Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Holy Flying Circus covers the storm of protest in 1979 Britain at the release of Christian bating masterpiece Monty Python's Life of Brian, culminating in the confrontation between ranting John Cleese, nice guy Micheal Palin and the Bishop of Southwark and 1970s renta-grouch Malcom Muggeridge.

The first bad sign is when you realise this hugely anticipated drama comedy is being premièred midweek, on BBC4,  opposite the Champions League games. It looks like its being buried.

Holy Flying Circus is presented right out front as surreal fantasy and includes Stephen Fry (briefly) as God, but the most surreal concept prompted by Holy Flying Circus is that they could be trivialising Monty Python. That is  ridiculous, as is my generations deification of them; but the reaction against Life of Brian was no joke. It demonstrated the gulf between British Christianity and treatment of religion elsewhere. At the time it seemed like religion had been dealt a lingering death blow by a few comedians. Looking back now it was a sudden dip on the road toward 9/11. Life of Brian is silly, but it's not trivial.

Initial exposure to Holy Flying Circus is jarring. Post Goon situation surrealism of the 1960s sits uneasily with post 2000 Mighty Boosh character based surrealism. The seriously showy performances by the mostly unknown comics starts to really irritate after a while, with the most obvious example being Darren Boyd playing John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, quite a daring idea that ends up insulting to all concerned. 

For all it's many faults Python treated it's audience with some respect. (As a kid I loved that a comedy show assumed I knew the Philosophers in the song without making an issue of it. You didn't get that on Benny Hill). Darren Boyd > as Basil Fawlty > as John Cleese is like being treated like a soap fan who doesn't know the difference between William Roach and Ken Barlow.

That said.. Holy Flying Circus is often funny and worth watching. It looks like a good script that was undermined by a producer and performers trying to recreate the 'imaginations' of 24 Hour Party People. Although virtually everyone else involved is bad, the team playing the Pythons are great to watch, with particular stand out performances from Tom Fisher as Graham Chapman and Charles Edwards as Palin. Also worth noting Micheal Cochrane as the insufferable Muggeridge, who was every bit the pompous twit that he looks in this surreal version. I'm sure second time round I would enjoy it more.

Worth noting that though the anti-Life of Brian protest was itself big at the time, the Pythons vs Bishops confrontation incident was hardly Bill Grundy vs The Sex Pistols. Most of the world knows of it from the brilliant send up on the cutting edge satirical tv comedy of the late 1970s :  Not The Nine O'Clock News.

This week we were also treated to the one of return of The Comic Strip Presents.. in The Hunt For Tony Blair. While Not The Nine O'Clock News had political tv satire sewn up on the BBC, Comic Strip Presents.. was an atempt by the then brand new 'alternative' Channel 4 to artificially create its own 80s Python troupe by hoovering up all the new 'alternative' comics resident in London's then super hip Comic Strip comedy club. Rik Mayal, Aidrian Edmunson, Nigel Planer, French and Saunders, Robbie Coltrane and co were all launched on Channel 4's first night in Five Go Mad in Dorset, just a week before their sitcom debuts in the BBCs The Young Ones, without the Comic Strip writer and director Peter Richardson.

The apex of Comic Strip is probably 1987s slapstick gangster masterpiece Mr Jolly Lives Next Door (currently 8.8/10 on IMDB) but the troupe, even more so than Python, is famously hit and miss, particularly on the big screen. The Supergrass and Eat The Rich hardly rate against the Python films.

Comic Strip Presents tv one-offs have been an occasional treat ever since. For 2011's The Hunt For Tony Blair some new faces have been added, most notably Stephen Mangan (Guy Secretan in Green Wing) as ex Prime Minister Tony Blair caught in a 1950s styled fugitive drama. There are others in this, notably Jennifer Saunders as Mrs Thatcher and Nigel Planer as Peter Mandelson, but if you find Mangan's version of Blair funny you'll love it. A  simpering idiot parroting content from his gospel/autobiography while protected by a halo of good fortune, it's possible this version of Blair would go down with Thandie Newton's Condoleeza Rice, Will Ferrell's George W and even Tina Fey's Sara Palin as the definitive portrayal, at least for me. 

Treading water in the storm

Following the return from Fraserburgh I've been trying to hold out for a longer contract.. somewhere.. which seems extremely risky as the financial world goes into meltdown

I've been using the following distractions

Crimson Skies

Mad Men series 3 & 4

and some new versions of classic Brit comedy (see next post)

and I have developed a thing for Tina Fey's 30 Rock

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Preparing for drive from Fraserbrough to Bristol

What's that quote from The Blues Brothers ...

