Whilst I am still gigging regularly at The Comedy Store, XS Malarkey and the 99 Club but one offs will be scarce or non-existent because…
Most of the rest of this year will be taken up with putting my forthcoming book about Quatermass (from Miwk Publishing) together. I recently secured some fantastic interviews and this month there is a lot of paperwork to be trawled though, some of it containing some pretty exciting things…
I will be spending the summer doing Shakespeare in the open air again: more details to follow once it’s all set in stone.
If you haven’t already, get Tales from New Earth : out now from Big Finish. There’ve been a few more very positive reviews about it recently, including one in the official Doctor Who Magazine which, ahem, says … “In a blistering performance, Hadoke makes Oscar an instantly memorable and irresistibly endearing character.” So that’s nice.
A couple more Fantom Films Who Talks are out this month, and I’m on both of them, discussing such disparate fare as The Massacre and Revenge of the Cybermen with such key players as director Michael E Briant, actors Peter Purves, Chris Tranchell and David Collings, script editor Donald Tosh and more… Details here.
This month at XS Malarkey there are some great acts on including the delightfully pesky Jenny Collier doing her first ever headline gig for us. She will doubtless do lots of fabulous material – softly spoken but surprisingly near the knuckle which will have everyone in hysterics. Edinburgh Award nominee Jordan Brookes, who is very difficult to describe – except to say that he’s very funny but not in a way that anybody else is – returns More details at theXS Malarkey Website.
Ongoing news but good news …
My dramatisation of Nigel Kneale’s famous lost television play, The Road, for Radio 4 was recorded in Maida Vale at the beginning of February. The cast is phenomenal : Mark Gatiss, Adrian Scarborough, Hattie Morahan, Colin McFarlane, Susan Wokoma, Francis Magee and Ralph Ineson. It will be the Halloween Fright Night production for BBC Radio 4 on October 27th. It is one of my proudest achievements. STOP PRESS: There will be a tie in event on the night in Manchester – so don’t go making any plans! More details to follow…
Well, this one would be no surprise as it follows on from the first snippet used at the end of episode 139. We don’t just talk to this composer (and fan!) about his own work though, we explore his insights into and friendships with other music maestros from Doctor Who’s history in a most enlightening chat.
And we edge ever closer to the end of the project’s first incarnation…
Examining the extraordinary role of HG Wells in the creation of the nuclear bomb 70 years ago – how a simple, devastating idea led to the world we know today.
In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells imagined bombs that destroy civilisation and lead to a new world order. But his “atomic bombs” – a name he conceived – are grenades that keep on exploding.
How did this idea become a reality?
The very talented (and sunniest, most charming fellow) Simon Guerrier asked me to provide a few voices for this documentary presented by Samira Ahmed and co-produced by another talented and charming Guerrier (there must be something in the family porridge), Simon’s brother Tom.
It’s quite an eclectic array from Yours Truly but hopefully they don’t all sound like me – and if they do I hope it doesn’t detract from what is a fascinating documentary which can be heard here until early August.
A couple of weeks ago I was very sad to learn of the death of Ray Lonnen – a fine, understated actor who took part in a couple of television shows that deserve to be remembered for a very long time: namely Harry’s Game and The Sandbaggers.I had the good fortune of visiting Ray a couple of times – most recently an evening a couple of months ago of fish and chips a chatting about his good friend Richard Shaw. Ray had showed me some paintings he had which had been done by Richard and kindly offered to share his memories of the late Quatermass actor. Ray had a lot of empathy for others and behind the considered decency that emanated from him was a twinkle and a wry sense of humour. He and his lovely wife Tara were extremely hospitable and I had kept in touch with them since I interviewed them both for my Who’s Round project last year. They, along with their good friend Bernard Holley, came to see my West End double bill in November despite Ray being in a lot of pain. I was flattered to have known him and pleased to have had the opportunity to provide Ray’s Guardian obituary here. I can’t thank Tara enough for her help with this – her positive attitude and encouragement for others even shining through at a most difficult time for her and the family. If the world is a bit of a struggle sometimes, following Tara on Twitter is recommended – she’s an empathic person with an infectious optimism : find her at @TaraWardBooks.
My Who’s Round interview with Ray and Tara can be found here.
It’s typical of the fellow that the last contact I had from him was after he found out my other half’s name: it’s unusual and he postulated that it might have been inspired by a film of the same name. I admitted that I thought that that was the case but that I didn’t know much about it. After a short time there was an email from Ray with a link to the movie and everything about it. He was a thoughtful man for whom nothing was too much trouble.
