Superman vs. Peter Pan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression. In the times of fear and confusion the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet. A great metropolitan newspaper, whose reputation for clarity and truth had become a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.” – Narration, by a boy, Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie made many of us believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve’s warm portrayal of the extra-terrestrial sent to Earth was to many the greatest superhero of our generation. Well, all until Michael Keaton stepped in as the Dark Knight in Batman. Fast forwards to the 2000s and it seems that Marvel have serialised their comic arsenal to release a new character on a weekly basis. Even the latest Bad Boys (For Life) movie seemed to be swimming in CGI reminiscent of Marvel’s reign of fire.

“Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.” – Walter Elias Disney’s motto.

But, for those born in the late 70s and early 80s there will be a few of us that were treated to Christopher Reeve’s black lock of hair, a very-much clean-cut James Bond-type character. Director Richard Donner and Superman: The Movie squeezed over 300 million US dollars from the box offices, for a movie that cost but a sixth of that. 143 minutes of fantasy and fiction leapt out of the screen much like the scrolling title words and stars’ names. Filmed between the U.K., Panama, Switzerland and U.S.A., this movie was epic. The dark contrast of life being released from a dying planet, and evil being cast to the Phantom Zone, stemmed a story arc which leapt faster than a speeding bullet featuring comic and soft scenes amongst the pile-driving action. It was like watching a wrestling superstar cuddle a kitten.

“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor; Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie claimed a few awards for best visual effects, a BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles; and Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award) and numerous nominations. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s score is dramatic and distinct. Mario Puzo’s story shuffles between serious issues and wastes little of the cast. Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty were big names. Terence Stamp would haunt many kids dreams for years to come. Marlon Brando was a global megastar and such was his feeling, he would never reappear in a Superman movie, as he was too buys suing for extra shares of the profits.

“Good form, Mr. Smee? Blast good form! Did Pan show good form when he did this to me?” – Peter Pan, Disney movie, 1953.

Mild mannered reporter Clark Kent starts life in The Daily Planet, before later appearing in cape and pants over his leggings. Many scenes were filmed at the world-famous Pinewood Studios. The Fortress of Solitude was on 007’s stage. British stunt double Vic Armstrong was there for Christopher Reeve for the first two movies.

“..children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

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Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Richard Donner presented a snapshot of 1950s America, subtle humour in modern day Metropolis and the icy cold sci-fi realm of Krypton. The journey was created perfectly for the movies – and although the 2013 movie Man of Steel tried to start again. Jerome Siegel, just like Kal-El (Clark Joseph Kent and  Superman) used pseudonyms (Joe Carter and Jerry Ess) and was born to Jewish immigrants. This wonderful writer dreamed up Superman and with Canadian comic book artist Joseph Shuster by June 1938 Superman ascended into Action Comics #1. Until the 1980s the man of steel dominated the superhero genre of U.S. comic books.

“Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Superman drew on many influences. Sci-fi gave some great pointers. Fritz Lang’s 1927 move Metropolis birthed a city within Superman’s eventual realm. Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro influenced the look, although arguably, that caped crusader was closer to the caped crusader, Batman. The geeky barbershop-look of slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd and his mild-mannered persona gave us Clark Kent. Siegel and Shuster’s trawling of pulp fiction, comics and popular media expanded in so many details. Perhaps Peter Pan, as a character from so many stage performances had some influence in there. After all J.M. Barrie’s wonderfully complex character had kids leaping from seats and beds following earlier performances. Much like Superman: The Movie, Peter Pan made many believe that they could fly.

Lois: “Clark…says you’re just a figment of somebody’s imagination, like Peter Pan.” / Superman: “Clark?…Who’s that, your boyfriend?” / Lois: “Clark!? Oh, Clark. No, he’s nothing, he’s just, uh…” / Superman: “Peter Pan, huh? Peter Pan flew with children, Lois. In a fairy-tale.” Scene as Christopher Reeves plays Superman before he’s about to take Lois flying around the city of Metropolis. Superman: The Movie

Peter Pan is complex and rightfully so. The ninth of ten children, Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, had already lost two siblings before birth. This short-statured man from Kirriemuir in Angus, when aged 6, lost his older brother David the day before David would have turned 14 years old. With his mother’s favourite forever-absent, J.M. often imitated and tried to fill David’s place. By the age of eight, his eldest siblings were his teachers at the coeducational Glasgow Academy and six years or so later at Dumfries Academy. Somehow he managed to kick back against his conservative Calvinist Victorian family and crack in with his dream of writing. The University of Edinburgh beckoned, and he graduated with an M.A. in literature during April 1882. After some journalism, unpopular fiction and hard graft he turned his eyes to playwriting. By 1894 he was married and with a Saint Bernard puppy, and had worked with Sherlock Holmes’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people” – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw

