Thursday, 31 December 2009

All our Hogmanays

I can't remember all the ways and places I've seen in New Year, and I certainly can't remember which years, but since I've just finished my last gig of 2009 and I'm home in time to see in the new year with my beloved and my sad comedian friends on Twitter, here's a thinkback over some Hogsmanay (that must be the plural, mustn't it?)...

Up to 1977, Mum & Dad's legendary Hogmanay party in our house. Up to 80 people in our house, no-one allowed in till midnight, haggis, tatties and neeps and it goes only til 6 or 7 in the morning. My first one would be Aberdeen, then Evington, then Kibworth. As 76 goes into 77 I'm not old enough to drink yet and the golf pro detunes my guitar.

1977 into 78 Me & Steve babysitting in Pucklechurch, popping a bottle of cider and getting drunk for very nearly the first time

78 In Bristol with Steve again, feeling very sorry for himself as he canoodled girlfriend Denise and I had to settle for stroking a dog. Watching Old Grey Whistle Test with Meatloaf, a lasting memory.

79 For the first time I bring art college friends to the parent's Hogmanay and it is brilliant. 8mm film exists of them all sleeping on my bedroom floor. Legendary.

80 I bring art college friends to the parent's Hogmanay again, it is once more legendary. Pete Godwin called a local businessman a Nazi.

More art college years, more friends come to Kibworth (that's where the parents have Hogmanay). I recall one seen in in the Coach and Horses and one in the Lodge (then back to folks house). Coach & Horses is now an Indian Restaurant, not a pub, and the Lodge was demolished to become houses in the late 80s. Around 84 when Hev & I move to Leicester, I seem to remember a Hogmanay goes tits up cos someone didn't feel well.

86 must be the year Hev wanted to spend Hogmanay at home so I went to Kibworth and did my nascent comedy act in front of Mum & Dad's friends. Died on arse.

Late 80s become a blur. At least one is seen in in the Clarendon Arms with Alan (& Hev, obviously). Then we moved to the South West so a Hogmanay in Kibby would have involved travel.

One was seen in with Steve & Sarah in Yatton. Someone's brother was getting divorced, there was some unease there.

Returned to the parents circa 89 to find the throbbing buzzing crowd had become group of very old people. Quite depressing I recall.

One was seen in in an Indian restaurant on Whiteladies Road, under K&S's aegis, where the staff clearly weren't expecting things to go on after midnight so we heard the new year in on a transistor radio after the food had been cleared up then cleared off.

Saw another in in Junior Poons, again K&S's suggestion, where they showed off their sculpted carrots but you weren't allowed to eat them. Seem to remember the vegetarians amongst us felt we didn't get the best deal on the food and said we wouldn't do that again. Oh god, I officially became middle aged in the mid 90s.

We had a Hogmanay in our flat in Clevedon, maybe two. I would like to believe they were the best that could be had. I bet they weren't, but I'm not listening.

99 into 2000 was the Boycott Year. Because the English had decided to take New Year seriously for once, K&S decided to go big on fireworks, but chose to ask everyone to split the cost. Paying for Hogmanay was so anathemic to our constitution that we boycotted their party and saw it in with Mark & Gail. Silly really, as it ended up decimating our cosy social crowd, but that was what we did.

Saw one in with H&R. Bless. Watching Texas in Edinburgh on TV, not legendary.

Seen a few in with Felicity & Tom. Always the greatest effort put into their parties, especially the games. Never what you'd call Rock & Roll, but always coothy. And actually New Year in the 2000s more often than not means Felicity & Tom I think. HNY T&F

Saw another in at K&S's, making up for the Boycott Year.

Worked a few, since Hev remained not that bothered by the event (did I mention she's English and I'm Scots?). One seen in doing comedy at The Tobacco Factory, at the behest of George Ferguson (coincidentally in this year's New Years Honours). One seen caricaturing up at the folly on the golf course (paying gig). One seen caricaturing at that hotel off the M5 between Bridgwater & Weston. This year seen caricaturing at a private party near Taunton, then home in time for the bells.

Then in 08 into 09 I saw the New Year in in Edinburgh, actually in the thick of it all in Princes St Gardens, having been performing all month with the Socks in the Spiegeltent as part of Winter Wonderland. It was fun, we saw some fireworks. But really I expected something more.

Maybe nothing will ever come close to Mum & Dad's Hogmanay from my childhoods. Look at me, I'm sat at my laptop, watching Jools Hootenanny, blogging about my last 30 years of Hogmanays while getting quietly drunk. Okay, next year big party in giant country house with rich & famous people who want to be there rather than somewhere else. Actually no, sounds awful. Let's do it somewhere surprising.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Socks spring tour 2010 - Dates announced

Hi Socks fans, here at last are the dates for the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre's Spring 2010 Theatre Tour. As well as these dates, we will be announcing our comedy club appearances (though many of those happen at short notice). The dates listed below are all full length performances of the Socks solo show (plus double bill show from comedy magician Ali Cook where marked). Put them in your diary now, and we'll let you know more when we know it:

Jan 30 Omagh Strule Arts 7pm £4
http://bit.ly/8vAjxI

Feb 18 Preston Continental (+Ali dbl bill)
http://www.newcontinental.net

Feb 19 Bury Met (+ Ali dbl bill) 8pm £8
http://themet.biz/month/2010/02/

Feb 20 Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8pm £8
http://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/whatson/comedy/info/8284/

Feb 25 – Farnham Maltings (+Ali dbl bill) 8pm £10
http://bit.ly/6AsWK2

Mar 2-Swindon Arts Centre (+ Ali dbl bill ) 8pm £10
http://www.swindon.gov.uk/artsandculture/arts-artsservicesbrochure.htm

Mar 6 - Ropewalk- Barton on Humber (+ Ali dbl bill) 7.30 £8
http://www.the-ropewalk.co.uk/roperyhall/comedy.htm

Mar 10 – Burnley Mechanics (poss Ali tbc) 8pm £8
http://www.burnleymechanics.co.uk/list.php?month=3&year=2010&Go=Go

Mar 13 Madcap Milton Keynes (Socks doorsplit) tbc
http://www.madcap.org.uk/

Mar 18 Lighthouse Poole (+ Ali support) £10 7.30pm
https://tickets.lighthousepoole.co.uk/public/

Mar 19 – New Cut Arts Suffolk (+Ali dbl bill)
http://www.newcut.org/whatson.php

Mar 20 Theatr Harlech (+Ali dbl bill) 7.30 £7.50
http://theatrharlech.ticketsolve.com/shows/2010/3/20

April 3 Bath Widcombe Studios tbc
http://www.bathcomedyfestival.co.uk/whats-on

April 10 Chorley Theatre 7.30 £8
http://www.chorleylittletheatre.com/whatson/whatson.html

