castaway 4

March 5, 2010

I had a casting yesterday. Every now and then these things come along, I go, and not much happens. A week or so ago me and Trev had one for some online thing; they wanted a couple of idiots to do a daft newsdesk thing. We thought we might have been ideal, but we haven’t heard. And that’s how it works. You just don’t hear. You wait and wait and wait and then at some point you realise, there goes another one.

Shortly after that I had one for some web browser thing. They wanted someone who changed his accent and personality with each line. I can’t do accents. I try, but as my friends point out, it’s just me speaking higher. I didn’t even bother waiting and waiting and waiting for that one.

Usually you know as soon as you walk into the casting agency. Just take a look at the company you are keeping. If they all look like you, you have a chance. If they all look like George Clooney, just leave straight away. if they are all fat and bald, as once happened, just worry about your agent’s perception of you.

And, occasionally, as happened yesterday, you are asked to come in costume. Yes, that’s right, you are expected to dress up and travel on the train or the bus as a clown, or a policeman. I have sat in a casting agency’s waiting room with a bunch of clowns on many an occasion. I don’t have a clown suit. If I were to ever dress as a clown I’d be the crying on the inside kind I guess.

Yesterday’s costume was ok though. They wanted us in suits and bow ties. So I put on a bowtie and my new shawl collar dinner suit (£49.00 from Burton’s) and headed off into town in the morning feeling like a wrecked straggler from a forgotten ball.

Once there, I was given a different tie to wear and a white overall to put over my suit. Well, at least I hadn’t clowned up.

It went well. As I left, the casting director pulled me aside and told me not to get my hair cut. This was a first! I’ve never had this happen before. Perhaps she just liked my hair the way it was and wanted to let me know. But I had been doing a bit of hair acting in the casting. Pushing it to one side, making it look a little bit crazy. Don’t get my hair cut! That’s as good as saying… don’t get your hair cut.

And then, late in the day, my agent calls. I get excited. Could I possibly be… employable?

No, it’s not a yes, or a no. They just need me to answer some questions. Measurements, health status, recent commercials (my last and only one was in 1995). But still… I’m not going to get my hair cut.

So, today I’ve waited and waited and waited. I even phoned the barber to tell him to go ahead and cut others.

The wardrobe fitting was for today. It’s 2.15pm. I’ve stopped waiting now.

I’m off to buy a clown suit and plan a bank job.

It’s arrived. The film you’ve all been waiting for. Well, one or two of you who may have read my initial post about our film’s anti-hero, Clint Frecklestone.

This is a film thought up by my niece and nephew, Kate and William, aged 11 and 7. You can find out more about its origins by clicking on the Clint Frecklestone link above. William also thought up the name Clint Frecklestone (pronounced Freckelstun).

We filmed it today, between 12pm and 3pm. We couldn’t fit the cast onto the video, so cast fans, here they are. All the actors are toy figures.

Clint Frecklestone- A cowboy figure

David Beckham- Captain Kirk

The Secret V lady- Lieutenant Uhura

The Detective- Dr. Who

And many soldiers and animal erasers and mini ninjas.

My input was minimal. Honest. It’s all their work. Here’s the film. We hope you enjoy it.

Little and Large

August 7, 2009

Little-and-Large

When I was a kid my mum and dad would get free tickets to go to the The Talk of the North in Eccles. Free because my mum worked for Salford City Council and a friend of hers new someone who knew Joe Pullen, the owner of the club. And off they’d go, with the rector and his wife and they’d see Little and Large, Cannon and Ball, Matt Monro, Bob Monkhouse. Bob Monkhouse was apparently “a bit blue” but that wouldn’t stop the rector from laughing. Once my dad went with my Uncle Jack, and there was a belly dancer on. My Uncle Jack tells me my dad was quite intrigued by such exotica. He whispered to Jack “what will you do if she comes over here?” Uncle Jack said, “she’s coming”. And with that my dad ran off to the toilets. It’s an inherited trait that to this day, with regret, I follow.

