Author Archives: Paul Holmes

Onion Talking: Paul Kaye on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

This weekend sees the long-awaited launch of BBC One’s fantasy epic Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, based on the best selling book of the same name, and adapted by the makers of Wallander, Sherlock and Dotor Who.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate England where magic was once commonplace, the show focuses on two very different men who are drawn together by their talents in the art, and an ancient prophecy may just be their making, and their undoing.

The top notch ensemble cast including Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Enzo Clienti, Alice Englert, Charlotte Riley, Marc Warren and TVO regulars Edward Hogg and Paul Kaye, and the result is an intelligent, magical drama that’s definitely got ‘smash-hit’ written all over it.

As Paul Kaye just so happens to be one of TVO’s biggest supporters, we were itching to catch up with him to talk Strange & Norrell, and we were naturally delighted that one of the busiest men in the industry was very keen to tell us all about it, and offer up exclusive images from his archives for good measure. Enjoy…

© Paul Kaye

Exclusivinculus.

In a world where magic, at least real magic, is long thought lost, two men are forced to form an uneasy alliance to protect the realms of men – and each other – from the darker side of forgotten secrets that have been brought to the surface.  In our world, where genre television for adults, at least good genre television for adults, is long thought of as a mostly American thing, the BBC has forged ahead with an seven part adaptation of Susanne Clarke’s epic novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell.

With a dynamite cast spearheaded by Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel, and also featuring the likes of Enzo Cilenti, Charlotte Riley, Alice Englert and Marc Warren, and both a screenwriter (Peter Harness) and director (Toby Haynes) having cut their teeth on prestigious productions such as Wallander, Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it’s safe to assume that expectations for Strange & Norrell are high.

For The Velvet Onion’s part, the impressive talent in front of and behind the camera is augmented not just by the presence of the brilliant Edward Hogg, but by a regular stamp of quality, in the form of designer turned musician turned comic turned hugely-in-demand actor Paul Kaye as the street magician and accidental prophet Vinculus.

A man of many talents, Kaye’s work on the whole over the last two decades has quality imbedded right down the middle like Blackpool rock, and – in this post Game of Thrones world, when seemingly everyone and their cousin wants to cast Kaye in their production – to actually bag the man himself is usually a sign of a production worth investigating.  This time around, however, it was remarkably easy to get Paul involved, given his admiration for the source material.

© BBC / Todd Antony

Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) & Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) © BBC / Todd Antony

“I’ve only seen Episodes One and Two, so far,” he tells TVO as we grab a few moments in a rare bit of downtime between roles. “I was a big devotee of the book, and they’ve done a extraordinary job of visualising it and squeezing it all in. It took me a while to read it, because it has all these footnotes, which were really annoying to begin with” He refers to the near two-hundred additions to the novel made by Susanne Clarke, which illuminate her alternate history and provide an entire fictional body of magical scholarship, should you wish to engage with the book in a more ‘enlightened’ manner.

“Slowly but surely they grow on you,” Paul reveals. “You start to look forward to them. If there isn’t a footnote on the next page, you’re disappointed. They substantiate everything, and enrich it. And that book was on set every day. It was like the Oracle. Everybody loved it, and was determined to do it justice.  ”

Having never read the book, TVO is keen to point out that the series stands on its own two feet – taking the source material as a guide, but never a crutch. The first episode builds slowly, with our guide into the world of magic a curious admirer of the practise, John Segundas, played by Edward Hogg, still perhaps best known for his incredible leading performance in Bunny and the Bull. It is through Segundas that we meet Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan), who is reluctant to demonstrate his knowledge publicly, until he realises that his skills could be of great value to the ongoing war efforts, and moral duty gets the better of him.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Vinclus meets Childermass (Enzo Clienti) © JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

However, the connection between Norrell and his titular companion Jonathan Strange is made by Vinculus: a street magician who prophesises the two men will form an alliance, as fortold by the mysterious Raven King hundreds of years previously. Played with Paul’s usual vigour and punk-infused zest, Vinculus has the keys to the engine room as the story ramps up a notch, stealing materials from Norrell’s servant to persuade Strange to pursue his destiny.

Watching Kaye on screen a Vinculus, stealing almost every scene from some of the nation’s finest actors, it’s hard to imagine a universe in which he wasn’t the ideal choice for the role.

“I was playing Vinculus in my head when I read it,” Paul reveals. “I was obsessed with chapter 67, The Hawthorn Tree and read it over and over. But I never imagined I’d ever, ever get to play the part.  I love the way Vinculus floats through the story. He’s such a contradiction, because he is a charlatan, no question about that. And yet there’s real truth about him. He’s carved out a reputation and a repertoire on the street, which includes conjuring up the ‘spirit of the River Thames’!  He lives a chaotic life, he blows with the wind and he is unquestionably full of shit, but he has been blessed.”

He laughs, and deadpans: “That last bit’s not a bad description of myself, really.”

LEFT IMAGE: © Paul Kaye | RIGHT IMAGE: © HBO

Dennis Pennis & Thoros of Myr LEFT IMAGE: © Paul Kaye | RIGHT IMAGE: © HBO

Of course, in recent years, Kaye’s stock as an actor has risen tenfold. Where once the shadow of a certain loud-mouthed, red-haired former alter-ego would precede the very mention of his name, these days he is far more likely to be referred to as ‘Game of Thrones star Paul Kaye’, following his six episode stint in the sprawling fantasy epic, which may just about be the biggest show on television. “I think you’re being kind,” he laughs when TVO mentions the shift, “‘cos I’ve read on several occasions that it’s ‘Dennis Pennis’ who’s is in Game of Thrones, not me.”

Nevertheless, Paul’s been busy of late, spurred on by settling down from his wilder days to raise a family and write TVO random emails in the midle of the night to keep us updated. Recent activities have included parts on radio (including Tracy Ann Oberman’s Mrs Robinson, I Presume), and in Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton’s superlative Inside Number 9, playing Richard Two Shoes in The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge. “Those guys are on another level,” he states. “It was a writing and performance masterclass working with them.”

This week, he’s filming on Sky’s new adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman alongside Timothy Spall, Victoria Wood, Andy Serkis, Keeley Hawes and his longstanding friend and occasional collaborator Marc Warren – who also appears alongside Kaye in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Marc Warren as The Gentleman © JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

“I love working with Marc,” Kaye tells TVO, proudly. “No-one does dark like Marc. He was Mike Strutter’s lawyer, for fucks sake! He’s got such an extraordinary energy on set. We’ve got this great scene together later on in the show, and on the day, his intensity pushed me into doing it in a completely differently way to how I’d planned on playing the scene. I had no choice, he just turned from being a mate into a monster on a sixpence and he spooked the shit out of me.  I remember seeing him in Oliver Twist [the 1999 BBC prequel series] on the telly and it was one of those Gary Oldman moments. He turns up on screen and I think: “Who the hell is this guy?” He blew my head off, and within 24 hours of seeing that I bumped into him in Tescos, and I had to say something to him. We became great friends after that.”

Warren isn’t the only familiar face for Kaye in the production, having worked with both its leading men on previous productions: Eddie Marsan on the sublime Radio 4 series Love in Recovery, and Bertie Carvel in Tim Minchin’s highly acclaimed musical adaptation of Matilda at the RSC and in the West End.

© Jean Goldsmith

Kaye & Carvel, 2014 © Jean Goldsmith

“It’s great working with Bertie again,” Paul states. “We shared a dressing room on Matilda The Musical. That was our first taste of magic together. And Eddie,” he quips, “Dear Eddie is just about as lovely and adorable as a Tottenham Hotspur fan can be. Bertie and Eddie’s relationship in Strange and Norrell has wonderful echoes of Mozart and Salieri.”

TVO wonders if the familiarity allows for a more rewarding experience on a shoot. Kaye thinks for a moment, and suggests the reason Strange & Norrell worked so well was that all involved had a shared goal. “You feel like you have an obligation,” he states. “And a duty to bring it to life in the best way possible. I know Bertie had read the book 10 years ago and felt he was born to be Strange! Toby Haynes fought so hard to direct it as well, and he was such a joy to work with. Such incredible enthusiasm. Marc Warren was told he was destined to play the Gentleman by Richard and Judy! When everyone’s pushing in the same direction for the greater good it’s like being part of one of those ginormous balls of herring, which might be my favourite thing in nature!”

Next time you see Paul going hell for leather in a role, think of those herrings. There’s a delicious moment in the first episode of Strange & Norell where Vinculus is awoken from his slumber under a bush. In a matter of moments, he manages to completely befuddle and bewitch Jonathan Strange in equal measure, before tumbling off into the distance, dancing a merry jig of his own design in the middle of a field, all by himself. It’s a moment, TVO opines, that perhaps only someone with a spirit as fiery and energetic as Kaye could pull off.

“There’s a scene in episode 6 I think,” he reveals, chuckling, “where I fell backwards and landed badly on this rock. Everyone on set thought: ‘That’s it. He’s out’, but I groaned for a while, dusted myself off and carried on. It reminds me of when I used to hurt myself at school sports days doing the high jump. I’d do the Fosbury flop onto a fucking sand-pit! I’d wind myself after every jump but it was worth it because I could jump higher using that technique than the other kids who did ‘the scissors’. I loved all the drama and attention of doing a great jump, getting injured, recovering heroically and then doing it all over again. Bit of a twat, really.”

© Paul Kaye

Mike Struter live on stage © Nickie Divine

“Basically,” he affirms, with all the wisdom of a man who actually broke his neck pratfalling with a hat during the first run of Matilda The Musical, “I always thought that if I didn’t put myself in A&E on a shoot, I hadn’t worked hard enough. Things have changed now slightly. The titanium bolt I now have in my neck post-Matilda has sadly meant I’ve had to knock things like the Mike Strutter Group on the head.” Kaye’s live punk-rock cabaret carnage featuring his alter-ego of the same name was a huge underground hit five years ago, with celebrities in the audience and Oram & Meeten’s Wingnut as regular guests. “I miss it dearly,” Paul explains, “but you can’t be fronting a car-crash band anymore if you’re not prepared to go through the windscreen”.

Following Strange & Norrell, Kaye will be seen in Gareth Tunley’s secretive movie debut The Ghoul, alongside Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe and Waen Shepherd, but more on that another time. He also makes a glorious cameo in Kayvan Novak’s new comedy Sun Trap. Again, we’re keeping schtum on that one for now! Perhaps most excitingly, following that, Kaye will next be seen on our screens making a two-part guest appearance in Doctor Who. Whilst his role is understandably shrouded in secrecy, Paul was quick to sing the praises of its production team.

© Olivia Hemmingway

RIP, Walter Sabchak © Olivia Hemmingway

“They’re so committed and passionate about that show ” he reveals, “Peter Capaldi is just the warmest man, right from the read through he gives you a big hug and you feel really buzzed about being part of it all.  I had one of those moments when I walked past my first Dalek in the corridor and thought “Jesus Christ, I’m in Doctor Who!” It was quite odd because one of the locations we filmed at was a huge semi-deserted army base out in the Welsh countryside. As we were shooting this rather intricate scene, there were territorial army guys running after fake ‘insurgents’ in robes and keffiyehs accross the hilltops. I don’t know about national security, but it looked like a Benny Hill sketch.“

And should Susanne Clarke ever finish her sequel to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is set to focus on Childermass and Vinculus, would Kaye return to his role?

“Finish it?” he asks. “I’m not sure she’s started it yet, has she? But in the event of that happening…” He pauses for a moment and grins. “Oh yes,” he confirms. “With a trillion bells on.”

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell begins on Sunday, 17th May at 9pm on BBC One and is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK on 15th June. The show also airs in the US from Saturday, June 13th from 10pm (9pm Central) on BBC America, and you can read our preview of Episode One now.
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Preview: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

© BBC / Todd Antony

© BBC / Todd Antony

This weekend sees the long-awaited launch of BBC One’s fantasy epic Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, starring Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Enzo Clienti, Alice Englert, Charlotte Riley, Marc Warren, Edward Hogg and Paul Kaye.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate England where magic was once commonplace, the show focuses on two very different men who are drawn together by their talents in the art, and an ancient prophecy may just be their making, and their undoing.

TVO recently caught the first episode ahead of transmission, and to whet your appetites, there’s a spoiler-free preview peeling below.

