Monday, April 04, 2005

A Rover Returns

Forget the death of an octagenarian Pole, the Royal Wedding and the General Election. It's time I wrote about something really important.
I've been hugely impressed by Neville Buswell in Coronation Street, playing the character of Ray Langton after a gap of nearly 30 years. I'm a bit of a newbie where Corrie's concerned. I've been watching it regularly for only about 20 years so I don't remember Mr Buswell's previous appearances. But this is 24-carat naturalistic, understated acting of a kind one rarely sees and harks back to the early, grittier days of the Street. It's as though the producers had just dragged an ordinary bloke on to the set from a Salford saloon bar (if they still have saloon bars in Salford).
Mr Buswell's Ray Langton is one of the most real characters I've seen in a long time. He's helped by his eyes - the most important feature for a small screen actor. They're big and blue and he follows Michael Caine's advice of rarely blinking when he's in close-up. How sad that he's returning to retirement after this short stint. If it was up to me I'd give him a BAFTA as a souvenir and to remind people that showy acting isn't always the greatest acting.

Someone else who has earned his stripes recently is Richard Fleeshman who plays Craig Harris. He's given a fine and believable portrayal of grief and anguish. A trivia footnote is that he claims to have been the youngest person ever to be in Corrie, albeit invisibly. He was in it as a foetus when his pregnant mother was playing a barmaid at the Rovers.
Then, of course, there's the wonderful Sam Aston. Even if he gives up acting, he'll be remembered as one of the greatest child actors and one who could play comedy brilliantly.

Quite soon Sir Ian McKellen will fulfil one of his life's ambitions and appear in Corrie for 10 episodes. That should be long enough for him to get some lines from the brilliant Jonathan Harvey, the inimitable John Stevenson, the drily humorous John Fay, the gorgeous Darren Little and the wonderful Chris Fewtrell. If I've left anyone out, sorry darlings. But how many people ever mention the poor bloody writers anyway?

I try not to reveal the storylines in these pieces because I know that antipodean readers are several months behind us. But they've got some great stuff to look forward to.


Few people have come from nowhere to being the country's favourite comedian faster than Peter Kay. Like most comics today, his stage act is far too long but it does include some of the best observational comedy you'll ever see. But he's also a brilliant comedy actor.
Tonight on E4 (10.30) there's a chance to see one of his pre-Phoenix Nights comedies. The Services is a spoof documentary about a motorway service station in which he plays most of the characters. It was an early indication of his talent as a comedy character actor - far better, in my view, than one of his own heroes, Ronnie Barker.

My favourite of those early programmes was the one about Britain's oldest paper boy. It has a wonderful line by one of the neighbours: "Well, Leonard's everybody's friend.........although he himself hasn't got any friends...". There are characters like that in my own village (who I try to avoid) who greet everyone by name with exaggerated bonhomie and utter a stream of clich├ęd nonsense. Everone knows them. They're as much part of the landscape as the traffic lights or the chip shop. But they don't actually have any friends. And that's the secret of Peter Kay's comedy. It's based on truth and acute observation of ordinary life. That's why some of the metropolitan chatterati don't 'get' Peter Kay. One can only feel sorry for the poor bastards.

A lot of old comedy doesn't stand the test of time. But the other night when I couldn't sleep for worry over the Pope's health I was reading John Fisher's book on music hall comedians. It includes a wonderful radio script from Robb Wilton which is as clever and funny as anything written since. Here's a slightly edited flavour:

Mrs Muddlecombe: I don't know what's happened to the sundial in the's two hours slow and I don't know how you alter sundials.
Mr Muddlecombe: You can't alter sundials, dear. Don't be so stupid.
Mrs M: Well what's the good of them if you can't put them right? I looked at it today at one and it was only eleven by it.
Mr M: Well, we're two hours ahead, now that the clocks have gone forward. But you can't put a sundial back. You can't if the sundial's really right. But it' hours wrong. That's all that's the matter with it.
Mrs M: How can it be right if it's two hours wrong?
Mr M: Well because if it was right, we'd be wrong.
Mrs M: Who would?
Mr M: Everybody....everybody's clocks.....they've been put forward two hours for summertime, haven't they?
Mrs M: I'm not talking about the clocks! I'm talking about the sundial.
Mr M: Yes, yes. That's two hours behind the clocks.
Mrs M: That's what I'm saying. It's two hours slow.
Mr M: No, it isn't. It's right.
Mrs M: But if it's two hours slow, how can it be right?
Mr M: Because the clocks are two hours fast.
Mrs M: Oh! Then the clocks are wrong.
Mr M: No, no, no! The clocks are right.
Mrs M: But you just said the clocks are two hours fast.
Mr M: But they are.
Mrs M: Well, how can they be right?
Mr M: Because they'd be wrong if they were right.
And so it continues.

Just typing that extract has brightened my day.
And I have great sympathy for poor Mrs Muddlecombe. After all, in some ways she's absolutely right, isn't she? Or she would be if it weren't for the fact that time is an entirely human construction. And how often does comedy illustrate such a point along with the perils of language as a medium of communication?


At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Full agreement over Peter Kay. Another pre-Phoenix piece was the bingo hall episode, where he played manager, buffet man, floor-sweeper, caller, and possibly more.

That work is revered in the industry for its accuracy, which must have taken hours of insider research, touching as it does so vividly on aspects of the job the public never sees or thinks about.

It makes the later, Paul O'Grady series into the amateurish effort it almost totally was.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I believe he once worked in a bingo hall. Also, a toilet roll factory although he hasn't used that experience yet.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous asta said...

Thanks for not revealing the plot. I'm a relative newcomer as well...only started watching in 1987.

We used to be only a few months behind, now it's close to a year. To try and make up some ground, we're getting daily double episodes starting next week. I still figure it will be winter before I get to see Mr.Buswell.


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