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Film & Theatre

RIP Carrie Fisher – Actor, Author, Mental Health Advocate, in her own words

Carrie Fisher, died 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher will be mostly remembered for being Princess Leia in Star Wars as the Space Western princess with a gun and rapid riposte to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo when he needed a put-down. It didn’t stop them having a recently revealed off-screen romance. Also, off-screen was her battle with the darker forces of addiction and bipolar mental health. Her website records her in the way she’d prefer to be remembered as an “actor, author” and shamelessly, a “mental health advocate”, her site listed mental health resources, and she was active in promoting mental health awareness.

Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist (2016)
Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist (2016)

For the record, she starred in 44 films from Shampoo (1975) to Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017), wrote 7 books, and well over half-a-dozen plays, scripts and screenplays.More a signature action than her Leia buns and Avenger/Charlie’s Angels-style with

Even more a signature action than her Leia buns and Avengers/Charlie’s Angels-style gun-aloft pose, her middle finger was often shot up at the press. She was a hero for her honesty, humour and heart, the media needs to treat mental health better.

As someone who battles and “sur-thrives” with Bipolar Affective Disorder, aka manic depression, myself, I find so many echoes in her statements on mental health, and her activism in helping others through honesty and sheer guts – or clitzpah, female “courage bordering on arrogance”, as a friend puts it.

A fitting tribute is, therefore, to remember her in her own words:

Carrie Fisher Quotes – In Her Own Words

“I really love the internet. They say chat-rooms are the trailer park of the internet but I find it amazing.”

On Writing as Therapy

Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic (2011)
Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic (2011)

“I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.”

“I always kept a diary – not a diary like, ‘Dear Diary, we got up at 5 A.M., and I wore the weird hair again and that white dress! Hi-yeee!’ I’d just write.”

“Writing is a very calming thing for me.” 

I can echo those thoughts, totally! Writing slows my racing pacing thoughts down, coming up with the language that accurately and emotional reflects my thoughts on myself, life, the universe and everything, is a process that is cathartic, creative, and better than CBT.

Her humour

Whether scripted stand-up comedy or unscripted ad-lib, Carrie was quick witted, sharp, funny and could turn the tables on an interviewer. A vital skill in the harsh world of Hollywood and media criticism.

“I brought along Gary” (Carrie Fisher’s dog) “because his tongue matches my sweater” … “I think in my mouth so I don’t lie” … “what music makes [weight loss] worthwhile?” Not to mention some beautiful flirting with “DNA jackpot” GMA’s Amy Robach!

The humour, the jokey OCD matching, the flirting, she was my kind of inappropriate unboundaried, humourous getting-into-trouble, woman.

“There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed” via Twitter (2014)

“I googled myself without lubricant. I don’t I recommend it.” on David Letterman (2009)

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the window of a bakery, only I’m the bread” – Postcards from the Edge (1987)

“Pure lust is an oxymoron” via Twitter (2016)

On Life and Being Herself

“I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplused by the event that is my life.”

“I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.”

Again, one feels like an actor in one’s own drama, there is sometimes a feeling of distance from the actions one takes, as if one were only playing a part, however grand a role.

On Body, Weight and Aging

“I don’t like looking at myself. I have such bad body dysmorphia.”

“I think of my body as a side effect of my mind.”

“I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘Get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”

“There were days I could barely struggle into a size 46 or 48, months of larges and XXLs, and endless rounds of leggings with the elastic at the waist stretched to its limit and beyond – topped with the fashion equivalent of a tea cozy. And always black, because I was in mourning for my slimmer self.”

“…when I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am.”

“Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human.”

On Mental Health & Bipolar Mood State

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008)
Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008)

“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)

“I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)

“Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.”

“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital.”

“Drugs made me feel more normal.”

“I went to a doctor and told him I felt normal on acid, that I was a light bulb in a world of moths. That is what the manic state is like.”

“I have two moods. One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs… Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”

The manic mood ride that is Roy and the pessimistic panic that is Pam, is very familiar. I’ve not heard anyone else echo my experience of drugs making one feel normal. I tried weed, ecstasy and minor drugs like that, even smoking and drinking, but they didn’t do anything for me, indeed ecstasy made me responsible, hyper-sensible! 

On Surviving and Thriving

“Ive [sic] stopped trying to take things a day at a time. I now take 2 or 3 days at once—hoping it’ll cause a blur effect & I might look younger.” via Twitter (2015)

“I don’t want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift…”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it.”

Boundaries and Bad Judgements

“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls.”

“I’ll never be known for my work with boundaries.”

“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity.”

Fortunately, it’s not all bad boundaries and manic mistakes, and the following day come-down into reality and realisation that one has overstepped, overdrawn, overdone it, and occasionally overdosed. Manic can be fun, or at least hypomanic can, with just enough awareness to feel empowered, energied, extrovert and not yet into the territory of relationship, finance and employment self-destruction.  

“The manic end of is a lot of fun.”

On acting as if all is well

“One of the great things to pretend is that you’re not only alright, you’re in great shape. Now to have that come true – I’ve actually gone on stage depressed and that’s worked its magic on me, ’cause if I can convince you that I’m alright, then maybe I can convince me.”

“Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day.”

She is free now, “drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra“. Whilst she was “nonplused” about her life, we are far from nonplused at her death and feel the disruption in the force in 2016, which has been a traumatic year of loss. RIP Carrie, Princess, Queen, General and very human being, “May the Force be with you.” 

Postscript: Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain, died aged 84 of a stroke within 24 hours of Carrie.

Film & Theatre

Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York, off-Broadway Hostry Festival Norwich

King Lear in New York, Melvyn Bragg

The 2016 Hostry Festival production of the 1994 original play by Melvyn Bragg has been revised by Melvyn with suggestions by Stash Kirkbride, who directed this version, and one of the principal actors, Peter Barrow. The result is a play that positively zips along, in just 90 minutes without a break, with two outstanding performances from Louis Hilyer playing Robert and Rebecca Chapman as Jackie, who set the depth and drama of Shakespeare against the gossip and glamour of Hollywood.

Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

The other starring role in King Lear in New York goes to drink, for it is a dysfunctional family tragic-comedy with father, daughter, and brother, ex-wives and ex-lovers, and a prominent role for the not so on-off relationship with alcohol.

Modelled on Richard Burton’s own demons – drink and women, as Bragg admits, having also authored his biography, Richard Burton: A Life. Burton said, himself, that he turned to drink to “burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage.”

“I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder.” – Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers, p145 (2009)

Burton of course, never played King Lear, only King John, and whilst wanting to play Macbeth to spite Laurence Olivier, in a film version, never achieved that either. This play imagines a type of Burton before opening King Lear, albeit in off-off-Broadway.

Melvyn was in town on Wednesday to see the new version and take a Q&A on it. He was asked about the cutting and editing process, that included the removal on one character in their entirety. Personally, I don’t feel the daughter’s addiction is fully sold to us, indeed there’s enough broken family angst between father and daughter, even without her addiction to drugs paralleling her father’s to drink. Melvyn was keen to present her fragility and yet, unlike Lear, portray redemption and rescue.

There is a cracking score of music and storm effects, projected New York backdrops, vintage ‘brick’ phones and, I think I spotted a Dalwhinnie whisky centre stage, alongside the Jack Daniels and plenty more drink besides, on the permanently-on-stage cocktail mini-bar. More likely to have been cold tea or coloured water than the marvellous amber single malt nectar. Peter Barrow holds the stage alone at first, almost making one wonder if we are watching a 1980-90s Wall Street drama.

Before any chance of settling in, there was an early dramatic entrance by Robert, amidst a cacophonic clatter and clink, rather alarming the back row, and one wondered whether this was going to be a cross between Withnail and I and Waiting for Godot, or perhaps even Whisky Galore! The entry brings wine and JD to join the already well-lubricated ‘actor-playing-an-actor’ on stage who is on the knife-edge of a return to fame or floundering as a washed-up thespian wannabe.

Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

As if his drink and acting problems weren’t enough, he has broken relationships with his daughter Julie played with teen-twenty angst by Nina Taylor and ex-lovers to manage. Rebeccas Aldred and Chapman squared off with each other, arguing over Robert, his career, and his affections. Aldred was an excellent foil to Chapman, an in her role was equally torn between her allegiances and hopes for Robert.

All that, and King Lear too? A knowing audience would be left wondering how far the play within, or rather before, a play will ape Shakespeare’s own and be a full-on tragedy and no mere storm in a whisky glass.

Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

King Lear faced the challenge of dividing his realm between his three daughters, with the lion’s share going to the one who loved him most. In this play, there are more than three rival and competing loves. Dialogue and drama swing between the paternal love of his daughter, fraternal to his brother, and erotic – and there are a few good speeches about that in the play with regard to ex-lovers. Excusing his past loves as natural processes, defending the self-acknowledged Lotharian love rat that he was/is, he expounds on ‘what is love?’ Or rather, on sex – “Sex is like emptying your bladder.” Though, the full “repertoire of love [is] grander than a cathedral organ.”

Then there’s the titanic struggle between the allure of Hollywood and the age-old stage actor’s dream of Shakespearian challenge. A challenge, that the role of Robert is simultaneously tempted and tortured by, not to mention taunting by his ex-lovers. Whether an actor will ‘die’ on stage is part of the attraction he says. But one day and one death on stage would also kill his Hollywood resurrection, the others counter with. In the play’s first outing in 1994, one reviewer described Kate O’Mara in Jackie’s role as “horny for disaster”, Chapman, instead, seems to desire either his success or failure, but nothing in-between.

Life is an act. “He is him when he is most someone else”, the actor’s brother says, even the agent has to ‘act’ on his behalf. We are all the great pretenders, performing our ‘lie-dentities’. Whether in life or on the stage, we are actors in our own dramas.

Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

This drama is part sitcom, part tragedy, but fully engaging. Torn between multiple loves, do we love it? In the context of the play, it might be pushing it to say addictive, but the editors seem to have got the revision just about right. Quitting Shakespeare is as hard as quitting drink, it is as much a drug to its proponents as the skin-deep glamour and glitz of Hollywood celebrity. The play expertly channels King Lear through the funnel of boozy dysfunctionality of its players. Louis Hilyer is Shakespearean and Rebecca Chapman revels in exuding the worst of Hollywood and TV chat shows, even reeling in the excellent Rebecca Aldred as Bett. The play is certainly worth a second visit after 20 years and maybe even a second visit this week. Norwich’s Hostry Festival event is certainly off-off-off Broadway, and deserves greater visibility.

Film & Theatre

Political Dystopia as UK living in Groundhog Day & Back to the Future era

UK Political Groundhog Day

Can you believe it? Nigel Farage is back in charge of UKIP, again – for the fourth time. We also have Maggie ‘Theresa May‘ Thatcher redivivus in charge of the Conservative Party (MT/TM same initials!). Jeremy Corbyn is also the second leader Labour has had in a year. OK, so the previous one was also Jeremy Corbyn! I feel like I’m living in political Groundhog Day.

Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite
Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite

UKIP’s fourth-time-around leader

UKIP saving the Pound
UKIP saving the Pound, one cent devaluation at a time!

Admittedly, or allegedly, only a temporary reversion, but after Diane James’ 18-day stint as leader, Nigel Farage has returned to the helm of UKIP.

“UKIP without a leader is more electable than Labour with one” – Nigel Farage

Neil Hamilton as an alternative UKIP leader, currently leader in the Welsh Assembly, would be a “horror story” say Farage and Hamilton in a comical show of unplanned unity.

Financial Markets and Economic Prospects

GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate
GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate

And whilst the FTSE-100 reaches new heights for the multinational wealthy with shares and global reach, the Pound is crashing towards Sterling parity with the Dollar ($1.27) and ignominy with the Euro (€1.13).

Back to the Future over the EU

John Major launched his fatal Back to Basics political message and policies in 1993, but Theresa May’s message feels more like back to the 80s or even the 70s – before 1973 when we joined the EU. Now we are leaving it. When we joined, Britain was keen to avoid creating a rift between pro and anti-Europeans:

“Above all we should avoid creating a new, semi-permanent rift in British society, between pro and anti Europeans.” – The Guardian, 1 Jan 1973

Post-Referendum and with Brexit’s Article 50 due to initiate by March 2017, we have created exactly that with a very divided and divisive 48% Remainers and 52% Leavers society.

Currency falling backwards and downwards

DeLorean Back to the Future DMC Car
DeLorean Back to the Future DMC-12 Car

The Pound has only been this low once before in 60 years, back in 1985, when Back to the Future was released and the already defunct DeLorean (1983) was ironically the posited future of flying cars and time machines. In fact, without any irony at all, DeLorean or rather the new DMC is making fresh models of the DMC-12 car this year!

Recreating the Past rather than a Future

We seem to be recreating the past, rather than an inclusive or “brighter future” for all of Theresa May’s talk about injustice and inequality – because it’s selective inequality she’ll help, and selective education she’ll promote. And if, we can’t trust Nigel Farage to actually resign, Boris Johnson to keep on message for longer than 4 days (Theresa May’s joke at the Tory Party Conference, 5 October 2016), how can we trust that “Brexit means Brexit” or hope that it doesn’t. We seem to be living in the past, having chosen to withdraw from European cooperation and community, back to tariffs and protectionism, back to a low Pound, xenophobic racism and divisions, and peddling failed political slogans that could have been ripped from 1970s/80s politics and posters – indeed during the Leave EU campaign some were. Theresa May, in her speech, ridiculed ‘citizens of the world’, as many Remainers describe themselves, as citizens of nowhere, even if it was in the context of criticising global corporations:

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” – Theresa May, Conservative Party Conference 2016 (speech in full)

This reminds me of George Orwell’s dystopian idea of citizenship in 1984! As for me, I’m a #proudcitizenoftheworld:

As was discussed today on TalkRADIO, for which I was interviewed, we are in dangerous territory here, using jingoistic language to appease the right whilst seemingly stealing centreground policies, but only for the few who are hard-working British citizens, not the “low skilled immigrants”. Immigrant wealth-creators are welcome but not “wealth consumers“, said Liam Fox at a fringe event. So that’s no more asylum seekers or refugees then?

Theresa May also turned the tables, saying that now Labour is the “supporting voices of hate…the nasty party”. Yet her language is more reminiscent of UKIP’s xenophobia than any kind of utopian equality. Even The Times said of her speech that “The Tory conference was largely immigration policy by Ukip.” It’s a scary future not a bright future we are being presented with.

Film & Theatre

Hostry Festival’s 2016 Norfolk Arts Awards – EDP People’s Choice Award

Norfolk EDP People’s Choice Awards

Today, Tuesday 23 August, is the last day to “nominate your stars of Norfolk‘s arts scene” for a special EDP People’s Choice Arts Award. The deadline for submission is midnight to put forward your favourite community or corporate arts organisation, artist, or event.

Nominate EDP People’s Choice Norfolk Arts Awards NOW

2015’s Norfolk Arts Awards saw 6,000 votes and winners included artist Matt Reeve, Norwich Arts Centre and GoGoDragons!

Over the last year have you loved an art exhibition at St Margaret’s Church of Art – e.g., Pride Without Prejudice, or Asylum at the Undercroft Gallery, or the Sainsbury’s Centre? Did you enjoy Paint Out‘s artists roaming the streets of Norwich and Wells-next-the-Sea? What about the 2015/16 programme of plays at the Maddermarket Theatre? Nominate your favourite Norfolk arts event.

Hostry Festival Innovation

The Norfolk Arts Awards is the Hostry Festival‘s red carpet gala event celebrating the arts. It’s really an opportunity to celebrate people who make a difference. The EDP People’s Choice Awards is a chance for people to have their say and nominate their own stars for the award. The top 10 in each category will be revealed and then there will be an online vote to find three winners. Winners will be announced at the Norfolk Arts Awards ceremony at Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry on Friday 21st October.

Norfolk Arts Awards 2016

Hostry Festival Norfolk Arts Awards EDP 2016
Hostry Festival Norfolk Arts Awards EDP 2016

The Arts Awards consist of 15 awards, with 30 nominations and celebrate the rich and diverse world of arts and culture in Norfolk. The EDP People’s Choice Award features 3 categories and nominating arts groups or individuals for the public vote closes Tuesday 23rd August – it is your chance to have your say by recommending an arts project, organiser or artist for their creative work in Norfolk.

Check out the interview with the event’s co-founder, Stash Kirkbride, on BBC Radio Norfolk (from 3h34m).

“Nominations have already been flooding in for this year’s awards, and people have until Tuesday, August 23 to send in their entries. Once again there are three EDP People’s Choice Awards categories – individual, small organisation and large organisation.” – Emma Knights, EDP

This year the awards are returning to the Hostry building at Norwich Cathedral, held on Friday October 21st 2016, 7-9.30pm with after show canapes and champagne reception.

Nominate EDP People’s Choice Norfolk Arts Awards NOW

Full List of 2015 Arts Awards Nominees

Individual Artists who went through to the public vote:

Small Venue, Organisation, Festival who made the public vote:

Large Venue, Organisation, Festival reaching a large number of people who went to the public vote:

Film & Theatre

The Rise and Rule of the Wise Warrior Women of Game of Thrones Season 6

Game of Thrones Season 6 – Women Rule, their Rise and a few Falls

Game of Thrones season 6 watched, check. Hardly respite from Brexit daggers-in-the-back fallout and the decimation of the leadership of the Labour Party and Conservatives. So, no spoilers…but you just know somebody(ies) GoTta die!

