The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

That Was Me

Somebody should have a word with Paul McCartney explaining the concept of a ‘psuedonym’. I mean, I’ve just got his latest album, released under the psuedonym of ‘The Fireman’. It comes in a slipcase with the words ‘Paul McCartney is The Fireman’ on the front. Open it up, the CD’s in a wrapper, with a sticker; ‘The new album by Paul McCartney’. Inside, the sleeve has ‘Paul McCartney’ written on the front. Inside that, there’s a booklet with ‘Paul McCartney’ written on the back. Containing lots of pictures of Paul McCartney.

It’s a far cry (to reheat the cliché) from the first Fireman album, where the only hint of Macca rested in the publishing credit. That album wasn’t the easiest thing to listen to – it was like ambient music, but irritating. Like listening to endless remixes of a car alarm going off. The second album was equally anonymous, both creatively and musically; I’ve listened to it a few times but all I can remember about it is the photograph of a large-breasted naked young lady on the inside of the inlay.

What’s the third Fireman album Electric Arguments like, I hear you ask? Well, to stick with the psuedonym would’ve been misleading, as it’s a real Paul McCartney album - but made by the Paul McCartney who did Wild Honey Pie, McCartney, McCartney II, Rinse the Raindrops and Nod Your Head. Wacky Macca, freewheeling, experimental and spontaneous. It’s the album I’ve always wanted him to do. It’s random, messy, fresh, strong, catchy. It sounds massive; where Memory Almost Full and Chaos And Creation In The Backyard were tidy and controlled, this is banging all over the place. The aural equivalent of the splashy, colourful painting that’s used for the cover.

Now, how about another album from Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington...

Friday, 30 January 2009

Whole Lotta History

Because I hate smug people who act like they’re better than me because they know something I don’t, I’ve been trying to learn history. Even though I got an ‘A’ GCSE, I don’t remember learning very much at school – the gag being that, because of changes in the curriculum, I ended up doing the First World War twice and so thought there had been two First World Wars.

What I do know has been a result of my own reading and visiting of castles and other places of old and watching of DVDs. But a few years ago I decided to learn all the Kings and Queens of England since the Normans. From memory:

Willy I, Willy II, Harry I, Steven (who was crap), Maud (who doesn’t count), Harry II (Plantagenet), Dicky I (Julian Glover), John (Leonard Rossiter - died of the shits), Harry III, ‘Lofty’ Ted I, Ted II, Ted III, his grandson Dicky II (who was a right prat), replaced by Harry IV, Harry V (Kenneth Branagh), Harry VI (godbotherer), Ted IV, back to Harry VI, back to Ted IV, Ted V (who doesn’t count), Dicky III (Ron Cook), Harry VII (Tudor), Harry VIII (Ray Winstone, married to Katy Aragon, saucy Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour – not the same one from Live and Let Die, ugly Anne Cleves, Katy Howard, Katy Parr), Ted VI, Lady Jane Grey (who doesn’t count), bloody Mary I, Lizzy I (Miranda Richardson), Jimmy I (Stuart), Charlie I (beheaded), Rump, Nominated Assembly, Olly Cromwell, Dicky Cromwell, back to Rump, Charlie II, Jimmy II, Willy III and Mary II, Annie, Georgie I (Hanover), Georgie II, Georgie III (Nigel Hawthorne), Georgie IV (Hugh Laurie), Willy IV, Vicky (Miriam Margolyes), Ted VII, Georgie V (Windsor), Ted VIII (fascist), stammering Georgie VI, Lizzy II (Helen Mirren), and that’s it.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Do You Believe In Magic?

The great thing about being an atheist is that there are no subscription fees.

On the other hand, you have to put up with people – people with religious beliefs – describing atheism as a belief system. Well, yes, in a way it is. Atheism is a belief system... in the same way that being bald is a hairstyle.

Of course, one can argue in favour of atheism on the basis of rationality. Though the idea that using rationality is, in itself, rational is... something for philosophers with long beards to think about. And besides, I don’t live my life or make decisions on a rational basis; I’m not Mr Spock, I’m Captain Kirk.

I’d say I was an atheist because I find the idea of a godless universe to be awe-inspiring, life-affirming and massively comforting. I find the idea that there might be something in charge of this, who is either taking an extremely hands-off approach, or is somehow directly responsible for all the cruelty in the world, to be less appealling. I find the idea of a life after death – be it heaven or hell - to be the stuff of nightmares. I don’t want to go on after I’ve finished.

There are many other wonderful things about atheism. It means you can’t salve your conscience when you do wrong by confessing anonymously. It means that you appreciate that the world, and the life on it, was not put there for the benefit of mankind and that it does not belong to us. It means that if you start hearing voices in your head, you know that you should seek medical advice because you are not Joan of Arc. And it means you don’t have to read dull books about tribes bickering in the desert thousands of years ago.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Human (Extended version)

I’m not sure if I watched the pilot of Being Human all the way through. It didn’t make a great deal of impression. But everyone else thought it was terrific in a way that nothing else had ever been terrific before, so I tuned in for the series.

Those people who said it was terrific were right. Lenora Crichlow has the most brilliant comic timing; I predict she will be everywhere shortly. Russell Tovey, who already is everywhere, can always be relied upon to give an interesting line reading. And Aiden Turner, well, I can sense ominous undercurrents.

My only almost-a-quibble is that it’s an hour long, which feels... too long. It’s because I’m used to watching US shows, or Saturday evening shows like Doctor Who, or even ITV shows which are an hour-long-including-adverts, but I think there’s something about a continuous hour of narrative which either complicates the act structure (as you need another act or two to fill the time – which is what Spooks does) or means you have a 45-minute act structure stretched out over an hour, and it feels drawn out. Being Human had gone for the latter option. I think the story – which was deliberately low-key – could’ve been told in 45-minutes. If an old fart like me starts clockwatching towards the end, goodness knows what the hip young BBC 3 gunslingers made of it.