Apr 16 – Harrogate Theatre (+ Ali dbl bill) £10 8pm
http://bit.ly/8P3bwQ

Apr 23 –Loughborough Town Hall (+ Ali dbl bill) £10 8pm
http://www.loughboroughtownhall.co.uk/events/the_scottish_falsetto_sock_puppet_theatre

April 30 Stafford Gatehouse (+Ali dbl bill) tbc
http://www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk/?show=comingsoon

May 20- Blackwood Miners (+ Ali dbl bill) tbc
http://www.caerphilly.gov.uk/bmi/english/whats.html

June 25 - Helmsley (+ Ali dbl bill) tbc
http://www.helmsleyarts.co.uk/info/shows+on/25-6-2010

Friday, 25 December 2009

Dr Who - The End Of Time

Unfair to judge an episode of Dr Who when it's only halfway through, and maybe every question I've got will be answered in part 2, but having watched The End Of Time part 1 I must confess to being a bit disappointed.

The first half took a long time to get anywhere, then the second half seemed to be on fast forward. So Lucy Saxon's saliva, months or years after she last met the Master, can be used to resurrect him? And a bottle of liquid can be used to destroy him in a scene that looked like an outtake from Harry Potter. So he's destroyed? But just as quickly he isn't? So why should we care?

Then he turns up again, with a flickering metal skeleton inside? What's that? And because he appears to be part robot, he's a very hungry cannibal? What sense does that make? And why is there a burger van in the middle of a deserted industrial site, its only two customers being two homeless blokes? Huh??

So Wilf goes looking for the Doctor, then he finds him, and holds him up while he's about to catch the Master, then the Dr plays along with some silly old sods taking photos of him, then gives up chasing the Master? So the Dr has a chat with Wilf, has a bit of a cry (despite having run away for years between episode, getting married? Huh????) then nothing happens.

Then they kidnap the Master and suddenly there's green aliens and suddenly there's a big machine, and suddenly it's explained that it repairs everyone on the whole planet (a bit like the nanogenes in The Empty Child but neither so original nor so well introduced) - and didn't you immediately, the second you heard that the machine heals the whole planet, know exactly what was going to happen? And isn't that room exactly the same place where they filmed Silence In The Library*? (*I wrote that then discovered, from DWC, that in fact it's a set. A set that ended up looking like a previous location. Still, I was wrong.) And also I've seen a bit much of Tredegar House now.

Yes I knew he was going to say "Master race" before he said Master race. Yes I knew they were about to do Being John Malkovich before they did Being John Malkovich. And...

If I'm so clever I should prove it by writing something good, not just criticising other people's efforts. I happen to have found The End Of Time disappointing (from its very RTD title - is it actually literally the End Of Time? What, like it was literally The Next Doctor? and World War 3? and...) although actually the image of everyone turning into the Master wasn't bad. So, New Year's Resolution, write something good or shut up about everyone else's writing.

Quibbling about unamibitious futurology

So I'm reading and enjoying this fun story on The Onion:
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/ghost_of_christmas_future_taunts
where The Ghost Of Christmas Future taunts kids with 2016's Playstation 5, and I'm thinking surely things will be more advanced than that by then.

They suggest 2016 games will have "a PS5 hooked up to 2016's most popular TV, the 4'x8' Hi-Def Sony Titania" and that "you can play this against 63 other PS5 owners simultaneously" and imagines "Star Wars—Episode IX: Jedi Destiny, a game which employs the world's most advanced artificial-intelligence algorithm to place the player inside the film's climactic battle sequence on the planet Mon Jeedam".

Surely this is unamibitious isn't it? I recently dug up a copy of a comic from 1989, obscure American thing by second string creators, can't remember the name. But the outstanding thing was how poor the predicting was. Some guy had the equivalent of superpowers because he had a chip in his brain that could store, gasp, 2 gigabytes of memory. In 1989 the idea of storing 2GB was not expected to happen for 50 years. Now I can store that on my watch.

And when I was trying to write Ghost Rider 2099 in 1994 (I never got any stories picked up) I was imagining the internet, of which I had no first hand experience, as something you'd fly into like all magic with hologram worlds and chips in your heads. The scripts they went with had people sitting in front of fat computers with cabels all over the oche. Nice to draw obviously, but not that good prediction wise.

So, for this prediction of PS5 in 2016, not that I'm a game playing person, but I'd say everything's in 3D and virtual reality, so no old-fashioned TV screens involved. And.. I've just realised I can't be bothered continuing this thought, Gavin & Stacey's on.

A child's Christmasses (in, as it happens, Wales)

On having just read, for the first time, A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, which we found a copy of here at my inlaws house in Bodelwyddan, North Wales, which we sought out having watched Mark Watson's A Child's Christmasses in Wales and wondered how close the two were to each other (the answer, by the way, being not very).

I have random memories from random Christmasses, which I jot purely in note form (I may be many things, none of them a poet).

Nick & I went Christmas carol singing with our guitars. It can't have been that cold because, well, because we had guitars, we were outside and we could play them. We clearly didn't want to impose upon anyone as we sat on a bench outside the church and sang our songs there. We did our group's version of White Christmas (I have subsequently mastered Nick's guitar solo which, at the time, seemed daunting and impressive) and anything else that could be sung using E, A and D or C, F and G.



When my Illustrated Picture Diary was getting into its stride, which began when I was 11 in the last week of what the kids would now call year 7 and fizzled out in the first year of art college, I devoted a double page spread to illustrating my Christmas presents. They included that year's Giles annual. Sigh, I am old enough to have been able to get new Giles annuals, while he was still at his peak.

The first Christmas at Heather's in Basildon was my first away from home and I was disturbed by all the thing that were different. Or, as I saw it, wrong. Christmas dinner was at the wrong time, the presents weren't opened first thing in the morning, the crackers were ornamental and not for pulling, and there was crying. Crying? Nobody had ever cried in my family's household at Christmas (and, I think, has not yet). Since that first Christmas away from where I'd spent my childhood Christmasses I can no longer remember when things were supposed to take place, or how or why, but I'm pretty sure they've never been quite right. Being a kid, who would no doubt be diagnosed as having OCD or ADHD or Arseburgers (I know I know) these days, was very bliss.

I have probably not laughed so much before or since as I did at Jasper's Carrot's Twelve Days Of Christmas. I still have the recording we made of it. VHS had not yet been invented, not in our house leastways, so I pointed a microphone at the telly from my cassette recorder. The loudest thing at many points is our laughter, particularly mine and Mum's. "Three clack and bangly wogglies, two niddly niddly woddlies, and a piddle up your poggle woggle." They don't write em like that any more.

