June 3

The Trotters: By Royal Appointment

The Royal Family are known to be fans of Only Fools and Horses as Buckingham Palace officials used to regularly request advance tapes of the show for The Queen and other members of the family. And as Nicholas Lyndhurst once told me: “I guess they must have liked them because they never gave them back!”

In 1986 the Trotters even appeared in front of royalty in The Royal Variety Show at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. At the time the Only Fools cast were busy filming that year’s Christmas special A Royal Flush in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Here’s an abridged piece about the show taken from my book Only Fools and Horses: The Official Inside Story.

“That was horrendously difficult,” David Jason recalled. “They asked us to do it and we thought we’d take something out of one of the episodes but they wanted something original. So John went away and came up with this wonderful piece of material that ran to about twenty-five minutes when it needed to be about three! So he went away and pared it all down. We thought it was very funny, but we weren’t sure we’d get away with it.”

The story had the trio supposedly making a delivery of dodgy booze to a pal of Del’s called Chunky Lewis, who ran a nightclub in London’s West End. The plan for the Trotters was that they would take a wrong turning and end up walking on stage at the Palladium during the show.

The script had arrived in Salisbury, where they were filming and it was only really then that the cast realised just what they had taken on. David recalled: “We got the running order of the show and realised that everyone else who was appearing either had an act – like Bruce Forsyth does – or were from a West End musical and had singing or dancing routines. That meant that everyone was really well rehearsed and knew their stuff backwards – except for us.

“We were the only people to appear who had never tried their material in front of an audience before and it was going out live. That started to hit home. From then on, every night after we finished filming, for about a week beforehand, we would get back to our hotel and the three of us would rehearse it over and over again. And as it got nearer, we worried and we worried and we worried.

“We took out all sorts of insurance like learning each other’s parts and learning it backwards, because if one of us forgot our lines no one could help us but ourselves because you couldn’t have a prompt. We’d be out there on our own and if anybody dried up no one would be able to give us a cue. We were ready to help each other out if one of us went wrong but we were still very worried about it.”

Another worry was the line David had to deliver to the Royal Box, which would be occupied by the Queen Mother and Fergie, The Duchess of York. “I’d said to John Sullivan: ‘Christ, we’ll get ourselves locked up in the tower for this!’” said David.

John Sullivan recalled: “When I wrote about Chunky I didn’t know the Duchess of York was going to be there. It was before she’d joined WeightWatchers and in those days she had a few pounds on her. I wasn’t invited to the actual show so I was watching at home and thought: ‘Oh God’ when I saw she was there in the Royal Box. I thought: ‘That’s going to go down a bomb!’ I just sat at home cringing.”

“We didn’t even know if anyone was going to laugh because, although we knew it was funny, we’d never tried it out on an audience,” said David. “Comedy has this weird trick that it can play on you, in that the line you’d thought they’d laugh at they don’t, and then they’d go mad about another one and catch you out. As soon as we walked on we got a huge round of applause, which was great and made us feel welcome, and then we got our first laugh and it gave us a bit of confidence, but really you are on a knife edge because you can’t afford to fail.

“The Royal gag was very funny. Rodney looks up to the Royal box, while Del is looking elsewhere, and he sees the Royal family and starts scraping and bowing and I say: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ and then Del looks up to this box and, dazzled by the lights, says: ‘Chunky is that you?’” The line brought the house down – and provoked an instant reaction from the Queen Mum as David recalled: “I could actually see – and she started to do the Royal wave,” he laughed. “I couldn’t believe it. Everybody fell about. Bless her cotton socks; perhaps she was well on the gin and tonics by then, but for whatever reason she did it!”

Only Fools and Horses is shown daily on Gold

 © Steve Clark 2012. All Rights reserved

May 18

Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe to star in four-part Sky Arts comedy drama A Young Doctor’s Notebook

That Daniel Radcliffe comedy drama announcement:

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe will appear in an extraordinary new series for Sky Arts, based on the memoirs of a Russian doctor working during the Russian Revolution, as part of the brand new series of Playhouse Presents…

Young Doctor’s Notebook, which will broadcast on Sky Arts in 2013,is a unique four-part comedy drama based on a collection of short stories by the celebrated Russian writer and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov. 

Jon Hamm will take on the role of the older doctor, who has a series of bleakly comic exchanges with his younger self, played by Daniel Radcliffe.

Jon Hamm said: “I am thrilled to get the opportunity to work on such rich source material with such fantastically talented people whose work I greatly respect, and to continue the relationship with Sky who have taken such good care of Mad Men since acquiring it. Clelia Mountford and Big Talk have been championing this project unabashedly and I share their great enthusiasm for bringing something original, dark, funny and moving to light. Also, I have been watching “Bridget Jones’s Diary” on infinite loop, and I think I’ve finally got this accent thing sorted…”

Daniel Radcliffe added: “I have been an obsessive Bulgakov reader for a couple of years now so when the opportunity to become involved in this project came up, I could barely contain my excitement. The book is funny, grotesque and heartfelt in equal measure and I look forward to working with a great group of people to help bring it to life”.