But that’s not even a quibble. It’s a terrific show. We shall take to the streets if there isn’t a second series.

In other news – finally got ITV player to work and watched Unforgiven. Show of the year! As brilliant as I knew it would be. Suranne Jones was magnificent, Peter Davison mysteriously vanished in episode three, and Sally Wainwright put together the cleverest, most gripping, most moving story imaginable.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Badhead

I’m on a DVD which comes out this week, as a sort of Stuart Maconie talking head. I don’t say much but I laugh at my friend Nev’s jokes. Please don’t buy it solely on my account; as an extra, they’ve included a Doctor Who story.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch it. I look too fat and have this weird nerdy voice which isn’t, I hope, what I normally sound like. Although probably I do.

But it was a lifetime ambition, to have a go at being Paul Ross. Now that box has been ticked, you’re safe, I won’t turn up again.

Related memory. Towards the end of my stint running the Erasure Information Service – of which only many happy memories remain – we organised a fan club show, where I ticked another lifetime ambition box and got to be on stage with my heroes. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me sing or play the keyboards so I had to interview them, in my capacity as being the only person I felt fulfilled the necessary and sufficient criteria of being me. I don’t remember much about that evening – I was ver, ver drunk, and suffering from a stress-related log-jam, and probably still in that very strange mental place I was occupying for much of 2002 – but I do remember being on stage, feeling oddly nonchalant about the experience of being up there in front of 2000 people.

The interview was recorded, it was released on DVD. My lifetime ambition, preserved for posterity. Have I ever watched it? I think I’ve managed all of about three seconds.

Weird thing is, it’s the same guy who’s on the Doctor Who DVD this week. He’s got a lot fatter and balder. But he still has the same weird nerdy voice.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Put It In Perspective

Time for another moan, I think. There’s nothing more constructive than a good moan. It’s therapeutic. It gets things off of chests which might otherwise prove burdensome. How can the human race hope to improve if people aren’t prepared to find fault? Moaning, my friends, points the way to the stars.

And yet... whenever someone complains about something like, oh, a chat-show host saying ‘titties’ or something, it’ll be followed by the inevitable response, ‘Don’t you have more important things to worry about?’ Their point being, why moan about mere trivialities? Get a sense of perspective!

A sense of perspective is good. I’m not knocking perspective. It’s a useful thing, it helps you tell the difference between small things which are nearby and large things which are a long way away. But, ooh, this response really gets my goat, and not just my goat, it gets my entire farmyard. It’s so smug, so knee-jerk, so... lazy. (Though the lazy use of the word ‘lazy’ in criticism is another irritant I shall salve through the power of moaning at a later date).

I mean, are these people leading by example? Are they busy, out crusading for liberty and justice? No. They’re on the internet, moaning at people for moaning. Glass house, pebble in flight. What could be more trivial? (Expect possibly this blog, moaning at people for moaning at people for moaning.)

I worry about the important things. Scarcely a day doesn’t go by without me fretting about global warming. I also fret about my family, my friends, my bank account. But the trivial... oh, the trivial is what day-to-day life is about. Trivial is gossip. Trivial are the stitches that make up life’s rich tapestry.

Trivial things are well worth complaining about. After all, you have to start somewhere.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Your Disco Needs You

Today I’ll be wittering about a fabulous musical sub-genre which often gets overlooked. That is, the sub-genre of

Artists From The 60’s And 70’s Attempting To Go Disco During The Late 70’s

It scarcely needs saying that the Bee Gees were the first band on the band... wagon, with their dose of Saturday Night Fever. After that, suddenly everyone was using synthesizers and syncopated bass lines.

Highlights and lowlights include:

Sparks – The Number One Song In Heaven. Pure blissful genius as Sparks invent the format of excitable camp singer/unnervingly motionless keyboard player.

Queen – Fun It. A proto-Another One Bites The Dust. Freddie and the perms would later, hilariously, record an entire album in the disco idiom, Hot Space.

The Beach Boys – Here Comes The Night. A ghastly re-working of a harmless little number from Wild Honey. So wrong. And it lasts longer than some wars.

Wings – Goodnight Tonight. Having conquered the fiefdom of disco, Macca Thumbsaloft would later reign supreme in the principality of synth with Coming Up off his compellingly bonkers McCartney II.

The Kinks – (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman – Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it the beginning of the Scissor Sisters’ cover of Comfortably Numb? No, it’s Ray Davies’ begrudging attempt at disco. Quite cool, though, in an Ian Dury way.

Elton John – Victim Of Love
– Not one for the Greatest Hits, Reg.

The Rolling Stones – Miss You. Hateful. The only thing more dreadful is the Jamiroquai/Ronnie Wood rendition, as performed on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. My personal Room 101.

The Who – Who Are You. Opinion is divided as to the point where The Who went shit. Personally I think it was at the point they decided to get together.

Rod Stewart – Do You Think I’m Sexy? Answer: Do you think I’m blind?

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Cops And Robbers

The Bill is going to become a one-episode a week show. This is great news, for fans of The Bill and for viewers in general. I’ll explain.

The whole idea of having as-many-as-possible episodes a week for soaps is counterproductive. Why? Because the people making a show can only really manage an hour or so of top-quality drama per week; once you stack on that third or fourth episode, the quality drops, the padding inflates, the rewrite time decreases, everything has to be shot more rapidly etc.