As a result of these trips I ended up with a fine collection of signed photos. I have one that was signed to my mum by Matt Monro. It says “To Pat, thanks, Matt Monro.” Thanks? I’ve never dared ask.

Yesterday we had a casting for something we won’t get, but that’s that. Also there, was Syd Little. We’d met Syd and Eddie years ago on a comedy panel show on ITV2 (it was in the early days, 1998-ish and I can’t remember its title). The rough idea was that it pitched older style comedians against the upstart young ones. We met a fair few, including Syd and Eddie, Stan Boardman, Tim Brooke-Taylor. I loved it. Standing at the bar afterwards, listening to their tales; sometimes tolerating their rants and their bitterness; other times openly disagreeing (oh, we were such upstarts of the alternative circuit!); and I got to meet one of The Goodies!

But here’s the thing. A lot of the old school comedians were despised by the young upstarts. And whilst some of them were openly spewing forth bile and hatred (yes, you Manning) most were just trying to make a living by making people laugh. There are worse things you can do.

It’s easy to forget now, but Little and Large were on BBC1 for 13 years in a row. I can’t remember much of their comedy, and I was at an age where I was starting to develop my own ideas about what was funny and what wasn’t, so I most likely didn’t watch them that much. But when I met them, they were lovely. They weren’t bitter and twisted, they weren’t ranting and raving about not being on TV anymore. They’d had a good run and I think they could understand that the comedy times they were a-changing.

They’re both in their sixties now and speaking to Syd yesterday we heard that Eddie had a heart transplant a few years ago. All the best, Eddie. I imagine he is quite looking forward to Manchester City’s forthcoming season, being a celebrity fan of the club from a time before Liam and Noel were even eyebrow-less babies.

Syd’s still working. Mainly on his own. He’s done a few years on cruise ships. I was moved by how he talked of going solo. He clearly had been nervous about such a venture; and then relieved and possibly surprised when he found he could do it.

I like meeting comedians. I like meeting the older comedians. I like realising that people who have been defined by their act, for good or bad, aren’t actually their act.

Cyril Mead is 67 years old and lives in Fleetwood.

(Come on! You didn’t really think he was called Syd Little?)

Everyone’s jumping to the defence of Arlene Phillips, but where were all these folks when my mum (and no doubt some of yours) were made to stop work when they reached 60? And wouldn’t you think most people would be glad to stop work as soon as they can, particularly if, like Arlene, you’ve made a bob or two? In most walks of life men are made to stop work at 65 and women at 60. There are a few exceptions; and the two most prominent seem to be showbusiness and politics.

Ageism is a weird one to pin down. Sexism? Racism? You know where you are with those two devils. You don’t suddenly become female as you get older (well, ok, some do, but you know what I mean). And unless you’re the departed Michael Jackson, you don’t change skin colour halfway through your life. No! Sexism and racism are evils that some have to battle for all their years on Earth, whereas ageism creeps up on us slowly, in the shape of the grim reaper (aka BBC controllers).

I was the “victim” of BBC ageism a few years back. We (Trev and myself) were approached to take part in BBC3’s Celebrity Scissorhands (a reality show for Children in Need where a bunch of idiot P-listers like myself are trained to become hairdressers). Trev, ever the wise one, didn’t have to think once. It was a no from him. But, surprisingly since people can only ever seem to think of as a couple, they were still interested in me. I’ll do anything as long as it doesn’t hurt or exploit anyone but myself. I have nothing to lose. Sure, it was for no pay, but no one was paying me for anything anyway. And it gets me out of the house, and it might be a bit of a laugh. Oh, and I learn a new trade, so at least I might be employable once I’m booted off.

I went and met the people from Endemol and we talked for two hours and they seemed keen. And they kept seeming keen, until a good few weeks later they got in touch to say they were very sorry. They wanted me, but BBC3 had the final say, and they said I was “too old.”

Oh well. It was only a barbers after all, and for no money. It’s hardly the jungle. And who knows? Maybe they were just trying to let me down gently. Maybe it wasn’t the truth. Maybe I’m too ugly for BBC3. Or too untalented. Or not celebrity enough.

