Friday, January 26, 2007

News. Quiz.

Writing is a strangely lonely and reclusive occupation. The more I focus on this new book the more time I spend by myself and the less I pay attention to the outside world. Which made me a particularly underprepared panellist for this weeks edition of Radio 4's News Quiz. It was recorded last night and is broadcast later today (and again on Saturday afternoon.)

Apparently I agreed to take part in the show some time before Christmas but I had completely forgotten about it until I was reminded of it on Tuesday. I wouldn't normally forget about something like this... but the writing-process tends to erase those parts of your memory that you're not using.

I'm not complaining for a moment - the show is hosted by Sandi Toksvig and I was on Alan Coren's team and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I regard the Coren/Toksvig axis as something of a broadcasting dream team. It really is a pleasure to work with either of them and the pleasure is more than doubled by working with the two of them at the same time. (Note to self, must send that Call My Bluff letter to Points of View.)

Anyway, I enjoyed the show despite not knowing as much as I would like to and was glad of a chance to get out for a night and have a glass of wine... I'd almost forgotten what it was like to go out. I've now bounced back into my reclusive writing mode which involves staring at a blank screen, drinking too much coffee, giving in to Big Brother and then regretting it. (Do vote to evict Jo and Cleo, though.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A114, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Sunday's Bubbalub (that is how it's supposed to be pronounced) was really enjoyable.

I once had a tour of the camera run in a previous non-celebrity version of the series and felt very strange standing less than a metre away from Cameron (remember him?) while he was washing up. That was a sneaky tour I was on and nothing to do with the show that was broadcast but this time I was taken into the camera run as part of the show. Dressed in a black cape so as not to be seen through the not-quite-one-way mirror they cut to me a couple of times for comments on the goings on in the house. It feels ridiculously intrusive... far more so than watching the results on TV. It's the fact that you're so close to them. If I'd coughed they'd have heard me. Even though you know that the window you're looking through looks like a mirror to them, every now and then you feel like someone is looking you in the eye and you feel like you've been caught spying on them. Very weird and oddly exciting in the shallowest of ways.

I always enjoy appearing on BBLB and a lot of that is down to Dermot who is about as professional and relaxed as you can be. Sometimes when you're on a show you look at a presenter and you can see a glassy eyed stare coming back at you. Never with Dermot. I'd suggested that I explain who my favourites were with the help of a venn diagram and the production team were very happy to oblige. I worked out who I thought belonged where the night before and I was genuinely surprised to discover that Ian 'H from Steps' Watkins emerged as one of my two potential winners even though I didn't know I liked him. I think it worked quite well. Somebody's put the clip up on youtube so you can judge for yourself.

I've already said more about the show than I normally would here and there's a reason. I can't remember the last time I did anything that got a bigger reaction. I've had phone calls and texts from friends, e-mails from strangers and even been stopped in the street to be congratulated for saying what I said. I'm not sure I'm comfortable about it though.

On the show I said that I thought Jackiey was "borderline racist." I said it in the most equivocal terms I could and with a sigh of regret in my voice because I know it's a big charge to throw at someone and I don't wish to see her torn apart for it. Jackiey wasn't there to defend herself and so Dermot did the right thing and offered something of a defence which in turn led me to explain why I thought it was the case.

I did find Jackiey referring to Shilpa constantly as "that Indian" incredibly uncomfortable viewing and I'm sure that if Jackiey wasn't such a confrontational person some of the other housemates would have felt able to take her aside and explain that they didn't like it either. I suggested that if other housemates were to refer to Jackiey as "that lesbian" there would be complaints - which I'm sure there would be - and I can't see any difference between the two examples. I don't necessarily think that Jackiey dislikes Shilpa because she's Indian, but I do think that the manner in which she expressed her dislike for Shilpa involved language that no modern workplace would (or should) tolerate.

Clearly it was bringing up the issue of racism that has prompted such a large response. I'm sure there are people out there who disagree with what I said but none of them have got in touch. But here's the thing; shows like Big Brother encourage a sort of polarisation of opinion. You love one person and hate another. Issues are (no pun intended) black and white and people are either good or bad. Which isn't how the real world operates at all. There are shades of grey all over.