And from the viewers point of view; you can keep up with a show which is on once or twice a week. More often than that, you’ll find that some episodes are non-essential viewing; EastEnders fans know that nothing important happens on a Monday, the good stuff’s always saved for the Thursday instalment. By over-exploiting your audience’s loyalty, you risk making it ‘too much bother’ to tune in for every episode. I mean, Emmerdale’s viewing figures are currently rollercoastering from 5 to 10 million viewers; that’s 5 million viewers whose allegiance to Emmerdale is very ‘soft’, who’ll only watch it if there’s nothing better on. If it was only on once or twice a week, every episode would be circle-the-TV-Guide-listing-in-red appointment viewing.

The other point is; ITV needs a large and diverse audience for its advertisers, the BBC needs a large and diverse audience for its license fee. By putting on more episodes of the same shows, they’re merely catering to the same audiences again. Same people watching the same adverts. Spend the money on something else – ideally a sitcom, but even just a new, fresher soap - and even if it gets a smaller audience, it’ll be a different audience – and your channel, and its adverts, will achieve a larger ‘reach’.

Friday, 23 January 2009

No Reply

One of the frustrations with being a writer, other than writing, is in dealing with producers, script editors, agents. (Who, let it be said, I’ve always found to be wonderful, talented, hardworking people.)

But the problem is that some of them aren’t particularly good at replying to emails. You’ll send them something – anything from an out-of-the-blue spec to a script they’ve been pestering you for – and you won’t hear anything back.

That’s the freelancer’s curse. Because what do you do? It’s a Catch 22. Do you send them a second email? But then you’ll be the one pestering them. You risk appearing unprofessional, making them view you, and your work in a negative, begrudging light. But you’ve heard nothing back, you’re going out of your mind, and maybe the internet has eaten your email... so you wait a week, and send them a second email politely asking if they got the first email okay.

And still you hear nothing back. Or, even worse, you get a phone call from the person in question, who is now furious and yelling ‘Get off my back, alright!’

But what if you don’t send that second email, for fear of offending someone who is so tightly-wound that it might drive them over the brink of sanity? You can end up spending weeks, months, years, wondering why they didn’t reply.

As a rule, the best producers, script editors and agents are the ones who either reply straight away, or who are completely cool about receiving reminder emails. And as for the others... well, I’ll send them a second email, and try to move on. Life is too short, I don’t need the stress, mind-games and sleepless nights thinking, ‘Maybe I inadvertently did something to piss them off?’

I say ‘try’. I don’t succeed.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

You Lift Me Up

What was I doing when President Barack Obama was nominated? Well, I spent the morning getting a sofa delivered. Not a new sofa, but new to me. En the route from somewhere near the BBC to somewhere I live, the delivery van radio was tuned to James O’Brien on LBC. Apparently he was putting his cynicism on hold for the day; he’s a funny, intelligent guy, I think. He even used the word ‘environs’, which you don’t hear on the radio often enough.

Anyway, Barack In The USA. It’s one of the ironies of politics that in order to qualify for the job, you probably have to be an effective public speaker, even though the job itself doesn’t entail public speaking. You could even argue that using someone’s capacity to orate to gauge suitability for public office has got some countries into dreadful pickles in the past.

Barack has that Tony Blair thing, of delivering great swathes of heart-lifting hope and pride, without ever really touching on anything which could be considered a ‘subject matter’. You’re left feeling empowered and triumphant, without being entirely sure why. All you can do is applaud.

Aretha Franklin, though, was a delight, despite getting the words to God Save The Queen wrong. I’ve been watching too much Rock Profile, though, as I kept expecting her to go ‘dem flies, dem flies’.

The only drawback of Matt Santos becoming President is that certain (you know who they are) stand-up comedians will now be doing routines about there being ‘a brother’ in the White House. You know the drill; he’ll be smoking dope, he’ll still be claiming benefits, he’ll turn the West Wing into a ‘crib’ for his ‘crew’. Oh, please don’t. Horrible, dull, outdated stereotype.

You can do better than that. Yes you can.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

She-Devils Of The Deep

One of my obsessions is with creatures of the deep. They’re brilliant. They’re the maddest, weirdest, ugliest, scariest creatures of all. I’m not talking about the guys you get in an aquarium; I’m talking serious abyss boys here.

Take the siphonophores. You couldn’t make them up. They’re like colonies of jellies, but when they get together they effectively become a single organism. Or there’s the football fish, so named because it’s covered in what appear to be bioluminescent stitches. Or there’s the dumbo octopus, so cute, a living blancmange. Or there’s the tubeworms who hang around hydrothermal events – thriving in crushing pressures in water as acidic as vinegar. Or the angler fishes, simultaneously terrifying and ludicrous.

Best of all, though, is the Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Translated, ‘The Vampire Squid From Hell’. Yes, that is literally what it’s called. Isn’t that the coolest animal name ever? It must be great when it’s introduced at parties; ‘And you are...?’ ‘Er... I’m the Vampire Squid From Hell.’

Not that it gets invited to many parties. The Vampire Squid lives in the oxygen minimum zone, the least hospitable part of the ocean, and can somehow exist in waters where most other higher organisms can’t. It has sexy big blue eyes. It’s also a living fossil, like the horseshoe crab and the coelacanth – it’s neither octopus nor squid, but is in an order all of its own.

The best book on these creatures is The Deep by Claire Nouvian. I love it, it’s the picture-book of deep-sea critters I’ve been waiting for all my life. Looking at those pictures is like gazing at aliens; it really strikes home that life has a way of flourishing in even the most inhospitable environments. If they ever find life on Enceladus, it’ll probably be a mad, scary fish.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Positivity

A word about reviewing. I’ve been paid to review stuff in the past so I like to think I know what I’m talking about (even though I don’t). And if I’m reviewing stuff here... well, a word about where I’m coming from.

It’s fun, giving things bad reviews. It’s easy; you can be devastatingly sarcastic, exaggerate for comic effect, invent colourful abuse. Writers better than me have made a career of it. But it’s something I’ll be steering to avoid.