A far more sinister side of ageism is how old people are treated by younger comedians now. A trend has developed for caricaturing oldies as incontinent. Particularly old women, who’ll gush all over the floor anytime, anywhere. But the joke seems to begin and end there. And now young people happily joke about old people smelling of wee. It’s a joke that’s taken as a truth.

And maybe that’s why Arlene had to go. Some daft producer, younger than you or I, got it into their head that Arlene might struggle to hold it all in. And then, before you know it, there’d be murder on the dancefloor.

The Fourth Plinth

July 8, 2009

Plinth

the fourth plinth

I wandered through Leicester Square yesterday to take a look at the fourth plinth. For a hundred days the plinth will have a person on it. A different person every hour. That’s 2400 people. Here you can see one of them… if you look closely.

The art project is called One and Other. It’s by… well… 2400 different people. But the man behind it all is Anthony Gormley; the man who gave us the Angel of the North and the Peckham bollards. You can watch all the action live here 24 hours a day for the next 100 days.

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art-and-iceland-2

argos-dog

I was off around London Town yesterday; a casting for a commercial. If you read my blog every now and then you may be familiar with how this goes for me. If not and you’d like to know, look here. This one was for a car commercial for Holland; to be filmed in Amsterdam. Great! It’d be like a mini holiday. For one day I could be a drug-taking sex tourist, who also nips into Anne Frank’s house.

I won’t get it. I had to wear a shirt and a tie and a jacket but not a suit. When I got there I was told I was an important man on his way to a meeting at the G20… yeah, that’s me. When the casting director commented on my long-haired slightly beardy look, I pointed out that the man who had gone in before me had a big beard. She told me it was because he is  appearing in a Russian play. I said I was writing one. She said “really?” I won’t get it.

So then I killed my day by wandering the streets, going to the pictures, going into cafes, pubs, and of course, the Trocadero. Still haunted, still a place of living ghosts and zombie kids. And Pasaje del Terror isn’t even open yet.

I saw my first film of the day in the Trocadero. Crank; High Voltage. This is the sequel to Crank, a film I haven’t seen. But I have seen Transporter 1 and 2, and here’s daft old me thinking the Crank ones would be more of the same. Well, in The Transporter films Jason Statham plays a man who says little and drives around a lot. He fights, he drives, he fights, he scowls, he drives, he fights… but there’s also a quiet, troubled side to him. And his best mate (if you can have mates in the existential world of fighting/driving/scowling movies) is a French cop who likes to cook. Oh, and all the ladies wander around in high heels and long coats, which they whip open to reveal guns in suspenders; you know the kind of thing. The Transporter films are half French half American, and somewhere along the way Luc Besson (Nikita, Leon, Angel-A) plays a part. They’re fun, sexy, violent, charming, action-packed (PeeWee), and, in a daft way that shouldn’t make sense in films where everyone dies the most brutal and imaginative death possible, their heart is in the right place.

In Crank; High Voltage, Jason Statham talks a lot and calls everyone a ****.

Still, it passed some time.

Though when I came out of the darkened cinema, to enter the darker Troc, it wasn’t even 2pm.

Good. Chance to get another film in at the pre-5pm cut price deal available to all those with nothing to do.

I wandered until 3.55pm. In and out of Fopp, in and out of a pub, in and out of a Japanese fast food place.

My second film was going to be either The Damned United or In the Loop. Well,  years ago I was offended by Armando Iannucci… Oh damn, I guess I can’t write that without going into it, and it’s all so absurd, and if he ever read this and saw it as a reason for not seeing his no doubt very funny and clever and good film, he would rightly think of me as a mad man, but I can’t help it. Things stick and eat away at my soul. Here goes… a crazy little story… true too…

Me and Trev walk through Soho. Outside a cafe sits Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci. We’ve never met Armando, but we’ve met Steve often enough to say hello. And so we say hello. To both of them, but we don’t know Armando and he doesn’t know us. This and that gets said, and Steve asks what we’ve been up to. We say we recently did a gig where we had a few thousand students swinging  their pants and Armando says “that’s how Hitler started.”

