Monday, 29 February 2016



    Zuniform's heavier gravity was already beginning to take a toll on what Captain Corny still insisted on calling his "junk".
    "If I can just rest my junk on that rock yonder," he said aloud for some reason, "that'd free up my good hand. Who knows how many hands I'm gonna need free on Zuniform!"
    "Your helmet."
    "What?" Corny immediately turned, drawing his Shrill Ray from its sling... "A mirror!"
    "What mirror?" said the voice "You must remove your helmet. Please listen. It is too heavy for your brain."
    "By the three moons, my own reflection! Talking back to me!"
    "No." His reflection sounded tired. "I am not... Please, just take off your helmet. It serves no purpose and is making you stupid."
     "But the rock I'm resting my junk on. It's not showing up. Is that..."
     "Traveler, please..."
     "A vampire rock?!" 
     The Zuniformian Cleft-Wraith hung its head. Captain Corny did the same. Noticing this the Cleft-Wraith began to mime removing a helmet.  
     It worked.  
     His helmet off, Captain Corny waited to see what he would do next. 
     It was sigh.

The BBC is full of wonders.

Grafton House, Writers' Room script-reading - Thursday 25th February...





Monday, 22 February 2016


 "No, Z'dan, my left! MY LEFT!"

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Holy moly this is late! As I'm guessing pretty much everyone who reads this blog already knows, series five of "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme" has gone out now and is (nearly) all up on Her Britannic Majesty's extant iplayer for further study. (Alright, a couple of episodes have dropped out of earshot but at least I plugged it in advance so I'm not a total idiot). Among other things, this series must have marked the most perilously concentrated period of writing I've seen the great man yet subject himself to, written as it was in Goodies-style-trandem with both "Double Acts" and the live show. The fact that everything turned out totally fine is a little worrying: He's not going to try and do all that again this year, is he? (On the Finnemore scale, "fine" of course means "won an award". Yes! "Double Acts" won best sitcom. Elsewhere, Cabin Pressure was nominated for best drama. John's producing so much that his work has literally spilt over into the wrong genres.)

The other thing this series marked was our first recordings post-"Souvenir Cabin". A bit off book, with a nod to costume and another nod to banter, it was the first live sketch show I'd ever done. I loved doing it, and felt by the third of my three nights pretty justified in loving doing it, but I'm not sure what I picked up helped me in Series 5. I'm talking about the grunting. I'm talking about the weird unscripted grunting before you even realise my character's in the scene. I don't know. No point worrying about your craft now, sunshine. Plough on...

Thank you, thank you, Ste-eve Ullathorne.

What else? Our gallant Producer Ed did some behind-the-scene production notes. I'll do that then. Here then are my own solipsistic titbits.

Episode 1 - Okay you can't hear the episode now, but... I'd say by the time Episode 1 aired there was still about a third of the series as finally broadcast yet to be written. Exciting. Unrelatedly, when I first saw John perform the final story, about crossing the Atlantic on a horse that thought it was a cat, it didn't have that ending - the ending where the day is saved by the horse landing on its feet - you know, the punchline you might have thought was the whole point of including a horse that thought it was a cat. No, he'd simply decided to include a horse that thought it was a cat and see where it went. Come on, that's fascinating! Another tiddlebiscuit: I think "School Slogan" marks the only time Margaret and I have turned up to a sketch accidentally wearing the same accent. Incidentally, Jason Hazely turned up to play the piano for this one having just learnt that six out of the top ten non-fiction books for that week were the Ladybirds he'd co-authored with Joel Morris. By Christmas it would be eight. He looked terrified. I remember bumping into Joel on the day of a tube strike back in Summer when the two of them were just getting started: they do a Christmas book every year and this year decided to have a proper think about which publisher they'd really like to write for. Joel was so happy showing me the caption for the dog rack. The secret of comedy is love. Timing's just a symptom. I've changed the subject. Anyway, I love Jason and was very happy to do stuff in front of and with him.

Here him in the actual Ladybird archive

Episode 2 - For some reason when playing the voice in John's head I found it very hard not to think "How would Rob Webb play this?" I'm not saying I could guess the answer, or that I would think it ethical to act upon it if I could. I'm just saying... I'm just saying. Similarly I first encountered the Wrong Friend sketch rehearsing "Souvenir Cabin" with John and his comedy partner of yore mum Kevin Baker. Kevin was unmatchably hilarious in this role. I tried to match him regardless, which is why I am shouting here more than acting.

Episode 3 - Oh, Ed hasn't done any notes for this. I remember we went to see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" on John's birthday - the one where Mark Strong hits a burning owl mid-flight with a cane. Back when the circus really was a circus. The spy story here, set in a zoo which is actually not a spy story at all, was first performed in "Souvenir Cabin". It was here I learnt to keep schtum through a laugh and hold out for a second wave, like some BMX skillz. Obviously stillness doesn't show up on radio though. It's like the grunting. Plough on. What else? I don't think Jurassic Park 3 is a worse movie than Jurassic Park 2.

