The world as we know it is ending. The Atlantic is disappearing under carpets of algae, the Pacific is full of toxic waste, and Ben Elton has stopped preaching. Philip Parr tried to ﬁnd out what’s happening.
‘l’ve never been angry.‘ barks Ben Elton. angrily. ‘l may have given that impression when I first appeared on TV but I can assure you that it wasfeur not anger when l was babbling away.‘
That Ben Elton isn’t angry in the face of a barrage ofquestions about his impending marriage. his increasing mateyness with the upper echelons of showbiz (‘Ken isjust such a treat to work with‘) and even his ‘favourite pub within the M25 area‘ (question courtesy of the Evening Standard man). is proof that he does indeed possess an inner cairn.
Which is strange. because Elton is making a rare press appearance to launch the TV adaptation of his best-selling novel Stark. Now Stark may be many things — witty. informative. churnrnily readable in a self-righteous kind of way — but it is not the writing ofa man with karma on his side.
For those not among the million or so who shelled out for the paperback. Stark is the story of a bunch of bad guys (the world‘s richest capitalists) hatching a dastardly plot to wipe out the rest of us with their money-grubbing. polluting industries. and save themselves in the process. with the only opposition coming from a motley crew ofeco-activists in the
Australian desert. ()nc character from the book. Cl). is basically a souped-up version of Elton himself. so
it comes as little surprise to find the author cast as the
leading man (however fatty that leading man may be).
‘For fun. there's nothing to beat being an actor in a company.‘ concedes Elton. ‘and hopefully in the future I won‘t always have to write myself a bloody part.‘ Not. he is quick to point out. that he did this time. Elton auditioned along with everyone else and he is proud to say that he got the role on merit. He did have another advantage in addition to knowing the script inside out. though: ‘1 didn't go and train how to be a pommie git — it's either there or it isn‘t.‘
Stark's script is something of a revelation to those used to authors freeloading on the back of their best- seller and lifting chunks wholesale from the novel
Ben Elton gets the hump in Stark
(are you listening Hanil‘?) ()ver the course ofeleven drafts. Elton created a sinister new character. de Quincey (an English aristocrat of the heroin-pumping persuasion). dumped several peripherals and mellowed the occasionally jarring sermonising of the
1 novel to make the TV version much more digestible.
‘lt is absolutely impossible to write a decent novel if you‘re already thinking about the TV adaptation.’ says Elton. ‘1 never write a character with any actor in mind. you‘ve just got to take one thing at a time.
in the same way. if you try to re-create the book slavishly. you‘ll never make a satisfying film.
because they are two totally different mediums. It
- took me about a year to learn how it should be done
and to stop myself going back to the book.‘ The result is quality television (the huge budget
1 required was drummed up by making the series a co-
production with Australia's ABC. network) which. Elton 's character excepted. is much closer to being a thriller than comedy. Jacqueline McKenzie. who played an angry young woman in Romper Stamper. plays an angry young woman in Stark. but this time around doesn‘t sleep with anyone. let alone a skinhead. In fact the tag ‘family viewing‘ could quite happily be applied to the whole series. Apart from the patented Eltonisms ‘farty‘ and ‘wanker‘. there isn’t even any bad language. This is no longer the ‘angry young man of comedy‘ — the polemics ofold are a distant memory.
‘l just hope that people find my work interesting.‘ Elton virtually pleads. ‘and if they think about things because of it. that would be wonderful. But if i were to try to inﬂuence people I'd screw it up. Stark’s not a wake-up call to do something about the environment before we all die. it’sjust what I was thinking of at the time.‘
The capitalist fat-cats may well watch and listen. they may even destroy the world before part three is broadcast. But Ben Elton isn‘t going to preach to them anymore ~ after all. if he offended them, who on earth would stump up the money for the adaptation of (I'ridlm'k‘?
Srurk begins on BBCZ (m wednesrluy 8 December a! 9.25pm.
:- After hours
‘I love those jackets, and I love that sound - The Valve} Underground,’ as ; Jonathan Bichman so astuter put it. ' lovers of the Velvets, those . amphetamine-fuelled 60s nihilists and 5 their bleak ditties of excess and i degradation were altered something of an ambivalent treat earlier this | year, when the original foursome cast I oft retirement and mutual antipathy to slog around the European festival ' circuit, playing all the hits and more,
' tVrinkly rebels The Velvet Underground
impart the atmosphere of the period; dark, bohemian, indulgent to the point of obtuseness. It’s the visual equivalent of the ‘banana’ album, a portrayal of the sleaze-ridden arty underworld Lou Reed was writing about in those ground-bredting songs, and best watched with the group playing on the stereo as background noise.
Velvet Bedux cuts back to the ’93 band rockin’ out with an initially impressive vigour that soon deteriorates into a pallid imitation of any other ageing rock combo. In the early hours of Sunday morning, we’re dragged back to 1967, with archive
in a surprisingly cheery and user- friendly way.
Vlhen the novelty wore off, the impression was rather sad: cool 1969 art-terrorists had given way to middle- aged spreading plodders with a desire to boost their dwindling pension tunds. Someone should perhaps have reminded them that you can never go
Peel Slowly And See, Channel 4’s l eight-hour-long night of Velvets- i related programming introduced by l fellow art-rocker Debbie Harry, looks I at the group past and present. A i documentary, Curious, follows the toursome’s perambulations around Europe this summer, culminating in a
visit to Prague where they are greeted
by Vaclav Havel, but it’s the 60s material that offers the most insight into what made them such an important chapter in rock history.
' Warhol’s four-hour-long Chelsea Girls, shown on TV for the first time
anywhere, stars Nice, and despite its inordinate long-windedness does
footage of the band composing - what else? - Sunday Morning, a sweet pop song about urban paranoia. That’s what made them special, and anyone who tells you how great they were this summer is missing the point. (Tom lappin)
Peel Slowly And See is on Channel 4 on Saturday 11 December at 10.05pm.
60 The List 3—l6 December 1993