Ten years is a long time in television, and it’s now over a decade since Doctor Who returned to our screens, bringing back with it not only the intrepid wandering in space and time, but also the notion that good quality, fantasy television could co-exist with game-shows, reality programming and chat-host ego trips in the realm of prime-time TV.

And whilst the boom in the industry has blossomed worldwide in the years since, production companies within the UK have generally struggled to find a genre show which would have a sizeable impact since Merlin, commissioned in the post-Who flurry, called it a day three years ago. For all it’s shared DNA with Doctor WhoSherlock is hardly science-fiction and far removed from fantasy – beyond the notion of why the cleverest man in England elects to take a taxi everywhere in London when the Tube would be much faster.

The truth of the matter is this: expectations are high for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The push for the show to be a roaring success isn’t helped by the BBC’s previous wobbles in fantasy adaptations: Gormenghast, we’re looking at you in particular, here. The greatest cast in all the land can’t save a production that doesn’t get it right behind the scenes and on the page.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Which may be why the makers of Strange & Norrell, as we’ll call it for shorthand, are led by familiar names for fans of BBC Wales’ recent output. In the directing chair is Toby Haynes: who cut his teeth on Being Human and Spooks before heading up the five successive episodes that made up the end of Doctor Who‘s fifth series, it’s 2010 Christmas Special, and the start of it’s sixth ‘nu-Who’ run. Haynes was also responsible for probably the most talked about drama episode in the last five years, as he led Sherlock‘s titular detective to his apparent death in the sublime The Reichenbach Fall.

He’s not the only Who allumni on board, either, as the adaptation of Susanne Clarke’s novel comes from Peter Harness, writer of 2014’s Kill the Moon episode, and two further episodes to air later this year. Harness was also responsible for the underrated Frankie Howerd biopic, Rather You Than Me, starring David Walliams as the troubled comic, and his last adaptation of a popular novel turned out to be the Kenneth Branagh smash Wallander.

So far, so good, and collating a cast that includes Bertie Carvel (Les Mis, Sherlock), Eddie Marsan (God’s Pocket, The World’s End), Enzo Clienti (In the Loop, The Theory of Everything), Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) and Charlotte Riley (Edge of Tomorrow) was an impressive coup. Adding the ever sublime Marc Warren to that cast was the cherry on top, and by adding in Bunny and the Bull star Edward Hogg and the legendary Paul Kaye: Well, now you’ve really got our attention.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Hogg’s role is our way into the story: as John Segundus, he channels innocence and devotion to his cause, as a determined scholar of magic curious to find out why conventional practise of the art died out three centuries ago. Travelling to York to join a gentlemen’s society of magicians, he is instructed that magic can never be performed, only studied, until, that is, he discovers Mr Norrell.

Played with world-weary heart by the eternally impressive Eddie Marsan, Norrell is content to keep himself to himself and practise magic only when he needs to do so, but Segundas’ curious soul manages to persuade him to demonstrate his powers to a flustered society in a sequence which features CGI so impressive, it may finally blur the lines between what Hollywood does as standard and the Beeb can do with a little effort.

Then, as if by magic (sorry, couldn’t help that one), we’re taken out of this narrative, and introduced to the other half of our title: Jonathan Strange. A drifter and clear romancer, he is enthused with ‘posh-toff-charm’ yet for all his flaws, is immediately a likeable soul, thanks in no small part to the nuances of Bertie Carvel’s portrayal. Sure, he’s hopeless, hopping about on his perpetual holiday from responsibilities, but a brief look into his family life demonstrates whose side the audience is meant to be on, and when the inevitable plot-device to free him of his predicament arrives, things begin to look up for ol’ Jonny-boy.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

The connection between these two men is in the hands of a street magician, Vinculus, played by Paul Kaye with all his usual punk-rock gusto. He’s charming yet threatening, likeable yet disgusting at the same time, and Kaye has long since been a master of turning grubby little shits into characters you can’t help but root for.

Vinculus has received a prophecy concerning two magicians, and he approaches first Norrell, then later Strange, in his attempts to push the two together. The former has become embroiled in London’s high society, uneasy at his new-found fame after ‘The Miracle of York’, and is immediately cautious of Vinculus. Strange, on the other hand, is fascinated by his visitor, and thus begins a chain of events that could make or break everyone involved.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

We could say more. There’s the entire matter of Marc Warren’s character, and how he becomes involved in the plot, that we haven’t even touched upon. There’s a sequence involving a pack of tarot cards that offers Kaye and Enzo Clienti a wonderful sparring match to savour. There’s the involvement of a cringeworthy society-luvvie, desperate to cling onto NorrrrrrELL for a moment in the spotlight, brilliantly brought to life by The Thick of It and Cucumber star Vincent Franklin. And there’s the story of Sir Walter Pole (Mr Selfridge star Samuel West), whose initial scepticism is disproven in ways he could never have dreamed.

But to say more would rob the opening episode of its strongest gambits. What we will say is that, though beautifully shot, and subtly scripted, the tale of Strange & Norrell is slow to get underway, and certain impressive sequences seem at odds with the majority of the episode. This is a dialogue-heavy show, and whilst said dialogue is richly nuanced, it is very much of the period and its half-truths and political implications could be hard to follow if you’re not giving it your full concentration.

Then again, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a show which deserves your full concentration. In an age where Twitter offers a live commentary of every programme, an awful lot of viewers on Sunday evening won’t really be paying attention, and that’s a worrying thought. Because Strange & Norrell rewards your efforts, and by the climax of the first episode, those who stick with it will be itching to find out what happens next.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell begins on Sunday, 17th May at 9pm on BBC One. It airs in the US from Saturday, June 13th from 10pm (9pm Central) on BBC America, and is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK on 15th June.

Onion Talking: Tom Davis on Murder in Successville

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

8503896-high_res-murder-in-successvilleThis week sees the launch of brand new, madcap BBC Three comedy Murder in Successville, with Tom Davis right in the middle of it all as tough, uncompromising hardman of crimesolving, DI Sleet.

Each week, a celebrity guest is made rookie partner, and asked to solve a murder in a town where famous faces have alternate lives, and are all played by top notch comedians.

Naturally, we’re very excited, and in the middle of an almighty press campaign, we quickly caught up with the busiest man of the moment, Tom Davis, to find out more.

Hi, Tom. Welcome to TVO. First off, how would you describe Murder in Successville to someone who has no idea what it’s all about?

It’s an immersive, improvised comedy centred around the town of Successville. The town is made up of weird celebrity impressions, every week there’s a murder and me and a celebrity sidekick have to solve it. Simple? It’s funny and bat shit crazy.

Your character, DI Sleet, is the epicentre of the madness. Is he someone you’ve been working on for a while?

The character has grown over time. We’ve been working on him for about three years. He’s gone through many changes and grown into what you see today. I love playing him. I spend about three months a year, talking like him, acting like him… it’s a lot of fun. 

You get to say all sorts of things to your celebrity guests. Does it feel good to baffle them with comedic gold?

One of favourite parts of the show is that twist. The show works because all the guests were willing and up for the ride. My job is to pretty much pull the rug from under their feet as soon as they think they have worked the show out. 

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

Do you have a favourite guest?

That’s like picking your favourite child or pet, they’re all great in their own way. We wanted a mixed bag, each of them brought something brilliant to the show that gave every episode a unique feel. Their personality is driving the show most of the time, none of them disappointed. 

The show is almost like a fusion of Star Stories and that old 90s telly version of Cluedo done properly. Did you and the writing team have any inspirations you drew upon to make this world work?

Both of those shows for a start were, but there’s a wide scope of inspiration. The writing process is a fun one. Alongside the brilliant writing team we have a production team that are very creative. Our director has a brilliant eye and has created this amazing look for the show. Added to this the cast are superb and all bring their own vision to it.

How much of what you all say is scripted? There are some dynamite lines in there!

We work through every scene with the writers beforehand in an intensive rehearsal. The scripts are all top notch and give us a point to jump of from. The nature of the show means that it changes from scene to scene. Sleet’s relationship with the rookie can change, which ultimately means so can individual lines and the feel of the show. As much we work through and prepare, nothing can ready you for Deborah Meeden going rogue on Cariad as Cheryl Cole (or whatever her new name is.)

One thing we really loved about the show was how many familiar faces are involved. How was it improv sparring with the likes of Tony Way, Cariad Lloyd and Colin Hoult?

I love it. The cast on this are immense. All of them completely smashed it, committing to character. That’s what makes the show for me. The “celeb” “rookie” has to feel like they are completely in that moment. We usually only have one or two takes so nothing can go wrong. Surprise is a big part of the show: the moment they come face to face with the impressionist for the first time is the reaction we want and the reaction you see. 

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Of course, you’ve been working with familiar faces so often lately we’ve kind of adopted you. Gooblegarble one of us, and all that. Does the world of comedy feel like a big family to you?

Yes, for the most part it’s a supportive world. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with most of this cast on other bits. I did Cariad’s sketch show, I’ve done a few bits with Jenny Bede and I did one of my first jobs with Tony Way. He played an arm pit and I was a big alien on some crazy kids show. 

Recently you’ve managed to be in several of the more high profile shows of the year, from The Keith Lemon Show to Cockroaches and House of Fools. Are you starting to get recognised more frequently?

Not really, I like that the characters all look so different. Sometimes people stare and ask for pictures and I think they must recognise me, but then it turns out they just want a picture with a giant.

With any luck, people will be quoting Sleet at you before long. Any particular requests for the line they’ll shout across the street?

GREAT MEN DON’T SHIT THEIR PANTS…

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

Tom Davis, thank you. Murder in Successville starts Wednesday, 6th May at 10pm on BBC Three.

Previews: Inside No. 9 – La Couchette

THIS PIECE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

Next week sees the long-awaited return of Inside No. 9 – the twisted anthology series from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Episode One airs on Thursday, 26th March at 10pm on BBC Two, and with Alice Lowe and Paul Kaye amongst the big name guest stars this series, TVO was keen to see the results as soon as possible.

This, then, is our preview of the first episode, La Couchette

For more than two decades, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have been honing their natural chemistry together – first as one half of The League of Gentlemen alongside Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss and Psychobitches director Jeremy Dyson, and more recently with their sublime comedic mystery saga Psychoville. Following the untimely demise of the latter, the duo took on their most ambitious project yet: Inside No. 9, and after a widely acclaimed first run, they’ve crafted six more tales in their inimitable style.

Where The League of Gentlemen mined the laughs in the downright macabre, and Psychoville took audiences on an increasingly preposterous journey into espionage and bad murders, Inside No. 9 showcased a remarkable constraint in Shearsmith and Pemberton. With each episode focusing on a different set of a characters in new locations each week, the pair got to continue flexing their skill as chameleonic character actors whilst also, on occasion stepping back from the big dynamic laughs: allowing the shifting mood and tone of the story to take centre stage, even if it meant a reduced role for themselves.  And with concept leading the way, it allowed the pair to truly experiment – most notably in the impeccable A Quiet Night In episode, which is almost entirely sans dialogue.

The results were quite unlike anything else on television in recent years, and the production of a second run is more than welcome, particularly as it once again comes with a top notch cast. The likes of Sheridan Smith, Alison Steadman, David Warner (who also appeared in The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse) and TVO’s own Alice Lowe and Paul Kaye are among those we will see in this new run.

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

But first: La Couchette. Episode One is set within the ninth sleeper car on a train from Paris to Bourg St Maurice, as a ramshackle bunch of travellers try, in vein, to bed down for the night.  At opposing ends of the spectrum, Shearsmith plays a fastidious doctor, on his way to an important interview – all nerves and twitches not a million miles away from his troubled librarian in Psychoville.  Pemberton, on the other hand is a slobbish, sluggish Germanic drunk – unkempt and full of gas, and seemingly unable to speak a word of English.

Before long, the unlikely companions are joined by a bickering Northern couple – played by those fine bastions of English character acting: Julie Hesmondalgh and Mark Benton.  This particular Northerner could watch these two read the phonebook, and be enthralled, so it’s understandably a delight to see them here: trying, and failing to stay quiet whilst settling in for the night on the way to their daughter’s wedding.

They are soon joined by the brilliant Jessica Gunning as a gung-ho Aussie backpacker, and a little while later by Jack Whitehall playing… well, a Jack Whitehall style yuppie gap-yah hitchhiker. He does it well, of course. Why, we’re even growing rather fond of the Whitehall Archetype now after Cockroaches. The shambolic sextet are perfectly mismatched, and unfortunate company for one another: intolerant of everyone else in the room, and in complete ignorance of their own flaws.

