Writing in today’s Guardian about 1976, supposedly the greatest year ever for Britain. Certainly the hottest summer ever. A great year for the country, perhaps. But not for three-year-old me… The only good thing that happened that summer was my engagement to George (pictured above). Read more here.
My 13-year-old self would have been thrilled to be sitting next to Martin Kemp OF SPANDAU BALLET FAME. My 43-year-old self was also pretty embarrassing. Fearne Cotton and Martin Kemp are sitting in for Graham Norton this summer on the Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 2. Much talk about Edinburgh, why people do stand-up comedy (a very good question), avocados, The Kids From Fame (they played High Fidelity for me!) and, less gratifying, golf. That was mostly Martin. That is what he does now. Not GOLD. But GOLF. Well, we all have to age somehow.
I think this is the favourite interview question I have ever had. Interviewer: “You are very brave bringing a show about Britishness and being middle class to Edinburgh. Because there is a lot of hatred towards the English. Are you not worried?” Me: “No. I am extremely English and therefore extremely self-loathing. We can bond in hatred. It’s the perfect match.” Bring it on!
(Pic on title page: Matt Crockett.)
What is it about Waitrose? Writing in The Pool about Waitrose and that news that proximity to the branch of the most middle class grocery store in the universe can add up to £40,00 to the value of your home. Not being in such a position (I’m not in walking distance of the hallowed portals), perhaps I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder… Margo would have been OK in Surbiton. I think maybe they have three branches.
In Wow 24/7. A crybaby Remainiac writes… This is a bit of a million dollar question. (Or in the case of Edinburgh economics, which are weighted against your average stand-up, a minus 47p question.) Can Brexit be funny? Seeing as many comics feel as if they have no choice but to talk about it (including me — I have been working on a show about Britishness and class for six months — how could I not, even if it has meant reworking the entire show?), it’s not even a question. It had better be funny. Or else.
How much can I say this: I love War and Peace. It’s compelling, exciting, beautiful and – perhaps most surprisingly of all – (intentionally) funny. So if you’re hating War and Peace in any way at all, my (somewhat gushing, I’m afraid) reviews are not the reviews for you. Most people, however, are loving this six-part drama, concluding Sunday 7 Feb. I calculate that precisely 4.9% of viewers *are* not enjoying it. These people claim that it’s just not faithful enough to the original. I also calculate that approximately 99% of these people are only pretending to have read the book. In the main the comments are positive and jubilant. It has certainly made large numbers of people want to read the original (whether again or for that first time), which for a 540,000 word book is an amazing feat in itself. And don’t get me started on Dolokhov and his amazing feats (and feets and hands and general physiognomy).
This is my last programme at the Independent Bath Literature Festival (10 days, 150 events, 20,000 audience), where I’ve been Artistic Director for the past three Festivals. It’s a job I love and I couldn’t sum up this year’s programme better than blogger Claire Hayes, one of our army of 200 volunteers:
“This year marks the festival’s 21st birthday, and – just in case the impossibly hip might consider it over the hill – is defiantly themed Forever Young. And, despite appearances from luminaries like Pat Barker, Sebastian Faulks and Tracy Chevalier, this means Viv Groskop, in her final year as Artistic Director, has resisted the lure of the literary pipe and slippers in favour of a record number of emerging new writers.”
To help us celebrate our 21st we have a great cast: from Gloria Steinem (with Jenni Murray), Sebastian Faulks and Pub Landlord Al Murray in The Forum to Pat Barker, Joan Bakewell, Austentatious and The Shakespeare Gala (featuring Salon Collective and Extempore Theatre, the world’s only Elizabethan-language improvised play) in The Guildhall. Full programme (26 Feb to 6 Mar) here.
Writing this piece for the Guardian on all the things I’ve inherited from my grandparents was cathartic but also difficult. I hoped it would help me to give away (throw away?) some of their stuff. But it just made things worse: it made me want to keep it all the more…. Still waiting for the phone call from Britain’s Biggest Hoarders. Some great advice in the comments and this issue sparks an interesting divide: half of the comments say “Get rid of it all — you will feel better”, the other half say “How could you ever let this treasure go?” I’m still torn.
This was great fun to write. Highlights for me? Lionel Richie at Glastonbury (“When he was not reinventing himself as the “commodore of love” (“We [the Commodores] decided: we’re gonna make love to every girl in the world. That was our mission statement”), the 66-year-old Ritchie was celebrating selling 100m records.”), Suranne Jones in Dr Foster (“Was there anything on TV more deliciously entertaining and brilliantly captured than Jones as the GP Gemma Foster”) and Catastrophe (“Is there anything funnier than two hopeless but likeable people having a baby together? Apparently not.”).
And so the Downton era comes to a close! I have been blogging on Downton for the Guardian since September 2010 when I wrote this piece: “Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville in a Julian Fellowes period drama? I may have died and gone to Sunday night TV heaven.” Ah, how the folly of our youth returns to haunt us… What I wrote during series one (and the comments underneath, suggesting what a surprising success this is for ITV) contrasts horrifically with what was to come. By 2014, I was writing that it was“one of Britain’s most toxic exports.”
Downton was a lovely surprise (for one series) that outstayed its welcome. It should have been cut off at series two or three (or ideally, actually, series one). It had enough meat to sustain one perfect outing (just like Gosford Park) but it never became a proper soap opera. Good soap opera is meticulously planned and calibrated. This always felt as if it had too many plots and too many characters and was just throwing anything at the (beautifully papered) wall to see if it would stick. Fortunately the gloss and style of the thing camouflaged this expertly and turned it into a cash cow the likes of which ITV must only have dreamed.
Tonight’s Christmas episode yielded no surprises (warning: spoilers) with Uncle Julian tying up the ends he could be bothered to tie up (sometimes rather too tightly) but leaving may things dangling. This is the Downton way. I will miss it, strangely. And I will also dream of Mr Pamuk and the Lost-in-Germany Newspaper Man.