What I have loved about this series has been the full-on characters, and willingness to “take them out”, often en masse. The “Red Wedding” episode has gone down in TV history as a lesson in killing the lead characters. Viewers are now stuck in a Nordic noir drama, namely Stockholm Syndrome, addicted to our abuser awaiting George RR Martin’s next, very literal, character assassination.

Game of Thrones Season 6 Women, Entertainment Weekly portraits
Game of Thrones Season 6 Women, Entertainment Weekly portraits

What’s not to like? Women on Top

Whilst some women have fallen, season 6 saw the downfall of more men, often at the direct or indirect hands of women. It’s hardly a confessional secret, but I love strong women, I am a kind of one – despite protestations from Germaine Greer.

And if you think women can’t do objectification, think again. Spend enough time in the company of bisexual and lesbian women, and you will hear just as many “phwoars”, just with less of the “show us your tits”. I call it objective appreciation as opposed to rarely-appreciated sexual objectification. I’ve been in a room full of lesbian feminists, only to witness one-half of the room ogling a Beyoncé and Shakira video and the other half, shaking their heads in shock.

A full 80% of the 420 followers of a Pinterest page on “Steampunk fashion, warrior women, cosplay armour and erotica” are women, just 84 are men.

Women with swords, women with daggers, women with fire, women with dragons, women with … what’s left, oh yeah, brains, breasts and ‘balls’! More clitzpah than chutzpah!

Game of Thrones Brienne of Tarth
Game of Thrones’ female knight, Brienne of Tarth

Medieval Reality or Fantasy Desire

George RR Martin paints a none-too-pleasant medieval reality for most women, except perhaps those on Dorne. Rape, violence, abuse, no inheritance, impractical dress sense etc. Whilst the books, and even more the HBO series, panders to male and some same-sex fantasies of women in tight leather bodices or much less, he also allows fantasy to break the lace and leather ceiling for some of his powerful women. They can rise to the top and take out the men, as well if not, better than the men fighting their way to the Iron Throne.

“It might appear, looking at Westeros and the medieval past from which so much of its inspiration is drawn, that the ladder is built for men. The wearing of skirts, not to mention the frequent necessity of taking them off, keeps women from competing in the climb…the women of Westeros with noble blood in their veins have choices that aren’t available to those at the bottom of the social pile. Sex sells, and what’s true for HBO’s ratings is true too for Westeros’s women who start with nothing…Unclothed female bodies offer a route up the ladder…History tends to record only the names of those who make it to the top – and what’s true for men is doubly so for women.” – The Guardian (2014, no current season spoilers)

The Art of War

It is the women in Game of Thrones who truly inject the ‘art’ into the art of war. Season 6 sees women have their military advice spurned and yet still save the men’s day. Their socio-political acumen is no more ably demonstrated than Daenerys, the socially reforming yet empire building Queen of Westeros, well just Essos, for now.

Speaking of art, here are some maps of Westeros and Essos, accurate, stylised, tube maps and suggestions that Westeros is a England and Wales, with an upside down Ireland beneath, and Scotland as north of the wall!

Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones map by KitKat Pecson kitkatpecson
Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones map by KitKat Pecson kitkatpecson

The Women of Westeros & Essos Awards

My top 5?

  1. Yara Greyjoy for wearing the trousers in her family and having a girl in every port like a good sailor
  2. Arya Stark for wanting to fight ‘like’ if not better than a boy and keeping Sean Bean’s memory alive, not to mention her cooking skills (spoiler)
  3. Daenerys Targaryen for liberating slaves and dragons
  4. Brienne of Tarth for loyalty and knight’s ethics
  5. Ygritte the Wildling redhead who held her own in a brutal environment and for appreciating Jon Snow’s potential
Arya Stark, Game of Thrones
Arya Stark, Game of Thrones

Best rising stars

Sansa Stark for stopping being a precious princess and learning to get what she wants not what men want of her.

Lady Lyanna Mormont for being 10 years old and telling the men what to do, and what loyalty and balls mean.

Best falling star

Margaery Tyrell for playing the long game and … [spoiler] getting through a number of men:

“Margaery…used her femininity as a smokescreen to mask her ambition and learnt how to beat the boys at their own game, telling her menfolk exactly what they wanted to hear. She accepted first husband Renly’s homosexuality, massaged second husband Joffrey’s ego, and boosted latest husband Tommen’s shaky confidence.” – Daily Telegraph (2016, contains season 6 spoilers)

My top threesome – no, not that kind!

The feisty fighting ‘Sand Snake‘ sisters, although their best verbal put down was by Lady Tyrell at the end of season 6 (no spoilers in the clip below).

Diana Rigg, playing Olenna Tyrell, at age 77, puts the younger women in their place with ease and disdain!

Dorne women Sand Snakes Obara Sand, Tyene Sand and Nymeria Sand
The Sand Snakes – Obara Sand, Tyene Sand and Nymeria Sand

Game of Thrones likes its bastards, even having a “Battle of the Bastards” episode this season. The Sand sisters are the eight bastard daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell, several of whom he trained in warrior arts. I’m guessing their mothers trained their trashy tongues! Ellaria Sand was mother to four of them.

Dishonourable matriarch honorable mentions

What they would do for family, and in Cersei’s case would even ‘do’ family!

  • Lady Olenna Tyrell – Avengers cool, calm, calculating
  • Cersei Lannister – Evil but good at it!

Very Dishonourable Mention

Melisandre, the Red Witch/Priestess of the doesn’t-live-up-to-his-name “god of light’, for sacrificing a child, not even redeemed by bringing back John Snow. Winter is coming for her! Season 7 of Game of Thrones will be just seven episodes, it will be both too short and long-awaited.

 

Film & Theatre

Another Wachowski comes out as Transgender, Lilly & Lana now Matrix sisters

Lilly Wachowski comes out as Trans

On International Women’s Day the other Wachowski sibling, Andy – until yesterday, has also, like Lana, come out as transgender under the name Lilly. She had prepared for this moment, but also seems to have been pushed by a Daily Mail journalist – now that bit isn’t news or surprising, although it is denied by the newspaper who claimed to be “courteous at all times” and “baffled” by the accusation. It is sad and intrusive. It is more invasive than investigative journalism. It’s also dangerous and unethical, like ‘outing’ someone in a witness protection program because of the high rates of trans suicide – almost 50%. The Mail has distanced itself and defended accusations that it ‘outed’ or hounded trans teacher Lucy Meadows, as quoted by Lilly in her statement below.

Lana Wachowski

Lana had been transitioning during the 2000s but first went public in 2012 when she revealed that she too had considered suicide in her teens because of her gender identity.

Gender binary – Two little boxes

Lilly describes the enforced binariness of gender as oppressive and a false idol:

“Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you’re transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.”

“But these words, “transgender” and “transitioned” are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to “transition” imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”

Lana wanted to “transcend the limitations of two little boxes” and the flat-earth pseudo-simplicity of binary bathrooms and their policing:

“I see few things as beautiful as my community and all the miraculous ways we transcend the limitations of two little boxes, blurring and even erasing the distinctions that legitimize and support the belief in all equalities of gender… I understand. I really do. I know how important these rules and regulations, these binary bathrooms are to your understanding of the world…”Lana Wachowski, at Equality Illinois 2014 Gala, accepting Freedom Award

Without putting words into their mouths, I think it is safe to say they are both ‘out’ as not only transgender but have left the binary gender matrix behind too.

Take the pill, leave the Matrix

The Wachowskis’ ground breaking films are both escapist and challenging. Lana says that what they were trying to achieve in the Matrix trilogy was:

“…a shift, the same kind of shift that happens for Neo, that Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life. And we were like, ‘Well, can the audience go through the three movies and experience something similar to what the main character experiences?’ So the first movie is sort of typical in its approach. The second movie is deconstructionist, and it assaults all of the things that you thought to be true in the first movie, and so people get very upset, and they’re like ‘Stop attacking me!’ in the same way that people get upset with deconstructionist philosophy. I mean, Derrida and Foucault, these people upset us. And then the third movie is the most ambiguous, because it asks you to actually participate in the construction of meaning.” — Lana Wachowski, Movie City News, October 13, 2012

Red Pill, Blue Pill

The Red Pill represents reality, often raw and painful, whilst the Blue Pill is the illusion, the delusional space we inhabit to avoid confronting reality:

“After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”  – Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)

Alice in Genderland, Richard NovicA decade ago, one of the first trans* (explicitly a male crossdresser) autobiographies I read was called Alice in Genderland by Richard Novic, MD – yes he is a Doctor, psychiatrist  and psychotherapist. He describes his gender journey as like falling “headlong down a rabbit hole”, like Alice.