It’s a claustrophobic environment, captured with great style and panache by guest director Guillem Morales. With a background in horror movies – including the Guillermo Del Toro approved Julia’s Eyes, Morales is an inspired choice to find scope in such an enclosed space, and the many layers of the cabin feel at once constrictive yet never obtrusive to the action on screen.

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

© BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

Naturally, this being a Shearsmith and Pemberton creation with a horror movie director, there’s a surprise in store for our travellers, which we understandably won’t spoil.  However, we will say it puts the journey into jeopardy, and gives the more selfish members of the party an excuse to let their own desires get the better of them.

It isn’t perfect – there’s an incident with a shoebox that is almost too revolting for words, even after some of the more twisted aspects of The League… and Psychoville, which adds nothing of note to the episode’s plotting or structure, beyond a rather purile gag that may indeed make you gag yourself. Yet for the rest of the run-time, it works masterfully – building slowly to a climax that is both carefully signposted and hidden in plain sight.

To say more would no doubt ruin the game that has become part and parcel of Shearsmith and Pemberton’s work: wondering what on earth is going to happen next. Audiences deserve to be able to savour the rich characters they manage to build in such a short space of time, and if this is any indication for the rest of the series, we’re in for another solid gold run. Welcome back, Gents… the world is a better place with you in it.

Inside No. 9 – La Couchette airs on Thursday 26th March at 10pm on BBC Two.

Onion Talking: James Cook’s Adventures in Ausland

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION AND RELEASED IN TWO PARTS

© James Cook / Media Curve

© James Cook / Media Curve

If you’re a die hard fan of The Mighty Boosh or a lover of alternative music crafted with care for the details, chances are you’ve heard of James Cook. If you haven’t, then perhaps you haven’t been reading TVO properly these last five years.

With his new album out now, Cook has returned to the London music scene in recent months, and sat down to talk to TVO’s editor-in-chief Paul Holmes, about his past, present and future in a revealing two-part interview, ahead of the next round of his club night, Outsiders, on February 26th. The initial results are below…

The story of any cultural movement that shaped the course of an entire industry is always fascinating to hear.  Some stories, however, have yet to be told in any real detail, such as the birth and subsequent explosion of the new wave of alternative comedy and music that existed in tandem at the turn of the millennium, focused primarily in the heart of North London.

One major player in all of this was James Cook – former frontman of cult favourites NEMO, collaborator of Chris Corner and regular guest star with The Mighty Boosh.  For the last six years, Berlin has been Cook’s base, and thanks to large amount of travel, he knows his ‘way around’ LA, Montevideo and Prague, too. But London will always be his real home. 

© James Cook / Media Curve

© James Cook / Media Curve

“This year has definitely felt like some sort of homecoming,” he tells TVO as he strolls the cold streets of a capital knee-deep into Winter. “It feels like home, really. I was born and grew up in Luton and Dunstable, but London was somehow embedded in my subconscious. It was the teenage dream for a musician and songwriter, to head into the Big Smoke!”

Now following a period of several years spent living abroad, Cook has returned to London to make it his permanent home once more, and has already begun finding his feet again with a new regular live night in the works.

Indeed, as TVO caught up with Cook, he was filled with enthusiasm for the opening night of Outsiders – his alternative pop cabaret at Aces & 8’s in Tufnell Park. “The room was completely full,” James exclaims, full of joy. “The audience was great and the night was fun and exciting – for the band as well as the crowd. It was a lovely way to begin the live side of things again.”

Outsiders features Cook hosting a night of, in his terms: “music and nonsense, with a bit of classic pop dj-ing from yours truly”. It’s also an opportunity to see his ever expanding live band, plus special guests every month. Fifteen years after NEMO began their career as part of legendary club night, The System, there’s a sense that his journey has come full circle.

© James Cook

© James Cook

A whole decade has passed since those heady days, when NEMO ran The System as an electro/indie club night of their own.  “It was unheard of back then,” James states.  “The scene blossomed. Robots in Disguise, Chris Corner and Sneaker Pimps… who later became IAMX, The Mighty Boosh, Imogen Heap, Graham Coxon… they were all regulars.”

“We all used to hang out together as friends,” he continues.  “We’d go to each others events, get drunk together, perform, collaborate, and guest in each other’s shows. I remember once performing a song onstage at the Hen & Chickens with The Mighty Boosh, and Julian Barratt pretending to ‘fancy’ me after seeing me perform. He tried to snog me!” He bursts out laughing, and adds: “Much to Noel’s annoyance!”

Cook subsequently shared a flat in Angel with Barratt and violinist Anne Marie Kirby, with whom he still works to this day. “That was between 2003 and 2007,” explains James.  “So it coincided with my touring with IAMX, NEMO’s rise to infamy, and the writing and filming of all three series of The Mighty Boosh.  They kept calling me in for some weird and wonderful cameo…” He adopts an impression: “James Nemo? Are you available to come to shooting 8am tomorrow morning with the Boosh? Today you will be a blue alien nomad. Can you play this Oud?”

Indeed, Cook’s cameos on the show are numerous. He was one of the Ape of Death’s bodyguard mandrills, a Mod Wolf, a mutant postman, magical shaman, dying hipster, a blue tennis player (The Blue McEnroe, no less), and perhaps most delightfully, Kevin Rowland, searching for the New Sound.  His biggest role in the show, came as a blue-faced nomadic minstrel, slave to Rich Fulcher’s Blue King Alan, who is composes a song about Vince Noir being ‘The Chosen One’.

© Baby Cow Productions

© Baby Cow Productions

“We seriously wrote that song together five minutes before we shot that scene,” James reveals.  “Shooting the Boosh was a bit like that. There was always room for people to put themselves into the role, add lines and improvise. That was the reason for so much laughter and hilarity on set. They were truly magical times.”

It is perhaps hard to believe that it’s now over seven years since the third series aired, and almost eight since the Boosh team were making new episodes – a fact that Cook is all too acutely aware of.  “It still feels very recent,” he tells TVO, “but everyone involved has been so creative and busy that it also feels like forever.  So much amazing material has gone out into the world from that little scene of comedians and musicians.”

“I was so glad when TVO came along,” he adds passionately, “to help join the dots for people. In the early days I felt like I was the one constantly talking about the collective hive mind we had. That family feel. We used to go on holiday together, make short films…” He trails off as a near-forgotten memory rises to the surface.  “We made a legendary silent horror film which we shot in France.  It was called ‘La Rose D’Envie’, and featured Julian Barratt, Chris Corner, Sue Denim and myself. Never even released!”

© Baby Cow Productions

© Baby Cow Productions

The creative family has widened, remoulded and become increasingly fluid in recent years, yet at its core will always be two inter-connected groups – that of Ealing Live (a comedy troupe featuring Alice Lowe, Richard Glover, Oram & Meeten, Katy Brand, Simon Farnaby and many, many others), and the Boosh/IAMX collective across the city.

“When you started to write about it in TVO,” James enthuses, “I was relieved that someone else had noticed the connections and references. It means it has been initially documented and recognised, but the full story can and should be fleshed out properly one day.”

“There was so much creative overlap,” he continues, “between the comedy shows, music nights, albums and tv programmes. The energy was bursting out of North London at the time. A lot of it is captured within the art, but there are so many little notes and stories…” He pauses for a moment, then adds with determination: “I would love to write some sort of memoir about it one day!”

James Cook returns with Outsiders on 26th February. His new album, Adventures in Ausland is available now via Bandcamp. Part Two of this interview will follow next week.

© James Cook / Media Curve

© James Cook / Media Curve

If you’re a die hard fan of The Mighty Boosh or a lover of alternative music crafted with care for the details, chances are you’ve heard of James Cook. If you haven’t, then perhaps you haven’t been reading TVO properly these last five years.

With his new album out now, Cook has returned to the London music scene in recent months, and sat down to talk to TVO’s editor-in-chief Paul Holmes, about his past, present and future in a revealing two-part interview, ahead of the next round of his club night, Outsiders, on February 26th.

Part One was shared with you in mid February, and you can read the second part of our discussions below…

History tells us that the most famous of men named James Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe, mapping lands from New Zealand to Hawaii to an unprecedented level during his voyages of discovery.  There’s a sense of irony in the way his namesake – cult musician James Cook, formerly of NEMO, has traversed the globe over the past decade.

“The last ten years have been pretty crazy to be honest,” Cook tells TVO, as we continue our first in-depth catch-up since James performed at The Velvet Onion Live night almost three years ago.  “I started touring in 2004,” he continues, “when I was the guitarist in IAMX for about a year. We travelled across Europe, Russia and the USA – a rotating line-up featuring Chris Corner, Noel Fielding, Sue Denim, Dee Plume, Julian Barratt, Julia Davis and myself.  It was an amazing year, and the first time I started earning money from music.  Unfortunately,” he adds, “I couldn’t remain in IAMX because I had to concentrate on NEMO.”

© James Cook

© James Cook

NEMO were the electro-tinged indie darlings who released three albums in four years, concurrently with the televisual run of The Mighty Boosh, with which they were closely linked.  While they never cracked the mainstream in England, the band were particularly successful across Europe, taking James to Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  However, James decided to disband NEMO in 2008, and move to Berlin.

“I started touring solo,” he recalls, “with just a laptop and electric guitar. This actually enabled me to be even freer with my movements, so I continued my European travels as well as venturing further away to the Americas, visiting Uruguay, Argentina, New York and LA.  I was mostly invited to these places, or I knew people there and sought out gigs and travel. Myspace allowed NEMO to have fans all over the world, so it was a relief and a dream come true to be able to travel through music.”

All of this travel enthused his latest record, Adventures in Auslandnamed after the German word for ‘abroad’. “It can also mean ‘outside’,” Cook notes. “Or ‘otherness’.  Wanderlust is addictive. Once I had a sniff of that lifestyle, I was hooked! There was no question of me not taking every opportunity to escape the comparative confines of London, and the experiences gained from all this travel fed directly into the new album. Songs were written and recorded across several years in LA, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Genova and London, now I’m based here again.”

© James Cook

© James Cook

Adventures in Ausland marks James’ second full length solo album, following 2012’s Arts and Sciences and 2013’s covers EP Reverse Engineering.  With three NEMO albums and the full-length record by side-project The Dollhouse behind him, however, the album is technically his sixth complete record, and arguably his best work yet.

“The feedback has been great so far,” Cook states, “which is obviously why you continue releasing new material. The aim is to constantly improve and grow, and hopefully never repeat yourself. I think I am physically unable to repeat myself artistically. I never make the same album twice, and have never even used the same method and techniques twice. I always use new and different musicians and instruments, and the process of recording is as important as the writing stage. It’s basically a series of filters, like distilling alcohol like some sort of electro/chemical process.”

Well, quite. Indeed, the album adds brass elements to Cook’s impressive canon, The usual degree of classy strings and James’ curious ability to sound both impassioned and distant at the same time remain, but this album feels less immediate and more mature than ever before.  James’ natural influences – Lou Reed, David Bowie, Scott Walker – remain at the heart of his work, and as the years have progressed, other artists have crossed James’ path and made an enormous contribution to his style. TVO notes that there appear to be strong traces of Neil Hannon’s work across Cook’s catalogue, and James is quick to own up to an admiration for the songwriter.

© James Cook

© James Cook

“It’s hard to disguise formative influences,” he notes, “and the first two Divine Comedy records were definitely a big influence on me, and it took me a while to shake the influence off! I initially discovered them whilst living in Paris and was blown away by something that seemed to me to come from another universe. I then investigated Scott Walker and Jacques Brel as a result of listening to them, so I owe Mr Hannon quite a debt!

The mention of Brel draws conversation to an intriguing aspect of Adventures in Ausland: Cook’s voice has often been compared to Marc Almond, and the album features a new interpretation of Brel’s magnificent Jacky, which was infamously given a camp disco makeover in the early 90s. James was aware that this could draw closer comparisons to Almond’s work, but his love for the original song overrode any reservations he had. It was time, he suggests, to finally do it justice.

“Brel was one of the 20th century’s greatest songwriters,” James explains. “People like Scott Walker brought his amazing songs to an English speaking pop audience in a way he could never have done himself. However, as a university student of politics and French, I became obsessed with how badly his songs are actually translated into English. Most of them totally miss the point, or just simply don’t make much sense, and it is perhaps impossible for anyone who doesn’t speak French to understand that.”

