Celebrating The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You

As it’s nearly Christmas, and I sit impatiently waiting for the return of The League of Gentlemen, I thought I’d use this opportunity to write about one of their less-championed works.

The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You was the group’s final live tour – and final project together – before taking some well-earned time off. And it remains a festive delight that’s well worth your attention this, and every, Christmas. It is, quite simply, far better than it ever needed to be.

You can’t hear the words ‘adult pantomime’ without picturing a VHS showcasing Jim Davidson’s dead-eyed grimace presiding over a blonde underpaid model in cheap lingerie contorting herself into an unnatural pose. But I urge you to try. Yes, The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You is an adult panto – but it is one brimming with ideas, invention, humour and the sort of attention to stagecraft that can only be expected from the League.

Touring in 2005, the show came quick on the heels of the League’s cinematic debut. While The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse was all that any fan could talk about that year – and rightly so, it remains an under appreciated gem – it’s easy to forget that they also embarked on this, their second and possibly even more ambitious national tour.

“I want to fill this stage with DEAD BABIES!”

As with their first live DVD – The League of Gentlemen Live at Drury Lane – it is very much a show of two halves.

The first takes the form of a series of auditions, as various Royston Vasonians compete for starring roles in this years’ Communativity (COMMUNE-NA-TIVITY!) led by the despotic Ollie Plimsolls of Legz Akimbo Theatre Company.

Like a lot of the League’s work, this simple framing device manages to be both a nifty format and also an ingenious foundation on which to build a lot of interesting character work. As with the new road in Series One, or the nosebleed epidemic in Series Two, the nativity audition process opens the doors to a variety of weird and wonderful digressions.

And what digressions they are. Starting strong with a ‘naked’ rendition of their house rules, are Harvey and Val Denton with their nephew Benjamin (and even a surprise cameo from Chloe and Radcliffe). It’s a strong start that gives their Series Two anthem a more fitting showcase – and it certainly sets the tone for everything to come. It’s big, silly and knockabout but with a surprise sting, the sort we’ve come to expect from the four gents.

What follows, is a series of sketches from some of the most loved Vasey characters, all getting an outing that feels suitably festive.

league panto papa

“That Simon Callow, he’s a bugger, int he?”

Highlights in the first half include Herr Lipp who gets the usual barrage of double entendre – not so much giving a panto a run for it’s money, as steamrollering Widow Twanky while brandishing hard-core porn mags. But despite his mouthful of smut, the sketch also plays out as one of the more heartfelt pieces, giving Herr Lipp a bleak but oddly beautiful end.

Similarly with Les McQueen. The former rhythm guitarist for Crème Brulee (Eurovision finals 1981. Heats.) gets a lovely airing here. As much as I loved his appearance in the pervious live show, it’s nice to get him back out, centre stage, revelling in his tragicomic adventures. And this sketch brings a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings (never too far away when the League are in charge). It’s funny, sad, filled with obscure references, and a fitting finale for our lovable loser.

Speaking of endings, once of the real joys of the League’s live work is the way they play about with their reverence to the show itself. Some sketches feel like genuine continuations of what has come before, while others are unique takes on these characters, special treats crafted just for the live experience, like a joke about bumming entombed in amber. It’s hard to know which sketches genuinely spell the end for characters, and which are exciting digressions from the canon.

“Hear no evil, see you evil and… fucking evil”

The highlight for me has to be the businessmen, Geoff, Mike and Brian. Always a firm favourite, the series saw Geoff step out of the group to become a real hero of Vasey, but this show brings him back to where he belongs, as an embittered stooge to two tactless friends. Bringing the focus back to Geoff’s obsession with jokes – it’s a perfect merging of the festive setting with the characters’ long-running themes. It somehow manages to be both reassuringly familiar and full of twists so you never quite know where it’s going. Like Herr Lipp, the ending is a magical piece of misdirection that uses simple stage tricks to devastating effect.

It’s a testament to the League’s quality control that this show works as well as it does. Considering it came after a particularly gruelling year of brining a film to screen, the amount of new material Jeremy, Steve, Mark and Reece created is simply staggering. And the sketchy nature of the first half evokes a real sense of how it must have been to see them in their tuxedoed infancy each week at the Canal Café Theatre.

The finale to Act One is a real feat: the birth of Jesus as recreated by the inhabitants of the weirdest town in the north. Some characters only get a very small role (Alvin, Pops, Judy and Iris) but it works, making each one more powerful for their brevity.

As the curtain, and the backdrop, comes down on Legz Akimbo and their slapdash nativity, the stage is set for Royston Vasey’s biggest pantomime yet.

league panto pauline

“Oh yes I fucking am”

Casting obnoxious restart officer Pauline as the ultimate panto dame was a masterstroke in what unravels as a series of masterstrokes; Mickey as the hopeless hero; Papa Lazarou as the nefarious villain (complete with pantomimic name, Papa Labanazarou); and Charlie and Stella as the bickering halves of the same panto horse (possibly the most perfect pairing of season and characters).

