saved the bricks and the chopped up screens.

Weirdly enough, Ingrams’ full name was Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock. He was born in Dublin, the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman. Ingram’s own prompt into cinema was seeing the Irish actor Maurice Costello in an early movie of A Tale of Two Cities when he was on holiday in New York around 1910 (the year my local cinema, The Phoenix, was born).

His first job in the biz was at Edison Co., then he moved in 1914 to Vitagraph where he both acted and wrote. In those days stardom and technical craft were not so separate and he got a rounded education in movie-making. It was when he joined Universal in 1916 (the year Ryan’s Daughter is set and the year Ireland’s greatest modern drama was unfolding on the streets on Ingram’s native city) that his directing career began in earnest. His first undertaking there was directing his own script, The Great Problem. His subsequent films were distinguished by interesting, atmospheric locations; off-beat characters; and imaginative settings and lightening (Ingram was also a sculptor and artist). It was ‘Four Horsemen’ that made his name after he moved to Metro – whose bacon its success ultimately saved (which makes him to some degree responsible in another way for Ryan’s Daughter, which was an MGM film). In the mid-20s, weary of Hollywood, he set up the Rex Ingram Studios in Nice (where he made ‘Mare Nostrum’, which he considered his best movie). He left movie-making shortly after his first sound picture (in which he also starred), moved to North Africa, then back to Hollywood where he devoted himself to sculpture and novel writing. He looks very dapper in the pictures I’ve seen of him, a cross between Martin Scorsese and Gary Cooper.

I haven’t yet seen the Film4 funded ‘Garage‘ nor another current Film4 movie ‘In Bruges‘ starring celebroDub Colin Farrell (though I love the poster: ” Shoot first. Sightsee later”) but I have the impression the Irish energy in cinema is on the up so I’ll return to the theme Once I’ve seen those two.

Sons and Daughters

ryan’s daughterTook my dear ol’ mum out for her birthday a couple of evenings ago to see David Lean’s film ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, screened in 70mm at BAFTA in Piccadilly. When I got to the ticket desk there was a good looking actress there whose birthday it also was. That was probably the first hint that my biorhythms were in fine fettle that day. The next clue was when we were handed two glasses of champagne as we walked in. It turned out that 25th March was also the birthday of David Lean – and this year is the centenary of his birth. So we walked in to a special reception with booze, nosh and some interesting faces dotted around the room. I should have made a better fist of pretending “I knew that” and having been so organised as to have arranged especially for fine champers, fancy fish cakes and famous faces. Among them were Peter Lean (David’s son) and Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter herself.

Just before Sarah Miles arrived, I’d been unwittingly sitting beside one of her best friends and talking to my mum about how Ryan’s Daughter is my other half’s most loathed film. Why she gave me the middle name Diplomacy I’ll never know. I did a good one last year with Nicholas Hoult of Skins and About A Boy fame. I’d been reading the first scripts for Skins and was blown away by them. I was speaking at a 4Talent do for Raw Cuts at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road and Nick was also talking, being a real supporter of the NSPCC. “You’re shooting Skins down in Bristol aren’t you? Awesome script. Let me guess who you’re playing… Is it the nerdy one? [Sid]” “No.” “Ah, right, so it must be the devastatingly handsome one. [Tony]” Note to self: Never ask: are you Australian? (ask Are you a Kiwi?). Never ask: are you an American? (ask Are you Canadian?). Ask: are you the devastatingly handsome one?

Any way, she really does loathe the film. So did much of the audience and the critics at the time from what I understand. Lean didn’t make another film for 14 years in the wake of Ryan, so stung was he by its poor reception. If you look at it from an Irish point of view, it is on the dodgy side. The Irish in the movie range from a dribbling retard, to a black leather clad gun runner, to a priest with Republican sympathies and a bottle of Jamesons tucked away in his dirty black soutane, to a treacherous father with verbal diarrhea to a silly adulterous girl. But I think it was always the drooling John Mills that really irked her.

