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Miranda’s unexpected journey from comedy to drama in Call the Midwife

January 20, 2013

As we have touched on several times in recent weeks, in this age known as The Downton Abbey Age, the BBC One series, Call the Midwife, exceeded all audience expectations and quietly became an audience hit during its first series last year. With the second series of Call the Midwife set to begin tonight on BBC One (31 March on PBS in the States), the overnight fascination with the series has sparked a renewed interest in the midwife profession. According to reports, in Britain overall, there has been a 17 per cent rise in students seeking to learn midwifery in the last year, according to UCAS. Middlesex University reported a 44 per cent increase in applications since 2011, while the Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery noted a 24 per cent rise this year.

For Miranda Hart, winner of several Best Comedy Actress awards who has spent most of her small screen career in comedy (Hyperspace, Not Going Out, Absolutely Fabulous, Vicar of Dibley, Lead Balloon), the path to London’s East End was somewhat unexpected. Her semi-autobiographical comedy series, Miranda was voted Best New British TV Comedy in 2011. Hart was described in the Financial Times as “the most original and farcically hilarious female clown since Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders“. Drama was probably not on the radar at this point in her career.

Jennifer Worth, who memoirs upon which Call the Midwife is based, died of cancer before the first series was completed. But, it was she who spotted Miranda Hart on television and called the producers, saying she’d seen someone who looked just like her friend Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, aka Chummy, the shy and awkward midwife who worked alongside her in the East End.

When she was sent the script, Hart said she fell in love with the character instantly. When she was sent the script, Hart says she fell in love with the character instantly. “It portrays someone from an upper-class background who is apparently very privileged, but actually is damaged and scared and can’t find a place in the world. I really liked the idea of showing a vulnerable person from that class, and I think the audience felt the same about her, in terms of wanting it all to work out.

Overall, Hart says that playing straight drama after a career of fronting comedy is easier, saying that ‘there’s no pressure to get a laugh from a live audience’. Pressure or no pressure, laughs or no laughs, Call the Midwife is all the better with Miranda Hart a part of Nonnatus House. It will be interesting to see where her journey leads next….

The Office meets The Hobbit….and more!

January 19, 2013

As we have been saying since day one of 2013, telly life is good on both sides of the Atlantic…even if we are still months away from series 3 of Sherlock. Not quite halfway through the third set of Downton Abbey and looking ahead to the premiere of series 2 of Call the Midwife and the premiere of Mr. Selfridge on the PBS side of the pond and halfway through Mr. Selfridge, a Sunday premiere of series 2 of Call the Midwife, Monday premiere of Lewis and the premiere of series 4 of Downton Abbey at least now on the horizon for the other side of the pond, life is good and we haven’t even mentioned comedy yet. As both the US and the UK are pretty much entrenched in good drama, we thought now would be a good time to switch gears to the world of comedy mashups.

We have written, probably more often than the law allows, about how when you start endlessly searching for something on the internet you, ultimately, come to the realization that there are way too many people with too much time on their hands. Thankfully, however, there are those times when moments of video gold are discovered that you are compelled to share. Two such instances occurred late last night that I couldn’t help but share. First up, a couple of Martin Freeman vehicles brilliant blending together the worlds of Middle-Earth and the Wernham Hogg Paper Company in Slough.

The Office: An Unexpected Journey

Next, imagine the combination of the British Home Guard during World War II finding themselves in Torquay as Captain Mainwaring, the leader of the town’s contingent of Local Defense Volunteers, crosses paths with Barcelona’s own, Manuel.

Fawlty Dad’s Army

Thanks to the creators of both of these mashups. I will anxiously await your next bit of brilliance.

Nonnatus House to re-open this Sunday on Call the Midwife for series 2

January 18, 2013

Grossly overshadowed during this past season of telly by the juggernaut that is Downton Abbey was a brilliant series from the BBC that, on the surface, probably didn’t attract the attention it deserved. Not hard to understand when you think that the plot line of Call the Midwife could be summed up simply with the line, ‘a group of nuns deliver babies in a poverty-striken area of east London’.