Weaving together strands from several fairy tales, the show is more than just a passing nod to the genre, but a genuine embracing of all those elements. From beanstalks and crystal moon boots, to audience participation and traditional set pieces; it’s hard not to be swept along on the goodwill it creates.

Speaking of audience participation, the show offers up two attempts. The first, a pretend version that provides the perfect airing for Papa Lazarou’s ‘telekapathic’ powers – “George are you alright?” “Yeah, I’m alright yeah…” – the second, a hands-on session with the useless veterinary himself, Dr Chinnery.

While this segment isn’t as strong as the Herr Lipp sketch from the first tour, Gatiss makes it work with his easy charm. The element holding it back from being truly rip-roaring, is that knowledge that you probably can’t get away with actually drenching a fan with rotting cow’s innards, but the anticipation beforehand is wonderful. You really believe you’re going to witness a gruesome Chinnery sketch up-close with an unsuspecting victim on the other end of a bovine umbilical cord (do they have those?).

Having seen this show live (hence my inability to stay even remotely unbiased) it’s fair to say that the scenes omitted from the DVD do mean that you miss out on some choice League moments – hazy memories of Pauline and Cathy Carter-Smith singing Sisters for one – but that only aids the panto’s forward momentum, as it never outstays it’s welcome.

How nice it is too, to see characters from the ‘controversial’ third series, a particular favourite of mine. Dean Tavalouris, Ann, Barry Baggs and Lisgoe, Dr Carlton and even Neds and Maxi Power (in a perfectly timed cameo) help to round out the cast and show that there’s no character the League haven’t considered in this theatrical adaptation.

Sony Ericsson Empire Film Awards 2005 - Guidhall - Gresham Street

“An illusion so terrifying that if you witness it you will literally shit yourself…”

While I could go on, I doubt anyone is still reading such an ashamedly gushing review, so it feels only right that, like Tubbs, I give my epilogue an airing.

Die-hard League fans with undoubtedly already know how excellent this show is, but for those passing acquaintances, it remains a funny, unique and overlooked entry in The League of Gentlemen’s back catalogue. And more than that, it is an ideal festive treat, one that manages to infuse itself with as much good will as the types of shows it seeks to parody.

If you’re awaiting these new episodes, or dreading the thought of spending two hours in the theatre with an ex-I’m a Celeb-er and a reject from Emmerdale Farm, then you could do much worse that dipping into The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You.

Although the show is over ten years old, it still feels new. And what’s more, it’s reassuring to see writers and performers working so hard to keep their material fresh, relevant and unexpected. While little is known about these new episodes, it’s safe to say that Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are sure to deliver on the considerable expectations.

Oh yes they fucking are.



My Plan for 2017

Last year, on January 1st, I did that thing most of us foolishly do. I wrote a list of goals I wanted to achieve that year. It’s fair to say [SPOILER] few of them made it out of the notebook.

2017 will be different.

I wanted to use this post to write down my intentions for this year. Far from empty promises, I’m so determined to achieve them; I started laying the groundwork in 2016 just to make sure they happened.

So, what will I be doing in 2017?

  1. Having Babies*

Not strictly writing, this, but still pretty important.

Last year my wife and I discovered we were expecting not one, but two babies – the ultimate BOGOF. I am beyond excited about the chance to be a dad twice and it remains the biggest, and scariest task of 2017 and, depending on how well it goes, beyond.

However, being a horrific show-off, I’ve already found a way to mine it for my own ends. Hence the second thing I’ll be doing.

  1. Writing a Parenting Blog

It’s been a while since I contributed a weekly column to Giggle Beats and I have missed that discipline, as evidenced by the poor upkeep of this site.

Introducing my new weekly parenting blog, Twinsights. It’s a chance to voice the ups and downs of raising two babies simultaneously, embracing the wonder of parenting and the thrill of childbirth.

It’s not. It’s basically an excuse to write jokes about cervix and make fun of two tiny things who can’t defend themselves. It’s going to be fun.

I’ve already made a start to check it out here:


  1. Create a Web Series

And finally, the third and most exciting plan for this year (after the baby thing) is the return of Jerry Bucham.

Jerry Bucham: Freelance Activist

For those who don’t know Jerry, and that amounts to a large percentage of the population, he’s a protest singer character I used to perform on the stand up circuit.

I’m resurrecting him for a web series and I’m very excited about it. I’ve been trying to create a web series for ages now but through one thing and another, it’s never really come off. Finally I hit on a way of doing it that got me excited, and I found myself laughing afresh at the material I was writing, which is nice.

The series will be launching imminently but for now keep up to Jerry’s whereabouts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


2016 was a year of ups and downs creatively for me. I’ve certainly lost some of my drive and a lot of my confidence, but I finally feel like I’m taking my comedy writing into my own hands.

Trust me to wait until I’m raising two babies to do it.

Bring it on, 2017. I’m ready.


* In all fairness, it will be my wife doing the ‘having’.

