Sunday, August 14, 2011

We're In Love With The Beautiful Game With No Shame

As Brian Cohen, the hapless hero of Monty Python's Life of Brian, finds out, it can be tricky stepping into the shoes of someone worshipped by the great multitude. And, the fear of not passing the muster is on the minds of all six actors cast as the Pythons for a BBC comedy drama about the release of the film in 1979. As previously announced Holy Flying Circus will tell the story of the making of Life of Brian and the righteous fury that surrounded the release of its satirical take on the gospels. It is the first attempt to dramatise the activities of the sextet - not the Messiahs, just 'very naughty boys' - who transformed the nature of comedy in this country and produced a British film which is now critically regarded as one of the best British movies of the last fifty years. Coming together this summer to play Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and the late Graham Chapman - SPLITTER! - the performers have admitted to feeling odd about portraying men who have the status, if not of modern-day messiahs, then at least of comedy Gods for their fans around the world. During the filming of BBC4's Holy Flying Circus, which has been written by Tony Roche, co-writer of In the Loop and The Thick of It, its stars were initially wary of impersonating such famous comics. 'We wanted to be affectionate about the Pythons and we all had a sense they were our comedy heroes,' director Owen Harris told the Gruniad. 'You could feel the anxiety in the room when the actors got together in character for the first time. We had a room full of Pythons.' Harris, who has previously directed the cult series Misfits, encouraged the actors not to worry too much about portraying their characters authentically. 'We didn't want impersonators, although in the end we have got an amazing set of Pythons. I don't know what the originals will think. They will all be seeing it for the first time when it goes out next month,' he said. Comedian and writer Steve Punt, who plays Idle, found the humour of Roche's screenplay guided the performances. 'When you are playing someone who is not only an icon of comedy, but who is still alive, it does feel pretty strange. But the secret is the script. It is funny and not at all a forensic depiction of the people. It captures the spirit of the Pythons.' Darren Boyd, star of Case Sensitive, plays Cleese and has tweeted about how odd it felt to stand in a street 'doing the silly walk' or thrashing things with a stick 'a-la Fawlty Towers.' But happily for Boyd, encouragement came down from on high. Stephen Fry, who makes a cameo appearance - as God! - in the film, offered support on set. 'God just gave me his blessing regarding my Cleese "look." He was most enthusiastic. My life is complete,' tweeted Boyd. Next, one of the original Pythons, Terry Jones, gave the actor who plays him a remote blessing via Twitter. When Rufus Jones messaged his namesake to say he was playing him in a BBC4 drama, the Python replied that his efforts were 'all in a good cause.' This weekend the sixty nine-year-old, who directed Life of Brian, told the Observer he 'loved the script' of the new production. 'It is a wild flight of fancy and I am keeping my fingers crossed about how I am played,' Jones said. Canadian comic Phil Nichol plays Gilliam, while Charles Edwards plays Michael Palin and Tom Fisher plays Graham Chapman, the most laconic Python, who died of cancer in 1989 aged forty eight. Unlike other recent BBC4 docu-dramas about comedians, such as Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Hattie Jacques, Holy Flying Circus aims to be a comedy in its own right. 'It has a very different tone from other films in that strand,' said Harris. 'We are calling it a fantastical reimagining.' Inspired by Python, the director said the film tells its story in an unorthodox way. 'It is non-linear for a start, and has animation in it, like Terry Gilliam's work. We took his drawings as a starting point and then applied our own craft. In the end some of the sequences are rather like the American cartoon Family Guy, although not visually.' The drama centres on a notorious television confrontation which took place on 9 November 1979 between two of the Pythons, Cleese and Palin, and the Roman Catholic writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, who believed that Life of Brian was a weak and scurrilous attack on Christianity. At Muggeridge's side for the debate on the BBC2 show Friday Night, Saturday Morning was the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood. 'You might say Holy Flying Circus is a comedy equivalent of the film Frost/Nixon, marking a historic TV moment, but that was much more factual and we are playful, although the debate itself is verbatim,' explained Harris. 'I do wonder whether viewers will realise that, because some of it is quite extraordinary.' Although Life of Brian was a box-office success, it was met with a volley of international protest from religious groups. Thirty-nine British local authorities imposed some sort of ban - including, infamously, one that didn't even have a cinema within its area in which the movie could be shown! The plot centres on the unfortunate chain of events that follow the mistaken identification of a young Judean man as a new religious leader. Reluctant to the last, Cohen, played by Chapman, is tragically unable to clarify the misunderstanding. During the TV debate, chaired by the lyricist Tim Rice, Muggeridge called the film 'squalid' and 'tenth rate.' The bishop levelled some low blows too, accusing the film of being 'fourth form revue' standard and implying the Pythons were 'mentally deficient.' It was pompous and hilarious at the same time, made many people who were completely neutral in the debate side with the Pythons and general principle and was, subsequently, splendidly parodied by Not The Nine O'Clock News in their General Synod's Life of Christ sketch. 'Well, I certainly didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!' 'It was a clash of cultures. Palin became quite frustrated, but both he and Cleese remained respectful. But the respect wasn't returned,' said Harris. Terry Jones too, remains annoyed by Muggeridge. 'It was quite a cheek because he had missed the opening of the film,' he said. 'They had a good lunch and then arrived late at the viewing theatre that day.'