The series is brilliantly scripted by Heidi Thomas and stars Jessica Raine as Jenny Lee, Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne, Pam Ferris as Sister Evangelina, Miranda Hart as Chummy, Judy Parfitt as Sister Monica Joan, Helen George as Trixie Franklin, Bryony Hannah as Cynthia Miller, Laura Main as Sister Bernadette, and Vanessa Redgrave as the voice of mature Jennifer. Admittedly, it did not attract the initial numbers that Downton Abbey has but this is an absolute gem of a series that deserves the critical acclaim and audience attention that it has generated since the first series premiere way back in 2012.

Call the Midwife series 2 premiere…and ***SPOILER ALERT***

Premiering this coming Sunday on BBC One at 8:00pm with a U.S. premiere slated on PBS for Sunday, March 31 at 8:00pm ET/7:00pm CT, series 2 of Call the Midwife has now rightfully transformed from the unexpected hit to, hopefully, a staple of Sunday night drama programming on both sides of the Atlantic.

The good news for the nuns of Nonnatus House AND for the audience is that while the one-off Christmas special was a bit grim and somewhat of a downer (even though we were treated to the story line of Chummy and PC Noakes getting married), series 2 returns to Poplar just in time to celebrate Jenny’s birthday with cake and then a trip to the cinema to see South Pacific. All is not movies and birthday cake, however, as Jenny becomes concerned about a young mother who might be involved in an abusive marriage, while Trixie and Sister Evangelina head out to sea on board a Swedish cargo ship to look after the captain’s daughter, who is about to have her first child. In other words, it’s business as usual for the midwives of Nonnatus House.

On the upside, the PBS premiere will be mere weeks following the conclusion of series 3 of Downton Abbey, leading in to the premiere of Mr. Selfridge as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series. As I keep saying, 2013 is going to be a great year for drama…on both sides of the Atlantic.

2013 will be the Year of Endeavour with new episodes this Spring/Summer

January 17, 2013

When ITV1 commissioned and, along with PBS in the States, subsequently broadcast the one-off prequel, Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans as the young DC Morse in 2012, both the critical acclaim and audience response that followed left everyone immediately wanting more. More is what you will be getting soon as, beginning this Spring on ITV1 and Summer on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series, there will be four new episodes coming to a telly near you.

Endeavour creator/writer, Russell Lewis, sat down with Radio Times’ David Brown recently to discuss just what makes the early days of the character played so brilliantly by John Thaw back in the days of the original “Inspector Morse” series of episodes. “The fact that he’s the eternal outsider is the key to him,” says Lewis. “There’s a sadness to him, a melancholy that chimes with people. It’s a certain trope with crime fiction that most detectives are loners with some deep-rooted unhappiness somewhere. And that’s certainly true with Endeavour.”

Set in 1965, the upcoming set of four new episodes will make their way to telly this Spring/Summer. Of particular significance to Morse fans is that there will be a number of familiar names who have been a part of Morse’s life since his early-60′s days at Oxford. To start with, audiences will be introduced to PC James Strange, a uniformed officer who goes on to later become Superintendent Strange (as played in the original ‘Inspector Morse’ series by James Grout).

I’ve often wondered whether or not from a writer and/or actor perspective if it was important for either to understand a complete back story when it comes to the character they are writing about or playing. In the case of Lewis, it seems important, obviously, given that within the context of Endeavour it’s a prequel that requires the creation of such a back story.

As Brown determines from Lewis, it’s quite possible that there will be plenty of room in the future for such other notable figures as Morse’s former fiancé Susan Fallon (seen the 1992 episode ‘Dead on Time’) and, possibly, his mentor Desmond McNutt, from ‘Masonic Mysteries’.

Possibly, very possibly,” says Lewis, with a smile. “You’ll find names flying around left, right and centre.”

Ministers heed Blackdder’s advice, amend law outlawing ‘insulting words or behaviour’

January 16, 2013

Let me just start out by saying admitting for all the world to hear…I LOVE THE CIVILITY OF BRITISH POLITICS!.

You might remember back in November when we reported on the efforts of Rowan Atkinson taking issue with a particular clause in the Public Order Act of 1986 in Britain.

As Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 read at the time, Edmund Blackadder would have had somewhat of a difficult time formulating a sentence any time Baldrick enters the room. At the center of the controversy was the provision of the Public Order Act of 1986 which considered it illegal to insult people. When you think back to the early days of Rowan Atkinson in Not the Nine O’Clock News, it does seem that, in 2012, life actually does seem to be imitating art.

As brilliantly reported in the Digital Journal, Atkinson, speaking at a reception in the British Houses of Parliament in front of Members of Parliament and Peers (members of the House of Lords), cautioned that criticism, unfavourable comparison or “merely stating an alternative point of view” could, under Section 5 of the Public Order Act as it presently stood, lead to arrest. The star of Not the Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder and Mr. Bean went on to say, “The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view can be interpreted as insult.


Atkinson, the Blackadder and Mr Bean star led a coalition of campaign groups complaining that the legislation has been abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors to arrest Christian preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights campaigners and even students making jokes. Stephen Fry, often described in Britain as a ‘national treasure’ and Blackadder co-star, had also lent his support to the campaign by tweeting “Insults aren’t nice. But should they be illegal? Support my friends in removing ‘insulting’ from public order act.”

This just in – Ministers uphold concept of ‘free speech’

Ministers agreed to scrap a law outlawing ‘insulting words or behavior’ last night following months of review of the ‘free speech’ campaign led by Atkinson. Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday that the government would ditch the contentious words from the Public Order Act amid fears that they are strangling free speech.

Mrs May told the Commons that the word ‘insulting’ would be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, as part of the Crime and Courts Bill. She told MPs: “Looking at past cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions could not identify any where the behaviour leading to a conviction could not be described as “abusive” as well as “insulting”. e has stated that the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions. We will issue guidance to the police on the range of powers that remain available to them to deploy in the kind of situations I described, but the word “insulting” shall be removed from Section 5.

Civil liberties campaigners welcomed the decision as expected. Tory MP David Davis said: “I welcome this sensible decision by the Home Secretary. The only effect of this law was to chill public debate and depress freedom of speech.“. Somewhere, Edumund Blackadder is smiling….

It’s 2013 for Sherlock on PBS…ok, maybe not THAT Sherlock

January 15, 2013

Unfortunately, with production set to begin in March 2013 at this point, we’re not talking about the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss greatness and long-awaited premiere of series 3 of the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series, even though it may still make it to telly by the tail end of 2013. But, we are talking Sherlock…albeit a bit of a different take on the world’s greatest consulting detective.

PBS has just announced the premiere of HOW SHERLOCK CHANGED THE WORLD, a two-hour special that will explore the world’s most legendary fictional detective — Sherlock Holmes. Produced for PBS by Love Productions and announced at this week’s Television Critics Association (TCA), the special will reveal for the first time the astonishing impact that Holmes has had on the development of real criminal investigation and forensic techniques. HOW SHERLOCK CHANGED THE WORLD will show that Conan Doyle’s hero not only revolutionized the world of fiction, but also changed the real world in more ways than many realize. Even though the Moffat/Gatiss Sherlock 21st century creation did frequently use a smartphone and, at least once, relied on the weather app (see, “A Study in Pink”), overall, Holmes was a scientist who used chemistry, fingerprints and bloodstains to catch an offender in an era when eyewitness reports and “smoking gun” evidence were needed to convict criminals. Police incompetence at the time meant that Jack the Ripper stalked the streets freely. In many ways, the modern detective can be seen as a direct extension of Conan Doyle’s literary genius.

Through the use of compelling archival material and reconstruction, HOW SHERLOCK CHANGED THE WORLD will tell the true stories of the scientists, detectives and even criminals who were inspired or influenced by the legend of Holmes. The program explores real crimes that were solved thanks to a piece of equipment Holmes used, a technique he popularized or invented, or even his method of reasoning. The 2-hour special will also assess the history of Holmes’ techniques from the 1880s to the present, showing how the scientific techniques Holmes introduced to the world have evolved into the stunning CSI-style forensic labs of Scotland Yard and the FBI.