Episode 4 - We do a thing called Silly Voices Day: a closed-plan, blue-sky, coffee-and-biscuits ideas ramble that helps give John something to write for. That's where "Kirates" came from. The first time we tried out "Word To The Wise" at the Canal Cafe I could barely get through the sketch with what the Americans call "breaking". In retrospect I think it helped. By the time of the recording I could rattle right through them, and I wish I hadn't. "Kirates" of course is all about not getting through it - the building pressure that corpsing (no pun intended) can provide is written in. (To see what the real thing can add to a sketch, watch the wave after wave Rachel Dratch catches with the line "I can't have children" below.)

Episode 5 - Silly Voices Day probably paid for itself with just this episode, which I adore. "Schmoogle" came from that as well as pretty much everything Lawry suggests here. That extra recording in January really paid for itself too: John had had a month off (on the Finnemore scale of course, "a month off" means "a month spent writing just the one thing") and returned carrying gold, bright-eyed and bushy tailed... a phrase I realise is a lot easier to imagine applied to John than to most other humans.

Episode 6 - I'm not saying you can't act and shout at the same time. What I find oddest about the self-proclaimed "Most Self-Indulgent Sketch In The World" is just how much I enjoyed playing someone not enjoying playing someone playing themself. It's all a bit

The story about putting Queen Victoria's brain in a robot was apparently inspired by this film, and the robot hedgehog itself was inspired by a remote-controlled hedgehog from the charity Christmas cabaret where the story had its first performance. (Go, Mighty Fin!)

(Before I deliver my final tildaswintonbids: if anyone is wondering if Lawry Lewin, Carrie Quinlan, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Sue Pearse and Ed Morrish are not just brilliant at their jobs but also fun and kind, they are.)

Final tin lid: When I sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" to John as the train manager, we had to retake the whole thing because the audience joined in.

Monday, 15 February 2016


Zwareth turned to behold the most hideous creature he had ever laid eyes on...


His mind raced: How had it got here?... What did it want with him?... What were those hideous glistening things at the end of its legs? Some form of cover?.. And where... Dear God!... Where were its wings and tail?!!!
"Your mandibles were moving. Are you talking to yourself?"  
"Oh - No. No. Nothing, my nectar. Just thinking."
Zwareth would have to watch himself. It would do no good for Zwarina to suspect... What? What had he done wrong? Nothing. So he'd seen the vide-saga before. No reason she had to know!
"Zwareth, you're doing it again."
"Muttering. What's on your mind, pupa?"
Boots the glistening things were called. Hideous. So hideous. And the creature's chest. Too broad. Far too broad. It didn't even have wings, why did it need such a large chest?! No matter how often Zwareth had watched this clip, it still all seemed so unnatural. Why was it so smooth? And those trousers!
"Zwareth. What?"
"Am I doing it again? "
Zwarina's tentacles loosened.
"We don't have to watch this."
"No. No no. I'm enjoying it. But I mean... Whatever you want, my nectar."
"Okay. Well... I might open another bottle."
"Not for me, thanks. But sure."
Zwarina paused the vide-saga and hovered over to the drinks cleft. Zwareth considered humming, but then decided remaining silent and stock still until his wife's return might better convey the impression of contentment.

Illustration by Rowena Morrill

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


On the topic of under-appreciated books about supermen...

Some people find Superman boring because he's invulnerable. But he's not of course. He cares, which makes him extremely vulnerable. Here's Elliot S. (later S!) Maggin's "Superman, Last Son of Krypton" originally published in 1977 to accompany the release of the Motion Picture and yet nothing like a novelization. In fact it reads like a very early Kurt Vonnegut. It's careful and witty and full of aliens, and was happily brought to my attention by Colin Smith here (with surprise input from S! himself in the comments below - "Of course Alan Moore read my book"). Below is one of my favourite paragraphs from it, the opening of Chapter 6 - "The Penthouse", a beautiful and unfamiliar introduction to an archetypal megalomaniac:
"Yesterday Luthor was dressed in skin-tight pyjamas and crossed ammunition belts. The outfit was the only affectation he had for a purpose, and therefore the only one he recognized as an affectation. The penthouse hideaway four hundred feet over the city, the medieval tapestries hanging over the faces of the computers and wall consoles, the Egyptian sarcophagus whose mummy was replaced by a mattress covered with Snoopy sheets and pillowcases, paintings on the walls by Leyendecker, Peake, Frazetta and Adams, those weren't affectations. Those were matters of taste. Luthor was flying in the terrace window with his jet boots for the seventeenth time and he was running out of videotape."