I’m working on something…


A red button with the words "Take action" on itI won’t mince my words: I’m working on an idea for a web series.

‘Why do you care?’ you’re probably asking yourself. Though ‘why do I care?’ would be a more obvious wording choice.

Well, to be honest with you, this blog post isn’t for you. It’s for me.

I’ve spent a great deal of this year (and the last couple of years) working on different ideas but lacking in any sense of decisiveness. So this is me nailing my flag to the mast. I need to make something. I miss it.

Some will know, but most won’t (or won’t care): I used to do stand-up. Did it for nearly four years. I loved performing. I loved writing jokes and standing up in front of an audience, trying them out, refining them and, most importantly, getting laughs.

There are few things I love as much as comedy (my wife mainly) it has always been my passion. If anyone tells you heroine is addictive, tell them to try cracking jokes about Ronan Keating to an assorted crowd in Newcastle on a Wednesday night. They haven’t lived!


I quit stand up a couple of years ago because, amongst other things, my passion for it had started to wane. I loved the moment of being on stage but found myself fed up with a lot of the ‘other stuff’.

My goal has always been to write and perform on television, and stand-up seemed like good training for that. But I soon realised that for many, stand-up isn’t training. It’s the real deal. As I wasn’t shitting, I decided to get off the pot. Make way for others that wanted it more than me. That way I could focus on writing and performing in the things I love.

After a few small successes and some near misses and I find myself here: without much to put my name to and be proud of. I want this to change.

I’ve lost a lot of confidence in my own ability over this last couple of years. Creativity is always a tightrope walk between moments of inspiration and the realisation you’re a weird bloke in a stupid wig filming yourself in the bathroom. For some reason a lot of my ideas recently have been plagued with doubt. Worries it isn’t funny, or will be too difficult to pull off, a sense that someone else will be able to do the same idea but better. I never used to be like this but now I am and it’s exhausting.

So I’m working on a web series because I’ve always wanted to do one, and now I have an idea that I like and think will work. It may not; it might fall flat on its face. But if I don’t make a determined effort to make it work, I’ll probably end up wasting more time and energy worrying.

I’ve been inspired by a lot of great people on Twitter recently – I really recommend checking out Match Not Found, Cops and Monsters, Mina Murray’s Journal and Dear Jesus. All staggering achievements and it would be nice to make my own little contribution to the world of web series.

So I’m working on something. And I couldn’t be happier.

What the Piña Colada Song Taught Me About Writing


If you’re one of the few people who’s forgotten to listen to Escape by Rupert Holmes, then I pity you. Not only are you missing out on one of the most powerful cocktail-themed songs of the seventies but you’ve overlooked one of the bravest performances in an M&S sweater/shirt combo ever committed to celluloid.

More than that, however, Escape open brackets The Piña Colada Song close brackets – to give it it’s full title – is a master class in story telling. Better than Dickens, bolder than Shakespeare and richer than a Julia Donaldson yarn, Escape not only awoken (awaked?) my love of music (and milk-based cocktails) but unleashed my inner writer.

Put simply, I learnt everything I know about writing from Escape (The Piña Colada Song).

So, let’s start with the basics. It’s got three verses. Three verses, three acts. Textbook. If that doesn’t hint at what Rupert ‘The Dreamweaverer’ Holmes is doing, then nothing does.

So, the first line:

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long…

BANG! In one line, Rupert has set the scene. The protagonist (himself), the antagonist (his ‘lady’) and the situation – a loveless sham of a relationship – it’s all there. Then he goes on…

Like a worn out recording of a favourite song…

This is both a nice bit of creative symbolism, and also Meta-commentary about the predetermined success of this very song. Tarantino couldn’t write that shit. The layers to this song are only beginning to unfurl.

So while she lay there sleepin’ I read the paper in bed

This line, more than any in the song, gets to the heart of Escape’s storytelling technique – misdirection. Essentially a ballad made up of exposition, Escape feeds you all the important information without ever showing its hand. You think this line is there to introduce the paper into this scenario – the media being a catalyst for most of the world’s woes – but actually; it slyly reintroduces the ‘lady’ into the narrative. After all, she’s The Piña Colada Song’s loaded gun. Cocked in the first verse, she doesn’t go off until Act Three.

Checkhov would be jamming his pants.

Then you get the chorus. Not much storytelling going on there, you might think. WRONG! It is rich with character detail. Let’s unpick it, shall we?

If you like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain…

So this is someone who likes Piña Coladas. What does that tell us? They like a drink, they’re open to exotic things, they use alcohol as a means of introducing themselves. And where do these star-crossed lovers first meet? A bar, what else?

But what about the rain? Well, what is the rain but bad weather, and what are these two going through, but a stormy time in their relationship. Going deeper, rain is a part of the water cycle. These two reject their current relationship, yet accidentally reply to each other’s personal ads, proving their behavioural patterns are cyclical. Just like rain.

It’s. All. On. Point.