So I went in ready to enjoy in widescreen the scenery of the West Coast I love so much (as captured by Freddie Young) but to scoff at the story and characterisation. Producer [Absolute Beginners, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game] and boss of the National Film School Nik Powell introduced the film, followed by a nice anecdote from the lead actress highlighting the contradictoriness of Lean’s character (he told her off for throwing away a sliver of soap from his hotel room which had “a good three days left in it” and then bought her a Lamborghini a few weeks later). It must have been the weirdest experience for Sarah Miles watching her 29 year old self up in 70mm widescreen – she told me she’d never seen the film before except on video, she doesn’t like watching herself – at the age of 67. It was enough of a momento mori for the rest of us. Ryan was written by her late husband, Robert Bolt, who passed away in 1995. The film started with an overture of the musical soundtrack with the curtains still closed. At three hours thirty it had an intermission. So very much a blast from the cinematic past. The thing was I couldn’t help myself – shagging in the bluebell woods beside the burbling brook, rescuing rebel arms from the crashing waves, padding barefoot across the beaches of Dingle – I was suckered, I came out feeling I’d just watched something romantic and epic and Technicolor from a bygone age.

Lean was the prime-mover behind the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He gave half of his huge royalty shares on Bridge over the River Kwai and Dr Zhivago to help get the Academy up and running. (He didn’t bother including Lawrence of Arabia as the studio had told him it would never show a profit – dontcha just love creative accounting a la Hollywood.) So Lean was the first Chairman of the Academy and a life-long supporter, very keen on film retaining its “dignity” through proper screening in well equipped public auditoriums.

The cherry on the (birthday) cake – the birthday, BAFTA, biorhythm thing that seemed to be conjoining on the day – was that, unbeknownst to me (I found out the next morning) the nominees for this year’s BAFTA TV Craft Awards had been announced during the day and Big Art Mob was nominated in two of the three interactive categories, on top of its nomination the week before in the BAFTA TV Awards. It’s up against Dr Who, X Factor, Spooks, BBC iPlayer, Kate Modern and Bebo among others so pretty much a shoe-in ;-)

Craft was very much Lean’s background having emerged into directing via editing. He cut for Powell & Pressburger during the war, as well as for Noel Coward on In Which We Serve. His first writing credit was for adapting Coward’s This Happy Breed which starred the marvelous Robert Newton under Lean’s direction (his solo directorial debut). There was nothing remotely televisual about Ryan’s Daughter. It was steeped in the craft and love of cinema. No better way to celebrate a birthday.

Frock-coats and drama kings

Jason Isaacs

Sitting here in Carlingford, County Louth on a quiet evening in charge of sleeping children above, with my other half out with some of her dozens of cousins on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Rostrevor, County Down, with some godawful pseudo-american chatshow on RTE1 (Tubirdy Tonight – the name captures the height of shite it represents – a charmless, dull host behind a reproduction antique desk on the other side of which sits a fake nobody guest (the renowned Deirdre O’Kane?) with a D4 tango tan behind which are wooden window panes giving on to a fake cityscape unlike any part of Dublin I’ve ever seen, a lifeless photo devoid of dynamism or truth) and some two-bit boxing match on RTE2 with a ringside commentator with huge arched eyebrows and a forehead like the Mekon – jaysis, we’re blessed with our public service broadcasting back in Blighty, Ireland has much to offer the world but telly isn’t among its riches – I flick to a movie on Ulster TV, Joe Wright’s recent iteration of Pride and Prejudice with Ikea Knightley, as Mark Kermode (who popped up earlier this evening on the Culture Show) calls her on his weekly movie review show on Radio 5 with Simon Mayo. (How’s that, heavenly muse, for a Miltonian sentence?)

