DVD review: Upstart Crow

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You could feel the shockwaves reverberating around the British comedy world for days afterwards: Ben Elton had written a good sitcom.

It should not have been a shock, of course. Elton co-wrote two of the best British sitcoms of all time, The Young Ones and Blackadder, indeed, the three best series of Blackadder. The ghost of Blackadder II hangs over Upstart Crow which also has an Elizabethan setting. It is not as good as Blackadder II (few things are) but it’s a noble attempt.

David Mitchell plays William Shakespeare, a man torn between the demands of his rather lowbrow Stratford household and that of London and his pursuit of a career as a playwright and a poet. At home, he has a loving wife Anne (Liza Tarbuck), a permanently grumpy teenage daughter (the excellent Helen Monks of Raised By Wolves in an underwritten part) and his elderly parents (Harry Enfield and Paula Wilcox). Much to his frustration, all of Shakespeare’s family react to his work rather as many modern schoolchildren would. His father openly admits to finding his son’s plays dull while the others tire of his fondness for clever wordplay.

“It’s what I do!” Mitchell’s Bard defends himself, in what almost becomes a catchphrase. “If you do your research, my stuff is actually really funny.”

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Programme Name: Upstart Crow – TX: n/a – Episode: Upstart Crow – Generics (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: Greene (MARK HEAP) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Colin Hutton

His London life, meanwhile, involves Kate (Gemma Whelan) who longs to act  (a profession not then open to women), his manservant Bottom (Rob Rouse, a cleverer, cleaner version of Baldrick) and Marlowe (Tim Downie, excellent), Shakespeare’s doomed contemporary, here played an arrogant but charming womaniser (“a clever girl is an ugly girl, ” is his advice to Kate). There are elements of Blackadder in all of this: Kate has similarities to “Bob,” a reference later made explicit. Marlowe is also reminiscent of the late Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashman and some of the scenarios and jokes involving potatoes and dungeons are reminiscent of the earlier series deliberately or not. Future sitcom scholars may also wish to compare the openings to episode 2 of this to the start of Blackadder II’s final episode Chains.

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Upstart Crow goes wrong when it goes down the predictable route of showing how Shakespeare  finds inspiration for his plays in real life. This isn’t a bad idea in itself but it rarely works here. Other quibbles? The always brilliant Mark Heap (Spaced, Friday Night Dinner) although impressive is never given much chance to be funny as Shakespeare’s rival Greene and the scenes involving the rehearsal of the actual plays are less good, the exception being Spencer Jones’ spot on piss take of Ricky Gervais.

Twelve years ago, the idea of Ben Elton taking the piss out of then post-Office comedy supremo Gervais would have been unthinkable but his stock has fallen and Elton’s has risen since then. Upstart Crow is far from flawless but it provides David Mitchell with his best sitcom role since Peep Show, contains some laugh out loud funny one liners and marks a definite return to form for Ben Elton, one of Britain’s most unfairly maligned comedic talents.

p03vbsb4Released: BBC Worldwide. Out: now. Starring: David Mitchell, Liza Tarbuck, Gemma Whelan, Rob Rouse, Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox, Tim Downie, Helen Monks, Mark Heap

Brexit: Ten Years On (2026)

I wrote this last week. Feels a bit like it’s coming true.

Chris Hallam's World View

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It has now been a full decade since Britain voted 53 to 47 to leave the European Union.

Opinion polls now indicate that over 75% now regard this as a bad decision with many of the architects of Brexit such as the former Prime Minister Lord Cameron expressing regret at the move. It is unlikely Cameron’s seven undistinguished years in Downing Street will be remembered for much else. Like Thatcher before him, his premiership both began and ended with severe economic recession.

The pound began dropping before the celebrations had even ended. Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne were able to briefly use the cover of the mounting economic crisis to cling to power into the new year. He was assisted in this by the ructions in the Labour Party with Labour MPs using the excuse of the referendum defeat as an excuse to blame and overthrow their leader Jeremy…

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15 reasons why Brexit sucks

Chris Hallam's World View

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1: Nobody on either side seems to have a clue what will happen if we leave the EU. I don’t know about you, but before making any big decisions e.g. buying a car or moving house  I prefer to know what the consequences will be. If not, I don’t know I don’t do it.

2: Nearly everyone on both sides seems to be expecting the economy to take a serious hit if we leave. “Man up! We sometimes have recessions anyway,” seems to be the Brexit camp’s attitude. Is this patriotic? Forcing an unnecessary recession on the UK? No thank you!

