sherlock
With trailers now airing for the third series of Sherlock, here’s something to shamelessly cash in. But something old.

This is from a set visit in June 2011, before the start of the second series, so nothing spoilery or embargo-baiting here. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss took journalists around the interior of 221B Baker Street in Cardiff (including one funny old boy who, later on when interviewing the cast, referred to the leads as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Watson’) and chatted about… Well, here are some bits.

On the show’s immediate success

Moffat: We joined Twitter to try and popularize it. That it was a hit was a big relief.

Gatiss: Really, within the space of the first episode we seemed to develop an enormous fan base.

Consolidating on the strengths and weakness of series one

Moffat: I don’t know how to put this well, but I’m not sure what didn’t work. It did seem completely successful and charming and lovely. There was a point at which I thought this was our vanity project. Our special little world. But when you’ve done something so nakedly ‘fan fiction’ as this and everyone loves it too…

Gatiss: One thing we discovered, to our surprise, was how much people love the relationship between Sherlock and John. We shouldn’t be surprised, that was the idea – to get back to that central friendship. There’s no formula to Sherlock. The approach has always been to rethink it. Not just modernize it, but look back at what Doyle did and think, “That’s why it always worked” and get excited about that again. A lot is to do with the pace of the storytelling, and the thing that makes it exciting is to be very cheeky with it. So there’s a lot of cheek. Probably even more than last year, in terms of accepted things about the characters we all think we know.

Moffat: One of the big differences from last year is that I no longer even think about the updating thing. Last year we thought about it all the time – now everyone’s bought it, we just think about it as working on Sherlock Holmes. I go for days without thinking this is different from any other Sherlock Holmes.

On nearly doing a Victorian Holmes

Moffat: It was at the very last minute when we were having lunch, I remember thinking, “Is this just a thought experiment? Should we just pitch it as a Victorian version?” Was it just a useful exercise in clearing away the debris? And then we thought, “No, let’s do it modern, ‘cos that’s cooler…” In a weird way, stepping away from the originals allows you to be more like them. The Rathbone versions have more of the original stories than the rather arid, two earlier adaptations. My favourite movie in the world is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is a comedy. It’s the best Holmes film ever made. By being a comedy, by stepping away from what the original was like, it almost finds more of it… Something we’ve noticed – and a lot of people don’t – is that the original Sherlock Holmes stories are also very funny. A lot of Holmes films haven’t been. The recent one, the Downey Junior one is – and a lot of those jokes are taken from the books.

On the Jeremy Brett series

Moffat: Oddly enough they took a lot of liberties in that series. You have to. Some of the best ones they did are the ones where they took more liberties. Their thing was to fetishize fidelity. But what saves them is Jeremy Brett is, in a way, saying, “I’m just going to make this my star part”. So his Sherlock – as all the great Sherlocks are – is not quite the original. He’s a much madder more manic creature than the original. But it’s a great series. It sort of resurrected it, didn’t it, from it being something about to expire, and suddenly it’s back again.

Gatiss: It’s a wonderful series. One thing they did quite a lot of is give endings to stories that Conan Doyle couldn’t be bothered to finish. He used to write them at parties and quite often you’re waiting and waiting and then it’s: “But we were never destined to find out because the ship sank.” You go, “What?!”

Their respective visions of  Sherlock

Moffat: We sync like iPhones.

Gatiss: That’s how it started – on conversations on trains to Cardiff for Doctor Who. So it was that initial dance around admitting the modern Rathbones were our favourite – a slightly heretical thing to say. But once you sync on that…

Moffat: We might disagree a little bit. But only on a detail. But even on quite small things were pretty much in accord.

Gatiss: Also, Doyle contradicts himself a lot. Sherlock does – Lestrade changes a lot. So you can’t really be consistent in that way, except as a fan you want to have the details at your fingertips! So, it’s always a fun thing to play with and try to find a detail that someone might have missed or has never been done.

