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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?

Spare $400 million? Think about buying Downton Abbey!

April 13, 2013

If you’re in the market for a new home and you’re not interested in downsizing, have I got a deal for you. Maybe the TARDIS is a bit out of your price range at a mere $25 billion and Fawlty Towers is not top of mind given you’re looking for a house, not a job, have you ever thought about buying Downton Abbey? Even though Matthew decided to free up funds from a previous ‘relationship’ to secure the future of Downton, that’s not to say if the right offer came the Grantham’s way, they wouldn’t listen. FYI, looks like it’s been on the market since February 2013 so they might entertain a counter-offer….

As with both their TARDIS and Fawlty Towers listings, those crazy real estate bloggers over at Movoto have decided to speculate on just what Downton would look like from a listing standpoint had Matthew’s generosity not happened and Lord Grantham would have been forced to sell. Of particular note, even though it was built in 1878, it has been updated since with both telephones and electricity so it’s well worth giving it a look.

Ben Miller votes himself off the island for new season of Death in Paradise

April 12, 2013

Even paradise can be hell

For two series of BBC One’s Death in Paradise, Ben Miller (Worst Week of My Life, Primeval) was in heaven. Unfortunately, DI Richard Poole, the character that Miller portrays, is in hell. ‘Heaven’ for Miller because the series is filmed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. “Hell’ for DI Poole because he is trapped on the stunning beautiful but fictional Caribbean island paradise of Saint-Marie battling sun, sea and sand while solving murders and just trying to find a proper British cup of tea.

For UK viewers on BBC One, principal production filming begins on series three this month with both new and returning faces. As with series two, which saw guest stars the likes of Lucy Davis (Dawn Tinsley, The Office, Mathew Horne (Gavin from Gavin and Stacey, James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley) and Primeval star Hannah Spearritt, series three will see a number of familiar guest stars visiting the island. Out, sadly, is Ben Miller as DI Richard Poole. Miller said of his departure: “I have absolutely loved my time on Death in Paradise and am sad to be leaving such a successful show, however DI Poole has made no secret of his struggle with the Caribbean heat, so I felt now was a good time to put him out of his misery!“.

In, however, and replacing Miller will be Kris Marshall (My Family, Love Actually, Citizen Khan) starring as DI Humphrey Goodman. Described as bright, but rather disorganised and gawky, Goodman is stuck in a mid-life rut and is looking to find a new life and fresh start. Returning will be Sara Martins (DS Camille Bordey), Danny John-Jules (police chief, Dwayne Myers), Gary Carr (young investigator, Fidel Best) and Don Warrington (police commissioner. Selwyn Patterson).

Belinda Campbell, EP for Red Planet Pictures, had high praise for both the outgoing and incoming DI’s: “Ben Miller is an excellent actor and has played the part of DI Richard Poole magnificently for two series, and we’re very sad to be saying goodbye. However we’re thrilled to be welcoming Kris Marshall on board who we know will be brilliant in the role of Humphrey. He will bring with him disheveled charm, sparkle, quick wit, and a razor-sharp intelligence in solving crimes.

Series one and two have attracted sizable audience figures in the UK. Sizable enough to warrant the commissioning of a third series. In the U.S., a number of public television stations have begun running the series with more set to come on in the not-too-distant future. Check it out if you haven’t yet. Well worth your time.

Equal time: Failed British re-makes of American telly

April 11, 2013

If you been with Tellyspotting as a P1 since day one or if you have joined the conversation at any point over the course of the last three years you are probably acutely aware of my lack of tolerance for poorly done American television remakes of British television output. This holds true mostly in the comedy and drama genres as one can’t really argue with the American versions of the likes of Antiques Roadshow or any of the unscripted reality re-makes such as Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, etc. They are what they are…

That said, it never dawned on me that when the tables are turned, the track record is not much different when you look at UK attempts to re-make American situation comedies that were considered quite popular from an audience standpoint. Here are a four examples I found to easily illustrate my point….

Days Like These (That 70′s Show in the U.S.)