3: Many Brexit people complain about all the unfair laws imposed on us by Brussels. Ask them to name which ones they mean: they can never think of any.

4: If the EU is so awful, how come we’re the fifth largest economy in the world?

5: Wanting to leave the EU…

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Brexit: Ten Years On (2026)

EU-Flag-1

It has now been a full decade since Britain voted 53 to 47 to leave the European Union.

Opinion polls now indicate that over 75% now regard this as a bad decision with many of the architects of Brexit such as the former Prime Minister Lord Cameron expressing regret at the move. It is unlikely Cameron’s seven undistinguished years in Downing Street will be remembered for much else. Like Thatcher before him, his premiership both began and ended with severe economic recession.

The pound began dropping before the celebrations had even ended. Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne were able to briefly use the cover of the mounting economic crisis to cling to power into the new year. He was assisted in this by the ructions in the Labour Party with Labour MPs using the excuse of the referendum defeat as an excuse to blame and overthrow their leader Jeremy Corbyn.

By 2017, unemployment was over two million (it has never been as low since) and both the facts that the country had a huge deficit and the Tories had a tiny majority suddenly became hugely relevant. As under John Major, the economy suffered both severe recession and Tory civil war. The Queen expressed concern. Cameron fell. For all his sub-Churchillian rhetoric, his gaffe-prone successor Boris Johnson proved no more able to cope with the slump than Cameron had. Nor could Chancellor Michael Gove.

Ten years on, unemployment is again back to 1980s levels, permanently over three million. Immigration has increased dramatically, the illusion that we could control our own borders on our own dramatically exposed as a pipe dream. UKIP, against expectation, remains strong although less strong than the resurgent pro-European  Liberal Democrats.  Any democratic gains achieved by Brexit seem to have passed most people by, unnoticed.

The newspapers, fierce cheerleaders for Brexit at the time now condemn it as an “historic mistake”.

The Prime Minister, encouraged by the support of former US president Hillary Clinton, is thought to be contemplating a new bid to apply for EU membership as soon as soon as the coronation is over.

It is not known if this will be successful.

 

 

15 reasons why Brexit sucks

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1: Nobody on either side seems to have a clue what will happen if we leave the EU. I don’t know about you, but before making any big decisions e.g. buying a car or moving house  I prefer to know what the consequences will be. If not, I don’t know I don’t do it.

2: Nearly everyone on both sides seems to be expecting the economy to take a serious hit if we leave. “Man up! We sometimes have recessions anyway,” seems to be the Brexit camp’s attitude. Is this patriotic? Forcing an unnecessary recession on the UK? No thank you!

3: Many Brexit people complain about all the unfair laws imposed on us by Brussels. Ask them to name which ones they mean: they can never think of any.

4: If the EU is so awful, how come we’re the fifth largest economy in the world?

5: Wanting to leave the EU is not necessarily racist at all, far from it. And yet everyone who is racist does happen to want to leave. Which frankly puts me off a bit.

6: Michael Gove says leaving would free up millions of pounds to spend on the NHS. a) This isn’t true and b) he would never dream of spending it on that anyway.

7: There will still be a global migrant crisis. How would us leaving the EU help?

8: If the Brexit camp has a case, why are they frequently so dishonest? Remember that supposedly apocalyptic speech in which Cameron warned of a world war if we left? (Daily Mail: “Now Cameron warns Brexit would lead to war and genocide: PM’s extraordinary intervention”) That’s what the Brexit camp claimed he said anyway. In reality, he did nothing of the sort. In truth, it was actually quite dull. http://www.conservativehome.com/parliament/2016/05/camerons-speech-on-brexit-full-text.html

9: I hate the word “Brexit”. It just sounds awful. Surely I’m not the only one? If you support Brexit don’t be surprised if there is soon a Brecession and your house gets Brepossessed.

10: All our allies around the world (not just those in the EU) want us to stay. Why? Are they secretly evil and plotting our downfall? Or is it just possible they have some inkling of what’s best for both us and the world?
Putin wants us to leave.

11: Leaving would be very hard to reverse. But if we don’t leave now, we can always leave at any point in the future without having another referendum.

12: Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, George Galloway, Rupert Murdoch, the Daily Telegraph, Mail, Express and Nigel Farage all want us to leave.