Heading back early Friday morning, this is what I have in the car

German hands free kit

new Music

Older new music
Pj Harvey: U Hu Her
MC5: Best of

Plus new car compilation

I've a hankering for heavy now the weather has changed ( set off from Devon two weeks ago in 25 degree heat, 6 hours of M5/M6 traffic jams listening to SuperHeavy and B52s Wild Planet)

I am addicted to the following podcasts and have saved up weeks of the following;

Best of the left
Football weekly
(both of the above funnier than any comedy podcast)
NPR Car Talk
BBC Radio World Football Phone-in
And also ...
Dan Carlins Hardcore history, Death Throes of The Republic, drawing non too subtle allusions about the fate of Rome and the current state of US politics.

On previous trip in 08 driving The Walrus (my old Skoda Fabia) from Edinburgh to Reading in a day I listened to Dan Carlins three part history of The Punic Wars, which helped put my life in perspective.

Car prep based on trans continental experience - water, fruit, chewing gum and recent treat - coffee beans
Three sets of sunglasses

Would really like to be driving back over Cairngorms but want to clear Aberdeen before nasty morning traffic. Pit stop strategy on long trips is to time your stops before and to coincide with traffic bottlenecks like rush hour on M6, Birmingham and Bristol

So I aim to stop, probably for breakfast and a nap, at about 8.30-9.30

Have to be careful using Today Show and Podcasts as they make me sleepy, and Radio 5 (or more accurately what it has become) just annoys the hell out of me

I'll try and blog in transit

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fraserburgh lighthouse museum

Pic album will follow

Highland Aviation Museum 2

Valiant V-bomber interior

Highland Aviation Museum 1

Pic album will follow

After Tinker Tailer and Smileys People they should

For those discovering and rediscovering the BBC Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and Smileys People and wanting to go further..

ITVs slightly Thatcherist Sandbaggers tv series covers pretty much the same area as the above in the 1980s, but the real treat to track down is this, which really opened my eyes to the situation in Ireland

.. It really deserves a remake itself, if only to remind is how precious Irish peace is

Friday, 7 October 2011

Britain two hours north of Edinburgh

Fraserburgh is like Barnstaple half a century ago - fishing and not a lot else at all but everyone very friendly - I might get to go curling some night. 

Today the sweet Latvian girl cutting my hair admitted that if anyone at home opposite the Baltic was as friendly as any of the highland locals they would be locked away with a presumption of mental illness. Shortly after this after a stunning blonde wandered into the salon and the Latvian and her talked Russian for five minutes before she left.

Latvian then admitted the Russian blonde was a total stranger and anyone with Slav language issues in Fraserburgh is directed to her hairdressing salon.

Terrain is a bit Cornish but very flat. To give
you an idea of remoteness, nearby tourist attractions include National
Scottish Lighthouse Heritage Museum.

The accommodation and food in out of town community pub
(Ban Car Hotel) is unpretentious but quietly high class room-wise. The
Highland Chicken, stuffed with haggis, is pretty awesome, with poached
eggs and lean bacon for breakfast. The colour is failing on the big
widescreen in the bar and when it flickers blue all the faces on
screen look like Braveheart.

Local beer is Machlaclans best ale, which is the bitterest bitter I've
ever had. I'm off the whiskey because I dont want to see what happens
if I insist on Irish.

Weather certainly different to English heatwave, when I heard about
snow in Inverness from chatty Tesco woman yesterday it took a few
moments to realise Inverness is just up the road (well it's just west
of here actually, not up). Car is 20 degrees below what 

I left in England, outside the seagulls are flying sideways in the wind
but the fish landing reports on the local radio in the morning make you
appreciate cozy highland IT centres.. which do look a bit like moonbases

MAD MEN keeping me sane

I've been watching MAD MEN all week in hotel room. One of the best things about working away with just a laptop for company is you really get a chance to emerse yourself in good US tv
sagas. Since 2006 I've watched the entire of Soprano's, The Wire, Breaking Bad etc
etc,... and  this is as good as any of them..
and like the others reaches a brilliant climax at the end of third series, as if US tv is paced and planned with that in mind.

Now I think about it MM (and Watchmen) are responsible for my morbid Ayn Rand fascination.

In typical headf@ck fashion MM series 4 is a departure and hard to get into, I lasted nearly full 30 mins of the TERRA NOVA pilot last night (quite proud of my fortitude there), I'm going to start tonight on 30 ROCK (series 1 £2 @ tesco) so expect a 10,000 word appreciation of Tina Fey/s various credentials in next blog.

How much do we all owe Tina Fey? Sarah Palin gave up her presedential ambitions this week, frustrated that US voters had recognised her as a dangerous joke in away that they never did with George W. The two or three short SNL sketches with Tina Fey's hilarious version of Sarah Palin might go down as the most effective political satire in history..

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cairngorms. Listening to Anna Calvi and WU LYF

Test post direct from phone

Stopped just outside Perth. On hottest October day on record in England, rain is so torrential around here Saturday afternoon Rangers played under floodlights!

Hoping it will brighten up so Cairngorms National Park is an option today