Other Worldly Queerness

Lilly also quotes from José Esteban Muñoz’s writings on queerness:

“Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.” – José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009)

Several of the Wachowskis’ films including Jupiter Ascending have been about other worlds. Their private worlds have now been shattered and they are now both in the public domain, but I hope their ongoing transitioning(s) are respected and lauded, not hounded and sensationalised.

Lilly Wachowski’s full statement

Lilly Wachowski‘s statement in her own words to Chicago’s LGBT paper the Windy City Times:

“SEX CHANGE SHOCKER—WACHOWSKI BROTHERS NOW SISTERS!!!”

There’s the headline I’ve been waiting for this past year. Up until now with dread and/or eye rolling exasperation. The “news” has almost come out a couple of times. Each was preceded by an ominous email from my agent—reporters have been asking for statements regarding the “Andy Wachowski gender transition” story they were about to publish. In response to this threatened public outing against my will, I had a prepared a statement that was one part piss, one part vinegar and 12 parts gasoline.

It had a lot of politically relevant insights regarding the dangers of outing trans people, and the statistical horrors of transgender suicide and murder rates. Not to mention a slightly sarcastic wrap-up that “revealed” my father had injected praying mantis blood into his paternal ball-sac before conceiving each of his children to produce a brood of super women, hellbent on female domination. Okay, mega sarcastic.

But it didn’t happen. The editors of these publications didn’t print a story that was only salacious in substance and could possibly have a potentially fatal effect. And being the optimist that I am, I was happy to chalk it up to progress.

Then last night while getting ready to go out for dinner my doorbell rang. Standing on my front porch was a man I did not recognize.

“This might be a little awkward,” he said in an English accent.

I remember sighing.

Sometimes it’s really tough work to be an optimist.

He proceeded to explain he was a journalist from the Daily Mail, which was the largest news service in the UK and was most definitely not a tabloid. And that I really had to sit down with him tomorrow or the next day or next week so that I could have my picture taken and tell my story which was so inspirational! And that I really didn’t want to have someone from the National Enquirer following me around, did I? BTW—The Daily Mail is so definitely not a tabloid.

My sister Lana and I have largely avoided the press. I find talking about my art frustratingly tedious and talking about myself a wholly mortifying experience. I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly. You know, when you’re living as an out transgender person it’s … kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted—needed some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable.

But apparently I don’t get to decide this.

After he had given me his card, and I closed the door it began to dawn on me where I had heard of the Daily Mail. It was the “news” organization that had played a huge part in the national public outing of Lucy Meadows, an elementary school teacher and trans woman in the UK. An editorial in the “not-a-tabloid” demonized her as a damaging influence on the children’s delicate innocence and summarized “he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job.” The reason I knew about her wasn’t because she was transgender it was because three months after the Daily Mail article came out, Lucy committed suicide.

And now here they were, at my front door, almost as if to say—

“There’s another one! Let’s drag ’em out in the open so we can all have a look!”

Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you’re transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.

I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process. Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive. In 2015, the transgender murder rate hit an all-time high in this country. A horrifying disproportionate number of the victims were trans women of color. These are only the recorded homicides so, since trans people do not all fit in the tidy gender binary statistics of murder rates, it means the actual numbers are higher.

And though we have come a long way since Silence of the Lambs, we continue to be demonized and vilified in the media where attack ads portray us as potential predators to keep us from even using the goddamn bathroom. The so-called bathroom bills that are popping up all over this country do not keep children safe, they force trans people into using bathrooms where they can be beaten and or murdered. We are not predators, we are prey.

Lilly Wachowski selfie
Lilly Wachowski selfie

So yeah, I’m transgender.

And yeah, I’ve transitioned.

I’m out to my friends and family. Most people at work know too. Everyone is cool with it. Yes, thanks to my fabulous sister they’ve done it before, but also because they’re fantastic people. Without the love and support of my wife and friends and family I would not be where I am today.

But these words, “transgender” and “transitioned” are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to “transition” imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.

Now, gender theory and queer theory hurt my tiny brain. The combinations of words, like freeform jazz, clang disjointed and discordant in my ears. I long for understanding of queer and gender theory but it’s a struggle as is the struggle for understanding of my own identity. I have a quote in my office though by José Muñoz given to me by a good friend. I stare at it in contemplation sometimes trying to decipher its meaning but the last sentence resonates:

“Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.”

So I will continue to be an optimist adding my shoulder to the Sisyphean struggle of progress and in my very being, be an example of the potentiality of another world.

Lilly Wachowski

 

Film & Theatre

BBC Bring Back Jeremy Clarkson? He is back but on Amazon Prime 2016

STOP PRESS: Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear team to return

But on Amazon Prime online video streaming in 2016 not the BBC. Meanwhile Top Gear will return to the BBC but with a different team. The schadenfreude is palpable as the BBC reports  on their own loss of a profitable though oft inappropriate franchise.

In an Amazon statement, Jeremy Clarkson said:

“I feel like I’ve climbed out of a biplane and into a spaceship.”

Richard Hammond quipped:

“Amazon? Oh yes. I have already been there. I got bitten by a bullet ant.”

James May saw the perhaps double irony:

“We have become part of the new age of smart TV. Ironic, isn’t it?”

BBC suspends Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson amid mass Change.org petition

Whatever the “fracas” and nature of petulant millionaire star twat Jeremy Clarkson‘s “interaction” with a BBC producer, there’s nothing like a Top Gear fiasco (one of many over the years) to get the nation raging along with over 1 million signatories on a Change.org petition delivered this week by self-propelled big gun, aka tank (probably the slowest vehicle to appear in relation to Top Gear), to BBC HQ. It is just such a shame that this is what energises us and not more significant world matters.

Discover the top 5 really important petitions on Change.org to get behind instead and a bonus tribute petition for Terry Pratchett!

Has Jeremy Clarkson quit or not? Yes | No

Clarkson hinted that he was on the way out and had no fear, now that the internal inquiry is over – though not published, in berating his BBC bosses with a f*** laden foul-mouthed tirade at their idiocy at potentially ruining the Top Gear formula.

Diverse Top Gear Replacements

Suggestions to replace him have included Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, and Alan Partridge. Whilst they are all comedians, at least Perkins would not be sexist (towards women at least), neither she nor Clary would be homophobic, and any of Partridge’s foreign jokes would be obvious parody and satire. Other comedians who’ve appeared in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car race around the Top Gear test track have included Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili, and Sanjeev Bhaskar – all of whom would counter the alleged racism of the show.

Having Ellen MacArthur, Jennifer Saunders, or Jodie Kidd, on as the fastest women on the track would prove it doesn’t need 3 blokey blokes to present it – although that is the formula to date, and a politically correct presenter team would be as bad as the minimum female comedienne to be included on all panel shows which smacks of tokenism and harms female comedians standing in their own right.

Top Gear Matters to the BBC

Forget the impending General Election, Islamic State, Boko Haram, austerity crisis, the real serious issues of the day are the state of England cricket team – actually, that is pretty bad – and Clarkson’s latest open mouth (insert foot, boot, and massive car) bad boy laddish humour, allegedly watched by an audience almost equally split between men and women (60:40).

Jeremy Clarkson via Twitter
Jeremy Clarkson via Twitter

Top Gear, Clarkson, and his 4.63m twitter followers, are the BBC’s greatest export (yes, bigger than Doctor Who), greatest that is in financial rather than cultural terms. Bedder 6, as the anonymous company is called, helps to draw in £150m a year for BBC Worldwide from Top Gear from 150-350m viewers across 170 countries and spin-offs.

Top Gear’s Political Incorrectness

In the last 3 years Top Gear and Clarkson have scaled new heights of profitability and popularity – apparently it is 30x more likely to be tweeted about by Ukip voters -and yet, simultaneously, ploughed new depths of political incorrectness.

Just this week it was announced that in December Top Gear had somehow been cleared by the BBC of using “pikey” in a derogatory manner, to the utter dismay of representatives of Traveller communities.

The show is often no-holds-barred macho-masculine pub banter comedy that has comprised insults around race, nationality, sex, and disability. Just read some of Clarkson’s own attempts to be positive about women and yet explain the lack of female representation on the show itself:

“if one presenter on a show is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them… Unlike furious thin-lipped feminists, I tend not to draw distinctions between men and women, apart from in bed where you really do need to spot the differences. At work, girls are just people.”

Conservative MP Maria Miller, has offered support for Clarkson, despite her being a former Disability, Women and Equality Minister. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, she said:

“The BBC needs to be better at managing its talent … there are other organisations that have to deal with larger-than-life characters…[he] is…a legend, not just in this country, but around the world.”