Reason one – writing on the internet is peculiarly permanent and might one day be read by goodness knows who. Reason two – I’ve worked on things that have turned out to be rubbish, despite the best intentions and hard work of all involved, so I realise that pointing out where others have ‘gone wrong’ is not merely unfair and hypocritical, it’s ignorant. Nobody sets out to humiliate themselves, after all.

Reason three? Because just as success breeds success, failure breeds caution, loss of confidence and reduction in investment. I want original TV dramas and comedies to be successes, because then more TV dramas and comedies will get made, which means I stand a better chance of getting work (and having something decent to watch). Purely selfish reasons.

And because with each TV drama that fails, half-a-dozen other more challenging dramas won’t get made, and with each TV comedy that fails, half-a-dozen other more adventurous comedies won’t get made. The more failures there are, the more the TV people will go safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road. So we all have a vested interest in ac-cent- tchu-uating the positive and not dwelling too long on the negative.

And reason four – I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to slag off someone’s work if there’s a chance I might have to work with them one day.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Wouldn't It Be Nice

‘Aspirational’. It seems it’s impossible to get a TV drama made these days without that word being attached. Because what does it actually mean?

It all began with Cold Feet. That was the first show to be ‘aspirational’. We aspired to be like the characters, we identified with them, but we were always slightly bewildered how they managed to afford to live in such vast houses. But it was really Fat Friends which established ‘aspirational’ as an essential part of TV drama. Which seems to mean:

Living rooms and kitchens painted in bright, summery, catalogue colours.

Candles in the bathroom. Hundreds of them. Like in a voodoo ceremony.

Road signs or random words stuck decoratively on bedroom walls.

And most importantly:

Fairy lights used to illuminate the stairs.

Actors should be impeccably styled and wear bright, summery, catalogue colours. Plots should be upbeat and nothing particularly bad should happen.

My suspicion, though, with ‘aspirational’ is what it actually means. Which is ‘middle class’. It’s a way of saying middle class without using those words. It means the show's about people with large disposable incomes which they spend on buying road signs to stick decoratively on their bedroom walls.

I’m not knocking aspirational. I love At Home With The Braithwaites with a devotion second to none. I rather like Mutual Friends. But... well, I think making Survivors aspirational might have been a mistake. I realise gritty-realism might be a hard sell, but if your show’s about the apocalypse, people are tuning in for gritty-realism, death and despair. Not fluffy picture frames.

The original Survivors ended when they managed to get electricity for the survivors’ farm. I suspect the new series will end when they manage to get electricity for the fairy lights they’re using to illuminate the stairs.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Not A Second Time

‘Give it a chance, it might improve.’ That’s what people say when a new drama or comedy series kicks off with a lukewarm episode. ‘Give themtime, they’ll sort out the format, iron out the glitches.’

I disagree. Don’t give shows a second chance. If episode one is lousy – stop. Why? Because episode one should be the best one. After all, it’s the episode which got the show made in the first place – the series would have been commissioned on the strength of its script. It’s the episode where the writers had the greatest amount of time. It’s the episode where the director could have recast any regulars who weren’t gelling. It’s the episode where they’ve had time to go back and re-film any bits that didn’t work. It’s the episode which the show’s makers knew would be make-or-break, where they had to do their best possible work. And if it’s a sketch show or sitcom where the episodes could be shown in any order, why wouldn’t they open with their best one?

If they can’t get it right bearing all that in mind... chances are that whatever – or whoever - made the first episode lousy will make all the other ones lousy. I mean, of course, things can be fixed along the way, people can be replaced... but it’s never going to be as good as if the show had been fixed from the start.

Look at The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or House, or Lost, or The Office, or any successful show. They hit the ground not merely running but bounding with supreme confidence. That’s what television should do. It’s not as if, when you send a script to a commissioner, they will reserve judgement until they’ve read episode two. No. First impressions are all that count.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy

Another of my obsessions. In any TV documentary about the 1960’s, I can guarantee you will see three things.

Thing one; A certain, chubby backcombed brunette screaming at the Beatles. Usually accompanied by ‘She Loves You’. Thus illustrating Beatlemania.

Thing two; Some hippies with painted cheeks doing freaky sway-dancing in the park. Usually accompanied by ‘If You’re Going To San Francisco’ by Scott McKenzie. Or Procul Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Thus illustrating drugs and stuff.


Thing three; My favourite. A guy in a top hat considering whether or not to buy a red jacket on the King’s Road. Usually accompanied by ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ by The Kinks. Thus illustrating fashion and stuff.

(Not to forget his mate – blue Sergeant Major jacket boy. Both clips seem to orginate from this 60’s documentary film, roughly about three minutes in:)



In a way, I enjoy seeing red jacket man. On the other hand, it’s kind of an indictment of the diligience of TV footage researchers that the same old clips always get cobbled together or sourced from previous documentaries again and again. I have a theory that during the entire decade of the 60’s only one man was ever seen shopping on the King's Road, and he was wearing a top hat and bought a red jacket. It’s the same for stuff on the 70’s – that punk girl with a shaved head, eyeliner and black lipstick who turns up in everything – and the 80’s – the sweaty, champagne-swilling yuppie waggling his wad to the strains of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’.

Oh, and bonus 60’s thing four: Newsreel of John Lennon at the ’14 Hour Technicolour Dream’ at Alexandra Palace. Thus illustrating that in the 60’s people who are dead now were still alive and going to parties.

Friday, 16 January 2009

She's A Millionaire

Writing heroes? Well, some of the time I think I’d like to be Douglas Adams (but alive). Other times, Steven Moffat. Other times, Russell T Davies. Very frequently, Aaron Sorkin. Occasionally, Joe Keenan, David Nobbs, Richard Curtis or Jonathan Coe. I’ve been known to want to be Mike Bullen... the list goes on, no doubt to be addressed in future bloggerings.

