In another ‘Christmas comes early’ moment for fans of brilliant telly, word came down yesterday that the long-rumored Spooks movie is in the works. Known as MI5 in the States when broadcast on public television stations, the brilliant spy drama series which had an incredible 10-series/9 year run on BBC 1 has always been, in my mind palace, the best television on television. Ok, maybe I made that comment “BS”, as in before Sherlock, but still…
Peter Firth, who seemed to always manage to escape the choir invisible more times than the law allows, will reprise his role as MI5 chief and Head of Counterterrorism, Harry Pearce, with production set to begin in early 2014. Spooks: The Greater Good picks up right where the series left off in the suspense department as terrorist Adam Qasim escapes from under MI5 noses during a handover to the head of counter-terrorism (surprise!). The blame is placed solely on the shoulders of Pearce, who then mysteriously disappears one night off a bridge into the Thames. Unfortunately, for Harry, there’s no turning to Tom, Adam, Lucas, Ros or Erin this time around for help. This leaves his protégé, Will Crombie, to help uncover a conspiracy extending from Vietnam to the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, in typical Spooks fashion, a devastating attack back home on London is imminent. Cue: suspense.
Besides Firth, who appeared in all 86 episodes of the series, the big-screen adaptation will also see original series director Bharat Nalluri (Torchwood, Hustle, regular series writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent and will be produced by Jane Featherstone and Stephen Garrett who were at the helm of the TV series.
Other cast members have not been announced but one can only hope that Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) will be featured prominently.
Vicious’, a.k.a. Vicious Old Queens, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, will make its way to PBS in the States beginning Summer 2014. The British comedy, which aired on ITV this past Spring in the UK, tells the story of a constantly bickering couple who have lived together in a small Covent Garden flat for nearly 50 years. But underneath all their vicious co-dependent fighting, they deeply love each other.
Freddie (McKellen) was a budding actor and Stuart (Jacobi) a barman when they first met but their careers are now pretty much over and their lives now consist of reading books, walking their dog and bickering. Today, Freddie is an over-the-hill actor whose career consisted mainly of bit parts. Although his career never really took off, he insists on behaving as if it did and still does. Stuart is a former bar manager with an aged mother named Mildred who remains clueless as to her son’s relationship with Freddie.
The original title for the series was to be Vicious Old Queens. It was changed to Vicious when, jokingly, McKellen took offense to it stating, “…I’m not old!“. The six-part series, which was recently commissioned for a second series amidst some mixed reviews from critics for series 1, also stars Frances de la Tour (Harry Potter) and Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones). The creator/writer for Vicious is former writer and executive producer of Will & Grace and Family Guy, Gary Janetti, with veteran sitcom director, Ed Bye (Red Dwarf, My Family, directing.
For UK fans of the series, a new Christmas special of the series is in the works for a 24 December broadcast on ITV.
I think I’ve decided that only thing that could rival the fanboy love and appreciation for Sherlock Holmes by the minds of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss is the love of film and all things Hitchcock-ian by League of Gentlemen alumni, Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith. Case in point. Following the greatness of The League of Gentlemen series, Pemberton and Shearsmith reunited several years later to create the equally as brilliant, Psychoville.
The fourth episode in the first series was a nothing short of perfection send up of Hitchcock’s Rope. Thankfully, technology has changed since 1948 when Rope was shot. Given that the concept for the film was that the events happened in real time, the footage was taken in one continuous shot meaning that film was shot in ten-minute takes, which was the amount of film in one reel on the camera. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, Pemberton and Shearsmith grabbed fellow League of Gentlemen member, Mark Gatiss, and created what, essentially, was a televised play, shot as if it was live. As you can see in the video below, this was a monumental effort in that both cast and crew worked continuously as stagehands while carrying out their usual filming and audio responsibilities.
To me, today’s attempts to shoot live episodes of non-news/sports events such as The Drew Carey Show, ER, Hot is Cleveland or even the 2010 live episode of Eastenders all pale in comparison. They may have been shot ‘live’, but with the Pyschoville “Rope” episode, this was done in one take for the entire 30 minutes.
