Wednesday 31 October 2007

I've got beautiful lips

One of the all-time great comedy dramas, and one of my faves, Abigail's Party celebrates its thirtieth birthday this week.

Produced by Mike Leigh, this claustrophobic plot of social climbing and unhealthy relationships - in which incidentally the title character of Abigail never actually appears - conceals some brilliant humour and perfectly observed character performances. The monstrous Beverly (played by the wonderful Alison Steadman) has entered the contenders for "most jaw-droppingly awful female character in drama" alongside Bette Davis in The Anniversary and Velma van Tussle in Hairspray.

But the real strength of the play is the interaction between the five very different characters, trapped as they are in Beverley and Laurence's Good Housekeeping magazine-style 70s home for a drinks and nibbles party. Flirting, lower middle-class snobbery, arguments and general unease - a divine mix, with people you don't like tearing themselves and each other to shreds.

A product of the improvisation method of drama, in which the players construct their own story out of nothing more than an idea for a play (Mike Leigh's speciality), in the hands of such consummate actors Abigail's Party has gained camp cult status.

In the words of Amy Raphael in The Observer, "Beverly, the personification of the gauche, aspirational hostess, has become a gay icon and a drag-queen favourite; there are Abigail's Party parties where fans recite lines to one another."

Ah! the memorable lines! Who doesn't know at least some of them off by heart?

  • "Like a little top-up Ange........?"
  • "Just because a picture happens to be erotic, does not make it pornographic."
  • "If you want olives would you put them out please Laurence?"
  • "I want to hear Demis Roussos, Laurence. Ange wants to hear Demis Roussos, Tony wants to hear Demis Roussos, and Sue wants to hear Demis Roussos, so can we have Demis Roussos on please, Laurence!"
  • "He looks a lot bigger up close doesn't he Ange eh? I thought he was small but he's not, no."
  • "Just say, I've got very beautiful lips."

And here's the queen herself:

Read the 30th anniversary of Abigail's Party article in The Observer

Monday 29 October 2007

Queen of the doo-be-doos

Oh Lordy! Dame Cleo Laine is 80 years old...

Admittedly the grande dame of slightly dodgy "scat" jazz does seem to have been around forever, but it is quite scary to think she's an octogenarian!

Cleo was born Clementina Dinah Campbell in Southall, West London, and during her long career progressed through a variety of stage and musical theatre productions until she hit the mainstream with her marriage to Johnny Dankworth and subsequent career in the very trendy modern jazz scene of the 1960s.

She was not always, however, just a "doo-be-doo" singer of sometimes irritating intensity. She worked with some of the greatest musical writers of the 20th century, and brought genuine vocal mastery and emotion to numbers such as Matelot and Mad About The Boy in a little-known (but a personal favourite!) revue called The Words and Music of Noel Coward, with a seemingly bizarre cast that included Dickie Henderson, Joyce Grenfell and Kenneth Williams. She worked with Sondheim on a production of A Little Night Music, and other notable collaborators included Ray Charles, Mel Tormé, James Galway, George Shearing, Nigel Kennedy, Julian Lloyd Webber and John Williams. And she is still performing today!

Here is an example of just some of this fabulous lady's magic:

Read more about Dame Cleo on her website

Saturday 27 October 2007

The Trousersnake

Continual drivel about the Justin Timberlake world concert tour in the papers merely leads me to post (in the interests of current affairs reporting, you understand!) this picture from one of his shows:

His website (if anyone is genuinely interested in his music)

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Yes, I showed you can be beautiful and be a lesbian

"Being an actress is a very physical thing.
If I didn't look the way I looked, I would never have started in films."

Catherine Deneuve is (unbelievably) 64 years old!

This iconic actress, one of the best known, most admired, French people in the world and recently included by an American film magazine among the 100 most important cinema figures of all time, made her first movie at the age of 13 in 1957 - and half a century later she is still a top cinema and fashion diva.

Mainly appearing in films in her native French, Catherine's career hit the heights in the 1964 classic Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, and she went on to work with the likes of Roman Polanski (in Repulsion), Luis Bunuel (in Belle du Jour), Roger Vadim and Marcello Mastroianni (with both of whom she had affairs, and bore children). She also was (briefly) married to the king of 60s cool, photographer David Bailey.