Now, no doubt Armando was just trying to be funny and friendly (as I was with my misfired “writing a Russian play” line earlier). But I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t say anything, the remark hung there in the air, and a moment or so later we said goodbye and walked away.

To this day I fester over Armando’s Hitler comment. And if you think I’m joking, ask Trev. Trev by the way, is much more easygoing. I like all of Armando’s work, particularly The Day Today, all the Alan Partridge stuff and Time Trumpet. But Hitler never made people swing their pants. Did he? Am I like Hitler? For years I’ve pondered and fretted over this. And now, if someone shouts “swing your pants” to me in the street, rather than smiling lamely I lose the plot and bellow at them “Who do you think I am? Bloody Hitler?”

So, I pick The Damned United. A film where one man lets a perceived insult fester year after year (did Don Revie snub Brain Clough… did Don Revie say “that’s how Hitler started?”) Heck, I’m so mad (as in crazy, not angry) that I’ve made myself the anti-hero Clough to Armando’s thuggish Revie.

Go and see The Damned United. Even if you don’t like football. Even if you didn’t like Red Riding (by the same writer, David Peace). In fact, all the more reason to go. The Damned United makes Red Riding look like a murky brown thing that’s damp and smelly and should be put at the very back of a cupboard you’ll never go back to. The Damned United crackles with style, wit and fervour from the beginning; an exterior shot of the walls of Derby County Football club, windows in the wall where a press conference is taking place. Outside, the weather is hell, rain pouring down. But the lighting comes from within. The lightning flashes are cameras going off, photographing Cloughie. There is a greater charge in this room than anything God up in his clouds could muster.

Go and see The Damned United. Even if you don’t like football. It’s not about football (well, it is, but you know…) Like Peter Morgan’s other films (The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon, The Deal, The Queen) it’s about battles and fights and love and, if not death, respect. Unlike the two way battles of Blair/Brown, Blair/Queen, Frost/Nixon, Idi Amin/Mr. Tumnus, this is a three way love/hate affair between Brian Clough, Peter Taylor and Don Revie. And even if Clough is sometimes what Jason Statham might call a ****, he’s a lovable one, and a forgivable one.

It’s a shame the Clough family are unhappy with this film. I can understand why, and if I was a member of the family I think I’d be furious with a film that takes great liberties with the truth about a dead relative. But I’m not. And if they can take any consolation, and I doubt they can, I came out of the film thinking of Brian Clough as a great and likeable man; a man who achieved great things. Sure, as hubristic as hell, but also a man who would get down on his knees and ask for forgiveness. Hubrism and humility; there’s a mix.

So, one more time, go and see The Damned United. If you do, I’ll go and see In the Loop.

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Castaway 2

March 27, 2009

I had a casting the other day. Better than the one I had a few weeks back, but I still won’t get it. That’s not being defeatist. I did a good job, I’d be good for the ad, but I won’t get it because at some point, someone will go “isn’t he that bloke that used to be on kids tv?” And that’ll be that. For some adverts me being vaguely recognisable to a small proportion of the public may well be a good thing. Better wait for one of those to come along. What a change from the me of twenty odd years ago who would have run a mile from an advert, believing them all to be the works of Satan. However, I still have some principles. I will only perform in adverts for products that are demonstrably bad for people.

When I entered the waiting a room at the casting suite a voice called “Simon”. I looked over and said “Ben!” For it was Ben. I’m terrible at remembering names, and I haven’t seen Ben since we were teenagers at University, but I recognised him straight away. So things perked up from that point. After the casting we went and had a coffee. It was good to talk about old times and old friends. Sad too. Friends come and go; we all go through good times and bad times.

We were up for different parts in this advert. So, in an ideal world, we’ll both be working together again after a quarter of a century gap.

Then I wandered for a bit. When it started to snow… Snow? No one mentioned snow. Then again, I had seen no forecasts. So, when it started to snow I did the sensible thing and popped into Fopp and bought Setting Sons by The Jam for £3 (I have it on vinyl, but that and all the other stuff- turntable, amp- are all in storage).