For many many years there were Christmas records that you just couldn't get. In the long lost wilderness years before Now The Christmas Album there were songs that you'd heard on the radio or seen on the TV, but there was no way of getting your hands on them. Bing & Bowie's Little Drummer Boy was no unlikely that I had arguments about it, swearing blind I had seen them perform together on TV in 1977 and being soundly and roundly disbelieved (it finally came out as a single in 1982, which settled the argument). Anne Nightingale had played Bruce Springsteen's live version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, once in the late 70s, but no-one had ever seen a copy on vinyl, until finally it snuck out as a b side in 1985. The most elusive was The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping. Simon Mayo would play it every year, but I could never find a copy. And it had never been on an album at the time, and singles were deleted pretty fast, especially Xmas singles that never even made it into the charts. Finally it popped up on a CD compilation in 1993, around which time everything seemed to become available and a little bit more mystery was lost forever.

I remember my dismay when, in 1981, a friend's family said they'd watched a video on Christmas Day. The thought of not watching the same Christmas Day TV as the rest of the country was anathema.

The big TV advert of Christmas 1983 was for Laserdisc. Two policemen walked round a deserted Trafalgar Square, explaining that there were no crowds this year because everyone was at home watching their Laserdiscs. No they weren't. I know the one person who bought one. His name's Steve. He only ever had two discs for it: Grease and Lenny Henry Live. I don't think he watched either.

Last Christmas we were in Edinburgh, in a flat on the Royal Mile, looking out over the snow free rooftops. Our tree was areal one, walked from the foot of Broughton St all the way to the High St. A number of people asked us where we'd got our tree from, as if we were locals and the only people who knew where to buy a tree. It ended its life being smuggled among the trees outside the Spiegeltent in Princes St Gardens. I wonder if anyone ever noticed.

There are more Christmas memories, but that will do for the moment.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas from the Socks

Hello Socks fans around the world, and seasons greetings to you all from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre.

As a special present to you all, the Socks have uploaded a healthy handful of Christmas videos (12 Days worth, would you believe, some slightly less Christmassy than others), newly recorded just for you. In case you haven't caught them all, check out:

The 12 Days of Christmas
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPMDoKpgKGA
Christmas Songs You Daren't Sing
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI2UkohTDYY
Santa's Pants (new HD upload)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBP_S-AHbfw
Away In Pret A Manger
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziLH8wjNmxE
Christmas Lights song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSV7eaC6IBQ
Christmas On The Farm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J29KcUNSowY
The German Market
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0-x9HRKMEA
Socks Suck at Christmas
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-IHNgVmqcw
50 years of our family's Christmas cards
White Christmas original cast
Sunset
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8tIruQ8B0s
Tiger Woods song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icwkkcyL6Ak

And a Happy New Year when in it comes

Love from Kev F & the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

TV reviews of 2009

So, what did I enjoy on TV in 2009?

There's been some great TV. I think. My memory is so poor I can only remember what's been on in the last couple of months. So best new sitcoms would be Miranda, Gary Tank Commander, How Not To Live Your Life, and Home Time - plus something that I know must have been on in the first half of the year but that I've totally forgotten. Overall favourite sitcom of the year is Big Bang Theory which we discovered on Catch Up in the summer and have watched two whole series of since. Also excellent were The Thick Of It, Peep Show, Gavin & Stacey, Outnumbered and the IT Crowd. And Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Daily Show, but they go without saying. The comedy show that really was missing was The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, about which I shall try and do something in 2010.

Best drama was, I guess, Torchwood Children Of Earth, or Being Human. Surely there was something else that really stood out? Oh yeah, started watching The Wire nightly on BBC 2. Got through series 1 (the excellent series) and series 2 (the Why's Everyone White All of a Sudden? series) then during series 3 I was missing so many episodes things made less and less sense and it started to feel repetitive and boring. It remains the longest US TV drama series I've stuck with since the X Files, but still not something I'll ever see all of. (I've still not seen 24, Sex In The City, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, CSI, The Sopranos and many more, life is now officially too short for me to catch up).

On balance I must have avoided more TV than I watched, I guess everyone did. In our household we dipped into a few box sets. Best of the year was complete Bilko, which Hev picked up at a charity shop, is an excellent find. Every episode a classic, many I'd never seen, many laugh out loud funny, and the box set included TV interviews, the pilot and other fun rarities. A fave from my birthday was a Dr Who box set with Sea Devils and Silurians in (two highly enjoyable Pertwee classics, followed by an abysmal Peter Davison story, tolerable only for the commentary, where Peter Davison & Janet Fielding rip the piss out of it).

I'm happy not to have seen: X Factor (not a moment), Big Brother (first night only, the best bit of which was Charlie Brooker's Tweets), Strictly (none), Britain's Got Talent (first night inc Susan Boyle, then no more), I'm A Celebrity (not a second) and any lesser reality shows. Watched The Apprentice, kidding ourselves that it's not that bad, and the disappointing School Of Saatchi and Philip Starck thing. I was envisaging the Sitcom Trials following in the mould of the last two, but was left realising even I might not watch it if it did.

I must have seen more trivial filler TV than anything else. Mornings when I don't have to go into schools or get to early meetings I see The Wright Stuff, which is a well above average morning chat show. It's not quite the Today show, but it's not insulting to the intelligence. Which I can't say of BBC Breakfast, which now seems to devote its last half hour to being an advert for Strictly or a plug for bad movies or celebraity autobiographies. The One Show is actually really good fun, though I do try not to watch it, it's just there when you're too busy to turn it off, and dammit parts of it are interesting without actually being intellectually challenging. And I was on it in 2008, which still gives me a fondness for it. (That said, the Socks appeared on The Culture Show, and I find that really hard to watch. The presentation style changes so much between series that it has no continuity and always makes you nostalgic some something they used to do that they don't do any more. They should settle on a style for at least two consecutive series.)

The only must see TV in our house is University Challenge, and ,when it's on, Only Connect. The funny panel games usually entertain, with Mock The Week this year having the edge over HIGNFY and QI (which is, I think, running out of interesting facts), though We Need Answers is too shouty for me, and It's Only A Theory stutters. What The Dickens on Sky Arts is good, and Would I Lie To You has its moments.

I'm sure there was something that knocked my socks off that I have subsequently forgotten. If there is, I shall write it in these brackets here (addendum: I'd forgotten Psychoville, Harry Hill's TV Burp and Mad Men). I take that to mean I was so busy having an actual life, which I must look back over next.

