Monthly Archives: December 2014

TVO @ The British Comedy Awards 2014… Sort Of.

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION. THE VIDEO WAS EDITED BY MYSELF, USING MATERIAL SHOT BY NIGEL THOMAS AND LOUIS CHRISTIE, AFTER I ARRANGED FOR THEM TO REPRESENT TVO AT THE BRITISH COMEDY AWARDS 2014.

Earlier this week, The British Comedy Awards 2014 took place in Wembley, with a number of TVO regulars winning awards, including Aisling Bea, Katherine Parkinson, Moone Boy and Toast of London.

TVO had been graciously invited to attend the event, but couldn’t make it on the night, so we sent musician, actor and presenter Nigel Thomas (formerly of criminally underrated band The Foxes, now a solo artist) along to report in our place.  This is the result…

Our huge thanks to Nigel and collaborator Louie Christie for attending the event, and standing around for hours whilst the vast majority of stars ignored the ‘blue carpet’ to savour the delights of the main room. Thanks also to Matt Berry and Sandi Toksvig for agreeing to speak to us, and Seann Walsh and Paul Chowdhry for bringing their comedic game to the table.

For the full list of winners, see below.

Best TV Comedy Actress Katherine Parkinson | Best Male TV Comic – Lee Mack | Best Sketch Show Harry And Paul’s Story of the 2s | Best Female TV Comic Aisling Bea | Lifetime Achievement Award – Monty Python | Best TV Comedy Actor – Harry Enfield | Best Comedy Drama – Rev | Best New Comedy Programme – Toast of London | Best Comedy Entertainment Personality – Graham Norton | Best Comedy Panel Show – Would I Lie To You? | Best Sitcom Moone Boy | Best Comedy Breakthrough Artist – Nick Helm | Best Comedy Entertainment Programme – The Graham Norton Show | Writer’s Guild Award – Brendan O’Carroll | Best International Comedy Programme – Modern Family | Best Internet Comedy Short – Carpark | Best Comedy Film The Inbetweeners 2 | Best Comedy Moment 2014 Harry And Paul’s Story Of The 2s | King / Queen of Comedy – Jack Whitehall

For more details, visit our friends at British Comedy Guide.

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Living In Rock: Simon Day & Rhys Thomas on life with Brian Pern

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

This week sees the launch of Brian Pern: A Life in Rock on BBC Two.

The mockumentary focuses on prog-rock singer Brian Pern, as he attempts to adapt to life after fronting one of rock’s biggest bands.

Featuring a host of big name guest stars, the show is an absolute treasure, and TVO was lucky enough to talk to its creators, writers and stars, Simon Day and Rhys Thomas about the life of Brian.

Brian Pern is many things. Former frontman for prog-rock legends Thotch. Jukebox musical writer. World music inventor. Campaigner for WiFi-afflicted moths. He’s also the brainchild of Fast Show and Bellamy’s People veterans Rhys Thomas and Simon Day, who first brought the character to life in a series of YouTube videos for BBC Comedy, before Pern was unleashed on a wider audience via his debut tv series earlier this year.

That show, The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, was a critically acclaimed smash, jam-packed with celebrity guest stars as it used the medium of the music documentary (for which Thomas has previously won awards including an Emmy and a Rose D’or), to poke fun at the ridiculous nature of classic rock.

Now Pern is back with a brand new series, Brian Pern: A Life in Rock, which takes the character out of the clip show, and into a living, breathing world of his own. As Rhys explains, this was an easy decision to make.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

“To do another series like the first,” he tell us, “would be difficult. Harry Hill had twenty people all watching television at the same time to keep up for TV Burp, but for the first series it was basically me and Simon, hunting through the archives looking for all those funny clips. It would take us about a year to do it again, so we got rid of all that. The money we would have spent clearing archive footage we’ve now put into…”

“Rick Wakeman,” interjects Simon.

Wakeman is one of many guest stars in the new run, which expands Brian’s world by focusing on his day to day life, and the challenges he faces trying to get projects off the ground.  In Episode One, Pern and his former Thotch bandmates plan to launch their own jukebox musical, Stowe Boys, with Martin Freeman and Jack Whitehall in its cast and Kathy Burke on directing duties.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

Elsewhere, the second episode sees Brian attempt to play a charity gig, for the aforementioned moths, at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, whilst the third and final episode focuses on Brian’s attempts to record a charity Christmas album with a string of fellow rock stars including Roy Wood, Chrissie Hynde, Rick Parfitt and Melanie C. Oh, and his live-in assistant and world music protégé Pepita, played once more by Lucy Montgomery.