“They’re very satirical songs,” he continues. “Very personal, very dark and very funny, so doing a proper translation is really no mean feat. I had always dreamt of doing my own modern translations of his song. Scott Walker’s version of Jacky was my main reference, but so was Momus 1986 version, Nicky.”

“People have been saying I sound like Marc Almond for years,” he sighs. “I’ve never really been a fan. I think that first Soft Cell record is great, but I think it’s more that we had a similar music and cultural upbringing. We definitely share similar tastes and influences in our music, so that’s probably where it comes from. But Marc Almond’s version of Jacky is pretty crap and pointless really, so I decided to pluck up the guts to go for my own version. It’s a very personal song, so you have to make it about yourself – which is why my version is called Jamie, after my childhood name. Then you have to have the appropriate cultural references, and requisite irony, correctly translated and updated. When I sing it live, I update the words to fit current situations. That’s how it should be done.”

© James Cook

© James Cook

We’re suddenly touching on ground that has come up in the Cook’s work previously: a sense of frustration about the abandonment of art and discovery, hand in hand with the rise of technology and the era of disposability. It is something TVO is only too acutely aware of, and James shares our frustration and apprehension about the way society is headed.

“Without sounding too depressing,” he explains, “I genuinely feel we are in some sort of cultural nadir right now. Technology should be allowing us to create more and more insanely mindblowing art, but all we seem to be doing as a collective community is tweeting nonsense, and posting up pics of ourselves, our food and our pets. The idea that we have all the information known to man inside our pockets, is something that would have been inconceivable even fifteen years ago.  Somehow that potential access has frozen us in fear, mediocrity and narcisism.”

“Music has been devalued to virtually nothing,” Cook continues. “Disposable, vacuous art permeates popular culture. Narrative creativity seems to be anachronistic. Attention spans are at an all time low. Our technology is controlling us right now, rather than the other way round. Let’s hope we snap out of this dystopian Orwellian nightmare and take control of our lives and collective destiny!”

TVO proposes that one way independent artists are trying to do exactly that, is by abandoning traditional release structures, and turning to pledge culture to release their work via fundraisers and special releases. Could the future for James involve making albums through this method?

“I am open to it,” he suggests, considering the angles. “I’ll try anything and everything I can with my future releases. I’m currently working on three new albums, and must find new ways for people to experience them. Unfortunately, I have a small fanbase, and am not really very good at self-promotion or asking for money when it comes to my own music. Those Kickstarter type situations seem unappealing to me, somehow, but I’m looking into them.”

There’s an interesting honesty about Cook. He is perhaps, his own worst critic, yet acts also as his own personal champion. Proud of his achievements, but keen to downplay his abilities, there’s a sense of an artist who still has so much left to give and an awful lot more to say. As conversation moves briefly onto science fiction, and Cook and TVO share a mutual moment of Doctor Who admiration, he teases about a treatment he is working on for an animated time-travel detective spy thriller. There’s a sense that he has so much more to give, and TVO could listen to him talk about his plans for hours. Sadly, it is time for James to disappear into the early dusk of a Winter’s day. Before he goes, however, TVO suggests that, in an ideal world, Cook would be utilising his delicious string arrangements, cryptic lyrics and silky smooth vocals on the next James Bond theme. “Oh, god, yeah! That would be another dream come true,” he beams. “But I guess I’ll have to join the queue for that one!”

James Cook returns with Outsiders on 26th March. His new album, Adventures in Ausland is available now via Bandcamp

Onion Talking: Sarah Kendall on Touchdown

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION

© Sarah Kendall

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Acclaimed stand-up comic Sarah Kendall returns to The Soho Theatre with the final run for her smash-hit show Touchdown this week, running from Tuesday 24th to Saturday 28th February.

With her follow up show, A Day in October, due to launch at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March, this felt like as good a time as any to finally book ourselves some time to talk to the gifted storyteller, masterful standup and full-time mother.

Editor in chief Paul Holmes caught up with Sarah to discuss about her career so far, and the effects her life beyond it have had upon her outlook, with the following insightful results…

At the turn of the millennium, Sarah Kendall made a huge decision. Already a regular on the Australian stand-up comedy circuit, two years after her initial flurry of success, she packed up her bags and moved to England. By 2003, she was ready to take on the Edinburgh Fringe, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Flight of the Conchords, Gary Le Strange and Adam Hills. The following year, she was nominated for the Perrier Award’s main category of Best Show alongside Chris Addison, Reginald D Hunter and winner Will Adamsdale (best known internationally for his role in The Boat that Rocked).

As the years went by, Kendall built on this initial success, gaining a cult following through heavy touring, countless festivals, and numerous, award-winning live shows. In 2008, she stretched her wings and took on sketch-show comedy, with a role in the short-lived E4 show Beehive, and has spent the last four years voicing Libby McKenzie alongside Sally Philips, Nina Conti and Liza Tarbuck in the long running Radio 4 comedy Clare in the Community.

Recent years, however, have seen Kendall’s extra-curricular activity dry up, as she became a mother and, quite naturally, shifted her workload accordingly.  As TVO calls, she is in her London home with the kids tucked up in bed and a slightly burnt warm-up shepherds pie in the oven. Greeting us fondly, and stressing she isn’t the kind of person to make her own  shepherd’s pie, she confirms her eagerness to talk by exclaiming: “I’m going to stop doing the dishes and give you my full attention. That’s how serious I am, I’m walking away from the dishes. Fire away!”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Naturally, the conversation turns firstly to motherhood, and TVO wonders exactly how having children has changed Sarah’s career plan. “Gosh, that’s a good question,” she says, thinking about the answer for a moment. “It’s a really big answer too. I suppose I’m not really at my sparkiest late at night, so you know, most gigs…” She trails off, laughing. “I generally need to go on early. I can’t do a late night. And I can’t do huge amounts of travel, either. I don’t wanna be away for weekends. I don’t wanna be away for a week, you know? It’s changed the practicalities of work.”

“But I think from a creative perspective,” Sarah continues, “when I do get that time to myself, and I do get that time on stage, I really wanna make it count. I suppose I don’t fuck around as much as I used to. Cos I suppose when I have got that time to work, and to be creative, it’s actually really special ‘me’ time. God, I really relish it. I think when my day wasn’t quite as occupied looking after little people, I’d just go and do a gig and not really think much about it. Now I wanna make that time count. I wanna do the very best material I can do.”

That material at present is Touchdown – the 2014 show she toured around Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe amongst other places, and is reviving for one last shebang at The Soho Theatre across the last week of February.  As with her previous show, it focuses on particular events in her teenage years, rather than Sarah’s life at present, a factor which may be a subconscious reaction to having to grow up and take responsibility for what Sarah endearing refers to as ‘little people’.

“Also, I think,” she suggests, “I don’t want to get on stage and talk about what I’m doing now. That’s only because if I went on stage and whinged about it, it wouldn’t be right. I don’t want to whinge about it, but I also don’t want to stand on stage and say how much I love my children. That’s not particularly hilarious.”

“I’ve been looking into different times of my life,” she adds, “reflecting on them, and thinking about them differently.  I suppose to me, I do regard those years quite differently now that I’m a mother. The thing is, that sounds really boring, but it changes your perspective on the whole time. I find that creatively it’s really energising. I really enjoy writing about it.”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Kendall’s comedy has morphed from its early days of quick-fire stand-up into a more intelligent, thoughtful brand of storytelling that connects with anyone who was ever the slightly awkward kid that didn’t quite fit in, but wasn’t unpopular either. The gags are obviously still there, but it’s wrapped up in intellectual reasoning, emotional resonance, and the odd moment of childish humour for good measure.

“I think, ultimately, I’m a little bit of a whore for a laugh,” Sarah reveals. “Anyone who goes into comedy has to be. I don’t like to leave it too long without one. My training is as a stand up, so I do always look for the gag. I try not to do that at the expense of the story.”

“If it didn’t fit with where the story was at, I wouldn’t do it. But I try to make it a punchy show. I don’t think I’m precious about that sort of thing. I do want people to laugh and have a good time.”

If there’s one thing Kendall could never be accused of, it’s being precious about her work. There’s a remarkable freshness to talking to someone who, unsullied by the PR machine that affects so many in the industry, is completely open and honest about her work, right down to the point of Touchdown’s premise being the reality behind the fabrication of her previous show.

“I had this joke that I’d been doing for years,” Sarah discloses. “I knew in my heart what the real story was, but I’d made it into a good joke. I’d always been slightly plagued by the fact that there is a much bigger story behind it, but I didn’t know how to tell it. I didn’t think it belonged in a comedy show. Then I just thought: sod it. I’m gonna write about what really happened because it is a good story, and an important story. It means a lot more to me now that I’m older, and now I know how to tell it, and I’m not afraid of the serious or silly parts of the story. I think if you do something that’s got a bit of a darker edge to it, you’ve gotta be confident that you can treat it respectfully enough that you’re not gonna panic and try to make a joke out of it.”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

“It was a surprise for me,” she notes, in regards to Touchdown’s now deconstructed predecessor, Get Up, Stand Up.  “I enjoyed telling that story every single night I performed it. Generally during a festival there comes a point where you say: if I have to say these words one more time, I’m gonna fucking kill myself. I found that with this show, I never got to that point. I really enjoyed taking the audience on that journey.”

Thankfully, Touchdown offered a similar vibe. “This is my favourite show that I’ve ever done,” she states, firmly. “I was really crestfallen at the end of the festival because I kinda felt it was over. I knew I’d probably do a run at the Soho, but it felt kinda like the end. By the time I did Edinburgh, I’d already done quite a few other festivals, so I knew that was the end of that festival circuit. And I was quite sad.”

TVO notes that, given how precious Sarah’s time has become, this feeling may have been intensified, and it’s something that we’re seeing more and more of. When we began, five years ago, our thirty-something regulars were still riding high on their initial flurry of success, gigging around the clock and constantly making new and exciting things. Recently, there’s been a marked slow-down in the activity of some of them, as they’ve reached the age of having babies and settling down, just like Kendall.

“I suppose you kind of go through this huge sea of change when you have a family,” she suggests. “You do start to look back on events with fresh eyes. It can be a good and a bad thing. Sometimes you go: Ah, shit, I wish I hadn’t done that thing. I really regret that thing that I did.”

Such feelings came to the fore last year, when Kendall wrote a piece for The Guardian about her somewhat flippant handling on stage of a genuinely disturbing moment in her career, when a drunk heckler threatened her with anal rape at a gig. Whilst the routine was funny, as time went by it had increasingly made her feel uncomfortable.

“I hate looking at clips of myself,” Sarah confesses. “Someone sent me that clip and asked for permission to use it, and as I watched that piece of material, I was so struck by how untrue the emotions were that I was portraying on stage. That’s something that would never have entered my mind ten years ago. I would have just gone through and made sure all the jokes were strong without offending people. But I just thought: That is so not what happened. That is so not emotionally what that experience was like, and I have brought none of that to that piece of material. I think it would have been a much more interesting piece of material if I had discussed that.”

© Tiger Aspect Television

© Tiger Aspect Television

Another potentially difficult blip on her career came with the hugely divisive E4 sketch show Beehive in 2008. Designed by committee, it nevertheless gave a platform to Kendall on television, alongside Alice Lowe, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Clare Thomson. TVO has previously waxed lyrical about the merits of the show: in spite of its obvious flaws, there’s a hell of a lot to love in there too.

“I haven’t watched it since we did it,” Sarah tells us as conversation moves on to the troubled production.  “It was incredibly rushed, from the commission to filming. My memory of it was thinking: This has been rushed. It was four people who’d never met each other, thrown into an ensemble and given a fairly small amount of time to turn a show around.  It’s one of those things where I did it as an opportunity, but in hindsight it could have been a lot better had we had more time. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have had a heck of a lot of alarm bells going off as it progressed.”

Kendall is genuinely touched by our admiration for the team, and the bits that worked really well, such as her magnificent Elizabeth I routine, in which Sarah portrayed the monarch surrounded by bullying lackeys, or the flat sequences with swearing lessons, special robots, love affairs with pot plants and confusion over Spiderman’s true identity. Sadly, the show was buried by E4 before it even had a chance to build an audience, splurged onto television across a couple of nights with no advertising, and never repeated.