If you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape…

This song reminds us we shouldn’t trust beaches. They’re deceptive. There could be fag butts in there, some broken glass, a dog turd – sand dunes hide the grim reality of summer holidays. A bit like personal ads do with their authors.

A scene of passion

Verse two goes on to mention this elusive ‘lady’ not once, but twice, further cementing her presence in this song. For anyone who previously thought she was a passive character, you’re about to have your preconceptions blow away.

Let’s look a little more closely – does Escape pass the Bechdel Test?

Well, does it feature more than one woman? Theres the ‘lady’ AND the mysterious woman from the ad – so two. Do they talk about something other than a man? Well, considering they both keep rattling on about yoga and rum-based drinks, I’d say so. So is this song a unequivocal success for female representation? Yep!

The second chorus mainly revisits a lot of the themes of the first, but also manages to throw in this line:

I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow night and cut through all this red tape

…which has to be one of the more beautiful sexual euphemisms in the whole song.

cutting a red ribbon

And so to the final verse, best to let this one speak for itself.

So I waited with high hopes and she walked in the place

I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curves of her face

It was my own lovely lady and she said “oh, it’s you”

Woah! What a twist, what a gut punch. Like many great twist endings – The Sixth Sense (it was Bruce Willis the whole time), Se7en (it’s in the box!) and The Crying Game (cock and balls) – the twist is so satisfying because you don’t expect it. And yet, somehow, you do.

Who would have thought that this hapless home wrecker would find love in the arms of an alcoholic exhibitionist? And what’s more, he’s already seeing her. The couple’s love rekindled through their appreciation of mutual deception. The romance of a generation.


Bruce knew all along.

So there we have it. A masterclass in story telling. Tell McKee to do one, and chuck the Cat in the bin – this is everything you need to know about writing in one song. A story about reignited love, crafted using rich characters, deceptive exposition, bold plot twists, relatable emotions, coconut milk/coconut cream and 3 parts pineapple juice.

Stay tuned for more writing tips!

RIP Ronnie

When people talk about the ‘Golden Age’ it’s hard to know when they’re referring to. If one thing’s for sure, nobody’s talking about 2016.

It’s only the end of March, and already we’ve lost more iconic figures than is good for our national identity. Or our impressionists. Between David Bowie, Terry Wogan and now, tragically, Ronnie Corbett, we’re all but empty of national treasures.

In fact, in this last week alone, comedy has lost both Mr Corbett and Garry Shandling. You couldn’t get two comedians who sit more comfortably at either end of the spectrum. If the ‘rule of three’ is to be believed, then somewhere, Jethro is holed up in an oxygen tent.

For me, the Golden Age was in my teens. Not because it was a drug and alcohol-fuelled celebration of sexual awakening – far from it. At a time when I withdrew quite a lot, nervous, shy, unsure of myself, I was locked away in my bedroom watching comedy.

Why have a fumble outside the Youth Club when you could watch a creaky VHS of The Goodies and the Beanstalk?

While many people my age were embracing up-and-coming comedians, or better yet, living their lives, I was looking back at the decades I’d missed, drinking it in. And there, in the middle of it all were The Two Ronnies.

Quite simply two of the funniest men I’ve ever laid eyes on. Their shows were rich with comic invention – from their gag-based news items, technically flawless sketches, and their knockabout musical numbers; to the vocal dexterity of Ronnie B’s monologues, and the warm, personal setting of Ronnie C’s chats to camera. While many sketch shows struggle to nail one tone, The Two Ronnies nailed several, consistently, and always in the funniest way possible.

I often think back to when I watched those sketches for the first time, jealous that I can’t discover them afresh. There was something incredibly potent about that time. I was still forming my sense of humour and subjecting it to a diverse range of comedy. Each viewing brought new inspirations and new techniques, I was bubbling with ideas and bursting with laughter.

Soon the desire to watch Two Ronnies’ sketches wasn’t enough. Like an upwardly mobile crack addict, I wanted something better, something stronger. So I took to performing them at school.

Long before the Internet had become the encyclopedia of cack it is today, I would have to transcribe the sketches from VHS, obsessing over comic perfection in painstaking detail. Undoubtedly, the best sketch writing education you could get.

I’ve never had the experience of trying to sneak material past broadcast censors, but I imagine it’s not dissimilar to convincing your English teacher to let you perform the ‘OXO’ gag from the Crossed Lines sketch. With the help of a small group of friends, we performed several classic Two Ronnies sketches, including a pretty ambitious recreation of the Sailor Gals song. This was beyond a dream come true, performing these classics, paying tribute to the men that made me laugh.

Not long after, the itch came again and the writing started. I formed a sketch group with two friends. The blueprint was clearly, shamelessly, The Two Ronnies. I still believe the best thing I’ve ever written was a sketch from around this time. It’s not so much a blood relation to The Two Ronnies, more a morally dubious cloning experiment gone wrong.