But first on the list is Sally Wainwright. The greatest writer working in TV today. She’s just brilliant. At everything. Plots, character, dialogue, comedy, drama. Imaginative, daring, compassionate and wise. She’s never put a foot wrong, except possibly with the Re-Telling of The Taming Of The Shrew – but, hey, Shakespeare couldn’t get a decent story out of that plot either.

Her first thing, after working on a show called Children’s Ward (a show which seems to have been massively influential but which passed me by completely) was At Home With The Braithwaites, featuring my future wife, Sarah Smart, and making a star of Julie Graham. It was genius. Followed by Jane Hall, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Bonkers and now Unforgiven, which I haven’t seen (has anyone ever got ITV player to work?) but will no-doubt get on DVD.

Common factors? Series ending on precipitous cliff-hangers –a great idea, though one that unfortunately doesn’t seem to guarantee a second series commission. Plus high concepts, great, gutsy, fallible-but-strong parts for actresses, and vast amounts of sex. Everyone is in love with someone who they’re not shagging with whilst not being in love with the person they are.

But what really shines through – what makes her scripts so great – is her love for her characters, and a joyful but scandalously naughty world-view.

That’s why she’s writing hero number one. Please let the rumours about her taking over Robin Hood be true.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Prisoner

I came late to The Prisoner, having been not particularly whelmed by the episode shown on Channel 4’s TV Heaven. Eventually, after much prodding, I watched the series with R & D over a few months and wrote up my thoughts, in an attempt at a humorous fashion, for the amusement of a few friends.

Towards the end of my ‘Prisoner Watch’, one of the guys who ran the BBC Cult website asked whether I’d mind if they used these ‘reviews’ on the website. I’d get paid, not much, but I’d get paid, and because I’d done it for the fun of it, not the money, I agreed.

Sadly, my main memory is that these ‘reviews’ – they’re still there now – didn’t go down too well with some Prisoner fans. I can see their point, but I still think it’s possible to take The Prisoner too seriously; or at least to ascribe motives and subtexts to it beyond the makers’ intentions. So maybe my juvenile piss-taking redressed the balance a little bit.

Anyway, fact remains; The Prisoner is a terrific show. And the fact that it’s endured is down to Patrick McGoohan. I mean, one can easily imagine what the show would’ve been like if it’d remained in the hands of its co-creator, George Markstein. It would still have been strange, daring and satirical – but it wouldn’t have left things unexplained, so that people were still puzzling over the show forty years later. It was McGoohan who turned the show into an enigma, who used it to put across his own anti-authoritarian agenda, who fused it into the sensibility of the late 60’s, and who created ‘Fall Out’ – a glorious, incomprehensible, compelling, freak-out. There’s never been anything like it since, there never will be.

Patrick McGoohan has left The Village.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Mockingbird

Visited the Charles Darwin exhibition at the Natural History Museum on Simon Guerrier’s recommendation. Having read up on Darwin a while ago, it was more a case of being reminded of things I’d forgotten rather than being told things I didn’t know. Disappointed it didn’t mention his fascinating experiment to see if earthworms would respond to the sound of a whistle, the piano, the bassoon or being shouted at (perhaps surprisingly, they didn’t.)

Ages ago, I wrote a Doctor Who audio about Darwin, Bloodtide. It’s still available from Big Finish, if you’ve never heard it, I recommend you do. I think it’s one of my best Doctor Who things, the sound design is fabulous, the direction is pitch-perfect, the cast is terrific. The script isn’t too bad either – it gets a little hokey in part four, but the rest, part one in particular, is so good I’m not entirely sure that I wrote it.

The twist is that it’s about Darwin discovering that man wasn’t in fact the result of evolution, but was the result of ‘intelligent design’ – humanity being the result of monsters tampering with the genes of Australopithecus apes, for horrific reasons unearthed somewhere around the end of part three. Think Quatermass and the Pit, but not copying. The odd, but inevitable, response from some listeners was that the play was too pro-evolution and anti-Christian (as if these things are contradictory). I can’t remember my thinking at the time, but I’d probably thought that implying that Charles Darwin had published Of The Origin Of Species as a cover-up, as a way of keeping the dreadful truth of mankind’s true ancestry secret, would go down well with creationists.

But if I could rewrite it, the only thing I’d change would be to change the finches to mockingbirds.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Get On The Bus

This blog will be used for me to witter on about my heroes of stage, screen, music, politics, science, history and pen. But first a tribute to some unsung real-life heroes.

Night bus drivers.

They’ve saved my life a number of times. When the beer scooter ran out of juice, they were there for me. They put up with me not quite being able to talk or trying to use my Maestro as an Oyster card. They don’t mind if I cradle my head in my hands and moan drunkenly to myself. They get me home.

And I’m one of the nice ones. Seeing the stuff they have to put up with – the lary, loud-mouthed idiots who haven’t got any money, or who want to hold the bus doors open for their mate, or who don’t understand the concept of ‘full’. The teenage girls who think they are the next Girls Aloud when they stand a much better chance of being the next Roly Polys. The slick young hippetty-hoppetties who think they’re in downtown LA. The backseat widdlers.

So applause to the N-crowd. Thanks in particular for not minding that Christmas where I decided to sing ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ doing all the different voices, with my friend who thought every next line was ‘And tonight thank God it’s them instea-ead of yooooo.’ I’m not kidding. It was;

‘It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid...’

‘And tonight thank God it’s them, instea-ead of yooooo!’

