Writer’s blog: Week 6, Wednesday

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At last. I’m doing something interesting. It’s Wednesday, and instead of photographing myself self-consciously looking to one side in the British Library canteen, or on a train, I write today from Glasgow, which in itself is unusual, and from within a caravan, which is even more unusual. This caravan is my dressing room, for today I am an actor. Look, there’s my name on the door. The caravans are parked up in the car park of a suburban industrial estate, which is where Scottish production company The Comedy Unit live. (They live in a unit.) They are currently making Secret Dude Society for BBC3, or “the Pappy’s sitcom” as it’s colloquially known.

My work as script editor finished just before Christmas, when pre-production turned into production, and any further edits to the script would be the responsibility of the writers and producer. I have just been into makeup (which is another, bigger caravan) although you won’t notice, as I have been made up to look like myself. This is because I am playing “Andrew Collins” in the show. I only have two lines, but it’s a lovely gift from Pappy’s, in return for being the schoolteacher who’s been marking their homework with a red pen since September.

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An actor’s life can be a lonely one. I have discovered that. I am alone in my caravan. The other three actors who are filming today are in their own caravans. Whenever my next-door neighbour, the actor Kim Wall, enters his caravan, it shakes, and so does mine. I am holding up today’s call-sheet in the picture above, but have been careful not to show anything that’s on it, as I suspect this is not for public consumption. I will have to check with the producers before I reveal any more about my cameo role. In fact, I’d rather keep it a secret until the show is broadcast – it’ll be more fun that way. I am expecting to be called to costume any moment, so I’ll stop typing.

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Another rare thing was waking up in a hotel room this morning. There is something slightly extravagant about taking a train up to Glasgow and being put up in a hotel in order to deliver two lines in a sitcom, but that’s entertainment. There is also something about travelling alone that lends you the air of a sales rep. Breakfast for one, all that. Fortunately, I was rescued from the tragedy of eating room service, alone, last night, as Pappy’s – that is, Matthew, Ben and Tom – are pretty much living up in Glasgow for the duration of the show and they took me to their local tapas bar, where we drank beer and picked at “small plates” until midnight, subsequently joined by none other than my old radio pal Josie Long, The Pictish Trail aka Edinburgh’s fine-bearded Johnny Lynch, and “young comedian” Tom Deacon, who I like very much. (Tom is also up to deliver two lines for Pappy’s.)

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Anyway, here’s another pathetic shot of me in Room 212 at the Abode Hotel (or the Adobe Hotel, as Matthew erroneously calls it, imagining it to be photoshopped and daubed with mud). It’s nice to stay in pleasant hotels, but it’s nicer to stay in them with a friend, spouse or partner.

Hey, I like to think of myself as well-travelled, but until today I had never seen or used one of these before:

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It’s a kind of self-contained, ready-loaded individual plastic coffee filter-ette. Environmentally destructive, it also makes a disgusting cup of coffee, I discovered this morning while waiting in my room to be picked up and ferried to the “unit base” and thence to the filming location. (Mind you, I put UHT milk in it, and that’s against nature, and the downside to making coffee in a hotel room is, of course, that you use water from a bathroom sink, which isn’t for drinking.)

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As I type, I’m on the train home from Glasgow and back in the stultifying realms of the usual sort of Photo Booth picture I take of myself for Writer’s Blogs. The actual filming took very little time, although it was thrilling to be around technicians and crew who know exactly what it is they’re doing. It’s like a well-oiled machine. If something went wrong, you just know these people would deal with it, and get back on schedule.

Director Ben Kellett (the man you see at the end of Mrs Brown’s Boys, taking a bow with the rest of the crew and family), whom I’d never previously met, seems to be “on it”, and Pappy’s seem pleased with the way the show’s panning out. I won’t give anything away about my tiny cameo, or Tom Deacon’s, but it’s in what’s planned as the final episode, and this was my costume. (I wore my own trousers.) Oh, and when I mischeviously Tweeted the shirt earlier, one brilliant wag asked, “Are you playing Jason Manford.” Now that’s comedy.

Pappy'sshirt

It’s been a fun trip. I managed to write a 1,000-word feature on Judd Apatow for Radio Times on the train journey up, and my Films Of The Day copy for Radio Times on the train journey back. I’m like a shark; if I stop moving, I die.

By now, this caravan will have been converted back into a dressing room for the next actor. But it was mine for a couple of hours. Mine.

Pappy'sdoor

 

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Writer’s blog: Week 4, Monday

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I feel like doing one of these, now that the year has sort of kicked in a bit. It’s Monday, and I’m on a South West Trains train from Bournemouth to London (you can tell it’s a South West Trains train because there are no seat numbers, so you can’t book, and they have not heard of power sockets on trains). I have not been to Bournemouth. But because of what I think of as “weather”, but the infrastructure of Great Britain thinks of as “an emergency”, the usual train from London to Dorchester South is now divided up into two bits, so you must change at Bournemouth.