Moffat: We had one of our most traumatic conversations when we said, “They have to call each other John and Sherlock”. Because if they call each other Holmes and Watson that means they’re a particular kind of person in modern day terms, because you have to be public school boys to do that, and that’s not what they are. So we couldn’t do that.

Gatiss: We got used to that very quickly. It was a tough sell to the crew.

Moffat: And a tough sell to each other! I feel as though, with Benedict’s delivery, we’ve been able to be a little bit more like the original sometimes. I can almost imagine him saying, “Elementary” now. Not quite. But almost.

Did Mark feel self-conscious playing Mycroft?

Gatiss: Utterly! I was forced!

Moffat: He was actually more intent on playing all the parts.

Gatiss: It actually came about because I’d auditioned to play Peter Mandelson for something, and then we had a script meeting and Steve Thompson said, “You should play Mycroft”. And, actually, that was when we crystalised the idea that, what would be really good then would be that if we could try and convince people that – of course – the only person I’d ever play was Moriarty… and it absolutely worked. Which is why I wasn’t credited or anything – because we didn’t want it to leak out in advance. But it was lovely.

Moffat: It was a really good reveal, that. But it was the fact that you were demonstrating what made Peter Mandelson what he is – you were doing the body language and all that and Steve was saying, “You look a bit like Benedict, you should play Mycroft as Peter Mandelson”.

Ends

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Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling... and the Yeti

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling… and the Yeti

The Enemy of the World (1967) and The Web of Fear (1968) (with a reconstructed episode three) are now available to download from iTunes at www.iTunes.com/DoctorWho

Seems incredible, doesn’t it? Almost as unbelievable was the way this news was revealed to the press, a full-on PR launch at London’s Soho Hotel held on 10 October 2013 at midday. Hosted by Dan Phelan, Head of Communications for BBC Worldwide in the UK, we were repeatedly advised everything we were about to see and hear was embargoed until 12.01am on Friday.

Mark Gatiss was in attendance. “On Mark’s Twitter profile page he describes himself as actor, writer, strangler,” said Phelan. “But I’ve agreed with Mark that he’s come here today only in the first two capacities… as long as everyone agrees to stick to our midnight embargo.”

The event began with Roy Robinson, the archive coordinator at Television International Enterprises Archive Limited (TIEA) reading out a statement from Phillip Morris – the man who is responsible for the recovery of these episodes…

Phillip Morris’ statement

Welcome everybody to this historic occasion. Firstly I would like to thank everybody at BBC Worldwide and BBC Television for their mammoth support during this project. What you’re about to see has not been seen since its original transmission in 1968, which was 45 years ago. It is my greatest pleasure, in the 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who, in a joint project between my company TIEA and BBC Worldwide,  to unveil two classic adventures.

Sadly due to other archive commitments overseas, I am unable to be with you today. My work, as you appreciate, is endless, and as you know the search must continue.

I would like to dedicate these episodes to everyone who has ever worked on the show and to all Doctor Who fans around the world. I have the Doctor Who fans’ best interest at heart, believe you me. On behalf of myself and everyone at TIEA, thank you for your continued interest and I hope our paths will soon cross again.

Does that final sentence portend to further discoveries?

The statement was followed by a short video interview with Morris. Here’s the transcript…

Phillip Morris’ video interview

I’m the Director of Television International Enterprises Archive Limited, and we assist overseas stations with the storage and migration of their material, and on the outside of that, we recover lost British television programmes.

I wouldn’t describe myself in the manner that other people say. They normally describe me as “the Indiana Jones of the film world”.

Christmas seems to have come early for Doctor Who fans, in the 50th anniversary of the show. We’ve managed to recover two Doctor Who stories, The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World, starring Patrick Troughton, from the late 1960s. I think they’re pretty much classic adventures. Probably the largest haul of missing episodes recovered in the last 25, maybe 30, years. We’re very pleased to return them.

