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.
I spent much of Christmas Eve ALONE in the Woman’s Hour Green Room, where the only catering is very bad coffee and highly oxygenated mineral water. This is because the discussion on “Christmas traditions as documented on Woman’s Hour” was the last item on the programme and everyone else had already gone into the studio and was having a high old time whilst I sat on a sofa matching my (red, of course – it’s Christmas) dress listening to their frolics ALONE. All for this discussion with Jenni Murray about (1) changing sheets (or not) when guests come to visit (2) what to wear on Christmas Day (A RED DRESS) and (3) how to cope with children and their consumerist demands (er, probably ignore them). Hats off to Lianne Carroll who performed a beautiful song about being utterly miserable in December. Appropriate.
I have only ever had weird experiences aboard the Blundabus belonging to comedy legend Bob Slayer. So I can only imagine that doing a one-hour show aboard this vehicle will be even stranger. The bus is as it sounds: it is a bus. A double decker bus. The upstairs is converted into a comedy bus with seating and a stage area. (Yes, you do have to use your imagination a bit. And I will have to stoop. For the audience it is very comfortable, I can report.)
I will be performing the last not-in-London show of 2015’s Edinburgh show Say Sorry to the Lady at the Nottingham Comedy Festival at 6pm on Saturday 14 November on the top deck of this bus. I’ve done stand-up on the bus and I’ve been a guest on Irish comedian Christian Talbot’s addictive show Cheaper than Therapy on the bus. This time I will have the bus all to myself for a whole show. Well, hopefully, not quite all to myself. Tickets here. Review of the Edinburgh show here. See you there, people of Nottingham who want to come to comedy on a bus! I have every faith this is an actual demographic.
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. Downton is almost finished. And yet it is not quite yet finished. Here’s the latest on last night’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (warning: spoilers). It has been a rocky ride being the series blogger since series two of this peculiar British export which is as preposterously successful as it is, er, preposterous. There was no series blog for series one because it wasn’t a phenomenon at that stage, hard though that seems to believe. Instead when it launched, I wrote things like “I have died and gone to period drama heaven” in September 2010 (I now shudder to read this) and (I cringe) “Oh Downton, how we will miss you” in November 2010.
What a difference five interminably long and pointless series make.
I’ve almost thrown in the towel a few times, especially when the plot lines have seemed to rotate, a la Groundhog Day. But I’ve stuck with it largely because it is my job to do so (and to attempt to remain open-minded and balanced) but even more so because of the community of commenters who gather every Sunday at 10.01pm to rip the show apart — or, occasionally, heap lavish praise. I like to think we’re fair to Uncle Julian. Although if we’re not, he can take it. Downton has sold to over 100 countries and is one of the most successful exports in ITV’s history.
Edinburgh is over. What an amazing month. Having barely survived two weeks the previous year, I had a lot of concerns about managing the whole month — 24 shows at The Stand, plus guest spots and stints at the Edinburgh Book Festival interviewing Irvine Welsh, Anne Enright, Kirsty Logan and Peter Pomerantsev. But it was spectacular. Not least because Edinburgh is a great place to live for a month. (Although I did cry when I came home and saw a red bus again for the first time.)
Say Sorry to the Lady pulled in a five star review, this from Funny Women (“cleverly structured and the kind of show that gets wilder and funnier towards the end of its run”) and played to full houses most nights, thanks to the excellence of The Stand. More on behind the scenes here, on the inspiration for the show and why sorry is not the hardest word in TV Bomb here and on why women should stop apologising in the Guardian here. By which I mean that women should stop apologising. And they should also stop apologising in the Guardian.
Writing in today’s Sunday Times Style about the challenge facing over 1,000 performers this month: what on earth do you wear on stage if you’re doing the same show night after night for a month? Plus dashing between loads of other shows? It’s hardly a recipe for glamour.
