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‘Buttleflies’ creator, Carla Lane, returns to the world of comedy

April 23, 2013

Carla Lane, the creator of Bread, Butterflies and The Liver Birds, has decided to return to television following a self-imposed 17-year ‘retirement’. According to the Telegraph, her new sitcom will be set in Liverpool, which was the setting for many of her most popular comedies. Since retiring, Lane has spent years running an animal sanctuary in West Sussex and has long been a strong supporter of animal rights.

I’ve started writing again now,” Lane said. “My mind is working on an idea. I’ve been seriously thinking of writing more about something here in Liverpool. It’s where I was born and I understand it best of all. It will be about a street, that I can tell you, because everything that happens in life happens in a Liverpool street.

We first met Lane in September of 2009 when we interviewed her as part of PBS’ Behind the Britcom: From Script to Screen program. She spoke of how she unknowingly crashed the predominantly male-dominated world of British comedy, shared with us her writing style and also her extreme fondness for actor, Geoffrey Palmer, whom she had not seen in over 10 years until we engineered their being together for the interview. Palmer starred as Ben Parkinson in Lane’s late 70′s, early 80′s series, Butterflies.

Lane spoke at great length about being one of the early female pioneer writers of British situation comedy and how everything that she’s ever written stems from drama and sadness. She always began with a sad story, built a drama around the characters and then made it funny. Because of that there was some thought that it was tough for critics to wrap their heads around her life’s work. Even the BBC felt that there was something about that first Butterflies script that was just ‘not quite right’.

Let’s hope both critics and the BBC will wrap their heads around her next project.

Wallace and Gromit’s ‘grand day out’ at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach

April 22, 2013

Blackpool is the place to be this Wednesday when Wallace and Gromit, the stars of a Oscar-winning series by Aardman Animations, are set to attend the launch of the world’s first theme park ride based on their adventures in the films A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. Creator, Nick Park, will be on hand to witness Pleasure Beach visitors as they try out the Thrill-O-Matic, the newest ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Blackpool amusement park. The Blackpool ride, which took three years of planning by Aardman and the amusement park staff, will take passengers, seated in a giant slipper, through key scenes from the films, including A Matter of Loaf and Death and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The cracking new £5.25 million ride puts the absent-minded, cheese loving inventor and his uberintelligent canine companion in good company fronting a campaign to encourage people to holiday at home in the UK. The Visit Britain campaign also includes Julie Walters, Judi Dench, Jamie Oliver, Stephen Fry and Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint. Over the next month, Wallace and Gromit will ‘travel’ around England in their trademark motorbike and sidecar on a road trip intended to highlight tourist attractions. Following Blackpool, the two will visit the National Space Centre in Leicester, reflecting Wallace’s interest in space travel, while other destinations are expected to emphasize the importance of the British cheese industry.

Wallace and Gromit’s ‘Great Adventure’ is part of the overall campaign designed to inspire Britons to schedule a ‘staycation’ this year.

The Bletchley Circle is a must see tonight on PBS!

April 21, 2013

Sunday night continues to be appointment telly on PBS tonight with the premiere of The Bletchley Circle. The three-part series follows the lives of several women who were code-breakers at Bletchley Park, the decryption facility that played a significant role in ending World War II. The four returned to civilian life following the war, but are reunited when a string of grizzly murders baffle the police and presents the ladies with a different sort of deadly pattern to solve.

Tonight’s episode begins during World War II showing the women as part of the U.K.’s code-breaking team that deciphered encrypted messages who also did other secret work for the Allies during World War II. Following the war, the Official Secrets Act prevents her and everyone at Bletchley from telling anyone, even her husband, that she worked at the facility. Unfortunately, the women’s incredible talents for spotting and breaking codes are buried during their post-war lives where their talents are soundly rejected by British society.

Watch Preview on PBS. See more from The Bletchley Circle.

Anna Maxwell Martin (South Riding, Bleak House) is brilliant as Susan, is an ‘ordinary’ housewife with extraordinary talents (and with two children), who has begun to collect data on a series of recent murders. After she unsuccessfully tries to convince the police that another is imminent, Susan gets the Bletchley Park band back together by reuniting Millie, Lucy and Jean to crack the murders and bring the culprit to justice. Putting her best Bletchley Park mind to work, Susan tells her old friends: “He’s making a pattern and he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. If we can crack it, we’ll be able to see what his next move will be. Just like knowing where the German army will be in three days’ time. We can get ahead of him and stop him before he kills again.

