Monday, 18 May 2015

change is good

Hey. I'm on the train back from the first day of Chichester rehearsals for Damsel in Distress. It has been intense for the last month, very intense for the last fortnight, and at the end of the last week reached an unsustainable intensity. I hope it is back to being very intense now. It's good intense though, in the way really excellent teamwork can be - a combination of understanding and generosity, along with all the talent.

There really is a lot of talent. I've taught a few songs to hockey teams in my time, but this is literally different from that.

Anyway, the first victim victim of the process is the truth. No, not the truth. The first victim of the process is Tall Tales. We are taking May off, with the extremely kind permission of The Good Ship. Really, it is one of the best-humoured, best-run venues imaginable. TT wouldn't exist without it.

This is quite a dull post, I know. I've had some fun things sitting on tabs for a month. I don't know how, for instance, I first heard of Tiffany Jones, but it sounds from Wikipedia like a spectacularly awful movie:

Tiffany Jones is a 1973 British comedy film directed by Pete Walker and starring Anouska Hempel, Ray Brooks and Eric Pohlmann.It was based on a comic strip that had featured in the Daily Mail. The main character, Tiffany Jones, a leading model, also works as a secret agent. She encounters in this film both good and bad men alike.

That alone does not earn it blog space. The thing I love is that the star, Anouska Hempel, hated it so much that she bought all the rights and blocks all versions from being distributed. Unlike me, Hempel comes from Russian and Swiss German heritage and says she was born on a boat from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand. Also unlike me, she has married a property developer who died in a mysterious car crash, Bill Kenwright and a major financier.

The differences don't end there, but these will do for now.

Ok, apart from I have never blocked movies of myself, viz. Tiffany Jones and also Black Snake. Also I don't have a showcase hotel in the Brazilian rainforest and I haven't designed two yachts.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

u or non-u

We got an election leaflet from the U Party yesterday. We'd never heard of it even though I think that ours is the only seat it's fighting this time round. It's centralist and libertarian, and you're already a member - everyone is automatically enrolled but you can opt out if you want to.


Being an MP is a national job, not a local job. There will be no constituency surgeries; solving local problems is the job of local councillors who can if they wish approach an MP to help resolve a problem. In any event, U Party MPs will be unpaid, so they will be too busy earning a living like the rest of us, and too busy to make legislative mischief.


If we have time, the U Party might seek peaceful recovery of our former French possessions under Henry II (if they vote to return, but excluding Calais). And we will form a coalition with anyone and everyone if we can. The U Party will break any and all of its manifesto promises of it sensible to do so.

It's not really nuts. Really, it's an issues based leaflet from a guy who knows he isn't going to be elected but can say things a lot of people in politics think but can't possibly say. That's why he can make jokes that he trusts people to get. The main issue is pensions, which need sorting out. It's also sensible about the law (too many laws hastily promulgated lead to confusion), drugs (evidence-based reports across the world favour decriminalisation), prison reform, training for MPs and especially regulators and various others.

Monday, 4 May 2015

i bet this won't change your mind about anything

I don't know how to change people's minds about politics. It almost never happens which means, in social circumstances, what's the point in trying? I think: I shouldn't get into this, basically.

Then I see something like the Times scandal, which is properly scandalous, where the newspaper basically lied on Page 1 that average working families would pay £1000 more in tax under Labour. The next day they retracted this on Page 24 and explained they had reached this figure by adding up the extra tax paid by the highest earners, by owners of very expensive houses and by various companies, and dividing that by the total number of working families, almost all of whom wouldn't be paying it. The naked bias of these self-interested, knowingly deceitful [rude word] makes me want to thcweam.

Yes, the BBC is, more or less, left of the current political centre. But it tries, more or less, to be impartial. And frankly if almost all the commercial enterprises owned by really rich people are right of centre and literally electioneering in their owners'; direct material interests, thank goodness the media giant paid for by poorer people is in a small and almost entirely unelectioneering way a counterbalance.

And while I am writing something that won't persuade anyone: mansion tax.

A comprehensive Land Value Tax would be better; the mansion tax is politically more viable and better than nothing; of course there will be victims, there are victims of any policy change, I wish there weren't; but at least this time the victims are those who have been overwhelmingly lucky with when they have been born and can therefore better afford the hit; some of the victims will be at the more victim end of the scale and they will make the papers and I do feel sorry if anyone has to move out of their house, I really do, but on the upside, if they are having to move they are moving from a £2m house whose value has been hugely inflated by things other than their own hard work (this is not to say they haven't worked hard to pay what they did pay) which gives them a step up on an entire generation which can't possibly buy.

