The Madcap’s Last Laugh, Syd Barrett tribute concert – May 10th, 2007

I’ve been trawling through my diary from ten years ago, chronicling my trials as a writer, but every now and then I find something very special that has nothing to do with my scribblings. Ten years ago today I was lucky enough to go to a gig with my nephew Chris which exceeded all expectations…

Last night Chris and I drove to the Barbican to attend The Madcap’s Last Laugh, a tribute concert to Syd Barrett. I had been looking forward to this since it was first announced. All sorts of rumours had been flying around about who might show up, but when names like Robyn Hitchcock, Chrissie Hynde and Martha Wainwright were officially announced I realised that it would be a sincere tribute from people genuinely influenced by Syd. I had wondered if anyone from Pink Floyd might show up. Guy (Pratt) told me that David Gilmour had been approached and had politely declined. I guess he felt that he had made his tribute already with his very moving rendition of Dark Globe on his last tour. David saying no effectively ruled out Nick and Rick, too, and as for Roger… I knew that he was in the country on tour, but who knows if he had the time?

Anyway, the traffic was terrible and we were fifteen minutes late but, thankfully, the show was late starting and we were in our excellent seats (second row, just right of centre!) in plenty of time for the start. The show was wonderful in a very English and slightly shambolic way. Everyone was just a little under-rehearsed, singers had scraps of paper with the lyrics, roadies wrestled with mic stands to ready them for the next artistes, all of varying heights. The line-up was great. Captain Sensible (looking alarmingly like Paul O’Grady), Nick Laird-Clowes, Damon Albarn, The Bees, and then, to finish the first half, on strode Roger Waters.

Well, Chris and I jumped to our feet as did the rest of the audience. He looked very nervous – he was shaking like a leaf even when he was playing – and he played Flickering Flame on an acoustic guitar accompanied by Jon Carin on keyboards.

DSCF0724
Roger Waters – Flickering Flame

What a great first half. I even saw Storm Thorgerson queueing for the loo in the break.

The second half was even better. Vashti Bunyan, more Damon Albarn and Captain Sensible, Robyn Hitchcock, John Paul Jones, and Chrissie Hynde. Then Joe Boyd came on and told us he couldn’t think of a better way to round off the evening than to ask David, Nick and Rick onto the stage… Well, we were blown away. I had totally convinced myself that this was not going to happen and here we were. There were shouts of ‘Roger Waters!’ from the crowd, to which David replied, ‘Yes, he was here, too…’ So where was he now? Never mind… They played Arnold Layne – it wasn’t the greatest rendition, there were problems with Rick’s keyboard and mic, but it was just terrific to see them playing again.

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From L-R: Richard Wright, Andy Bell, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Jon Carin

And that was it. There were cries for more, not least from me, and they did join everyone else for the final Singalonga Bike. An amazing evening and Chris and I left on a real high.

I later learned from Guy that David had called him at 2pm that day asking what he was up to that night. Guy had a Bryan Ferry gig in Cambridge and couldn’t attend. He was gutted. He also explained Roger’s no-show with the band: apparently he had to get back to his hotel to meet his girlfriend. I hate to think that I missed my one opportunity to see the classic Floyd line-up because Rog’ fancied a quickie with his bit of stuff*…

Anyway, it was a great evening, a worthy tribute to Syd and I got some good photos. I had hoped to meet Matt Johns from the Brain Damage website, but I couldn’t get a signal on my phone in the Barbican. Turns out he was sitting about four seats down from us.

*I realise I’m being very uncharitable here!

For a full setlist, the wonderful Brain Damage site has it all here.

All photos by Mark Stay

My First BA Conference (and jeweller’s robbery!) – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – May 1st & 2nd 2007

 

The Booksellers’ Association conference is an annual gathering of the great, the good, and (in my case) the liggers of bookselling and publishing. Orion was paying for one of our customers to attend the gala dinner and I went along to be their handler for the evening. This is when the BA hands out their awards, the Nibbies, and there’s sometimes a quiz, plenty of food and drink, and jewellery shop robbery… Maybe that last one isn’t as common? Maybe they laid that on just for me…?