These episodes were discovered on a project we were working on in Nigeria. And they were found in a TV station in Jos, just sitting on the shelf. I remember, now, seeing a piece of masking tape, it said ‘Doctor Who‘ on it. And I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting”. I pulled the cans down. I read the story code. Instantly, of course, recognised what the stories were – The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World – and realised they were missing from the BBC’s archive. A lot of Doctor Who fans around the world are going to be very happy. So it was a very pleasing discovery, really.

I can remember when I was probably about six or seven years of age, my mum used to buy me the Target novels of the stories. They were something that one day I hoped I would see. And, guess what? Now I can.

These episodes come from Hong Kong and had been on what’s called a bicycle system, so they traveled from this country to the next country. And they came to be in Nigeria through this bicycle system. Not at the station in Nigeria they were actually sold to – they were at a relay station.

The kind of condition that those programmes were in when we found them, we were quite lucky considering the temperatures which can be the upper 30 degrees. Fortunately in this case they have been kept in the optimum condition.

I think the work the BBC does now with its archive and the restoration and recovery of these programmes is second-to-none. The quality they restore these programmes to for a new audience – as it were – is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.

I think the best thing about it, and the most fantastic thing is, these things that people thought were gone forever – no they’re not. They’re back, and you can enjoy them now. So, get watching…

And then an instalment from each was screened; episode one of Enemy and episode two (one already existed) of Web. There will be plenty of analysis of both out there – doubtlessly concentrating on Patrick Troughton’s hilarious dip in the sea in Enemy and his flirtation with Mary Peach’s Astrid. So let’s cut to the after-screening Q&A with Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss.

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss face the press

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss face the press

A jolly affair – here are the edited highlights.

Deborah [on Pat rushing into the sea]: I remember the take. He said, “I’m not going to enjoy this”. But he did it. But, I remember, “Oh dear, it was freezing!”

Frazer: But I remember it was his idea to strip down to his long-johns. And that was it. It was cold and windy – you can see the wind was blowing our kilts and hair.

Deborah [on seeing the episodes again]: It’s not a foreign land to me, not at all. The music started, there was Pat’s face – and we went into the scene and I knew it. Extraordinary, after all these years. At one point, when Victoria was talking, I knew the next line she was going to say. Now that is eerie.

Frazer: You didn’t know it on the set, did you? It’s taken you 45 years to do the bloody line!

Deborah: Jack Watling – my father! He had a big part in that one. It was good. Saw my dad again on the screen – that’s brilliant. Lovely.

Deborah [on what made Troughton such a good Doctor]: Pat had a wonderful sense of humour and he always had a twinkle in the eye. And he was like – how can I describe it? – comic in a way. But he was a very, very good actor. He combined everything into that. And it came across on screen as you can see today. We all got on so well – we were like a family. And Pat was always to me like another dad or an uncle. We had a chemistry and I don’t think you can beat that. I think it showed today.

Frazer: He was that sort of an actor, he wasn’t, “I’m an ac-tor”. He never took himself seriously. We were always looking for a gag.  Looking at that today, Patrick, when he’s flirting with Mary Peach, which, you know, on the page it would just say, “The Doctor looks at her”, but Patrick would add that sort of thing. “I might be attracted to her”. So he would add little bits like that.

Mark: It’s worth saying how much you miss from reconstructions and stills and soundtracks. You think you’ve got the whole story until you see it on screen. With Patrick it’s the tiny nuances of his performance and the little flirtations. And the deathless, never celebrated line [from Enemy of the World  when Astrid is asking our hero if he’s a doctor of law or philosophy]: “Who’s law? Who’s philosophy?” That’s the Doctor, that’s it. No one’s ever talked about that before.