Two other comments:
1. Please don't call this the politics of envy. I hate this 'I'm the victim of jealousy' stuff from people who have loads of stuff. Maybe you are, but it's not really an argument. I am very lucky. I totally expect a kid who didn't have my massive advantages to be jealous of me.
2. Yes, yes, I'm a member of the liberal urban intellectual elite. It's one of the two big groups (with working class Tories) who vote against their narrow economic self-interest. Doesn't make us either right or wrong, but I mention it because it irritates me when people call me smug for wanting to share a good fortune I know I haven't entirely earned.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Do you want to see Damsel in Distress but are scared of Chichester?

Tricky, because Chichester is where it's on, and its whizzo cast has now been announced. Richard Fleeshman, Summer Strallen, Desmond Barrit, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell and Sally Ann Triplett are just the start of it.

If you are scared of Chichester and want to learn something about it but without the brilliant actors, great songs and inspiring choreography, or the lights, costume and other complex aspects of design, you can hear me talk about writing the script at the lovely Haymarket Hotel on Weds 20th May. The evening - with wine and nibbles - is hosted by Alfriston's Much Ado Books, which is my official equal favourite UK bookshop with West End Lane Books. (My favourite non-UK bookshop is in Kalk Bay on Cape Point, you will be riveted to learn. It was jammed with things I wanted to buy when I went there last month.)

What is the worst movie ever made? IMDB's algorithms think it is probably Paris Hilton's The Hottie and the Nottie. But another movie has a lower IMDB score. Which one and why?

That will have to do for now.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

this and that

Been a while. I am partly editing some scripts. I am partly preparing for A Damsel in Distress (come see me talk about it at the Haymarket Hotel, May 20th, details will follow when they are finalised). Various things to clear from my tabs.

I love what this guy is doing with his lottery win.

The not very recent Radiolab podcast about wrestling and Don Quixote was the most interesting story about storytelling I've heard in ages. I am for obvious reasons very interested in the nature of sport as a narrative form; the differences between sport and returning drama; and so on. Wrestling and the meta-negotiations taking place between its construction and reception are some of the most complicated in any narrative, even more than highly constructed reality TV where the outcomes aren't  quite so fixed. And the Don Quixote stuff is also very good.

This Rolling Stone piece on whistleblowers and why there haven't been bank prosecutions has been an open tab for about three months until I finally read it. 1. It's excellent. 2. It slightly leaves out how hard it is for the government to fight law cases with people who are much richer and more personally motivated than the government. 3. I repeat my ancient thing: putting law-breaking bankers in jail would work. Putting thieves in jail might not deter them, because it's part of the cost-benefit analysis of a very different life, but putting bankers in jail would definitely, definitely affect the behaviour of other bankers.

Friday, 13 March 2015

stupid libraries

I decided to spend ten minutes looking at something for a sequel to The Dazzle that I literally don't have to the time to write just now. I signed out a few 1920s-30s memoirs. I opened the books pretty much at random. After a total of fifteen minutes reading (I lost discipline) I had to move on to urgent tasks, but I did quickly type up what I had found.

These books are a terrible danger, time-wise.

I became very friendly with Euphemia Lamb, whom I had first met in Paris when I was a child. She was then wearing a black velvet dress and it was a shock to see that she wore no corset or underclothes. Father may have been boasting when he later told me she had been his mistress. She came again into my life during the war and Father and I lunched with her at the Ritz. She was then always accompanied by a small, silent Russian Baron.


One hot summer afternoon I was passing the courtyard that leads to the stage-door of the London Palladium. Taking the air was a perfect specimen of manhood. Wearing a short white and gold tunic and breastplate, his magnificent brawny, brown body made him look to me like a Greek God. I was transfixed and willingly answered his call to have a chat, sitting with him on a prop basket. I told him a few things about myself and learned he was the principal dancer of the Marian Morgan Dancers from America. This meeting led to many experiments in the sexual sphere that could parallel Noel Coward’s Private Lives. He and his wife opened the door to a tumult of love-making and encouraged me to explore the many facets of sex: the one great gift nature has bestowed on all of us. They believed that the lack of courage to explore love-variations, caused the failure of many marriages. Their antidote was threesome, or ‘Chelsea Sandwich’, and I subsequently learnt that I was just one of many to have come between them.