“To take him forward,” Simon explains. “We knew we had to have him living his life, meeting up with his manager, Pepita living in his house, and how he relates to the outside world.  Then we throw crisis at him in each episode.”

“His whole raison d’etre,” he continues, “is to stay very calm, so that nothing can go wrong. But he’s put under this intense pressure, and hopefully that’s where the joke is.”

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

The expanded world – which also features Tony Way as Brian’s driver Ned, Michael Kitchen as his Jim Beach inspired, yacht loving manager John Farrow, Paul Whitehouse and Nigel Havers as his former bandmates – takes a character that could have seemed like a one-trick idea, and beds him into a believable world, much like the transformation of Alan Partridge over the years.  Yet Rhys is determined to spell out the differences between the two characters.

“He’s not like an Alan Partridge,” he states, firmly. “None of it is ever played for laughs. What you’re laughing at is that he’s a foil to his own ideas. When he’s trying to put on a concert to save moths in Africa, if it was a concert for ebola, it wouldn’t be funny. It’s the idea that it’s wifi affected moth’s wings that’s the joke. A silly idea dealt with seriously, and played naturalistically.”

© BBC / Neil Barnes

© BBC / Neil Barnes

“It’s like the similarity with Peter Gabriel,” adds Simon. “Brian’s based on Peter Gabriel, but Peter’s actually a much nicer person with a really good heart. I just took him a baseline, and run with it, really. Brian’s just a pompous child at heart.”

Indeed, the new run harks back to the duo’s previous collaboration, Bellamy’s People, and it’s radio forbear Down the Line, which focus on heightened realism to base increasingly silly comedic ideas upon.  The later ran for five series on Radio 4, but the former was shunned by the Beeb after only one series, a decision which still baffles comedy lovers nationwide.

“It should have carried on, really,” notes Simon. “It’s a shame various events conspired to stop it. But it did use up a lot of characters, which I suppose we could go back to. We still have fond memories of it, but it’s a shame it never really took off.”

Rhys is less philosophical about the experience. “The problem with it,” he suggests, “is that it’s part of that time where comedy series started dropping off with audiences for the first time. Episode One got 1.58 million viewers, but then it tailed off each week. That’s what everything does now, but we were one of the first ones to do it. Something like Toast of London gets something like 450,000 viewers on Channel 4, which is so small for something that great. Ten years ago that would have got five million.” He pauses for a moment, then adds the prophetic: “Christ, people just don’t watch telly like they used to.”

It’s certainly true. When Simon and Rhys first started working together, it was on the hugely acclaimed, ratings grabbing sketch show The Fast Show, which shockingly began airing over twenty years ago now, and still returns sporadically, most recently in the form of online videos for Fosters Comedy converted into full episodes for BBC Two. It’s lasting legacy, apart from establishing a huge network of comedy talent, is that it remains as beloved today as it once was.  Simon Day puts this down to canny decisions.

Simon & Rhys in Fast Show spin-off Swiss Toni. © BBC

Simon & Rhys in Fast Show spin-off Swiss Toni. © BBC

“They never sold it to a channel like Dave,” he explains, “where it could get repeated on a loop. It never really has been repeated. They want to but Paul [Whitehouse]’s holding back. People have dvds and videos of it, but that’s it, so it’s held up in people’s memory without them getting sick of it.”

“And also,” he adds, “lots of people watched it. Back in the days of four channels, no internet, no Twitter, it really took off. We didn’t do too many – three series and a couple of Christmas specials – so its preserved itself quite well.”

“The third series was the best…” chips in Rhys. “You’re only saying that,” Simon retorts, “cos you were in it!”

Two decades on, and both Simon and Rhys are still working with the same people.  Fellow Fast Show veteran Paul Whitehouse stars in A Life in Rock as Thotch guitarist Pat Quid, whilst Rhys is married to co-star Lucy Montgomery, and went to school with Tony Way (Ned) and composer Steve Burge. Many of those involved, as with a number of their projects, have genuinely known each other for decades, making the show something of a family affair.

Steve Burge & Tony Way © Burge & Way / United Agent

Steve Burge & Tony Way © Burge & Way / United Agent

“Oh, we really do feel like a family,” enthuses Rhys. “I like the idea we all work together better anyway, cos we’re all friends and it ends up being more fun.  You can do what you want and don’t mind making a fool out of yourself.”