A lot of the messages I got were telling me how good it was of me to 'put Dermot in his place' which makes me feel uncomfortable because that isn't how I'd like to behave. I don't normally watch things back once they've been broadcast but I did this time because I wanted to see how Dermot and I interacted. I think we got on. I think he was professional. I don't think he was uncomfortable with me saying what I said and he did what any good broadcaster should do in that situation and made sure that people were aware that it was only opinion and that there were other ways of looking at it. Clearly racism is (and should be) a highly emotive issue, and so some people who thought I was right thought Dermot was wrong to offer any kind of defence. I don't agree.

It seems a lot of people have complained to Ofcom about this year's series and today's papers and and other media are carrying stories about the issue. I genuinely feel sorry for the show here... they're in a very difficult position because they have a duty of care to everyone concerned. I don't think the behaviour of Jade, Jo and Danielle is as easily defined as racist as Jackiey's "that Indian" was.

I don't enjoy watching it and I think they are behaving like bullies. I think there are unpleasant undertones to it and when they sit together and discuss Shilpa they egg each other on, perhaps feeling closer to each other the more they can display their dislike for Shilpa. It's as if by using more and more cartoonish insults, Shilpa is made less and less real to them and they then feel less and less guilty about saying worse and worse things.

As unpleasant as I find it and as much as I sympathise with Shilpa I think it's almost impossible for Big Brother to decide to kick someone out and label them a racist. What would happen to them next in this tabloid world of polarised opinions? They'd be thrown to the wolves. Many people seem to think they deserve exactly that but I don't think anyone does. But I really don't think Shilpa deserves to be bullied the way she is either.

I think several of the housemates are intolerant and are behaving in a reprehensible manner. I hope there is some kind of intervention that can be done to remove that behaviour from the house without necessarly removing people or demonising anyone. Perhaps the focus of Big Brother discussion should be bullying. Whether it's racially motivated or not is difficult to know and perhaps impossible to prove... but is non-racially motivated bullying acceptable? I don't think so.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Annually Retentive

I've really enjoyed the last couple of days filming the panel show bits for Annually Retentive. It's a really friendly team and there's a very jolly attitude to the filming because, while we try to make the panel show as you would any other panel show, everyone knows that it's the backstage elements that really make up the show and so it takes a bit of the pressure out of the situation.

During the first series we filmed two episodes a night and there was never one which couldn't have been put together as a watchable (but creatively bankrupt) panel show. Given the nature of the series there's no need to actually make whole episodes as there's no way they can actually show it all when the backstage, behind-the-scenes stuff is what it's really about. So this year we recorded three episodes a night and cut the number of rounds down in each episode. There was still more than enough to filter through each episode and demonstrate the nature of the show but I think some of the guests were surprised by how short the recording for their episode was.

If you're used to appearing on a panel show and you know that the 30 minutes of zingy banter that you see on screen is actually the result of a three hour recording you can't help but get used to a certain kind of pace and attitude. Instead each episode was rattled off in what felt like 20 minutes but was probably closer to 40 and while the guests left, those of us who were returning would duck out and change our clothes and get ready for the next one.

It probably makes for a more interesting night for the studio audience as well as there's much more variety across the evening with a parade of guests. The studio audience is very well warmed up by Chris Corcoran so the mood doesn't flag and the turnaround time between episodes is really quick so all in all I think they get a very good night out for their free ticket.

There was a story this week about Preston (him off of Celebrity Big Brother/him out of The Ordinary Boys/him who's wed Chantelle) storming out of a recording of Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Oddly, at yesterday's recording we had a similar situation. Nobody stormed out but we did have a guest not turn up. A car was sent to their house but they either weren't there or just didn't answer the door and the end result was that we ended up being a guest down. It's probably best that I don't say who it was right now... after all, you never know the reason why they weren't there and I wouldn't want to cast aspersions. It was fine and a stand-in of sorts was found in the shape of the one-person-in-the-building-who-looked-least-like-her ... which turned out to be very funny in its own strange way.