I would rush home from school each evening, binge watch comedy videos (way before Netflix made it popular) then write until the early hours. This period was rich with creation in a way I haven’t matched since. While it’s worrying to think I may have peaked at 16, it remains a special time to me. It was the Golden Age.

So much of that is down to Ronnie Corbett, a man whose humour, excitement and passion were visible until the very end, as this tribute sketch proves. He was a man who separately, and with the irreplaceable Ronnie Barker (no offense Kevin Bishop), created numerous iconic moments of tearful laughter.

Ronnie Corbett was an utter perfectionist. Technically flawless, but rich with warmth and charm, open and encouraging of new talent, he was a true Comedy Legend. And living in a world without him? Well, that’s no one’s idea of a Golden Age.

Thoughts on BBC’s Comedy Playhouse – Hospital People


So, where do I start with Hospital People? I have a lot of conflicting views about this episode of the latest Comedy Playhouse series. Not least because it’s the type of show I’ve spent most of my comedy career trying to create.

And now, having seen it, I’m glad I never did.

That’s not to say that Hospital People is bad, far from it. It has a lot of potential with some great lines and performances from character comedian, Tom Binns. However, for me, the biggest selling points of this show are also the reasons it doesn’t quite hold together.

Firstly, multiple characters. When I said this was the type of show I’ve always wanted to create, I say that as a former character comedian who spent far too much time trying to create personas that could work both on stage, and in a narrative show. In fact, I’m still writing scripts for these characters now, even though the chances of me playing them are slipping away faster than a greased up turd on a glacier.

But as for Hospital People, the collection of characters – while strong in their own right – feel like they struggle when in competition with each other. Some feel crowbarred in for the sake of it, especially the hypochondriac patient, while other larger than life ones, particularly live-favourite Ian D Montford, feel chronically undersold.


Taking the psychic character away from all the trappings of that world – cold readings, healings, messages from beyond – strip him of a rich source of comic material. While these elements do feature, they seem more of like lip service instead of being the foundations of a character that’s either exploiting vulnerable people or who genuinely believes he has a connection to the other side. Both of which feel like fascinating, untapped subject matter.

And that’s my issue with the use of multiple characters, while I’ve always loved that as a concept, I feel these characters would be better served at the centre of several strong sitcoms, as opposed to juggling them in a documentary/sketch format.

This is especially clear when you get to Ivan Brackenbury. I’m a huge fan of Binns’ live work, and it’s great to finally see Brackenbury on TV. However, what worked for him live – his radio broadcasts – hold him back in this show.


To have Ivan sitting behind a desk interacting with jingles and little else gives his segments an inert feeling that’s very tangible. While there are traces of story coming through, especially with his ambitious assistant Shaz played by Mandeep Dhillon, it’s not enough to really let us gain insight into who he is. Any pieces to camera feel like another opportunity to drop in a bit of stand-up, as opposed to revealing more about his goals and aims. In addition to this, his passion for Hospital Radio means that he has nothing to aim for, as he’s already achieved everything he wants to aspire to. The writers (Binns and Matt Morgan) are clearly setting up conflict with the arrival of the new ward TVs, but it comes so late in the episode that it’s not enough to feel like a mission for him.

Now, an Ivan Brackenbury sitcom in which he loses his position at the hospital within the first few minutes, then spends the rest of the episodes trying to claw it back – or better still, aim for a job on national radio – would help us invest in the character and his struggle. Especially for such a sad character, seeing him try and fail would make the comedy even stronger and add weight to his inherent tragedy. He feels bound by the restrictive nature of a workplace documentary.

And this comes to my second major issue with this show – the documentary format.


As someone who’s recently re-binged the entirety of The Office: An American Workplace, I still feel like there’s a lot of life left in the format, however that usually goes hand-in-hand with having something to say about it.

The documentary, as set up by Hospital People, doesn’t feel real. I’m not convinced we really have documentaries like this nowadays, the real format has moved on, so the parody versions should do the same.

The difficulty is, when you look at The Hotel, First Dates or Educating Yorkshire, they’re pitched and structured like a narrative comedy so they leave very little space for parodies to occupy. But even then, reshaping Hospital People as a show like The Hotel would let you hit the ground running with a voice over that could easily drive the plot forward while connecting the dots between each character.

Ultimately, a documentary doesn’t feel right for these characters. The format seems to have been chosen as a way of bringing disparate characters together in one location, and giving them the opportunity to deliver jokes direct to camera. And it’s this reluctance to let go of that live format that hinders the show – and in particular Ivan Brackenbury.

Comedy Playhouse: Hospital People
Programme Name: Comedy Playhouse: Hospital People – TX: 26/02/2016 – Episode: Comedy Playhouse: Hospital People (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: Susan Mitchell (TOM BINNS) – (C) Roughcut Televison Limited – Photographer: Andy Hollingworth

Going back to my character comedy past, no matter how I detailed I was when creating characters, the difficulty would always be the jump from joke delivery to funny dialogue with other characters. It’s a tough act to juggle and, inevitably, you end up clinging to the material you know will work. But unless your character is Alan Partridge, you really can’t get away with reciting reams of hilarious monologues.