And thanks, most of all, for that time at university, where I staggered up to the bus driver’s booth late one night after a cocktail frenzy. ‘Excuse me,’ I slurred. ‘Can you stop the bus please, I think I’m going to be si-‘

I never did get to finish that sentence. Sorry.

Monday, 12 January 2009

The One And Only

I’m not the first Jonathan Morris to have a blog. In fact, I’m not even the first Jonathan David Morris to have a blog. Up until last April, there was another JDM, in the US of Stateside, blogging terribly insightful things about American politicians and so forth. I only found about him when he wrote here most amusingly about the frustration of having the same nomenclature as me. And as Father Jonathan David Morris, who, to say the least, holds some opinions with which I differ. He’s even argued with my hero Richard ‘Well That About Wraps It Up For God’ Dawkins!

He’s not the only Jonny D Morris out there. There’s another who writes books about Shakespeare, whose career will no doubt be ruined should I ever start writing books about Shakespeare too. Plus, of course, there’s the actor from Bread and the guy who did the bear with the sore head on Animal Magic...

It’s such a bore having the same name as someone famous. Oh, the tedious ritual of being introduced to people, for them to go ‘What, like the actor out of Bread?’ Or even worse, ‘Really? Can you do your tetchy penguin voice?’ As though having the same name as a famous person mystically confers upon you their abilities. It’s like they can’t help themselves, can’t resist the temptation to make the most obvious, fatuous remark.

But the way I look at it, it can take hours, even days, to find out if someone is a complete idiot who isn’t worth knowing, but thanks to having the same name as somebody else who used to be on television, I get to find out straight away. It’s a real time-saver.

Just remember that the next time you ask me if I’ve seen Terry Nutkins recently.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Life Of Riley (Remix)

Watched new BBC sitcom ‘Life Of Riley’ the other night – a courageous and admirable experiment by the BBC in putting comedy on a channel that people might actually be watching at a time when people might actually be watching it. Hate to say it, but I only lasted five minutes; I was confused by a teenager making a joke about someone sounding ‘like Orville on speed’, when surely no-one under the age of thirty has heard of Orville? And the ‘like X on drug Y’ gag is what I believe the Americans term a ‘clam’; a joke construction so overused that Lee and Herring did a whole routine about it in the mid-90’s.

Anyway, not the point of this blog. Point of this blog is the theme tune, a cover of my beloved The Lighting Seeds’ ‘The Life Of Riley’, aka ‘Theme from Goal of the Month’. Except... because it took a little bit too long to get to the chorus, they’d chopped it down. By foreshortening various bars by a beat or two, and by cutting to the chorus before the verse chord progression was leading to it...

In other words, it no longer made any musical sense. And this is a real bug-bear of mine – when people chop songs down unsympathetically. The worst example of this was the AA advert of a year or so ago, where my beloved Carol King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ was truncated and abbreviated in such a way as to make it impossible to-song-along-to. Which was presumably the point of using it for the advert in the first place.

IMnot-soHO, this practice should be outlawed. People who do it should be punished with pointed sticks. Music publishers should have the right to refuse permission – unless you play the song bloody properly.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Joe Public

I never read my reviews, is something other people say. I don’t believe them. Everyone reads their reviews. It’s irresistible. It’s like not doing an impression of the James Bond titles in the mirror when you’ve put on a suit. It can’t be done.

But the trick is, like in the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, so memorably paraphrased by Alan Partridge:

If you do X, Y and Z, then Bob’s Your Uncle

‘Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same’. To take as much notice of the bad reviews as you do of the good reviews.

Which is a little bit of notice - but not too much.

On the one hand, reviews are useful. It’s important to know how things are going down. On the other hand... it’s too late to do anything about it. Whatever criticism you receive, you’re unlikely ever to put it into practice, unless you plan on writing something very similar all over again. A wise friend once said that writers should “seek out harsh criticism”. He was right, but I’d qualify that – while you’re doing the writing. Get colleagues, script editors, producers, to tear you first draft to pieces, and your second draft, and your third draft, until the deadline arrives and everyone has to give it up as a bad job. That sort of criticism is vital, incredibly helpful, because it'll help make you a better writer. Reviews... don’t so much.

The problem is, even when you’ve got a positive write-up... you’ll then read other reviews written by the same person and discover that they love things you think are dreadful and hate things you think are magnificent. So their praise becomes invalidated, as you discover, alas, that they are bonkers and have really bad taste.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Mr Writer

One thing I probably won’t be doing on this blog is giving advice on writing. Two reasons. Firstly, I don’t feel qualified. Ask me again when I’ve got my own series. And secondly, I don’t like reading blogs giving advice on writing.

Let me clarify. There’s lots of useful advice to be read and absorbed about the business, how to lay out scripts and so forth. I’ve no problem with that at all.

No, my problem is with script editors or producers, who have never actually written a script giving advice on things like characterisation or structure. Because - and here’s the point – until you've tried putting it into practice you have no idea how useful your advice is.

If you want to know where stories come from, read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, William Goldman’s ‘Adventures In The Screen Trade’, Russell T Davies’ ‘The Writer’s Tale’. Read writers’ autobiographies. Don’t read the received wisdom of script editors and producers.

It’s not that knowing about structure and so-on aren’t important, they are, but they’re things to consider when re-writing, fixing a script that doesn’t work. And of course it’s useful to know what producers and script editors are looking out for when reading scripts. But – particularly in comedy – so much of it is simply post hoc theorising by people who have never written a script which is of no practical use in the writing process.

I mean, apparently all good comedy is about people being trapped together – so should the starting point be looking for situations where people are trapped together? No, obviously not. And besides, who’s trapped in The Good Life? Friends? Yes, Minister? The Big Bang Theory?