Jeremy Clarkson big screen 2006 via flickr Ben Metcalfe
Jeremy Clarkson big screen 2006 via flickr Ben Metcalfe

Legends, however, are extinct people, like the dinosaurs, something that Clarkson himself, in his column in The Sun, admits to being.

“The fact is that you can sign as many petitions as you like and call on the support of politicians from all sides, but the day must come when you have to wave goodbye to the big monsters and move on… I think it’s fair to say that nature made a mistake when it invented the dinosaur. It was too big, too violent. So one day, all the dinosaurs died and now, many years later, no one mourns their passing. These big, imposing creatures have no place in a world which has moved on.”

Does this mean that Clarkson should go the way of the dinosaurs and gas-guzzling cars? That a petition to reinstate him is as pointless as one to bring back Terry Pratchett – however, wonderful a tribute to the latter author?

Change.org Petition to #BringBackClarkson

Change.org logo
Change.org public petitions for change

A record making petition on Change.org had accelerated to nearly 600,000 signatures in barely a day (now over 1,112,000), easily eclipsing more political or ethical campaigns such as the pardon for 49,000 gay men prosecuted in the UK for acts now considered legal. The site’s popularity is such that I could not even get on to it to check the count at 10pm Wednesday night, as it was down with an “Error 502 Bad Gateway” , unless that was some political ploy due to the embarrassment of its success. Well it’s back now, seemingly the site is crashing under Clarkson’s popularity, and advocating the “Freedom to fracas” and with comments including:

“I pay my TV license to ensure that irreverent people can express themselves. If you become boarding [sic] and politically correct, you may disappear BBC.” and “A minority of over sensitive people should not ruin one of Britons [sic] favourite shows.”

I wouldn’t call allegedly hitting a producer over a lack of hot food and xenophobically referencing his Irish nationality, an act of irreverence nor suspending someone for that act, “over sensitive”. That the two most popular comments both had spelling mistakes should not lead anyone to any stereotypical conclusion. They were probably texting whilst driving their fast cars!

BBC Public Service Priorities

BBC logoAs a public service broadcaster with essentially a tax or compulsory licence fee, the BBC’s priorities should not be mere entertainment or subsidised insults.

It is remarkable that the trending twitterati are more interested in #BringBackClarkson than the all but forgotten #BringBackOurGirls. Viewers are more interested in bringing back fast cars and coarse humour than in rescuing Boko Haram kidnapped girls in Nigeria, ending FGM, freeing imprisoned journalists or teen suicides – campaigns that are now in the shadow of “a bit of a knob”, as co-presenter James May describes Jeremy Clarkson. Multiple petitions calling on the BBC to sack him have also launched, although you can be sure they won’t race to half-a-million signatures so fast, they’ve barely reached a 1000.

Be the Change.org Petitions to get behind

Some campaigns have reached a million signatures, but never so fast. For instance, a million people worldwide signed to save Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy. Nearly as many called for the release of Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, jailed for attending a volleyball match.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Bring Back Our Girls Change.org
Bring Back Our Girls Change.org

HuffPost has drawn up a list of better campaigns to get behind, though not the most important ones it could have got behind, perhaps. Why not:

And as a bonus, what about:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

The limits of Satire, Comedy & Humour

In my past I’ve enjoyed Top Gear, some of the banter and car challenges, but I’ve squirmed at the sexist racist humour Humour is one thing, the question is whether it’s actually deeply held bigotry disguised as humour, or an ever-so clever parody of “UKIP white van man racism” – which will no doubt be seen as offensive to white van men. The thing about satire and parody is that they often fail, as with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report on race and trans issues, when delivered by people in the majority who’ve not experienced prejudice, whereas the Kumars making fun of being Indian is.

What makes the parody both unlikely and unbelievable is that either Clarkson is a bigot or he maintains the persona off-screen as well. To Clarkson, even his suspension is just another joke, despite knowing he was on his last warning.

I’ve done stand-up comedy myself, and made it a rule to only insult and offend myself, not others – although I can’t stop some still choosing to take offence.

Top Gear‘s humour is pub or front room banter, the kind you use when you think nobody is watching – but there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions that are.

And this is the “British values” we should be so proud of exporting? I’m all for freedom of speech, but allegedly hitting your employer’s staff, insulting other nations, and expecting to not only get away with it but get paid millions for it?

Whilst the infraction was off-air, it is no less abusive of workplace colleagues and bullying, despite it not being part of an aired programme. According to The Mirror, he called Oisin Tymon:

“a “lazy, Irish c***” before splitting his lip with a punch that left the 36-year-old with blood running down his face and needing treatment in A&E, the BBC investigation will be told.”

Hitting is not humour, and nor was it his first public punch up. If the rest of the show is very clever parody like Alan Partridge or Comedy Central, then it does not work. It is very hard to successfully satire racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia, all of which have appeared on Top Gear. All the more so when it fuels the white male entitlement patriarchy rather than challenges it.

Whilst James McDermott thinks it’s harmless fun:

“Top Gear is an escapist post modern light comedy entertainment show; the vital ingredients being Clarkson, May, Hammond and cars will keep it on the Beeb for a while to come.”

Apart from what may be a short-lived 2011 prediction of its long-term longevity, I beg to differ. Their lives on and off the screen are making stereotypical jokes, setting chauvinist poor role models, and should not be the BBC’s best export. The fact that it is popular in human rights violating China and Putin’s Russia should not be a cause for celebration if it encourages their sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, rather than challenges it.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

Jeremy Clarkson – change your attitude, everyone else sign some petitions and be the change! If we are evolved at all, it is time the politically incorrect (such a polite term for sexist racist ableist homophobes) dinosaurs died out.

Film & Theatre

Robin Williams RIP, Laughter, Tears, Memories, Depression, Suicide, Understanding

Saddened, shocked, but not sure I was surprised. Such was the sudden news of Robin Williams‘ apparent suicide at 63 that the Internet was awash with rumours last night that it was a ruse, a fake story. Details emerged overnight (British time) that he had indeed been found dead at home in Marin County, California, apparently having taken his own life. The latest information is that “Marin county sheriff’s department lieutenant Keith Boyd confirmed that Williams was discovered hanged, and had apparently attempted to cut his wrists.”

Owing to considerable empathy with his bipolar depression, this is a  tough article to write in memoriam to the wonderful Robin Williams, who I first watched aged 11 when he appeared as the alien Mork. Sadly he has returned to his home planet and left us the poorer, but we have over a 100 films and thousands of laughs to remember him by and the challenge to understand mental illness better over our lifetimes.

Update (11 August 2015): It is now a year to the day that Robin Williams passed on and he still makes me laugh and cry in equal measure and continues to inspire whether in life or role.

Films and Characters

Robin Williams at Happy Feet 2 Last night I was preparing to watch The Birdcage film with my partner and a friend. We never got round to it, though I’d loaded it into the DVD up to the opening scene. It’s now set for a memorial movie night with the memorable Armand. He was so versatile, able to play funny, straight, sad, young, old, real, fantasy, even a penguin or two in Happy Feet as the voices of Ramón and Lovelace.

Of his co-star in Happy Feet Two, ‘La Toti’ Sofía Vergara, Williams said “I’d walk 50 miles in the snow just to stand in her garbage … and I cleaned up that line!”

Williams appeared in over 100 films, as well as television and theatre, so versatile were the roles that he played. Whether as Mork or Peter Pan, he always looked like he would never grow up and would live forever – one reason we, as adoring fans, all feel the wrench of his going now.

Perhaps, most memorable for me, was Mrs Doubtfire, and the agony of a father doing anything to get close to his kids. Its long-posited sequel Mrs Doubtfire 2 will presumably now no longer be made.

He was scheduled to appear in several unfinished films, but one that just made it to completion and was screened this summer at the Los Angeles Outfest Film Festival is Boulevard (2014) in which he plays an older married man coming to terms with his secret homosexuality.

Another inspirational film for me was Dead Poets Society (1989), as I always wanted to be a maverick motivational teacher, much as my own inspired English teacher was when I was 13 – he’d sit on the desk and read to us Kafka, Tom Sharpe and Shakespeare rather than setting us essays. In the film Williams, plays Keating the English teacher, who challenges the pupils to see the world in different ways, standing on their desks, ripping pages from books that deadened poetry, encouraging them to carpe diem, “seize the day” and call him “O Captain! My Captain!” in reference to Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln.

“It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer,
his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”

Waiting for Godot

Williams appeared with his friend Steve Martin in a much acclaimed limited-run production in 1988 of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. A review said that “As the earthbound Estragon, Robin Williams is the same Robin Williams we have come to know and love for his manic intelligence, comic body language and perfect sense of timing. In this part, he is in bad need of a shave. Between convulsions, he gives unmistakable signs of a soul in puzzled torment.”

