In two Saturdays’ time, I will be reunited with Stuart Maconie on the radio (6 Music, 10am-1pm). My thoughts inevitably turn to the modest glory days of Collins & Maconie, the first double act I was part of, between 1992 and 1997, briefly reunited as two-thirds the trio Collins, Maconie & Quantick with David Quantick in 2001 and 2002, but effectively disbanded after that as Stuart and I moved in different broadcasting directions, and I allowed scriptwriting to eat up more of my time. Our 18-month foray into television, albeit late-nite television, was Collins & Maconie’s Movie Club, a charmingly fleabitten movie review show with a siege mentality that went out on ITV before it was ITV1, every week, without a break, between 1996 and 1997. A chap called William Tennant drew my attention to three clips of the show on YouTube which I didn’t know existed, and can be viewed below. (I have every one of the 18-month run on what I believe are called videocassettes, but they’re in a box, and that box was, this very week, transferred from my house to my parents’ attic for storage.)
For those too young to remember it, or perhaps had a job in 1996 and weren’t going to stay up until 1.40am to see two men in suits and open-necked shirts talking in a cinema, the Movie Club was made by Watchmaker, Clive James’ production company, and was seen as a natural, medium-hopping progression from Collins & Maconie’s Hit Parade, our then-weekly Radio 1 singles review show. (It amazes me now that we were indulged enough to have our names above the title in both shows!) The same late-note slot across the whole week was put out to tender by ITV, and we somehow snared one of them. Neither of us could quite believe our luck. Thanks for the most part to the ingenuity and drive of producer/director Andy Rowe (now ubengruppenfuhrer of Saturday night light entertainment at the BBC), but not forgetting the resourcefulness and, frankly, patience, of the compact, on-site production team – which numbered six most weeks, including Andy – we shot two in a day each fortnight in the Riverside cinema, Hammersmith, with a fake projector set up using a single light and some dry ice as it was easier, and more effective, than involving the real projectionist.
The format was achingly simple: three new releases and some videos reviewed by the pair of us – we couldn’t afford Autocue so we’d learn all our links like actors – sitting in a cinema. We added a couple of comedy items: the Hollywood Hotline, in which I would pretend I was talking to a star on a mobile phone, whom you couldn’t hear, and Stuart would react to my inappropriate handling of the call; 101 Years Of The Cinema (I think it was called), where we played cineastes in black polo-necks smoking Gauloises – and we actually smoked in the cinema! – wrongly covering the history of the cinema by theme; Crikey! Movie News, which was fake news based upon funny old black and white film stills; and another one whose title escapes me where we’d reconstruct iconic movie scenes using toys. I know what you’re thinking, and no, we didn’t copy this off The Adam & Joe Show, even though that started in 1996, and the Movie Club didn’t start until 1997. I think the four of us have agreed that it was a coincidental double-conception – there’s no way we’d have been stupid enough to lift it, so either we hadn’t seen it, or they hadn’t started the toy parodies at the time we were preparing the format. In any case, Adam and Joe did it miles better and took it so much further, while we ditched ours after about six weeks as it was too time-consuming! (When I first met Adam, circa 1998, when our show had been taken off and theirs was flying, we declared ourselves fans of each others’ work.)
That’s pretty much it. We introduced a weekly visual joke for the end of each show, and we tried to be funny in all our links, and to involve the audience, in an early example of interactivity, by getting a viewer in to guest-review one of the films. Among the stars of tomorrow we had in were Ali Caterall, now a reviewer at the Guardian and Word, and none other than Sarah Millican, who I believe was in mid-career-change at the time. (In the days before email, viewers had to, like, write to us, and send us a cassette or videocassette of them reviewing a film, and send it through the post and everything.)
It was bags of fun. They would often be shooting TFI Friday in the big studio at the same time, so we’d usually bump into a band we’d interviewed in the canteen and they’d ask us what we were doing there, as very few people seemed to actually know the programme was on. (Having said that, I once watched it in a rented house in Dublin with Billy Bragg and Wilco, which was odd, and Joe Strummer claimed he was a fan and became quite irate when I met him and informed him that ITV had taken it off the air.) Our budget was small, but it stretched to four John Rocha shirts, which we rotated under our own jackets. (They had really long arms with massive cuffs for which we had no cufflinks, so we always used to announce their arrival “on set” with the phrase, “John Rocha pour le singe.” Such in-jokes kept us going.) When it ended, after an astonishing, uninterfered-with 18-month run – during the latter part of which it also went out on Paramount Comedy – it was like an eight-piece band band splitting up. Watching the clips again, especially the willfully cheap opening credits, takes me back to a time when we felt on the cusp of professional careers in radio and TV, and although TV has only been sporadic for me in the years since (Stuart’s been on a lot more), those 18 months stood me in good stead.
Stuart and I are looking forward to shamelessly nostalging about those golden years when we reunite on 6 Music. It’s allowed, right? In the meantime, if it pleases you, here are the YouTube clips, which includes the review of the 1997, when we awarded the first and only Barn D’Or award for Film Of The Year to Shane Meadows’ debut Small Time. This is something we remain proud of, and Shane never complains if we point it out. We made him. (Oh, and during the run, we were offered Woody Harrelson as a guest, but we turned him down, as we didn’t have guests. How cool, or uncool, was that?)