© Tiger Aspect Television

“I don’t really know how it happened,” she sighs, “or how it works. I don’t understand who decides these things, but it just felt rushed through. I had a really good time doing it though. I loved working with Alice, Clare and Barunka. They’re such powerful, funny women, and it was such a pleasure to work with them. I don’t want to piss anybody off, but it just didn’t feel like it had a lot of backing.”

Despite the circumstances of its troubled production, Beehive did allow Kendall a break from being ‘herself’ when making people laugh. TVO is curious if she’d do something similar now, given her present work/life balance. “God, that’s a good question!” she explains, and thinks for a moment.  “I think when I was younger I would say yes and just fuck it and see. I think now it would have to be something that I’m really passionate about, because I don’t have a huge amount of spare time. It would have to be something I could really put 100% of myself in. I’d be slightly more selective at this stage.”

The one bonus of the show was that It introduced Sarah to a whole new set of collaborators – some of whom she has continued to work with sporadically whenever possible. In 2010, for example, she played a fellow mum in My First Baby – the Jackal Films short featuring Rich Fulcher as Alice Lowe’s very oversized toddler. A few years later, she cropped up in James Bachman & Tom Meeten’s BBC Nought project, during a spoof on The Apprentice. Evidently, she’s still a part of the family, even if her time with them is sporadic at best.

© Jackal Films

© Jackal Films

“We don’t see each other as much as we used to when we had more spare time,” Kendall explains. “Certainly, not as much as I’d like to. The funny thing about London is you kinda get into your borough. But they were people I really learned so much from working with. There were such a variety of skillsets that were brought to Beehive. I felt they were all quite accomplished actresses, whereas I didn’t come from that background, so every day was a learning curve.”

Thankfully, in this internet age, a buried show doesn’t have to stay buried forever. The dvd release still chugs away on Amazon, the episodes are still viewable on 4oD, and TVO will occasionally bring it up. It still finds an audience. “It’s extraordinary,” Sarah states. “It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally I will get someone recognising me from Beehive, which is just really weird to me. It kinda got buried over three days on television, and yet it does still happen. It’s nice that you don’t live and die by whoever does the programming.”

Nevertheless, the show is firmly behind Sarah Kendall. Her comedic concentration right now, beyond remembering the finer points of Touchdown, is writing her 2015 show, A Day in October. Set to premiere at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the end of March, the show will tour the festival circuit before arriving in Edinburgh throughout August. To that end, Sarah’s already seemingly come up with an enthusiastic manta, when the subject of the new show is brought up.

“March 27th is opening night,” she says, rigidly. “The show will be finished by opening night. I will have a show by March 27th.”

As laughs erupt on both sides of the phone, TVO inquires as to how close that process is to becoming a reality. “I would say a third of the way into the writing process,” Sarah reveals. “I think I have a fairly confident idea of where the story is. It’s another story about my teenage years. It’s about a friendship I had with a guy and we went to a pool party one October, and the show is about the knock-on effect that pool party had on us throughout the rest of his life and my life.”

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

With the deadline looming, it would be understandable for many comics to leave some of the details hazy, and let them arrive naturally as the show goes on, but not for Sarah. “This show and the last were quite heavily written shows,” she affirms. “There aren’t patches where I fuck around with the audience or bits where I think I’ll ad-lib that on the night. Because they’re stories, you do have to bring all the disciplines of storytelling to it. You do have to have structure, and you do need to have a big thing happening in the third act. All those things you don’t have to think about when you’re doing a standup set, but I find with a story if you just let it happen you can end up with a spectacular mess on your hands. I do tend to write them quite carefully.”

There’s also the potential weight of an unwanted baton to consider. To TVO, and we’re sure to a great many people – a comedian is a comedian, and that’s that. Yet as the debate about women in comedy continues to bubble to the surface, there’s an alarming amount of pressure put on female comedians to be funny for their gender, rather than their vocation.

“I think I used to feel that way,” Sarah considers. “But I think things have got so much better. I’m not saying they’re ‘good’. We’re nowhere near a situation that is equal. But things are so much better than where they were twelve years ago, even though they’re not great. I take real heart in the fact that I’ve seen more and more female talent coming through as the years have gone by. And it’s great female talent I’m really proud to work with and associate with. I do think it’s challenging, and it’s still there, but I think it’s unfortunate, but the media do play it up.”

“On the live circuit,” she continues, “people are out in the club and they want a laugh, and you will get bad audiences and the occasional knob heads, but generally speaking they just want you to be funny. The real problems I’ve faced and have seen, are really in media circles, and tv commissioning, and the people who book talent for shows. The live circuit isn’t really the problem, but there are people who genuinely seem to not want women on television.”

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Male comics, TVO notes, are judged purely on their ability as comics. Female comics, however, are judged as ‘female comics’ for good measure. Sarah agrees, and adds: “I also think with social media there are a lot of voices. The really negative voices tend to get heard a bit more. For a hundred thousand people to go: She’s really good, she’s really funny, you’ll get a small proportion of people who just say something really vile, and that draws more attention.”

Not that Kendall will have seen most of this online, as the last few years have seen her maintain a relatively low profile. “I didn’t mean to!” she protests, laughing. “Our Twitter conversation today is the first Twitter conversation I think I’ve ever had.”

TVO explains that, if it wasn’t for Patrick Bustin at PBJ (the management company who handle a sizable chunk of our roster) casually mentioning her Twitter profile, we would have no clue that Sarah was even on there – and we take extra care to try and make sure we’re following everyone we need to in order to keep tabs on events.

“Oh yeah,” she says firmly, and a little guiltily. “Look, I know. I have been so not interested, and so busy. But I was talking to another comic who said: You really need to sort your shit out on that front, cos you’re off the grid man. I thought: Oh, really? I just sort of had my head buried in the sand for five years. I’m learning it, and you know, I’m gonna have to just get in there and do it.”

“It’s extraordinary, though,” she continues. “You do a couple of tweets, and suddenly you get all these pinging noises, and suddenly you’ve got twelve or thirteen new followers, and I just think: What the fuck? To me it’s very curious. It’s a very interesting, weird experience. And I know there are a lot of people who can’t remember a time before it, but I happen to be a billion years old.”

One thing that Kendall does have a lot of time for, however, is Jaws 4. No, really.

“I don’t know why,” she says, as she tries to justify the number of times she’s sat through it.  “I think I just like watching really good actors in terrible films. It’s like a schadenfreude thing. I just really enjoy seeing Michael Caine in this explicably awful movie. I can’t look away. I really like good actors in shit films. It’s like my favourite genre. It makes you feel better about yourself too.”

“I saw a movie with Henry Fonda in it called They Swarm, about bees attacking civilisation. It’s this great actor in this really weird horror film, where he’s being attacked by bees. I love it. It’s a fantastic film, I enjoy it thoroughly. Everyone’s just pulled together to get the product finished. I love that. I like the nose to the grind attitude. They’ve just thought: We’ve gotta bring this thing to life, and we’ve only got 50p. Let’s just use the car park. Fuck it.”

That attitude enthuses Sarah’s work, but is matched by her perfectionism and professionalism, and above all else, her genuine charm as a personality and a performer. As TVO bids her a fond farewell, so she can get back to her dishes and shepherd’s pie, we can’t help but feel that we’ve just spent a good half an hour being delighted by her company, and as a comic whose livelihood depends on storytelling, that can only be a good thing.

Sarah Kendall: Touchdown is at the Soho Theatre between February 24th – 28th 2015. Sarah Kendall: A Day in October is at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival between March 26th to April 19th 2015. Sarah will be at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2015. For more info on future live dates, keep an eye on her Twitter page… hopefully!

Onion Talking: Matt Berry and Morgana Robinson on House of Fools

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION

Next week sees the launch of Series Two of House of Fools – the brilliantly surreal sitcom from the minds of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

L-R: Daniel Simonsen, Dan Skinner, Ellie White © Pett TV / Christopher Baines

L-R: Daniel Simonsen, Dan Skinner, Ellie White © Pett TV / Christopher Baines

To celebrate its return, TVO sat down with the main cast during the filming of Series Two to discuss the show. Yesterday, we spoke to Dan Skinner, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White. The day before saw our chat with Vic & Bob themselves unleashed. Today, we bring you our catch-up with Bob’s regular house guests, Matt Berry and Morgana Robinson.

It is fair to say that, to readers of these pages at least, Matt Berry needs no introduction. When The Velvet Onion began five years ago, he was a much loved figurehead of alternative comedy, making waves on the music scene with a succession of tours, and was one of the first people to actively encourage and support the development of TVO.  He’s been good to us, over the years, and we’ve been delighted to continue to support him as his star has risen. Thanks to the runaway success of Toast of London, huge critical acclaim for his Kill the Wolf album, and numerous other projects Berry is edging closer and closer to the mainstream. Matt may not yet be a household name, but he’s certainly more beloved than ever, and his role as randy house visitor Beef in House of Fools has introduced his charms to a whole new audience.

Today, he greets TVO fondly, and in an moment part made of showmanship, part of his natural instincts as a gentlemen, he introduces us in style to his fellow interviewee with a hand flourish, a side step and a powerful rendering of her name: Morgana.  The name may not be familiar to you just yet, particularly for our international readers. But make no mistake about it: this is one formidable comic talent, whose rise to meteoric stardom is surely just around the corner.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Born in Australia and raised in Britain,international awareness of Morgana Robinson at the moment is mostly down to her half-sister being none rock star Brody Dalle, formerly of The Distillers. Dalle’s husband also happens to be Josh Homme – frontman for Queens of the Stone Age and occasional Matt Berry collaborator. Following initial appearances in mainstream comedy fair like The Green Green Grass and My Family, in 2010 Robinson was given her own five-part sketch show on Channel 4: The Morgana Show.

A delightfully bonkers showcase for this unique comic mind, the show also featured Kill List star Neil Maskell and one of today’s guest stars, Tom Davis, in his own big break. While the show did not return for a second run, a Comic Strip Presents appearance and a prominent BBC iPlayer short have bolstered Robinson’s reputation, and her recent work has included a guest slot on Toast of London and her own impressions show: Very Important People.

As you read this, she’ll also appearing as a recurring segment host on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, spoofing the likes of YouTube bloggers and Russell Brand. It may be early days for her, but it’s clear that she’s going to go far, and much like most of the cast, she’s overjoyed that – as camera-wielding nymphomaniac neighbour turned bistro owner Julie – Reeves & Mortimer are keen to give her a platform.

“They’re amazing like that,” she tells us as we sit down. Matt Berry agrees.

“They can spot good stuff,” he states, before questioning himself. “That’s not for us to say, is it?”

“They put money on good horses,” Morgana adds. “They do love to channel new talent up. I’m extremely grateful for that, you know.”  Matt agrees. “Oh, whatever!” she mocks in return.

“No, I bloody am!” he says with genuine passion. “Of course I am.”

“You’ve been around for donkeys years, haven’t you?” Morgana asks him, at which point TVO reminds her that Matt is, according to the British Comedy Awards 2014, a ‘breakthrough artist’. Matt laughs.

“Nine years…” he shakes his head. “Ten years. Breakthrough. A breakthrough ten years.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

And what a ten years that has been, as anyone who follows his career, or reads TVO, for that matter, as the two are so intertwined, can attest. Following his real breakthrough in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Matt has gone on to star in The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. He also created legendary one-off AD/BC: A Rock Opera, internationally renowed favourite Snuffbox and the multi-award winning Toast of London – the latter set to return for a third series in 2015. That fact that is still top secret as we meet, yet impossible for Matt not to be understandably keen to tell us in strictest confidence.  He’s also appeared in productions as varied as The Peter Serafinowicz Show, Duncan Jones’ Moon, Portlandia and even Spongebob Squarepants, all whilst carving out a career as an incredible multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter.

Returning to House of Fools for Matt, who is seemingly in demand constantly at present, is in part based on the joy of working with Reeves and Mortimer, but also the positive response to the first series.

“We hit the ground running last year,” he explains. “I don’t think this year has changed much at all. There’s no real difference, it’s a continuation of what we started.”

“I’ve got a bistro!” interjects Morgana. “And a few more lines.”

“The bistro works out,” Matt suggests, “because it’s sort of a community centre. You can do storylines that aren’t in someone’s house. It’s like a town hall, or something.”

“Mmmm,” Morgana nods. “It’s like our Central Perk.”

