Twenty years ago today the first episode of Time Gentlemen Please was broadcast. And thus the date 11/9 went down in history.
Nineteen years ago today I was writing series 2 at Al Murray’s house and got a text saying “Have you heard about these planes at the WTC?” We checked the BBC page, but it wasn’t working for some reason. “Maybe there will be something on the news about it,” I said. Turns out there was.
Both just outside the remit of Warming Up. Both feel like they can’t have been a fifth of a century ago.
Almost as historic, today I got to record an episode of The Chase. They can’t keep me off the telly, but only in my secondary profession as a quizzer/attempter of stupid tasks. I’d been practising this fiendish and surprisingly complex quiz on the app on my phone for a few days, wondering if I was going to take a chance and go for the top offer (which I only succeeded at about 33% of the time on the app) or play safe. And knowing that even if you get through that round then the chances of beating the Chaser in the final chase are still quite slim. I was extremely nervous and genuinely didn’t know what I was going to do when faced with the cash wall until the very last second.
The episode is going out over Christmas, so they asked us to dress Christmassy. Everyone else went super-glam but I wore a silly Christmas jumper (though they rejected my Rick and Morty and Die Hard ones sadly). And because it’s a Christmas episode all five of the Chasers were taking part, so that made it extra special too.
There was a small audience and the contestants had all passed a Covid test so we were in a bubble where we were allowed to get a bit closer to each other. So it felt almost normal.
And it was recorded at BBC TV Centre (studio 2 I think) which I haven’t been to for a very long time. We may have recorded some Fist of Fun in this studio a quarter of a century ago - I can’t remember. I am glad some vestige of television remains in this iconic building and important landmark in my life, though it’s weird that it’s an ITV one.
The backstage team were excellent and enthusiastic about the show (not always the case on TV) and Bradley Walsh, who I’ve not met before (though have been attempting to get on RHLSTP) was the same on screen as off, friendly, funny and most notably genuinely enjoying this show after a decade of doing it. So many people in TV get cynical or complain about having to do a repetitive job for a long period of time, but Brad is sensible enough to know how precious a job like this is and how fortunate anyone in shows actually is to get consistent well paid work like this. And he’s just a genuinely affable man who enjoys meeting people, taking the piss, laughing at childish jokes and the excitement that this tightly wound format creates.
Our own show was a rollercoaster of excitement. The Chasers are as competitive as I am, which is saying something, and don’t seem phased by the fact that their job (in this case) is to try and prevent charities receiving funds at Christmas. Winning is more important to them than that and the show wouldn’t work if they didn’t behave in this way. The fucking evil bastards.
Aside from the nerves and the fear of humiliation and the difficult choices this was an extremely fun way to spend the day. Emotionally exhausting though and I had my first alcoholic drink for a month afterwards.
Tonight we watched the 1989 Steve Martin film Parenthood which stood up very well and reminded me of “You Can Choose Your Friends” - the writers obviously travelled 18 years into the future to copy me. It’s the first time I’ve seen the show as a parent and the little boy walking around naked and running round in circles and bashing his head into walls was so like Ernie that that made us laugh and cry a bit. But Keanu Reeves is awesome in it too.
And though I have been harsh on Steve Martin in the past, he is an awesome actor and comedian. An utter genius. In my film idea “The Man With Two Brains in the Iron Mask" Martin is kidnapped and replaced by a double who is prepared to be in any old shit for the money halfway through filming of LA Story, so Parenthood would still be the real Martin. I often wondered about whether Martin would be up for appearing in a film that mocked his choices (and ultimately the idea was about the way fans feel they own a comedian and are bound to be upset if that comedian makes choices they don’t like - the kicker being that the real Martin when rescued still appears in another Cheaper by the Dozen and Clouseau film anyway - there’s lots of reasons for doing projects and a performer’s rationale is never going to match those ardent fans) but I think I have left it a bit too late now. What fun it would be to see him playing an evil and less talented version of himself. You could do it with someone else being Martin, but it wouldn’t be as good. Damn why didn’t I write this.
I might have found Parenthood a bit safe and cosy as a younger man, but I was an idiot. It’s subtle and witty and apart from Martin encouraging his son to say “Hubba hubba” to cute 8 year olds (which is still charming, but you could choose to read another way if you were keen to cancel everyone) the politics stands up well which you can’t say for all 80s films (I watched a bit of the Breakfast Club the other day and there’s some problematic stuff in there as Adam Buxton details in his new book).
I was tipsy for the first time in a while and relieved that my quiz trauma was over, so that might have influenced me a little, but if you haven’t seen Parenthood for a while (or ever) give it a go.