The play is about two down-in-the-dumps men waiting for someone, possibly God (though denied by Beckett), to show up. Being unable to think of a good reason to leave, it becomes an eternal and continually disappointed wait. Williams’ real life “puzzled torment” and wait is over and he has decided to leave us. A brave choice – a phrase that some people will not be comfortable with, but one that echoes my own experience, though I’m glad I survived now.

Stand-Up Comedy

Robin Williams performing stand up comedyWilliams began his stand-up comedy career in the mid to late 1970s, around the same time as his first film role in 1977 and appearance as Mork in Happy Days (1978) which led to the spin-off series, Mork and Mindy, which was hugely ad-libbed.

In the Happy Days Season 5 episode, “My Favorite Orkan”, Williams, as Mork, tries to kidnap Richie and take him back to his planet but is foiled by the Fonz. Originally a dream sequence, it was so popular that it was edited so as to be real and allow for the character of Mork to have wiped their memories and reappear in Mork and Mindy as an exiled alien from the planet Ork where humour is banned. Oh Shazbot! Mork showed up again in a retrospective episode of Happy Days, “Mork Returns”.

In 2004, he was voted 13th on Comedy Central‘s list of the “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time”. It was his improvisation that got him the role of Mork, standing on his head at the audition. Ad-libbing often led to film and television scripts adapting to him, rather than him sticking to the lines. Much of his role as the genie in the animated film Aladdin (1992) was improvised.

In 2009 Robin Williams conducted a delayed 26-city US comedy tour called Weapons of Self-Destruction, aimed at George Bush, rather than himself. He was hospitalised that year for heart surgery after announcing the tour in 2008. In 2010 he performed the show in Canterbury, New Zealand, and donated all the proceeds to the Red Cross and post-earthquake rebuilding projects.

I’ve often heard the phrase “the funny man of comedy” used of Williams, but aren’t all comedians meant to be funny? To me it means someone who can laugh at situations rather than make jokes by taking someone down. The irony is of course that the funny man who appeared in Happy Days was an unhappy man.

Me with the black dog of depression aka Raven who delivered unconditional cuddles when I was battling suicide
Me with the black dog of depression aka Raven who delivered unconditional cuddles when I was battling suicide

Just because someone can make us laugh, does not mean that they can make themselves happy. The daily battle with the black dog of depression and for Robin, at least, the associated ‘demons’ of drug and drink addiction, lifts momentarily in the manic moments of humour and comedy, but returns like a fog blanket blocking out the sun. Judgements of his addictions are insensitive, for those who’ve experienced depression, know full well that it can lead to other behaviours in order to survive or end the feelings of depression. Concert pianist James Rhodes called depression a cloak of lead, a toxic second skin“:

“Depression is like being forced to wear a cloak made of lead. You don’t get to choose when to put it on and take it off. It is a second skin which gradually seeps into your own, real skin and poisons it until you are a walking, toxic, corrosive bundle of infectious awfulness. The thought of suicide is the only real respite and the only chink of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Robin Williams was funny, depression is not, though he laughed at his own “demons”, drink and drug addictions, which had returned to afflict him in the last few months. But that doesn’t give us the right to laugh at his life, troubles or choices.

I’ve done stand-up comedy and did a whole set on my own suicide attempt, it was dark and dead pan. Someone even thought I’d made it all up and commended my ‘acting’. In fact, it was the truth, often stranger than fiction, and my own surviving suicide and finally wanting to be alive again that enabled me to laugh at death and make fun of myself. That is not for others to do though. Doubly insensitive and offensive is the joke on Twitter I’ve seen about it now being an ideal time for Kellie Maloney (the transitioning Frank Maloney) to audition for Mrs Doubtfire 2, now that Robin is dead.

Others have taken to the web to say that they have no sympathy for those who take their own life, or suffer from alcohol and drugs addictions. The Guardian has had to moderate and delete about 10% of the comments on the report of his death. I’ve read of people on Facebook calling it “the pussy way out”. So wrong. Suicide is often a decision to end not only self-torment but to end being a burden to others. It can take courage and bravery to attempt it, it is not a coward’s way out as Fox News‘ breaking news editor and anchor Shepard Smith called it, it is the last straw for someone who is tired of fighting for survival every day. I’m not encouraging suicide, but I am saying stop judging it and view the person who has gone as now at peace.

Stephen Fry“How can someone so well-off, well-known and successful have depression?”. This was said of Stephen Fry, but is doing the rounds about Robin too. Fry references an article by Alastair Campbell in which “he suggested changing the word ‘depression’ to ‘cancer’ or ‘diabetes’ in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question, it is. Ill-natured, ill-informed, ill-willed or just plain ill”.  Fry writes about feeling sad, lonely, depressed, suicidal and the rights to seemingly illogically having those feelings.

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry

Even when surrounded by loved ones, depression is a lonely disease, but having a partner or friend around has saved me from acting on suicidal feelings more than once in the past. It was when all alone, in the darkest hours of the night that I attempted it more seriously.

Stephen Fry on depression

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone” – Robin Williams

Very often there are no answers or solutions, and there should certainly be no judgements for what is in cause or effect a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’ve suffered from depression for over a decade and for the last 2 years been under investigation for a variant of bipolar or cyclothymia, Mood Affective Disorder. Fry has cyclothymia and whilst Williams never regarded himself as fully diagnosed, many clinicians think he had depression and Bipolar Affective Disorder.

Whilst the label may help with gaining the right support and treatment, it is irrelevant to how we treat people with the symptoms of the varieties of depression and addiction. We have not lived their life, seen inside their mind, and therefore do not know the balance of accountability for their own actions and suffering under the weight of seemingly intransigent conditions that afflict people indiscriminately and unfairly.

Depression disables, debilitates, and is often met with misunderstanding that you can do something about it by pulling yourself together, getting out more, getting up or some such chivvying coaching. Similarly, with suicide, the offers to “talk to me” before you try it next time, or of it being a “selfish way out” that hurts others, are ignorant, even if often well meant, thoughts. Suicides can be planned or spontaneous, cries for help or calls for the help and feeling a burden on others to end, persistent or momentary feelings of the need for it all to stop, the feeling of powerlessness or the only way to take control.

Dean Burnett in the Guardian called it a “staggering ignorance of mental health problems” to refer to suicide as a selfish act. Suicide and depression are not selfish. Williams had access to the best help around, but he was the “clown that could not be fixed“, as Simon Jenkins writes:

“There was no help that Williams and others like him could not and did not receive. It failed. All illness is a great leveller, but none levels like mental illness. It remains the poor relation of medicine. Research is paltry. Therapies are halfhearted. Drugs are primitive.”

One-in-four of us will get a depression related illness. Yet it receives a small percentage of even 1/40th of the medical research and treatment budget.

Family

Robin Williams’ favourite children’s book was CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which he would read out loud to his kids. Famous for his funny voices, when reading it to his daughter, named after Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda computer game series, she said “Don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.” One of the hardest things in life is to be yourself.

His third wife and now widow, Susan Schneider, said:

“I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.”

Robin Williams Good Will Hunting Real Loss

Tributes

Fellow actor and comedian Steve Martin, tweeted that he “could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.” ‘Mensch’, whilst simply meaning “human being” is a Yiddish idiom for a genuinely good person, a real “stand-up guy”.

Barack Obama, in offering condolences, referred to Williams as “one of a kind”:

“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”

Tributes will continue to flood in from fans, friends and fellow entertainers, Sarah Silverman described him as “pure love” and Stephen Fry sad he was “so so kind”.

At one point over half the trending tags on Twitter were Robin Williams related including #RobinWilliamsWillLiveOnForever.

George Takei said “May the heavens be brightened with your singular glow” and several have commented on Twitter saying that now he can make God laugh. Friends have expressed sadness, referenced mental illness and one wrote “I can’t believe Mindy is Morkless”, an apt end for how it all began back in 1978.

Gifted, manic, funny, sad, tormented, lost to us, but now at peace. RIP

[This article is an expansion of one first published here]

Film & Theatre

BBC’s Sherlock returns for 4th Season and 2015 Special – The game is afoot!

Sherlock BBC Benedict CumberbatchWe can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch and the BBC‘s ‪‎Sherlock, fortunately the Beeb have announced they are to return with filming of a 2015 Special beginning next January and then another 3 episode fourth season later in the year to hit our screens in 2016. The dripfeed of tantalising information began last Tuesday with a BBC One tweet:

Sherlock BBC hashtag 221back facebook Of course the hashtags, #221back and #Sherlock, gave it away but talk about teasing foreplay and dangling this before us and yet making us wait over a year. It is because both the actors and writers are so good that they are in such demand elsewhere too. Cumberbatch on Star Trek, Martin Freeman on Fargo and both of them in The Hobbit. Then at precisely 2:21pm GMT, simultaneously in the UK and US, the BBC announced, and serially re-announced, the news formally, again via the trending ‪#‎221back‬ hashtag:

The new series will be “deeper and darker” than before, and Moriarty could be back. Steven Moffat hinted that “the very next thing to happen to Sherlock and John, is the very last thing you’d expect.”

