Monday 1 April 2013

Me and Bruce at TVC

Two great things in one.
A few days ago I went to a recording of a show at BBC TV centre in Wood Lane London; the one that has the postcode W12 8QT.  The one where all those shows used to share the same telephone number 01 811 8055.

I got to see the very last show being recorded in TC1, Studio one; the big studio where shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Later with Jools, Children in Need and Comic Relief have come from down the years.  The last show there was a retrospective on the life and career of Sir Bruce Forsyth.  Cards on table, comedy is my thing.  Comedians are very often my heroes.  Well, let's just say that one christmas as a boy my dear mum gave me a teddy bear and I gave him a name.  Yes you've guessed it, not for me some brainless footballer on a poster on the wall, no my bear was, and is, called Bruce.  I watched Bruce on the Generation Game and could see the poise and finesse of the skill of the man and he was a god of comedy.  Okay, he was never an Eric and Ernie but as a solo performer he was close to perfection in my eyes and still is (I can even forgive the bizarre quiz that was Takeover Bid).
So the day at TVC was long, queueing in the wind and icy blasts of Wood Lane.  Eventually we got in and were told that those of us who were at the front of the queue would be in the front rows right near the action.  We got inside and were told we could take photos in the corridors of iconic TVC stuff but not in the studio itself.  The walk across the forecourt in now Siberian temperatures was quite bracing, we waited and outside the studio we saw the long stolen TC1 studio sign.  In we went, I was in row two.  The lady before me "plonked" herself down and I sat next to her, the lady after me asked me to move as I was half on her seat.  Oh the horror, the lady on my left was shall we say, large!  She was carrying the equivalent of a small child in each thigh, I had to breath in.  Then the horror increased as the lady after me sat down and I realised that she was the same size as the first lady.  Oh heavens I was squeezed.  So much so that I could not comfortably place my arms down or even cross them - I quickly found that by placing my hands on the opposite shoulder that I could fit the space.  I must have looked like a corpse sitting up between these ladies of largesse.  The thing keeping me going was the thought that within minutes I would be achieving a life-long ambition to see Bruce.

The show was hosted by Miranda Hart, she did a really good job by the way, and the house band was McFly.  As McFly are my daughter's favourite band I wondered if she would ever forgive me for getting to see them.
At twenty past seven the recording started.  Down the steps of the faux basement pink and purple flat that was covered in photos of Bruce came Miranda.  The introductions done then on came Bruce, in my eye a little moistening took place.

The show was a long chat, based on categories (it would not be fair to spoil the show by going into detail).  Bruce chatted and was witty, the conversarion amusing.  He played the piano, wow.  He sang - three times as a lady in the audience put him off first time and he had riffed on the lyric before doing it again.  In fact his riffing was pretty good, showing that his skill has in no way left him. 
Then during the chat he talked of his missed chances in films, the fact that he almost had a part in Candleshoe (the part went to David Niven).  He tried to remember the young actress in the film, he fumbled for it a couple of times.  I saw my chance, not to spoil the show but merely to talk to my hero.  I shouted out the name "Jodie Foster", Miranda told Bruce that someone had said it.  He looked at me, I repeated it, he thanked me and said I should be in the front row.  I wanted to say something but all I could think was, "Bruce is talking to me".  I nodded politely.  I could now die happy as I had spoken to Bruce and been spoken to by him.

The sign above the entrance to Studio One - if it isn't nailed down then...... well!
The show finished at 9:50pm, then some re-takes and finally I left the building at 10:10pm.  The train was rather late in the evening, I got into bed at 1am and could not sleep.  I was so excited.  That excitement has not passed.  I got to see my hero and was not let down.  I got to see the last show at TVCentre before the shutdown (damn all accountants who think it is a good idea!).
What a great day, they don't often come along like that.  If only I had a time machine and could go and see Eric and Ernie and perhaps Tommy Cooper, and er The Two Ronnies.  This list could go on and on, but wow because I got to see Bruce.  Long may he carry on with that skill.

Thursday 26 July 2012

An Olympic Day

For starters I have to admit to not being a sporty type, in either my own physical nature or as a spectator. However the Olympic Games are in town and as it is a once in a lifetime visit we (my little family) decided to try to get tickets – asked for three lots and got two, how jammy was that!