From this movie, which has somehow lost its appeal on a second, small-screen viewing, I drift off to an altogether more engaging gathering than the one before me with the dreadful Mr Collins showing off his lightness of foot. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Darcy himself, Matthew Macfadyen, and his charming wife Keeley Hawes (Cock and Bull Story, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, The Bank Job) at the RTS Production Awards where he very deservingly won the best actor award for the excellent Secret Life in which he portrays a recently released paedophile striving for rehabilitation. This Channel 4 commission, written and (first-time) directed by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, Gas Attack), culminates in an astonishing scene in a fairground where the struggling ex-con brings his handsome Darcy-like features and non-Darcy-like charm to bear on an underage girl. Will he or won’t he? It’s painfully impossible to call.

I watched the drama as one of the twenty hours I went through as a judge in the Scriptwriter – Drama category in the company of the likes of Simon Cellan Jones (Cracker, The Trial of Tony Blair) and Kudos’ Derek Wax (Sex Traffic). For me it was the best film, alongside Mark O’Rowe’s Boy A, but the BBC’s adapted screenplay for Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford eventually won the category. Brilliantly crafted of course and a wonderful cast to deliver the lines with the greatest of expertise – but not brave in the Channel 4 way of Secret Life and Boy A. Too much Pride and Prejudice, too little Shameless for me.

I’d been introduced to the self-effacing (for such a tall man) Matthew Macfadyen by Jason Isaacs, who I hadn’t seen for some twenty years. On occasion we traveled together to school on the bus when he was a big boy and I an insignificant underling. I remember him being warm and open – most bigger boys just ignored you at best. He remembered himself as being unpleasant at that age and “driven by fear”. Mark Kermode – who says hallo to Jason Isaacs and David Morrissey every week on the aforementioned review programme – recalls Jason (who was in the same year as him) as very cool and collected. Jason recalls Mark as the cool one to be looked up to with his quiff and rockabilly persona. Which all goes to show the gulf between our perception of ourselves and how we actually come across to others, as well as the role self-confidence and fear plays in our formative years and beyond. Darcy has just walked out suddenly on a confused Elizabeth for just such reasons.

It was lovely catching up with Jason after so long, last time we met he was still in Capital City with Clive Owen et al. [Correction - see comment below: Make that Douglas Hodge - Clive Owen was in Chancer which aired the same year with Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips, written by Tony Grounds.] Since then he’s been to Hollywood (Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, Armageddon, Harry Potter, etc.) and back (to be able to raise his daughters properly) and the night of the RTS was playing Harry H Corbett in The Curse of Steptoe and Son on BBC4 to enthusiastic reviews. We chatted about the urban myth that was the Edgware Walker (as brought to the screen by the maverick Lee Kern), about mutual schoolmates including the legendary Laurence Gould, broader than he was tall, famous for launching two skinheads down the stairs at Stanmore Station, and that was another subject of conversation, the neo-nazi violence of the mid-70s which Jason recalls much more vividly than I can. My first gig was the Tom Robinson Band at the Hammersmith Odeon – TRB introduced me to Anti-Nazi League activism, as well as the notion of gay rights – but it was all a bit theoretical for me. It seems like the couple of years age gap between us made it all much more real for Jason. He also spoke insightfully about his own craft. Producer Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) joined us for that bit of the convo – he held up Gene Hackman as one of the most consistently excellent screen actors. Watching Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett does make you think about consistency – the man from Mash and Klute is also the winner of the all-time worst accent award for his role in Goldcrest’s disasterous Revolution. But in the end it’s all just make-believe. Jason’s older brother, a doctor, it turns out saved a man’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy (with a biro!) on a plane heading to North Africa. In the light of that, Lydia running off with the perfidious Wickham seems to pale into insignificance.