But annoyingly, because of the nature of the show, I think a large part of the audience won't believe that the situation was actually real. The show is about the making of a panel show in which all the ideas are lifted from other shows and nobody is really trying to make anything particularly challenging or good. If we end up covering for a no-show guest and there's a genuine example of a real panel show covering for a stormed-out guest in the ether it will inevitably feel like the producers of our show thought it was a good and convincing story to go with and that we are all pretending that the guest in question didn't show. We weren't. She really didn't turn up. Heigh ho.

Oh, I'm a guest on Big Brother's Little Brother tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Millwall Viaduct

Sometimes I can't sleep

Friday, January 5, 2007

New year. New blog

Hello you... I hope 2007 is treating you well and that all is well in your world. I'm enjoying it so far. I've just realised a very strange thing: if you ask me what I do for a living - and people do - my normal answer is that I am a writer and performer. Mentally I have always assumed that my living is made by performing live and I've regarded all the other stuff - TV, radio, publishing and whatever else there might be - as a bonus.

I think this is a healthy attitude because the live stuff is the thing that you have the most control over... in an if-you-build-it-they-will-come, leap-of-faith way, at least. You don't need anyone else to back you and you don't need anyone else to fund you... so it's always seemed the most real... for want of a less pretentious word.

It's also an attitude that helps to put the work in perspective properly. I feel very fortunate to be offered some of the things that come my way, but because I don't regard them as any kind of entitlement I don't need them to happen regularly and I don't leave myself in a situation where I rely on them financially which I think means that I'm better able to judge which ones I should or shouldn't do. (Not that my judgement is perfect by any means.)

Anyway... that sort of describes what I thought I did for a living, but for the first time, as I look back at the year just gone, I'm forced to acknowledge that things have changed. For the first time in about 16 years, twelve months have passed in which I didn't perform one live show. Not a single one.

There were plenty of times when I was on stage and there was an audience and it was, I think, a good entertaining night out for all concerned - like the recordings for Genius for example - but while that presses a lot of the same buttons as live work, it really isn't the same thing because I was being paid by the broadcaster and not the audience. It's a different exchange. So, if I judge myself by my own long-standing self-regarding rules, my real income for the last year was precisely zero. I made no money in what I've always regarded as the bedrock of my professional life. How odd.

It was a busy year though... there was Genius, Annually Retentive, a few appearances on The Daily Show and more guest appearances on other shows than I think I've ever squeezed into a year before. I wonder if I've subconsciously altered my judgement and been readier to accept things because of the lack of live shows? Or maybe I've just been more available because I haven't been touring? I really don't know... but I will no doubt work it out. Or maybe I'll just contemplate my navel and fail to come to any conclusion and just get on with things instead.

I don't imagine that the pattern is going to change any time soon because I think I've toured all four of my live shows as extensively as I can already and wouldn't want people to think the same shows were constantly rotating. No, I think everyone who wanted to see them has had the opportunity to see them and for me to go back out on the road means I need to have a new story to tell.

But that's the thing... because I don't write my shows at a desk, I tell stories. If things happen to me and if I think there's a story worth telling then a little while later, a show emerges. I spent the last few weeks of last year travelling but that was quite deliberately undertaken with a book - and latterly a film - in mind and it's those two tellings of that story that I will be immersing myself in next. Which means that there's no new show coming any time soon. In fact I suspect the showless run might well stretch to 24 months and beyond. I have to face it, an audience no longer pays my wages... I'm a media whore. Oh dear.

While I sit and stare at a blank screen and try to remind myself quite how I go about writing a book, I'm pleased to say that some small distraction is hoving into view in the shape of a second series of Annually Retentive. I will once again be taking on a role that I think would stretch many actors but which I find relatively easy. Yes, I'll be playing 'me' again. I'm glad I don't have to play Jane Moore as Jane Moore is so much better at it than I would be.

If you fancy being in the studio audience for the recordings which take place in London on January 11 and 12 then you want to scoot over to to get your free tickets.