‘. . . In the end it was me, Hank Wangford and Billy Bragg singing backing vocals for Donny Osmond! And that‘s fun. I think. You’re never gonna see that anywhere else. It’s a bizarre. unlikely mixture.’
‘A bizarre. unlikely mixture‘ is about as good a description of the spontaneous. idiosyncratic late night chat show The Last Resort as one is likely to get. and it comes from the mouth ofJonathan Ross, Channel 4’s latest reluctant star and the show‘s creator and presenter. On a sunny Monday afternoon in February with the line-up of Friday’s show still in doubt. Ross and his PR agent are whizzing through Scotland in a succession of taxis on a whirlwind publicity tour. Unable to stay in constant touch with his office he hasn‘t been able to confirm if Boy George and Cynthia Paine will be able to appear on Friday night. Meanwhile. he enthuses about someone he wants on the show, a Yogi who pierces his stomach to extract swallowed string. ‘lt’s probably all fake, but it looks brilliant.‘ he grins. well aware ofthe nausea his graphic description is causing in the PR lady. Although it would be exaggerating to say that
‘women are a problem’
anything could, and probably will, happen on The Last Resort, it’s still a few steps further out than similar programmes.
‘The idea was to do a chat show for people who don‘t like the smugness of Wogan and Aspel. basically,’ explains Ross in his thick East End accent. sounding for all the world like a more cultured Pete Beale. ‘Do a chat show that doesn’t take itself seriously. Do it, have fun doing it, and make it fun.‘
After a few minutes in the company ofJonathan Ross it becomes clear that the show is an extension of the man. Ross’s sense of fun and style pervades the show, and both are forever threatening to lapse into good taste without ever quite managing it. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the show is that it is seen to strive for everything that the good chat show should be, while falling far short and ending up as a semi-parody of the genre. The point that a Parkinson-style big band is beyond the budget is underline by the way Ross flaunts Nick Plytas’s Ecstasy and its cocktail bar arrangements.
The day I speak to Jonathan Ross the uppermost thing on his mind is Sydney Devine. He seems a bit put out that he knows nothing about a
man who‘s such a household name up here and. having seen the previous night the effect that the mere mention of Devine’s name can have on a gathering of Scots, wants in on the joke. Several times he eagerly asks if there‘s any chance of stopping at a record shop before he has to catch his train. In the end he makes do with a copy of New Socialist. a 2000 A D and a couple of boxing magazines from a newsstand to amuse himselfon the journey, none ofwhich I imagine have any
" ‘ a
mention of the great Sydney.
A tall horror movie buff with difficult hair, the ‘hippest host’ on TV is smartly — though not soberly — dressed, the loud tie he wears on this particular occasion dispelling the notion of a seriously cool style warrior, and, on his wrist, inside a plastic bubble, Superman counts off the seconds, circling Metropolis once every minute.
Jonathan Ross was born into a large family in Camden Town twenty-six years ago and moved to East London at the age of two. The later years of his schooling were spent at all-boy schools, where he would skive off sports to visit the cinema — along with comics, one of
The Python approach to Wogan? Television’s hottest _ property chats to Alastair Mabbott. L}. 3.”. E;- x .
his enduring loves. Surprisingly, showing off at parties and in the classroom was the only performing that ever interested him, apart from a disastrous student update of Beowulf at the Edinburgh Fringe one year, in which ‘the only viking with an East End accent’ had to rape another member ofthe tribe in the opening minutes of the play. The curtain dropped on his acting career Ross attained a degree in History from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. ‘Tremendously useful for hosting a chat show, as you can imagine.’Graduation coincided with the opening of Channel 4, a development he followed with great interest. ‘I watched a lot of shows,
like everyone. Young people were really into Channel 4 at the time. I think they took more risks then, but it was quite amateurish in some ways. Some of the ways they took risks was by throwing professionalism out the window.‘
The young Ross, working as a security guard at the time, wrote to the chat show Loose Talk, telling them where they were going wrong, and, he confesses, lied his way into a researcher‘s job. “I was lucky,’ he explains, ‘that it was the kind of company that had a really healthy attitude towards TV: that it’s nothing special. Because it isn’t. It’s nothing that special or different to most jobs, it‘sjust a matter of common sense and working tolerably hard.‘
Loose Talk led to a researcher’s post on Soul Train, then ‘after Soul Train finished my friend and I came up with the idea for this show — almost as a joke really. We figured that there were 3—4 months before we came back to do Solid Soul, so we needed some money to tide us over. We thought ifwe could get some development money out of Channel 4 it’d be ideal. So they gave us enough money to keep us in beer for three months, we developed this idea and went back to them and they said yes! They called our bluff and said yes, we like it, who‘s going to present it? And we sort ofwent, oh fuck . . .’
In the end the decision of Mike Bolland (who commissioned the series) to talk Ross into presenting was probably the most inspired idea there had been in the company for some time. His rise in popularity, from complete unknown to star in a matter of weeks, has been meteoric and a genuine surprise to all concerned. Ross sees the praise as vindication ofhis premise that
people are bored with the slick fare served up to them as light
‘it’s not really a job’
entertainment (the occasional appearance by Ollie Reed notwithstanding). and want something that’s less predictable and less patronising. Unlike most chat or game show hosts, Ross is not smarmy or sycophantic, nor is he condescending. His natural ease and quick-wittedness in front of the camera belie his lack of real experience and have endeared him to many. Jools Holland tries the same thing, but all it got him was a six-week ban from the screen. Things haven’t gone completely smoothly so far, as Jonathan is quick to admit. Rushed research resulted in some unsuitable guests, but all concerned are endeavouring to ensure that the shows are less hit-and-miss in the future. Jonathan recounts his first meeting with Cynthia Paine in the pilot show, last year. ‘She said I was well-balanced sexually,’ he beams, with obvious
pride. ‘They sound like great fun, her parties. I‘d want to go to one, wouldn’t you? I’d go just to have a beer and watch.’
Mindful that he is being shouted
4 The List 6 —19 March