A few years ago I was filming in Northern Ireland with Eddie McCaffery of Joose TV (then Emerald Productions) and Roddy Gibson (now a TV specialist course director at Middlesex Uni). We had a break from filming and headed up to Horn Head in Donegal. Whilst walking out on the bog of the headland we came across an older man collapsed with blood coming from his mouth, his distraught sister kneeling at his side. The three of us had recently spent weeks in an edit suite cutting a scene involving first aid and so were quite up on our life-saving. We did all the right stuff, got blood all over Roddy’s new jacket which served to cushion the old fella’s head, ended up carrying the prone body (surprisingly heavy) by stretcher back up off the bog to the ambulance which took him to Letterkenny hospital. We never heard a word from the man or his sister. Jason’s brother was given an airline voucher for £30 for his trouble. Elizabeth Bennett may be struggling a bit with her values here but those are both seriously out of whack. Jason’s brother was, however, invited to his emergency patient’s subsequent wedding where he came to see for himself what the act meant to the young man’s parents. Lady Catherine de Burgh (Judi Dench, who also featured in Cranford) has just been shown the door by the feisty Elizabeth, a frock-coated Matthew Macfadyen is striding through the mist, so wedding bells are just around the corner now as things trundle to their happy ending.

The Empty Room

the candidate movie

Just finished watching ‘The Candidate‘ – the 1972 movie starring Robert Redford as a Democratic candidate for senatorial office in California. I thought it may be fun to watch given what’s going on over the water. Jeremy Larner picked up an Oscar for his original screenplay. One of the taglines for the movie was: “Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn’t have a chance. He’s perfect!” The other was: “Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.” The former clearly has resonance with regard to Obama. You can feel the presence of JFK throughout the film – I kept waiting for Bill McKay to cop some lead – as it happens the worst thing that happens is a fist to that blonde waspy jaw. Whether the second tagline says anything about Hilary or Barack – who am I to say…

It was the end of the film that struck me most. It reminded me of that thing about your twenties. You spend all that effort finding a mate, you get hitched and think you’ve finished something, you’ve arrived, you’ve made it …and of course marriage, it’s just a beginning. I remember a similar realisation when we arrived home with our first son. Just back from the hospital, we put him down in the middle of the living room in his Moses basket. Sat looking at him for a bit. I went in to the bedroom. Realised some kind of radar had been switched on in my head and I was constantly thinking about how he was – wherever I was. It wasn’t the end of nine months – it was the beginning of nineteen years, or twenty-nine, or forever.

At the end of ‘The Candidate’ Robert Redford momentarily escapes from his victory celebrations, ducks into a room in the hotel with his campaign manager (played superbly by Peter Boyle – veteran of Steelyard Blues, Taxi Driver, Where the Buffalo Roam and the unjustly overlooked The Dream Team) and asks him the terrifying question: “What do we do now?”

Which, of course, is the exact same sentiment as Roger McGough’s ‘The Leader’, indeed pretty much exactly the same words (just two letters difference):

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

I’m not sure whether McGough wrote the poem before or after the movie was made – I can’t see it in 1967′s The Mersey Sound nor 1983′s New Volume which exhausts my collection of his pomes and makes me wonder where and when I know it from then.

So with the words “What do we do now?” echoing in the room, McKay walks out and closes the door leaving an empty, blank, off-white room behind him as he goes to realise his ‘better way’ – “Bill McKay: For a better way”. An empty room – and the credits roll.

Barack Obama: Where’s the harm, huh?

Hilary Clinton: Let the bint* in!

[* UK slang: Noun. A woman. From the Arabic 'bint' meaning girl or daughter.] (Yeh, well you try rhyming with ‘Clinton’)

So let’s hope, once Bush has withered away, that the room’s not empty, the cupboard’s not bare, there’s hope and there’s care.