BBC1's repeat of Miranda proved to be more popular than a new episode of My Family on Friday night. The Miranda Hart sitcom, promoted to BBC1 last year after high ratings on BBc2, grabbed 4.11m at 9.30pm for a second series episode, while prior to that My Family could only manage 3.79m. Which probably suggests that the BBC's decision to cancel the show now is the correct one despite all the squealing from a couple of tabloids and some of its actors.

The creators of Sesame Street have shot down an online petition urging them to have Bert and Ernie get married. The petition asked the show to have the two best friends wed in an effort to encourage gay tolerance. However, the Sesame Street workshop has refuted the suggestion. 'They remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation,' a statement from the workshop reads. '[We concede that they are] male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics. Bert and Ernie are best friends,' they continue. 'They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.' The online petition has so far garnered over seven thousand signatures as well as three thousand members of a Facebook page. Bert and Ernie have lived together on Sesame Street for the past forty years, sleeping in the same bedroom in single beds. Oh. Bi-curious. Gotcha.

Daybreak's latest apologist-in-chief Kirsty McCabe has argued the GMTV replacement 'needs more time' to 'bed in'. Bless 'er. It's just under a year since Daybreak replaced GMTV as ITV's breakfast programme but despite much fanfare at its launch - and reportedly huge salaries for its two hosts - the magazine programme has spectacularly flopped. The series still faces a barrage of negative press stories on an almost daily basis and its ratings are, on average, far less than GMTV was attracting in its last few months on-air. Add to that audience appreciation index figures which suggest that even those who are watching this fiasco don't like it very much and you have something of a perfect storm of floppage. However, the Daybreak weather forecaster and 'environmental correspondent' has argued that the show still needs more time to 'bed in'. It's had a year, darlin', how much more time do you reckon it needs? 'I think people in the media should have given it more time,' she bewailed to the Belfast Telegraph. No. Sorry, but no.

