Tuesday, 8 December 2015

poor matthew

I heard a genuinely heart-rending story the other night about someone who dutifully checks this blog every day hoping for something to have changed, like a sort of digital Greyfriars Bobby. It's not like I haven't been learning interesting things about winter horseshoes (Napoleon didn't take winter horseshoes to Moscow - BIG mistake) and idiot terrorists hunting for a mythical super-substance called red mercury.

Or the battle for Castle Itter. The Daily Beast writes a big feature about it asking, essentially, how the hell come this isn't a movie already? The Daily Beast is right to ask.

In a nutshell: during WWII, Castle Itter houses French VIPs, where P stands for Prisoners. Also in the Castle (fairytale, 13th century) are some of the prisoners' wives, who have chosen to be interned with their husbands. Just after Hitler commits suicide, it's liberated by the Americans. But a crack SS regiment arrives to take it back and execute the prisoners. At which point, the Americans are joined by an anti-Nazi Wehrmacht unit which had joined the resistance.

Featuring also: Jean Barotra, the Bounding Basque, who won Wimbledon twice, as well as the French  and Australian Opens. He was a prisoner - he escaped three times, once during the final battle to go for help.

Friday, 28 August 2015

shall i tell you what this blog is really useful for?

If I don't blog, I literally never clear my tabs. But what is the point of clearing / memorialising them. It's sort of in case I need them again, sometimes. It's sort of because I'm in the habit of wanting to tell people about things.

Anyway, I liked this story of a not Nazi gold bar found in a lake, but nothing like as much as the story of the lost Nazi gold train. It's easy to think nothing on land can stay hidden, but forests are amazing. And canyons, but especially forests. One of the most useful things I have ever read - in terms of helping me understand lots of little other things I read from time to time that have to do with lost stuff - was a book which pointed out that explorers hunting a lost Amazonian civilisation walked within five feet of a major city on numerous occasions before finding it. If you don't touch it, and the forest is really thick, it's like it just isn't there...

The other incredibly useful thing - tangent - that every human should be forced to do is play Murder in the Dark in a large enough space for people to be able to flit between rooms, bits of outdoor, and so on. I've done it a few times and all the people I've done it with have radically, and I mean absolutely radically, changed their view of the reliability of eye-witness testimony. You can be clever, more or less sober, concentrating and be certain of a thing that happened five minutes ago, and totally wrong.

Crowdfunding board games (what about the Cones of Dunshire*), which reminded me of the best board game on the planet article, which reminded me I haven't played the best board game on the planet.

* Oh, actually the people behind Settlers of Catan had a go at Kickstarting Cones of Dunshire! But failed.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

so, blogs

I don't read many. I don't write mine much. I used to. I used to really like writing it and I flicked back through it the other day looking for something and I got stuck following links around Duff Cooper and some old earls, and I wondered why I didn't do this any more.

The answer is time, obviously. Is it a problem all the bloggers have, now they are older, childier, successfuller, etc? Probably. And the young bloggers are on twitter. And so are the old bloggers, obviously. I didn't even write down where I heard the thing which said that we don't blog about a thing any more, we just link to it, and those are different things. I liked blogs because I got a sense of personality from them that I guess you do get from tweets, and I like twitter, but... Whatever. I don't know. I haven't killed this blog, as you can see, and I don't intend to, but it's getting to be a historical artefact.

Doom doom doom. This time Seattle is going to fall into a crack.

Monday, 29 June 2015

flying tigers and other animals

Okay, A Damsel in Distress has finished its Chichester run. I bet you'll be able to see it again some sunny day, but it's a big show and all the cheeses involved are big ones, so it might not be easy to corral them. It wasn't last time, but it was worth it. It was literally lovely to be in the room with it every night I was there. I'm absolutely biased, of course. But there are reviews.

In other news, I've been interested in volunteer air forces every since I researched Charles Sweeny, who married Maggie, the eventual Duchess of Argyll (who did rude things to a headless man). He was the American who set up the US volunteer squadrons in England - the Eagle Squadrons - and helped fund them, in WWII. He's been deleted from Wikipedia. I wonder why.

I didn't know about the Flying Tigers, who were Americans who flew for China. That picture above has their nosepiece, which is very famous, and which I did know from putting it on planes in my Airfix youth (I was bad at them). I also didn't know that they copied it from some Nazi bombers.

I also recently googled, I'm not telling you why, The Best House in London. It turns out to be a movie starring a wide range of characters, from Warren Mitchell as an Italian Count to John Cleese as 'Jones'. It also features Sherlock Holmes and IMDB's description runs: In Victorian London, the British Government attempts a solution to the problem of prostitution by establishing the world's most fabulous brothel. I dare say it seemed like a good idea at some point, but I do not plan to watch it.

An article about Japan's ageing population. It's a cliche to say things are beautiful and sad, but still.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

whisky galore

It's been a while since I parroted Wikipedia.

Compton Mackenzie wrote it, and Monarch of the Glen. He was English, technically, but allegiance is an odd fish and it seems perverse to go with the technicality when Mackenzie was an ardent Jacobite, Governor-General of the Stuart Society and helped found the Scottish National Party.