Modern Times

stars of cctv - hard-fi

lonelygirl15

The fellas from LG15 (Greg and Miles, two of the three co-founders) pulled by yesterday on a trip to London. As I’ve made clear earlier on Simple Pleasures, I’m a big fan of LonelyGirl15 as an indicator of what can be done in the realm of interactive drama. I’ve also indicated previously that I’m not quite as convinced by Kate Modern – whilst I like the logo, I’m not crazy about the acting and I’m still confused about the point-of-view (don’t they feel a little socially awkward interacting with others with a camera constantly pointing out from in front of their face? or who is that cameraman following them around? – as the drama moves out of the bedroom, it needs to be recognised that the mobile equivalent of the webcam is CCTV). Now that was a great title – ‘Stars of CCTV’ – by Slough’s finest Hard-Fi. I never got to see that Scottish film Red Road but there’s got to be a great CCTV movie to be made (by all accounts Red Road was a pretty good stab at it). Likewise – thinking about the product placement-driven nature of Kate Modern, there’s got to be a great comedy interactive drama to be made around the sometimes less than subtle weaving of mundane products into the storyline. Of course not all the products punctuating Kate Modern are mundane. FilmFour’s Hallam Foe featuring Jamie Bell got the Modern treatment in an imaginative enough way, including both a cardboard cut-out of the aforementioned star and a live encounter with him in a bar. So it was good yesterday to close the circle and introduce LG15 to the Channel 4 Film & Drama department.

Greg always talks with fabulous energy about LonelyGirl’s narrative, his retelling is always infectious and makes you want to do a box set binge. Equally charming and infectious was Mike Bolland who chaired a panel I was on at the RTS in Birmingham the night before about the first 25 years of Channel 4 with Dorothy Hobson, author of Channel 4 : The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy. Mike was one of the original, first generation Channel 4 Commissioning Editors, responsible for some C4 classics including The Tube and Comic Strip Presents. He recounted with glee the youthful energy around the nascent channel and the latitude Jeremy Isaacs gave him. As we rounded off the evening, I tried to bring out the commonality between then and now – the experimentation that comes with the dawn of a new era – back then the era of independent television production, now the dawning of the digital age, a far more significant revolution with the transition of media to on-demand and two-way/interactive.

And what a lovely example of the experimental and interactive character of our modern media age I had a couple of nights ago, albeit with primarily analogue technology. My older son (10) had to record a piece of his persuasive writing for his homework, to which end be borrowed a crappy old dictaphone from his grandma. The younger one (7) found it around the house and began by recording a spoof interview about his brother. By the end of the evening the pair of them were recording amusing two-hander comedy interviews. By the time I resurfaced the next morning they had recorded a full-on drama with sound effects, initially provided by long abandoned toys and then by GarageBand.

Meanwhile back at LonelyGirl, Greg quit being a lawyer to start the basically homemade webcam show. Miles was a plastic surgeon when he veered off on the new media route. For all the chopping&changing of these fast-moving modern times, one thing is for sure – there’s a wealth of creative opportunities in them thar hills

Human Behan

brendan behan

I promised previously on Drinker with a Writing Problem to report back on ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ at the Riverside, Hammersmith once I’d seen it. Well on Thursday I made a bee-line back from the rather sober Oxford Media Conference to get back in time for the press night of the play.

As I emerged from Hammersmith tube I bumped into Grant Dean of Eidos (home of Tomb Raider) and his sweet little daughter. Grant and I know one another from the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Committee – he went on to chair the Video Games Committee while I went on to the TV Committee to try and make the rest of interactive entertainment beyond games part of the mainstream of the Academy. I remember trying to convey to the TV Committee a concept I called ‘New Television’ (you can imagine how well that went down) and introducing to them, among a selection of other emerging sites, this new thing called ‘YouTube’ (which I’d only come across two or three weeks before). A couple of years down the track and Malcolm Garrett, Martin Freeth, Terry Braun, Martyn Ware, a few other stalwarts and I are still fighting that particular battle.

Meanwhile, back in old media Hammersmith I walked past a cinematic Hammersmith Odeon shiny in the night rain, down past the painter Frank Brangwyn’s walled house, to the Riverside.

And there I watched a barnstorming performance by Adrian Dunbar as the Irish playwright Brendan Behan. A charismatic, cathartic, compelling performance.