According to his Swiss medical adviser, the formation of his body and skull was an exact physical reproduction of a renaissance nobleman, and when he first took up his appointment as Privy Chamberlain of the Cape and Sword at the Papal Court everyone was astonished by the way he seemed to know all the elaborate ritual and ceremonial as if from memory or instinct or both. He used to surround himself with beautiful things by Michelangelo, Donatelli and Leonardo da Vinci. He was a gourmet and a music lover. An example of his exotic life may be found in the circumstances of his succession to the title not long afterwards. He was in a New York millionaire’s yacht off Venezuela when Prince Paul of Greece heard the English wireless bulletin and informed him was now the new Welsh peer.


He was also a godfather thirty times over and a best man thirty-five times. Somehow he managed to remain a bachelor and become a wit. One of his phrases, ‘beetle off’, was, at my suggestion, adopted by PG Wodehouse.

Friday, 6 March 2015

damsel in distress

Back. While I was away, Jeremy Sams and I quickly wrote a new version of this Wodehouse story, with Gershwin songs, and the marvellous Chichester Festival Theatre got wind of it and immediately decided to insert it into their summer programme, which is excellent.

Ho ho ho. But this show, which has been maturing like a very, very, very fine wine over the last few years, and of which I am inordinately proud, will finally see the light of day in the main house at Chichester, starting 30 May and running till 27 June. It's a big theatre, so you can all come and I want you to.

This is not the last you will hear of it.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

gone fishing

I'm off and about. See you in a bit.

But how can I buy old Mighty Fin shows like you periodically talk about? Er. For reasons not unconnected with future plans and comments from our various agents, it is deemed sensible not to rush things into the public domain.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

the earl of qatar

Just a snippet of dead earl news, because it's been a while:

She was known as Irene - pronounced Irenee - and was an extremely vivacious woman.  She is also the subject of one of the family legends.  The legend has it that she married the 6th Earl of Craven on an impulse.  He, having been in a drunken stupour at the time, woke up the next day realising what he had done and promptly left, although he left her pregnant.  There is a modicum of truth to the story as this item in Time Magazine’s events page shows:   “Marriage Revealed. William Robert Bradley, 21, orange-haired Sixth Earl of Craven; and Irene Meyrick, daughter of the late in-and-out-of-jail Mrs. Kate ("Queen of the London Night Clubs") Meyrick. The Earl's gallant, one-legged father caused a newspaper uproar in 1926 by eloping with another earl's wife, Countess ("Moral Turpitude") Cathcart.” 

If you read one thing about how the horrible Qataris bought the handball world cup, naturalised a load of players for money, do read this. Villainous Qataris and greedy sportocrats - hard to see what could go wrong. My favourite bit, for what it's worth:

It was conspicuous that all the referee couples who have a reputation for being particularly capable of standing up to pressure were kept away from the games of Qatar in the ‘round of 16’, the quarterfinal and the semifinal. And in all cases, ‘less resistant’ referees were seen by neutral observers as having had a lot to do with the Qatari wins in very narrow games. In turn, Austria, Germany and Poland left the court fuming about mysterious decisions in critical moments, and also totally neutral observers found it to be a bit too much.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

is your girlfriend a trained assassin?

I very strongly urge you to read this ESPN story. It's about a sports star* who believes his ex-girlfriend is a trained assassin dispatched on covert missions around the world who once returned to him in a blood-splattered gown.

'Really?' asked his attorney (HIS attorney), Rusty Hardin. Busch replied, Everybody on the outside can tell me I'm crazy, but I lived on the inside and saw it firsthand.

Busch says that Driscoll talked about her assassining a lot, and said this involved a lot of travel. Also, she took down foreign governments and owned Washington. Driscoll said this was the plot of a screenplay that she let Busch proofread.

It's all your standard messy break-up stuff, basically.

* Kurt Busch is a NASCAR driver. I've heard of him because I like sport and NASCAR is insanely popular in America, even if I don't follow it.

Monday, 12 January 2015

shocking map

One of the things I know about Africa is that most people have no idea about how big it is. It turns out that I was one of those people. Africa is really, really, really big. This map is stunning.

Periodically I find myself reading a book or going to an art exhibition where the loose cast of extraordinary characters who were the background for parts of The Dazzle and some possibly even more famous works like The Childrens Book. Every time, I meet some people I had forgotten about or missed. Like, for instance, Selwyn Image, which is such a brilliant name that I can't believe I didn't know it. He was a priest, left holy orders, founded art magazines and made stained glass.