A sneak peak at the 2013-2014 comedy / drama pipeline

April 20, 2013

Aside from the known commodities of Sherlock and Downton Abbey, that PBS, the BBC and ITV are hanging their collective ratings hats on in 2013-2014, there is cause for optimism in the comedy/drama output pipeline in the not-too-distant future…

The Guilty

Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Friday Night Dinner, Green Wing, Episodes), Katherine Kelly and Darren Boyd (Whites, Spy, Dirk Gently) are set to star in this 3-part drama produced by Hartswood Films and written by Debbie O’Malley (Law & Order: UK, Silk). Currently in production, the drama is set across two timelines, 2008 and present day, and tells the story of DC Maggie Brand (Greig) who investigates the disappearance of a young child. Given that this will have both ITV and Hartswood Films fingerprints all over this, for me, makes me think it will be one to watch. All you have to do is think Sherlock, Scott & Bailey and DCI Banks and you know where I’m coming from…

The Job Lot

Led by Sarah Hadland (Miranda) and Russell Tovey (Being Human, Him & Her), The Job Lot is set in a busy West Midlands job centre, and focuses on the relationships between the people that work there, the people that don’t work there and anywhere else for that matter. On the ‘have a job’ side, you have a very neurotic Trish (Hadland), who runs the Brownall job centre, reluctant and truculent Karl (Tovey), their overly sour co-worker Angela and plain speaking Danielle, who has just returned to work after giving birth.

On the ‘finding a job’ side, you have Graham (Martin Maudsley) and Bryony (Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy in Downton Abbey). Thankfully, you have fraud officer George, a lone wolf who takes his undercover surveillance work very seriously and two security guards; diminutive Janette and her colleague, cheeky charmer Paul, protecting the staff of the Brownall job centre.


This new medical drama follows the lives of a group of doctors and nurses working in a London hospital. According to the ITV Press Centre, Breathless opens in 1961, a time when Britain was on the brink of the ‘60s revolution – abortion is illegal and the contraceptive pill is only just available to married women. Set in and around a busy gynaecology unit, medicine becomes the perfect stage to play out the shifting and complex moral codes of early 1960s society.

Fairly or unfairly being touted as ITV’s answer to the BBC’s Call the Midwife, the series will sport an all-star cast headed by Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, Coupling) with Pippa Haywood (Mr Selfridge, Scott & Bailey), Zoe Boyle (Downton Abbey, Sons of Anarchy), Oliver Chris (One Man Two Guvnors, Green Wing), Catherine Steadman (The Tudors, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), Sarah Parish (Hatfields & McCoys, Monroe) and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones, Prisoners Wives).

Patricia Routledge ‘Facing the Music’ in Newtownabbey

April 19, 2013

Even the most casual Keeping Up Appearances fan of the woman who makes no bones about having a sister whose house has a swimming pool, sauna, and room for a pony, will no doubt ever forget her singing prowess designed to impress next door neighbor, Emmet Hawkesworth. To this day, I’ll never forget interviewing Ms. Routledge back in 2008 for the PBS special, Funny Ladies of British Comedy, when she mentioned how in order to sing off-key, you had to be able to sing on-key first.

While Patricia Routledge is probably best known for her unforgettable character Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’) in Keeping Up Appearances, she has had an award-winning career in both drama and musical theater which included winning a Tony for her Broadway performance in the musical ‘Darling of the Day’ and a Laurence Olivier Award for Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Candide’. In ‘Darling of the Day’, a young Patricia Routledge starred as the sparky Putney widow Alice Challice alongside Vincent Price. Her rendition of “Not on Your Nellie” received a lasting standing ovation and prompted legendary New York Times critic Walter Kerr to give Patricia a wonderful review: “…the most spectacular, most scrumptious, most embraceable musical comedy debut since Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence came to this country.

Even though admitting to being rather choosy about the theater work she takes on, Ms. Routledge is currently on the road showing no signs of slowing at age 84. If you’re in the area, Ms. Routledge will be at the Theatre at The Mill, Newtownabbey on Thursday, 25 April to tell the full story of her life in musical theater in ‘Facing the Music’.

Photo by Hattie Miles for Clive Conway.

‘Facing the Music’ will feature Routledge in conversation with writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson, talking about this very special part of her career. The night will also include some rare and treasured recordings. Sounds like a night not to be missed whether you are a Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) or Patricia Routledge fan.