I have been banging on about Dr Mizara and derma-psychology without much context, so here are a few words about psoriasis and mental health.Opening this world up to me has been a revelation, and after a lengthy spell under her guidance, I think I have made improvements which help to alleviate the stress and black feelings that often accompany this otherwise marvellous and hilarious condition.
All of the following figures have been thoroughly researched and collated and have come my way via the See Psoriasis, Look Deeper* group on which I sit alongside various experts:
(i) 1.8 million people in this country have psoriasis, and it affects men and women in equal measure.
(ii) Of those 1.8 million, 20% are on antI-depressants or something similar (in the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am not among that 20%)
(iii) 32% have problems with alcohol (hmm, I may be close personal friends with at least some of that 32% – we might even holiday together occasionally).
(iv) 33% experience depression and anxiety (I belong to all the best clubs).
(v) 85% feel annoyed by the condition (no surprise there – an itchy, painful, unsightly thing is found to be annoying: what’s next? 85% of people find Jeremy Clarkson to be a boorish git? Shocker!).
(vi) 20% report rejection and stigmatisation as a result of having it (I’m always being rejected and stigmatised but I tend to blame me for that rather than my psoriasis).
(vii) 10% have contemplated suicide (yes).
Psoriasis treatment needs to look at more than the surface manifestation of the condition. No amount of creams will get to its cause – and if you are sent away with a massive prescription but no examination of your emotional welfare then you are being shortchanged. If your GP regards psoriasis as merely a skin ailment then they are wrong. This isn’t to criticise GPs by the way – in training the average GP barely scratches the surface of dermatology, let alone psoriasis: and as we all know, scratching the surface merely irritates it (ho, ho).
The basics of this are obvious. If you have a blemish people notice : they stare, they react, they recoil.This makes the sufferer self-conscious and creates feelings of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem often leads to lifestyle choices (demotivated regarding exercise, recourse to alcohol, eating crap) which mitigate against successfully tackling the skin problem. These choices can also have side-effects which produce other conditions that have been found to be heavily related to psoriasis (like heart disease and diabetes). And it’s not just the lack of kindness from strangers that is problematic: psoriasis can adversely affect everything from family holiday plans to sexual relationships (“Do you wanna come back to my place, but bear in mind that you may have to hoover yourself afterwards,” is never going to be the chat up line of the century). To be frank, it is there all the time.
And this isn’t about people feeling sorry for themselves and needing to buck up: and tackling it would be financially beneficial in the long run.Society would benefit from psoriasis sufferers not taking as much time off work as they do (up to 26 days a year are lost from patients being unable to work – at its worst it hurts like hell) or being unemployable (your options are limited if your appearance is deemed unpleasant or wrongly assumed to be unhygienic). Unemployment is three times more likely for a psoriasis sufferer than for the scab free – a functioning, tax paying patient whose psoriasis is under control is a much more cost effective member of society. Also, getting to the nub of a patient’s mental health issues will save the NHS money in the long term as other, expensive treatments are needed less.
Psoriasis treatment is time consuming and requires a huge investment from the patient: when I was
having light treatment I was having to commit to three days a week in my box of delights. As a self-employed person I was fortunate enough to be able to wangle this but it was still difficult. For someone who isn’t a professional gobshite and has things to do during the day it must be a nightmare.
For more on See Psoriasis, Look Deeper, go here,* but if you are a psoriasis patient you must not feel bad about bringing up any feelings of anxiety or stress that you may have, as they are very likely linked to your condition. Once this is understood and acted upon, coping strategies can be implemented. For years I feared much of my difficulty with seemingly straightforward Life Issues was because I was a useless twat. Actually it turns out that it was because I had psoriasis.
The fact that I am a useless twat has very little to do with it.
*Do follow this link – there’s much more information and a lot of pictures.
There are no small parts, only small actors they say. “They” usually being your agent or other actors trying to make you feel better because most of the lines you had when you were offered the part have been cut prior to recording.
The respected character actor Michael Ansara died recently. Not a household name but certainly someone who my and my parents’ generation would recognise when he cropped up on television (which he did frequently). Yes, being in genre shows like Star Trek (in which he was a Klingon in the original series before reprising the role in both DS9 and Voyager), The Outer Limits (a very memorable turn in Soldier), The Time Tunnel, Buck Rogers and Batman- The Animated Series helps to keep your name alive thanks to geeks like me, but his clout extended beyond the anorak’s purview. His early starring role in Broken Arrow certainly ensured his was a face you’d recognise when it appeared in numerous subsequent TV shows and films.