Proustian rush: in 2004, I came to Bournemouth, on my own, to attend the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society annual dinner at the hotel where Hancock lived, briefly, as a child, Darlston Court. I was a member of the THAS for a couple of years, and enjoyed it very much, although I confess I felt a little out of place at the dinner, where, as a 39 year-old I felt decidedly young. The late Ray Alan and the still-going June Whitfield were guests of honour. A unique evening. Here’s a pic:

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Anyway, I was in Bournemouth this morning for about three minutes, the time it took to run down the platform from one train to another. My destination was Billy Bragg’s house, in Dorset, where I was called upon to interview him, off-camera, for the EPK (“electronic press kit” – get with the 90s record-industry jargon) that will herald his surprising new album, Tooth and Nail, in March. You can read about it and hear some music on his rebooted website. (You can also engage him in a free and frank dialogue about why you may only pre-order the album via his website from Amazon or iTunes. Although I’ll tell you in advance that there had originally been a link to HMV but HMV went down before the page went live. It’s funny how the massive chain of superstores now almost feels like an indie alternative, post mortem.)

As previously mentioned, I was down at Billy’s before Christmas to research the new chapter for my official biography, which I have now delivered, and for which we don’t have a specific publication date, but it will be available for the first time as an eBook. It was a brief visit, top-heavy with travel, light on actual engagement, but we had enough time to effect the genial interview for the cameras, and to eat a wrap and some soup, before I was shuttled back to the station for the two-train ride home. (It was good to meet Jack, who is making the films.)

I’ll be honest, the whole thing was an utter pleasure. Not the most taxing job in the world, I grant you, but I’ll be back down the mine tomorrow. It was a welcome chance to get out of London and to soak up the views of rural and coastal England which the train affords, much of it carpeted in snow. As I rather unkindly Tweeted, when we passed through the marshlands around the Wareham Channel, where wading birds dotted the uninterrupted view out to sea, the blissful sight was only tarnished by the seasonal phlegmy coughing of my fellow passengers in the “quiet coach”. (I dare not turn around to look, in the carriage I am in presently, as it sounds suspiciously as if someone is clipping their nails. Let’s at least hope it’s the fingernails.)

On a locomotive theme, I am thoroughly enjoying BBC2’s Great British Railway Journeys, with Michael Portillo, the gentle travelogue brand that he has made his own over the past few years. Forget his politics. He’s a true rail enthusiast, and I always think of his bright pastel shirts and his Bradshaw’s Guide when I step on or off trains now. On a recent leg, he was travelling through Kew, and happened upon a plaque commemmorating the re-opening of Kew Bridge station in 1989 by then-Transport Minister in the Thatcher government, Michael Portillo. (I guess it’s ironic that a man whose party privatised – and thus tore the heart out of – the railway network in this country now promotes them.)

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Even though South West trains don’t have anywhere you can plug anything in, and the wi-fi/mobile signal was the very definitive of patchy the other side of Basingstoke, I managed to do some work on the way down, and on the way back. I am currently developing two comedy pitches (well, one of them is a comedy drama) for a certain broadcaster, based upon a reasonably upbeat meeting last week. This is where you work for free, on spec. It was ever thus, but I like the pressure to have to come up with brand new ideas; it’s amazing how fruitful that artificial process can be in getting the gears to go round.

You’ll be relieved to learn that I have now successfully seen all of the key “awards season” movies, just in time for last week’s Golden Globes, and in plenty of time for the Baftas and the Oscars. Django Unchained is now in cinemas, so you can go and see that, and Lincoln is almost upon us. I’m seeing The Sessions tomorrow, as that’s out, too. It’s always a golden time of year for the higher end of American cinema. But don’t expect it to last. Come March, I’ll be gagging for something in a foreign tongue. (On the subject of which, I’m delighted that Haneke’s Amour is being treated as “a movie” this year, and not as a “foreign movie”. It’s picking up nominations and awards left, right and centre. Good.)

I may not blog every day this week, but I will if anything out of the ordinary happens.

I love 1973

TA85grabI apologise for the late running of the plug for this week’s Telly Addict. I’ve been busy. At any rate, it’s been up all day, and within it, you will see my nice new haircut, a shirt I haven’t worn very often and some considered, erudite, witty reviews of – plus some controversially throwaway remarks about – the adorable 1973 John Betjeman documentary Metro-land, shown again last week on BBC4; the similarly locomotive Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo on BBC2; the perhaps unfairly maligned Mr Selfridge on ITV1; the quite horrible World Without End on C4; and the return of Silent Witness to BBC1 for its 16th series! I’ve already found myself in a titanic struggle with a persistent man over at the Guardian website, should you have more time on your hands than sense. You’re more than welcome to discuss these shows here, in a friendlier environment. I always reply.