The Premier League kicked off its 2011-12 season with a day of, frankly, not a whole lot of excitement. Unless you're into boxing, that is. Only six matches were played due to a combination of Sky's schedules and Tottenham Hotshots being too ruddy scared to go out in public in case they got rioted against. In the games which were played Arsenal and Liverpool dropped points against the Geordies and the Mackems, and Poor Old Queens Park Rangers Nil had the sort of opening day that promoted clubs usually can only dream about. If they've eaten lots of cheese before they went to bed. Gervinho managed to get his ass sent off on his Arsenal league debut as Arsène Wenger's side made an unconvincing start to life without Cesc Fábregas and Samir Nasri. It was probably inevitable, of course. Joey Barton has been the centre of attention all summer on Tyneside - for all sorts of reasons - and he was again in the thick of it at St James' Park on Saturday. With just over a quarter of an hour left the disappointing game degenerated into bad-tempered controversy. Gervinho appeared to dive rather theatrically in the penalty area attempting to make a bit of a meal of a hefty-but-fair challenge by Cheick Tioté. (Replays did appear to show some contact but it looked minimal at best.) The referee, Peter Walton, was having none of it. Barton came across to tell Gervinho to get on with the game and did so. Forcefully. By grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and hauling him to his feet. Steven Taylor tried to intervene and split the two up when Gervinho slapped Barton across his mush. That Barton went down as if one of the Klitschko brothers had just chinned him was hardly valorous but Gervinho was crassly stupid to do what he did. It was something of a case of history repeating for Arsenal. In their last visit t'frozen North, that dramatic 4-4 in January, Abou Diaby had been sent off for pushing over Barton. (As the lads at noted: 'It was almost the same as last year. Just minus the eight goals.') Even earlier in this weekend's game, Barton felt - seemingly justifiably - that Alex Song should have been sent to the stands for stamping on his achilles. He clearly gets under this Arsenal team's skin - which is one very good reason why he should be a national treasure, frankly - as evidence by Arsene Wnger stalking down the touchline at the end of the game seemingly about to give Barton a mouthful of je ne sais quoi before thinking better of it. Which was a first. Of course, the incident brought out both the best and the worst in pretty much every commentator - this blogger very much included thank you very much. I loved, for instance, Danny Baker's full-hearted defence of Barton on Twitter: 'Arsenal are phoney whiney tough guys - like the cast of Glee doing Scarface. Love the idea that Joey Barton alone is spoiling football from being a parade of graceful athletes. People hurrying past Song to hate him. Football is not the beautiful game. It is the world's drama, theatre, catharsis, riot. The Joey Barton's will never be an advertisers puppy.' Contrast that, for example, with the thoroughly odious and worthless Brian Woolnaugh of the Daily Lies and his 'won't somebody please think of the children!' hysterics on Soccer Supplement on Sunday morning. Which appeared to be one just short step away from blaming the London riots, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the sinking of the Belgrano and the murder of the Kennedys all on Barton. 'Who died and made Brian Woolnough an oracle on football? Has this nugget ever been part of a team or played any form of the game?' asked Barton. No, but he does work for a sleaze-rag run by a soft-core pornographer that makes up quotes to substantiate non-stories and, previous to that, worked for an organisation - News International - which hacked the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl and the relatives of other victims of crime. So, you know, no one is innocent is all I'm saying. That Barton was even playing would have seemed impossible ten days ago. There has been a rapprochement with the club and he may yet stay for the season. His selection was certainly popular with the  majority of the crowd. They cheered his name loudest when the teams were read out and chanted it before kick off. Barton responding with a salute. The Arsenal crowd made their feelings clear, too. Even before the red card, this was a flat and sterile performance against a Magpies side that struggled to keep sustained possession for large chunks of the game. With twenty minutes left the Arse support was chanting for Wenger to 'spend some of your fucking money.' And they kept chanting it. Most of Arsenal's chances came from Newcastle mistakes rather than their own creativity. Tim Krul came closest to scoring for the visitors, nearly pushing into his own net under pressure from Laurent Koscielny, Danny Simpson clearing off the line. For the home side, Alan Pardew tried to do something about his team's one dimensional approach at half-time. He kept them in the dressing room much longer than Wenger did Arsenal and when they emerged the unimpressive Demba Ba had been replaced by Gabriel Obertan, who took up a position in the hole behind the not-much-better Shola Ameobi. He was impressive in the role and will surely start the next game in a midfield that also includes the interesting-looking, if apt-to-go-missing-for-a-while Yohan Cabaye. Indeed Newcastle were much the better side in the second half albeit without ever really creating a clear cut chance. An expectant Anfield was left just as disappointed as Wenger's men as Kenny Dalglish's much changed and very expensive Liverpool kicked off the new season with a rather tame 1-1 draw at home to Blunderland. Luis Suarez missed from the penalty spot before heading his side into a first-half lead, only for debutant Sebastian Larsson to silence the Kop after the break with a majestic leveller on the volley. Eighty million quid and you can't even beat the Mackems. Dear, oh dear. Top-flight new boys Norwich City and QPR experienced contrasting fortunes on their respective returns to the big time. While Norwich were grinding out a creditable point on their travels to Wigan Athletic, Neil Warnock's Hoops were being comprehensively spanked by a Bolton side who strolled to a 4-0 victory in the capital. Wolves were not as emphatic but no less impressive as they came from behind to claim a 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers which will put a smile on that miserable oaf Mick McCarthy's boat. The day's other goalless stalemate ensued in the capital as Fulham drew a blank against a resolute Aston Villa, who marked Alex McLeish's bow in the dugout with a decent point. A Liverpool side which included new boys Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique as well as January purchases Suarez and Andy Carroll, impressed in the first half at Anfield but faded thereafter as Sunderland left Merseyside with a share of the spoils. Suarez was at the epicentre of all that intrigued during an enterprising opening period. On five minutes he looked odds-on to score as he rounded Simon Mignolet in Sunderland's goal following a rapid Liverpool counter-attack, only to be brought down clumsily by Kieran Richardson. Phil Dowd showed some opening day goodwill in brandishing a yellow card rather than a red one, with the home side's ire exacerbated when Suarez blazed the resulting penalty wildly over the crossbar. It was a disappointment that proved to be short lived. A trademark Adam delivery from a set-piece wide on the right saw Suarez stoop to connect with a header from close range on twelve minutes, which beat Mignolet's flailing efforts with his feet. Whatever Steve Bruce said at the interval in the away side's dressing room had the desired effect. When it arrived Larsson's leveller was a thing of rare beauty, as Stephane Sessegnon's deep cross slung in from the right was met with a delectable scissor kick that left Jose Reina rooted. Having endured a summer of considerable uncertainty and too many chicken jokes, Blackburn Rovers supporters were handed a fillip on twenty minutes at Ewood Park as Jason Roberts bulldozed through a Wolves backline that parted like the Red Sea, allowing the Argentine Mauro Formica to angle a low drive past Wayne Hennessey. It was a lead they held for just two minutes as a bright Wolverhampton move down the right culminated with Matthew Jarvis dinking a smart ball to the back post that allowed Steven Fletcher to climb above Michel Salgado to level. If Salgado was susceptible for Wolves' first he was almost certainly culpable for the second, as his mistimed tackle on Jarvis after the break culminated in a spot-kick. Kevin Doyle's effort was meek and easily repelled by Paul Robinson but when from the resulting scramble the ball fell to Stephen Ward, his sweeping volley from the edge of the box was perfectly executed as it nestled in the corner. Bolton stopper Gary Cahill will have impressed the watching scouts at Loftus Road as his effort on the stroke of half-time deflated Queen's Park Rangers' top-flight return and set the ball rolling for a 4-0 mauling that ended in Clint Hill being sent-off at the death for violent conduct. Cahill's goal was a strike of genuine quality as he took debutant Chris Eagles' pass before bending a sumptuous twenty-yard left-foot drive beyond Paddy Kenny's despairing dive. In truth the party atmosphere lasted less than ten minutes as the familiar sight of Kieron Dyer on a stretcher had the club's board counting the cost of Neil Warnock's gamble on the one-time England man. Subsequent x-rays showed that Dyer did not suffer a broken foot as had been speculated. Dyer has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, managing only thirty five appearances during his four seasons with the Hamsters after sustaining a broken leg and also suffering with a recurring hamstring problem. Injuries also affected his time at Newcastle, when hamstring trouble kept him sidelined for several lengthy periods. Dyer should probably look on the bright side, however - let's face it if he'd been a horse he'd've been shot by now. It got no better for the Hoops after the interval. Eagles was the architect again for Bolton's second as his whipped in free-kick took a deflection before Danny Gabbidon inexplicably stuck out his foot to edge the ball over his own goal line. Further insipid defending was punished as the difference between the Championship and Premier League was exposed again, as Ivan Klasnic was afforded too much time to get his shot away from the edge of the box, with Kenny again caught off guard by an unfortunate deflection. With Bolton buoyant three became four before full-time as Fabrice Muamba coolly converted Klasnic's slide-rule pass with consummate ease. Ritchie de Laet endured a nightmare on his Norwich debut as his trip in the area on Franco di Santo allowed Wigan midfielder Ben Watson to emphatically register from the penalty spot. With Paul Lambert a typically energetic presence on the touchline the Canaries dug deep and after Grant Holt missed a gilt-edged opportunity from close range, team-mate Wesley Hoolahan showed him how to do it when he punished a fumble from Ali Al Habsi on the stroke of half-time to lash home a leveller. Both teams were guilty of profligacy in front of goal in the second half as Watson went closest to conjuring a winner as his crisp strike cracked the post. A drab goalless affair ensued in West London as Fulham and Aston Villa could not be separated. John Arne Riise came close to capping his Premier League debut for the Cottagers with a goal only to see his effort drift narrowly wide. Both sides had half chances thereafter but a stalemate that will not live long in the memory will do little to silence those who feel both sides lack sufficient options in attack. Tomorrow, Moscow Chelski FC and The Scum get their seasons underway whilst Sheikh Yer Man City have to wait until Monday to have a go at promoted Swansea.