“I have a one-hour evening show almost every night this month, plus some other shows during the day. I chose it, I love it, but it’s also trial by image. The buzzword for performers this year is “TV-ready”, which means trying to look 15 years younger than you are, pretending to be really into yoga and drinking a lot of coconut water. That’s the face and the body sorted, but when it comes to clothes, there is no code. Unless you are a 21-year-old man, and then you must wear skinny jeans, a slogan T-shirt and Mr Whippy hair.”
Thanks to Kyle Hilton for the illustration. Someone in the fashion department (who advised on the wardrobe choices above) obviously thinks I should dress like Velma from Scooby Doo. Hmm. Whatever happens, I will definitely wear something on my bottom half.
Talking about Say Sorry to the Lady on BBC R4 Woman’s Hour — and about why women seem to say sorry more than men, from 34 mins. Linguist Dr Louise Mullany, from the University of Nottingham, talking down the line appeared to disagree. She argued that men *do* say sorry as much as women but we don’t see them saying sorry as being something that is apologetic or pathetic. I’m not sure what this means. But I still think women should say sorry less. That is easier than the alternative, ie. arguing that when you say sorry it should not be interpreted as apologetic or pathetic. Good luck with that.
In the green room it was good to meet the least apologetic woman in the universe: Baroness Valerie Amos, now director of SOAS, University of London. She is kickass.
On Twitter, Jackie Watson sent me a very interesting rebuttal to this argument from Deborah Cameron — who argues that it’s basically sexist to examine how women speak at all — they should be allowed to say whatever they want (however doormat they sound) and they should not be expected to speak in the same way as men. I agree with the second bit. But men don’t own assertiveness and by being more assertive in the way you express yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to talk like a man. I don’t really agree with the rest of it – here – but all the same, it’s fascinating. By the way, if you are going to talk like a man, please talk like BRIAN BLESSED. I AM TALKING LIKE HIM RIGHT NOW.
Two London previews of my Edinburgh show Say Sorry to the Lady coming up on Monday 13 July and Tuesday 14 July at Leicester Square Theatre Lounge (the downstairs bit) at 7pm.
Tickets are £3 and you can reserve them HERE. I really want to pack these previews out so please do come and bring all your friends!
SAY SORRY TO THE LADY is all about the Great British cult of apology. Why do we say sorry when we don’t really mean it? Why don’t we say what we’re really thinking? And can it really be true that the average Brit apologises – according to one survey — 1.9 million times in their life.
In a show based on her experiences as a parent, daughter, feminist, self-consciously middle class person and reformed serial apologiser, Viv Groskop argues that enough is enough: it’s time to say sorry to the lady once and for all. And this time you had better mean it.
** WARNING: includes ranting about being a reluctant authority figure to children and then lots of apologies for the ranting. **
“Viv is brilliant” – Jo Brand.
“My favourite new act” – Lucy Porter.
“Fresh and exciting” – Sara Pascoe.
“Groskop positively sparkles” – BroadwayBaby.com
I wrote this piece about Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to the 2012 smash hit Magic Mike, which cost $7 million to make and took over $150 million at the box office. And made a huge star of Channing Tatum. The sequel has great cameos from Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie Macdowell and is surely one of the funniest films I have ever seen, right up there with Spinal Tap. I know this seems unlikely when it is about stripping but it is true.
I really loved Elena Gorokhova’s memoir Russian Tattoo, about her new life in America, having grown up in Soviet Russia. I reviewed her first book, A Mountain of Crumbs, in 2010 and the only complaint I had was that it stopped so abruptly: it had vivid descriptions about her childhood but then she seemed to give up as soon as she got to the US. Obviously that was because it could make a whole other book. And now it has. Both highly recommended.
Also reviewed recently: Elizabeth Day’s Paradise City in which four story lines collide in contemporary London. And Judy Blume’s extraordinary novel In the Unlikely Event, about three plane crashes that happened within the space of three months in Elizabeth, New Jersey (new Newark airport), in the 1950s, based on Blume’s own experiences.