Produced by multi award-wining Big Talk Productions in association with Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt’s Point West Pictures, the drama recounts Bulgakov’s semi-autobiographical experiences as a young doctor working in the small village of Muryovo at the dawn of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Recounting from his notebooks, the Doctor considers his life and career as he tries to treat the patients of a village that is struggling to enter the modern age. Dealing not only with the superstitious and poorly educated patients but with his own inner demons, the doctor reveals doubts about his own competence and struggles with the immense burden of medical responsibility.

Mikhail Bulgalov is widely considered to be one of the finest Russian writers of all time. His allegorical and most famous novel The Master and Margarita has been called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.

This is not the first time Sky Arts has tackled unusual Russian comedy. 2010 saw the channel receive plaudits for their series of Chekhov Comedy Shorts which starred an array of world-class comedians performing the playwright’s lesser known comedies. The cast included Steve Coogan, Johnny Vegas, Julia Davis, Sheridan Smith and Mackenzie Crook. 

Sky Arts Playhouse Presents…strand received widespread critical acclaim, and was Sky Arts’ most successful series ever, attracting world-renowned talent to the channel including Emma Thompson, Alison Steadman, David Tennant and Sir Tom Jones, in his first acting role.

“Having two of the world’s most popular actors, whose iconic roles are seared on to the world’s collective consciousness, is an enormous accomplishment for Sky Arts. It continues a tradition we have established of attracting the most recognised faces in the world to Sky,” comments James Hunt, Channel Director, Sky Arts. “Bulgakov’s work is fascinating, dark and original and with talent like this, will surprise and entertain our viewers in a wholly unique way. It is brilliantly observed piece, which promises to be true historical magic and completely unlike anything else on television.”

“Here’s a world class line up to take your breath away,” comments Lucy Lumsden, Head of Comedy for Sky. “Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe on Sky Arts reflect just how significant the channel has become in driving creativity and delivering exceptional names to Sky Customers.”

Big Talk Chief Executive Kenton Allen said: ‘Clelia Mountford bought the project to me with a twinkle in her eye and that twinkle has rapidly developed into a rather extraordinary project that promises to be unmissable TV.I really hope we can find and entertain a whole new audience with the brilliance of Bulgakov and the pinch-yourself dream team combination of Jon and Daniel.”

Following the addition of Sky Arts to Sky Go, customers will also be able to watch A Young Doctors Notebook on the move on iPad, selected smartphones and laptops at no extra cost.

The series will be distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook marks a further development of the Playhouse Presents strand which champions innovative productions and original writing, and which underlines Sky’s promise to  deliver high-quality, exclusive content to customers, supported by a commitment to increase investment in home-grown programming to £600 million by 2014, an increase of more than 50% over three years.

May 6

Homeland’s Damian Lewis on his early acting days – and getting caned at school

I remember the first time I met Homeland star Damian Lewis. It was back in 2000 on the set of a BBC drama called Hearts and Bones  (which had a eclectic cast list including Dervla Kirwan, Hugo Speer, Sarah Parish and Amanda Holden). Damian was playing a biology teacher working at a south London comprehensive school and he was down-to-earth, effortlessly charming and a helpful interviewee. At the end of the interview I asked a usual quesion: What are you doing next?

Some actors usually mumble something about having something in the pipeline. A few have real projects to go to. Damian, however, had just landed a role that would catapult him into the major league – the starring role in Steven Spielberg’s £70 million 13-part television series Band of Brothers. I remember him telling me – and it was hard not to be impressed. After all, here was a Eton-educated Englishman and he’d just beaten every US actor of his generation to play an American war hero.

The rest as they say is history. Band of Brothers was a massive critical and ratings success. Damian delivered a flawless performance as Major Dick Winters and his career has flourished ever since. I’ve followed his progress with interest ever since and like millions I’m glued to Homeland. It’s fantastic to see a decent bloke – and a very fine actor – doing so well.

I dug out one of my old interviews with Damian. Here are some snippets…

Damian grew up in London and went to boarding school in Sussex, which is where his love of acting began. “From the age of eight I started acting in school plays and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals,” he recalls. “My first role was as a policeman in the Pirates of Penzance and when I was twelve I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he says.

 “School was very structured and they were keen to drum into everyone how to behave well in any situation which is a very British upper class way of thinking. I used to get sick and tired of all the culture at school and rebelled against it, although at boarding school if you are caught having as much as an illicit cigarette you might be asked to leave. The most rebellious things I ever did always involved girls. I used to get caught in girls’ dormitory in the middle of the night, which was a caning offence when I was there. I got caned an awful lot for other misdemeanours like talking after lights out, which the headmaster just wouldn’t tolerate. He thought it kept others awake and tired pupils made the school function less well.”

As a teenager Damian went to Eton, but had decided when it came to leaving, that he wanted to become an actor. “Everyone else was off to Oxford and Cambridge and other places and I had already been in a theatre company with friends and had made up my mind that acting was what I wanted to do. Fortunately, my parents were very supportive and they said they’d help me out if I went to drama school.”

 

Category: Homeland