The play was written by Behan’s own niece – Janet, daughter of writer and playwright Brian Behan. I saw her straight after curtain-down in the foyer and I’ve never seen anyone so charged. It had taken her six years to get this very well written, tight, witty script staged. What a kick to see it realised with such skill and energy to climax in a standing ovation. What a kick to hear your audience join in the singing – “Fair fucks to yer!” responded Brendan (whether that was in the script or not – no idea).

In the bar after, the superbly talented, modest and warm Brid Brennan, who played Behan’s missus, told me and the Missus that, from her experience, the kind of reaction the performance prompted from the audience that night was something very special. My Missus reckoned the turning-point was the scene where a drunken Behan crashes on stage at a performance of his play ‘The Hostage’ on Broadway – in his naturally ebullient way, he breaks into song (Adie has a wonderful classic Irish tenor voice) and the Riverside audience joined in becoming the Broadway crowd.

Equally stunned on emerging was Anna Nygh, Adie’s wife, also an actor. She’d heard him rehearsing the lines around the house (a helluva lot of lines as he drives the two hours of dialogue) but had no notion quite how much he was inhabiting the character – or vice versa… She summed it up by confirming ‘It’s taken his acting up a level’.

The action is centred on Behan’s room in the legendary Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd in New York. He’s struggling to write a book about New York of which he’s already drunk the advance. It’s not only his publisher he’s let down but also his mistress and baby son. And his wife Beatrice is just about to show up from Dublin. With a tape recorder on his desk and a pint of whiskey under his mattress, he reflects on the journey that brought him from inner city Dublin to the weird&wonderful diversity of the streets of New York, through which the paparazzi pursue him. One of the highpoints of the play is a Berkoff-like set piece when Behan enacts the moment a journalist lured him out of sobriety by sending a free drink over to him at a bar, three fellow under-cover hacks watching from the shadows.

The show is punctuated with cracking lines. Like the one about the definition of an Irish homosexual – a man who prefers a woman to a drink.

When Adie emerged from the dressing room afterwards, I had to congratulate him for making such a good fat man. He’s so slight in real life but with just a bit of a belly added beneath his shirt he played Behan’s drinker’s bulkiness with such conviction you saw it in his restricted diabetic movements and bloated lumbering.

What ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ showed above all was the paradox of a man who clearly loved life and spent every day trying to kill himself. He expressed a great fear of just being an ordinary human Behan which was why he disappeared to New York in the first place – he loved being immersed among the extraordinary flotsam of a big city.

The play is on until 3rd February – do yourself a favour

Drinker with a writing problem

brendan behan

What do I think of when I hear the name Brendan Behan?

* Drink
* Fighting
* IRA
* Dylan Thomas
* Woolly jumper
* Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Drink:
By all accounts the man was an alcoholic for years. It certainly done him in. He described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem” (not quite Oscar wit, but amusing enough).

Fighting / Woolly jumper:
He looks like a brawler in the photos, even with those 50s Irish woolly jumper and tie arrangements. I’m not sure how much fighting he actually did – suspect most of it was with himself.

IRA:
He seems to have got caught a lot but I suppose at least it gave him raw material for his writing. His first stretch, the time he did in borstal, was for republican activities, specifically a half-baked attempt to blow up Liverpool docks. His first writings, poetry and prose, were published in Fianna, the magazine of Fianna Eireann, the youth organisation of the IRA. (My first published photos were in An Phoblacht [it's a long story] but from there, besides our shared wild&windswept hairdo, our lifestories diverge.) I get the impression he eventually grew out of the IRA and came to doubt political violence.

Dylan Thomas:
There appears to be a number of close parallels between Dylan and Brendan – lionised to death in the US, hounded by the media, the drink, the woman they couldn’t live with or without (Caitlin and Beatrice respectively), the woolly jumper with tie look, money worries, New York, the White Horse Tavern on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village. My sister-in-law Bronagh is arriving from Dublin this evening and she knows about these things so hopefully I’ll be a bit more clued up about these connections by the time I hit the pit tonight. Poking around on the web I came across a bit of a spat in the mid-60s on this very point between Conor Cruise O’Brien and a certain Constantine FitzGibbon (a biographer of Thomas) – O’Brien made connections between the two and FitzGibbon denied them.