“When I did Star Stories,” he reveals, “I didn’t know anybody. And you turn up, and it’s all a bit competitive. Everyone’s trying to get one up on each other. I like everyone there, and I ended up making friends with them all, but these days I’d rather not do that again, and just work with people I know.”

If this sounds like comedic nepotism, it should be pointed out that these choices are also made because said actors are brilliant at what they do. And besides, TVO itself is based on a continuing trend of recycling the same talent in new ways, as part of one big comedic family.

Tittybangbang © BBC

Tittybangbang © BBC

“There’s this thing with television,” Rhys explains, in reference to this, “where someone will get famous, and then they’re endlessly in everything.  We’re sort of not using the same faces as everyone else.  Commissioners decide they want a funny actress, say, so they just ask the same people over and over. I like using people like Lucy and Tony. Even though Tony’s been in Edge of Tomorrow, in terms of comedy television, people will still think: ‘Oh, let’s get James Corden instead.’”

Indeed, knowing each other for such a long time has further benefits, in that there’s an innate sense of reliability that allows everyone to do the best job possible. Steve Burge, who was part of comedy trio Stay Alive Pepi with Thomas and Way, was put in charge of most of Brian Pern’s musical back catalogue.

“I would say to Steven: I need a song like this,” reveals Rhys, “or a piece a bit like that. He would then go off and write something brilliant, and I knew he’d deliver it in time for us to write the lyrics.  Then there’s songs like Simon’s written, like Black Christmas.”

“Which I sold,” chips in Simon. “I sold it to Westlife.”

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

Rhys laughs, straightens himself up and states: “You know, Simon and Steve remind me of each other, cos they don’t think like anybody else. They won’t come up with what you predict, but they’ll find something funny. Tony too… he came up with the version of Little Donkey we gave to Chrissie Hynde to sing. They’re so good. But they never put me in their fucking things!”

“Who?” asks Simon, perplexed.

“Tony or Steve,” Rhys answers, as Simon erupts with laughter.

Not that Rhys is short on work. Since he persuaded Brian May to write the theme music for his sitcom Fun at the Funeral Parlour, he has been working on dvds, blu-rays and award winning documentaries for Queen. His last piece, The Great Pretender won an International Emmy and a Rose D’or, no less, even though it very nearly didn’t get made.

© Queenonline

© Queenonline

“I wasn’t going to direct that,” Rhys reveals. “Just produce it. But the director I had said it wasn’t going to be any good, cos it’s boring and about an opera singer. So I did it myself, and I’m glad I did!”

Part of the joy of Brian Pern is that the show uses Rhys’ background in documentary filmmaking to look authentic. “I’ve got the same editor I worked with on the Queen documentaries, and the same cameraman,” he tells us. “So it has the right look. When people try to make spoof documentaries with cameramen who haven’t come from that field, they make it look shoddy on purpose. Real documentary makers try to make it look as good as they can.”

“We thought about doing something after this about crime,” adds Simon. “Sending up gangsters and the whole middle class obsession with it. But getting real people to talk about it.”

Rhys agrees. “I think it’s better than having people pretending to be real people,” he suggests. “You look at Spinal Tap, and it’s brilliant, but it’s just taking the piss out of idiot heavy metal bands. It’s not taking the piss out of the documentary form itself, and we could have a lot of fun doing that.”

Perhaps this is what the future holds for Brian Pern?

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

 “If there’s a desire for it, he’ll be back,” states Simon. “If the channel want to do it, cos people like it, we’re never going to say: ‘No, we’re killing that off.’ Though, I don’t think it’s something you could do for a hell of a long time.”

Could we even see Brian take to the road? A live tour of his classic hits, perhaps? Simon is most definitely keen. “YES!” he enthuses, when the suggestion is put to him. Rhys is a little more pragmatic: “As long as it does well,” he opines, “it’d be a nice thing to do.”

Brian Pern: On Tour. Here’s hoping.

Brian Pern: A Life in Rock airs from tonight at 10pm, Tuesday 9th December on BBC2. Thank you to Simon Day and Rhys Thomas for talking to us, and to Abigail Johnson at BBC Comedy for arranging our discussion.