Tuesday 1st May, 2007

 

Harrogate: The Booksellers’ Association conference. Only here for the gala dinner this year. Journey up was fine. Knaresborough looks like a great place to explore: steep and cliffy. Harrogate is a perfect little town and Betty’s Tea Room smells glorious. My agent got back to me on Dead Man’s Finger*. I don’t need to make a decision till next week… Hopefully I’ll get to meet with Jon (Wright) tomorrow to discuss God Of Scarecrows**. We’re planning to meet at King’s Cross tomorrow afternoon.

Off to the gala dinner. It’s too hot to be dressed as a penguin.

 

Wednesday 2nd May, 2007

 

9:50am. On the train to Leeds… Amazing! Just seen the end of a robbery in jewellery shop in Harrogate! I was happily strolling to the train station when, from around the corner, I heard a woman scream, followed by a series of bangs (three, I think), then a red car came screeching around the corner. Its windscreen was bashed, presumably as a result of the banging I heard. Not gunshots, but someone trying to smash the car’s windscreen. I couldn’t see through the cracked glass to identify the drivers. The car sped away at high speed, but before it had even reached the junction at the end of the road, there were three or four people already on the phone to the police yelling its registration number into the receiver. There were at least a dozen other witnesses to the crime, so I figured I wouldn’t be needed. In the two minutes it took me to reach the station the air was full of the noise of sirens and police cars and vans were in hot pursuit. I guess it won’t take them too long to find a red car with a smashed windscreen.

The incident proved what I’ve always feared: I would be a rubbish witness in court. The car was red, a C reg, and I can’t even remember the name of the jewellers’, although I’m pretty sure it was in Prince’s Street.

Anyway… last night was okay enough. Mark Billingham was MC and managed to inject life into some old gags and there was a fairly funny turn from Al Murray, the pub landlord.

Richard Littlejohn proved himself to be the twat I’ve always imagined him to be: he declared Alastair Campbell to be a mate and then proceeded not only to slag him off, but also suggested that Campbell was responsible for the death of weapons inspector Dr. Kelly. This prompted Mark Billingham to splutter, ‘Fuck, if he’s your friend, what do you say about your enemies?’

Littlejohn’s response was, ‘You should hear what he says about me!’

You should hear what we all say about you Littlejohn, you hate-mongering little fuck.

Home, 11pm. Had a good meeting with Jon this afternoon. He had some good ideas for The God Of Scarecrows. I will have to change the ending. We also discussed an idea. More of a framework for a short film that can exploit extremes of sound. Thinking cap on…

Tired now. I’ve spent too long today in trains and taxis.

 

The car was a Rover! And it was red, and a C reg, so maybe I’m not so bad an eyewitness after all? There’s more here… No idea if they ever caught them, but if you’re looking for an eyewitness with a ready-written statement, I’m your man!

 

 

 

*I have zero recollection of what this is.

**A short film idea that I still bloody love, and might fold into a book project I’m tinkering with…

 

Remember That Night – Gilmour & Bowie, 29th May 2006

It was ten years go today…

Introduction:

I work for the Orion Publishing Group and had really enjoyed Guy Pratt’s My Bass And Other Animals one man show and after seeing one of his shows in London I plucked up the courage to ask him if he had ever considered getting his stories published as a book. In fact, he had written a draft of the book and was looking for a publisher, so I introduced him to one of our editors Ian Preece and the rest is publishing history.

To promote the book we invited staff from Ottakar’s (the now much-missed UK book store chain) to come to Guy’s show at the Salisbury festival, which just happened to be the night before one of the best David Gilmour gigs ever. Here’s an extract from my diary, featuring Guy, Ian, my nephew Chris (who was 14 at the time, and in a band), my dad and his friend Kevin… and a new friend from Brazil…

Sunday 28th May, 2006

Took Chris down to Salisbury to see Guy Pratt’s ‘My Bass And Other Animals’ show. Couldn’t find the venue at first. We walked in circles along Endless Street (oh, the irony) in Salisbury looking for the Arts Centre only to find a very sorry-looking dilapidated building. We asked some guys playing basketball nearby if they knew where the Arts Centre was and they pointed us in the direction of the church, without pointing out that it actually was the church.