The Rutles: A Look Back at Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry

April 18, 2013

The early 60′s were not especially kind to The Rutles. Languishing in the Rutland Cavern for years, it wasn’t until 1975 when this relatively unknown British pop group fronted by Neil Innes appeared on Rutland Weekend Television singing “I Must Be In Love” from their 1965 album, A Hard Days Rut, that The Rutles began their assault on the world. Innes had recently left the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a 60′s British rock band made up of a group of British art-school lads. Innes’ band had already reached the pinnacle of success when they appeared in the 1967 Beatles film, Magical Mystery Tour.

Unlike the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry (The Rutles) had nowhere to go but up. Created by former Monty Python members Eric Idle and Neil Innes, the band was originally to be named The Rutland Stones, taking their name from Rutland, the smallest county in England, however Idle and Innes settled on The Rutles and the rest, as they say, is history.

Following their appearance on Rutland Weekend Television, interest in The Rutles began to skyrocket. In 1976, Eric Idle appeared on Saturday Night Live in the U.S. gaining the attention of producer Lorne Michaels who placed the world at The Rutles’ feet with the suggestion of a long-form mocumentary film, All You Need Is Cash. It was at that point in 1978, three years after that fortuitous RTW appearance and subsequent later meeting with Michaels that The Rutles achieved overnight success. The album from the film was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Comedy Recording of the Year in 1978 and later became the inspiration for Rob Reiner’s comedy film, This Is Spinal Tap, in 1984.

All You Need Is Cash, which featured 19 songs written by Innes, illustrated The Rutles story from start to finish. Also featured in the film was Dan Aykroyd as the man who turned down The Rutles, John Belushi as Ron Decline, Bill Murray as Bill Murray The K, Gilda Radner as a reluctant street interviewee, George Harrison as a TV interviewer, Michael Palin as a member of Rutle Corps, Ron Wood as a biker, Lorne Michaels as a man who wants to merchandise The Rutles, Al Franken and Tom Davis as Ron Decline employees and both Mick Jagger and Paul Simon as themselves. If you haven’t seen this it’s a must see, even though it’s been 35 years since it was filmed.

Early Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band appearance on Do Not Adjust Your Set

I think I have a new favorite band. I wonder what a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band created station on Pandora would sound like….


Remembering Dalek designer, Ray Cusick

April 17, 2013

Ray Cusick joined the BBC as a staff designer in 1960. A name you may or may not have run across over the last 50+ years, but you definitely are familiar with his work. Arguably, his most important contribution was to give form to Terry Nation’s Dalek concept. While the job of designing the Daleks originally fell to another BBC in-house designer, future film-maker Ridley Scott, scheduling conflicts saw the job handed to Cusick. While you may think it was the scientist Davros who created the Daleks, it was script writer Terry Nation who created the concept of the Daleks and Ray Cusick who created both their design and appearance. Cusick was responsible for bringing to life a great many of the early Doctor Who stories with his set designs between 1963 and 1966.

Back in 2008, Ray Cusick, the man who designed these tank-like robots that first appeared in the 1963 Doctor Who serial “The Daleks”, visited the BBC Props Department as part of the series, Doctor Who Confidential, to see the Daleks and TARDIS of today. The brilliantly cool factor on this video is to listen to Ray discuss his original reasoning behind the Dalek design and witness the merging of Doctor Who set designers from two different generations.

Cusick so over-simplified his design brilliance on Confidential: “When I’m asked what I was inspired by I suppose it was really a system of logic because I realized that you’ve got to have an operator to operate them. If you had anything mechanical, 10 to one on the take it would go wrong, so you’ve got a human being in there who would be absolutely totally reliable. I then thought ‘Well, the operator’s got to sit down’, so I drew a seat, ergonomic height, 18in, got the operator down, and then drew round him. That’s how the basic shape appeared.

Sadly, Ray Cusick passed away in February at the age of 84 but he will definitely be remembered during this years Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebration and for years to come.

ITV gives early Christmas gift to ‘Vicious’ fans

April 16, 2013

Over the course of the normal commissioning of series in the UK, it’s common practice for a new series to be given the go-ahead for a certain number of episodes, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 episodes. In the case of series that have been on for several years, the addition of a Christmas episode is added to the mix (i.e. Call the Midwife, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, etc).

