When Not The Nine ()‘C‘loek News first arrived in 1979 it was Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson who captured public imagination and became the darlings ofthe press. The other two— Griff Rhstones and Mel Smith — were sometimes regarded as being there to make up the numbers and Mel himselfhas
j admitted in the past that he was rather in awe ofthe more
: experienced Atkinson until the third series of Not. When the programme
finally called it a day and Rowan and Pamela went off to do their own
things.Griffand Melstucktogether. ' forming a production company Talkback which. as Mel says: ‘was a good way to earn a few extra bob.‘
Griff and Mel then reappeared on ' our screens with A [as Smith and Jones which recently finished its second series. Last year they branched out into live theatre when they took their two man show to Australia. (‘riticism of their shows down under was so positive — ‘irreverently hilarious‘ and 'terrific. inventive and perceptive‘ being among the plaudits — that they decided to ‘let the Brits see it.‘ Before setting out on their 25 date tour. Mel Smith took some time out from rehearsing and rewriting to tell me what Scots audiences can expect to see.
‘Well. it‘s quite different from the TV show. obviously. The first halfof the show is. if you like. stand-up comedy and the second half is sit-down comedy. The first half is very much a theatrical stage routine. the kind of thing we would never have done on TV. A freewheeling thing with the two of us very much in stage persona. a la Morecambe and Wise or whatever.‘ Glasgow has been called the graveyard of English comedians. but Mel has no worries about playing it although he says that Griff was not wild about the idea at first. There is a school of thought
Naughty in Australia
that says the Glasgow date was picked to coincide with a race meeting at Ayr. Smith. the 35 year-old son of a bookie has a fondness for the horses and once said that his greatest wish is to own a stud farm.
This tour follows their trip to Australia where they premiered their two-man show. Although no strangers to the stage. Smith and Jones are acutely aware of the difference between live and TV work. especially with regard to comedy. ‘A lot ofthe subtlety has to be ironed out.‘ said Mel. adding ‘that‘s not to say that you end up _ doing something that‘s crude or crass. We were looking fora very strong. upfront style. using the audience more than we ever will on television. There‘s a lot of talking to them and getting things back from them‘ Since the average audience on this tour is around two thousand. I wondered if there was a problem relating to an audience this size. especially as they were unused to it. ‘I must say. I was a bit naughty the first couple ofweeks in Australia.‘
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones have broken out of
their TV studio and are bringing their larger than life double-act to the North, visiting the SECC on 24th and the Playhouse on 25th January. Graham Caldwell finds out where the Morons have landed.
Mel confessed. I didn‘t realise it. but I was playing to the front four rows. My manager went up and sat in the circle one day and said “For God‘s sake. remember they‘re up there as well" but by the end of the tour. we were belting it out.‘ I suggested to him that there must be elements of
pantomime in performing comedy to
an audience that size and he agreed. ‘There are elements of that in the first halfof the show. The second halfis more sketch orientated: sort of here‘s the Pope sketch. here‘s the
Bruce Springsteen sketch as well as a
fairly large head to head.‘ This is the popular part of the TV show where Mel and Griff discourse on all sorts ofmatters — artificial insemination being a particular favourite. Despite labels like ‘new wave‘ and ‘alternative‘. comedy is notoriously hard to classify. ‘We‘re the funny school ofcomedy. I don‘t care what the outward trappings or style is. you‘re ultimately looking at good gags and good character work. There‘s nothing original about The Young Ones — there‘s a way of looking at it that says it‘s like The (‘razy (Jung. The only difference is that the terms of reference and language are different.‘ He goes on to apply this theory to the Smith and
Music Hall 'I‘radition
' Jones show. ‘lt‘s very old fashioned
in a way. that‘s not to say that the material has to be. but it‘s a good.