Sherlock Holmes is the grandfather of forensic science,” states top forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. “Today when I go to a crime scene I use his logic, his method of deduction. That’s how we do it today, solving cases based on Sherlock Holmes’ logic.”

It is clear, especially of late, the lasting impact that Holmes has had, both nationally and internationally,” added Trish Powell, Executive Producer at Love Productions. “The worldwide success of the BBC drama on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! and recent box-office hits Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows have proven Holmes to be a timeless source of entertainment“. HOW SHERLOCK CHANGED THE WORLD will demonstrate how the legacy of Holmes, as the first crime profiler, was not solely a reservoir of brilliant stories and wonderfully drawn characters, but that it has saved lives and led to the capture of some of the worst criminals in modern history.

Ok, so it may not be the Sherlock that we are all waiting (im)patiently for, but it looks like a pretty stellar special that will bridge the time until the return of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to where they belong, BBC and PBS.

Yet another Golden Globe for the Dowager Countess

January 14, 2013

Since most of you in the States were transfixed by episode two of series 3 of Downton Abbey, I’m guessing you might not be aware that the 70th annual Golden Globe Awards took place in Hollywood at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but someone actually had to the nerve to broadcast other telly on Sunday night.

The 2013 Golden Globe Awards recognized British brilliance from the very beginning Sunday night as Dame Maggie Smith took home the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series for her role as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. It was here second straight Golden Globe award and third consecutive nomination for her Dowager Countess greatness. As if they had predicted the outcome earlier in the week, co-hosts for the evening, Tiny Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), set the tone for the upcoming event by revealing their Golden Globes Drinking Game whereby those watching at home (thankfully) should take off an article of clothing every time the cameras showed Judi Dench and any time Maggie Smith won. Again, thankfully, it was for those only at home, and not those in attendance at Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton Hotel.

In addition to Smith, others flying the flag for Britain’s television and film industry with award nominations were Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series/Drama, Dame Helen Mirren (Hitchcock) and Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea), who go head to head in the Best Actress/Drama category, in addition to Dame Judi Dench (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Dame Maggie Smith (Quartet) and Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), all vying for the Best Actress/Musical or Comedy Golden Globe.

Unfortunately, after what appears to be yet another ‘longest night in television’, it looks like Daniel Day-Lewis and Dame Maggie Smith were the only ones headed home with hardware, but, as they say, it’s an honor just to be nominated.
Now, back to the matters at hand to learn the fate of Downton, Edith, Mrs. Hughes, Bates, et.al. But, before we go, a few choice Dowager Countess moments…



Celebrating the music of Doctor Who and the talents of Delia Derbyshire

January 13, 2013

At long last (just shy of 50 years to be exact), Saturday was Delia Derbyshire Day in Manchester. Considered the godmother of British electronic music, Derbyshire helped to create one of the most recognizable TV theme tunes of all time, the theme to Doctor Who. Written by Rob Grainer, the Doctor Who theme was then arranged by Delia Derbyshire as part of her groundbreaking 30-year career at the BBC.

Reporting on the day, Chloe Glover, in an excellent piece for The Guardian, writes how she turned organic and everyday material into some of the earliest modern British electronic compositions. Even though her work was played in the majority of British homes and minds for decades, sadly, she never became the true household name that she rightfully deserved to be.


Derbyshire, who was once told that, “…the recording studio is no place for a woman“, defied this incredibly archaic logic of the 1960′s by using voices, white noise, and everyday sounds picked up from microphones and musical instruments to make her soundscapes. She cut, mixed and spliced analog tapes used to record her efforts and employed studio equipment to loop and distort them as well as experimenting with square wave oscillators to help build intricately-timed rhythms to form the base of her pieces. It’s no wonder she not only found herself unknowingly inspiring numerous musicians throughout the year but also a favorite with the likes of Pink Floyd for sampling her music.

Her extensive archives are on permanent loan to the NOVARS institute at Manchester University for research from BBC Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres. Incredibly, the tapes of her recordings were delivered to the university in unlabelled cereal boxes in 2007 after being found in her house following her death in 2001.