Chris and I were wandering about, looking very lost when, by random luck, a door opened and Guy stepped out.

‘It’s Guy!’ I said, and for a second he gave me one of those Christ-should-I-know-you? looks (I had only met him a couple of times at this point).

Indeed, the Arts Centre is a deconsecrated church and what a fantastic little venue it is. Guy led Chris and I through the backstage area as he told us about his gigs with David Gilmour in Manchester and Glasgow (which was just the night before).

We met with the Ottakar’s guests (including Duran Duran devotee Jon Howells) and the show started. We elected to stay seated at a raised area at the back, and behind us was a massive stained-glass window with an image of Christ on the cross, which Guy said was putting him off a bit.

Guy’s show was superb (this would be the third time I’ve seen it). He had new material from the recent tour — mostly about insane American fans — and, despite coming straight from the Glasgow gig, was full of energy. He also gave a lot of time to the Ottakar’s people after the show (even though Jon was clearly hurt by the Duran Duran only have one bass riff gag) and he dropped lots of hints about tomorrow’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazingly, he’s definitely got us two passes for backstage. I cheekily pushed for more and Guy very kindly explained that he would see what he could do, while pointing out that it’s not very exciting and you’re just shoved into a little bar with all the other liggers.

He saved the best till last, though… he let slip that Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the same rehearsal studios as Gilmour’s band last week. He then added that something very special was lined-up for Monday night’s gig, he wouldn’t tell us what, but I can’t bloody wait!

Tuesday 30th May (my diary entry written the day after the gig).

I’m surprised Claire (my wife) didn’t thump me yesterday as I spent most of it in a distant daze. We had family and friends over for a barbecue (it pissed down, of course), but all I could think of was the Gilmour gig and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house.

Chris and I eventually ran off at about 5.30 and we picked up dad and his friend Kevin and set off the Royal Albert Hall. The doors opened late and the crowds were heaving. Luckily it had stopped raining and we found Ian Preece (the editor of Guy’s book) by the band’s blue catering bus by door nine. We found the guest list and got our passes. There were three of them: big red stickers that you had to slap onto your shirt. I broke the bad news to dad and Kevin that we didn’t have enough for them. Kevin was fine about it, though dad threatened to write me out go his will if I couldn’t get him a backstage pass.

Dad and Kevin were sitting in the next block, so we split up and Chris and I took our seats.

The gig… Well, bloody hell…

History will record that, despite all the rumours, Waters and Mason didn’t turn up. After a brilliant start with Breathe/Time/Breathe (reprise), Gilmour forgot some of the words to ‘On An Island’ and seemed initially hesitant with his playing and hit a few bum notes. But, once he warmed-up, the evening became something very special.

David Crosby and Graham Nash popped-up throughout providing backing vocals, Robert Wyatt played trumpet on ‘Then I Closed My Eyes’ and the main show concluded with a version of ‘Echoes’ that completely blew my mind… and all through this I was wondering what the big surprise could be.

Then, for the encore, David grabbed his Telecaster and said, ‘Now I’d like to invite onto the stage… Mr. David Bowie.’

The Albert Hall erupted as five thousand people jumped to their feet all crying ‘David-fucking-Bowie?!’ all at once.

Bowie then sang an absolutely stonking version of ‘Arnold Layne’ that had everyone in a frenzy and if that wasn’t enough he followed it by singing the verses to ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by one of the best renditions of the solo I’ve ever heard Gilmour do…

… it was around this time that my head exploded.

Still stunned we came reeling out of the hall to find dad and Kevin. Dad took my car keys — they were gamely going to sit in the car while we checked out the post-show party — and we went to find Ian.