The premiere date of 27 December 1904 of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up arrived. Neverland was with us all – and a stark contrast to late Victorian and early Edwardian times. The Peter Pan models were extended and adapted throughout the years and the novel Peter and Wendy was inevitably released in 1911, with illustrations by F. D. Bedford. The two previous novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are two equally delightful run outs for the boy who wouldn’t age or grow up. There is another outing in When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought. After that, popular culture claimed Pan for a silent movie in 1924, before Disney came knocking in 1953. The thrills of mermaids, fairies, Native Americans and pirates gained global viewers. J.M. Barrie himself commissioned sculptor Sir George James Frampton (he did the lions outside of the British Museum and Dr Barnardo’s Memorial) in 1912. The May Day surprise was a gift to the children of London.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to wander through a dusk-lit Kensington Gardens and see the statue of Peter Pan. Six identical moulds were taken and can be found from Liverpool (U.K.), Canada’s Ontario to Camden, and New Jersey. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brussels (Belgium) and Perth (Australia) complete the list of original replicas. There are multiple statues of various designs globally also. Great Ormond Street Hospital has its own interpretation and rightfully so. Ever since 1929, all the rights and copyrights were given to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The boy who would be a child forever could inspire and keep those in need, some company.

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie died in Manchester, well Manchester Street, Marylebone, that London on the 19th of June 1937. This was a man who had had Jerome K. Jerome as a friend; had divorced in 1909 and the hugely influential Llewelyn Davies family. George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. Perhaps J.M. Barrie wanted to be a child forever. Perhaps Peter Pan was pretending to want to be forever young or showing off to his beautiful Wendy. Wendy was mature enough to surely see his insecurities. She displays great compassions as Peter Pan struts around his gaff, Neverland and does almost anything he wants. The land of adventures are at his command. The Darling family take his attention a little, but it does feel that Peter Pan would soon grow distracted of them and return to Neverland to do whatever he feels. Peter Pan is the antihero, to the hero of Superman. The two are alike, yet so far apart. Superman is a simple and clear character, with little conflict within. Peter Pan is like me, selfish and confused, and searching for a never-ending youth to hide from everyday burdens like responsibility and grown-up stuff.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Today, in China, it was Children’s Day and we watched the Disney retelling of Peter Pan, complete with lost boys, manipulation and an upset Captain Hook because Peter Pan had cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile with a timepiece. Eton College-educated Captain Hook seems devoted to bringing Peter Pan down. The Neverland story goes on and on and on, with endless retellings and reinterpretations or works based on Peter Pan and company. The right to collect royalties in eternity under precise and explicit provisos in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 mean that Peter Pan is the gift that keeps giving to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Superman, however, is the $5.48 billion cash card of DC Comics and Warner Bros.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Dedicated to the present dictator in democracy Donald-President-bleach-drinker-of-the-God-damn-U.S.-of-golf-course-loving-pussy-grabbing-make-America-great-again-Trump.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Dedicated to the present dictator in democracy Donald-President-bleach-drinker-of-the-God-damn-U.S.-of-golf-course-loving-pussy-grabbing-make-America-great-again-Trump.

Sacha Noam Baron Cohen has character. Actually, he has a catalogue of characters. With that he has a catalogue of different responses and receptions too. He can go a bit far. He can, with his team, be a little crass and over the top. One creation is the crude Admiral General Aladeen. This spoof of a multitude of dictators is the lead part of the movie The Dictator. From the moment it begins the movie is in “loving memory” to the late Kim Jong-il of South Korea. Controversy follows at regular intervals. A satirical movies go, the antihero format softens at times but does go mercifully bobbing along smashing up tyrants. It isn’t a serious movie, but some of the responses and critics may have treated it that way. Banned in banned in Tajikistan,and censored globally, it will never show in North Korea. Seth Rogen’s The Interview is similar in theme, but Charlie Chaplin was the breakthrough actor of this genre, take that Hitler! Chaplin’s The Great Dictator stands out for all the right reasons. How much of The Dictator standing out for the wrong reasons can be up for debate.