Deborah [on learning the episodes had been returned]: When I heard, I couldn’t quite believe it. There have been hoaxes before, let’s face it… But then after a few days it was sort of confirmed-ish. And I thought, “I’m still not going to believe it. I’m not going to raise my hopes thank you very much after all these years”. And then I got it from a higher authority and I thought, “My God – back on the screen again!” All these years later and I can see some of the work I did as a young 19-year-old. And it’s amazing. And I love watching it, and it brought back so much to me – and the people I worked with as well. I’m thrilled – that’s all I can say. I’m thrilled.

Frazer: Me too. Patrick was disappointed a lot of his stories were missing, but this gives me hope that more stories of Patrick’s will come out of the woodwork, so to speak… I found out – Debbie was at a convention. She said, “Have you heard the news?” I said, “What news?” “Oh, I can’t tell you”. So I gave her a Chinese burn. “Alright, I’ll tell you! We’re going to the Soho Hotel on Thursday to watch Doctor Who“.

Deborah: And he said, “I’m not booked! I’m going away, I’m going to Scotland!” I said, “No you’re not!”

Mark [on whether or not Doctor Who could do another story set on the underground]: We are due a return to the London Underground. In fact, the first episode of Sherlock – because I’m obsessed with the tube and I think it all comes from that story from when I was a kid – is explicitly about the London Underground for exactly that reason. Because I love The Web of Fear. But Doctor Who? Yes, I’m sure. Why not?

And here’s a thing. Leaving the screening we were presented with t-shirts – t-shirts! – with the following legends on front and back…

LOST FOUND

And finally, this is what you came to see, right?

The reel deal

The reel deal

Ends

Sam and Jacqui

Okay, so like I said, I’ve been rewatching The Restaurant.

I freely admit to being obsessed with the show. At the time, friends and I would merrily chat away about it in the office, or pub, or over dinner. Months later, we might still pass a little time by trying to list all the establishments across the three series (“The Treacle Well, Sorbet and Seasons … Nel’s”). Years on, though, I’m still devoted.

Why? Those first two runs were beautifully made, ambitiously staged productions. The third, less so.  Plus, there was something satisfying about the scheduling (a ‘regular’ episode followed the next day by ‘The Challenge’ – a real treat) and the fact the couples featured in the programme were mostly likeable.1 The drama didn’t lie in skewering people (although, see footnote). It was in the rigors of running an actual restaurant in a competition overseen with smiles and benevolence by Raymond Blanc.

And then there was the title sequence. Series one’s is replete with pleasing, resonant soundbites: “To start a business with someone you don’t bloody know – it’s a bit daunting!”… “They really, really have to sort that kitchen out”… “Where’s 6, guys? Come on!”… “If I feel I’m having to fight you as well!”/”You’re being so stubborn”.

I’m up to episode four at the moment. I’d say  to this point it’s all been about  Sam and Jacqui and their ambition to mash “hospitality and humour” at The Ostrich. I’d love to know where their story went after this. She, the likeable but wired American front-of-house, he, the pouting jazz drummer, forever going AWOL from the kitchen and messing about with those sodding drums.

I’ve condensed their time in the show into a little under three minutes. I think it gets all the salient points.

Love the “Woo” at 1 min 41 secs.

Ends

  1. Chris and Jade, excepted, perhaps – when their restaurant is closed in episode two, the show very deliberately and brutally makes time to point out that, as Laura says, there isn’t anything about them anyone will miss.

The Restaurant
What have I been doing since I mothballed the original version of this website back in 2010? I’ve been doing a lot of freeze-framing and Google Mapping to identify the locations of all the eateries featured in the first two series of BBC2’s Raymond Blanc-helmed The Restaurant


View The Restaurant’s restaurants in a larger map

Look how close Studio New York (series 1) was to The Blue Goose (series 2) – and how the M40 is a kind of Route 66 through ex-Blanc establishments…