We found him by door one, a member of staff told us to go back to door nine, which we did, but when we couldn’t find anyone there we were directed to door twelve, then eleven. While hanging around we were approached by a very attractive young woman with what I thought was a Spanish accent. She pointed at our red backstage stickers and wondered where we got them, ‘We know Guy,’ I said.
‘You know a guy?’ she asked with a frown.
I showed her Guy’s picture in the program and she understood, and wondered if we had any more. I explained that I had already left my father and a friend shivering in a car because we could only get three, but she decided to tag along anyway and in an exceptional piece of blagging she shuffled through security flanked by us badge-wearers. We were so impressed we bought her a drink. Her name was Paula and she was from Brazil and she’d been travelling across Europe when she heard about Gilmour’s tour and managed to get a ticket just the day before. She was a huge fan and we talked about the best songs of the evening. Guy arrived to say hello and I congratulated him on the show. He was really happy with it and felt we had seen the best version of Comfortably Numb ever. Phil Manzanera and Steve DiStanislao drifted through too, and Guy explained that David had his own private party downstairs. Paula had been hoping to meet the great man, and knowing her impressive blagging skills I’m sure she eventually did.

After half an hour Chris and I headed back to the car to find dad and Kevin inside with the engine running and the heater on full playing Freebird at a head banging volume. A perfect end to the evening.

 

Arnold Layne…

 

Comfortably Numb…

Writers: plugging yourself to strangers with misguided confidence… My Writing Diary – Ten Years On: Thursday 27th April, 2006

My day job is with the wonderful Orion Publishing Group in the sales department. I’ve been there since 2003 and through work have met some remarkable people. Indeed one of the reasons I started keeping a diary was because with my feeble mind for names I was losing track of some of them and it’s always handy to look back and double check.

I’m always meeting authors and agents, but ten years ago it was fairly unusual for me to meet anyone from the film world, and I’m afraid that when a film or TV producer entered the building it would take every ounce of what little professionalism I had to stop myself from pouncing on them, yelling “READ MY SCRIPT! GIVE ME MONEY! I WANT TO MAKE STAR WARS!”

However, as you’ll see, on this occasion I had an in: I knew someone who knew these people… My friend Simon worked as an editor in the same building as them… once… ages ago… Well, it was better than nothing.

Thursday 27th April, 2006

Ian Sharples and Rod Brown, the producers of the forthcoming TV version of THE HOGFATHER came in today. Their director is Vadim Jean and they all remember working in the same building as Simon in Wandsworth (I should point out that Vadim wasn’t there today – he was asleep after a night shoot). They remembered Simon fondly. I had to mention my near-miss with Vadim many years ago. I suppose I was 17 (just after he released LEON THE PIG FARMER). Simon gave me Vadim’s details and I sent him my CV begging for work as only an actor can… and Vadim called me back!

Except I was out.

Dad took the call, and the number, and for some idiotic reason I never called Vadim back.

Still, I got both Ian and Rod’s details and gave my script THE LAST TIME MACHINE a hearty plug!

The idiotic reason for not calling Vadim…? Shyness? Lack of confidence? A feeling that I wasn’t ready? God knows. I wouldn’t hesitate today. And having had a few writers ask me for advice (me?? Yes, really) I’ve been only too happy to dole out what guidance I can, and I’m sure Vadim would have too.

If you’re an aspiring writer and you have questions and you find yourself offered an opportunity to ask for advice, take it! Be polite, don’t outstay your welcome, but don’t be frightened. And if you meet producers or directors and have something to pitch, then choose your moment carefully. There’s nothing worse than some writer derailing a conversation with an ill-timed pitch (like I did here). Ask for the best way to get in touch, or if it’s possible to get a meeting. That way everyone can relax and you get to pitch to someone who’s receptive to your ideas, and not defensive like cornered prey.

I do meet Vadim again one day, but that comes in a future instalment of this diary…

 

The loneliness of the on-set screenwriter – Our Robot Overlords set report

Yesterday I had a call from Jon, who kindly took time from his one day off this week (and I know that a director never really has a day off – he’ll be getting calls and emails all day) to give me an update on the first week of shooting for OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS.