Merry Christmas world.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Stats updated, those Xmas Socks vids

Some of our Socks vids are really moving. And me, I'm obsessed:

50 Years of our family's Christmas cards (not Socks) - 255 (was 240)
Sunset (not Xmassy) - 277 (was 222)
Xmas on the Farm - 598 (was 524)
German Market - 689 (was 648)
Socks Suck - 748 (was 677)
Xmas Lights Song - 795 (was 724)
Xmas Songs You Daren't Sing - 937 (was 366)
Tiger Got Wood (not Xmassy) - 1308 (was 1215)
Away in Pret A Manger - 1664 (was 1572)
12 Days of Xmas - 46,284 (was 45,647)

The least interesting blog you'll read this year, sorry for sharing.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

I love my statistics

This year's Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Christmas videos, in order of popularity on YouTube (in reverse order, our own Xmas Top 10):

Sunset (not Xmassy) - 222
50 Years of our family's Christmas cards (not Socks) - 240
Xmas Songs You Daren't Sing - 366
Xmas on the Farm - 524
German Market - 648
Socks Suck - 677
Xmas Lights Song - 724
Tiger Got Wood (not Xmassy) - 1215
Away in Pret A Manger - 1572
12 Days of Xmas - 45,647

Stats which tell you little. Songs You Daren't Sing, mouldering at number 8, is there with a bullet being the last one we uploaded and bound to leapfrog most of the others shortly. 12 Days has reached its great heights by dint of being a featured video on YouTube in its first week. Quite how people get those million viewings I have yet to figure out.

Anyhoo, there they are and well done us. Merry Christmas everyone.





Saturday, 19 December 2009

Sounds awful, yet magnetic

I am both repelled and intrigued by an ad I just saw in the paper, for High Voltage, a rock festival next year "Custom built by Rock Fans, for Rock Fans" it says.

Come off it, it's custom built by old men, for old men. The only acts announced are ZZ Top and ELP so far, but you can see where it's going. It's Knebworth, it's the original Glastonbury. It's 1973, but this time they're going to do it properly.

And I have a wonderful nostalgic pang for it. Even though I'd hate it, even though a vintage bike rally (part of the experience) is less interesting to me than cheese tasting, still I love the idea of this festival of old folk playing their old music to their old fans. Because, dammit, deny it as I might, I am that old. I am a man in his forties, and if there's one thing we old folk can't stand it's the young. But we still like to party and we don't like to be hypocritical. So why, for year after year, have we had to gatecrash Glastonbury and Reading and the V Festival, bringing with us not only our kids, but all our favourite bands.

2009's Glastonbury was Radio 2 incarnate, a line up of acts whose heyday predated Britain having 4 TV channels. Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tony Christie. Tony Christie? His heyday was 1971. Having Tony Christie on the bill at Glastonbury was like if the original Woodstock had put Al Jolson on

So good on you High Voltage. You'll have a creche, for the grandchildren. You could have the Hells Angels from Altamont doing the security, safe in the knowledge that none of them can even lift a pool cue these days, let alone smash in a hippy with it. And then maybe Glastonbury can just have new young exciting acts on, and I needn't bother watching it ever again.

And a happy new year when it comes.

The Xmas No 1

Oh if only I could get interested in the race for the Xmas No 1, but very sadly it marks one of the most regrettably indicators of the decline into old age that has characterised the last decade for me. I am so out of touch with pop music I don't know or care who's in the charts these days. Even though the whole Rage Aganist The Machine revolt is fascinating and fun, it's about the only number 1 race this year that I'll remember. (I'll remember the race but not the song, have you heard The Climb? That must be the most generic record ever. I feel like I've heard it masquerading as 20 other power ballads before. Turns out it was previously recorded by Miley Cyrus and was nominated for a Grammy as Best Song in a Movie or somesuch. That generic.)

It seems, from discussions on the telly, that I'm not alone in this lament for the vitality of popular music. And I'm not the only person opining the loss of Top Of The Pops, and I am regularly reminded how that weekly visual fix of pop information acted as a memory jogger for me. If I cast my mind back to my childhood and remember what record was around at a certain time, it's almost always the TOTP performance that immediately springs to mind. Or the pop video which, in my childhood, you only saw on TOTP, or for a few years on The Chart Show. Never mind that we've had MTV in our house for the last 15 years, and YouTube for the last three, it's simply not the same as the one weekly show which gave you a 30 minute update on what was hot and what wasn't.

And TOTP was at its best and most representative when it played only the records that had made that week's chart. It was democratic, and harder for record companies to manipulate, though I can't deny its last great age, the Britpop years, thrived under the pre-release arrangement where, essentially, the company with the best PR could get on TOTP and ensure a number one the next week. Either way, it was exciting and I miss it. (So, I know, do many musicians. Ronan Keating moaned earlier this year that he had to appear on a bloody cookery programme, probably Something For The Weekend, to promote his song).

So the race for the Xmas no1 was the grand finale to this weekly race which I remember being so captivating. Then I look back and realise, wait a minute, all the records that got to number 1 when I was a kid were shocking. Have a look at the chart toppers from the mid 70s and it seems to be dominated by comedy novelty records. Windsor Davies & Don Estelle? Laurel & Hardy? It would appear John Travolta & Olivia Newton Johnwere number 1 throughout all of punk & new wave.

And the Xmas number 1s were even worse. Mary's Boy Child by Boney M? Mull Of Kintyre? Ernie the Fastest Milkman In The bloody West? Why the hell am I nostalgic for that nonsense?

Knowing what was number 1 ever week? Caring whether it's be Blur or Oasis? I'm well out of it. Good luck Rage Against The Machine. You will, of course lose, because the forces of revolution are vastly outnumbered by the forces of moronity. God Bless Us Every One!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Xmas Songs You Daren't Sing - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Brand new from the Socks, a routine which, despite the description, isn't actually musical. It's all about some Christmas songs that you really oughtn't to sing.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sunset - new from the Socks

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre just spotted a beautiful sunset, so they went and took their photo in front of it. An epic video, we're sure you'll agree:

Monday, 14 December 2009

My Comic Art Masterclasses of 2009

Just counted up how many days of my Comic Art Masterclass I've delivered, at school, libraries and art centres in 2009. In 2008 I did 95 days, and this year - tan tada ta taaaa - I've done a perfect 100 days.

This year I have therefore taught, and drawn the caricatures, of approximately 5000 pupils and students, in such diverse locations as...