The Friends comparison is an interesting one, TVO notes, particularly as it feels a world away from what Vic & Bob are doing with House of Fools. For starters, Friends and most other US sitcoms would be written by a huge team of staff writers, with very little room for cast additions to the scripts. Whilst Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) and Bob Mortimer were keen to stress the importance of getting it all on the page before shooting for practical reasons, Dan Skinner spoke of how flexible they were with developing comedic voices within their work, and both Ellie White and Daniel Simonsen revealed they had rewritten their scene together with Bob ten minutes before the afternoon record had started. Clearly, there’s scope for a lot more flexibility when you’ve got a cast of comedy writers and performers, rather than regular actors.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“Yeah, they’re quite cool like that,” Morgana notes. “They’re open to suggestions. If they like a joke, they’ll go: ‘Oh, put that in!’ It’s not exactly sign language but it works.”

Matt agrees. “They’re very generous. They know what’s going to work, and you know what’s going to work, and what wouldn’t be right for this. There’s nothing subtle. There’s nothing underplayed. That’s not what they do.”

Despite the occasional pre-filmed flight of fancy, there’s no denying the lack of subtlety and the vibrant cast would make a potential House of Fools stage show a real delight. As Bob’s already mentioned the possibility in passing, TVO decides to get Matt & Morgana’s feedback on the idea.

“Yeah!” Morgana exclaims, her eyes lighting up at the prospect. “I’d love it!”

“But not like tonight,” Matt notes, referring to the over-running, mistake-laden first run of the day. “We didn’t get the fucking thing finished. That wouldn’t be great live!” He bursts out laughing. “It’d have to be rehearsed, put it that way!”

Aware today’s problematic filming, plagued by the lack of a camera rehearsal due to the complexity of the pre-shoot, had been a worry for the whole cast, TVO can’t help but calmly note that the first shoot of the day was a little ‘fluffy’. “We all were tonight,” Matt suggests, “cos we didn’t get to finish it.”

Perhaps worried he may be appearing negative, he adds: “But it’s not always like that. Don’t get the wrong impression about it. The last one was fucking perfection.”

Morgana nods. “It was pretty perfect,” she reasons. “It’s normally a well-oiled machine. I’d love to take it out on the road.”

“It could totally work in the Wyndham,” suggests Matt, a sprinkling of Steven Toast bubbling to the surface before fading away once more. “Oh, I don’t know,” he adds. “Whatever they want to do, I’m up for it.”

“We just let them do whatever they want,” Morgana states, before drifting off. “I’m sure none of it will make sense.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Sadly due to the over-run on filming, our time with the delightful duo is running out. Poor Matt and Morgana have mere minutes left to get some food and a short break before going back into the studio for another record session. Ever the caring type, TVO elects to cut our pre-arranged interview slot short by a few minutes, so that the pair can talk freely, and make it to the canteen before they head back to work. However, there’s still just enough time for a quick round of our brilliant new game: Rent, Mortgage, Evict – which we have in no way pilfered from the not at all similar game, Snog Marry Avoid. To avoid awkward conversations, given we know the cast are clearly enamoured with one another, we ask Matt and Morgana, as their characters, who would they chose to live with, buy a house with, and ask to leave the premises. Straight away, Matt’s in with a surprisingly blunt answer.

“I’d kick ‘em all out,” he states, firmly, before worrying that sounded worse than it was intended to.

“Not as people!” he adds. “I’d kick all the characters out. But I think they’d all answer like that, and just want a house of their own.”

“I’ve no idea,” admits Morgana. “I’d live with all of them. It’s like a jungle out there. They all work very well together, like a very strange family. I couldn’t throw them all out, could you?”

“Probably no, no,” Matt considers. “She’s right. They’re all real fuckwits on their own. They can’t do anything.”

“You’d be bored shitless with just one of them,” Morgana concludes. “It’s a bit like a circus.”

And with that, they must be on their way once more. T-minus 15-minutes until the second record begins, and like the rest of the circus, Matt and Morgana have to go and put on a damn good show. But first tea and cake. There’s always time for cake before the madness begins once more.

House of Fools returns on Monday 16th February at 10pm on BBC2. The first series is available on dvd from 23rd February.

Onion Talking: Dan Skinner, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White on House of Fools

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION

Next week sees the launch of Series Two of House of Fools – the brilliantly surreal sitcom from the minds of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

L-R: Daniel Simonsen, Dan Skinner, Ellie White © Pett TV / Christopher Baines

L-R: Daniel Simonsen, Dan Skinner, Ellie White © Pett TV / Christopher Baines

To celebrate its return, TVO sat down with the main cast during the filming of Series Two to discuss the show. Yesterday, we gave our chat with Vic & Bob themselves. Today, we bring you our catch-up with Bob’s regular house guests, Dan Skinner, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White.

“Has Bob left his dinner?” Dan Skinner asks, incredulously, pointing at the remains of Bob Mortimer‘s potato-based dish in a polystyrene tray on the table in front of him. “Jim’s left his fags as well!” he adds, prodding Vic Reeves‘ packet on the table as he sits down to chat with TVO, alongside co-stars Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White. TVO explains that the pair were in a bit of a hurry, on a shortened lunch-break slash press-junket after an over-running shoot. “Nah,” Dan grins. “They leave things everywhere they go.”

Like the figureheads at the helm of House of Fools, time is short for Skinner, Simonsen and White this evening. A problematic afternoon shoot would soon be followed by a swift and smooth second run, nailing another episode of the superbly ridiculous sitcom. Now, as they tuck into their rather unappetising looking lunches, they’re happy to discuss what’s new this year for their characters.

“I’ve changed my character, completely,” states Skinner, chuckling. Completely, TVO asks. “Yeah. The twats are still there, though.”

“I talk about diarrhoea a lot,” chips in Daniel, before scooping some of the canteen slop into his mouth – mere seconds before his co-star is about to inhale a forkful of sickly brown curry. “Thank you mate. Just as I’m about to tuck into this! Oh – and Erik’s got a girlfriend!”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

He points at Ellie with a big grin, who grins right back at him. A relative newcomer, both to the show and to comedy in general, White made her Fringe debut alongside Oscar Jenkyn-Jones in 2013, before returning with her debut solo show, Humans, as part of last year’s Free Fringe. The show garnered rave reviews from The Independent and Time Out, and the doors opened: taking part in Newsjack on Radio 4, developing her own sketch shows for tv and radio, and then the House of Fools came a-knocking.

In comparison, her nearest countpart in the show, Daniel Simonsen, may only recently be gaining traction in England, but he’s been performing stand-up in his native Norway since 2004. TVO knows, of course, that the entire cast of House of Fools are warm-hearted, wonderful people, but playing devil’s advocate somewhat, we ask how Ellie feels fitting herself into their already established world for this second run.

“It’s really scary,” she admits. “Very intimidating, and very daunting! But everyone is incredibly nice, and I’m learning a lot. It’s nice to be with Daniel, really. I just sort of based myself on him. He’s given me loads of tips.”

“She’s learning, yeah,” states Daniel, in full on deadpan mode. “It’s really hard to be as cold as you are, isn’t it?” asks Dan. “It is,” he replies. TVO tries to confirm this isn’t all just an act, and Daniel stares into our soul, replying: “I’m very damaged.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Moving on – half for time, half for fear of possession by the Norwegian wonderboy, conversation turns to Vic & Bob’s role in providing a platform for new and emerging talents. The duo took Dan Skinner under their wing when he was still part of sketch troop Dutch Elm Conservatoire alongside Rufus Jones (set to appear in House of Fools this series), Stephen Evans, Jim Field Smith and Jordan Long. His character Angelos Epithemou, first brought to life as part of DEC, became a regular guest on Shooting Stars, before taking over point-scoring duties following the departure of Matt Lucas.  This in turn led to his own show, a hugely successful podcast with ‘Barry from Watford’, and Dan becoming one of the most in-demand comic actors around.

“Jim [Moir – Vic’s real name] and Bob have their own audience,” Dan explains. “They’re very, very loyal. And anyone that they add to their world is accepted pretty much straight away by their audience. But they’re usually right, too. They find really interesting people.”

“I swear, I’ve spoken to so many people,” Ellie adds, “who say the first thing they ever did was Vic and Bob. Esther Coles, who played Mrs Moody today – she was a serious actor, and the first comedy she did was with Bob.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

It’s true: Coles, a former Peak Practise regular, turned up in several episodes of TVO favourite Tittybangbang. For those who don’t quite recall, that show starred Lucy Montgomery, Debbie Chazen, Tony Way, Katy Brand and loads more – and it was in part, written and directed by Bob Mortimer, as well as being made by Pett Productions: the company Reeves and Mortimer set up with Lisa Clark to make their own shows, and the ones they wanted to see made. That same company is behind House of Fools now, and Esther is back working with Bob all these years later.

“Bob’s really, really good at sending the lift back down,” Dan states. “He goes to find other people and brings them to Vic. Then when executive producers chip in and ask: ‘Are you sure?’, they’ll both go: ‘Yeah’.”

“Like Romesh [Ranganathan] today,” suggests Daniel. “And Tom Davis. They’re also quite new. It’s just what they do.”

They’re also keen to allow these new talents the chance to experiment and develop within their own world. As one of those who has had prime opportunity to do exactly that, Skinner is perhaps best placed to summarise their outlook.

“They’re pretty confident with what they do,” he tells TVO. “They’re got their own brand, and if they like you and think you’re funny, they’ll let you swing it any way that you like. They’re artists, essentially.”

Simonsen is quick to back this up. “I think it’s a very seldom thing to do,” he confirms. “It’s rare. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but today I didn’t even know my lines.”

Ellie chips in. “We rewrote out scene ten minutes before we went on,” she reveals. Dan is pragmatic about the situation.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“That’s the good thing about Jim and Bob,” he states. “They’ll let you do that, you know? They’ll invite you onto their show, and then go: Do what you want. Within reason, obviously. If it’s not funny, they’ll say you can’t do it, but as long as you make it work, they’re happy for you to do what you want. It’s a nice freedom.”

TVO is sensing that time is running short. Like Vic & Bob before them, the trio have a show to get back to, and could really do with getting a bit of a break beforehand. So, we figure there’s just enough time for a round of our brand new game: Rent/Mortgage/Evict. As we explain the rules, and the uncanny similarity to Snog/Marry/Avoid, Dan, Daniel and Ellie’s eyes light up at this most glorious of concepts.

“Wow!” Daniel exclaims as they take a moment to think about the sheer magnificence of the game at hand.

“Well,” Dan begins, cautiously. “I think I’d rent with Vic, cos he’s my brother in the show, though I don’t think we ever mention it in the second series! So, you know, he would have to forgive everything. What’s the next one?” TVO reminds him it’s Mortgage, which Ellie notes is for a serious relationship, and Dan changes his tactics.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“Can I just say then,” he asks, pointing at Daniel, “that I would rent with this one? I reckon I could manipulate him. Mortgage with Vic, and avoid probably living with Beef. Loose cannon that man. Loose cannon.”

As laughs erupt around the table, attention turns to Daniel’s thoughts on the matter. “With Rachel, of course,” he says, smiling. Ellie smiles back. “So loyal…” she whispers.

“Oh yeah,” Daniel confirms. “That’s the mortgage.”

“Hang on,” interrupts Ellie. “It might be a bit early to mortgage.” Daniel considers this for a moment.

“Yeah,” he decides. “Probably Vic.”

“Oh yeah,” Dan chips in. “You like him don’t you?”

“I like him a lot,” Daniel confirms. “Seems like he has a lot of money. He’s got his stuff together.”

“Who would you avoid, Dan?” asks Dan to Daniel, confusing our name situation a little.

He replies with rapid fire precision.

“Beef. It’s a risk.”

“You’d avoid Bob, surely,” suggests Ellie, “cos you hate him?”

Daniel turns to her, and with his deadpan style intact, looks her in the eye and says with no degree of uncertainty: “I could probably use him, though.” Queue huge laughs from Dan, Ellie and TVO, while Daniel turns back to us, still straight-faced and adds: “I’m his child, so… You can’t expect a child to pay a mortgage.”

“How old are you meant to be?” asks Ellie, the thought seemingly crossing her mind for the first time. Daniel doesn’t know, but the table agrees he’s probably about 29, before we move onto Ellie’s turn.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“Er…” she thinks. “I would rent with Eric.” Dan approves. “I don’t really know,” she adds. “I haven’t really established any kind of relationships, yet.”