“I is here standing outside the United Nations of Benetton. Which is where representatives from the three corners of the world come to end wars, international drug trafficking, and everything else that is a bit of a laugh.” – Ali G, Da Ali G Show, 28 February 2003

Sacha Baron Cohen, fluent in Hebrew, should be held in a higher frame. He’s broken the boundary of what’s seen as a stereotypical Jewish way of work. He challenges much, including his own faith. As his character Ali G, an ultra-wrong sucker, he is duped into much foolery but also manages to make the great and good of politics amongst many his fall guy. He mugs people off proper! In 2004, Harvard University’s Class Day allowed him the stage. He gave a speech which was both masterful and colourful. Whilst many are not privy to the joke, the university shown great courage in adding such a character to their proceedings. It is highly unlikely the al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan will be calling his character Borat Sagdiyev up soon. This mockumentary character dips into sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and nationalist jingoism. This character is the ultimate self-uncomfortable truth generator for many people (and nations… and faiths… amongst other things).

“Thank you to every American who has not sued me so far.” – Sacha Baron Cohen, winner of the Best Actor Award (Comedy) speech at the Golden Globes in 2007.

Brüno Gehard is the main character of Brüno, and it is hard to believe anyone would take this overly flamboyant character serious, yet he manages to pull off a few too many Americans. And so-called Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad somehow manages to look so perfectly plastic yet fools the Republican state representative for Georgia (U.S.A.) how to up-skirt those who wear burqas. It is extreme but the more shocking thing is that former Member of the Georgia House of Representatives Jason Spencer played along willingly. Like a baby with a rattle. Eventually he resigned even though he stressed that he was exploited “for profit and notoriety.” He clearly didn’t see Conservative MP politician Neil Hamilton smoking cannabis after accepting it from Ali G in 2000.

“To single out a particular group and say we can’t make a joke about them is almost a form of prejudice and it’s kind of patronizing.” – Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen’s prominence has been meteoric and recently he has turned down the role of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. This around the same time the Anti-Defamation League gave him an award. They didn’t find his presence as distracting as the surviving members of Queen. Still, even Grimsby allowed him in. King Julien XIII is a voice that kids will recognise as part of the Madagascar ensemble. As Eli Cohen in The Spy on Netflix we get to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s talents. We get to see him as a spy who came from Israel. On a serious note, his brother Simon is an acclaimed researcher in autism researcher at the lesser known University of Cambridge, wherever that is. There is seriousness throughout the world of Sacha Baron Cohen and then there is humour. Choose carefully but try not to be too serious with the sensitive themes and topics.

“If you pay them, the platform will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie” – Sacha Baron Cohen’s scathing attack on Facebook, 23rd November 2019

Goodness Gracious Me, Chapel Street!

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Mother: “Look, I’m a student. I’m balancing a traffic cone on my head.” /     Son: “That’s not a traffic cone; it’s a small aubergine.” / Mother: Aubergine, traffic cone. I’m too drunk to tell the difference! – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series.

I’d had to move because Mum and her partner had to relocate. I was uprooted from New Moston School and sent to a strange foreign land: Clayton. I hated life in Clayton Brook Primary School. Luckily, I would spend just one and a bit years at the school.

“It took John a little while to settle down in class 3. He is a bright boy and is now working very well. Although he is very untidy, he has a good understanding and has been very enthusiastic about some topics we have tackled. He wants to do well and his attitude to work is excellent. Number work is also good, but he does tend to be careless. A very good start at Clayton Brook.” – I. Proudfoot, year 2 teacher, Clayton Brook Primary School, 3rd July 1990.

Chapel Street Primary School made me stronger. It was never an easy time there, but it wasn’t the worst time of my life. To my younger self, bullying and getting into childhood scraps probably readied me emotionally for puberty and the tests of young adult life. It didn’t scar me. In fact, I look back and think of how much of a little terror I was. I made silly mistakes – more than any other kid (probably).

Before Chapel Street, I’d already been at New Moston Primary School and Clayton Brook Primary School. They’d taken our classes to Moston Baths and Ravensbury Primary School’s swimming pools respectively. At Levenshulme Baths, Chapel Street Primary School students had long been making the area into a madhouse. Levenshulme Baths used to be located opposite Levenshulme Library and both were next to the back gate of our school. The Bluebell Pub (at one stage ran by a parent of a classmate) was to the other extreme of the back of the school, and lay across the north-eastern flank of the school was Chapel Street Park. Here I can remember great times playing football with Ben McGreavy and Kevin Fairfax, or climbing (trees?) with Dan and Peter Ridyard, or digging for treasures with Alex Muir.