Yesterday, a full two days before the official opening ceremony, the events started in places far from London (how odd!) with loads of football (that being the real football game not the American one where they use hands!). We had tickets to see two games in Coventry; Japan versus Canada and Sweden versus South Africa. With media talk of security facilities and traffic jams we headed off early but we need not have bothered as the roads were flowing easily and the security well run when we got there – not a single sign of G4S though!

(The pitch being looked after and watered between practice sessions)

We found our seats easily with the help of very friendly security, police and stewarding staff. The view was great, we were about six rows in front of the main TV camera so we had a perfect view (if these were the cheap seats then heaven knows what the expensive ones were like).

The most important job upon entering the stadium was to find the toilets, all was well and then as we washed our hands I found it difficult to suppress a hearty laugh. Why? Because the soap dispensers and the hot air (or should that be asthmatic?) hand dryers had had their manufacturer names rather shoddily covered up with black masking tape. This would not have been so bad had the items not been white and so the tape just looked stupid. Is this where all the effort to organise has gone? Blanking out names on existing items, whether this is LOCOG or the IOC, this is pathetic and rather OCD!

The other problem was the supply of water, the tickets said we could take in empty bottles and that there was a supply of water. I asked and was knocked back on that one, even the stewards seemed unaware of where this could be, so in view of the heat I bought bottles of drink – as we were there for two games this meant numerous trips to the kiosk and a cost of £12 or more. I am an unemployed person who got the tickets in employed times and this was money that could have been better spent elsewhere for me.

Moans over, the event was brilliantly organised, the teams played brilliantly. I was supporting Canada in the first match but sadly they were no match for the Japanese – but on the plus side I have a new crush on Canada’s number six.

In the second match I had elected to support Sweden and this time my support was repaid by some lovely teamwork, and a couple of almost surreal goals. The slow trickle of a goal over the line was met by an audible inhalation in the stadium followed by laughter and a cheer. Good play was rewarded by applause, and on only a couple of occasions was what for us in there seemed like odd referee decisions met by an audible disagreeing from the crowd.

The slightly sad thing for those watching at home was that the stadium may have appeared pretty empty, that was a shame. In fact with two games included in the tickets it meant that those who were die-hard supporters of each team either arrived late after one game, or left early. This perplexed me and I found it a bit odd, having travelled to see a game by all means support your own team but why not cheer on or just check out the other teams? It just feels a bit rude to me.

That apart the place was at times very well attended and the atmosphere was playful, in fact for the last ten minutes of the second match there was an almost continuous Mexican Wave going on, after about three minutes it became a bit tiring to have to jump up, after seven minutes it was just a bit too long but nevertheless it was enjoyable.

My young son summed it up when he said, “I thought I might be bored watching, but this is exciting and the second match is so much more exciting”. I could not disagree.

As I said in an earlier piece, I am behind the games and yesterday has showed me that it can be great. I hope that there are no more little bits of nonsense, like that which happened in Glasgow yesterday, to overshadow a great event. London 2012, Inspire a Generation it says on the poster, it certainly uplifted me and my young generation. Bring on the games proper (well apart from Gymnastics that is!)

(A view of the stadium in Olympic decoration before the crowds filled out and before the games started)

Tuesday 24 July 2012

England in fine form

My lovely wife and I went away for the weekend without the children, an anniversary treat to us. We headed south and west and stayed in a lovely place north of Bristol called Wotton under Edge. Having never even heard of the place before it was a delight to find, the local chip shop can surely never make much profit with the massive portions they give away.

We spent Saturday wandering around Bath, it had been a while since our last visit and looked great, the new area around the bus station was a joy to see – the attempt to fit in and match the older surroundings and still be modern was successful. We found a lovely market in the old railway station, what a perfect setting it made and in light of the sudden arrival of summer around here it provided much needed shade.

In the evening we decided that a stroll by the sea was in order so we headed down to Weston Super Mare, I had only been once before about sixteen years ago and my memory was not holding up well on that. Upon arrival I found the place much nicer than I remembered, the beach clean welcoming although you won’t find me on the sand due to a little phobia involving sand in my shoes!
We looked for somewhere to eat, a few tacky chip shops seemed to be calling us, or even worse than that a flipping McD’s. Then we had a great find, a little place down a side street called CafĂ© La Mer in West Street, this was pleasant, had great food at a good price and a charming individual character. If you head down that way give it a try.

On Sunday we headed to Avebury in Wiltshire – this was another new place for me and so much nicer than I had a right to expect, the Morris Dancers were entertaining, the ice creams dreamy.