In writing scripts for my characters, the one thing I’ve come to understand is that in order to let your show flourish, you have to be willing to sacrifice certain elements you initially loved. And for all of Hospital People’s merits, it doesn’t seem willing to euthanise it’s flaws.

Thoughts on BBC’s Comedy Playhouse – Stop/Start

The other night I finally caught up with the recent series of Comedy Playhouse. I say ‘finally’ but truth be told, I didn’t even realise I’d missed it.

I don’t want to go full rant, but I love BBC comedy and feel like I’m pretty good at keeping on top of current developments, so it concerns me that the Beeb can launch a new series of pilots, and yet, it can completely pass me by. I’m not saying I’m the demographic they should be chasing, I just worry that if I can miss these shows on their first run, then the majority of casual viewers will miss out too. That’s a worry, seeing as this new series of Comedy Playhouse has a bit of something for everyone.

Firstly, Stop/Start, a new multi-camera sitcom from Jack Docherty. It follows the lives of three couples as they share their intimate moments with the audience, while dealing with the complications of being part of a committed relationship. A lot of people have compared it to Peep Show, and I can see why, but I actually think it’s closer in approach to How Not to Live Your Life. And even Craig David’s Seven Days video.

The show plays out like a standard sitcom, only at various times the characters ‘stop’ the action to explain their feelings to the audience. While the show has already enjoyed some success of radio, I personally struggled with its television format. I haven’t heard the radio show but I can image how the ‘stop-starting’ sounds, and that it feels natural within the context of the show, hearing internal monologues like Peep Show, yet when you’re watching it acted out in front of you, the constant pausing has a jarring effect, halting the action and character repartee in favour of jokes that don’t really add anything.

Miranda Hart.jpg (1200×630)

Miranda was another show which routinely paused the action for direct to camera sections, and yet managed to pull it off with ease. I think the reason for that has to do, not only with Miranda’s character – which felt big enough to have an understanding of life outside the show – but also because it featured one clear P.O.V.

At any one time, Stop/Start offers up six opinions while trying to seamlessly tie them into a unifying narrative. It’s a tough job and while I did enjoy lots of elements within the show, I actually felt this hook was its undoing. There was something odd about characters competitively sharing their inner thoughts that actually made the show feel less ‘real’, stripping these relationships of warmth and honesty. A couple of moments really stuck out as being somewhat bluntly horrible; revelations I couldn’t accept as believable (even though they were) because I hadn’t warmed to the characters and format.

With Peep Show you’re privy to Mark and Jeremy’s thoughts, but they are informed by, and in turn inform, their actions. Large chunks of this show seemed to use these ‘asides’ to simply play out longer stand-up routines on a variety of topics, or to show that characters had conflicting views, which should be the least we’d expect from a sitcom anyway.

maxresdefault.jpg (1920×1080)

All this sounds very negative, but actually, there was a warmth and playfulness that kept me onside for the episode. While it seemed to rely too heavily on the well-worn idiotic husband and nagging wife trope, often to the detriment of having anything interesting to say about relationships, the cast were uniformly great (although Laura Aikman seems miscast and struggled to generate the laughs she’s capable of).

For me, the stand out was Nigel Havers who really seems to have embraced self-mockery. That could be because he had a little more definition to his character than just ‘a bloke’. While there was nothing particularly remarkable about Docherty’s character, I’ll admit as a performer he’s endlessly watchable, and with stronger material he’d be an incredibly safe pair of hands to lead any ensemble.

I did feel the performances were pitched slightly too high for the show. I get that it’s a studio sitcom, but it does feel like we’ve lost the ability to combine subtle acting with broad humour. Despite bigger moments, Only Fools and Horses always managed to deftly balance ‘real’ performances. With a hook that’s designed to draw you out of the action, softer performances may have helped ease those transitions.

In addition to that, I did feel the show lacked any real diversity. What could easily have been written as a similar set up to Modern Family; pitting different character lifestyles against each other, Stop/Start chose to focus on three middle class, middle aged, white relationships. I’ve nothing against that, but especially with these broadly drawn characters, it seemingly offers less to play with in the grand scheme of things.

I do hope they make more of Stop/Start as I feel it has the potential to become a strong studio sitcom contender for BBC1, I just hope they can soften the characters a little and find some genuinely revelatory things to say about relationships.

Because, that’s the thing with opinions, they’re only worth hearing if they’re interesting.

I’ll be back later to discuss the other two episodes from the series, Hospital People and Broken Biscuits.  

My Thoughts on Zoolander 2

This review contains spoilers for Zoolander 2. (And the first one, but you’ve only yourself to blame if you haven’t seen it.)


When I was young, a sequel to a much-loved film was to be cherished. Like Moses coming down the mountain with stone-based guidelines, it was a rare occurrence. Now, like a parish priest’s weekly sermon: it’s expected, often a little too long, and always underwhelming.