Exteriors started with a night shoot in Bangor. Photo (c) Pinewood Films No.6 Limited
Exteriors started with a night shoot in Bangor. Photo (c) Pinewood Films No.6 Limited

The crew are working like a well-oiled machine, up against a tight schedule that leaves little room for error. The young cast – Callan, Ella, James and Milo – have bonded brilliantly and are delivering outstanding performances. Our headliners – Gillian Anderson and Sir Ben Kingsley – are just knocking it out of the park, and our army of extras on Twitter have decreed that Tamer Hassan may have delivered one of the best headbutts in screen history.

It’s fantastic to hear that it’s going so well, and my first instinct is to jump on a plane and see them in action first thing tomorrow, but being a writer on set can feel like being a stranger at your own birthday party.

I was delighted to be present at the very first shot of the shoot on Friday 31st May, giggling like a loon to see the story that Jon and I had worked so hard on finally coming to life. But after an entire morning of shuffling to one side, apologising to make room for various crew members who hustle by with big cables and lenses, you soon realise that you’re just in the bloody way.

The previous week of rehearsals was a different matter entirely. Working with Jon, Callan, Ella, James and Milo to get the scenes on their feet – spotting the bits that work and the bits that don’t, and then tweaking the script to play to everyone’s strengths – that was an incredibly productive time. I felt energised in a way that I’ve not been since running my own theatre company back in the day.

But on set, I’m a fanboy, watching the cool director and cast, buzzing around them a focussed and hardworking crew – this is the kind of stuff you see on DVD extras, and yet here I was in the thick of it… with bugger-all to do, but stand and watch and admire and be first in the queue for the catering (I heartily recommend the chili!).

Would it be different if Jon and I hadn’t co-written the script together? Possibly. Writers are a paranoid bunch, constantly convinced that we’re about to be screwed over (because we often are!). But Jon’s the guardian of the script on set, and I have complete faith in him, and I know that if there’s any kind of problem with it, he’ll be on the phone to me straight away. I am completely relaxed that the show is in very good hands, and I can’t wait to see the first rushes.

I’m hoping to be on set in about ten days’ time, so maybe another update then! In the meantime do follow us on Twitter @Robot_Overlords

PS. Also check out some of our tweeting extras – all wonderful people: 

@DocFourFour

@MichaelStuart69

@TONYJMcGREGOR

@leoniegillen

@mark_simpson

Skyfall and how the writers made the most of a unique opportunity **massive spoilers**

First of all, apologies for two Bond posts in a row (but it’s all Bond fever round these parts, y’know), and secondly if you haven’t seen Skyfall, then read no further. This one’s riddled with spoilers

All good? Let’s go…

Skyfall is getting the kind of notices that genre movies dream of; fans and critics alike seem to be united on praising this as one of the best Bonds ever. And it deserves it, with some great action, a fun villain and a light smattering of Komodo dragons.

But what really sets this Bond apart is that Sam Mendes and the writers have taken advantage of a fairly unique situation that gives them the chance to tell a story with real emotional heft, the likes of which Bond fans haven’t seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Just checking one more time – spoilers ahoy – anyone here who hasn’t seen the film should leave now. We’ll be here waiting for you when you get back…

Okay, as we all know, Judi Dench’s M dies at the end of the film. I guess she announced to the producers that she was retiring from the role and that she wanted to go out with a bang. So, for once in a Bond movie, we get to see the death of someone who really matters to us and to Bond. She’s been in the role since 1995, she’s done seven movies – as many as Connery and Moore – and she’s a national treasure. Everybody loves her. How often does a Bond writer get a chance like that?

So it’s great that Purvis, Wade, Logan and Mendes made the most of it and caused friends of mine, who aren’t big Bond fans, to shed a tear at the end.

But here’s the rub; some poor sod has to follow that. Okay, it’s probably going to be Logan. A fine writer. But at the end of Skyfall, we’ve hit a reset button. We have a new M, Moneypenny, and the set of M’s office now looks like the wood-panelled room of the Roger Moore era. You can’t help but feel that they’ve painted themselves into a corner and been too clever for the franchise.