Fareham, Gosport, Launceston, Swindon, Stockport, Stoddesdon, Leicester, Halesowen, Birmingham, Porthcawl, Derby, Doncaster, Plymouth, Kilmarnock, Ayr, Edinburgh, Bradford, Isle Of Wight, London, Pembroke, Bishop Sutton, Maidenhead, Hatfield, Stevenage, Wolverhampton, Lisburn, Blackburn, Woolwich, Backwell, St Albans, Blackpool, Bristol, Walsall, Marlborough, Clevedon, Falkirk, Chippenham, North Devon, Cradley Heath, Aldershot, Balerno, Granton, Muirhouse, Corstorphone, Blackhall, South Queensferry, Morningside, Moredun, Kirkliston, Basingstoke, Bloxwich, Devizes, Haverfordwest, Bromsgrove, Reading, Willenhall, Weston Super Mare, Bushey, South Oxhey, Petersfield, Winchester, Portland Place, Welwyn Garden City, Magherafelt Co. Derry, Guildford, and Bewdley. And no doubt somewhere I've missed or written down wrong.


Momentarily self satisfied (though worked out I got paid, for those 100 days work, what some people I know get for presenting one episode of a TV show. So still got to keep thinking about that career.)

50 Years of my family's Christmas cards

I've compiled a video of 50 years worth of my family's Christmas cards, click the image to play:



My Mum began designing her own handmade cards before she and dad got married and, because she worked as an illustrator and graphic designer, she had access to printing that most people didn't back in the day. So whereas nowadays many people produce family cards using Photoshop and their printers, back in my childhood we were truly unique.

This video collects almost every video from Mum's 1957 solo effort to their 2009 presentation, celebrating along the way the birth, growing up and nest-emptying of my sister and I, and the more recent arrival of their first grandchildren.

See if the eagle eyed among you can spot the card that makes reference to Dad's life-threatening blow on the head from a golf ball (it takes place in the early 80s). Enjoy.




UPDATE: Sadly Dad died just before Christmas 2010 so there was no family Christmas card that year. The tradition was resumed by Mum in 2011 and continues. This website, which I thought had disappeared, shows the cards from 1958 to 2003 in their glory.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Review of the, blimey, decade

Is it too early to do a review of the decade? I know all the papers and magazines have been doing them, but they have to get printed and all (I'm reminded of the Sunday Times review of the year in December 1980 which featured photos of all the celebrities who'd died that year, omitting the biggest news story of that week, and indeed the year, John Lennon who'd, inconveniently, got himself shot the day after they went to press).

Well, to warm myself up, let's look quickly at my previous decades and see how the noughties compare.

The sixties. Started the decade not born, ended it none the wiser.

The seventies. Started the decade as a primary school kid, ended it as an art student. The music from the second half of that decade remains the most influential on me.

The eighties. Started the decade as an art student, ended it going freelance in my dream job as a comics writer and artist. The music from the second half of that decade remains some of the worst ever made.

The nineties. Started the decade as a rising star in my chosen profession, about to buy our first house, ended it having plumbed the depths of financial quandry having learned that comics were not as secure a job as they'd first seemed, and was juggling stand up comedy and random illustration with running the comic festival and starting the Sitcom Trials.

So, the noughties. While still nostalgic for the easy years when I got to write and draw comics all day and all of the night and got paid well for it, the 00s weren't offering me that opportunity. I'd watched almost every comic I'd ever worked for cease to exist, I'd even worked for the biggest comic company in the world, Marvel, only to endure its filing for bankruptcy and slashing two thirds of its titles, all mine included (to this day I believe I owe them $250 in overpaid royalties, for which they can whistle). And as the 00s began my only connection with the comics biz was running the annual Comic Festival in Bristol. I'd started it in 99, and for a few years it went from strength to strength, and kept me gainfully employed (and paid) for about 3 months of each year. Unfortunately it was taking more than 3 months of my time, and year by year started to become a good way of not making money.

So I kept my other dream project going, The Sitcom Trials. This was to be the way by which I'd perfect my sitcom writing and get it onto the telly. Having had two pilots made by BBC radio in the late 90s I knew TV success was only an Edinburgh Fringe appearance away. I wasn't far wrong. We did the Fringe in 01 and 02 and, lo, we got a TV series. The ITV series of the Sitcom Trials in 03 certainly was a career high, and being courted by a major comedy production company who assured me they'd have the Trials on BBC3 by Christmas really felt like we were getting somewhere. While those deliberations went on I felt sufficiently encouraged to take the Trials to Edinburgh again in 04. After which run, the best show of the three we'd take up there, I came away with a cheque for £150 (that works out as quite a big loss) and the news that the major production company didn't think we'd end up on BBC3 after all, sorry.

The comic festival meanwhile started to become a money pit, as sponsors and publishers paid less and less and the novelty of the event waned. A financial cock-up in spring 04, where I suddenyly ended up owing more money than the show had made, was compounded by the show in November where, rather than rescuing myself from the spring's loss, it just got worse.

So it was that, by the middle of the decade, my two dream projects had gone from the heights of critical and financial acclaim to wiping me out and leaving me worse off than when I'd started them. And creatively I was doing nothing, no comics, a little illustration, and none of my sitcoms had made it big. In 2004 I earned most of my money from stand up comedy, I mean what sort of life is that?

Then, at the end of 2004, I spoke to the guys from the Beano, who I'd got to know through running the comic festival, and asked if I might get some work published in there. Suddenly I was writing and drawing for the Beano. By the end of 2005 my 36-page Christmas story was the lead strip in the Beano and, over the next few years, I produced some of the funniest, most satisfying and most popular comic strips of my career, including the Bash St Werewolves, the Bash St Zombies, Schools Out, The Ofsted Inspector, Invasion Of The Beano Snatchers, and Billy The Cat vs General Jumbo. I am so proud of that work I can't tell you. I was making my living from comics again, and this time they were comics that people had actually heard of.

At the same time my Comic Art Masterclasses, which I'd begun as a spin-off from the comic festival, caught on and became a popular attraction at schools. They also paid twice as well per day as writing and drawing for The Beano. So it was that, in 2008, I did 95 days of my Masterclasses. Given that, as part of each class, I draw a caricature of all the pupils, if I average 50 faces drawn a day, that means I'm drawing 4500 face a year.

And if all that weren't enough, the Sitcom Trials, the show that was guaranteed to lose me money and had had all its chances to get on the telly by now, threw up something surprising. One show I decided we should do Shakespearian parodies. I wrote a couple and thought that I didn't want any actors to screw them up. So, I thought, what would it be like if I put a couple of socks on my hands, did some silly voices and performed the scripts myself? In Autumn 2005 the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre was born. They played their first Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, making a bit of money, their second in 2008, doing even better, and their third in 2009, which earned me more money than I'd earned in any single month this century.

2005 saw The Beano, the Masterclasses and the Socks appear almost from nowhere, and as the decade approached its end I seemed to have my act together, creatively and financially.