‘ old fashioned. stand-up routine in
the music hall tradition.‘
Apart from stage and television work. both Smith and Jones have branched out into film work. Their first attempt. Morons‘front Outer Space although popular with the public was less so with the critics. At the time. Smith was quoted as saying they were ‘delighted‘ with the film.
but looking back. away from the PR
of its release. he has a different view. ‘Well. it wasn‘t very good. I have to say it was a much funnier script than ended up on the screen. Basically it ran away from us. We lost control frotn the moment the casting started.‘ Decisions with which they disagreed were taken by people Smith feels had no idea of how to translate their brand ofcomedy onto
We do a sex survey
the screen. Their experiences with Morons has only determined Smith and Jones to make sure the same does not happen with their next film.
Even now. Smith is aggrieved at both press criticism — ‘a joke‘ — and what he sees as a waste of time. ‘I don‘t regard the film very highly at all and it makes me sick. because we spent three years rewriting that bloody
thing and at the end of the day we
might as well not have bothered.‘
Mel Smith first made his name in
stage direction. In fact. he left ()xford without taking his degree to concentrate on his production of The Tempest and now the lessons learned on Morons have determined him to go it alone in films. although he is aware of the difference between the two. ‘lt‘s a much bigger team to carry and a much more technical process.
You can‘t just create with actors in a nice. confined vacuum.‘ He is already working. with Jimmy Mulville on a film tentatively entitled Rout/(es which he wants to direct but not appear in. lts‘ heroes will be the hard-working. hard—drinking ‘maniacs‘ who work with an unseen Glam rock band. ‘A lot of my friends are behind the scenes in the rock ‘n‘ roll business. and listening to them over the years. enjoying the stories and laughing at the antics. it struck me as a very good vehicle for a real knockabout comedy.‘ The film is still in the planning stages. but Mel has
r by accident and. like so many of the
his fingers crossed that it will be made. Mel fell into the world ofcomedy
()xbridge comedians. it was a result
ofa trip to Edinburgh during the
Festival. He and Bob Goody did a
show which was well received although Smith thought no more
about it until a year later. ‘I was associate director at the Old Vic and having a bloody awful time when I got a phone call and this bloke says. ‘l‘m producing a new. satirical comedy series for the B B(‘ — would you like to be in it'." The show was No! The Nine ()'( ‘loek News and Smith has not looked back since. He says that his career is partly planned and partly accident. ‘you just get offered jobs. mate.‘ As well as his comedy work. he has also been offered a lot ofstraight acting work. which he enjoys. His first straight television role was as Tom (‘raig in Muck and Brass. in which he played a tough. shady businessman and has since appeared in .llinder and Restless .Vttti t 't’.\‘.
He sees straight acting asa welcome relief. although there is nothing in the offing for the immediate future he is ‘there. available and definitely interested. because straight stuff is a bit ofa holiday after comedy.‘ So far. he seems to have been a bit typecast in the roles he has been offered. ‘l‘m either a baddie or lovable and oafish which presumably means I‘m at least flexible.‘
As well as the Roudies script and a third series of Alas Smith and Jones. Mel is planning a show for London Weekend Television with Griff. This does not tnean that they will be splitting away from the Beeb. the
arrangement is described as
‘amicable‘. ‘We‘re much more in the role of prescnters.‘ Mel told me. ‘which is why we‘ve no worries about doing it.‘ Although it is. as yet.
untitled. Mel describes it as being ‘a history of the world seen through film clips. a bit like 10m) and All 'l'hatf
Smith and .lones‘ humour can sometimes be eonlt‘met‘sial and has been since [he Not days. ll eat] also bk. a bit cruel to some eyes. but they do not go out of their way to be so. ‘( )ur basic approach is. A is it funny and B is it an interesting area‘.’ We do. I‘d like to think. fairly perceptive stuff about different kinds of people and institutions. There are things that we might do that the Two Ronnies wouldn‘t.‘ One thing they do not go out their way to do is political comedy. ‘lfit‘s funny we don‘t shirk away frotn it.‘ Mel explained. ‘it‘s all to do with how you approach it — it‘s just not our style.‘ Given that their television shows raise a few eyebrows. I wondered if audiences on the tour can look forward to anything a bit more rude‘.’ "Yes. Disgusting it is — absolutely disgusting. We do a sex survey among the audience - find out what they‘re all into.‘ lle chuckled. ‘lt can be a fairly revealing evening.‘
The List 24 Jan — (1 Feb 3