13: The anti-EU battle bus has a totally bogus figure on its side about how much the EU supposedly costs us. Everyone knows it’s a lie, the Office of Statistics have asked them to take it off as its nonsense yet they refuse to remove it. If they have any sort of case, why be so dishonest?

14: Travelling to or through Europe will become less easy and more expensive if we leave the EU.

15: European unity has preserved the peace and seen the UK grow stronger and more patriotic. Shutting ourselves off and ignoring the rest of the world is hardly an obvious way to maintain our power and influence. Ignore the Brexiters. Voting Remain is the most patriotic thing you can do.

Book review: When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow by Dan Rhodes

Chris Hallam's World View

Dan Rhodes

Dan Rhodes is one of the funniest writers in Britain today. He is also, on occasion, one of the saddest.

His early book of short stories Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love included memorable works such as The Violoncello in which a boy turns himself into the instrument and Landfill, in which a man falls hopelessly with a girl who apparently lives in a landfill site. His novels deal with cannibalism (Little Hands Clapping), village life (Gold), an old man’s relationship with his dog (Timeleon Vieta Come Home) and the fate of the little white car which was sighted near Princess Diana’s fatal accident (er…The Little White Car).

Although very readable, he is not a writer who has ever seemed desperate for commercial success. Neither Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love or Timoleon Vieta Come Home are tremendously catchy names, after all. His most recent book When The…

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Book review: No Such Thing As Society

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It is perhaps the most notorious quote made by Margaret Thatcher during her eleven years in Downing Street:

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!”

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The immortal words appeared in an interview in Woman’s Own soon after her third and final election victory in 1987. Later in the interview, she emphasised her point:

“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

Thatcher and her supporters liked to claim that the “no such thing as society” quote had been misquoted or even deliberately misunderstood by her opponents in a bid to discredit her. In fact, even in context, it is clear what she meant and that she meant what she said. As John Campbell has pointed out elsewhere: “It was not meaningful for the head of a government charged with administering {society} to maintain that it did not exist.”

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And as Andy McSmith points out in this excellent book, Thatcher’s outlook largely explains why the Eighties were such an unsettling decade for so many people. As a woman “brought up in conditions of economic security and who had married into money,” Thatcher didn’t appreciate how difficult life for many people in her realm had become. She generally had no sense of humour and in the decade of Live Aid never showed any interest in alleviating world poverty whatsoever.

And what a decade it was. Despite having read extensively about the Thatcher era and the fact that I’ve only come to this book five years after it was first published, McSmith still presents a remarkable number of viewpoints on the decade which were entirely new to me.

For anyone interested in what was both acceptable and unacceptable in the Eighties, this is an absolutely essential read.

No Such Thing As Society: A History Of Britain in the 1980s by Andy McSmith

(Published: Constable, 2011)

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Ten rejected Brexit campaign slogans

It’s time to leave the European Union because…

  1. The French killed Diana. Now they want to kill you.
  2. Every time you blink the EU costs us another TEN SQUILLION POUNDS. This figure must be true: the bus says so.
  3. We’re not racist but…
  4. We’ve had recessions before, another one won’t hurt. You’re always saying you don’t like your job anyway. Man up!
  5. Look, the Greeks invented gayness, you know. That’s all we’re saying.
  6. Isolating ourselves and ignoring everyone. Can you think of any better ways to expand our influence?
  7. It’s better to be outside the tent pissing in than inside the tent pissing out. Or something.
  8. Because of all those terrible laws imposed on us from Brussels like er…and…um…the one in the paper…you know the ones I mean anyway. The terrible ones.
  9. One World Cup and two World Wars: let’s make it a hat trick.
  10. Skeletor would want you to stay. Wipe the smile off his face.

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Why all Democrats love war and all Republicans are wet girly sissies

Chris Hallam's World View

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We all know the stereotype. Republicans are tough, belligerent and war-like. Democrats are soft, peace loving and wet.
But, regardless of whether you think either of these positions is admirable or not, are they supported by the facts? Consider the last hundred years…
1917: Democrat Woodrow Wilson leads the US into the First World War.
1921-33: Republican presidents avoid involvement in global affairs as far as possible and keep the US out of the League of Nations.
1941-45: Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt leads the US into the Second World War.
1945-53: Roosevelt’s Democrat successor Harry S. Truman drops two atomic bombs on Japan, ending World War II. Truman leads the US into the Cold War and the Korean War (1950-53).
1953-61: Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower ends the Korean War and avoids wider entanglements e.g. In Vietnam. The US is widely perceived to lose ground to the Soviet Union in the…

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