Which brings us up to 2009, and you know I really mustn't grumble. The Socks second national tour comprised 36 well paid theatre gigs, the Fringe we've discussed; the Masterclasses I have yet to tot up, but I shall no doubt come back and note how many I did, all good; I've spoken at a Boys Writing Conference, taking my Masterclass work to a new level of appreciation, I helped devise a module of a school course, and I've appeared on the radio pontificating about comics and fannying about in silly voices; I attempted the world record for telling jokes in an hour (and failed but raised loads of money for Comic Relief); and of all things the bloody Sitcom Trials landed back on my plate and I hosted that for 7 weeks in the autumn, losing less money than it's ever lost me before.

So, as decades go, it's had some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows, but the former definitely outnumbered the latter and I shall strive to keep being good at what I do, working hard to do good things, hopefully taking my Masterclasses to a more advanced level, maybe publish something connected with comic art, and striving to get the Socks onto the telly.

How was your decade, everyone else?

Socks Suck at Christmas - new vid from the SFSPT

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre present a brand new song advising on what not to give as a Christmas present. Think on't.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Feed The World, who's best?

I have just been watching Do They Know It's Christmas, the 2004 version and by golly I think it's better than the original

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzlQD_aqgnc

I was about to write a long diatribe on this subject then I was reminded I was pissed. So, to fall back on parliamentary principles, I gotta ask, am I pissed or am I right? Or pissed and right, you can be that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzlQD_aqgnc

Ooh look, I posted the link again. That pissed.

Tiger Got Wood - new from the Socks

This might be fun. Love golf? Love rich people? Okay, then this might not be fun. But if you're normal and think rich people are shit and golfers are shit so any excuse to rip the piss out of either would be brilliant, then you might like this.

Christmas Lights song - new from the Socks

In praise of extravagant Christmas lights in peoples gardens, the season for which is just beginning in earnest, a wee song from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. (Music and lyrics by Kev F Sutherland ©2009, by the way).

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Thoughts on the Sitcom Trials

I do a show called The Sitcom Trials and it puzzles me. I began it ten years ago, stopped doing it three years ago, and have just finished hosting its 10th anniversary season. And still I wonder what I do it for.

It's a show which pits one sitcom against another, the audience votes for their favourite and they see the ending of the winner. A brilliant format, it got made into a TV series and did moderately well for a few years at Edinburgh. I stopped doing it in 2006 after it spawned the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, who proved very popular and worth doing more of. I returned to the Trials this year, because somebody else did all the hard work and all I had to do was present it, promote it and underwrite it. And it was great fun and, just as happened every time before, I got the Sitcom Trials bug. There's something about the show I've always loved, and I think its very existence can only be a good thing. I got to watch some brilliant comic actors performing scripts, some of which were enviably good, and to meet some folk from the TV industry who acted as judges and said nice things about the show (though any of them who voiced an opinion thought the format wouldn't work on TV).

But this year's Trials was frustrating in a way that no previous Trials has been, because I had no writing in it. You see I created the Sitcom Trials essentially to test out my own writing. By putting it in competition with others and, back in the day, developing team-writing and collaborations, I hoped to better my writing, prove its worth, and of course showcase it. Ultimately I hoped to sell myself as a sitcom writer. But the more the Trials went on, the more people loved the format and my own writing took a back seat. To my credit, my writing did regularly fare well, but not so well that any of it ended up with its own series on the telly. (One sitcom, Come Together, which I co-wrote got made as a pilot by BBC radio but never broadcast, and a second, Meanwhile, did likewise). And it was the format itself which made it onto TV, with me presenting, and only one sitcom script by me was included (even then it went in under a pseudonym because we thought it unfair that I should enter the competition).

And so it was with this year's Trials, which were run as a competition with an outright winner. Though I toyed with the idea of entering material of my own under a pseudonym, you can only imagine the bad press I could have got if I'd done well. So, what do I hope to get out of the Trials? Obviously developing the format for telly remains a prospect, and I have meetings lined up. But is my heart truly in it, or do I secretly agree with the producers who say it won't work on TV? And would I like to revive it in a way that would allow me to showcase my own sitcom writing again, or would I be better off just knuckling down to some writing on spec and sending it off, like all the other hopeful wannabes, 360 of whose scripts alone were rejected in the selection process for this year's Trials?

Or should I concentrate on the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre and put the Trials out of my mind for the time being?

I think I find some clues towards a likely answer on YouTube. Every week I filmed the Heats of the Sitcom Trials, interviewed judges, and edited together a 5 minute mini documentary which I put up online. I was trying to get a feel for how the Trials might work as an educational X-Factor style docu-contest show (which is, I think, how it will work on the telly, when its time comes). All this work meant that I had no time to make any Socks videos, the longest time I've gone without doing Socks videos for nearly two years. Then, with the Trials out of the way, and the Socks last gig of the year performed, I made some new Socks Christmas videos and put the up there. And it's the ratings that give me my answer.

The Socks singing Away In Pret A Manger has 915 viewings after 2 days, and the 12 Days Of Christmas has notched up an astounding 34,425! Meanwhile the most popular of the recent Sitcom Trials videos, the Grand Final, has only managed 544 viewings after a week, and some Heats have been watched a little over 200 times.

And when I look at all the videos I've put on Youtube over the last three years, and view them in order of popularity, the top end of the charts is dominated by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (they hold 45 of the top 50 viewed videos) And at the bottom end? The Sitcom Trials. Videos from The Sitcom Trials TV series and live archive occupy 18 of the bottom 50 videos (the Socks are responsible for 26, so that blows that theory).

Popularity isn't everything, and I think the Sitcom Trials format is brilliant, the live shows are very good, and it should be on the telly, regardless of how few people share the vision yet. Okay, just sharing some thoughts, on with your life.

German Market - new from the Socks for Christmas

New from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, the German Market song.



Ich möchte auf den deutschen Markt zu gehen, den deutschen Markt, den deutschen Markt
Ich möchte auf den deutschen Markt gehen, die Art sie zu Weihnachten
Das ist der Ort, wo die dienen Gluwein
Es schmeckt fein
Ein bisschen wie Salzlake
Und Schnaps, die wie Terpentin Geschmack
Das Trinken Sie zu Weihnachten
Und Bratwurst. Was ist das?
Nun ist wurst Wurst. So ist es auch Wurst aus Gören
Und Lederhose. Das ist meine sehr verehrten Damen Socken aus
Und lustige Hüte. Ich sehe keine Hüte. Sie sind nicht tragen sie heute.
Ich möchte auf den deutschen Markt zu gehen.
Nutzen Sie das Auto. Wenn Sie parken.
Dann können wir alle auf dem deutschen Markt zu gehen, die Art der zu Weihnachten haben.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Wiki wiki waste of time

Oh brilliant. I just spent the last hour updating the Sitcom Trials Wikipedia page and Wikipedia have just undone everything.