So it was that they announced Zoolander 2. My heart soared. One of my favourite comedies of the last 15 years, I took to the first film instantly, unlike most cinema-going audiences. There was something about the fusing of sheer stupidity and conspiracy ‘thriller’ that really caught my imagination.

Unfortunately, it seems few people’s imaginations were ensnared by Z2.

I’m not a person who usually goes into a film with low expectations, but it’s fair to say that, despite my excitement, when I sat down to watch Zoolander 2, my expectations were limbo dancing with Gary Coleman. As it turns out, that apprehension was well founded. Zoolander 2 was a bit of a disappointment. A few good moments and some excellent Zoolanderisms aside, it was a let down.


Surprisingly for a sequel, it wasn’t due to a lack of ambition. I love Ben Stiller as a Director – I find him comparable to Edgar Wright in terms of visual kineticism (thank you Media Studies AS Level). In his vision and scope for Zoolander 2, he pretty much delivers. Yet when it comes to jokes and story, increasingly, I find him less assured.

The main issue for me is that this film has nothing to say. An odd criticism when you consider that the first one touched on topics like playful petro fights and whether or not saying ‘earth to…’ constitutes intergalactic communication. However, when you actually look at the first Zoolander, it had a very clear viewpoint.

The plot was centred on the fashion industry’s attempts to derail child labour laws in Malaysia. Well-known fashion figures were painted as Bond-esque villains, hiding in the shadows, dishing out executions to tip the political balance in their favour. Yes it was silly, but it was saying something. Compare it to Z2’s cameo-laden finale in which real fashion icons were invited to back-slap along with the start, and the filmmaker’s point of view starts to feel hollow.


The same can be said of Matilda (Christine Taylor, given the shortest shrift of all returnees). In the first film, her great tragedy was her childhood struggle with bulimia at the hands of impossible body standards and fashion magazines. Again, no one’s saying Zoolander was the new Battleship Potemkin, but it’s definitely a more insightful approach than what Z2 does with Taylor’s replacement, Penelope Cruz, and her inability to break into catwalk modelling because her breasts were too voluptuous. Cue erection joke.

Without such a clear focus, the result is a sequel un-tethered from anything resembling reality. Fashion model assassins may have been moronic, but it was get-able. Eternal youth and human sacrifices feel like a film grasping at a plot – especially when the villain reveals it’s all made up anyway. And at one point, a woman swims with all the power of a genetically altered dolphin. Real, this isn’t.

The film flip-flops between half-telling an elaborate, mythical story and then undermining it. Everything is pasted over with pointless celebrity cameos and failed attempts at meta-humour. Characters that blatantly signal their emotional exposition isn’t a joke, it’s lazy writing.

zoolander-cumberbatch copy-large

And that brings us on to Benedict Cumberbatch, in the first of his roles that no one really wants to see (soon to be followed by his turn in A Sort of Scientist: The Prof. Brian Cox Story). He plays (albeit briefly) the androgynous model ‘All’. The point of the scene, I’m assuming, is to show us Zoolander’s inability to grasp the modern fashion world, and indeed, society. But, unsurprisingly, it feels misjudged.

I can absolutely see why the transgender community would find this offensive, even if it’s played as wrong. But when you consider the fact that Hansel’s entire plotline is his relationship with members of an orgy (including a goat, a gimp and Kiefer Sutherland), then none of the characters’ views feel consistent, even in the admittedly ridiculous world the film creates.

How can truly pansexual characters (certainly compared to Deadpool) be unable to accept other members of the LGBT community? It’s this lack of consistency, as well as the unnecessarily harsher tone, that annoys me.


Not only that, but in the 15 year interim it seems that while the writers, Stiller, Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller, have remembered a lot of the jokes from the original – hence their endless repetition – they’ve forgotten why they were funny. The result is like watching your favourite meal being reheated by candle light – slow and lukewarm.

Many of the jokes don’t land like you’d hope they would, some being so sign-posted that you’re just killing time until they arrive. There are occasional flashes of the humour that made the first what it was (the ‘slash’ conversation with Billy Zane is a worthy successor to the aforementioned ‘earth to…’ scene) but they’re few and far between.


One of my favourite moments from the original is Derek’s agent, Maury Ballstein (Stiller Sr. tragically absent this time), discussing zip disk files and whether he can reheat a casserole with his wife, via blue tooth during the film’s climax. It’s a moment of truthful comedy that nicely grounds the ridiculous elements.

There’s none of that here. It feels like the writers were throwing out jokes in the hope that they’d not only stick, but hopefully congeal into a faintly tangible plot. The first film was tightly scripted with a high gag rate and a story that at least played with the conventions of a mystery plot – this fumbles around hitting beats that should offer up moments of comic invention or intrigue, but rarely do.

It was always going to be compared to Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, but where that film had a new direction and a story to tell (the rise of 24 hour news channels), Zoolander 2 looks is still scrabbling round trying to find it’s pants by the time the credits role.


