Alexei Sayle’s got a new sitcom, in which he swaps the trademark ill- ﬁtting suit for a smock. But is it funny, asks Neil Cooper.
Ah, Paris. Cafe society. red wine. garret life and Gauloise. Endless discussions about Life. Love. and. above all, ArtCACK! CACK! CACK! as Alexei Sayle might have said a few years back. and is effectively still saying in Paris. his new sitcom vehicle for Channel 4. Set in the bohemian artworld of l920s France. it charts the rather grubby existence of one Alain Degout. who. when not painting such sentimental classics as ‘Basketful Of Puppies' can usually be found hanging out in The Cafe Hugo with idiot dilettante fop Rochet. played by the ubiquitous Neil Morrissey.
Others in Degout‘s circle include a suicidal poetcss. an ltalian music teacher. some inexplicably lrish policemen, and the marvellously rnonikered Madame Ovary. It is Sayle‘s relationship with Morrissey. though, which provides much of the comedy. similar to the Blackadder/Lord Percy one. with Morrissey choosing between Fascism and Communism as one would between margarine and butter while Sayle bawls out dogs abuse.
Produced by Talkback Productions. responsible for both The Day Today and Knowing Me. Knowing You. and written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. the same team who worked with Sayle on his recent All New show which gave the world the inimitable Bobby Chariot. Paris is as post-modern and knowingly ironic as them all. covering similar ground as Tony Hancock‘s classic film The Rebel. Whilst not as funny. or at least not yet anyway. Paris does manage to prick the over-serious pretensions of the modern art set in a manner that perhaps ﬂaunts its own intellect slightly too much. but should be
applauded for deflating myths which still prevail today. as anyone who‘s ever been to a major gallery opening. where the pseud count is as large as the voices are loud, will testify.
l’uris also continues the trend set by Sean 3' Show, Terry rind Julian. Absolutely I-‘ubulous and their ilk. of rehabilitating comic hacks from the past. resurrecting careers and creating cult figures. in the first episode i’ileanor Bron (who doesn't strictly fall into this category. though her Beyond The Fringe pedigree is a similar sort ofthing) plays a mother hen .of a judge. who pours tea as she smilineg sentences Sayle to death. Future cameos include Windsor Davies as a homophobic bigot. though if Bron‘s portrayal is anything to go by. these will have more
‘ substance than mere kitsch value.
l’uris roots Sayle on familiar turf. and he is basically the same fat. Scouse bigrnouth he's always been. This is something I‘ve always felt he tried too hard with. his blustering verbal assault starting at too frenzied a pitch to leave him anywhere to go. Here though. the familiar rants on revolutionary socialism
and modern art work largely due to a brilliant
supporting cast. which. as well as Morrissey. features
Liz Kettle. Allan Corduner and Beverley Klein.
The first episode. I.'In/umi (another classic comic reference. this time Kenneth Williams in (furry ()n Cleo) also features Scots wunderkintl Forbes Masson as a manic gallery owner whose ebullient pomp and championing of all things ‘new‘ mistakes l)egout‘s spilt breakfast for genius. elevating him to celebrity status until arrest and impending execution bring things to a premature close. [in route. l)egout inadvertantly invents the Nazi salute. just one of the clever-clever pieces of satire in what is very much a first episode. setting things up for what is hopefully going to be a very funny series to follow.
‘Your satire is so vicious.‘ litrlte the gallery owner says to l)egout. ‘()h. yes.‘ says l)egout. mugging knowineg. ‘l'm a terribly vicious satirist. aren't 1'." Not quite. Alexei, btrt you're getting there.
Paris begins on Fri /5 October (ll 9.30pm on Channel 4.
:— Facing the
really cut it as the merciless interrogator he’d like to be seen as. Maybe its not his fault, because things were a lot more naive back when the original show was made,
media literate as Isaacs, as indeed are II the chattering types who make up its audience. Salman Rushdie in particular, with an advertising
| background, is perhaps too well
i versed in the RR. iiggery pokery of
i fielding questions for there to ever be l any real revelation, and in this interview with Salman Rushdie, lsaacs
l is often caught on the hop, as also ' happened recently with Ken Leach, I who ran rings round Isaacs. ‘ j This is Rushdie’s first major 11" “mm” "m' "w "Wm" Fa“ 7° ‘ interview for two years, and there is
Fm” ‘3 um um“ macs ca“ 1 an obvious emphasis on the ‘Satanic 'i Verses’ and the resulting death
sentence he was subjected to. Though the headlines may have faded, live 1 years on Rushdie is no less firtn in his , a defence of the book that still stays "mm "o" "m inte'v'ewus an as ‘ largely unread by its detractors. Stressing how the fatwah was more i to do with a bankrupt government
whipping up popular support than . anything to do with religion, Rushdie
talks calmly of the numerous assassination attempts, and of his surprise that people aren’t angrier about the situation. ‘lot because it’s me, it could be anyone, but the idea that a citizen of this country is obliged to live like this because the government of another country is trying to kill him, and meanwhile relations with that country and trade with that country and civilised activities with that country continue.’
Rushdie is remarkably centred, with a dignity often mistook for arrogance, but to hear him talk with genuine warmth of his love for ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and his spiritual home of Bombay is as much a delight as it is to realise that his happiest book ‘llaroun And The Sea Of Stories’ was written whilst ‘in hiding’ (never his description).
‘Probably the best way to look at the furore about “Satanic Verses” is that it’s a quarrel between people who have a sense of humour and people who don’t,’ he says to Isaacs.
Maybe there’ll come a time when an interview with Rushdie can deal with lighter things, like the wonderfully ridiculous ‘llaughty . . . but nice’ ad campaign for cream cakes he masterminded. Until then the fatwah must be challenged until it’s lifted, an exhausting task for Rushdie, who is remarkably still full of hope. In ‘Midnight’s Chidren’, Rushdie’s Booker Prize winner, optimism is called a disease. ‘l’m still suffering from the disease,’ he says. (Neil Cooper)
Face To Face with Salman Rushdie goes out on 8802 on Monday 10 Oct, 11.15—11.55pm.
78 The List 7—20 October 1994