The Restaurant ran for three series over 2007 and 2009 – the first two being perhaps the most sublime British example of the reality show genre. By the third, the programme had relocated to Bristol, with fewer actual restaurants opening, the separate ‘Challenge’ episode  ditched and Raymond ultimately going into business with the culinary-clueless barmen JJ and James. It made for comparatively unsatisfying television, but one can perhaps respect M. Blanc’s reasoning for his decision. Which goes like this…

I had a bunch of people that the BBC found for me, who were pretty useless. Pretty dismal. What was missing? Love! What was missing? Interest! Curiosity! Basic ability to cook! Knowledge of produce! A lot was missing. And I was looking at a bunch of misfits and thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to lose another £200,000!” And then I looked at the CVs and there were two boys called JJ and James. One kept winking at me, and the other kept flicking his hair back all the time, thinking he was Apollo. But on their CV: the best mixologist in Great Britain. That changed everything. So instead of doing a restaurant with them, we did a cocktail bar. Now JJ and James are opening their third cocktail bar in London. They’re hard working, they’ve stopped winking at me… they may not be able to cook, but my God, they can do the greatest cocktails.

For the umpteenth time, I’m rewatching the series and, oh look, in episode one, there’s Nigel Leck (the project manager in BBC2’s The Million Pound Property Experiment, 2003) having a bad time in Studio New York…

Nigel Leck in The Restaurant

“..the chips were just frozen chips; not very well cooked. And the bun was burnt.”

Ends

Peter Capaldi revealed as the Twelfth Doctor

Peter Capaldi revealed as the Twelfth Doctor

The “Aneurin Barnard is the Twelfth Doctor” holding page on the BBC website? A nonsense, a ruse, I was told last night when I arrived at Elstree for Doctor Who Live. “But could you not tweet that for now? We want to keep it going for a little longer”.

As a piece of misdirection from the publicity team, it had been masterful. But not quite as masterful as the moment the whole evening was pointing at – the reveal of Peter Capadli as the Twelfth Doctor. Instantly, this just felt right. And as sad as I am that Matt Smith is going, I’m now mostly excited. That’s how this should work, right?

From whence Digital Spy filed

From whence Digital Spy filed

No.12 signs his first autographs

No.12 signs his first autographs

I was lucky enough to be in the press room before and after the recording. From here, the dailies and various news sites were going to be frantically filing copy.

The studio where the Muppets once lit the lights

The studio where the Muppets once lit the lights

For the main event, though, I watched the show sat beside Tom Spilsbury, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. Naturally, then, I took the opportunity to get his very first thoughts on Capaldi as soon as the recording finished – hence the background music and chatter – which you can listen to here.

Afterwards, we returned to the press room for a drink – and the news Steven Moffat was going to pop by. Here’s how that encounter between him and we journalists played out, in full…

Steven Moffat Steven Moffat

That’s brilliant casting.

Thank you.

It feels right.

I hope so.

When did he come on the radar?

Well a fair amount of time ago. I’m sorry, Morgan [from Digital Spy], I lied to you. Quite a while back. I happened to know he’s a very, very big fan. There’s something rather seductive about an utterly brilliant, arresting looking leading man actor – one of the most talented actors in Britain – who you happen to know is a big fan of the show. And you do start to think, “Maybe we should do something about that”. So quite a long time ago.

Did you have a short list?

Yes, the list went: Peter Capaldi.

A very short list.

A very, very short list. Honestly, there was only one audition this time. And it wasn’t an audition really so much as saying… he came around my house and we put him on video to see what he looked like as the Doctor and, gosh, he was terribly good. He’s been doing that most nights I think.

Are you disappointed it leaked online? And are you surprised how many people put bets on it?

Well, I’ve made a tidy profit out of it! Compared to some of our recent leaks it’s comparatively minor!

Do you think people are betting on it and making money – is there a leak problem? Is it a bit of a scandal that this is coming out? 1

I think there are bigger scandals in the world to worry about than this. Seriously. Let’s not get too worried about it.