Brian Pern on a Life in Rock

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION. A VERSION OF IT WAS ALSO FEATURED ON MUSIC NEWS. BOTH FEATURED NEWLY WRITTEN COMEDY BY RHYS THOMAS, AFTER MY SUGGESTION THAT AS WELL AS A REGULAR INTERVIEW WITH HE AND BRIAN PERN CO-CREATOR SIMON DAY, WE COULD SPEAK TO BRIAN HIMSELF…

This week, prog-legend Brian Pern returns to television in A Life in Rock, directed once more by TVO regular Rhys Thomas.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

The show, a follow up to Pern & Thomas previous documentary saga, The Life of Rock, follows the former Thotch frontman as he undergoes three new challenges in his life: the opening of the Thotch musical starring Sherlock megastar Martin Freeman, the staging of his epic musical saga The Day of the Triffids and the recording of his new Christmas album.

We were lucky enough to be put into contact with Brian through the good folk at the BBC, and he agreed to answer some questions via email.  This is how it went down.

TVO: Hi Brian, thanks for talking to us. Are you well?

BRIAN PERN: You will have to forgave me as I have in fact broken my rists in an acksident that I cannot disguss dew to leegal reezons so Ned, my driver is typing this for me. he is a little slow at typing as he is a simple minded kind folk and his spelling is shiv.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

TVO: You’ve been appearing on stages around the world for over 40 years. Does the heydey of Thotch still feel like yesterday?

BP: No it doesn’t feel like yesterday, I am much older, fatter and balder now and at times I get very depressed.

TVO: Of course, your first documentary series with Rhys Thomas, The Life of Rock, brought your music to a whole new audience, culminating in the limited rerelease of Spirit Level: The Best Of. Have you seen a change in the fans approaching you in the street?

BP: No. No one reconizeses me in the street anymore I don;t look the same as i did and i don’t reeely want to go around with face paints on an out lanbddish owtfits

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

TVO: Recently, Thotch have turned to making a jukebox musical about their life story. How’s that coming along?

BP: You will have to watch the program but it’s not happening. there is talk of a film with the man who did Interstellars. but i thought it was long and i don;t want my life in space. i like babadooks director, maybe they will do a god job, can you pass me the straw for my drink ned a thicker one the lumps of banana keep clogging it from the smootheee – don’t tupe that but – what are you doing oh you idiot. i might get siri to do it.

TVO: You bagged Martin Freeman to play you. He’s a big, big star now. What’s it been like working with him?

BP: Not easy as actors can by tricksy. i was a big fan of nativity 3 which he wasn’t in. apparently 1 is good. kermode said so.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

TVO: Rhys knows Martin from his comedy days, of course. Did they enjoy reminiscing about those days?

BP: Dey talked for about 3 hours about the time dey were both on Does Doug Know with Daisy Donovan and how the format has been sold to the USA for 29 million $.

TVO: You’re also no stranger to pushing into new territories. You’ve quite a few firsts under your belt, isn’t that right?

BP: what is under my belt is none of your beeswax. ned don’t write beeswax i wouldn’t say that just say business.

TVO: You’re also a keen supporter of charity work. What draws you to plights few seem to have noticed?

BP: I do it because I have a lot of money and I think it’s not fair to keep it all. redistributiin of welth. ned get the phone. i can;t pick ir up/.

TVO: Has Rhys got involved with the charity work too?

BP: No, he’s not rich enough. he works for bbc and is still on the make, he can’t afford. to give money away.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

TVO: There’s a few other new projects on the horizon, too. I hear you’re releasing a Christmas album?

BP: yes. It’s out already.

TVO: It’s not the first foray into Xmas music for you, Brian, is it?

BP: no i did 2 of then and episode 3 is all abowt that. its on 22nds of december after never mind the buzzards with Peter Jupitis.

TVO: You’re also working on your long mooted Day of the Triffids album, is that right?

BP: i recorded it in 1977nand now its coming out yes you can see it all on bbc in episode 2. how many more of these i need to have a bath

© BBC

© BBC

TVO: There were bootlegs doing the rounds a few years ago of the Triffids demos. How do you feel about illegal downloading of your work?

BP: i don’t care really. I have made enough money i think if fans want to listen great – is my fawlt for not finishing it

TVO: Presumably your manager has something to say about it.

BP: yes and it would envolve a swear word.

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

© BBC / Rory Lindsay

TVO: You’re also keen on encouraging new talent in what they call world music. Why is that?

BP: i like the sound of voices from other cuntrees its better than todays bvabds in uk like kasabian,

TVO: Finally, I have to ask: do either of you think a full blown Thotch reunion is ever likely to happen?

BP: I never say never say never so never say never, ever – no.

Brian Pern: A Life in Rock starts on Tuesday 9th December at 10pm on BBC Two. Our thanks to Rhys Thomas for setting up this interview – we’ll be speaking to him and collaborator Simon Day later this week, so stay peeled.