So when he died and The Times described him as “the undisputed king of bit parts in cult television” I was rather irritated(some would say that that is my natural state: if you’re one of those, suffice to say it made me more irritated than usual). There is a sort of lofty disdain that is dishearteningly prevalent amongst the people being paid good money to conjure appropriate words when writing about genre shows or the acting profession. You shouldn’t be allowed to cover television if the basic nomenclature used in the business is beyond you. A bit part is one assayed by an extra or walk-on who has been chucked a couple of lines. Ansara was always the main guest star whenever he appeared: playing roles of a size and status most members of the profession would kill for. He was a successful actor. That the journalist in question doesn’t know this reflects badly on the journalist not the actor but you’d never know this from the way the denizens of Grub Street conduct themselves.
So often this is the case though. The Guardian did it when trying to undermine the political activities of the eccentric but busy character actor Brian McDermott. No Ansara he nonetheless managed to notch up about 100 TV credits. All told, that’s a good career – and he wasn’t playing “2nd Man” or “Onlooker” but proper, decent, supporting character parts with a name: oh, and he launched the Bush Theatre too. But because he was standing for UKIP in an election, the journlist’s parting shot was a jovial suggestion that McDermott had been an extra in episodes of Bergerac. An extra. This happens more and more – guest parts are described in the media as extra. No, an extra is a non- speaking background artist. There’s nothing wrong with being one, but that is different from playing a featured part. To secure one of those requires rounds of auditions, being seen excelling on the stage, or giving good work elsewhere and so being recommended. That is not the case with extras, for they do a different job.
Television coverage is increasingly written by people who seemingly care little for the medium they write about.There’s an assumption that most television is a bit rubbish (especially if it is old) and that what these actors, writers, directors and designers who have tried hard to create something cogent, thought-provoking, tantalising and entertaining really deserve is a thrashing from the glibbest of tongues as opposed to serious, informed scrutiny. The Guardian even did a Top Fifty TV dramas – as compiled by its critics – that didn’t include Secret Army or Edge Of Darkness. Obviously such things are matters of taste but one got the impression that those illustrious productions didn’t make the list not because they’d been considered and rejected but because most of the critics didn’t know what they were. The outrage at the lack of the Edge Of Darkness prompted one of them to blog about his subsequent viewing of it because he’d never seen it. A working TV critic on a aational aewspaper who hasn’t seen Edge Of Darkness! I don’t think you’d be allowed to write about sport if you didn’t know who won the World Cup in 198-whatever.
Again, the uselessness I can cope with, it’s when it is accompanied by arrogance that it sticks in my craw.I remember being listed as a Pick Of The Week in the comedy listings in The Times and it mentioned that I had won the Les Dawson Award for comedy. I did, and am proud to have done so. “Is there a Les Dawson Award then?” added the comedy critic in brackets afterwards: after all, what’s a comedy recommendation without a little pejorative aside? Thing is, if you’re The Times comedy critic and you don’t know of the existence of such an award, then that’s your shortcoming rather than that of the recipient of said award. And if you don’t know, or think the award is negligible (which is reasonable – it was a regional thing based on an internet vote) because it hasn’t appeared on your radar (though it was eminently Google-able), then simply don’t mention it. Revelling in ignorance about the medium you write about seems bizarre – especially when such ignorance is used to recommend somebody but, with a little implicit criticism, keep them in their place at the same time (and to what end – apart from to make the journalist look clever?).
Looking clever feels terrific when you’re reviewing something, and it’s fantastic if you can enliven your prose with a witty barb or sparkly turn of phrase …but these things now seem to have replaced the real reasons someone should be writing about their specialist subject. And what reasons are those? Because they love it! Because they are entertained by entertainers, thrilled by popular culture – inspired to put pen to paper and to place bum on seat.
All of the above examples simply wouldn’t happen in other industries.There are loads of well-informed TV geeks who can turn an apt phrase. Few of them seem to do so for the papers though. The nationals tend to promote sub-editors with other specialisms or people who display shocking ignorance or contempt for the medium … Sam Wollaston anyone? And as for Ian Hyland – good God! I shouldn’t think either of them could talk about Herbert Wise or Allan Prior or David Collings. You wouldn’t pay a food writer who described an aubergine as a “sort of rubbish sausage” so why is popular culture often chronicled and scrutinised by the ill-informed and condescending?
We all breathe air, but I wouldn’t expect someone who hasn’t studied its properties to be entrusted with analysing and describing it.Just because we all consume popular culture and mass entertainment doesn’t mean any old bod’s scrutiny of it is worth reading. I am just a plucky amateur and am not angling for a job here – I just feel the need for more Matthew Sweets and fewer A A Gills. It is just that knowing what I know about TV and comedy and seeing the great howlers committed in much that is written about both makes me wonder how much ill-informed crap swaggers across the page on subjects of which I am wholly ignorant – like Science and Music and How To Be Sexy (yes, there are small parts …).