But if you’re interested in structure and so-on, I recommend you cut out the middle-man... and pick up Robert McKee’s ‘Story’.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Zombie

Watched Dead Set on Channel 4 last night. I’d not bothered with it on E4 because I’m a busy man and I don’t have time to bother with any channels beyond BBC 4.

Part one was rather fun. Part two I lost interest, because the story had ground to a halt. Which tends to be a fundamental flaw with zombie films – the exciting part is always going to be the opening act. After that it’s like watching somebody else play a particularly gruesome video game, trying to manoeuvre characters from A to B whilst avoiding/shooting at lurching monstrosities. Until eventually they’re all dead or some American soldiers turn up to rescue them.

The writing was okay, though – possibly I’d read something or possibly because of Charlie Brooker’s involvement – I’d expected there to be some element of satire or comedy. And there were neither. It was all played straight. It didn’t seem to be setting out to satirise reality TV; it just used it as a setting.

But what really struck me was how beautifully lit it all was. I mean, like far too much TV now, it was graded to within an inch of its life using a combination of Spooks Bosnian Flashback Grey #3 and Apparitions Exorcism Green #2. But it looked fantastic. Despite being filmed in HD, which tends to limit camera movement and make everything look flat and murky.

My one thumbs-down, though, is for the use of internet-sought volunteers to act as extras. Either you budget to pay professional supporting artists or you cut the crowd scenes. I mean, why stop there? Why not save on your catering budget by putting out an email saying ‘Hey, if you fancy coming along to the filming, why not bring us a sandwich and a mug of hot tea?’

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Europop

Lucky old Alphabeat. I buy all the singles off their album on iTunes, then I get the album and they get paid all over again. My own fault I suppose.

It’s a curious thing that the memo which was sent out during the late 80’s, informing everyone that the 80’s would soon be coming to an end, doesn’t seem to have been received in Scandinavia. Which is a good thing – it was a bad memo which should never have been sent. As a result, while the rest of the world ploughed on with brit-pop and hip-hop and what-not, they were still bouncing up and down behind their DX7s singing songs about discos.

This strange isolation, with its own synth scene and music festivals, led to the formation of many wonderful bands. Alphabeat are rather like The Wannadies, back when The Wannadies only sounded like The Pixies during the choruses rather than sounding like The Pixies all the bloody time. They do the same bloke-singing-the-melody/cute-girl-an-octave-above thing.

The fabulous singles weigh down the first half, plus the introductory Fantastic 6 which has a sort of B-52’s thing. Second half things get weirder and more interesting. Touch Me Touching You’s very Heaven 17, while the enigmatic Rubber Boots is like Nik Kershaw before he went dreary. And finally there’s Nothing But My Baby – I’m guessing somebody must’ve smuggled Depeche Mode’s Songs Of Faith And Devotion into Denmark.

The only mis-fire is the cover of Public Image which sounds like the theme tune to a 80’s children’s drama series. In fact, that’s Alphabeat all over – they sound those bands you get in kids' TV shows where the kids have decided to get together and form their own youth club pop group.

Oh, and ten bonus points for getting the word ‘erasure’ into a lyric!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Secret Messages

It’s odd writing these entries, because at the moment, the fact that I have a blog is a secret. So if you are reading this that must mean I persevered with the blog for a while longer, and eventually told people about it, or they found out about it, and you’re so bored you’ve decided to look through the archive posts to pass the time.

The reason why is, you get so many blogs which are embarked upon in a fit of determination which become sporadic and perfunctory as the bloggist’s enthusiasm wanes. I don’t want that the happen here. I want to know I have enough things to say to keep a blog bouncing along before I invite scrutiny.

Because, as in so many things, my main priority is in trying to avoid looking like a berk. I’m not saying other people’s blogs make them look like berks. I’m saying that looking-like-a-berk is a state of affairs I avoid by the narrowest of margins at the best of times. One false step and... oh, what a berk I do look.

I have no fixed timescale in mind. Maybe two weeks, a month, and then I’ll let friends know. Then hopefully this blog will be linked to others that people actually read and appreciate, and word will gradually get out without fanfare. And then people will check out this blog, decide it is quite possibly the most tedious, unnecessary and berk-brained thing they have ever read, and either give up or bookmark it for precisely that reason.

But it’s odd, at the moment, sending these words out into oblivion. Tapping to myself, basically. Writing the words that no-one will hear. Whether that state of affairs ever changes... well, if I give up, I’ve only wasted ten minutes a day.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Demons

I don’t like not liking things. But this was very hard not to dislike. It was just so... not formulaic. Formulaic isn’t a criticism. So unenthusiastic. So homogenous. So lifeless.

I mean, goes without saying that its concept seems to be not so much derived from other TV shows as averaged-out. It wouldn’t be fair to say it was ripping off Buffy – it’s simply adopting the common factors found in a host of US teen-fantasy shows. But with no flair or invention. It’s obviously been created with both eyes on the US market; a plan about as flawed as trying to interest Newcastle in importing more coal.

What’s great about Doctor Who, Buffy, and the Russell T Davies bits of Torchwood is the sense of humour. Big, frequent, daft jokes. It’s the lack of humour which makes its imitations feel so anodyne. In the smoothing-down process of notes and revisions, it’s the jokes that are the first to go. They’re worried out of the script by executive producers who have got it into their heads that people don’t like shows if there are bits that only-some-people-will-find-funny. One of the reasons why I admire Merlin and Primeval so much is that somehow they’ve managed to retain a sense of humour.

I didn’t make it all the way through Demons. Too slow, flat and exposition heavy. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t have a proper act structure – all the ad breaks came out of the blue, in all the wrong places. I couldn’t understand half of what Philip Glenister was saying, which was probably a mercy. And I couldn’t see the point of a two-minute scene where they unlock the door to the inevitable secret underground lair using a magical fob-watch. They’re not going to do that every week, are they?