I recently caught the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun on TV and cringed at how it had the look and feel of an ATV series like The Persuaders: episodic, flat lighting and odd pacing. I don’t think for a second that Craig’s next films will end up like that, but by their nature Bond films are episodic and do seem to have a boom and bust cycle to them. So how long before Craig is driving an invisible car into a low Earth orbit space station to the tune of a penny whistle?

I once met Judi Dench. She really is lovely. Here she is giving me orders to kill the photographer.

PS. Oh and Albert Finney at the end… He was great, but do you not think that role was written with Connery in mind? 50th anniversary and all that…

PPS. Regarding Connery, I told you so…

Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country is bloody… (spoiler free review)

I remember getting an email from my colleague Simon Spanton some years ago. It was a simple message, ‘You’ll like this.’ Attached to the email was a file with the first few chapters of a book he wanted to buy for Gollancz called The Blade Itself. I opened the attachment and started to read.

He wasn’t wrong; the combination of black humour, violence and dental torture appealed to me very much. I wanted to read more and I’m happy to say that when we published The Blade Itself it was something of a hit (that was a golden summer for Gollancz debuts, also published were The Lies of Locke Lamora and Stormcaller – all belters).

I’m also happy to say that I’ve got to know Joe Abercrombie a bit over the years and should declare that before ploughing into this review of this latest THE RED COUNTRY. I’ll also do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’d rather go in cold, then come back when you’ve read the book.

When Joe announced that his next book would be a Western, but still set in the same world as his previous books, I was excited and slightly worried. The Western genre is incredibly tricky to pull off, especially in literature. Even in the movies, you could count the really good Westerns of the last 20 years on one hand (Unforgiven, Assassination of Jesse James… and… er… that might be it).

But what Joe understands is that Westerns aren’t about Sheriffs, or shootouts, or John bloody Wayne, they’re about the frontier. The farthest reaches of civilisation where lawlessness is the norm, where the regular rules don’t apply and death is ever-present. And what he’s done is take some of his most interesting and complex characters, drop them at the very edge of his world, and let the chaos unfold.

There are some new characters; Shy is a woman with an outlaw past trying to reform her life on a farm. She’s one part Calamity Jane (the Deadwood version) and one part Marion Ravenwood (the Raiders version).

Temple is a classic Abercrombie coward; he wants to be a good man, he promises that next time he’ll make a stand, but every time he caves in and takes the easy option.

Lamb is Shy’s stepfather – described as ‘some kind of coward’, he too steps away from any kind of confrontation, and would rather be alone working in the fields than raise his fists.

And there are some old favourites, not least Nicomo Cosca, here playing a combination of Richard Harris in Unforgiven and General Custer. He even has his own biographer, scribbling his every utterance for posterity.

Oh, and of you watch the book’s teaser trailer you might just see something significant…

Did you see it? The fingers? Count ’em… Nine!

Shy’s little brother and sister are stolen and she and Lamb follow their trail to get them back. And as they’re led further and further west, you realise that this will be no breakneck chase. This story unfolds like The Searchers and their quest will continue through blistering desert heat, driving rain and deep snow. They will encounter so much bloody violence that Joe gives Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian a run for its money for gallons of claret spilt. And, as always with Joe’s books, villains reveal themselves to complex individuals, the heroes of their own stories, and our heroes will make choices that are questionable at best.

Joe has clearly been watching a lot of Deadwood, a lot of classic Spaghetti Westerns, a lot of Eastwood, and he’s been reading a lot of Elmore Leonard’s Western stories. This could have been a mess and, if you read Joe’s blog, you’ll know that this has been hard work for him. But it’s a terrific read, a picaresque journey through a dying wasteland and a world about to change. The action is intense, but you never get lost in the mayhem, the story is complex, but it’s a joy to read, and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Saddle-up and enjoy the ride.

George RR Martin and how I learned to love Big Bang Theory

Warning: this post contains blatant name-dropping. Look carefully see if you can spot it.