With Christmas Day being one of the most important days of the year in the UK from a telly watching standpoint, this is generally a sign that a broadcast/commissioning entity such as the BBC or ITV is very high on a series. Normal course of action has Christmas specials only reserved for those series with a built in track record from an audience standpoint after having several series under their belt.

Vicious starring Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian Mckellen

In the case of Vicious, ITV1′s new studio-based situation comedy series starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, the bar is raised so high after completion of filming earlier this month that ITV commissioned an extra episode to run at Christmas before the series had even premiered. Written by Gary Janetti (Will and Grace, Family Guy), Vicious tells the story of Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi), aging partners who have lived together in their Covent Garden flat for nearly 50 years. In their prime, budding actor Freddie met bartender Stuart but both careers are now pretty much over and their lives now consist of reading books, walking their dog and bickering. While there is a good chance for this new special to premiere on Christmas Day, the series will air in the not-too-distant future on ITV1 in the UK.

The series was originally titled Vicious Old Queens but was later re-titled Vicious after the 73 year-old McKellen jokingly took offense to the fact that he was being referred to as “old”.

Vicious also stars Frances de la Tour as the duo’s best friend, Violet, who entertains the pair with her outlandish love affairs, and Iwan Rheon (Misfits) as Ash, the young man who moves in upstairs.

I so can’t wait for this….

Endeavour’s walking tour of ‘Morseland’, a.k.a. Oxford

April 15, 2013

As UK viewers found out last night, the Year of Endeavour is upon us. With last nights UK premiere of the first of four new episodes that follow the highly successful ITV1 2012 ‘pilot’ episode, fans of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series have a telly treat in store for them when the series premieres on Sunday, July 7.

Shaun Evans, who was brilliant as the young ‘Endeavor’ Morse in the pilot episode, returns for the new films written by Inspector Lewis creator and Morse writer Russell Lewis. Roger Allam returns as Endeavour’s senior partner, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday. In addition, author Colin Dexter served as consultant for the series ensuring four weeks of greatness on both sides of the pond.

As they have for Sherlock, Spooks and Downton Abbey, the always brilliant Radio Times staff have created a not-to-be-missed walking tour of Oxford featuring all the favorite stops along the way of Endeavour Morse and Inspector Lewis.

Illustration for Radio Times courtesy of Katherine Baxter.

Word to the wise: While I would normally advise readers that ‘these are professionals, do noy try this at home’, I leave you with just a warning. The entire walking tour is about 7 miles long and will take about 3 hours. Don’t spend too much time at The Trout Inn, the favorite watering hole of CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll and Colin Dexter. That said, if you make it all the way, you can deservedly spend the remainder of your time at either the King’s Arms, the oldest pub in Oxford, or White Horse pubs, both of which were favorite Morse watering holes.

A big bag of Sherlock 3 news for you!

April 14, 2013

It’s Game On for Sherlock 3!

As we mentioned awhile back, principal filming began on Sherlock 3 on Monday, March 18. With that announcement came the official reveal of the first episode to go before the cameras, “The Empty Hearse”. Written by Mark Gatiss (who also plays a brilliant Mycroft in earlier Sherlock series), the premise of the first episode is said to be based on the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Adventure Of The Empty House”, in which villain Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s chief of staff and ‘the second most dangerous man in London’, is introduced.

Obviously, the first order of the day is to deal with how Sherlock faked his own death. Sherlock‘s co-conspirator, Gatiss, confirmed recently: “There’s certain things about “The Adventure of the Empty House” which feel set in stone because that’s how Sherlock comes back, but at the same time we feel free to invent and to introduce new stuff to it.

The first new member of the cast for Sherlock is Tomi May, a British actor of Serbian descent, who has most recently been seen in BBC One’s Line of Duty.

On the heels of the title of episode 1 being revealed, comes the news of an episode 2 title! Written by Steve Thompson, who also wrote the brilliant season two finale, ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, the second episode will be titled ‘The Sign of Three’, based on Sir Athur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Sign of Four’”. Fans of Sherlock will immediately remember that in ‘Sign of Four’, this is where John Watson meets future wife Mary Morstan. Could this be where we see Amanda Abbington, perhaps? According to the Radio Times, Abbington does portray a character that “significantly impacts upon the lives of John and Sherlock“.

And, pure speculation on my part or just wishful thinking, with Moran being introduced in the first episode, lets hope for the return of Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in series 3. Flashbacks are ok…

Anyone fancy a guess as to a title for episode three?

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