You haven’t seen any of your staff getting a new Ferrari or anything?

I don’t think you’d get a Ferrari out of it. I got a pogo stick actually. Which is brilliant.

Did you ever shy away from it because in some ways he does feel so right?

No. That is the feeling when you get the casting right. I didn’t make it up when I said he did flick through my mind when we were replacing David, and it didn’t feel right at all. Actually, I think if you think about that, it wouldn’t have been right at all. Not then. But there’s something about Matt’s Doctor that paves the way for Peter’s Doctor.

So you think in the context of the previous guy?

It’s one character going… and that’s the important thing to remember in Doctor Who. One character going through his life played by a succession of different actors and you have to get to that place each time. I can somehow absolutely believe that the strange old-young Matt Smith will turn into the strange young-old Peter Capaldi. I have no problem with that.

What did you want Peter to bring to this?

A brilliance, but to be absolutely honest, let’s let Peter do that job. I’m not going to tell him how to play the Doctor. I’m going to write the Doctor. And you’d be surprised how similar the Doctors are on paper. They really are. If you look at discarded scenes from previous eras – so if you haven’t ever heard the Doctor say it – you’ll see he’s kind of always the same. When I put the three audition scenes online – or rather in Doctor Who Magazine, they went online – and everyone said, “Oh, they sound like Matt,” no they don’t. That’s the most dominant voice you’ve got in your head. One of them was an adapted Matt scene, one of them was an adapted David scene and one of them was an adapted Chris scene. It was the three that we’ve had in the modern era. It’s just that when you put him on paper, he’s just the Doctor. He’s just that very, very clever man. He walks around with a different voice and face. It becomes very different. I remember when I wrote ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and everyone said when I handed it in, “It’s exactly David”. And then a few weeks later we cast Matt, and everyone was complimenting me hugely – and I accepted the compliments – how well I’d rewritten it for Matt. I hadn’t touched a word. They were just looking at it and imagining Matt. The Doctor is the Doctor. That’s really, really important, but he’s going to have a new face and a new voice.

What did Peter do in the audition? Was there anything in particular he did that made you think, “Wow”?

I don’t think it is in particular. It’s just you know when the Doctor is in the room – you just do. I mean I’ve seen the Doctor not be in the room when people say those lines out loud. Me, for instance. I’m crap at it when I do that. Every night I try. And I’m never any good at it. You just know. Just to check we weren’t mad we showed it to, like, Ben [Stephenson, the BBC’s head of drama] and so on. And we just went, “Yes, obviously, that’s it – the Doctor is in the room.” When you watched him walk out tonight didn’t you just think, “Well there he is”? That’s the Doctor, isn’t it? Suddenly he’s the Doctor. Malcolm Tucker is knocked out of the way. He’s just suddenly this magnificent leading man. How did that happen? I don’t know.

Was there a conscious decision to go older this time?

Do you mean on my part? Yeah, I’ve been consciously aging for a while now. I could age the other way if I wanted. Not particularly. The apparent age of the Doctor makes no narrative sense at all. He’s been anything from his 20s to his 70s. Obviously he doesn’t care. He just sort of picks a face off the rack and goes with it. So, not especially. I think it’s good that we’ve got a different age, just because I cannot imagine what somebody in their 20s would do with the Doctor after Matt showed us all how to be a 20s Doctor. I don’t know what you would do after that because he was so perfect. You’d have to be an alternative or deliberate contradiction – it wouldn’t work, I don’t think. So it makes life easier I suppose that Peter is different. But that wasn’t the reason. The reason was the Doctor was in the room, and that’s it. You don’t argue with that.

How good are you at keeping a secret?

I’m not telling you. [Pause] That was a brilliant answer. Can I get a little more respect for that? That was a phenomenal answer. [Brief ripple of applause]

Well you kept Sherlock’s death and revival a secret.

He’s not dead, he’s behind a tree.

So how hard was it? Everybody quizzing you.