My friend and colleague Jo had for months been urging me to watch the show Big Bang Theory. Phrases like, ‘You’ll love it,’ and ‘It’s just your kind of thing!’ were regularly doled out when I interrupted an office discussion about last night’s hilarious episode. Like many people, I get twitchy when people tell me that I’ll enjoy something. How can anyone possibly know me so well as to pre-empt my tastes? Am I not an enigma? A chameleon of the arts, listening to Mozart one minute and watching Phineas and Ferb the next?

Apparently not.

So, anyway after many months of this I eventually gave in. I was slumped in front of the TV one evening and an episode just happened to be on, so here goes…

And I hated it. Why was the audience in such paroxysms of laughter? They were howling as if this was the funniest thing ever written. I remained stony-faced, waiting for it to click, to suddenly reveal its magic to me.

Didn’t happen.

Then I stumbled across this clip with the laughter removed and that did it. I was convinced that it just wasn’t for me. Me and Big Bang Theory were never going to happen.

I reported this back to Jo and she looked at me as if I’d just burned down an orphanage. She still managed to work with me and was civil in my company, but I’m sure she felt that from that moment on I was damaged goods.

Some months went by and I was invited to dinner with George RR Martin (there it is!). We’d just published one of his early novels Armageddon Rag (available now in all good bookshops!) and while he was in town to promote something called Game of Thrones (never heard of it) he was kind enough to also promote our book.

As you might imagine, Mr Martin revealed himself to be an intelligent man of great taste… and he just loved Big Bang Theory.

How could this be? Two smart people whom I like and respect both fans of a show that leaves me cold. Is it me? Do I have some kind of comedy gene missing?

This was clearly a comedic identity crisis and I decided to give Big Bang another chance. This prompted some understandable howls of outrage from Jo, ‘So you’ll listen to George bloody RR Martin and not to me?’

Fortunately, E4 had at that moment decided to start showing TBBT from episode one and I jumped aboard hitting the series reminder button and mainlining up to 6 episodes a day.

And I like it. Actually I think I love it.

It’s not the best sitcom ever and it lacks the element of tragedy that the truly classic comedies have*, but bloody hell it’s a great way to decompress after a hard day’s work.

It’s a smart as a button, with a rapid pace and great characters. And that’s why it didn’t work when I tried watching it the first time: I was watching an episode from the third series and the audience was howling with laughter because they were anticipating the characters’ foibles. This is why certain sitcoms work so well: we cringe at the tension of George Costanza going in for a job interview because we know he’s going to screw it up, we wince at Ted Crilly’s latest scheme to escape Craggy Island because we know it’s never going to happen. It all comes down to character, not gags. Gags help, they’re often the things we remember, but they’re not why we come back to these shows again and again.

Big Bang Theory is currently at its zenith, but of course, it will have to go through the usual cycle that US sitcoms go through: we’ve already had the unlikeable character who divides the lovers, next will be an overload of celebrity cameos, then we’ll have the series where fans decide that it’s not as good as it used to be, then we’ll have a final series where it has nothing to lose and finds its funny bone again.

And until then I shall continue to enjoy it, but a quick word to the show’s producers: I know that’s not a laugh track, I know the show is filmed before a live audience, but I also know that you’re not above maybe enhancing the laughter to make a point. Calm it down a bit. Have the courage of your convictions. It’s a good show. Too much hysteria can be off-putting for this reserved Brit.

 

 

 

 

*And the best sitcoms are…

Steptoe and son

Fawlty Towers

Blackadder

Porridge

Dad’s Army

Father Ted

Seinfeld**

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Friends (very much series dependent)

Only Fools and Horses

Cheers

Frasier

Taxi

The IT Crowd

The Simpsons

And I’ve recently fallen in love with Community. Not sure if it’s a classic yet, but it has all the potential to be…

If I’ve missed any, then please feel free to set me straight!

**I know far too many people (mostly Brits) who tell me that they don’t get Seinfeld and don’t like the characters, but you’re wrong and one day I’ll sit you down and explain it to you.