At Chapel Street, I recall the great dinnerladies being ever so friendly and the dinnertime assistants at lunchtime (yeah, there’s a whole problem of terminology regarding mealtimes going on there). In the morning we’d have a bottle of milk around 10am. To this day, I sup as much milk as the cows can produce. I draw the line at soy milk. It gives men breasts, I read somewhere. The school day had three breaks, all of which involved the playground, running around crazy (pretending I was a velociraptor after seeing Jurassic Park at the Davenport Theatre; or I was one of the Royal Air Force Red Arrows after attending Woodford Airshow). I had my imagination and Micro Machine cars or Lego figures were in or out of my pocket often.  I wasn’t the closest friend to anyone.

“How big is his danda?” – example of a catchphrase from Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series

Mrs Clegg’s class during year 4 meant that I would lose many Micro Machines and Lego men. Her big plastic laundry bag must have held hundreds, if not thousands, or possibly millions of them. She was an incredibly strict teacher who like many in her profession drank copious amounts of coffee. I recall her reeking of coffee. At that time, I hated the smell of coffee, but in hindsight, she knew best, coffee is wonderful. Although now, I only drink 1-2 cups a day, if any. I’m in China and there are too many wonderful teas to sample. This week at St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School, Miss Zeng gave me Peach Oolong tea and anther oolong tea that tastes like champagne. At primary school, as a kid, all I’d drink was corporation pop (water) and the odd Barr’s Dandelion and Burdock if I had 20p to hand.

I joined Chapel Street Primary School in year 3 with a short-haired teacher (who I cannot remember the name of) charged to calm me down. I’d entered part way through the school year and was a little unsettled. I soon became friends with the shortest member of the class, Peter Ridyard. He had a few brothers and sisters. His sibling clan of seven weren’t all dwarves. Far from it. I always remember his long-haired taller and older by a year or so sister Amanda with golden-red hair flowing like Rapunzel. I was scared of her instantly. She was a girl and a taller one at that. Then there was Steven, and he was older and much more streetwise. He was the guy with the cool kids and maybe some trouble. Apart from one incident over they years, Steven was fair to me, and never gave me problems. Actually, he stopped a few local knobheads kicking the crap out of me. Dan was Peter’s younger taller brother. Jodie, Adam and Sally made up the younger trio of the Ridyard clan. I used to sing to the theme of a Toys’R’Us advert tune, “Millions of Ridyards all under one roof…” but I did it with affection and jest. One thing about their mother, Margaret, she is a damn strong woman and has raised seven kids over a tight age-range. Dan and Peter would go onto be my best friends. I’d enjoy good friendships with Alex Muir and James Cliff too, but both would drift away in time.

My friends were needed because not long after moving to Levenshulme, my sister Astrid was hit by a car. She would endure many weeks in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital and then years of schooling at a specialist school to help her recuperate and catch up, before she could finally start at Chapel Street Primary School. I love my sister Astrid fiercely and seeing her curled up with traction devices and machines attached to her is a vision that haunts me. When she was finally back out running, I had my sister back. But, around this time, ‘Titch’ was mobile and in the education system. Her and Paul (the youngest of our tribe on my Mum’s side) grew closer. Astrid and Paul were inseparable as I started to outgrow them and their games. It remains a pleasant memory to recall.

5AJ with Mr Andrew Jones was where I switched from maths work lover to someone curious and interested by words. Mr Jones would set us challenges such as write as many words as possible beginning with ‘st’ but we must understand the meaning of every word. I read the dictionary. I started with ‘st’ and then I carried on through all the words starting with S. Then I went to the letter T. I decided I needed to read the prequels A through to R. After that, I decided U to Z needed a look. It wasn’t exciting and I understood very little, but I actually read a dictionary. I recall building Lego models at home and stopping to take in a page, with occasional writing of the word, running downstairs and asking my mum how I could say a particular word. She must have thought I was madness personified.

Around about 1997, I discovered Goodness Gracious Me on BBC Radio 4. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and (my first crush on an Asian girl) Nina Wadia. I fell in love with Nina Wadia’s voice on radio and then when I did see the television version of the show, well she didn’t disappoint. Not that I could focus on her physique or voice. The show was far too funny for that. Here was a mould-breaking show, fast, witty and dynamic. It laughed itself, it mocked stereotypes, it ripped apart tradition. It flipped views of the British over to those of South Asia. It parodied and spoofed and after just 3 TV series, it left the world a better place. The best sketch has to be: Going for an English. In this sequence a group of Asian friends go for an English meal after a few lassis (non-alcoholic yogurt drink). They mispronounce and bumble the waiter’s name. They request the “blandest thing on the menu” and request a “stronger” steak and kidney pie. Who can possibly eat 24 plates of chips? The parody of British people, and you know there are some who still do this, getting drunk and going to end the night at an Indian restaurant. Surely, we’ve all met the macho guy who orders the hottest vindaloo. How many papadums can one actually eat?! Cheque, please. I need to go and watch Asian Top Gear again.

