'Arry and Edna

Two comedy features in national newspapers, both of them a joy to write: the first is an interview with Susannah Corbett about her biography of her father, the Steptoe actor Harry H Corbett. The book is called The Front End Of The Cow and it’s published by the History Press. This piece appeared in the Observer on Sunday 18 March.

The second feature had a marvellous spread on the Daily Mail’s op-ed page, on Tuesday 20 March. It’s a valediction for Dame Edna Everage, who is being retired by her creator Barry Humphries. She will be missed.

You can read more about the writing of the Dame Edna feature here.

In the Daily Mail

On the evening that the great stand-up comic Frank Carson died, the Daily Mail called me at about 9pm, to ask if I could file an obituary before midnight.

That would have been an impossible task, except that the wonderful Barry Cryer was kind enough to deliver an off-the-cuff encomium to Frank – the two had worked together on the Kenny Everett Show in the Eighties. Baz’s insights were the basis for the whole piece. He’s a joy to talk to, never critical but always able to see past the superficial. And he’s also, quite possibly, the funniest man in Britain.

A few days later, I did another piece for the Mail, about how stand-up comedy thrives during hard times. On this occasion, it was the author and academic Dr Matthew Kerry, lecturer in film and media at Nottingham Trent university, who supplied the really illuminating quotes.

I’m grateful to both Matt and Barry! Here are the features, on the Mail’s website:

Frank Carson Stand-up comedy

The Day Off - performed at the BFI

Tom Goodman-Hill gave a wonderful performance in The Day Off, as a luckless bus conductor – the role that would have been Tony Hancock’s – at the British Film Institute on Sunday evening, 29 January 2012. This was the first public reading of a script that was written more than half a century ago, in 1961.

The full story of how Hancock rejected the script appeared the same day, in a piece I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

Others in the cast included Kevin Eldon, as the Man in the Park, and Susy Kane as Charlotte, the girl Tony falls for. The narrator was Emma Kennedy, and Morwenna Banks, Sara Pascoe, Norman Lovett and Alexander Kirk also featured. The adaptation for stage was by Jonathan Wakeham, and Bill Dare was the director. After the performance, Ray and Alan answered questions from the audience and were applauded with a standing ovation.

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson talk about the comedy of long drawn-out pauses

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson on BBC Radio Four's Broadcasting House (Sunday 22/1/12), talking about writing comedy for radio and cinema – how they drew laughter out of silences, and why they parted company with Tony Hancock at the peak of their success.
This fascinating interview also includes a preview of the premiere of their great lost movie, The Day Off, which will have its first full reading at the British Film Institute on London's South Bank on Sunday, January 29 2012. Tom Goodman-Hill stars as Tony Hancock.


BBC Radio Bristol

My interview on Radio Bristol with Kate Justice, chatting about the David Croft retrospective on BBC2 tonight (December 27) which includes episodes of Dad’s Army and Hi-de-Hi. Includes a terrible impression of Ray Winstone...

The raspberry war

During my interview with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in Stratford upon Avon on Wednesday 23 November, Ray told the tale of a raspberry-blowing war with Spike Milligan that very nearly ended in the death of Harry Secombe.

We had a great time at the Civic Hall, with a wonderful audience who were queueing up to ask questions at the end. Thanks to the organiser, Tim Raistrick, whose energy and tireless optimism made it all possible.


Oldie lunch

The rules of the Oldie lunch say speakers should talk for just ten minutes, but Barry Cryer put me at my ease in the bar before the event – “Don’t look at your watch,” he advised me. “Just stop talking if you see them yawning through gritted teeth!”

Here’s the speech I gave, at Simpson’s in the Strand, on 22 November 2011. My subject was Galton and Simpson, The Men Who Invented Sitcom... and Ray & Alan were sitting to my right, disagreeing cheerfully with the accolade. I couldn’t hear their whispers, but it turned out later that they were telling the Independent’s diarist that they didn’t invent the genre at all: they got the original idea from listening to AFN Stuttgart in the 40s. I refuse to accept that German radio dreamed up sitcom, so I shall continue to credit Ray and Alan with the invention.