Catherine won many accolades in her long career, including an Oscar nomination for 1990's Indochine; she was the face of the symbol of France "La Marianne" throughout the 80s; and for decades was an influential fashion icon - for Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel No.5 perfume, L'Oreal, MAC and Luis Vuitton, among others.

She finally broke into the mainstream of Hollywood when she starred alongside Susan Sarandon and David Bowie in The Hunger in 1982, in which her role as a seductive lesbian vampiress brought her a cult and gay and lesbian following that endures to this day.

Above all, Catherine Deneuve is still regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world. And long may she remain a shining example of elegance in a dull world!

"Suddenly, there was a woman looking like a woman and liking women.
Yes, I showed you can be beautiful and be a lesbian. Maybe I did that."
- Catherine Deneuve

Sunday 21 October 2007

Count yourself lucky to live in London

I thought pigeons were a pest - apparently the deputy mayor of Delhi died yesterday after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys!

Read the full story on the BBC

Saturday 20 October 2007

So, farewell, then...

Just back from Spain to hear the sad news that the doyen of satirical journalism and one of the classic voices of the BBC Alan Coren has died.

A gem of a man, his astute wit and acerbic writing skills made a success out of the rejuvenated Punch magazine in the 60s and 70s, when it (almost) rivalled Private Eye in capturing the gossip on the politics of the day.

One of Britain's most prolific humorists, he was a much-loved panellist on Radio 4's The News Quiz, a fore-runner to Have I Got News For You, and latterly was a regular on the sadly now demised Call My Bluff. Alan's long journalistic career saw him as star columnist in The Times, Observer, Tatler, The Listener, Mail on Sunday and Sunday Express, among others, and his brilliant self-deprecating humour earned him the nickname "The Sage of Cricklewood", an epithet he would take great pride in all his life.

A nation has lost yet another great writer and intellectual, and for that we should all feel very sad.

Alan Coren's obituary in The Times

Thursday 11 October 2007

Dame Edna CBE

Congratulations to Barry Humphries, alter ego of the inimitable Dame Edna Everage, who was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by the Queen yesterday.

Although the glittering dame was mysteriously absent from the proceedings (she probably didn't want to risk wearing the same frock as Her Madge), Barry was overjoyed at the honour, jokingly saying "this is the first of many".

The Queen and the Dame have met before, in 2002 when Edna famously called HM "the Jubilee girl". The Queen had no comment.

Read the full story

Sunday 7 October 2007


The minister for Culture Media 'n' Sport has said that photos of the Royal Family taken by paparazzi should not be published. Alessandro Copetti, who took the picture published in the Evening Standard, defended his conduct, saying the image had been taken "in a civilised and controlled manner".

Apparently it wasn't this one:

Nor this even more obviously faked one [NSFW]

Read the far less interesting story

Saturday 6 October 2007

Worst duet ever

No real surprises in the list of the worst-ever duets, as voted for by BBC 6 listeners. The obvious candidates are there - Save Your Love by Rene and Renato, Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker's version of You're the One That I Want, that god-awful Little Drummer Boy collaboration between Bing Crosby and David Bowie...

But for once in the long history of these kind of polls, I agree with the number one vote: Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder's Ebony and Ivory. This bloody terrible turgid lump of indigestible schmaltz was amazingly one of the biggest-selling records of 1982, staying at No1 in the UK for three weeks, and topping the US charts for seven! To this day I can never understand the popularity of this number, nor why Stevie chose to take part in it.

Then I remember other tracks he made in his later years, including his biggest ever solo effort I Just Called to Say I Love You, and suddenly I realise that the man actually, genuinely, has absolutely no taste whatsoever.

As for Paul McCartney... I never did like the Beatles, but even those songs of theirs that I can tolerate were always Lennon's, not his. Just think of some of the stuff he has made his fortune with - Mull of Kintyre, Wonderful Christmastime, Pipes of Peace... yuk.

Congratulations Radio 6 listeners - you got it right for once.

Ebony and Ivory - a version not normally heard
(MP3 courtesy of the magnificent 365 Days project)

Read the Top 10 Worst Duets list

Friday 5 October 2007

Gay bombs and vanilla flavoured cow poo

A "gay bomb" that makes enemy troops "sexually irresistible" to each other, sword swallowers with sore throats, Viagra for hamsters and using cow dung to make vanilla essence - it's that time of year again! The winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded at a ceremony in America last night...