While the Psychoville Halloween Special still ranks up there as one of the top programs for Halloween, the “Rope” homage is right up there.
Yes, I know, Homeland is an American television series, so you may be asking why write about this on Tellyspotting? It’s simple, really. The series stars British actor, Damian Lewis. The St. Johns Wood born actor has won numerous awards for his portrayal of former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Nicholas Brody including the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and the 2012 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama.
The series also stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a Central Intelligence Agency officer with bipolar disorder. Mathison has come to believe that Brody, who was held captive by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war, was ‘turned’ by the enemy and now threatens the United States.
Besides Damian Lewis’ individual awards, the series has received critical acclaim and has won several awards, including the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and the 2011 and 2012 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series, Drama. The individual and series awards are very deserving, all of them. But, as Downton Abbey can attest, you haven’t arrived until Sesame Street gets involved.
In their just released Sesame Street parody, the entire Homeland cast get a well-deserved Muppet makeover. In Homelamb, the Big Bad Wolf is on the lamb. Special Sheep Agent, Nicholas Ba-a-a-a-rody is the agency’s only hope for bringing the Big Bad Wolf to justice.
Potential terrorist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is perfectly cast as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The action focuses on earlier series of the conspiracy thriller as CIA intelligence officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) tries to prove that Brody is in fact the big bad wolf…but, is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Or just a sheep in wolf’s clothing in sheep’s clothing?
KERA-TV in Dallas was the first PBS station in the United States to broadcast Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in October 1974. The subsequent March 1975 KERA/Dallas in-studio appearance was the Pythons’ first stop in the U.S. after the Los Angeles premiere of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Recently, Tellyspotting had the great good fortune to sit down with Michael Palin at the BBC Syndication Showcase meeting in New Orleans. Michael was in town to talk about his newest project that would be coming to PBS in 2014, Brazil with Michael Palin. In a nutshell, one of the nicest, most accommodating individuals on the planet, so grab a coffee and enjoy…
Python and KERA/Dallas…
Tellyspotting: I want to take you back to October 1974 when Monty Python’s Flying Circus first premiered in the U.S. on KERA-TV in Dallas. When you initially heard the news that it was ‘Dallas’ and KERA-TV where Python would first air, what were your thoughts?
Michael Palin: My first thought was that this was just right. This is perfect Monty Python. It wasn’t picked up by the ‘fashionable’ markets of Boston, New York or San Francisco. It was picked up in Dallas. In a strange way, someone once pointed out that all the Python team were out-of-towners. We didn’t come together in London. We came from places like Sheffield and Weston-Super-Mare and places like that so it just seemed ‘right’ that the premiere was in Dallas. Dallas, of all places at that period in history, was still recovering from when the President was shot. I remember thinking, this is wonderful. And, the fact that it had been so successful that PBS stations around the country then picked up on this. It was exciting to think that Dallas started it all, especially since as a city at that time, it was pretty conservative.
TS: How important was it to be on PBS:
MP: For us, it was absolutely vital because that meant it was uncut. We had been told after 1969 that it would never air in the U.S. No TV company would touch it. It’s too rude, it’s too difficult, too naughty. And yet, lots of Americans that came to London loved it. The movie ‘And Now for Something Completely Different’ was made to pick up an American audience through movies rather than television. That didn’t work either. We hadn’t almost given up. So, with that October premiere in Dallas, the news was truly unexpected…very exciting and a true celebration for us, but quite unexpected.
TS: That video of when yourself, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman were in the KERA studios in 1975. My first thought was ‘Who are these kids?’ Four extremely talented individuals that were very innocent and just having fun. Did you have any idea as to the explosion that was getting ready to take place for Python?