All in all, I wanted to like Zoolander 2; and seeing Stiller, Wilson and Farrell return to those familiar roles was enough to plaster a smile of my face for the majority of the runtime. Unfortunately, despite what the filmmakers might think, that wasn’t enough. In a film that urges its main character to remember who he is in order to save the day, it’s a shame the Stiller and co. didn’t learn the same lesson.

If Found, Please Resuscitate

I just wanted to write a quick piece about the proposal to close Huddersfield Royal Infirmary’s A&E Department. In a word: don’t.

There doesn’t have to be just one way. 

I don’t often get on my high horse about things – let’s be honest, I barely blog at all – but this feels like a political horse worth mounting.

It’s OK, as long as we still have our dignity.

I don’t want to get into the politics of this decision, namely because I’m not really clever enough to comprehend them. But also because here isn’t the place to remind people that the poor management of the NHS, by the government, means that a national service we should be both proud of and thankful for, has been decimated and left to fester.

Nevertheless, the fact this decision is down to the financial mishandling of other hospitals, is frankly ridiculous.

So no, I’m not getting into the politics of it. I just want to mention that this issue – above everything – is about saving lives.

We’re obliviously fortunate to live in a country where everyone has access to free healthcare. That right is gradually being eroded away, and when all is said and done, this issue is not about tax money wasted or even, I’m sad to say, doctors, nurses and staff losing jobs, but it’s about endangering the lives of anyone who cannot afford to pay for healthcare. Which in these austeratorial (not actual word) times, counts for a great many of us

If Huddersfield A&E closes, it will put thousands of lives at risk. To go without access to emergency treatment on your door step, is not a shame, it’s a social injustice. No one – rich or poor – should be without that basic human right.

Santa’s more rebellious phase.

Of course, the idea is to move the emergency department to Calderdale Hospital but that’s no solution at all. It simply puts greater strain on already vulnerable people, at moments in their lives when time may be of the essence. If you think that sounds overly dramatic, this eye-opening article from the brilliant Standard Issue should show how, literally, minutes can count.

It’s a dangerous game to treat A&E departments like pieces on a Monopoly board, moving them round until the payments feel more manageable. For a start, Monopoly is dull as shit, but at least it doesn’t end with a string of dead bodies – overlooked elderly people in need of care, young vulnerable infants more susceptible to illnesses, and yes, even us averagely healthy people who can’t be trusted not to fall down stairs or bite the insides of our cheek. We all need protecting.

Who knew teething had a down side?

None of this is to mention the considerable strain that this decision would put onto Calderdale Hospital.

Now, in the interest of transparency, I live in Halifax. However, my reason for caring is not because I might have to wait a little bit longer when I go for my bi-annual stomach pumping, but because hundreds of thousands of people – in Huddersfield and Halifax – are at substantial risk. That’s in excess of 250,000* people who could find themselves needing assistance in one facility.

I urge you to do what you can to support this fight – at the very least, please sign the petition to stop this decision. (That rhymed, it wasn’t meant to.)

You may not see the point if you’re cosy and safe in Gateshead, or sitting in your ivory tower in Surrey, or even on a weekend away in Nantwich. The fact is, there’s also a proposal to close the Trafford General Hospital Emergency Care Unit – and no doubt others – so what’s to stop them closing more?

You can be sure that the vulnerable staff members at Huddersfield probably won’t find work in Halifax, and that any money saved during the closure will not then be ploughed into improving the level of care available to patients. The inevitable truth is, hospitals will become even more overcrowded, while remaining chronically underfunded and woefully under-staffed.

My heart goes out to all nurses, doctors, junior doctors and NHS staff in general. They’re at the front line of a job most of us wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do. Yet, if these proposals are the sign of what’s to come, pretty soon they won’t have jobs to worry about. Then the country really will be a dangerous place to live.

I pray for our inner cheeks.


Please sign the petition to stop the closure of Huddersfield A&E department.


*I Googled these figures so don’t quote me, it also claims that Leslie Nielsen has died again.

The First Post of the Rest of My Life

Starting off in style. Again.

So, I return to this neglected wasteland of self-promotion.

Sorry for the wait.

At the moment, I don’t really have much to report – other than this marks a point in time, where I feel I should start documenting my journey as I attempt to re-double my efforts and make a damn good go of this creative stuff. Hence the new-look site.

It’s not that I haven’t been trying this last couple of years, I have. And yet, for numerous reasons whenever I get a sniff of success or start to feel like things are heading in the ‘right’ direction (wherever that is), my nerves tend to kick in and my self-doubt really makes itself at home. So it is that, I start to doubt my abilities and convictions which, for someone wanting to sustain a creative career, is a bit of a shitter.

Anyway, I don’t intend this post to be too long – or indeed overly in-depth about my struggles with motivation and confidence, but suffice to say, I really feel like I’m starting to knuckle down now and making a determined effort to achieve the things I want to achieve. So here goes…

Of course, none of this is to suggest I’ll get any better at updating this bloody thing, but if I do, well then – huzzah!