“The people here believe the tree to be sacred, so that even if one leaf falls onto the track, the whole line is immediately shut down.” – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series, sketch: Great Train Journeys of the World: Fenchurch Street to Southend

During the final year of primary school Miss Rowe (6RO) and her classroom assistant calmed me down. When the final last day came, I never collected signatures on old schoolbooks or signed my school jersey. I just walked out of the gate saying thank you and goodbye. It didn’t seem to be a big thing. The sterile looking Reddish Vale Secondary School awaited. I would move on a free transfer from Manchester’s educaton authority to that of Stockport. How bad could it be?

“I Hear You’re a Racist Now, Father?”

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

This week I was asked to recommend some cheery comedy viewing and a book, by several people. During this COVID-19 days, with seemingly endless lack of positive news, I turn to Russel Howard’s Home Time Live, amongst other shows.

My early exposure to comedy was catching the odd bit of Spitting Image or other such TV series. I was never too keen on Children’s Television, other than say Stingray, Thunderbirds, The Real Ghostbusters and a few other cartoons. The ones that really got my attention were Dangermouse and Count Duckula. These last two titles had Only Fools and Horses great and comedy star David Jason as the voices of many of the great characters. I also recall David Jason appearing in bits on one of many Ronnie Barker shows. For years David Jason in a show meant that I wanted to see it. From the gentle drama of The Darling Buds of May to the gritty detective show A Touch of Frost, or seeing David Jason as Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, I enjoyed every appearance. But, I have never seen one full episode of Still Open All Hours or Open All Hours. I’m sure I’ll see Granville in the future. Sir David Jason OBE turned 80 years old this year. He is to television comedy as Sir David Attenborough is to wildlife on television.

Have I Got News for You represents perhaps the longest running show I have watched attentively throughout my life. If I miss a few episodes, or a run over a period of months, I will find a repeat online or in the archives. It now boasts over 520 episodes and the regular panel show game contestants Paul Merton and Ian Hislop share a camaraderie that few series can muster. They swipe at news and bring satire to often bleak or dull matters. They’re often inciteful and wide-sweeping in their opinions. It isn’t a how that tells you what to do. It is entertainment with buckets of wit. Guests such as Victoria Coren Mitchell (who really is very clever and sexy), Jo Brand, Janret Street-Porter and Ross Noble, mix it with politicians, entertainment stars, future Prime Ministers and stars of the silver screen. It isn’t free of controversy or wasn’t so when regular host Angus Deayton left after 12 years. Other satirical shows have been around but few have shown the staying power of this series.

“If it wasn’t for your wellies where would you be; You’d be in the hospital or infirmary.” -Billy Connolly, The Welly Boot Song.

At Aberystwyth University, I’d seen Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, Men In Coats, and almost every stand-up comedian or visual comedy act from September 2001 to leave four years later. That may explain my poor graduation grades. Still, I met Al Murray as the Pub Landlord. After university I’d go to Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and the Comedy Store. Mark Thomas, a political comedian, became a great favourite and an emerging German Comedy Ambassador called Henning Wehn whet my appetite for comedy that enabled you to think too. Great shows like Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure and even Jim Bowen having a round of Bullseye in Aberystwyth’s Student Union made for memorable evenings. I’m very lucky to have access to comedians such as Andrew Lawrence over the years. Freedom of speech is a marvellous thing.

“The Buddhist version of poverty is a situation where you have nothing to contribute.” -Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, Himalaya

On paper Jon Ronson, Ardal O’Hanlon (best known as the hapless Father Dougal in Father Ted), and Christopher Brookmyre had my eye for their witty writing fashions. Recently I discovered Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald which was picked up and never put down until it was finished. Saturday Night Live was also responsible for Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Murray and numerous comedians gaining a foothold in the mainstream, but the ones who have gone on to write add greatness to their portfolio. However, Rich Hall and Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) remain my all-time favoured comedic writers, just after Eric Morecambe. I guess the Reluctant Vampire, Eric Morecambe on Fishing and Stella hold so much warmth that they are essential bookshelf companions for me. I don’t even like fishing. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is probably the only classic comedy writing that I’ve enjoyed. I found Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat a little dull. I do have a book published in 1892 on my ‘to read list’: Diary Of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Perhaps, that will be my latest essential shelf-filler.