The Ig Nobel Prizes - awarded for the weirdest scientific research of the year - were created by the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a science magazine.

Read more on the BBC

IG Nobel Awards site

Wednesday 3 October 2007

A man of exquisite taste and pleasure in life

Described by Stephen Fry as "a man of exquisite taste and pleasure in life... who in many ways resembled a gigantic cat who found an enormous vat of cream", that marvellous and influential giant of British entertainment Ned Sherrin has died.

Ned Sherrin was not just the man who presented Loose Ends on Radio 4, but in his heyday was responsible for masterminding some of the most innovative and memorable shows in modern times.

No-one in these deeply cynical times can quite comprehend what a huge impact his show That Was the Week That Was must have been in the austere early 1960s, when poking fun at the establishment was usually done in a reverential and cap-doffing fashion. TW3 (as it became known) was certainly not reverential in any way, and set the scene for the emergence of generations of satirical media such as Private Eye and even Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You.

Ned was responsible not just for satirical programming but also some extremely popular "mainstream" plays, TV, radio and movies. He brought in-depth news reporting to our screens with the Tonight programme, produced big screen comedies such as The Virgin Soldiers, Up Pompeii, Up the Chastity Belt and Up The Front, and for the small stage that fabulous revue Side by Side by Sondheim, performed by Millicent Martin, Julia Mackenzie and David Kernan (a hit on both sides of the Atlantic), and the award-winning Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell with Peter O'Toole.

An out gay man with a regular penchant for rent boys and bitchy repartee, he was loved and feared by many. We will miss him more than we know.

Ned Sherrin obituary in the Guardian

Monday 1 October 2007

A nun with a switchblade

"I am very proud to be British. I'm very conscious of carrying my country with me wherever I go. I feel I need to represent it well."
Julie Andrews

That marvel of twentieth century musicals Dame Julie Andrews is 72 years old today!

A product of the British Music Hall theatre and a radio star at a very young age, Julie came to international attention when she played the role of Eliza Doolittle in the original stage production of My Fair Lady. With her four octave range and crystal clear diction, she was widely applauded on both sides of the Atlantic, and tipped for stardom.

However, she was cruelly robbed when she lost out on the part in the big-screen adaptation of the musical to the more established screen beauty Audrey Hepburn. But Julie's time came almost immediately and she hit the big time with her performance as Mary Poppins, which won her a Best Actress Oscar in 1964, followed soon after by her timeless role as Maria in the multi-award-winning The Sound of Music in 1965.

Famously described by her co-star Christopher Plummer as "Like a nun with a switchblade" for her tenacity, this massive success led Julie to make many other films during the 1960s, including one of my all-time favourites Thoroughly Modern Millie, as well as Star!, Torn Curtain and Darling Lili. Although never quite the "glamour girl" in the traditional Hollywood style she was adopted wholeheartedly by the public in the USA, and went on to make several extremely successful TV shows, many in collaboration with her long-term friend Carol Burnett.

In 1969 Julie married director-producer-writer Blake Edwards, who had produced her film Star!, and they worked on several other films together including The Tamarind Seed, 10, S.O.B., That's Life and - best of all - Victor/Victoria.

This most wonderful musical broke new ground with its convoluted plot about a woman who masquerades as a man impersonating a woman (whew!) to become famous, and its completely unsensational inclusion of gay characters alongside gangsters and molls led our Julie even more into the role of a fully-fledged gay icon than ever before!

Julie Andrews has been one of the most popular of British actresses for more than five decades and in 1989 she was awarded the British Academy for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Special Tribute - the first actress ever to receive this prestigious award. In 2000 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for lifetime achievements in the arts and humanities. And just last year (2006) she received a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild of America.

Despite continuing difficulties with her singing voice - an operation in 1997 to remove a small polyp from her vocal cords caused serious damage, which led her to withdraw completely from singing for more than seven years - Dame Julie Andrews continues to brighten our lives, and lent her voice to the role of Queen Lillian in Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third.

Gawd bless you Ma'am - and happy birthday!

Julie Andrews on IMDB