MP: We had absolutely no idea. In fact, when we came on those early tours, I remember it just like it was in Dallas with a lot of kids sitting around on the studio floor. We’d walk through them and sit down and didn’t quite really know how to behave. Were we expected to be silly, should we be serious or what? Nowadays, we talk quite seriously about Python but in those days we were just bewildered by what was going on. I do remember going on one quite famous chat show and they didn’t even realize that ‘Monty Python’ was more than one person so they didn’t have enough room for us in studio. Terry Jones sat on one of the guests’ lap, which happened to be David Soul from Starsky and Hutch.
TS: We’re coming up on 40 years of Python in the U.S. How do you feel seeing a whole new generation of Python fans out there discovering this silliness?
MP: To our great surprise, it did last. At the time, there wasn’t a great history of shows lasting. They didn’t often keep programs, they just got rid of them. Lots of good material was just ditched because there was no storage space. Things like the DVD or YouTube didn’t exist so we really didn’t expect it to last. To find after all these years that the interest in Python continued, especially in America, more so than in the UK, that people were not going to let it go was exciting. You have fathers telling sons or daughters who are now telling the next generation of 9-10 year olds making that two generations after Python. I don’t analyze it but I think all the different types of comedy in Python with its’ physical jokes, historical jokes, present-day jokes and verbal jokes leaves people in the end with a joyful feeling.
Diaries: 1969-1979, The Python Years and a recent return to comedy
TS: The diaries that you kept, in particular the 1969-1979 diaries, are an incredible collection of the time. Was there a point that you took a step back and felt that these should be published?
MP: I kept the diaries since just before Python began. After 30+ years, someone told me that these should be published. Honestly, I thought ‘I don’t know’. Would it be ‘giving away family secrets’ but I thought I’d give it a go and maybe edit a bit. Probably 75-80% was taken out, all the family holidays and personal stuff didn’t need to be in there but there was still a narrative of my working life which was important. I don’t regret it. Ultimately, I wanted to share these things while I was alive rather than having everything be printed after you’re gone. I think I’d like to hear what other peoples memories are, what they recall. I think that’s been one of the great satisfactions of doing the diaries. The number of people that have come up and said that they’ve been moved by a particular bit. It’s always something different. A lot of comedy writers have loved the diaries as it details the dynamics of a comedy group working together.
TS: You recently returned to comedy in The Wiper’s Times. What drew you to this particular project?
MP: Well, the writer of the show edits ‘Private Eye’, which is a bit like Python. It’s like Python in that it’s intended to be satirical. I think it’s one of the best magazines in the country. It remains funny but also very perceptive and revealing about what’s going on in the news. I’m a great fan of ‘Private Eye’. I’m also very interested in the First World War. Really, it was the fact that the script was about humor in war which is an area that is not touched on at all and one that is very important area. When dreadful things are going on with incomprehensible suffering, people will use humor just to cope. The problem is, war has a tendency to become sanitized with good people doing good things when, in reality, it’s a terrible mess with people doing terrible things to each other which they regret. Comedy is very important, especially, in this area so I was very happy to be asked to a part of it.
Around the World with Michael Palin
TS: It’s been roughly 25 years since your first travel series, Around the World in 80 Days. Where did your interest come in travel?
MP: I think it’s always been there. I was born and brought up in Sheffield, which is a very industrial city just on the edge of the Pennines mountains (separating North West England from Yorkshire and North East England). I just loved the sense of adventure minutes away, getting away from the house on a bicycle. I read books and magazines such as ‘National Geographic’ and traveled vicariously. With Python, we did a lot of traveling in the States but didn’t really see America. Only airports, the inside of TV studios, radio stations and the like. So, when the BBC asked me after A Fish Called Wanda if I’d like to go around the world in 80 days, I said ‘yes, of course’. Others had turned it down, which I didn’t realize at the time. The BBC had told me I was the only person that could possibly do this.
TS: One of the successes of your travel series is the concept that you become the ‘everyman’ with a natural curiosity in each series and not merely ‘the host’.