Woody Allen may have been celebrated as a great writer of movies, but I didn’t get taken in by him at all. Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs was more my thing. Anything Monty Python became so laughable and cult that everyone (it seems) shares the same thoughts on their archive of classics. Richard Pryor was a bit part in Superman III. I am glad he was in the movie because years later after university life I delved into his back catalogue. What a star! His  observational and political speaking was acerbic and iconoclastic. For me, as a Caucasian Mancunian, I only spotted Lenny Henry and a few others on the predominantly white British TV stations as a kid. Andi Osho and Stephen K. Amos came later. But, for the most, few black or mixed-race comedians made it onto the television and Craig Charles in Red Dwarf had a scouse accent. Over time, and as the internet-age gave rise to more comedians from that America reaching our shores comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg became regular viewing. Comedy is like this COVID-19 disease: it doesn’t recognise gender or race. You’re either funny or you’re not (or ill or not).

“I think some of the best modern writing comes now from travellers” – Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, comedian, writer, & actor

Comedy needs diversity and it needs lovable rogues heading to foreign shores to ply their trade. Father Ted, written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews flung religion and culture onto the television with the powerful Catholic Church as the celebrated and loved butt of many jokes. It is surely the most successful comedy production from Ireland ever – and I hope the Pope Ted: The Father Ted Musical arrives sooner rather than later. Father Jack will surely approve. Arthur Mathews is the author of Well Remembered Days: Eoin O’Ceallaigh’s Memoirs of a Twentieth-century Irish Catholic. Pick that book up. Read it. Then, find the audiobook read by none other than actor Frank Kelly (who played slightly inebriated and loaded Father Jack from Father Ted).

My mum introduced me to David Tynan O’Mahony, better known as stage name Dave Allen. Dave Allen was an Irish satirical comedian well-known for sitting on a chair and talking. His style wasn’t too fast-paced but coupled with some creative sketches and ramblings, he remains an Irish comedy legend. Nowadays surreal comedic talent David O’Doherty, fast-mouthed Ed Byrne, the tremendous Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran and snappy Andrew Maxwell bring the great wit of the Emerald Isle to the world. Whilst America has its fair share of divide and racism to talk in the open Britain and Ireland have a fair bit of oppression and divide to discuss. Then there are also the political troubles, religion, sectarianism, recreational drug abuse, crime, and self-deprecation. But, being Irish and British means we’re not as good as the Americans when it comes to self-deprecation.

“I get snow blindness from looking at my diary.” – Barry Cryer, writer and comedian

Dag, a Norwegian comedy-drama, about a marriage counsellor and his sex-mad friend Benedict’s struggles through life, is a great dark comedy. It will make you cringe and feel warm in equal measures. Atle Antonsen plays the lead character and he is brilliant counterweight to his love-interest that is Tuva Novotny’s character. I’ve just found there to be a fourth series so I shall look this up soon.

From great comedy series such as Goodness Gracious Me, The Fast Show, Harry Enfield and Chums, or Not The Nine O’Clock News, Britain has been blessed with comedy. Such editions could not be seen in lesser-free states of the world. It is hard to reimagine Father Ted reimagined as Monk Lama set in Tibet, or the ‘going for and English’ sketch of Goodness Gracious Me being re-filmed in Pakistan as ‘going for a Russian’. The right blend of social awareness, love of culture, and respect of differences are required.

“Drumchapel is a housing estate just outside Glasgow. Well, it’s in Glasgow, but just outside civilisation,” – Sir Billy Connolly.

And now, ‘The Big Yin’, the one stand-up comedian I have never seen live, despite chasing ticket after ticket since I was a wee man. Sir William Connolly, CBE is as titanic as the ships that floated out of the Glasgow shipyards. He was and remains the heavyweight champion of storytelling. Having jumped ship from The Humblebums (Billy sang folk alongside Gerry Rafferty and Tam Harvey), lovable comedy-musician scraped a living in his homeland of Scotland doing comedy. Almost 55 years later he stopped, enforced mostly by Parkinson’s Disease, but probably by love of art. Along the road from Glasgow he’s starred with The Muppets, acted alongside Dame Judie Dench, produced music, been a pet zombie, travelled and ran entertaining documentaries and shared his love for his home country. On stage, Billy has always worn what he wants, danced like nobody watches him and shouted whenever he likes. ‘The Big Yin’ has an encyclopaedia of material and an archive that would probably take a lifetime to follow. You can do much worse than sit down to some Billy Connolly. He really is a fine orator much like the smooth whiskies of his homelands.

“It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty. It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. Pessimism is a luxury you can’t afford”. – Sir Billy Connolly on optimism, BBC Radio Five.

Stay strong. Stay optimistic.

Bring Us Sunshine

To the National Health Service and all those careworkers, and keyworker, oh how you bring us sunshine!

