are hoping to build and are achieving a broader appeal on mainstream television channels with shows like Happy Families, and in the cinema with their poised and funny new movie, The Supergrass.
Happy Families, in which Jennifer Saunders plays a dying grandmother and her four scattered ; granddaughters reunited for a
mysterious climactic reason by their brother, owes a lot to 19505 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coroners.
After the none too pleasurable : CXperience of having to write most of i Alfresco in unsympathetic ' circumstances, Elton wanted to
write something with a plot. a j narrative that could excite and hold an audience’s attention over a 5 six-week se.ies. With a hefty budget behind it, confident and witty direction by Paul Jackson and 1 unfettered by laughter track. Happy Families may lack the boisterous immediacy of The Young Ones. but 5 is a more satisfying, grown-up series. As John Wells has said, once you slip ginto the momentum of its internal, hysterical exaggerations, it‘s very funny indeed.
Elton’s talent is developing faster than that of any of his Young Ones peers. His success is undoubtedly the product of the daily effort and discipline with which he says he
5 applies himself to his writing and his
' desire to get better at it. Although he says comedy is instinctive -— the comic hopes for a shared sense of humour with the largest number of peOple — Elton also knows it is ineffective without a great deal of work put into it. Two and a half years in the case of Happy Families.
‘1 was very pleased with the review that I got for Happy Families in the (London) Standard , which said:“The script is so witty and elegant that it gets away with the most salacious lines I‘ve ever heard before 9.30pm.” If you can get away with a bit of taboo stuffwith elegance, without saying fuck — there’s nothing new in that— it’s good. It’s not being dirty for dirty‘s sake. So much of humour is lavatorial and sexual, because humour is based on taboo.‘
Happy Families which reﬂects some lack ofexperience and daring on the writer’s part, is its reliance on parody: episodes constructed round send-ups of soap operas. French ﬁlms and schoolgirl comic stories. Elton is vehemently defensive: ‘We’re a TV generation. We‘re swamped by culture. You can‘t write
It might be said that one element of
comedy devoid of cultural inﬂuences any more. I don’t think it‘s possible to do so. It would be boring if you did. because the language people have learned is the language of semioiogy and images. based on an entire life spent watching the television and listening to the radio.
‘There‘s so much inanity about. you have to parody it. You can‘t avoid that your head is totally full with shit. so you might as well welcome it. I hope that doesn’t mean I‘m writing parodies of Radio One DJs and Joan Collins all the time. but it‘s going to be there sometimes.‘
Elton will laugh at The Two Ronnies. Alas Smith andlones, Some Mothers Do 'A ve 'Em, Just Good Friends— ‘I‘m fairly ‘ open-minded. lfsomething is fairly good and not offensive then I can enjoy it.'— though his comic view of the world is not unrefracted through a political vacuum.
‘I‘m a political person. I think it‘s important that I occasionally try to think what I believe in and what I hate. That will keep my comedy on edge. But I would be a complete idiot ifI thought I could change anything by writing a funny script that goes on BBC1 at 8.25pm.
‘Lecturing is the least funny thing in the world. If you want to say something on a soap box you’ve got to be fucking funny. I wouldn‘t listen to a bore in a pub demanding a
i l i
Marxist revolution. Why should anyone else have to listen to me doing that?
‘The first thing is to be funny, but maybe you‘ll be even more funny if you talk about what you believe in. There is a scene in Happy Families where the two doctors are mysoginist professionals talking about period ‘ pains. They are the kind ofdoctor that women have to face all the time, so to me it‘s a political scene. It doesn’t have to have Vote Labour at the end ofit. In fact, if it did, it would be crap.‘
Elton‘s current writing aspirations mark a return to his student preoccupation, writing comedy plays. He wants to write ‘a really
good big farce‘ and is about to start on a second draft of one. He is cautiously modest about his success so far: ‘I‘ve got no hard luck stories. I’ve been very lucky.’ he says, and, admitting that he just wants to ‘carry on making other people laugh'. assures that his present keenness to maintain a live performing career will not obstruct his overriding love of writing.
‘I like being a stand-up comedian; it‘s where I started. It’s important for me as a writer. spending month after month closeted up, to maintain contact with the audience, and to
find out just how bad you can feel if a
joke isn't funny. It certainly stops you being complacent.‘