MP: That’s how I see it. When we did Around the World in 80 Days, I really didn’t know what to expect. Was I supposed to be an actor, am I supposed to be ‘me’, there’s no script, I wasn’t particularly skilled at doing long pieces summing up what I had just seen. It didn’t really matter. What people liked was this everyman thing which gave the impression of a bit of each of them being there, making the same mistakes. I think the largest portion of people that watch don’t want to travel. They want to see other countries but they want to be reminded why traveling is just a hellish business. There’s Michael Palin eating strange food, getting ill, getting sand blown in his face. We don’t want to go there but we want to see someone else doing it. So it works two ways. One as an everyman figure taking people with them and also someone there testing the dangerous waters of travel reminding people why it’s best to stay home.
TS: With both Sahara and Brazil coming out in the States soon, is there something that audiences on PBS will have to look forward to? Was there one takeaway from each that surprised you?
MP: With ‘Sahara’, it was a revelation. To me, anyway, as to how much was going on in what one might think of as merely 1000′s of miles of barren desert. That was the greatest success of ‘Sahara’. Beautiful music in places you’d least expect it. In many ways, we were able to show things that had never been seen before. ‘Brazil’ is different in a way. Where ‘Sahara’ is about scarcity, ‘Brazil’ is about abundance. Abundance of everything. How do you deal with a country that has so much of everything. What are the problems? It’s sort of looking behind the ‘carnival face’ and seeing how it all works and who lives there. I don’t get the sense that people know Brazil at all.
TS: Looking back on your 40+ years of work whether it be comedy or travel, do you ever stop for a moment and think about being a part of something that has made millions of people laugh or get enjoyment out of your work over the years?
MP: It’s hard to go through life thinking ‘I’ve done this or I’ve done that’ You do, in a way, but I’m always thinking about the future. It’s nice to have done those things but you can’t hang on to that. You can only hang on to what you are currently about to do. It does remind me, in a good way, that my life has been about entertainment. It’s been very satisfying. To think there are people that still find Python funny. Funnier than I ever thought it would be. The ‘Knights who say Ni’ was done on a bleak Scottish mountainside one day and I thought it just didn’t work. It was such a slender idea when we read it, it didn’t work. And, of course, today it’s classic. So that’s quite nice. Something that will remain for people to see. The success of Python was due to our independence. We were never told what we could do or what we couldn’t do. The BBC just let us have 13 half-hours to work out what we wanted to do. We had incredible freedom. The six of us were allowed the freedom to indulge ourselves which I don’t think happens too much in television today.
TS: What makes you laugh today?
MP: Well life generally (laughing), I suppose. My general reaction to things going wrong you laugh rather than agonize over them. Twenty Twelve is very good, indeed. Ricky Gervais’ portrayal of David Brent in The Office was brilliant.
I couldn’t leave without asking Michael about that fateful day in March 1975 in the KERA studios and what he must have thought when he entered the studio and someone handed him a real armadillo – stuffed. You can see in the video how interested the Pythons were in all aspects and angles of this creature that they had probably never seen. I’ve always wondered, to this day, what ever happened to that petrified armadillo. Amazingly, he said he still has it and even had a photo on his iPhone to prove it! How cool is that? So, to whomever gave that armadillo to the Pythons that day in Dallas some 40 years ago, it’s still part of the Palin and Python family and here’s the picture to prove it!
As we barrel head long towards Halloween, there will be a seemingly endless barrage of haunted houses and horror movie premieres at everyone’s disposal in the coming days. Let’s not forget the traditional ‘lady of the lake’ story that seems to fluctuate from urban myth to “..no, it really happened to my brother, I promise“.
Far more important from our perspective and in keeping with the focus of Tellyspotting, will be to turn our attention to the Top-10 Haunted Pubs in Britain this Halloween. While there are a number of top-10 lists floating around of Britain’s most haunted, one thing remains a constant as to why pubs are the way to go. As Spooky Stuff explains, “…all-night vigils in haunted buildings are all very well. But wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to wait cold and bored while hoping to see a ghost? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a bite to eat socialise with friends, maybe even quaff some cold beer while waiting for the spooks to appear?” Couldn’t agree more. Here are their top-10 to check out this year if in the neighborhood…
Grenadier Pub, London – once the favourite haunt of soldiers from the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, one unfortunate grenadier seems to still be hanging around. As the story goes, he was playing cards with his fellows guards and was caught cheating. Outraged, they beat him up and threw him down the pub stairwell. The poor chap died and is said to haunt the pub to this day. Numerous lists consider The Grenadier the most-haunted pub in London.