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Ernie Wise: Its not easy for us authors to find new words.
Eric Morecambe: Have you got a thesaurus?
Ernie Wise: No,I don’t like motorbikes.

So far, it has all been writing, links and a few photos. Today the mould is broken. Welcome to embedded videos. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, no, this is the first justified joyful collection of clips (to date) – available in all the countries around the world that allow YouTube (or via VPN in China). Other media players are available but to be frank, I can’t understand the language.

Thinking back to comedy, and there have been times when I have lay prone or been down in the dumps, feeling low or blue, and the voices of comedy have come calling. I love stand-up comedy and to be honest, I will watch anyone, at least once, sometimes twice. If I enjoy them, I will carry on enjoying them and look out for them at every possible turn. Then there is slapstick and comedy writing. There are so many layers of comedy from silent movies to dark comedy showings to modern day images blended to satire or adapted to show the absurd.

Comedy is a kind of medicine in a time of worry and suffering. The movie Patch Adams starring the wonderful comedian-actor Robin Williams was one fine example of humour as a remedy. The film is based on the real life doctor-clown-social activist and founder of The Gesundheit! Institute, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams MD. This is a man devoted to finding an alternative healthcare model not founded by insurance or by the haves over the have nots. In many ways he is a doer and a revolutionist. Besides which his kids are called Atomic Zagnut Adams and Lars Zig Edquist Adams. One interesting thing his inspirational portrayal by Robin Williams, led to Bollywood filming Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. which may have in turn led to Pakistan and India director Rajkumar Hirani having ideas for his movie, or not. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. was remade in the Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sinhala languages. It has won many awards, as have its remakes. The ₹1.039 billion viewing audience plus the $202.3 million audience of Patch Adams may have reached far and wide financially, but it does make you wonder if the sense and spirit of both have reached and influenced many in the medical profession. I would imagine the essence of humour and a warm heart has always been with those in the natural work setting of caring for others. It is their job. The presence of these heart-warming and movies cannot hurt none.

The best writers are the ones who really show their passion in their works. Some even cast themselves from years of heard graft and find a vehicle for their talents. Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith aren’t always the fashionable names of modern stardom, but as The League of Gentleman they have shocked and terrorised using dark comedy to bring a belly laugh or a grizzly ‘Can-I-laugh-at-that?’ moment. Their productions such as Psychoville and Inside No. 9 have carried the enhanced tones of their earlier work inviting newer audiences by bringing an ensemble of well-known stars to their twisted scripts. The quadruple basis of the League of Gentleman cast carry fairly diverse and long appearances. They’re grafters who have done bit parts and played key roles. Reece Shearsmith even appeared in London’s Burning as was his rite along a passage to present day; whilst his colleague Steve Pemberton, of Blackburn, has featured in Manchester’s finest comedy-drama series Shameless – as well as the brutal series Blackpool, London-based Whitechapel and Benidorm. A seemingly wide set of locations. Jeremy Dyson has had a crack at Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales amongst many hit West End and big-screen projects.

Having looked up Mark Gatiss and the other League of Gentleman cast members, following an online episode of Stay At Home with Stewart Lee and Josie Long, I’ve found out that my favourite historical piece Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre is being turned into a movie! The director John Madden has previously worked on Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shakespeare in Love. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald and Matthew Macfadyen will also star in the Mac-See-Saw Films production. A spot of sunshine for the future.

You’ll Never Walk Alone…

Eddie Braben came from Dingle in Liverpool. It’s an area that gave rise to Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Robbie Fowler (Manchester City and Liverpool striker), Arthur Askey (comedian), Gerry Marsden (singer: Ferry Cross the Mersey; He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; and contributor of The Crowd), and singer Billy Fury.

Eddie Braben had written countless wonderful lines for the duo of Morecambe and Wise. Through fall-guy Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe would mock the “plays what he had wrote – sometimes 26 in one day”. Other great celebrities would enter the stage and screen, appearing on Christmas specials and transmitting to households all over the nation. Many argued these were the most-viewed shows outside of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches. More than 20 million people watched on. Future James Bond star Judi Dench and all round great dame proved the draw to star on The Morecambe and Wise Show was like no other. Household names, movie stars, big names of the theatre, news presenters and more all lined up to join the cast.