I listed the judges from the 2009 season, no prob there. I updated some links that weren't working and trimmed some superfluous details, no complaints. Then I found a link to a video of this year's winner so I included that as an "inline citation" when adding the winners from the last three seasons.

You can't link to videos, so Wikipedia has wiped all the stuff I added this morning. The buggers. Well I can't be arsed to do it all again, so if anybody else would like to update Wikipedia to include details of the 2009 10th Anniversary Sseason, good luck to them. I've got work to do.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Away In Pret A Manger - new from Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

New from the Socks, with all goodwill of the season a wee ditty.

Worst gig of the year. And the last, gnash gnash

Not the best way to end a brilliant year of stage performances by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, last night we did a gig which was a total disaster, and wasn't our fault.

(Can we just remind you, at this stage, that this year we had the best selling run ever at the Edinburgh Fringe, a 36 date tour of theatres that was even better than the previous year's, the Socks have now started playing regular comedy circuit gigs, have started MC-ing gigs, and two of our last shows, compering the Sitcom Trials and especially doing the solo show at the Comedy Box in Bristol, were high points of the year).

Last night, unlike our theatre and comedy club shows, was a private party booking. A couple who'd seen us at Madcap Arts in Milton Keynes (to which we'll be returning for a third time this spring) asked us to play for the Christmas party of their branch of the Hash House Harriers, a running and drinking club, and the set up looked pretty good in advance. It was in a village hall, with a big stage with a proscenium arch, mike, CD player and PA system, opening-and-closing curtains and even a nice painted backdrop for the play they've got on. Soundcheck boded well, and we were assured everyone was up for a laugh.

But there was one element that I hadn't thought would cause trouble, and that was that the folks who'd booked us wanted to keep us as a surprise. That meant that, unlike in most of our shows, where the audience has paid to see us and are in a theatre ready to listen to us, or even if they're not expecting us they are at least prepared and expecting a comedy show, on this night the curtains parted to reveal our set, our theme tune played and... nobody was listening.

Apart from a small group who'd clustered in some seats placed near the stage, the vast bulk of people in the room were standing, chatting and drinking near the bar at the back, and had no idea that anything was happening on stage. We hadn't been introduced, the audience hadn't been, well, they hadn't been turned into an audience. They were some people at a party in a village hall having a good time, and suddenly a small group of people near the front were turning round telling them to shut up and listen. Then when they did listen, there were a couple of sock puppets talking to each other about Halloween (having already delivered a song about being Socks which had been totally drowned out by chat) and there was no way anyone could understand what they were supposed to be watching and why it was supposed to be funny.

And try as we might, with our audience participation material, chats and adlibs, the Michael Jackson routine, the Western routine, it was impossible to turn the half dozen people listening into a comedy gig. And then the booing and heckling started.

Oh yes, there was one other complication. We'd been booked by a guy called Mike who they knew as 'Speedy' and who was acting as our technical operator. And Mike's Scottish, unlike the rest of the group who are English. So when the Socks can be heard, and when they mention their technician 'Speedy', a number of the club members think that the socks are him putting on a makeshift puppet show, so they just take the piss.

So, in a gig which we wound up after less than 15 minutes, possibly 10, we had gone from being the Award winning hit Edinburgh show with a band of adoring fans to a bloke waving two socks over his head to general indifference.

The guys who'd booked us were mortified, and I took consolation in the fact that they'd seen the show and they knew it wasn't our fault (sorry, my fault, you know what I mean). I got paid, the boys went back in the boot and we set off on the 2 and a half hour drive home that bit earlier.

Not the best way to end a year's gigging, but a cautionary tale. Must remember whenever taking a gig that's not in a regular comedy club or theatre to check every eventuality, like the above. Hey ho.

I take consolation (not that I need any, I was over this before I'd left the village hall) from this morning's Youtube stats. 12 Days of Christmas, new studio recording, has had over 10,000 hits overnight after being featuring as a Comedy Spotlight choice on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/comedy?s=rf

Friday, 4 December 2009

12 Days of Xmas - new from the Socks

Hard to believe we've never got round to doing this one in the studio before. As last seen at Winter Wonderland in Edinburgh (this time last year we were performing this every night in the Spiegeltent in Princes Street Gardens) it's the Socks' Twelve Days Of Christmas routine.

Thoughts on sitcom

These conversations have been carrying on on the British Sitcom Guide Forum at:
http://board.sitcom.co.uk/thread/13891/57#P556983

I've chipped in a fair bit, so let's share:

Badge (not his real name I'm guessing) wrote:

I went to see one of the heats, and it was my first experience of the Sitcom Trials. Everyone should be aware how small the stage is! I enjoyed the night and it is a great showcase opportunity, so well done on all that. The one thing that didn't really work for me, though, was the cliffhanger format. I think 10 minute scripts are too short to allow plot and character to develop in sitcom-style, and most the entries I saw played more like extended sketches. Annoyingly, just when things were getting going on a couple of them it was the "cliffhanger moment", and because only one finale was performed, the audience missed out on how the majority of the stories ended. I'd prefer to see four 15-minute entries rather than five 10-minute ones and one cliffhanger finale.

I replied:

Amazingly that's the first complaint about the format that I've had. All the directors, casts and writers very quickly got into the swing of it, and my impression is that the audience loved getting the reward of the payoff. If there were any complaints, nobody's told me.

Of course for the Final we played all 5 sitcoms in full, with no cliffhanger, which was another reward for making it that far. It demonstrated something that we hadn't appreciated but were subsequently glad of - with the cliffhangers, the shows ran to time. Do the whole script every time and the show overran quite a lot.

Actually that is worth noting, and praising James once more for. Every single Heat and Semi ran exactly to time, starting at 6pm and ending at around 7.30, nary over-running by more than five minutes I think. That is all down to having 5 sitcoms of exactly 10 minutes each. Yup, I think if we do it again we're sticking to the traditional Sitcom Trials format with the cliffhanger.*

(*The cliffhanger format is the established format, as used from the earliest Edinburgh Fringe shows, through the TV version to the current season. The full-play version, with no cliffhangers and no payoff scene at the end of the show, was only used in the 2007 and 2009 seasons produced by Declan and Simon.)

I also wrote: I only videod very short clips of every sitcom, in guerilla style from the wings, so what you've already seen online is all you're going to get. We learnt long ago that videos shot of live stage performances are a very poor representation of the live event (unless shot, sound recorded and edited very well), so giving a snapshot is all I ever aimed to do.

To which Bushbaby replied:

Do you think that, that is because the sitcoms are written for stage and as in many cases, a theatre production doesn't necessarily fare well on screen?