As I walked home I looked at the clouds. I should have taken some pictures but my arms were too lazy. Here’s a couple of old pictures I came across recently. I had a file called “last pics on the Nikon” and I was intrigued to see what was in there. My camera’s Samsung now, but it seems to have some ghosts caught in it. I can’t remove them and I can’t buy a new camera. So, before I go back to the ghosts, here’s two ghost free Trafalgar Square pictures.

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Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant

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ladbroke-grove

“Do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you’re a corporate whore and eh, end of story.” Bill Hicks.

This morning I had a casting for a commercial. I had to go to a fancy pants agency over in Ladbroke Grove. You know you’re in a fancy pants agency when the people who work there take their dogs to work. This one, a sweet and lovely dog, I have met before- on one of my other failed trips out to Ladbroke Grove. And this was a failed trip.

I don’t like castings. I never have. When I was younger, and I didn’t have to go to them, I wouldn’t. I didn’t like the way they made me feel nervous, the way they made me sweat, the way they made me feel just a little bit useless and stupid. I’d have been like Bill Hicks. But, I’m still here. So I’ve given up and given in. Though some amongst you may be aware that I did one advert in 1995 for some sweets called Fruitang. We did the advert as the World of the Strange characters. So, I guess I’m off the artistic roll anyways. That advert enabled me to afford driving lessons, at the age of 33, and also to afford a car; my little Ford Fiesta that I’m still driving now; yes, my car’s a teenager.

So, back to today. I had to be a tic tac man (the racecourse hand lingo, not the mints) for a tabloid newspaper ad. Everyone around me looked like a bookie from the racecourses. I wasn’t going to get this ad and so I resigned myself to stroking and playing with the dog. While all around me waved their arms like they were playing a demented game of Simon Says, I sat on the floor and communicated with the dog.

In the casting room, you face about ten people all there to watch you wave your arms around. They gave me a piece of paper with my name on it. You hold this up while they film you for an “ident”. I forgot to take mine in. I tried to make light of it but I felt hidden scowls. Once, at a casting years ago, I got so nervous that when I went up to shake the hand of the director, a man called Rock, I stood on his foot. Anyway, I waved my arms around a bit and then left. The odds on me getting this job?- for the tic tacs reading, crossed arms. For the none tic tacs- 33/1. It would be higher but that’s as high as tic tac goes.

I left and decided to kill some time in London time. Sometimes I pass the time, sometimes I waste it; but today was definitely a killing day.

In Winkworth’s, just by Ladbroke Grove station, the estate agents sit eating crisps.

Outside the Ivy photographers wait, ready to shoot. I stand for a moment to see who will come out. But then I realise that I could be in for a big disappointment; what if it was, say, Sid Owen? And so I walk away, knowing for sure that I hadn’t seen, say, Raquel Welch or Uri Geller.

I do the same thing outside Cafe Nero. A police van turns up and spills out its officers, straight into the cafe. That’s exciting. I wonder what’s going on? Well, I’m still wondering. I walked away. I think they were maybe all going in for coffees.

I go to Fopp and allow myself £10 worth of goodies. I buy two dvd’s; Funny Games (the Michael Haneke remake of his own film), The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Sean Penn); and a book, The Comedy Writer by Peter Farrelly (as in the Farrelly brothers). Not bad for £10. Oh, but then it goes hopelessly wrong. I get to the till and am tempted by their “sweets” display- I buy two more things; the special edition Deathproof soundtrack (why special? because it comes in a padded packet, like a car seat), and Sunday at Devil Dirt by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. Doh! Now I’d spent another £6. Still, at least I’m going to make a bit of money playing a tic tac- Doh again! Me and my bad memory.

That’s how I killed time. Now I’m off to pass time, playing pool for JFK Rejects. It’s cup night tonight and we are in the semi-final, facing JFK’s (the non-reject ‘A’ team). Come on the underdogs!

p.s. If this post seems a little moany, sorry. Yes, I don’t like castings, but when things work, it’s not a bad way to earn a living. There are worse things I could do.