And, the main question to be asking after watching it all on Match of the Day, though, was who the hell had done that to Shearer's hair? On his forty first birthday an'all. That's just not right. Once upon a time a world of centre halves trembled and used to get an elbow in the face for just looking at him in a funny way. Now somebody's done that to his barnet and, seemingly, got away with it.
You can tell me who it was, Al, I'll fix him for you.

Driver Robert Gould's Citroen C5 was written off after a cow landed on his bonnet. The animal, who was trying to escape from a farmer, leaped three feet over a fence, flattening the bonnet of Gould's car and breaking a wheel. Gould skidded almost eighty yards and ended up on the other side of the road. He escaped with minor cuts and bruises. Gould told the Sun: 'I was driving along when a cow jumped out and landed on my bonnet. It had hurdled a three-foot high fence and hit the front of my car. I had no time to brake and my car veered to the other side of the road. I was very lucky that nothing was coming in the opposite direction. The police were very nice about everything, although I don't think they could quite believe it either. I am now looking out for low-flying cows when I am driving.' The cow was, sadly, pronounced dead at the scene.

A former prisoner has been arrested for trying to break back into jail. Marvin Lane Ussery, who had served time in New Folsom for robbery, was spotted scaling a seven foot wall in an attempt to get back into California State Prison in Sacramento. The forty eight-year-old was caught by correction sergeant Tony Quinn and officials are now investigating whether Ussery was trying to smuggle drugs or mobile phones into the facility. He is currently being held in Sacramento County Jail on suspicion of violating his parole and being an ex-convict on prison property. Prison spokesman Tony Quinn told 'The only statement he made to investigators is that he wanted to reminisce. It must have been a great time for him.' He added that prison guards 'quickly realised' they were not dealing with an escapee after discovering Ussery.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, here's the national anthem from Collapsed Lung.