“Well, this is going to be much harder for you, then!” Dan exclaims, laughing.

“I’d evict Bob,” Ellie considers. “Cos I hate him. And maybe mortgage with Vic.”

Dan is surprised. “Everyone wants to mortgage with Vic,” he notes, before adopting a Mockney accent. “He’s got somethink anhe?”

“It’s a kind of stability, I suppose,” Ellie opines. “I’d feel safe with Vic. He’d be like a father figure to me.”

Dan grins, and in full on Bosh-mode, sums up: “He’s a good lad, is our Vic.”

And with that, it’s time for the trio to go back to work for the evening’s record session. As both incredible talents and genuinely good people, TVO can’t help but be sad to see them go, but after a few quick words on what they’re up to next so we can keep our usual tabs on events, we’re sure that we haven’t heard the last of them yet.

House of Fools returns on Monday 16th February at 10pm on BBC2. The first series isavailable on dvd from 23rd February.

Credit us with a little common sense: The flawed logic of Universal Credit

© Lauren Taylor

Filming behind the scenes on Luxury Comedy 2, with Noel Fielding as Paul Panfer. © Lauren Taylor

Anyone who has followed my work over the years will know that it is rare for me to write about serious subjects. My background is in entertainment journalism and promotion. I run an alternative comedy website. I write music reviews. That kind of thing.

Of course, I have touched on delicate matters – my interviews have included frank and honest confessions about drug addiction, cancer battles, and losing a loved one in a truly brutal manner. I’ve filmed the story of a mother whose child inexplicably tries to eat anything and everything he can, and who required his own special bedroom to be built with non-edible surfaces.

Oh, I’ve ‘dabbled’, alright, but it is fair to say my work has been primarily focused on shouting out about television, film, print, music and web-based stuff that deserves more attention. Hell, you can tell from the photo to the right, here, that I’ve hardly been focusing on reality these last few years.

As such, I hope you’ll allow me this rare excursion into not only writing in the first person, but in tackling a subject which increasing numbers will be coming up against in the years to come: Universal Credit. Intended to merge the six main existing means tested benefits and tax credits in the United Kingdom into one monthly payment, the scheme was announced by Iain Duncan Smith in 2010, and was unleashed onto the general public across the North West as a trial back in 2013.

For most of this period, I was blissfully unaware of such proceedings. After six years in retail, including four in management positions, I’d elected in late 2009 to finally get back to studying, and work towards a degree. My passion for journalism, which had been fuelled by very promising college grades (including an extra A-Level in Film Studies that I completed in six months, doing both years of the course and their exams contemporary with one another), had declined. I was clocking into a job I hated, in a town I hated, for a company I hated, with what little prospects I had for promotion having dwindled away. What had started as a temporary placement to help a problematic store through a difficult period had resulted in three different managers, one of whom was sacked (another was sacked not long after I left), and a couple of charges of theft against employees. I’d been made to stay for two years as a constant, and I was soon tarnished with the reputation of the troubled environment. I simply had to get out.

So I did – eventually finding myself a part time supervisor job with a less frenetic company. By the time they fell to administration, I was already almost a year into my degree in Journalism and Broadcasting. I finished that in 2013: the only person on my course to make it out with First Class Honours. By then, I was working part time in a phone shop, and running my own website, which was bigger than ever. I figured it wouldn’t be too long before I got my big break.

© Philip Holmes

Graduating outside Media City UK in the summer of 2013, with my partner Lauren. © Philip Holmes

Except journalism is a dying artform, and like much of the creative industry in this Tory-led age of ‘prosperity’, it isn’t what you know, but who you know. Now, I know a lot of high profile comedians and actors, but none of them were exactly in a position to give me a job. I wouldn’t have asked either, as my morals would have taken a bashing from the sheer nepotism of it all. Though a few did try to hook me up with people, and I was very grateful to them for that, I just had to keep at it, and try my hardest to find my way through. I volunteered my services to a brilliant fringe theatre festival to keep my oar in, and gain valuable experience and contacts. Soon, I found that I enjoyed promoting theatre almost as much as I enjoyed writing about comedy, and this opened up another direction I could potentially take myself in.

However, the stresses of balancing all of this with my retail work was dragging me down. The phone company – once a happy environment where the customer came first – had begun its transformation into a more cut-throat, number-crunching environment. Targets were less malleable, more essential to staying in employment, and it took its toll on me. After some time off, I found the situation had gotten even worse, so I elected to leave in December, using up my remaining holiday time to keep me technically employed until early January.

And this, dear readers, is where Universal Credit kicks in. I’d been ‘on the dole’ three times in my life, only ever for a few weeks at a time. The first was when I left college and was looking for my first job. The second was when my job running a record store branch collapsed due to administration. My final run came when the position I took to get out of the retail-store-from-hell I talked about earlier fell through. It was easy enough to understand: I’d fill in a little book every week with the list of jobs I applied for, and they’d not even bother to look at it at the fortnightly appointments to hand over a pittance. I just kept looking for work, as someone who hates being unemployed, and filled the book in just in case I got caught out.

Suddenly, I was faced with what, on the surface, appeared to be a better system. After the slight rigmarole of filling in a form online to get an appointment to book an appointment to discuss work, I started transferring my already existing search records (I keep an Excel spreadsheet, just in case) into their online system. The rules dictated I must spend 39 hours a week looking for work, and show evidence of that when required.

An example of the Universal Jobmatch Activity screen, with details removed for obvious reasons. The system is presumably © er... the Government.

An example of the Universal Jobmatch Activity screen, with details removed for obvious reasons. The system is presumably © er… the Government. You’ll see I posted 64 updates in three weeks, there.

Quite how this was expected to be proven is up for debate – particularly as their online site has a 250-character limit ‘Acitivity’ box for you to tell them what you’ve done that day. With no actual guidelines from anyone, I decided to treat this a little bit like a serious version of Twitter: giving regular bursts of my activities five days a week. I never timed myself – some weeks I may have done more than 39 hours, some perhaps less, but overall, I was working pretty solidly on trying to find work. Where I had once been applying for three or four jobs a week during my previous employment, I was suddenly applying for seven or eight a day.

The online job sites make this a lot easier than you’d think. Most of them upload your CV and cover letter, which only need slight tweaks for the position at hand before you hit the ‘APPLY’ button. Anything with more relevance to my actual career usually required more effort – a fully blown application form, or an online submission questionnaire. I wasn’t being picky, either. At one point, I even went for an interview with a solicitors, who spent most of the hour I was with them dissecting the notion that someone who has spent all these years writing about entertainment would actually WANT to write for a legal firm. They were right, of course, but what could I do? This was my ‘job’ now: to apply for whatever I could to get back into work, and be willing to take whatever was on offer. Besides, I know I could have aced that job if it had been given to me.

It must be said that, at this point, there’s no care for what you’re actually doing from the system designed to look after your jobsearch. The Activity you post on site is glanced over with as little care as the old fill-in books used to be, and while all the advisors I saw were nice, polite and no doubt lovely people, you can’t help but feel like a burden on their time. They’re just ticking you off the list, waiting for the next one to come in. It’s hardly Paulyne from The League of Gentlemen, but things haven’t got that much better just yet.

© BBC

© BBC

Nevertheless, as Sheila Hancock was fond of saying in a classic episode of Doctor Who: “Happiness will prevail”. Last year, I’d gone for an interview with a theatre, and almost got the job. That wasn’t too outside the norm – I went to many interviews and almost got them, including ones with massively prestigious companies in the heart of London’s theatre network. I kept coming in second best, because another candidate had more practical office experience than self-starter I. Yet with this particular role, though this was still the case, they remembered me. Suddenly an opportunity arose for ten weeks work with them, which would give me the very experience I was lacking. Truly the proverbial cherry on my cv cake.

It may even lead to permanent employment afterwards. It’s too early to say, but a role may open up, which I can apply for, and provided no-one amazing turns up to do it better than I can, and I don’t screw up these ten weeks, I’m in with a shot. I’m optimistic, if not expectant, and either way I’m incredibly grateful someone is willing to give me this opportunity, because I’d previously impressed them.

But back to Universal Credit. The day after the job was offered to me, I visited the job centre for my fortnightly meeting, which they have the absolute cheek to call ‘Interventions’, as if being unemployed was an addiction. I was congratulated, but told I had to ring the action line to cancel my claim once I had the job confirmed in writing, and interestingly to keep looking for work in the meantime. Confirmation took a few more days, but when it arrived, I called them immediately. It is at this point that things started to go tits-up.

My claim, I was told over the phone, was put into ‘pending’. I didn’t need to do anything further, except attend my last appointment as it was already booked in and the man on the other end of the line was unable to cancel it “for some reason”. Still, after confirming I didn’t need to do anything else now, I resigned myself to the fact that, in two weeks, I’d be starting this new job and, for a few months at least, my worries were over. I began concentrating on getting back into the swing of things – working regular ‘shifts’ at home in front of the computer, on various projects of my own. I had a lot of comedy to promote, as suddenly the people we featured on site were seemingly everywhere. I also had to research my new employers, knowing I only had a week of ‘training’ before the handbrake was off, and I would had to drive my own path. Though I’d balanced a part-time job, my degree and my website for three years, my last full time job ended in December 2009, so I had to get ready, or fall down at the first hurdle.

Oh, but there was that pointless pesky appointment still to attend. In the middle of writing up an interview I’d conducted to promote a top notch BBC comedy starting next week, I had to stop what I was doing, and walk down to the job centre, to sit there for fifteen minutes and do nothing. Even the guy on the phone had apologised for the pointlessness of the appointment, but the system would not let him get rid of it.

As I sat down, the assistant logged into my account, and found no ‘Activity’ for ten days. Shock, shock, horror, horror, shock, shock, horror! Here was a man who, having been more active in their activity documenting than many people probably manage in a year, suddenly wasn’t applying for jobs. Here was a man who, despite having applied for 45 jobs in three weeks, wasn’t applying for jobs. Wait a minute: here was a man who HAD A JOB.

Of course, the job had not started just yet. And there’s the rub. Despite having the contract, and the confirmed work offer, I wasn’t working yet. And despite being told in no uncertain terms over the phone that my claim was closed, but I’d be paid up until the day I started work, I was now being told that I’d broken the rules and wasn’t going to be eligible for credit. A colleague is called over as my incredulousness at the situation begins to become clear.

“Why would I apply for jobs,” I asked, “when I know I’m about to start one?”

“You have to keep applying until the day you start,” came the reply, “because that’s what you’ve agreed to do.”

After they panicked at my protestations and ran off to discuss the matter without me present for a few minutes, I was told that my new job – which has not been advertised, and offered solely to me because I can start work straight away, may fall through. That if it collapsed before I started work, I’d still be unemployed. That, to them, I’m unemployed now, and as such should be applying for work. This is in spite of my claim being closed over the phone, and having a definite contract for work starting next week.

I try to reason with them, to suggest that applying for jobs now, that I wouldn’t be able to take on due to my impending employment, would be a waste of not only my time, but those having to sift through applications. I suggest that, if I was given an interview, their system suggests I’d have to go along. They agree. But what would happen if I was then OFFERED that position? Would I have to say yes, or lose my credit? Even though I had a job I was already signed up to start? I even explained I’d already had one offer of an interview, but when I explained the situation to them, and told them I’d be more than willing to start at the end of April if that worked for them. Quite naturally, they declined, because they’re not mental.

Perhaps in part due to my logical deductions confusing the system plans mapped in their heads, and perhaps because even the lingering security guard had decided to move on by this point, knowing I wasn’t actually causing any trouble, they decided “on this occasion” to accept that I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing for work again, and that would count as my ‘Activity’. I’d get to keep my £77 per week, after all.

© Senata.co.uk, I assume, as that's where I found it.

I’ve still not worked out exactly what the plus is. © Senata.co.uk, I assume, as that’s where I found it.

It was then noted that my next appointment would be in two weeks. On my ninth day of working a full time job. Surely this would be cancelled?

Their system said otherwise.

I protest that I was told the following appointments were cancelled over the phone, to which I was told that the only way to be certain of that was for ME to ring the helpline. The chargeable helpline, that would keep me on the phone for ten minutes at least to explain the situation. By this point, I’d given up, and resigned myself to do exactly that. It would, at least, give me the opportunity to baffle another government employee.