Well, it’s really not hard at all, you just say, “I’m not telling you”. Or you lie. I’m sorry again, Morgan.

Do you think you’ll be able to keep him in the role for a while? You want to keep him for as long as you can, don’t you?

Yes. To that end we have his family in the cellar. That’s the only way to go with that.

What kind of Doctor is he going to be?

Magnificent. I don’t know. The truth is we don’t know. We’ve seen… I’ve seen him do Doctor-ish stuff and it’s worked. I’ve seen him deal with the technobabble, I’ve seen him deal with the nonsense. I wrote scenes that were deliberately impossible, with deliberately impossible dialogue. Just to see: can you do the impossible even without gunk being poured on you? And now we’re going to pour gunk on you and throw a lizard at you and ask you to say all this stuff and explain the plot. So we don’t know yet. We’re going to work on that. And, as with Matt – you know how Matt developed hugely as he approached the part over the first few episodes – we will do the same with Peter.

What’s he going to wear?

Clothes. Anything else would just be really shocking. I don’t know. Nobody takes the slightest interest in any of my views on costume let me tell you. I’ve never had the slightest influence. I can’t imagine what.

How fraught was tonight to make happen?

I was absolutely thrilled that no one had mentioned the possibility of Peter at all(!) I mean, God, it must have been a shock when he walked out. I worry about the person who didn’t know and might not have been watching. I thought we should have phoned them and said, “Are you home? Well we’ll start the show when you are.” It was fraught – not for the reasons of the secrecy. Does it matter? No, not very much. It matters that people love the choice, that’s it. And what we were looking at when we saw there was some minor-degree hints out there that it was going to be Peter, everyone was rapturous about the idea. I said to Peter before he went on tonight – he was a little bit nervous, obviously – I was saying, “Imagine you weren’t Peter Capaldi and you had to walk out tonight. He’d be mown down. It has to be you. If it had been somebody else we would have kidnapped you and brought you to the studio.” We’d have no choice. So it wasn’t fraught from the point of view of the secrecy because, honestly, if the secret breaks, nothing happens. Nothing happens at all. Somebody makes a tremendous profit in the betting shop. Ben Stephenson.

Did you ever seriously consider a woman?

It’s absolutely narratively possible and when it’s the right decision, maybe we’ll do it. It didn’t feel to me, right now, right. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it. Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. Saying, “No, no, don’t make him a woman!” Not that I was influenced by that. I’m influenced by nothing. Obviously.

What will you say to Helen Mirren?

It’s time that a man played the Queen. Step aside for a man.

What’s the time-frame? When’s he start work?

Erm, he’ll do a very, very short scene at Christmas.

Ends

UPDATE!

Here’s Peter Capaldi’s 1970s sketch of a Sea Devil as published in Volume 1 of The Doctor Who Fanclub.

Sea Devil!

 

  1. I’m guessing this was a tabloid journalist looking for their ‘line’, but really, was there such a leak? Capaldi’s name certainly was out there, but alongside a good half-a-dozen contenders
Nice beveling, Andy!

Nice beveling, Andy!

I’ve been watching Changing Rooms.

A whole internet of TV to choose from, and I choose Changing Rooms. Episodes back-to-back. In this hot weather, with the windows open, one imagines my neighbours thinking, “No, that can’t be…” as they catch snatches of Phil Burns’ 1 urgently upbeat theme tune tootling through the haze.

It’s strange revisiting a once-TV phenomenon like this. Something that came along in 1996, perkily changed lifestyle programming forever – and neighbours’ homes less permanently – then DIY’d a sudden death in 2004 and was never spoken of again.

The several or so episodes I watched were spread across the series’ lifespan, opening with decoupage in Woolton Village, Liverpool, and a cream and biscuit colour scheme from Graham Wynne. Decoupage. Graham Wynne. I’m certain no-one’s typed either phrase for 10 years.