And so “the game is on” – again!

What has become a catchphrase of Sherlock, “the game is on”, is an update to “the game is afoot” which was originally uttered in just one Sherlock story, The adventure of the Abbey Grange:

“It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning during the winter of ’97 that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face and told me at a glance that something was amiss. ‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ Ten minutes later we were both in a cab and rattling through the silent streets on our way to Charing Cross Station.”

“The game is afoot” was not an original Conan Doyle inspiration but rather a phrase borrowed from that other English master craftsman, Shakespeare, some 300 years earlier. It first appears in a Shakespearian play, spoken by the Earl of Northumberland, in Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 3:

“Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”

It also appears in the famous speech of King Henry beginning, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” and ending:

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

Appeal of Sherlock Holmes

Many people, especially women, find intelligence attractive – “brainy is the new sexy”, but self-confessed cold aloofness and detachment?

Sherlock BBC Benedict Cumberbatch Brainy is the new sexySo why the appeal of Sherlock with his narcissistic superior personality not to mention narcotic escapism on the side. Just why is Sherlock so addictive? Is it that we too are escapist fantasists wishing for an attachment with someone so detached, or do we want to be him, as intelligent and as apparently not needy? Although, it is clear from his weaknesses for drugs and Dr Watson, that he is, however idealised, still far from emotional self-sufficiency.

“My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence.” – Sherlock Holmes

It’s not as if Sherlock is great marrying material, given his views on the subject:

“Let’s talk about…murder. Did I say murder? I meant to say marriage. But, you know, they’re quite similar procedures when you think about it. The participants tend to know each other, it’s over when one of them’s dead. In fairness, murder is a lot quicker though.” – Sherlock, BBC

Sherlock himself was not one for emotional attachment, as the modern Sherlock says, “Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side”, but his one weakness was for Irene Adler, whom Conan Doyle describes thus:

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen…. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.” – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Holmes Paget 1903 The Empty House - The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Holmes and Watson in the The Empty House – The Return of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1903

I’ve loved Sherlock ever since reading all 60 stories – published over a 40 year period, aged 15, and writing my English OA level special paper on him. I love his intelligence, but not his supposed rational avoidance of emotion for it is clear he loves Watson, not to mention the allusions to attraction and love for Irene Adler.

Elementary my dear Watson

Whilst the US adaptation of the Sherlock brand, the TV series Elementary (Season 1 – 2012, 2 – 2013/14 and Season 3 announced), has been running nearly as long, it takes a different road. Sherlock, played by Jonny Lee Miller, gains the first female crime-busting sidekick with Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson – Sherlock’s sobriety companion, a form of addiction counsellor. Sherlock in this is more gritty, troubled, emotional – indeed more human, but no less intelligent despite essentially being in rehab.

It would be a massive SPOILER ALERT for watchers of the US series to reveal the clever twist in just who Moriarty may be. More details, if you already know, or don’t care, on the Wiki list of Moriarty portrayals.

Whilst Elementary is quite different, both play upon the original stories and cleverly leave us guessing as to how they will interweave Victorian plots and book references whilst remaining gripping narrative arcs with surprise twists. That said, Elementary drifts ever further from the originals and seems to exhibit little loyalty to the originals, not that Moffat and Gatiss are renowned for traditional faithfulness either, especially with the way they’ve reinvented Doctor Who – albeit, in my opinion successfully and brilliantly.

Holmes, House and 221B

Although, contextually further away from the criminal detection, the American series House, again with a British actor playing the lead, transposes Holmes and to a lesser extent Watson, to a medical milieu. In many ways, it has been argued, the series is more faithful to the character of Holmes whilst straying almost completely from the plots. In this case it is Dr Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie with his medical friend Dr James Wilson, same initials as Dr J Watson. They both live at 221B’s, House actually on Baker Street. Their first patient is named Rebecca Adler and later a reference is made to another patient, Irene Adler.

Modern Film Interpretations

Sherlock Holmes theatrical release poster WikiSherlock Holmes has also been brought back to the big screen, so that we have three adaptations of him running simultaneously, along with the BBC version and US Elementary. In 2009, Guy Ritchie directed the first instalment of a British–American film series, produced by Joel Silver. It was more than sufficiently successful to  merit a sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, coming out for Christmas 2011.  A third film announced that year by Warner Bros is still, according to Jude Law in 2013, at scripting stage. Robert Downey Jr played a believably narcissistic Holmes to Law’s suave updated, rather than bumbling, Watson. Whilst the films were more action based than the originals, they have been updated for our times, just like the TV series, but with bigger budgets.

David Stratton, writing in The Australian, in a piece calledThe Swinging Detective disliked the first film’s Indiana Jones-styled interpretation of the original stories concluding, “The makers of this film are mainly interested in action; that, they believe, is all that gets young audiences into cinemas today. They may be right, but they have ridden roughshod over one of literature’s greatest creations in the process.” The fact that there are literally dozens of versions, though, and that each may drive young readers back to the books, is surely a good thing. Just like stage plays and films of Shakespeare one can go for authenticity or adaptation, if not reinvention, it does not diminish the original, rather it shows how versatile and enduring the stories are.

Actors who’ve played Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Holmes is the most portrayed character in movies, of all time, with some 70+ actors playing him. Of all his portrayals, though, I’ve always loved the classic Basil Rathbone on TV and the sharper, perhaps less likeable, Jeremy Brett. Probably the worst, for me, at least, were Charlton Heston, Roy Hudd, Roger Moore and Edward Woodward – not that I didn’t like these actors in other roles, the latter in Callan, for instance.

On radio, a medium quite well suited to the stories, I loved Clive Merrison, the only actor to cover every story and thus the entire canon of Sherlock Holmes. Carleton Hobbs managed 56 of the stories in 80 radio productions. In the war years, Sir John Gielgud performed several radio versions.

The updated television versions make extensive use of visual demonstrations of Holmes’ thought processes, not to mention texting and phone technology, an advantage of television over radio, which lends itself to modernisation rather than authenticity. It may surprise you to know that John Cleese played Sherlock Holmes in a 1977 comedy spoof The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It. Other unlikely actors included Larry Hagman of Dallas fame playing him in another comedy drama made for television movie as a motorcycle cop who after an accident believed himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore also paired up in a comic version.

More seriously, Leonard Nimoy, perhaps as the emotionless Spock well suited to the role, played Sherlock on stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

A Growing Audience

It is to be hoped that modern reworkings of Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, Elementary and the film franchise will create a new young audience for Conan Doyle’s character and send them back to books to marvel at Victorian penmanship.

Sherlock’s Facebook page has 3.7m likes and no doubt after 10 million Brits watched him rise from the dead, that figure will just rise and rise again.

Sherlock BBC 221back facebook

 

[An earlier version of this article first appeared here]

Image credits:

BBC public domain facebook image of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock   BBC public domain facebook image of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock BBC public domain facebook image of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes WikiMedia Commons

Film & Theatre

RIP Rik Mayall aka (P)Rick of the Young Ones, Comic Strip, New Statesman, Blackadder…, 1958-2014

“This house will become a shrine, and punks and skins and rastas will all gather round and hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader. And all the grown-ups will say: “But why are the kids crying?” And the kids will say: “Haven’t you heard? Rik is deadThe People’s Poet is dead!”” – The Young Ones  

“Bum”, I mean “Bottom“, Rik Mayall has died a Young One at just 56, the B’stard. The near-30 year married family man was a comedy genius and genuine talent. He will be sorely missed and was working right up to the sudden end, despite his own near-death experience on a quad bike back in 1998 that left him in a coma for days and with epilepsy. Ironically, his most recent project was a Lupus Films/Channel 4 animated comedy about the joys of being dead – “Don’t Fear Death“!

Death “is your passport to complete and utter freedom. No pulse, no responsibilities. Carpe mortem – seize death”

Mayall and Ade Edmondson were contemporaries at Manchester University – where they also met writing partner Ben Elton, and performed together as 20th Century Coyote, their first performance was an improv called “Dead Funny“. As members dropped (not dead) off, the comedy group became a duo, renamed to The Dangerous Brothers, and shifted to London’s Comedy Store, where Alexei Sayle compered. Later they started their own comedy club, The Comic Strip Club, which ran out of Soho porn baron Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar, whilst conventional adult strip acts performed on the other two stages. This is also where they met Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who Edmondson later married in 1985.