Golden Fleece, York – this pub is said to house both a ghostly pickpocket and a phantom curmudgeon who sometimes gets upset whenever a customer sits in what used to be his favourite seat in addition to a ghostly dog that tugs at punters’ trouser legs.
Red Lion, Avebury – amidst the stone circles, UFO reports and some fairly regular paranormal activity, be on the lookout for the ghost of a woman called Florrie who was murdered by her soldier husband in the 17th century after he discovered that she had been unfaithful to him while he was away at war.
The Kings Arms, Monkton Farleigh – filled with an array of ghostly patrons, head on over to the Kings Arms to maybe catch a glimpse of a monk who reportedly died in the pub in mysterious circumstances or a woman whose runaway carriage crashed into the building, killing her. There is also a mysterious key which was unearthed during recent building work on the site. Allegedly two ghosts appeared and warned the bar staff not to knock down the wall behind which the key was eventually found. The purpose of the key is still not known but it now hangs proudly on the pub wall.
St. Anne’s Castle, Essex – home to numerous ‘ghost hunter’ vigils, St. Anne’s Castle is the oldest public house in England and home to a woman who was burned to death as a witch in the early 17th century.
The Skirrid Inn, Wales – used as a place of execution in the medieval period, The Skirrid Inn has the dubious distinction of having been pronounced the most haunted pub in Britain by famed ghost hunter Richard Jones.
Devil’s Stone Inn, Devon – gets its name from the mysterious giant boulder which sits at the centre of the town. No one knows where it came from and legend has it that it was dropped by the Devil himself as he was flying overhead. Not really a reason to classify this as a top haunted pub but is, supposedly, haunted by quite a few ghosts. Most of these seem to have a fairly pleasant disposition save for the single curmudgeon who was believed to be a rent collector in life.
Seven Stars Pub, Sussex – with a history dating back to the Middle Ages, there are regular occurrences of phantom footsteps, shadowy apparitions, and dogs reacting to the presence of something unseen.
Marsden Grotto, South Shields – this private residence was soon transformed into an inn which became a favorite with the local smugglers. The spirit of one unfortunate is believed to be that of a smuggler who informed on his fellows and was brutalised by them after being caught. Psychics have claimed to detect a high level of paranormal activity in the building on numerous occasions.
If you’re looking for some closer to home options in Central London, theres’s always The Morpeth Arms, The Old Bull & Bush, The Black Cap, The Blind Beggar and The Old Queen’s Head. How can you not include the The Bucket of Blood in Cornwall, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese which is just off Fleet Street or The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden?
Happy Haunting. Let us know if you are aware of any others or have experienced anything first hand….
An all-star cast Julia McKenzie, Joanna Lumley, Rob Brydon and Miranda Hart are set to bring David Walliams’ best-selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny to life in a special 60-minute adaptation for BBC One this holiday season. Following the enormously successful 2012 adaptation of Mr. Stink, an earlier Walliams children’s book, Gangsta Granny reunites the BAFTA-nominated team behind the 2012 special which was co-written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (Gnomeo & Juliet, Robbie The Reindeer, Black Books) with Walliams. The comedy drama tells the story of schoolboy Ben (Reece Buttery), who is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at the house of his grandma, played by Julia McKenzie (Agatha Christie’s Marple, Cranford); all she ever wants to do is stay in, play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup.
One day, when Ben’s grandma tells him a story that she was once an international jewel thief, and together they go on a wild adventure to complete the one heist she never quite managed in her criminal heyday, which brings them face-to-face with Her Majesty The Queen, played by Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous, Jam & Jerusalem, Sensitive Skin).