Among is seven million other books were histories of the Battle of Marathon and Salamis, a biography of FDR and Extraordinary Women, a roman a clef about three lesbians based on what sounds like a very frisky time he had on Capri in the 20s. He married three times and supported, enjoyably given everything else, West Bromwich Albion. I want to know more about him and, given the fact that he wrote ten volumes of autobiography, there is more to know.

In other news: this is funny about the awful experience of having written what might have been a good script for Grace of Monaco.

Friday, 12 June 2015

a damsel in distress

NB I will periodically update this page.

Me not writing anything here has been good news for you, maybe, but bad news for the heroic cast of A Damsel in Distress, who had to deal with all kinds of preview week changes (Query: is not lesson from this that should have written a more competent show in the first place? Answer: probably best not thought about).

The first night was marvellous. The cast was brilliant. The reviews are in. Modesty, I find, is flexible enough to permit me posting all the reviews I can find.

an instant classic ... In an age of metamusicals from The Producers to the current Broadway hit Something Rotten, which offer their own ironic commentaries on the genre itself, A Damsel in Distress is both blissfully affectionate yet never affected as a young Broadway composer (Richard Fleeshman) and a British socialite (Summer Strallen) are set on an tangled but inevitable course towards each other in a dizzying, but always sincere, series of romantic collisions - The Stage

perfect summer fare ... a sunlit fantasy realm of ancient castles where batty peers, feisty showgirls and affectionate pigs get into comic muddles ... an evening of sheer, effervescent summer fun - Daily Telegraph

Here’s a joyful thing: a confection of butterscotch and sunshine, a tale of turrets and twosomes and tap-breaks, friendship and chivalry and secret passages and great legs, with glorious, soaring Gershwin songs to punt it all along - Libby Purves (She also tweeted, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS wins fifth mouse cos I woke up grinning 8hrs later. Sunshine, kicks and Wodehouse whoopee.)

This magnificently ridiculous romantic comedy sweeps all objections aside, and, while constantly reminding you of the absurdities of the Broadway musical, revels in them to joyous effect. It’s another canny musical triumph for Chichester’s creative team - Financial Times

diamond-bright, five-star froth - Daily Mail (Baz Bamigboye)

A Damsel In Distress is a great “new” musical. It completely encapsulates the feeling of a different time, a different style of musical. It is not Les Miserables or Wicked, but that is its strength. It is what it is – and what it is is beautiful, full of froth and bubble, syrup and cream. Utterly delicious - BritishTheatre.com

As a huge fan of Wodehouse I was as happy as the Empress in her sty at Blandings to see what Sams & Hudson had done. What we have is a cute, schmaltzy, feelgood, funny musical - Stage Review

Crazy, hilarious and tremendous fun—great show! - British Theatre Guide

by golly it works ... a spiffing good show - What's on Stage

There are perhaps only two words for this show: one is delightful and the other is ditzy - Daily Mail (Patrick Marmion)

what joyous nonsense - The Argus

a delight - The Public Reviews

Fresh, funny and scattering musical numbers from brothers George and Ira Gershwin like so many petals, it reduced the audience to tears of mirth and rapturous applause - The Southern Daily Echo

the entire show sparkles - In the Cheap Seats

an evening of pure escape - Eastbourne Herald

Wow. What a show. The perfect end to a long day at work. The perfect end to any day, in fact ... There’s so much to love about A Damsel in Distress, from the wonderful way it exploits all the new staging possibilities at the ‘new’ CFT to the glorious battiness of the show itself; from the fabulous costumes to the delightful choreography; from the terrific score to the complete fun of it all; from the way a castle suddenly appears before your eyes to the wonderful range of characters who inhabit it, all beautifully played by a cast at the top of its game - Chichester Observer

a new(ish) musical confection that feels like it's been around for years ... a delightful night in the theatre - Jonathan Baz

Brilliantly executed blissful nonsense - Frost Magazine

gorgeous and joyous! - Musical Theatre Review

Friday, 29 May 2015

almost there

Yo Sushis. This fortnight I have mostly been enjoying the stunt borzoi section of the tech (borzois are marvellous and were bred to hunt wolves, but they are like canine daleks and can't deal with stairs and so only one of three stunt borzois made the grade) and the hats, which are magnifique.

Also, many other things. If you come to a massive musical tech with no experience of techs beyond the single afternoons you get for your cute little annual shows, then it's a great game of spot the similarity and spot the difference. Since our cute little annual shows are put together by people who know what they're doing, the experience is surprisingly familiar, but the moments of sheer joy at first seeing a new iteration of the castle revolve, or a particular fabulous prop, or a suddenly gorgeous combination of lights, is obviously something a million miles beyond anything that's ever possible for us, and it's properly exciting. (Although, Charles and Tom will be thinking, let's just see if any Damsel in Distress special effect gets two rounds of applause within three minutes.)

In down moments, I have been teaching cast-members some of the great Ellis stories, and there have been discussions of what the tech and last rehearsal week would have been like for the initial production of King Lear.

On a personal level, I am not very experienced at hotels, but I've been here for a week and I have finally got to the point where I am not eating every single possible item that is available for breakfast. Also I broke the shower and still don't understand why there are so many cushions or why the duvet is the kind you would expect to find in the Ice Hotel.

This is a magnificent piece of writing about Rafa Nadal, who I adore.

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.