A TV series must be doing something right when it receives the dual honour of being lauded by Michael Grade and attacked by Burkes' Peerage. Pal/as is aiming to do for the royal family what Ripping Yarns did for public schools and Fawlty Towers for hotel management. Naturally enough, the upper echelons of polite society are none too happy. as producer Geoff Atkinson explains.
‘Burke's said that what we we‘re doing is certain to cause embarrassment to the royals‘ says Atkinson. ’and that it is denigrating the monarchy and destroying its mystique. Well. over the last ten years. I think that any mystique that they had has disappeared anyway.‘
Atkinson. and his team of Jon Glover. Enn Reitel and Kate Robbins were the backbone of Spitting Image (when it was funny) before moving onto the Staggering Stories of Ferdinand de Bargos on the BBC. Pal/as is very much in the style of the latter programme with the producers and cast sifting through about 150 hours of footage before the final single hour is decided upon.
‘it's a hundred times more difficult than Spitting lmage.‘ claims Reitel, ‘because you have to split your focus in so many different ways. Spitting Image is a straight voice recording, if you can do the impersonation you‘re in. Here you‘ve got to look at the pictures. find voices to fit the characters and then. with a mixture of the script and ad-libbing and improvising. find sentiments as well.‘
Obviously the producers will be wrestling with the dual problems of treason and slander throughout the programme‘s run, as the Queen abdicates and chooses her horse to succeed her. only to see Charles hatch a plot to dispose of the animal and gain his rightful inheritance. Does this storyline explain why the BBC (who broadcast Ferdinand de Bargos) passed on the idea.
‘I think that they found it a bit too hot to handle.‘ agrees Reitel. ‘Actually l was very surprised when we were allowed to go ahead. Here we are putting words into the royals’ mouths and i thought "Can one do this?“ And yes. obviously one can. But i‘m going to be in America when it goes out. just in case.‘(Philip Parr) Pal/as will be on Channel 4 from Tuesday 24 December, starting at
[ 6.25pm with three episodes a day.
Don’t miss Julie .
Josie Lawrence would kill ior scriptwriters like these. Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale are the illustrious talents assembled tor Julie Walters And Friends, a Christmas Special sketch show, a welcome touch oi class amidst the welter oi leeble improvisation and ‘satite’ compilations.
Victoria Wood does most at the work, writing six oi the nine sketches ior Walters who co-starred in her early TV plays. The new routines include a sell-obsessed beauty salon customer, an elderly woman still living in the glamorous 20s, and a slx-year-old prankster. Wood writes ior Walters with a sympathetic ear tor the actress’s ability at mimicry and the combination can be intensely comic and leave a lingering impression.
Walters worked with playwright Willy Russell on the stage play and iilm Educating Rita, and the pair are reunited tor a Liverpudllan snarl at the pretensions oi the arts entitled ‘The Arts And Salmonella - Evidence oi a Possible Link.’ Russell’s lellow-Scouser Alan Bleasdale otters Walters the opportunity to re-create her TV role as Michael Murray’s mother
Will the nails be dry by Christmas?
irom GBH. While most middle-aged actresses are desperately trying to cling to youth, Walters demonstrates her conlidence in portraying a rambling old matriarch. ‘
The show is completed by Alan Bennett’s sketch about an Essex woman who reluses to lace up adequately to her husband’s crimes, hiding in dreary optimism. Like much oi Bennett’s work, the language and lines are hilarious, the character proloundly sad.
In all, Walters has been oilered the chance to show oil a range that has made her one at TV’s most compelling perlonners, and at the same time coniirm the importance oi strong writing. A telling combination. (Amy Druszewski).
Julie Walters And Friends is shown on Scottish Television on Sunday 29 December at 10.05pm.
V COMEDY Horse sense
‘He’s a sellish wheeler-dealer, but he’s also very generous. He’s the kind of bloke who’ll go out of his way to fiddle a liver while giving iilty gold to a little old lady. David Jason plays him brilliantly.’
John Sullivan is talking about his most lamous creation, Del Trotter, the Peckham wide-boy irom Only Fools And Horses, now as much part oi the Christmas TV schedules as the Woolworths ads. More than 16 million viewers will tune into the latest escapades oi Del and his gonnless little brother Rodney this Christmas, drawn by the brilliance oi the comic writing, the believable characters and the sense at pathos that lurks beneath the glib one-liners. The movement away from the restrictive lonnat oi the hall-hour sitcom has been a shot in the arm lorthe series, allowing ior greater development of the characters, and dialogue that doesn’t have to be brought up short with a punchline every twelve seconds.
‘it's good to have the space to develop storylines,’ says Sullivan. ‘Wlth a Christmas special, you can expand things a bit more, which Is good tor a writer, providing you don’t overdo it. i do tend to overwrite, but I’m a good sell-editor too. I can be as vain as any writer about certain lines, but i can also look at a script coolly and decide what has to go.’
Strangely enough, Sullivan doesn’t
5"" \_ , .,,‘ H a :1 "
2%.} «44...... I‘ml'r‘
I Del and Rodney go Florida
put any oi his own personality into the central character Del, prelerring to identity with the luckless long-suffering Rodney (played by Nicholas Lyndhurst). ‘Rodney reminds me oi when l was young,’ says Sullivan. ‘l was a dreamer and an idealist, just as Rodders is. There was a boyln school with us who had one 605 in art— and he went around acting like he was Picasso. I used that idea ior Rodney who’s so proud oi his two 0 Levels.’
Trotter fanatics are amply catered lot this Christmas. As well as a two-part special iollowing the brothers’ adventures in Miami, viewers are given another chance to see the tear-jerking episode lrom last February when Del’s son Damien was born. Pertlck, er, make that cushty. . . (Tom Lappin) '
Only Fools And Horses Christmas Special can be seen on 8801 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
A Bit Liffe
Comedian Scan Hughes sounds a tad despondenl. He‘s just about to head off home to Dublin for Christmas and spares us a little time to give a few random thoughts about the city. the subject of a film he‘s made for (‘hannel 4.
‘The trouble is i come from suburbia. Dull is dull. l‘d love to stay in the centre of Dublin and have a great time but l‘m off home to suburbia. The city's in a transition period at the moment when there is a lot that is new and adventurous happening. It is becoming more cosmopolitan. more European.
‘There is poverty but not as extreme as you might think. There are itinerants whose livelihood comes from begging. They know what they are doing. they‘re trying to shock the tourists into paying up. They're not like the desperate people you see in London. There‘s stories of people in Dublin hiring babies as accessories to go begging for a day.
The supposed differences in the city are a joke. Northsiders are rough and ready and the southsiders are sophisticated and posh. The line goes "How does a Northsider propose to his girlfriend. He goes ‘You‘re what?"
"The City of Culture thing made very little difference. I think they spent about £10 on it. Dublin had the anniversary just before. and everyone had ()Ded on culture by then.
‘Pub culture definitely in Ireland is better than anywhere else in the world. but that‘s a pro and a con at the same time. I don‘t like to glamorise the fact that [)ubliners like to get pissed. But what l‘m really looking forward to is a decent pint of Guinness.
Aah Sean. Sean Hughes‘s film on Dublin will be broadcast on (‘hannel 4 on Thursday I () January.
80 The List 20 December 1991— 16 January 1992