So I wrote:

We could be getting into a long discussion here! Stage to screen, both with comedy and other work, is a fascinating transition that we've all seen done well and done badly. Recently Sky Arts did a series of live transmissions of plays from the West End and they came across well, but you had to make an allowance for their context. It was once the case that sitcoms on TV were performed and shot much as stage plays, with the audience audible, and that can still work (IT Crowd, Miranda) but sometimes looks creakily old fashioned (Big Top). Whether that's the script, the style of direction, fashion, it's all a complex thing over which we could pore long and hard.

So sitcoms written for the 'stage' can, indeed, clash in style with sitcoms written for a more filmic treatment (The Thick Of It, Gavin & Stacey, Gary Tank Commander, Curb Your Enthusiasm - to name just four sitcoms I watched last night), they are different animals sharing a zoo.

As for whether the Sitcom Trials stage performances would look good filmed, the answer is that if you just point a single DV camera at a performance on a small stage, be it a stand up or fringe theatre (and the Trials are somewhere between the two), then it's usually going to capture little of what the audience experienced. You'll hear a lot of laughter, as a lot of this season's video clips have done, but you may not have gathered what it was that caused that laughter (it was very rarely a comic line, much more often a reaction or a bit of timing from an actor, or something which, in the context of the narrative, suddenly became clear, but in a 30 second snippet wouldn't).

Watch the Sitcom Trials TV series clips (all sitcomtrials.co.uk clips link to the others) and you'll see how we attempted to make the transfer from stage to studio. In some instances it works well, with the four studio cameras capturing what they were meant to. But then the paucity of the backdrop and the suspension of disbelief required to stop you realising you're watching four actors in close proximity to the audience in a very small studio, is hard to surmount.

Like I say, I could go on about this for ages, without necessarily answering the question. I really ought to concentrate on making good new comedy, always learning lessons from the past.

Then swerytd wrote:

Personally, I found it difficult to write something with the 'cliff-hanger' in mind. It felt a bit forced, rather than natural sitcom

So I replied:

It is, indeed, a contrived format, designed to keep the show involving for the audience while showcasing the comedies. All formats have their pros and cons. Performing full half hour sitcoms, which is what we did in Situations Vacant before I developed it into the Sitcom Trials, gives a better representation of what the writer wants to sell to telly, but half an hour is a bloody long time if your script's not very good. (Those of us from the old days in Bristol still recall Sisters, the sitcom starring 7 nuns, about which the writer famously remarked "I would rather cut off my left arm than lose one of my nuns". That was a very long half hour).

15 minutes of not very good sitcom is an improvement on that, but can still leave the audience impatient, wondering where this will end and what they can do about it. 10 minutes of sitcom, incomplete as that may be, with the audience given the opportunity to choose to see the ending of just one of the comedies it sees, is, I think, the most compelling way of, as I've always said, not wasting their time with anything they don't like, and ensuring they're never more than ten minutes away from something they might prefer.

We now have Sitcom Saturday and Sitcom Mission offering more long-form sitcoms, and if the Sitcom Trials continues, it's got the Trials format. Horses for courses - a group of racehorses apply to a series of Universities, with hilarious consequences... sorry, that's the Sitcom Trials Pitch Fest©, totally different subject.

Then Bushbaby wrote:

Why is it contrived? Don't or shouldn't all stories have a beginning/middle/end? The end in sitcom trials entries being the solution to the cliff hanger

So I replied:

You ask the philosophical ones, don't you? Sure and isn't everything contrived in some way? Why're most TV shows an hour long minus adverts? Why are films too long when you get past the 90 minute mark? Why is the perfect pop song about 3 and a half minutes?

All good questions, and all open to change. We have 30 minute sitcoms on TV because sometime about 70 or 80 years ago someone found that that was how long audiences liked their comedy shows on the radio to be. Then people wrote comedies to that length and we somehow took it to be some ancient law, like the Golden Section or the Harmonic Scale. Or the Rule Of Three, why does that always work? No-one can explain it, but it seems to.

All these formats, like the Three Act Structure, are contrived. But some we don't notice cos we're used to them. In fact if a sitcom breaks the rules, like a double length episode of Friends which starts to unravel through its unfamiliarity from the usual formula, we notice the change far more than notice our complacent accepantance of something that we would, if we were actively participating in the entertainment as thinking individuals, challenge and question every time it was thrust upon us.

So, as I say, the "cliffhanger" format of the Trials is contrived, to serve a deliberate end. What isn't? And why not? And haven't I got work to be getting on with? Stop making me do all this thinking! I don't do thinking. I'm in light entertainment!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sitcom Trials: Miranda the Early Years

Here, from the vaults of The Sitcom Trials, is a previously unseen video clip of Miranda Hart, from the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Trials, with a very early version of the sitcom that went on to become BBC2's Miranda.



In it she's running a joke shop that sells penis pasta, there's a little blonde sidekick, played here by Charity Trimm, the love interest in the cafe, played by Gerard Foster, and the camp character, played by Dan Clegg (a character who, in the TV series, is played by James Holmes who was the star of the Sitcom Trials 2002 Edinburgh show. Small world.)

Sitcom Trials Grand Final video

At long last, after an unbelievable 18 hours trying to upload it (long story, something to do with changes at YouTube) is the video diary from the Grand Final of The Sitcom Trials. Features interviews with all the casts, clips from all the sitcoms in the final, and the all-important results.



Congratulations to all the writers, directors, actors and judges who've made this, the 10th Anniversary Season of The Sitcom Trials, such a success.

James Parker deserves the greatest praise for his production of this season. The directors he found to work with have done marvellous work, the casts have been outstanding, and the end result on stage in every single Heat, Semi Final and of course the Final was outstanding. It is, without a doubt, the best and most consistent season of Sitcom Trials shows that I have seen in the ten years I've been involved.

The nature of producing this show is that the first thing any critic will notice is things that go wrong, and it's so much harder to notice when things are just running smoothly. So it is to James's credit that there were no glitches, no missing casts, no under-prepared productions, in fact the only thing I'd criticise was some of my compering which, thankfully, the Socks spared us from in the Final. Oh and the occasional error in the weekly programme, which was also my doing. I have no doubt James had many frantic moments behind the scenes, but he kept those all well and truly hidden so neither I nor the audience ever became aware of them.

Paul Gannon deserves special thanks too, for being Minister Without Portfolio/ASM and doing so much of the work on the day of every show that I am overwhelmed with guilt that he never got mentioned in the programme.

I may write more of my thoughts on the season, but for the moment I'd be much more interested in hearing yours. As a participant or a spectator, what did anyone think of this season of The Sitcom Trials? (And should we do it again?)
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