Tag Archives: BBC

Putting the “cock” into “Cockney”: Danny Dyer’s massive part in EastEnders

3 Jan
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Legs apart: Danny Dyer as Mick Carter in EastEnders

 

Sir Alan Sugar’s not a fan of Danny Dyer’s debut as Mick Carter in EastEnders, recently branding the new cast a “total joke” on Twitter. I am looking forward to tonight’s storyline, in which Johnny Carter comes out to Daddy Dyer as gay, but it’s true that having seen Dyer’s big opening scene last weekend I can’t unsee it: there he was, wallowing on a double-bed with the missus in nothing but skimpy black briefs.

Now I understand why, when I went out to the New Boyana studios in Bulgaria to watch ITV’s hist-com Plebs being filmed, the cast members were all agog at the sheer size of Dyer’s, um, personality.

“Double D”, as they called him, was apparently the life and soul of the shoot when filming his episode as a gladiator in the first series. “We’d go out most nights with him,” said Lydia Rose Bewley, who plays Metella. Ryan Sampson (Groomio) added, “We’d go all the time to this club where everything is mirrored. I loved his word for kissing: a ‘lips-up’, he calls it.”

Sophie Colquhoun, who plays Cynthia, also nicknamed him “Planet Dyer” because “his personality is so massive”. And it’s not the only thing that is. “In one scene,” she said, “I go to him, ‘Ooh, Danny, I’m seeing quite a lot.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry, darlin’, let me shift position.’ Then he shifts, and he’s put it behind his legs, and it’s poking out! You have a little bundle of joy in your eye.”

A crew member also had his eyes indelibly seared: “In the bath-house scene Danny just didn’t care. There it was, in your face, swinging against the lockers.”

“He was pretty confident in the bath-house scene,” agreed Tom Rosenthal (Marcus), in his typically deadpan style. “He does have a penis. It is… worthwhile.”

I’m sorry to go on about Danny Dyer’s member (if you prefer high-brow, read my blog about Hamlet and Citizen Kane instead), but at least it makes a change: when people refer to a load of cock in connection with Dyer, they are normally talking about his films. Dyer by name, dire by nature. He just doesn’t seem able to say no to films such as Pimp, which I had the displeasure of sitting through for a week of film reviews in The Times (I gave it one star; more than it deserved). 

Then again, at least Dyer has the self-awareness and sense of humour to know it. “I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some s*** films but 7lives is f***ing awful,” he once Tweeted. And: “I ain’t gonna lie. [Just For The Record] is the biggest pile of s*** I have ever done and that’s saying something.”

And actually, for my money Dyer’s a rather good actor; he was actively terrific in Severance. He has an ear for comedy and a puppy-dog vulnerability that underscores his foul-mouthed, wide-boy front. The British film industry seems not to have been able to do more with him, sadly, than cast him as gangsters, wide-boys and football hooligans.

Here’s hoping the BBC give him a meatier part to play with. As it were.

The first series of Plebs is available on DVD through Universal; the second series will be out later this year.

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Gay abandonment: Time Out axes LGBT section and editor

20 Dec
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Paul Burston, outgoing LGBT editor of Time Out. Pic: Adrian Lourie.

Bit of a departure today from my usual topic of film. The Media Guardian has just published a short piece of mine about Time Out canning its LGBT listings (The Listings Formerly Known As Gay), along with its editor of the last 20 years, Paul Burston. First, read the piece here.

I also wanted to share with you the story of how Paul got the gig in the first place, a tale of split personalities and being held hostage by Lesbian Avengers…

I employed Paul when I was Editor of Time Out in the ‘90s. The previous Gay Editor, Michael Griffiths, was a lovely man who also doubled as the receptionist. You would know when he fielded a call for the Gay Editor, as he would first answer in his high, lilting, very camp voice, “HelloTimeOut, howmayIhelpyou?” Then: “I’ll just see if he’s in.” He’d put the phone down, inspect his nails, wink at anyone who happened to observe the charade, then pick up the phone again and speak in a deep, butch voice: “Hello, Gay Editor Michael Griffiths here.”

Problem is, Michael was too nice. He gave everything glowing reviews, even when he admitted to me that the play or whatever was awful. “We all have to pull together,” he would say. So when, very sadly, he became too ill with HIV to work, I was determined to employ a trouble-maker, someone who, as in other sections of the magazine, would speak their mind without fear or favour. That man was Paul Burston, and he’s been causing wonderful trouble ever since.

I know this to my cost, as I was once “held hostage” (as the papers later put it) in the Time Out lobby by 20-odd Lesbian Avengers, a group of activists who in 1988 famously broke into the BBC studios and chained themselves to the cameras as Sue Lawley was reading the 6 O’Clock News live on air. The reason was a supposedly “anti-lesbian” piece in Time Out – written in the Gay section, by a gay woman. I came down to hear their concerns and explain why we stood by our story, and they left after half an hour, agreeing to disagree but happy to have had a dialogue.

Paul, as his many friends will know, has become a flamboyant figure, not given to hiding his light under a bushel. Author of several novels, founder of the Polari literary salon which just won LGBT Cultural Event of the Year, prone to photo-shoots in terrific hats and, often, none too many clothes. Yet quick as he usually is to take up arms on issues that affect LGBT readers, he has remained touchingly loyal to Time Out and keen to avoid knocking it, even for cancelling his section.

I, too, am loath to criticise my beloved old mag and the talented and tireless people who still work there following successive waves of cuts; not least CEO Tim Arthur, a second-generation Time Outer whose step-dad was the lovely Comedy editor, Malcolm Hay. Nevertheless, I felt the Guardian piece needed to be said.

LSF #8: Steve Pemberton – a local talk for local people about Inside No 9

5 Nov

I absolutely freaking loved League of Gentlemen. Unlike Little Britain which it inspired, it wasn’t just a collection of catchphrases, though it had those – “This is a local shop for local people, your kind are not welcome here” or “You’re my wife now” – it was a whole, dark little world within the village of Royston Vasey. It was an extension of that uncomfortable scene in American Werewolf in London where the Americans enter a local British pub; or like that ‘50s sci-fi film where the village is cut off from the world by a glass dome, but in this case it’s an invisible force-field of weirdness.

Some nights, watching the black-faced Papa Lazarou, or the sex-change cabbie, or the sinister mystery meat that made everyone’s noses bleed, you just couldn’t believe the BBC had let them get away with this. They very nearly didn’t.

“They were terrified,” said Steve Pemberton at the London Screenwriters’ Festival recently. “They just didn’t get it. But we had influential people like Jon Plowman and Geoffrey Perkins protecting us, and saying you must back this.”

He and Reece Shearsmith did a Q&A session, where they described how they had got on straight away when they made lists of the funny things their parents said, and had many of the same things on there. Like what? “I don’t know,” said Pemberton, “like if you say you’re going to the cinema, and my dad says ‘I’ll bloody cinema you!’”

Shearsmith, incidentally, revealed how he’d agreed to play the part of a cannibalistic serial killer with agoraphobia last year in the short film Him Indoors. Quite simply, the director Tweeted him, and he said yes. “I liked the joke,” explained Shearsmith. “He couldn’t go out to get his victims so he had to get them to come to him. If these shorts are good, I’ll always do them. If not, I’ll pretend I’m busy!”

After the Q&A, I got some time alone with Pemberton, to quiz him about his latest project with Shearsmith – their most recent series Psychoville having come to an end last year after just two series. “The first thing we knew about it was we went in for a meeting, expecting it to be about the third series, and they said, ‘So, what’s next?’ We came up with a Tales of the Unexpected style thing called Inside No 9.”

It’s a surreal experience to sit on a bench in the courtyard of Regent’s Park College with the man who dreamed up and played such amiable grotesques as David Sowerbutts, Oscar Lomax, Tubbs Tattsyrup, Pauline and Herr Lipp, as well as Strackman Lux in Doctor Who and Edward Buchan in Whitechapel. And though he is happy to admit to his misfires – such as the League of Gentlemen film – he seems hugely enthusiastic about Inside No 9.

Inside No 9: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Gemma Arterton

Inside No 9: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Gemma Arterton

“Each episode takes place inside a different No 9,” he explains: “a theatre dressing room, a big country house, above a shop. Otherwise there’s no link between them. We were inspired by setting one episode of Psychoville in one room – as a cost-cutting exercise. We based it on Hitchcock’s Rope, shot in just two takes. It was exciting and liberating to do that, it harked back to our being on stage [where League of Gentlemen began]. The craft of writing becomes more important.

“We wanted to make this series simple. There’s so much fast cutting in TV, we felt we’d done enough of that. We’re thinking of Pinter here, or Ayckbourn. We’ve enjoyed placing our own restrictions on the show.

“In one of the episodes of Inside No 9, it actually all takes place inside a single wardrobe! It’s during a game of sardines: one by one, 12 people end up in there.

“Another one, called A Quiet Night In, is all physical, there’s no dialogue. It takes place during a heist, so the burglars have to be quiet, while the couple are having a row and not speaking to each other.

“Steve and I are not always in it, or we’re playing smaller characters, to showcase the writing more. But we’ve got a terrific cast: Gemma Arterton, Denis Lawson, Oona Chaplin, Tamsin Greig, Julia Davis, Anna Chancellor, Anna Reid… their commitment is just a week, so they are easier to get. It’s all in the can: I’m very, very excited, I can’t wait for people to see it. There’s an awful anticipation until next year when it’s shown.”

In the meantime, he says, Edward and Tubbs will man the tills of their local shop one last time: at a benefit gig at the Adelphi Theatre on December 1 in aid of the Royal Free Hospital. Also on the bill are Rowan Atkinson, Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Matt Lucas, Mitchell & Webb and Paul Whitehouse.

Call it the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

More from the London Screenwriters’ Festival: for loads of great stuff about Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct, start here; for Father Ted and The IT Crowd writer Graham Linehan, click here.

Taking French leave: Mark Kermode appointed new Observer film critic

17 Aug

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So Mark Kermode, 50, has just been appointed as the Observer’s film critic, replacing the venerable Philip French who retired after turning 70. While this may not do that much for lowering the age range of film critics (I often find myself the youngest person in the preview cinemas when I review movies, and I’m no wunderkind), it is a Very Good Thing, because Mark is a Very Good Thing.

A personal anecdote to explain why. One Tuesday night 20-plus years ago at Time Out, before I became editor and was still on the subs’ desk, I noticed young Mark lowering his trademark quiff over the new issue and comparing his printed review with the original copy on his screen.

Accustomed to writers complaining about their deathless prose being rearranged, I went over and asked if something was the matter. And he said something that, I swear, I have never heard before or since in nearly 30 years of journalism.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m looking at how my copy has been improved, so that I can learn from it.”

I knew then he would go far. And learn he has. But he has never lost the fearlessness with which he first turned up at Time Out’s offices with a fistful of cuttings from Manchester’s City Life, claiming (falsely) to have an appointment with film editor Geoff Andrew.

And if you don’t think fearlessness is the single most important quality in a critic, here’s another anecdote. At the opening night dinner for the London Film Festival in 1994, I sat with a table of editors and critics all slagging off that evening’s Gala Premiere, Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, starring Robert De Niro. Hang on, I said to one national critic who was joining in the general bashing, I saw your review. You said it was brilliant, and gave it four stars.

“Of course,” he said, unabashed. “It’s British. It’s Kenneth Branagh. The editor and the paper wanted a good review.”

Mark, I’m pretty sure, would never, ever, ever, ever alter a review. Unless he changed his mind himself, as he admits to doing on a second viewing of Blue Velvet in his excellent autobiography. (The autobiography is called It’s Only a Movie, it’s very funny, and I heartily recommend it. Especially for the chapter on the press trip from hell in the depths of Russia. And the one on how he was with Werner Herzog when he got shot in the arse.) Whether or not you agree that The Exorcist is the best movie of all time, you have to admire Mark’s conviction in sticking with it.

Mark’s appointment is also A Good Thing in that it reverses a trend for newspapers to treat arts criticism as disposable: something to be dispensed with altogether (the Independent on Sunday has fired its critics en masse, effective next month), or passed around favoured columnists. Mark has a passion for the pictures. Too much so for the BBC, who passed over Mark for Claudia Winkleman as a replacement for Jonathan Ross in 2010 on their flagship film programme.

“I don’t do moderation,” Mark explained on his Radio 5 show at the time, adding that the BBC would need “a mainstream sensibility”.

Congratulations to the Observer for appointing someone equally at home with horror and sci-fi as with European art cinema. And here’s to the next 20 years of Sundays.

David Bowie Is at the V&A: it really is the freakiest show

16 Apr

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I’ve just returned from what is, in my thoroughly unobjective opinion as a Bowiefreak, the best exhibition ever mounted. The V&A’s David Bowie Is deserves the hype. But since tickets have been selling out quicker than a rock star clutching a can of Pepsi, and you’re unlikely to get to go for a while yet, let me guide you through it in song…

ImageCh-ch-ch-changes. Bowie, the exhibition makes clear, changed the image of every band he joined, even before he started his solo career.

The ever-circling skeletal family. The headset commentary offers snatches of song and interview, and amazingly it “knows” where you are, switching back and forth depending on which exhibit you are standing in front of. It’s like being inside a living documentary.

ImageCracked Actor. As well as selling over 140 million albums, Bowie has acted in over a dozen feature films including Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (right). There’s a separate screening space for clips from the likes of Labyrinth and Basquiat, as well as the loin cloth he wore while playing the Elephant Man, to no small acclaim, on stage in New York.

ImageThe hand that wrote this letter. In addition to the cut-up lyrics for Blackout (left) there are loads of handwritten song lyrics, most of which, sadly, are pristine, with none of the crossings-out and rewriting that usually make handwritten songs and poems so fascinating. Did they spring fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus? Or, more likely, are these just write-ups of the final versions? There are a couple of kooks, however. Most striking is a deleted verse from Fashion: “Hell up ahead – burn a play – start a fight/If you’re covered in blood, you’re doing it right.” There’s also a glimpse into how Heroes could have been very much worse: “And we kissed/And you felt called” is crossed out and replaced with “And we kissed/As though nothing could fall.”

ImageHang him on my wa-wa-wa-wall. Bowie’s interest in art goes back to his teens: a school sketchbook is here, along with sketches for album covers (such as his self-portrait for Heroes, right), costumes, stage sets, and characters and backdrops for a projected film set in Hunger City. He’s no draughtsman, but he has the vision for others to follow. Most poignant are two canvases from his Berlin period (including a bug-eyed Iggy Pop), with a bit of an Egon Schiele vibe. He has said that painting helped him to kick his drug addictions.

Return of the (Very) Thin White Duke. As well as loads of stage costumes, his measurements are written out in detail. His waist size in the early ‘70s is given as 26.5in!!

ImageSpace Oddity. The V&A show is vast, full of nooks and corners and booths. At the end is a cavernous space dominated by a vast screen pumping out supersized videos, and costumed mannequins stacked up in see-through boxes four storeys high.

Five years. The V&A has collaborated with the BBC on a documentary entitled Five Years, covering 1971, 1975, 1977, 1980 and 1983. It will be broadcast sometime next month.

He’s a star, man. I went round the exhibition with a Bowie neophyte, who previously had no interest in him or his songs. Afterwards she spent hours watching past videos and interviews on YouTube.

Click here for my blog on David Bowie’s Where Are We Now?

Click here for my 1995 interview with Bowie and Eno

Exclusive: The Exorcist to air on Radio 4

30 Nov

ImageFirst the Jimmy Savile scandal for Radio 1, now Radio 4 is set to scandalise its listeners with the news, which I can exclusively reveal, that it has just bought the rights to The Exorcist. The radio adaptation will be aired next year. The horror film caused a sensation in 1973, with its scenes of projectile vomiting, head-twisting and sexual uses for a crucifix by a 12-year-old girl. Barf bags were issued in cinemas for patrons. When the film was released in the UK, it was banned by several councils, and was not awarded a video certification until 1999.

Jeremy Howe, Radio 4’s Commissioning Editor for Drama, made the revelation at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. “Horror is an underexplored genre for us,” said Howe, with commendable understatement, saying he was keen to diversify Radio 4’s drama output.

In May Morgan Creek announced it would make a ten-part TV series based on The Exorcist, to which original director William Friedkin tweeted, “There is no way I would even watch it”, and author William Peter Blatty cast doubt on the announcement by saying he had not cleared the rights to his book.

ImageRadio 4 clearly has ambitions to reach out to a new demongraphic, sorry, demographic. Yesterday Neil Gaiman announced on his blog that Radio 4 was adapting Neverwhere, his fantastical vision of an alternative London beneath our feet. It was mishandled as a BBC TV series in 1996, which couldn’t seem to decide whether to pitch it at adults or children. It should work well on radio, and has attracted a stellar cast: James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head, Natalie Domer and, yes, Christopher Lee. “This makes me happier than I have any right to be,” commented Neil.

It’s Radio 4, let’s not forget, that was the original home of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, still superior to the TV or film versions. Caroline Raphael, BBC Radio’s Commissioning Editor for Comedy, points out that radio can be far more “cinematic” than film can: “Johnny Vegas calls radio ‘the CGI of the soul’,” said Raphael at the Screenwriters’ Festival. “You can do epic things that otherwise you can only do with a huge film budget.”