On the road in the car I listened to a report that foreign media were reporting how down on the summer and the Olympics the English are; well all I can say to that is "rubbish". The country is in lovely shape, the good weather has arrived and I am sure that the games will be great, never mind how many medals the UK gets (I don’t like the name Team GB as it disrespectfully leaves out Northern Ireland).
As you can tell, no comedy gigs done and no writing over the weekend but what the heck it was a great weekend.

Saturday 14 July 2012

A night at The Vic.

Thursday was the night for the July comedy session at We Are Most Amused, at the Queen Victoria in Northampton. My good friend, Mark West, and I went along for our now monthly fix of someone else doing comedy. The venue is not large, but it can hold quite a lot of bodies, last night was no exception.

As usual Donna Scott had put together a list of seven acts, three of whom I had definitely seen before. It should be noted that Donna puts this gig together pretty much alone and takes the task seriously – so it is only right to offer thanks to her right here; thanks!

The first of the seven was new to me, Aaron Twitchen; a camp act but unlike so many other camp acts it was not too in your face (a joke in there surely?). He held the room quickly and bounced off the crowd sure footedly. A great way to start the evening.

Second was Jay Handley; he has a look of someone famous (don’t want to spoil it but think of Robert Powell’s most famous role for a clue). Unfortunately for Jay someone pointed this out as he reached the stage and his opening gambit was knocked sideways. He found his feet again though and got on pretty well, apart from a slightly misjudged joke about the government. I liked him a lot.

Third up was Lou Chauner, well what is there to say? I had seen Lou once before and one of his gags had lodged itself firmly in my head because it was brilliant – this gig was exactly the same. He has presence, charisma, put-downs. He deserves to be an headline act in the future – a master class.

Fourth was Shaun Jacques; I thought he had come ready packed to leave in a hurry but no, he was doing a ventriloquist act with a mini-me out of a suitcase. He had the technique and some good material, although his use of an audience member was risky as it seemed to rely heavily on getting a pliable type up. What he did was great fun though, especially as my good friend Mark was the one who was pulled from the crowd. I cried, mainly because it is really satisfying to see your best buddy really taken advantage of like that. Mark was a great sport and in addition brought much to the act, his body-popping belies his age, his one, two, three Mexican style wave was amusing and his eyes were so expressive – Gromit in human form! Mark needs to get an act as a mime pretty quickly; cheers buddy. (As an aside I think it is really great to see Shaun try something a bit different, and for me it is about time that good ventriloquist acts came back into vogue)

Fifth up was another new one for me, Albert Smith; low key and slightly dead pan. Albert did a bit about his background, bus trips and flags. For his slow and deliberate delivery he came across well, but his finish was both startling and lacking finesse.

Number six was Alex Crowther. He had nice stage presence, a happy and engaging face and some good material. A good act but I would like him to “own” the material a bit more.

And lastly was Nigel Lovell, all the way up from London he said; his was an intelligent act (yes even the abundance of puns in the closing section) which I liked very much. His set ups were smart and snappy; his way of incorporating those puns was effective. A fine end to the evening.

Much merriment after the gig ended. This comedy lark, even for me just watching, really is infectious. Cheers again to Donna for her efforts.

Thursday 12 July 2012

My second gig; a new start.

My second ever gig as a stand-up, and with totally new material. The Hollybush, in Cradley Heath was the place. Nerves rattling, I did my ‘Vasectomy’ routine, which I had only finished writing at midnight the night before, so spent the day trying to learn it and get the timings right.

Arrived at the pub - on the far side of Brum from me - with moral support (and photographic assistance) from Mark West. I had heard a lot about the pub from conversations at the We Are Most Amused open mic night in Northampton but it was much better than I expected, such a pleasant atmosphere and Dave the barman/compere made me feel at home.

None of this stopped me from having a big bout of nerves as I walked in though and I totally lost confidence, so I couldn’t even say “good evening”. I stepped outside again and gave myself a sharp talking to that put me right, as did a chat with some of the other acts. Felt good again.

On to the gig. I was up third and my self review is that there was much to improve on my performance, but I have to say - for a newcomer (second gig, remember), it went quite well. In addition, I really enjoyed being up there, I enjoyed the banter with the audience and - quite frankly - if I had more material I would have booked to go back straight away.

We stayed until about 11 and the acts were very good and I’d definitely like to come back to the venue. Great place, great crowd, had a brilliant evening.

So that’s that then, new material here we come!