“What he did for Eric and Ernie was incredible. He was the third man of the comedy.” – Sir Bruce Forsyth on Eddie Braben

Writer Eddie Braben replaced Dick Hills and Sid Green. Braben wasn’t too confident about filling such big boots and writing for what were then a very popular and successful comedy act. His specimen material started with one solo appearance with Eric Morecambe opening his jacket and telling his heart, “Keep going you fool!” And from then on, Braben added gold to the Morecambe & Wise cabinet of materials. He’d previously written for Charlie Chester and Ken Dodd, from the comforts of Liverpool, but now he had London T.V.’s finest to pen for. Hiding away from the stage itself, Braben wouldn’t elope to London. Instead he’d be home again via the train soon after filming. His methods worked and he was awarded gongs from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for three consecutive years over several years. In 1972 he even picked up a BAFTA. He worked tirelessly and had a nervous breakdown, recovering to pen for Little and Large, Jimmy Cricket, Les Dawson and Ronnie Corbett, amongst others. His autobiography, The Book What I Wrote, is a modest and heart-warming account of comedy and television. For a man who hated the limelight he certainly influenced the stage and screen. His 24 writing credits to just 3 tiny appearances speak volumes.

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.” – Glenda Jackson, in the Antony & Cleopatra sketch, Morecambe & Wise Chrismas Special

Asked, in a Roman sketch, if he had “the scrolls”, Eric Morecambe replied: “No, I always walk this way.” Eddie Braben’s writing was so very good, and the production team that were around Morecambe and Wise appeared to be ad-libbing like no tomorrow. Prince Philip once commented, “I thought they just made it up.” That was the magic of the well-written sketches, the production design and the chemistry between the two star leads. In surreal ways, Braben had Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise haring a bed together. You can’t see the join. There was little vulgarity to it. It was far from innuendo. Just like the perceived rudeness of Eric Morecambe towards guest-stars who would appear and Eric would get their names wrong.

“Sorry I’m late, but I was digging the Suez Canal when some fool filled it full of water” – Eric Morecambe as Disraeli.

Eddie Braben’s notes and poems can be found in various books. One sweet piece is as follows:

Two cows chewing grass, on a warm sunny hillock. I thought, ‘This time tomorrow, that grass will be millock.’

Such simplicity and beauty within a few short sentences. No over-padding. No need for profanity. No need for stressing and over-writing. Such wonderful word imagery.

Lay on a bed together: ERIC MORECAMBE (as the Duke of Wellington): Would you like something to warm you up?
VANESSA REDGRAVE (as Empress Josephine): (Seductively) I would very much.
ERIC: Good, I think I’ve got some extra-strong mints in my greatcoat.

There’s only one way to end this post.

Bring us sunshine!

Comedy Prescription

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

I Think, You Stink! written and directed by comedian Nick Helm was surprising for many reasons. Not least the warning about strobe lighting and strong language (swearing) but the acting and singing. The dancing too. Amongst the initial audience participation of the B-movie spoof romp, it became clear we the watchers were in for a treat. The 10th anniversary of Helm’s earlier joyous show, was far from dead. The hypno-vision and giggles made the show in Assembly Roxy fly by. The special effects were underwhelmingly overwhelming. Beasts, beauty and great vocals drove the drive-in show far and wide, concluding with a standing ovation. Catchy melodies delivered by great comedy vocalists and teamwork for a simple stage show. Oluwatayo Adewole gave it a 5-star in his review purely because his writing captures the energy that the acting team throw at the performance. Rob Kemp, Jenny Bede, Katie Pritchard and the stunningly seductive Sooz Kempner all can lead a show wonderfully. This wasn’t just a Nick Helm show. This a was a Premier League of talents working together. If only they could be in Parliament – then the tiresome Brexit and poison chalices being banded about may be sorted by a proper organised outfit.

“Dark and twisted, but strangely sweet in the middle” – Mail on Sunday

A few weeks back I watched a Billy Connolly celebration. At first it seemed like a memorial show and I started to panic, thinking The Big Yin was dead. Luckily the 76-year old comedy star, folk rocker and actor has not left the mortal life. The show was simply a festivity of his works – with the feelings experienced by those watching over the years. Billy & Me was touching and sweet but one moment stood out to me. Narrated by Surrane Jones, one viewer said she had been suffering from depression and the doctor prescribed comedy. By watching The Big Yin, for an hour a day, her condition approved. Having not watched as much comedy during the last few years (accessibility and time issues, are my makeshift excuse), I agree. Comedy is a good prescription for a period of time with monsters lurking at the foot of the bed. Nick Helm’s how did just that trick. The world became a brighter place. On that note look up Danny Wallace’s book on rudeness, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude. On reading that you’ll start to think a bit more.

The importance of reading, comedy and thinking for yourself have been amongst civilisations since the dawn of civilization. Anyway, if it makes you think and smile, without making someone else sad, upset or offended, then why not? Our mental health is important. Go on, find a prescription now.

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā