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Hey, Doctor Who fans – welcome to the 21st Century

April 6, 2010

Seems a bit ironic that there are some Doctor Who fans out there that need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Lighten up folks. Tom Baker is not the Doctor anymore. Seems as though much of the UK is in an uproar this week after the long-awaited premiere this past weekend on the BBC according to this story in Monday’s Telegraph.

This picture shows the interior of the new-look Tardis  following a £250,000 redesign.Word’s out that both the new Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion, Amy (Karen Gillan) were not the only targets of the “too sexy” comments and complaints. The Tardis actually got into the mix after the interior of the new time machine was revealed during Saturday’s premiere to where the Doctor commented,  “Oh, you sexy thing“. For some reason, just the idea of putting a swimming pool and a walk-in wardrobe in the traveling time machine is too much for long-time viewers of the series. Comments ranged from one viewer taking offense to the “tarty policewoman” while another felt that the entire series had been demeaned by “replacing good episode stories with slutty girls.”

Putting all this aside, the reviews have been great for the much-anticipated premiere. From what I’ve been able to see so far, we are in for a great ride courtesy of the brilliant mind of Steven Moffat as he continues to push the envelope along with a stable of some pretty incredible writers that have been assembled for this first post-David Tennant season.

Somehow, the words of Douglas Adams come to mind from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyDon’t Panic. The Doctor is still in a tweed jacket and a bow-tie. It all balances out in the end.

Fawlty Towers Revisited?

April 5, 2010

In an eerily similar occurrence to the original during rehearsals of Fawlty Towers at the King’s Theatre in Gloucester, seems as though after all these years, Basil Fawlty still hasn’t gotten the hang of hitting Manuel on the head with a frying pan without inflicting real pain.

1411053According to the particulars during rehearsal at the King’s Theatre, they use a real frying pan for authenticity. The director states, “If you smack someone in the right place with a frying pan it doesn’t hurt very much.” Seems as though “Basil” missed his mark during rehearsals this week and hit Manuel not only in the wrong place, but also with the rim of the saucepan.

As told by Andrew Sachs years later, and supported by John Cleese over the years, the scene in the “Wedding Party” episode of the real Fawlty Towers turned out to one of several very dangerous ones for the actor who played Spanish waiter, Manuel. Mistaking a partying Manuel for a burglar, the script called for Cleese to grab a rubber frying pan off the wall during the actual filming of the episode but, instead, mistakenly grabbed a real one and clanged that off the back of Manuel’s head rendering him somewhat senseless for more than a moment. Needless to say, Andrew wasn’t acting when you hear the ensuing exclamation that following the obvious hit on the head. When you slow the video down frame by frame, neither the pan nor the head give an inch when they meet.

Can’t wait to see how the make the kitchen scene where Manuel is set on fire, “authentic”.

Ladies of Letters meet After You've Gone

April 4, 2010

Two new British comedy series are set to premiere on public television in the coming months. KERA Dallas will begin tonight (Sunday) with Ladies of Letters at 11:00pm and After You’ve Gone at 11:30pm. A quick synopsis and preview of both. Would love to know what you think of them, wherever you are.

Ladies of Letters

Once described as “The Talking Heads meet Keeping Up Appearances” and based on the highly-successful BBC Radio 4  series of the same name, Ladies of Letters stars Maureen Lipman and Anne Reid as Irene Spencer and Vera Small, two women who forge not only a friendship through letters, but have some interesting adventures over time. Both in their 70′s, Irene is fun-loving but very swift to be judgmental while Vera is the consummate flirt. The original Radio 4 series starred Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales. While I would have loved to have seen both of these British comedy legends in the television series, Maureen Lipman and Anne Reid are brilliant in bringing Irene and Vera to life.


After You’ve Gone

Pretty simple here. Recently divorced Nicholas Lyndhurst gets his mother-in-law in the settlement while his ex-wife gets the house and kids. Once you get to know the mom-in-law, played brilliantly by Celia Imrie, you’ll wonder what Jimmy did in a previous life to not get the house and the kids in the deal instead. This one is another from the Fred Barron school of comedy with a team of writers and, like My Family, is much more “American” in feel than the traditional British situation comedy. First and foremost, it’s good to see Lyndhurst back on the small screen. While I always thought he was great in the perennial British favorite, Only Fools and Horses, one of my personal favorites of his was Goodnight Sweetheart, a series with a very risky storyline, but great writing and great casting.


Old school comedians still rule!

April 3, 2010

Recently, a poll was conducted in the UK to identify Britain’s all-time favorite comedians. Surprising to some, not surprising to many, was the fact that images.jpgthe old-style comedians topped the poll with 67 year old Billy Connolly heading a list that included Victoria Wood and the late, Tommy Cooper. Perhaps just as surprising was the fact that only 20% of people polled thought today’s comedians were funnier that those of yesteryear, citing that today’s comedians think the more you swear, the funnier you are. Although, watching Billy Connolly, I see where the new generation of stand-up comedians all learned to swear.

Story ImageWhile most of the traditional old school stars made their name in the world of stand-up comedy, some did transfer over to the small screen such as Victoria Wood in Dinnerladies and “youngster” Ricky Gervais in The Office, who came in at #10 on the list.

Many on the list are not household names in the United States, but a number of today’s stars grew up watching these folks and will attribute much of their desire to enter the comedy world and success to the old-style comedians. In fact, you can see a lot of Hyacinth in Patricia Routledge’s character, Kitty, from the Victoria Wood As Seen On TV series from the mid-80′s.

Who would top your favorite British comedy list?

Happy 70th, Penelope! And, we open the mailbag

April 2, 2010

You Look Marvelous

Today is Penelope Keith’s 70th birthday. Billy Crystal’s character, Fernando Lamas, couldn’t have said it better. You look marvelous. With a long public television history More Funny Ladies of British Comedydating back to the days of Good Neighbors and To the Manor Born right through to her recent efforts serving as host for both The Funny Ladies of British Comedy and More Funny Ladies of British Comedy, Penelope continues to be very active in her efforts to keep regional theatre in the UK alive and has also appeared in recent years in West End London. If that isn’t enough, in 2002, Penelope was named the High Sheriff of Surrey, a position which dates back to 1066. Penelope currently serves as a Deputy Lieutenant in Surrey. Penelope was also awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1990 and promoted to a Commander (CBE) in the 2007 New Year Honors for charitable services.

Tellyspotting mailbag

Couple of questions and some great ideas have come in recently that we need to get to in the monthly mailbag. Remember, the first Friday of each month we’ll answer all your questions so please send your ideas, thoughts and questions to tellyspotting@kera.org and we’ll do our best.

  • Tom had some suggestions about a couple of series, The Darling Buds of May, which starred David Jason and Catherine Zeta Jones in one of her first television roles and Still Game, Scotland’s most successful comedy export about the live of a couple of “elder” individuals always looking for adventure (sounds like Last of the Summer Wine). Haven’t seen either of them, but will take a trip to Premiere Video and see what we may be able to do with both for possible broadcast. Thanks, Tom.
  • Geoff had a great idea based on our recent efforts to showcase a couple of early series that made the successful leap from British television to American television. He wonders about the possibility of acquiring the likes of Steptoe and Son, Till Death Do Us Part or The Liver Birds. To be honest, Geoff, not sure if the U.S. broadcast rights are even available for any of these series, but will definitely check them out.

Tellyspotting continues to grow in numbers daily, thanks in large part to everyone out there that is accessing the site, commenting, forwarding or recommending, etc. If you know someone that is a British television fan, please send them the link as we would love to keep the trend going as being the site to go to for “all things British”. As we just past the six month mark, I just wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you to everyone for the support and interest in not only the site, but in British comedy, in general. Remember, if you have a question, suggestion or idea, shoot an e-mail to tellyspotting@kera.org and we’ll get to it next mailbag.

Lost 13th episode of Fawlty Towers unearthed!

April 1, 2010

imagesWith the mysterious script chronicled in the book, Fawlty Towers – A Worshiper’s Companion, a lost, never-before-broadcast 13th episode of the classic British comedy, Fawlty Towers, has been discovered. Swedish author, Lars Holger Holm, admits that he viewed the mysterious 13th episode in 1999 in the London flat of an individual from the Editorial Department who worked on numerous British comedy series.

LarsBlogWhen asked recently why he thought the episode, titled “The Robbers” was never broadcast, Holger Holm responded by saying…

Q: Is the 13th episode, “The Robbers”, for real? If so, why do you think it was never broadcast, even in later years as a TV special?

A: I have absolutely no idea why the 13th episode, called The Robbers, has never been aired. I only know that I saw it once in Bill Morton’s flat not far from Piccadilly Circus on a particularly wet evening. Hadn’t it been for this, I might myself have doubted the otherwise striking authenticity of the script, reproduced in the book.

As things stand, I can only assure the reader that the show, as far as I remember, was amazing. Rarely have I seen John Cleese and his crew reach such continuous heights of sublime entertainment, and the only reason I can see for not wanting this episode to reach the fans, is that it would perhaps create the false impression that there was so much more to wring out of the material, whereas, in fact, the 13th episode represents the ultimate solution to the problem of how to carry this tormented universe to a happy end.

As concerns the reason for never admitting its existence, let alone airing it, I must refer the reader to the BBC. They should know why. And poor Bill. The last time I tried to call him he had a parrot recorded on his answering machine, exclaiming: P-off!

What do you think?

You can judge for yourself, but I’m counting on tracking down the elusive episode for future broadcast.

Who said television doesn't influence behavior?

March 31, 2010

Whoever coined this phrase must have underestimated the power of television to influence buying behavior.


Why, you ask? Well, just ask the makers of Harris Tweed how they feel now that Matt Smith, the Eleventh traveling Time Lord, has put on the hand-woven timeless jacket for the new series. The 60′s style jacket will images.jpg8now be revived and marketed to Doctor Who fans around the world. According to David Reid, Harris Tweed Textile Manufacturing Ltd,  “We’ve been deliberately trying to market Harris Tweeds appeal to younger people and in one fell swoop we’ve seen this“.  He added, “The endorsement by Dr Who shows that Harris Tweed is timeless and can be worn anytime, at any age and in any galaxy.

According to Smith, he thought the jacket had “the feeling of a geography teacher, or Einstein“. Supposedly, Smith was reading about Einstein when he was beginning to develop his version of the Doctor.

Nice to see that millions of marketing dollars needed to revive the industry can be saved by just the initial broadcast of Doctor Who next month.

Gervais & Merchant take on the big screen with Cemetery Junction

March 30, 2010

imagesOffice co-creators/writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant take the leap to the big screen with their upcoming film, Cemetery Junction, scheduled for an April 2010 release in the U.K. Unfortunately, no scheduled release date set as of yet in the United States.

Taking place in 1970′s England, Gervais describes the film as a ‘coming of age’ cross between The Office and Mad Men. The film, starring Christian Cooke (of Demon’s fame), is set in the town that Gervais grew up in and tells the universal story of being trapped in a small town with no visible means of escape.

In a BBC 2 radio interview recently, Gervais commented that the script is loosely based on the Bruce Springsteen song, Thunder Road.

Some say…It's all about the writing

March 29, 2010

Ask 1000 people worldwide what they like about British comedy and I guarantee you’ll find yourself in the company of 1000 people that say it’s all in the writing. Smart, witty, intelligent — words that are repeatedly used to describe British comedy writing.

Good writing + good casting = success

Ask any actor or actress cast in a British comedy, and all will say it begins and ends with the writing. Good writing translates to success nine times out of ten. You’ll never get an actor to admit that they bring a lot to the table, but that’s just the “British way”. Good script writing and the right casting gives you that ten out of ten success rate that will stand the test of time. A great cast can’t save an idea that just doesn’t work or is headed nowhere. Great writing will struggle with the wrong cast.

In more cases than not, the British comedy writer is writing from experience. Not always, but it doesn’t hurt to know of what you are writing. All to often, today’s comedy writers think all you have to do is swear and talk loud and it’ll be funny.

Was Jeremy Lloyd really Mr. Lucas?

Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served) spent his early days working at Simpson’s Department Store. Roy Clarke (Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances, Open All Hours) grew up with a relative owning a small grocery store like Arkwright’s. Even though Clarke was 40 when he began writing Last of the Summer Wine, he admits to have based the exploits of Compo, Clegg, Foggy and, later, Truly on his own experiences with friends during his youth. It’s no secret that the genius behind Coupling was the early dating life of Steven Moffat and producer/wife, Sue Vertue. So much so, the lead characters are named Steve and Susan.

Think of your favorites of all-time. The ones that have stood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were 30+ years ago….Yes Minister, Fawlty Towers, Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, etc. All great scripts, all great casts from the stars down to the supporting cast. All equally as important.

Who can forget the greatest written exchanges to have ever been written or spoken in British comedy…ok, these are two of my personal favorites. Have a favorite writer? E-mail tellyspotting@kera.org and let us know.

Fawlty Towers

imagesBasil Fawlty: Is something wrong?
German Guest: Will you please stop talking about the war?
Basil Fawlty: Me? You started it.
German Guest: We did not!
Basil Fawlty: Yes, you did, you invaded Poland.


images-1Captain Blackadder: Baldrick, what are you doing out there?
Private Baldrick: I’m carving something on a bullet, sir.
Captain Blackadder: What are you craving?
Private Baldrick: I’m carving “Baldrick”, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Why?
Private Baldrick: It’s part of a cunning plan, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Of course it is.
Private Baldrick: You know how they say that somewhere there’s a bullet with your name on it?
Captain Blackadder: Yes?
Private Baldrick: Well I thought that if I owned the bullet with my name on it, I’ll never get hit by it. Cause I’ll never shoot myself…
images-2Captain Blackadder: Oh, shame!
Private Baldrick: And the chances of there being *two* bullets with my name on it are very small indeed.
Captain Blackadder: Yes, it’s not the only thing that is “very small indeed”. Your brain for example- is so minute, Baldrick, that if a hungry cannibal cracked your head open, there wouldn’t be enough to cover a small water biscuit.

More "My Family" says his family

March 28, 2010

images.jpgThe great Robert Lindsay, who stars as Ben Harper along side the equally great Zoe Wanamaker in the British situation comedy, My Family, has been ordered by his son to continue with the series when they resume shooting this Spring for, what may be, the last in the series.

Series creator and writer, Fred Barron, is well-known in the United States as being part of the Seinfeld creative team along with other U.S. comedies such as Caroline in the City, Dave’s World and The Larry Sanders Show. Barron also created After You’ve Gone starring Nicholas Lyndhurst. With nine seasons and over 100 episodes under their belts, the long-running Britcom has been commissioned for a 10th and 11th season.

Ironically, My Family goes directly against all conventional wisdom for a successful British comedy in that it’s written with a team of writers, not the traditional one or, possibly, two writers on a project. The team of writers approach is much more of an American style of writing situation comedy than it is in the UK.

There seems to be a pretty clear divide in the UK as to whether or not you like or dislike the series. Interestingly enough, the dislikes point to the more mainstream quality of the story lines and the “likes” point to, well, the more mainstream quality of the story lines. Guess we now know why it’s survived for ten years and still going.

Personally, while I find myself a little more on the “like” half of the equation than the “dislike” side when it comes to My Family, I don’t see this as ever being a classic series that runs for 30 years after it goes out of production like a Yes Minister, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers or Good Neighbors.

Unfortunately, there are no clips of My Family to be found anywhere, but here’s Robert Lindsay in, perhaps, one of the greatest clips from Extras with Ricky Gervais just for fun.