As the planet continues to steamroll towards the November 2013 50th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who, we celebrate the brilliance of Delia Derbyshire along with all those associated with the series for the past 50 years.

PG Wodehouse’s Blandings = Downton Abbey with less grandeur and more farce

January 12, 2013

As we reported back in February of last year, a bit of PG Wodehouse brilliance is coming your way as Blandings premieres tomorrow on BBC One at 1830. For those that feel Downton Abbey has a bit too much grandeur for its own good and needs a bit of farce (or more than it already has in some people’s minds, anyway) then Blandings is well worth your telly time this Sunday.

For those few that may be a bit unfamiliar with Wodehouse’s Blandings series, he wrote the first story in 1915. Fourteen novels and five collections of short stories later, he died in 1978, leaving Sunset At Blandings as his only unfinished work. Set in 1929, Blandings was filmed on location at Crom Castle in Northern Ireland and will follow the Blandings family as they struggle to keep itself in order.This bit of writing brilliance has an equally as brilliant cast, headed by Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous, Jam and Jerusalem) and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, The King’s Speech).

In addition to Spall and Saunders, who will star as the amiable, yet befuddled, Lord Emsworth, and his indomitable sister Connie, there are both big names and relative newcomers that have been added. Mark Williams (Harry Potter, Fast Show) will play Beach, the long-suffering loyal butler to Lord Emsworth while newcomer, Jack Farthing, has been tagged as Lord Emsworth’s financially irresponsible son Freddie. David Walliams (Little Britain) will appear in a couple of episodes of Blandings as Clarence’s new secretary, Rupert Baxter.

Monty Python – All the bits, complete AND annotated

January 11, 2013

If you get a chance to drop by a newstand in the not-too-distant future (i.e. this month), pick up a copy of The Atlantic for a brilliant article. “The Beatles of Comedy” is a great read and a real treat for British comedy fans worldwide.

Working from the premise that the genius of the Monty Python troupe was to respect nothing, the article goes into great detail about the beginning of what, we call, Python. It starts off by going back to the very beginning to trace the roots of the infamous Dead Parrot sketch back to an early How to Irritate People sketch. Written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, the sketch centered around the workshop of a shady car salesman featuring Chapman and Michael Palin. The genesis of the sketch came from the fact that, in real life, Palin had been sold a defective car himself, and he had entertained Cleese with impersonations of his stonewalling dealer.

A year or so later, Cleese was offered his own show by the BBC, but wasn’t interested in being the star opting to bring together a team of former Oxford and Cambridge alums from Do Not Adjust Your Set. The new troupe would consist of six men, broken into three writing units, John Cleese-Graham Chapman, Michael Palin-Terry Jones, and Eric Idle, who worked by himself and specialized in songs and monologues, with Terry Gilliam, left alone to do his animations.

When it came time to actually write for the show, Cleese and Chapman took another pass at the original car-salesman sketch. Later, Cleese said it as if they had failed to exploit the situation in the original pass. But, what if they shifted the action to a pet shop? What if the malfunctioning car became a dead animal? A dog, say. Or a parrot. Pure comedic genius.

The now-infamous dead-parrot sketch epitomizes the concept behind Python — In the world of Monty Python, even a guy with a valid beef is a lunatic. For more annotated Monty Python, pick up a copy of The Atlantic and read about “The Beatles of Comedy” or check out the most recent MP efforts to explain their lunacy in Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated…All the Bits before it’s too late. Here, Terry Jones talked with us for our 1999 public television production, Celebrating 25 years of British comedy in America (Monty Python was first broadcasts on KERA in Dallas in 1974) about how he and Michael Palin wrote the Lumberjack Song sketch.

And Now for Something Completely Different – just for fun

The rest of the Family Guy episode really had nothing to do with the British comedy but executive producer, Mark Hentemann, explained: “…There’s a contingent in the writers’ room that is obsessed with Monty Python, and always has been. It aired on the BBC in the early ’70s, and a lot of our fans may not know it, but who cares? We’ll do it anyway. Sounds a bit like what Monty Python’s Flying Circus was built on, don’t you think?

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