Thomas Okey is woefully underserved by Wikipedia, and you can't say that often. I have to do more research and I don't have time right now, but what I remember from the biographical note about him at the National Portrait Gallery was that he apprenticed to a basket weaver at 17, was ferociously committed to self-betterment, got a scholarship to read Italian at Cambridge where he became an in Italian professor. He went back to baskets when he retired from Italian. Once the baskets have you, they never let go.

On the great names front, I am currently loving Fozzy Whittaker of the Indianapolis Colts. It's a good name, in and of itself, but what makes it art is that it is shortened from Foswhitt.

For a play I wrote before Christmas, I had to come up with an amusing schoolboy name. I went with Nut-Pitcairn Minor. If you type Nut Pitcairn into Google, you come up with a sort of sponsored gyrocopter piloted by Amelia Earhart. I am close to certain I had never even unconsciously heard this, but I enjoyed finding it.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I had forgotten about my favourite piece of editing. In [many years ago] I sent a piece to the Sunday Times which included the paragraph:

Archbishop Foley’s point is that the Catholic confession depends on feedback. Many secular confessionals, to their infinitesimal credit, do give this; Daily Confession asks for comments on the revelations people make.

The edited version read:

Archbishop Foley’s point is that the Catholic confession depends on feedback. Many secular confessionals, to their infinite credit, do give this; Daily Confession asks for comments on the revelations people make.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

rise, kill and eat

Have you ever thought about the typography of Alien? Not enough, you haven't. 

I'll go out on a biblical limb and claim right off the bat that you cannot show me, through the balance of the Bible, that the God of the Scripture is against the responsible killing and the grilling of the animals He created, says Doug Giles.

Much less nutty is Ralph Myers, who wrote a really excellent thing about the effects of arts management (in Australia) being in the hands of business people rather than artists. Here's a long messy portmanteau quotation.

There are a raft of reasons why this is the case, and some of them are broader cultural trends ... However, this itself does not explain their almost total dominance. The real reason is that businesspeople are on boards is very practical – they’re there to raise money.

It has been noted often that government support for the major performing arts companies and festivals has been declining, in real terms, for decades. The companies have adapted to this by attempting to increase revenue from elsewhere – at the box office where they can – but primarily through cadging money from the private sector ... This has lead to overwhelming pressure to appoint well-connected and/or wealthy people to the boards of our companies ... [G]overnments have been encouraging, measuring and facilitating private and corporate giving to the arts as a way to deflect pressure on the public purse. Nugent rightly forced companies to be more accountable and financially responsible, but the consequence is that they rapidly became more corporate too ... I want to focus on its effect on that other key role of the board, the appointment of the artistic director ...

We like people with similar mindsets to us. People who think like us. This is natural thing. We understand them and thus we like people like us better than those who are not. We speak the same language, we can empathise with them, and we instinctively trust them. So, it should come as no surprise to us that boards, when charged with the task of finding a new AD, are appointing people who they instinctively trust and understand. People like them.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

there is a glimmer of hope for us all

I tore something out of a copy of either Metro or The Evening Standard one day last week. It opened:

For proof there's a glimmer of hope for us all, look at the unbelievable transformation Hugh Laurie has had in his career.

Who would ever have imagined, when Hugh Laurie was a mere rowing blue and star of the Cambridge Footlights that there was ever a glimmer of hope for him? Almost unimaginably he went on to be a comic actor and then made the extraordinary leap into being serious actor. It must give everyone the same glimmer of hope that we too could somehow emerge from his humble circumstances to be stars of American prime time dramas like his fellow old Etonians Dominic West and Damian Lewis.

For clarity, I love Hugh Laurie (The Gun Seller is my favourite novel by a comedian), and I think Dominic West and Damian Lewis are also excellent. I am just being mean about a cliche knocked out by some overworked guy who has to produce twenty 200 word pieces a day.

(Unlucky if you were not quick enough to get a Mighty Fin ticket. I said you had to be quick.)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mighty Fun 2014

A bit later than advertised, but tickets for this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show are finally on sale (we had some issues getting the matinee permit). It runs 17-20 December at the Network Theatre under Waterloo Station, with a matinee on Saturday.

As I hope you already know, The Diary of a Provincial Lady is one of the most joyful novels ever written. We're really pleased with the show. If you need persuading, and you definitely should not, it features a friend of mine called Ellis singing a song called The Aria of Enormous Trauma.

Tickets available here. History suggests it is best to be quick. They've been on sale for about a day and well over half have gone.

Network Theatre details available here. Do watch the video about how to get to it. It is right under the station. The problem you will face is your own disbelief.