David Walliams (Little Britain, Big School, Britain’s Got Talent) and Miranda Hart (Call The Midwife, Miranda) appear as Ben’s Strictly Come Dancing-obsessed parents, Mike & Linda. Rob Brydon (Gavin & Stacey, The Trip) plays Mr Parker – a nosy neighbour who could scupper Ben and his grandma’s plot; and Jocelyn Jee Esien (3 Non Blondes, Little Miss Jocelyn) appears as Kelly, the pushy mother of Florence (India Ria Amarteifio) with whom Ben has to dance in a local ballroom competition.
Mr. Stink, which starred Hugh Bonneville and Sheridan Smith and has, for me personally, put themselves in a must-see holiday viewing situation alongside the perennial favorites of Charlie Brown’s Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life. With BBC One holiday audiences set to sit down to Gangsta Granny this Christmas, U.S. audiences will get their first chance to see Mr. Stink beginning Sunday, December 22 on PBS. Filming has begun on Gangsta Granny with a targeted transmission for 25 December of this year.
There are a number of people that I continue to marvel at the endless and varied talents that they possess in the industry. Obviously, Steven Moffat and Benedict Cumberbatch top the list. Hugh Bonneville is brilliant in both Downton Abbey and Twenty Twelve. Dame Judi Dench can bounce from As Time Goes By to the Queen, to ‘M’ in the James Bond films to Broadway to singing ‘Send in the Clowns’ at Royal Albert Hall. If you have read Tellyspotting over the last four years, you know there is a laundry list of folks that I have the utmost respect for when it comes to both acting and writing talent. Moving up on the list is Mark Gatiss.
Mark Gatiss is an English actor, comedian, screenwriter and novelist. He was, and is, a member of the comedy team The League of Gentlemen, which, to this day, has made me never want to set foot in a ‘local shop’ again. He adapted H.G. Wells’ The First Men In the Moon into a television film of the same name for the BBC. Growing up, as he did, a big fan of the Hammer horror films, Gatiss made a three-part BBC documentary series entitled A History of Horror, a personal exploration of the history of horror cinema. He has both written episodes for and acted in Doctor Who and, of course, is the co-creator along with current Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat, of what is, perhaps, the best show on television, Sherlock. In addition to co-creating, he also lends his acting talents to the series playing Sherlock Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft.
Currently, Gatiss is the creative force behind the forthcoming British television documentary/drama commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the science fiction series Doctor Who, ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’, starring David Bradley as William Hartnell, the First Doctor.
But, did you know that Mark Gatiss does a killer Joan Crawford? The Sky Arts’ dark comedy Psychobitches, which featured famous women from history in the therapist’s chair. In this clip, which takes place in the waiting room imagines Gatiss’ Joan Crawford character crossing paths with Bette Davis, brilliantly played by Frances Barber. Let’s take a look…
It’s hard to imagine the Crawleys at the dinner table during just about any episode of Downton Abbey and not seeing wine served. Without question, when Mr. Carson pulled a bottle of wine from the cellar for Lord and Lady Grantham, one could be assured it was a fine French Bordeaux, the wine of choice amongst the British nobility in Edwardian England.
Honoring those same wine-making traditions, the Downton Abbey Wine collection is crafted with premium fruit from the famed Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux, France by Dulong Grand Vins, a family-owned vineyard with more than 130 years of winemaking experience.
Fifth-generation winemaker Jean-Marc Dulong, whose ancestors might well have made the very wines enjoyed at Downton, has created a collection of finely balanced, elegant wines that are eminently drinkable. The Blanc is a blend of muscadelle and semillion fruit crafted to create a rich, dry white wine with a hint of tangerine and citrus and offers a perfect accompaniment to goat cheese, fish and shellfish. The Claret is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec grape varieties which reveals scents of wild berries including blackberries, raspberries and black currants with an added hint of violet and an excellent pairing with cheeses, game, grilled red meats and hearty stews.
The Dowager Countess may not have known ‘what a weekend was’, but she knew her wine. Thankfully, it was Mr. Carson serving and not Basil Fawlty at Downton.