Monday, May 11, 2009
I doubt Les Dennis expected to be performing inside a refrigerator.
The Liverpudlian entertainer and actor very generously agreed to come up to Newcastle to help us with a pilot we were making for a new game show. I don’t think the man who presented Family Fortunes on ITV for 15 years anticipated he would get all the trappings of star status: champagne in the dressing room, autograph hunters and paparazzi at the door. But at the very least I guess he expected a studio. Sadly, as regular visitors to this blog will know, Newcastle doesn’t have a television studio anymore. So we built our own out of hardboard and bits of cloth.
Fred Hoult kindly lent us one of his spare buildings in Hoults Yard. It was the old railway station where materials used to be brought in for the Maling Pottery. Paddy, Jess and I put up bits of green curtain and bought some hardboard and green paint from Jewsons. The result: an instant “green screen” studio (even if Paddy walked round in green socks for the entire day). Unfortunately it was a barn of a place and there was no heating or dressing room; it was unbearably cold. And some people think television is a glamorous industry.
The whole exercise was a study in north east ingenuity and goodwill. The show, called Pass the Parcel, was a collaboration between ourselves and three other north east media companies: advertising agency Different, post-production facility Dene Films and animation house Qurios. Local cameraman Chris Sutcliffe generously donated his talents to light and film it. The final product was an extraordinary transformation, which shows what can be done when local businesses get together and pool their talents. It had music, laughter, applause, an enormous colourful set, really funny cartoon “parcels”, and a fantastic network presenter.It was great to see Les Dennis in action again. Although he’s spent the last few years as a straight actor, it took him just three minutes to switch back into gameshow mode. He’s still one of the best in the business. As everything was on green screen (that is, added in post-production) he had to imagine the scenery, the cartoons, even the contestants. We also put in a big enthusiastic studio audience behind him with which he seemed to have an uncanny rapport. Sadly we had no means of warming them, or him, up, so Les’s performance was all the more impressive as he stood for hours frozen to the concrete floor.
Last week I took the end result to show the BBC in London. The controller of entertainment said it was one of the cleverest showreels he’d seen: deserved praise for a great collaborative effort. Whether he commissions a series or not remains to be seen. And even if he does, we’d need a proper studio to shoot it in, otherwise, sadly, we’ll all be working outside the region again.
Les arrived with giant Edwardian sideburns and a moustache, the products of J.B. Priestley’s comedy When We Are Married, which he’s currently touring round the country. Getting married is just one of the things Les and I have in common, as we discovered when we swapped notes over an excellent lunch at the Hotel du Vin. We’re the same age, have both been through the tabloid mangle, and now each of us has a wonderful real, grounded partner and a new baby daughter. We’re both tying the knot later this year. I last met Les ten years ago, when the tabloids were having their fill of Amanda Holden’s infidelity. Then he looked a haunted man, and I felt desperately sorry for him. Now he’s confident and happy, and, like me, relishing the new life that true love and a baby guarantees. Thanks Les, and fingers crossed we’ll be working together again soon.