The Fosters (Good Times in the U.S.) with a young Lenny Henry!

Married for Life (Married with Children) with Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville!

The Brighton Belles (Golden Girls in the U.S.) with Wendy Craig from Butterflies!

I rest my case. I’m sure there have been exceptions to the rule just as there have been with American re-makes of British television but other than Law and Order UK, I haven’t found any.

The TARDIS lands in Trafalgar Square for Doctor Who 50th filming

April 10, 2013

After spending the day on Monday filming at the Tower of London, cast and crew of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary, including the TARDIS, moved to another historic London landmark on Tuesday, Trafalgar Square. Even though storylines are being kept close to the vest, large crowds gathered to watch the stars of the longest running science fiction in history in action as they filmed alongside a group of actors dressed as armed police officers and a crane which lowered the Doctor’s trusty police box to the ground. Sontaran commander Strax explains…

Already dangerously close to being intrigued beyond belief, those in attendance watched as the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, was hoisted into the air by a crane alongside Nelson’s Column with companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) standing in the doorway of the TARDIS as her traveling companion clings on beneath her.

Photo copyright 2012 News Group Newspapers Ltd

In addition to Tenth Doctor David Tennant and his companion Billie Piper, Joanna Page (Stacey, Gavin and Stacey) and Jemma Redgrave (Frankie) have been added to the growing cast list for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. According to bleedingcool.com, seen amongst the characters on the ground were Ingrid Oliver, of Watson and Oliver fame wearing the fourth Doctor’s scarf. Oliver’s character can also be seen scanning the eleventh Doctor with something. Kate Stewart of UNIT (the daughter of The Brigadier in ‘The Power of Three’) is present also, with some of her UNIT back-up, and in one sequence she appeared to be handing The Doctor a sealed letter from Queen Elizabeth the First (Joanna Page).

T-minus 227 days. Are you ready for some Doctor Who greatness?

PM Margaret Thatcher’s 2nd job as comedy sketch writer for Yes Prime Minister

April 9, 2013

With yesterday’s passing of Margaret Thatcher, at the age of 87, I remembered reading a number of years ago that both Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister were favorite programs of the former Prime Minister. On more than one occasion, she praised Yes, Minister for “…its clearly-observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy“.

While the thought of Margaret Thatcher and comedy probably wasn’t widely used in the same sentence too often during her 11.5 years as Prime Minister, unless you remember her Spitting Image puppet, the ‘Iron Lady’ did once write a comedy sketch herself for her favorite series.

Thatcher wrote the sketch in honor of the show being presented with an award from Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ And Listeners’ Association at an event commemorated on the cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye. Being the PM at the time and writing the sketch, of course she made sure that it co-starred herself…as herself.

Over the years, authorship of the sketch remains unclear. In Britain’s Best Sitcom, Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s chief press secretary, said that he wrote it while other sources give Thatcher sole credit. British broadcaster and longtime political documentary producer, Michael Cockerell, says that he wrote it with Ingham’s help. Another source gives credit to Charles Powell, key foreign policy advisor to PM Thatcher.

Eddington and Hawthorne, who were both starring in separate West End plays at the time, were not overly enthusiastic at the idea and, according to reports, had asked series co-creator/writer Jonathan Lynn to “get them out” of it. Neither Lynn nor Antony Jay were consulted about both the sketch or the invite so, obviously, it was not up to him to take action.

Hawthorne said on more than one occasion that he and Eddington resented Thatcher’s attempts to ‘make capital’ from their popularity. Upon accepting the award, Lynn commented: “I’d like to thank Mrs. Mary Whitehouse for this award“. Lynn, being the quick-thinking brilliant writer he is, added: “I’d also like to thank Mrs. Thatcher for finally taking her rightful place in the field of situation comedy.” After a bit of an gasp from the press, the room erupted in laughter with the exception of one person in attendance…guess which one.

Whatever the case and no matter who wrote it, here is Paul Eddington, Sir Nigel Hawthorne and PM Margaret Thatcher in Yes Prime Minister from 20 January, 1984.

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