I stumbled across this rather neat link last night: “Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood” – referring to Joan Littlewood whose Theatre Workshop put on The Quare Fellow at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1956, transferring to the West End and ultimately to Broadway, establishing his international rep.

It’s the last commonality on the list above – time spent in New York – which gives rise to this posting. A new play entitled Brendan at the Chelsea is coming up this month at the Riverside in Hammersmith (starting 15th January) written by Behan’s niece Janet and starring Adrian Dunbar (The Crying Game, The General, My Left Foot, Hear My Song – who co-directs) and Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa, Topsy-Turvy).

It’s set in the 60s in the “legendary bohemian bolt-hole”, The Chelsea Hotel (where Dylan Thomas checked out of this world in 1953 with alcohol poisoning – hang-out also for that other poet who adopted Thomas’ name, Bob Dylan, and his buddy Allen Ginsberg, not to mention writers ranging from Eugene O’Neill to Arthur C. Clarke [who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there], and musos including Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and of course the ungrateful dead, Nancy Spungen, who had no fun in a room there with Sid back in 1978). So, fellow playwright Arthur Miller is just across the hall, the grooves of free jazzer Ornette Coleman are drifting down from a floor above and Brendan’s in his room, short of dough and inspiration – he’s hung over and way past the delivery date of his next book, not a line written. He’s been told to stop drinking or he’ll be dead in six months – and that was two years ago….

So all set for a lively night on 23rd Street. I’ll report back when I’ve seen it and if you fancy a night of drama, drink and the fascinating interaction of human Behans, you’re just a click away from the Riverside

Dexy’s Midnight Runners:
I remember buying their first single Dance Stance and being intrigued by the litany of literary Irish (including Brendan who I hadn’t read but if he was in the same list as Oscar Wilde that was good enough for me)

Never heard about Oscar Wilde
Don’t want to know about Brendan Behan
Don’t think about Sean O’Casey
Don’t care about George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett
Won’t talk about Eugene O’Neill
Don’t know about Edna O’Brien
Won’t think about Laurence Sterne

Shut it
You don’t undertand it
Shut it
That’s not the way I planned it
Shut your mouth til you know the truth.

Happy Christmas you arses

shane macgowan

With Channel 4 Radio coming over the horizon, what better reminder of why it’s sorely needed than Radio 1′s sacrilegious censoring of Shane MacGowan’s lyrics in the best Christmas song ever – Fairytale of New York. The people who failed to censure Fatboy Moyles’ dodgy use of the word “gay” have had the bare-arsed cheek to clumsily cut the word “faggot” from that bit we all love to sing-along with:

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

And while we’re celebrating the genius of Shane’s lyrics (difficult to reconcile with the figure who showed up like a benign Bill Sykes at Adie Dunbar’s last gig at the Boogaloo in Highgate with the Jonahs), let’s wheel out the title track from his first post-Pogues album, the Snake:

The Snake With Eyes Of Garnet

Last night as I lay dreaming
My way across the sea
James Mangan brought me comfort
With laudnum and poitin
He flew me back to Dublin
In 1819
To a public execution
Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform
Held his head up and he did sing
Then he whispered hard into my ear
As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour
For the boat, it leaves at three
Take this snake with eyes of garnet
My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured
This snake cannot be tied
This snake cannot be tortured, or
Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages
It belongs to you and me
So pass it on and pass it on
‘Til all mankind is free.”

Now there’s a song that will be sung in a hundred years time, long after Radio 1 is history. There’s echoes in there of the greatest London-Irish poetry…

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

Here’s to the wilde men of words! Mess with genius in your hole! Happy Christmas your arse! Slainte

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