The reason I tell you all of this now is, as I hope this ‘blog’ of my exploits demonstrates: I’m not a scrounger. I work hard, and I gave up a well paying career to better myself, and do something more worthwhile. It’s not about the money, or I wouldn’t have run The Velvet Onion for five years without earning anything from it. I wouldn’t work for 24:7, who can’t pay me a penny, but I do so because I love the work, I love what they stand for, and I love them as human beings.

© Lauren Taylor

© Lauren Taylor

Getting this job at this theatre is a dream come true. Sure, it’s currently only for ten weeks, but who knows where it will lead? I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity, and I know that I’ve been given it because those around me can see how hard I’ve been working to make something of myself, battling the odds as a now 30-year old working class Northerner in an industry primarily run by 40-something middle class Southerners looking for 20-something malleable types. I don’t fit the mould, but by gawd, I know what I believe in, and I’ve battled the black dog and financial ruin to get this far. I’m not giving up now.

And yet, today, I was made to feel like an inhuman statistic. A man who couldn’t be bothered to look for work, despite having found it! I was, to go back to Paulyne Campbell-Jones, a bit of “worthless dole scum”, because that’s how the system is configured. That’s how the staff in these places are MADE to see us. I’m just one of the great unwashed – though granted, I probably shouldn’t have gone in with my hoodie covered in cat hair, on that front. When Universal Credit was brought in, it was meant to signal a change in attitudes as well as logistics, but instead, it’s become a maze of catch-out points that are designed to penalise those who don’t want to be out of work, when nothing is being done about those who don’t care at all. Nothing is being done about the benefits cheats (of which I sadly, know of at least three in close proximity to me and mine), yet as soon as you make a logical assumption based on information you have been given, you’re pounced upon as a fraudster.  After all, “You need to know that if you give false or incomplete information or fail to report changes in circumstances, Universal Credit payments may be stopped and you may be prosecuted or face financial penalty. Your call will be recorded for training and quality purposes.”

And above all else… just the notion of wasting people’s time applying for positions I know I can’t take up, is just bloody rude. But then, I guess that’s this government’s outlook in a nutshell, and hopefully I won’t have to go back onto this ridiculous system ever again.

UPDATE: Since writing this blog, I completed my ten weeks at the theatre, which were extended to twelve, and have ended up back on Universal Credit. As of July 2015, the slog goes on…

Onion Talking: Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer on House of Fools

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION
© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Next week sees the launch of Series Two of House of Fools – the brilliantly surreal sitcom from the minds of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

Co-starring Dan Skinner, Matt Berry, Morgana Robinson, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White, the show also features cameo appearances from  Reece Shearsmith, Rufus Jones, Tony Way, Tom Davis and many more.

To celebrate its return, TVO sat down with the main cast during the filming of Series Two to discuss the show. Today, we bring you our catch-up with the legendary duo at the centre of it all: Reeves and Mortimer.

Television listings describe House of Fools as a sitcom. Which, by definition it is, but there’s far more to the multi-camera, studio-audience enhanced end product. In today’s climate, even mainstream fair like Mrs Brown’s Boys breaks down the fourth wall, slyly winking to the viewers at home as well as those in the studio just how absurd the traditional sitcom format is.

So when the mainstream is doing exactly what the alternative was doing twenty years ago, it falls to the alternative to do something, well… ‘Alternative’ once more. Thankfully, Vic Reeves (real name Jim Moir) and Bob Mortimer have grafted for over 25 years doing exactly that, and their long-awaited move into sitcom territory is as utterly unique as it is delightful. It was only natural, then, that it’s superb first series would be followed by a second run.

Of course, the tropes of sitcom are there, but the duo have always taken the traditional and run with it in their own inimitable style: their natural chemistry and love of the hyper-surreal carving out a legacy of incredible programming. Big Night Out, The Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer, Bang Bang It’s Reeves & Mortimer, Shooting Stars, Catterick… even their underrated turn at drama in short lived fantasy series Randall & Hopkirk {deceased} has a charm quite unlike anything else seen on British television in the last few decades. Truly, they stand apart from their peers, even as they rub shoulders with them, and inject everything they do with a high standard of professionalism beneath the on-screen madness.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

That said, today’s House of Fools recording, isn’t going too well. The sheer complexity of the show requires for a number of shots to be pre-filmed before the audience arrive: and the more of them there are, the more it cuts into camera-rehearsal. Filming in Salford, but rehearsing in London, the camera-rehearsal is crucial to locking down the show as it will eventually appear on screen, and the lack of one causes (the admittedly still hilarious) filming to overrun – the entire end sequence left unfilmed as the cast and crew take a break before the day’s second recording block has to get the job done.

“Were you down there watching?” asks Bob Mortimer nervously, as he and Jim Moir, the man behind the public persona of Vic Reeves, settle down to talk and grab a well-deserved bite to eat in a somewhat condensed lunch hour, less than five minutes after shooting was forced to wrap up. TVO assures him we were, and in spite of the problems, what we saw was still working really well. “We ran out of time,” he continues. Jim chips in. “We had so many things on the pre-record, and there’s lots of camera moves.”

“It is weird, when you haven’t done it in front of the cameras, isn’t it, Jim?” asks Bob. “Yeah,” Jim replies. “We’ll see how the second run goes.”

Bob continues: “The thing is we’ve got so many props and pre-records,” he states, “you’ve got to be ahead of it. You can’t come in on the day and say: ‘Can we have this prop?’ There’s no time to do anything new. Rehearsals change what, Jim? Twenty or thirty percent?”

“We do change little bits here and there,” Jim adds. “But it’s all there in the script. If you can’t do your lines, someone jumps in front of you and you’re in trouble.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

With the option to stay and watch the second studio record later that day, TVO sticks around, and the transformation is incredible.  What was a hilarious, if somewhat jumbled first run has been replaced by a smooth, well-oiled production, which, although overrunning due to only one chance to film the complex end sequence, ably demonstrates the skill with which the pair, and all of those around them, craft these episodes. They may have had a tough afternoon, but it’s a fun evening ahead of them.

Not that Jim and Bob are aware of this as we talk, and fearing we have perhaps dwelled on the negatives for too long, TVO decides to lighten the mood.  First off, who amongst the cast is most likely to fluff their lines, we ponder.

“Fucking me,” Bob blurts out, laughing. “Shit,” he adds… “You can take that answer and run with it!”

With the vibe improving, we suggest a quick game of Snog, Marry, Avoid, reworked in keeping with the House of Fools theme by asking who the pair would Rent with, get a Mortgage with, and Evict. We’re sure you’ll all be playing this by Easter, especially as the thought gets the approval of ‘Reeves & Mortimer’.

“I wouldn’t wanna live with Beef,” considers Bob. “I’d throw Beef out. Dirty man.”

“Vic Reeves is mentally inefficient,” states the man himself, firmly removed from his stage persona. “I think you’d probably want Bob to rent with.”

So, no mortgage for the duo?

“You’re asking if we got a house,” Bob clarifies, “would we get a joint mortgage?” He bursts out laughing as Jim props his chin up and grins that mischievous grin that only ‘Vic Reeves’ can. “Great question,” he adds, and pauses for a moment. “Yeah, we probably would. We’d probably get interest only as well.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Perhaps, TVO opines, they could open a bistro of their own, just like their neighbour Julie has in the new series. Bob decides it could be called Vicky Manhattans, before Jim fires back the suggestion of George Bensons. Bob immediately changes this to Benson and Hedges, as they start giggling to themselves: that natural chemistry that has fuelled over two decades together in full force.  Some things never change, even when the ideas around them do.

House of Fools for example, was a first for the pair. Though they had dabbled in the sitcom world with their dark comic drama Catterick back in 2004, the closest they had ever come to a studio sitcom was the running Slade in Residence sketch from The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.  In recent years, the studio-sitcom has been somewhat dismissed by alternative comedy, with only The IT Crowd really shining as an example outside of the mainstream. Jim and Bob’s reasoning for doing one now is surprisingly pragmatic.

“I think it’s something we always wanted to do,” states Moir. “I think the days when you’re kinda forced into doing a quiz show went away, so we said: ‘This is what we want to do.’ We spent a long time thinking about it, and working it out. It was quick to start with, and we had a lot of advice, so we knew it was going to work. If you put enough work into something, it’ll work out in the end.”

“In a practical sense,” Mortimer adds, “we bumped into someone from the Beeb, and told them we were going to write a sitcom. And they said: ‘Alright, if you do, give it to us and we’ll have a look’. That was quite quick, wasn’t it? We wrote one in a couple of days, did a pilot. The procedure’s never really that grand, is it, Jim? It’s more like bumping into the right person at the right time.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the initial set-up, however, was the casting of the supporting roles. While ‘Vic’ and Bob play heightened versions of themselves, they are ably backed up by regular collaborator Dan Skinner as hapless Bosh, as well as new collaborators Matt Berry as randy randomer Beef, Morgana Robinson as frankly bonkers neighbour Julie, and Norwegian stand-up Daniel Simonsen as Bob’s reclusive son Erik. This year, they are also joined by Erik’s girlfriend, Rachel – played by relative newcomer character comedian Ellie White.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Then there’s the guest roles, filled across the series by the likes of Reece Shearsmith, Sally Philips, Rufus Jones, Tim Healey, Tom Davies, Romesh Ranganathan and Tony Way, to name but a few, with the latter three filming today’s episode as a dance gang. It’s that combination of established names that Jim & Bob know so well, and the encouragement of up and coming talent that has traced its way through their career ever since they were established enough to call the shots somewhat. Let’s not forget, it was through Reeves & Mortimer shows that the likes of Matt Lucas, Rhys Thomas and Tony Way got their big breaks.

“Tony was like sixteen or seventeen on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer,” remembers Moir. “And then he was in The Club [a running sketch in Bang Bang] as well.” And dancing with you both in the studio, TVO points out. “Yeah,” Mortimer laughs, “with a firework up his arse!”

With a track record in providing a platform for new talents, TVO wonders if the pair consciously elect to nurture fresh faces. “I think we give them a chance,” Jim begins. “Then it’s up to you…”

We’re suddenly cut off, by loudspeaker announcement, as the audience for the evening session is about to be let into the studio. “Attention please,” it says, drowning out Jim in mid-thought. “Ladies and gentlemen for House of Fools. We will be going into studio in approximately ten minutes. We will call you in by the colour…”

“Of your skin!” yells ‘Vic’, gleefully, and the pair erupt with back and forth banter once more, before Bob straightens up.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“The thing with Daniel [Simonsen] is…” he trails off, trying to find the right words to say. “We’ve been wanting to do something with him for ages. And Ellie was just a friend of a friend to come in and read lines during rehearsal, but she was great.”

“These things kind of evolve a bit,” Jim adds. “They have to evolve naturally, and then you work on it after that.”

“It’s brilliant,” Bob states, smiling. “When you use Dan, and you use Daniel, and you use Matt and Morgana, you just know they’re comfortable with the way we work, and they’re comfortable with us. So they’ll lob their own stuff in and bring it to life. We knew what to write for them, and what would work because of that shorthand. But it’s more about the story than anything.”

After all of this time, it would be easy for Reeves & Mortimer to fall into a generic pattern, relying on old gags and goodwill to get by. Instead, they’re pushing the limitations of what can be done in a studio sitcom, with a cast who get what they do and strive to help them make the best show they can. Three episodes into recording the second series, the pair are confident they’re onto a winner.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“Last week’s was fucking great!” Bob enthuses.

“And Christmas was good as well,” chips in Jim. “They’ve all been really good, I think. Better than the last series, up to now.”

“I’ve no idea what this one is like, though,” adds Bob, seemingly with the worry of the looming record drifting back into his mind.  TVO can’t help but hope there’s more to come, and perhaps a slightly stripped back version of the show could be taken on the road, too?

“I think it’s great fun to do,” Jim sums up. “If people want it, we’ll keep doing ‘em.”

“Everyone involved in it, would like to do a run in a theatre, wouldn’t they, Jim?” asks Bob, as his partner in crime nods. “I don’t know whether that will happen, but we’d all like to do it.”

TVO is sure it would work, and notes that the chemistry between the gang, and between Reeves & Mortimer themselves, feels so natural it would be a shame for it not to happen.

“Well,” notes Jim, with a knowing wink in his eye, “That’s acting!”

And with that, they’re off to do more of it. That episode won’t record itself.

House of Fools returns on Monday 16th February at 10pm on BBC2. The first series is available on dvd from 23rd February.