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Who Are You

So. The next Doctor Who. How do I feel? Well, disappointed that it wasn’t my choice, JJ Field. But other than that, delighted. I have every confidence Piers and Steven know what they’re doing and he’ll be fabulous.

The extraordinary thing about his casting is that he’s a virtual unknown, given that most BBC shows are cast from the same pool of about a hundred actors. It’s usually a deal-breaker in whether a show gets made; received wisdom being you need familiar faces to draw an audience, and the more you have, the better. Which is fine, except for the small inconvenient fact that it doesn’t work.

What’s exciting about Matt Smith is we have no idea how he’ll play the role. If they’d gone with a familiar face you’d know what sort of performance they’d give from the outset. Which wouldn’t be half as much fun.

The fact that they’ve gone with an unknown – though I imagine he’s got enough stuff pipelined for him to be more widely recognised by 2009 – demonstrates how confident they are in the show and in Matt. If that means fans become nervous about whether he’ll be a success, then that’s as it should be. That odd, anxious sensation you’re feeling is what’s known as ‘excitement’.

The show itself was the usual parade of clips and music, apparently selected entirely at random, you can find a hundred better efforts on YouTube. In years to come we’ll remember the show for Russell’s incongruous leopard, the fact that David Tennant’s pyjamas suggested he’d been dragged out of bed (and that Piers seemed to have been dragged out of his death-bed). My sympathy, though, goes out to Steven, stuck in front of a camera, trying desperately to think of something nice to say about Sylvester McCoy.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

No More Talk

New years resolutions? Same as last year. To get more things done. To be tidier. To let my fingernails grow. And to avoid internet discussion forums.

Which is another of the reasons for this blog. I can get opinions out of my system without having to enter into a debate. Because, you know, I’ve wasted enough time arguing with people on the internet. It’s fruitless, it doesn’t help you win friends or find work, and in the past it has made me so very furious I’ve had to go and jog around Greenwich Park for a couple of hours.

The problem is, well, it’s like that old Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin goes into the room to have an argument with John Cleese. That’s exactly what logging onto an internet discussion forum or newsgroup is like. Except for the ones where you go to be abused by Graham Chapman.

But it’s not like a debate where, say, two sides might express differing points of view, provide relevant evidence, then arrive at a conclusion. No, it’s about two – or two hundred – sides who will never back down, never change their positions, never admit they’re wrong, and who will keep on arguing, no matter what, until they win. And I include myself in that. Oh, how I so shamefully do.

The thing is, on the internet, there’s no such thing as right or wrong, fact or fiction. There’s only a matter of opinion. Or different levels of ignorance and obstinacy. ‘Yes, well, you can prove anything with facts...’

Last year I managed to last until April. This year I’m aiming for the whole year. No posts on Outpost Gallifrey whatsoever. And I’ll try not to read it, though it’ll be difficult, as I have lots of things out this year.

Friday, 2 January 2009

That's Not My Name

This blog is all under my own name. Unlike much of what is posted on the internet, it’s not anonymous, it’s not pseudonymous, it’s not nom-de-plume-enous. It’s all directly attributable to me, for good or for dreadful. But why?

I can understand the temptation to post incognito. It means no repercussions, taking no prisoners, taking no responsibility. It means you can say what you really think, even if it’s not actually true. It means you can call people names.

Not for me. I’m not writing this under my own name because it forces me to be nice – hopefully I don’t need to be forced – but because, unless you’re a Chinese dissident or a cynical BBC producer posting on the Guardian blogs, there’s no good reason for concealing your identity. It’s hypocritical, it’s a license for cowards to bully, and it always raises the question, ‘Who are you, and why are you so scared that others might find out?’

Two examples. There once was a frustrated comedy writer – I can’t remember who – who went on a message board, anonymously slagging off a comedy show. ‘Who wrote this crap?’ was his gist. Except, alas, he wasn’t as anonymous as he thought. Cue a posting from the show’s producer. ‘If you think it’s so crap... then I’m guessing you don’t want to write for it any more...!’

Example two. A badly-written show is getting a critical mauling. Cue several postings from a concerned viewer saying that the criticism has been unfair and that they personally enjoyed the show a great deal. You’ve already guessed the punchline. Yes, it was the show’s writer.

But this has my name attached, so I can never be caught out. And besides, in the unlikely event I write anything worthwhile, I want to take all the credit.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Look At Me

So. Jonny has a blog. Why?

Well, self-promotion. To create a somewhere on the internet where I can put up examples of my work and hopefully increase general awareness of myself. A somewhere to which I can direct interested parties. The usual reasons.

What for? Wittering, mainly, I suspect. What it won’t be for, though, is self-involvement. I don’t intend to regale the world with stories of what I had for breakfast, or bowel movements, or pictures of my cat. Because I don’t have a cat, for one thing. Or breakfasts, come to think of it. Although I do have bowel movements. But no, the point is to try to generate material which might actually be of interest to someone other than myself. To avoid self-absorption.

The idea being, to update the blog as frequently as is practical; how often that will be I don’t know. Daily, daily except for weekends, weekly, occasionally. To warm up the fingers and get the brain whirring before I go off to write much more interesting and amusing things for people who are actually going to pay me.

What about? Not sure yet. Thoughts. Reminiscences. Reviews of television shows, films, plays, books, places. Hero worship. Short stories, script excerpts, anything I can come up with. Essentially anything which might be of interest to others, where I feel I have wit, wisdom or opinion to impart. Although I reserve the right to be as inconsistent, ill-informed and biased as everyone else in the land of blogs.

No rules, except one. No more than three hundred words. These pieces are intended as stretching exercises, not ten-mile runs. So I don’t want to spend more than, say, half an hour on each one, which means I don’t want to write more than I have written here.