>Comic Strip Presents Complete CollectionTogether they formed the TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…” which ran from 1982, 5 years before French and Saunders aired as a separate series. Their first episode was a parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures as “Five Go Mad in Dorset“.

In 1981 Mayall played “Rest Home” Ricky in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Picture Show follow up musical film: “Shock Treatment“. Curiously, Rik has managed to play a Rick, a Ricky and also a Richie, aka Richard Rich in Filthy Rich & Catflap (1986).

In 1991 he got to play a Fred, the eponymous mischievous imaginary friend in the film “Drop Dead Fred“. He also squeezed in a Micky in “Eat the Rich” (1987), a Mathias in “Little Noises” (1991), a Marty in “Bring me the Head of Mavis Davis” (1997) and a Mario in “Eldorado” (2012). Not to mention the voice of Prince Froglip in “The Princess and the Goblin” (1991) and Mr Toad in “The Wind in the Willows” (1995).

Another animated character he played was was the voice of Kehaar in the series version of “Watership Down” (1999) and Edwin the Eagle in the spellbinding “Shoebox Zoo” (2004-5). He also played an unnamed man in the pub in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). In 2000 he managed to play character opposites Robin Hood in “Blackadder: Back & Forth” and King Herod in “Jesus Christ Superstar“!

Rik Mayall as Rick in The Young Ones
Rik Mayall as Rick in The Young Ones

The Young Ones first aired in 1982, the BBC was not entirely convinced, but went ahead to compete with the emerging popularity of Channel 4. Spike Milligan, commenting on Mayall’s farting, nose-picking “Rick”, described him as the “arsehole of British comedy”. (Quoted in McSmith, Andy, No Such Thing As Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s, Constable & Robinson, p149)

Until then most successful comedians and comedy writers had emerged from establishment universities like Oxford and especially Cambridge. Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson stemmed from Oxford, whilst Cambridge and its Footlights Theatre produced talent that went on to make Monty Python, The Goodies, Yes Minister, Bremner, Bird and Fortune, Alas Smith and Jones, Fry and Laurie, Newman and Baddiel, Punt and Dennis, and more recent acts like Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller, Mel and Sue.

Rik portrayed the crude, pompous poet, anti-establishment anarchist and redbrick university sociology student, “Rick” with great energy and voracious vulgarity. In the “Bambi” episode, somehow the four students end up on University Challenge, appropriately competing against Footlights College.

Young Ones Bambi Prick Wiki
The Young Ones “Bambi” episode

On the show Rick’s namecard has a scrawled ‘P’ added to it and Vyvyan jokes that his name has a silent ‘P’ before it. In the same episode Neil reads out graffiti from Rick’s ‘O’ Level History text book – “Prick is a wonker – signed, the rest of the class”, although Rick dismisses this as classroom banter until Neil then reads out a further scribble – “I agree with the rest of the class – signed teacher”.

“I live on the limit, Vyvyan. The limit, because I’m a rider at the gates of dawn and I take no prisoners!” – Rick in The Young Ones

For all his character’s pseudo-anarchy Rick seemed to have a conservative background and was a Cliff Richard fan. He didn’t seem to know much about the politics he claimed to believe in and was a lazy socialist, in terms of political theory.

“If you’re a wild eyed loner at the gates of oblivion then hitch a ride with us, because we are riding on the last freedom moped out of nowhere and we haven’t even told our parents what time we are coming home…” from the introduction by Rick to Cliff Richard’s “Living Doll” for Comic Relief  (1.5m views)

It was no surprise when Rik evolved Rick into slimy sleazy scheming Conservative politician Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, which ran on ITV from 1987 to 1992 for 4 series. I completely forgot that Vyv’s surname was also Basterd in the Young Ones.

New Statesman DVD

Rik Mayall also reprised Alan B’Stard MP, or rather PM, in a political advertising campaign by the No2AV group in 2011. Parodying David Cameron and Nick Clegg entering into coalition and office together he promised no tax or tuition fees, free housing and electricity, and then gleefully burnt the manifesto and its promises.

“You know the really great thing about a fudged coalition is that neither of us need to carry out a single promise of our election manifestos.”

Rather than The People’s Poet, the People’s Prophet, perhaps?

At the same time as the New Stateman was airing Rik also popped up in Blackadder II and Blackadder Goes Forth, playing the loud lecherous bragging Lord Flashheart.  In 2006 he returned to the nobility as Lord Reginald in “SpongeBob SquarePants” (2006).

Whilst Flashheart was crude in an upper class slimy sexist way, Rik returned to the gutters again for “Bottom” (1991-1995). Mostly containing scenes of frying pan bashing and slapstick violence akin to classic Laurel and Hardy or old Warner Bros cartoons. For all its base comedy, Rik and Ade had acted together in Waiting for Godot in 1991 and created Bottom as a crude take on the play. The characters, again a Richie, Richard “Richie” Richard, and Edmonson playing flatmate Eddie Elizabeth Hitler, went on to appear in four series, a film “Guest House Paradiso” (1999) playing Richard Twat, and a touring stage show – “Bottom: Live“, which left them in hospital, on occasion! Bottom last toured in 2003 but the 1997 stage version, “Bottom Live 3: Hooligan’s Island” nearly made it back to our screens in 2013, but was cancelled due to competing projects that Ade Edmondson wanted to pursue.

One of my favourite banal Bottom scenes from Season 2 Episode 2, bemoaning what to do in the absence of television…

Richie: What about “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”?
Eddie: We haven’t got a donkey.
Richie: Well, “Pin the Tail on the Chicken”
Eddie: We haven’t got a tail.
Richie: Oh. Well, “Pin the Sausage on the Chicken”?
Eddie: We haven’t got a chicken.
Richie: (Annoyed) Well, “Pin the Sausage on the Fridge”.
Eddie: Or a pin.
Richie: (Angrier) “Sellotape a Sausage to the Fridge”!
Eddie: We haven’t got a sausage!
Richie: (shouting) “Put a Bit of Sellotape on the Fridge”!
Eddie: (Beat) It’s not much of a game, is it?
[Richie and Eddie have just played stick a piece of sellotape on the fridge. Eddie won]
Eddie: Who won?
Richie: Ha ha ha ha. Eddie, it matters not who won or lost, but how you play the game.
Eddie: Oh, you mean I won? Ha! Ha-ha. [wets his finger, draws a figure 1 in the air, waves his hands in the air]
Richie: Yes, I suppose so, yeah, I mean if it’s so important to you, yes. Yes, you did win. I mean for Heaven’s sake, Eddie, it’s only a game! [walking away, to himself] Shit, shit

Waiting for Godot, was not his only conventional acting role, he also appeared made a “brilliant debut” as Ivan in Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Olivier Theatre in 1985. Indeed, The Telegraph ran an article back in April this year on the 2012 film Eldorado, “the worst film ever made…weapons-grade awful”, in which Mayall played a Verdi-singing, cannibalistic chef, Mario – in contrast to the dire film, his scene stood out as “fairly watchable”!

During the 2000s Mayall was marketed by Playstation on games and ads, to be seen as more “edgy” over Sega‘s success. The money he made from this bought him a house which he jokingly named “Nintendo Towers“.

Such a shame, that like Faulty Towers there were just 12 episodes of the Young Ones, a 1980s classic “sign of the times” series – it always felt like there were many more, I wish there were, and now there won’t be a comeback series as The Old Ones, perhaps “only the good die young”. The Young Ones page on Facebook has nearly a million likes.

Ade Edmondson had this to say of his long time friend and creative collaborator:

Ade Edmondson on Rik Mayall RIP

“There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.”

Nigel Planer, hippie Neil in The Young Ones, described him as:

“…inspirational, bonkers, and a great life force”.

The Guardian described Mayall’s characters as “full of life” and “vast mad scribbles, jammed to the margins with noise and energy”.

The level of talent portraying anarchist poet Rick and punk revolutionary Vyvyan, and their reprised characters in Bottom is clear when one realises that both men went on to conventional marriage and fatherhood. They both married in 1985 and had 3 kids each. Prior to, and overlapping, that, Mayall had been in a relationship with Lise Mayer, co-creator and writer of The Young Ones, and who is now married to Angus Deayton. He leaves behind his wife, Barbara Robbin, and three children, who if they were ever told how to behave after seeing daddy in The Young Ones and Bottom, must have been a struggle to get to behave!

Bonnie Mayall, Rik’s youngest daughter, posted on Facebook:

“We will never forget him and neither will the world, R.I.P to the man, the myth, the legend – my wonderful, generous, foul mouthed and hysterical father.”

For a man whose career went from “Dead Funny” to “Don’t Fear Death” via a near-death experience in 1998, Rik Mayall died full of life, love and laughter. He leaves behind a comedy legacy that will keep us laughing for many years to come.

[An earlier version of this article appeared here]