"Here's a handy tip to age it - teabags!"

“Here’s a handy tip to age it – teabags!”

"I'm *really* happy with it, Carol"

“I’m *really* happy with it, Carol”

Watching the show feels like attending a party where everyone’s there under sufferance, but keen to jolly things along. There’s a tinge of desperation to each exchange, as people who aren’t necessarily witty look for humour – “Ah! Mr Kane! How are you getting on with that fretwork?”/”I’ll give you fretwork in a minute, gal! ” And interjecting regularly are those shrill musical stings, as if anxiously shuffling guests from buffet to bar area.

I kept watching.

"Oh you!"

“Oh you!”

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week's possibly LGB couple

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week’s possibly LGB couple

By the time I got to the 1998 episodes 2 we have the Changing Rooms leitmotif captured in the opening titles – Graham’s tart “oh you!” expression as he busily exits a room. There are other things going on too. Linda Barker brings out a big stencil, but insists it need not be naff; the show now aware of its own cliches. And there are same-sex couples joining in the fun but it’s never a thing, which is quietly impressive.

As I continue, a second generation of designers arrive. The Tank Girl-esque Laura McCree who’s desperate to ‘do’ the banter but can’t quite put it together. Oliver Heath unpacks technical drawings and scaffold poles and then there’s Michael Jewitt. I refuse to pop a grab of him onto the site, because I got a real thrill from not only realising that’s a name I’d comprehensively forgotten, but also a face too. Michael Jewitt, eh? Used to watch him on Wednesday nights. There’s also an evolution within the old guard. By 2002 Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen had (PVC) trousered a more grown-up gig on BBC2 with Home Front: Inside Out, and it’s notable that here he begins to refer to his design ideas a little loftily as “the scheme”.

I actually think LLB has been ill-served by television, because he’s a natural and effortless educator. A Johnny Ball in a massive shirt. But it’s he who quickly sinks Changing Rooms when Carol Smiley exits in 2003.

Captured here is the moment the leak is sprung. It’s all about to happen in Conisborough on Changing Rooms

It’s wrong, isn’t it? That level of self-awareness. Sure, you could argue it’s prescient – this we-know-we’re-a-bit-crap-really style of presentation has become the standard mode of address for some of the BBC’s more arch entertainment shows. But on Changing Rooms? You’ve got to be in the moment, not outside it, smirking. As a result, the feeling of urgency goes 3 and the programme brought down the (distressed in wax) shutters the following year.

We didn’t want our show trying to be clever. We wanted a clutch of good-hearted, resoundingly average folk coming together to make a nice thing within a spuriously prescribed time-frame. We wanted medium-density fun.

Ends

  1. Of course he has a website
  2. The point at which the show transferred from BBC2 to BBC1
  3. …along with those bluebottle-esque musical stings
Warming up

Warming up

Hello. Off The Telly is back! sort of.

Between 1999 and 2010, I ran OTT as a kind of online monthly TV magazine and during that time amassed a hell of a lot of content from a brilliant array of contributors. Then things got tricky. Mostly, because by the mid-2000s I was actually working in TV journalism, and that threw up a myriad conflicts of interest. So I stopped doing OTT.

But recently I’ve felt like I want to do something again. Some kind of internet-y TV writing. Which I might tweet about too. Nothing especially about current telly. Nothing that might cause me problems. But tangential stuff. And stuff maybe tapping into a  more recent but somehow lost era of programming. The ‘Say: “Gouranga”‘ years.

As I’m still sat on the offthetelly.co.uk domain, I thought I might as well use it again, but not before preserving the old site and everyone’s hard work. I’ve  shifted it to this location.

Make no mistake – this OTT won’t be as good as the old one. This will be sparse; no subsections, no massive essays. Just one stream of blog. I’ve no expectations  anyone else will contribute, although if someone wants to that could be fun. I know what my next post is going to be about – but not the one after that.

Ends