Here’s the piece in the Indie, and here’s a podcast of the speech itself. If you think I sound nervous, you’re right!


Kenneth Williams, Joe Orton and the debacle of Felicity's 21st birthday

This is the talk I gave about Kenneth Williams and the playwright Joe Orton, at the Islington Museum in St John Street, London, on Thursday 16 November. The lecture, which was free, was well attended, and there were plenty of interesting questions from the audience. The talk was recorded in the exhibition room, where the walls were hung with the library book covers that Orton and his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, had defaced (they were both jailed for six months in 1962 for the crime). The exhibition, Malicious Damage, runs until February.

Masters of Sitcom reviewed

Elaine Schollar of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society has sent this review of Masters Of Sitcom to subscribers. That’s a tough audience for a book like this... most of the members can recite entire episodes! I’m delighted that Elaine rates it as a “must have”!

Adoption and autism

Here’s the Observer piece I wrote about families whose adopted children are later diagnosed with special needs, especially autism.The case studies were provided by the National Autistic Society; my thanks to everyone in the press office there.

Writers' Forum

Kate Pain from Writer’s Forum magazine interviewed me about the process of submitting a book proposal to publishers. I told her how I had constructed the proposal for Masters Of Sitcom, and explained the key points that any book submission must include if it’s to convince an editor.

Click below to read the article.

writersforum1

Ray and Alan at Cheltenham Literary Festival

This is the tape of my conversation with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson at the Cheltenham Literary Festival on Wednesday, 12 October 2011. It sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber, underwater, with all the microphones set to maximum reverb. And the first 30 seconds are missing. Apart from that, it’s a masterful recording.

Ray and Alan were on great form, and the audience were marvellous, so if you’re a G&S fan it’s worth a listen, despite the poor sound quality.


Sunday Express review

Simon Brett reviews Masters Of Sitcom in the Sunday Express, 25 September 2011.

Spectator review

Marcus Berkmann in the Spectator reviews Galton and Simpson, The Masters of Sitcom: “A lovingly compiled and annotated selection of some of their best scripts … He has chosen well.”

Kenneth Williams: hero or villain?

kenneth williams 1949

Kenneth Williams, 1949


The challenge at the Hampstead and Highgate literary festival was to define how I saw Kenneth Williams – was he a hero or a villain? In the chair was Melissa Katsoulis; around the table were Daisy Waugh (talking about Rudolph Valentino), Anna Sebba (Wallis Simpson) and Justine Picardie (Coco Chanel).

As I don’t have the permission of the other writers to broadcast their talks, this excerpt features only me, cramming as many anecdotes as possible into my quarter of an hour.



Listen to my Interview with Steve Gilmour on Talk Radio Europe, about Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and Kenneth Williams too, broadcast on 6 September 2011.

National Theatre podcast

This is my recording of the book launch event at the Lyttelton Theatre, in the National Theatre on London’s South Bank, on Thursday 1 September 2011. It’s about 45 minutes long, and concludes with a deafening standing ovation.

The voice closer to the mike is Ray Galton’s. The slightly echoey voice, further away, is Alan Simpson’s.

Book launch at the National Theatre

Pasted Graphic
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in their office at Associated London Scripts in the early sixties

A packed auditorium at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre gave Ray Galton and Alan Simpson a standing ovation on a memorable evening to launch their book Galton and Simpson: Masters of Sitcom, from Hancock to Steptoe.

During 45 minutes of conversation on stage, Ray and Alan reminisced about working with great comedians including Tony Hancock, Harry H Corbett, Sid James and Spike Milligan. “Spike used to do things like sticking his head round the bottom of the door and announcing, ‘Dere’s a midget here to see you!” Ray said.