Tuesday, August 02, 2005


The BBC have finally given Graham Norton a late night chat show, having blown at least £3.5M of our money on poaching him from C4. The Bigger Picture began last night. A pleasant enough way to spend half an hour if you'd just returned from the pub but not worth staying up for and it certainly didn't live up to all the pre-launch hype.

The input from his guests was minimal because he spent most of the time reading a rather lame script from an autocue.
The low point was Richard Wilson playing a shuttle astronaut doing a two-way with Norton. This was so unfunny it would probably have been cut from Saturday morning children's television.

Before the programme the continuity announcer warned that there would be 'colourful' language. This was a new one on me. The warning is usually of 'strong' language. Admittedly there were none of the 'F's and 'C's that peppered his C4 show but there was a 'wank' and a 'wanking'. So somewhere in BBC guidelines it must be written down that 'wank' is colourful rather than strong. I wonder if 'colourful' equates to the Board of Film Classification's 'mild swearing'. What nonsense it all is. Surely, like beauty, the degree of profanity is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

Original and cutting edge this news-based programme certainly wasn't unless you think jokes about David Blunkett's blindness and the size of Cherie Blair's mouth fall into that category.
This wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the pre-publicity. This was Graham Norton in yesterday's Guardian: "I want this show to be the bridge between an old persona and a newer, slightly more mature persona.............our challenge is tone........when we open the show out to discussion with the guests, I think we can take it to more serious places."

Well maybe that was the intention. But it didn't happen. And why would we want it to happen? People who enjoyed his C4 show probably wanted more of the same. Kicking your USP into touch is seldom a good idea. This craving for reinvention as a more mature and serious performer is a bit like all those old comics who wanted to play Hamlet. And Graham Norton without the 'strong' language and the dildos is like Hamlet without the Prince.


Graham Norton's C4 series was called So Graham Norton. His production company is called So Television. But the use of 'so' for emphasis is not confined to camp comedians. It has spread into general slang as in 'I'm so not enjoying this programme.' I've sometimes used it here, although only ironically or for intended comic effect. I would never use it in real life, any more than I would say 'Nice!' or 'Bless!' or 'Christ, look at the tits on that one!'

But did you know that 'so' was also an early 20th century code word for gay men?
I'm indebted to one of my literary heroes, the late Arthur Marshall, for this information. He recounts in his autobiography how, as a teenager in the 1920s, he saw some graffiti in a station toilet that said 'Why don't we form a So Club?' Apparently, it derived from the German 'Er ist so' which was the equivalent of the English 'He is one of those'.
The young and innocent Marshall, still at Oundle public school and probably still ignorant of his own sexuality, puzzled over this graffiti and wondered whether SO stood for 'Sanitary Orderlies' or 'Station Operatives' and why they had chosen such a strange meeting place.

I don't think that the Japanese 'Ah so!' has any connection with either of the above meanings. I'm not really confident that the Japanese actually say that, being reluctant to rely on the British comedy industry as a reliable source.
No doubt my Japanese-speaking nephew will correct me if I'm wrong and possibly chastise me for even venturing into the earthquake-prone territory of racial stereotypes.
Frankly, it's so out of character.


At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Alan said...

I beg to differ - the Richard Wilson bit was quite painful, but didn't quite plumb the depths of the Sharon Stone interview - was that tumbleweed I saw rolling across the Pinewood lot? All in all I found the whole show tame and dull, two words I would never before have associated with Graham Norton. It may pick up, but I doubt I'm still going to be watching to find out.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

alan, you're right. The Sharon Stone piece probably was worse.
How many careers have crashed into oblivion after transferring from ITV or C4 to the BBC?

Graham Norton should take a leaf out of Ant and Dec's book. Stick to what you do best. Some people won't like it. But those who do will stick with you. Few people have sufficient talent to broaden their audience and, in the attempt, spread their talent so thinly it disappears up their own egos.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

I might have known! Re-reading my copy of Musings from Myrtlebank for the umpteenth time last week, it dawned on me that I had recently encountered the word in another context (Musings, that is, not Myrtlebank, though you never know). Obviously dear old Arthur is a great source of comic inspiration to you, as he can be to me, too.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

jonathan, yes, that was the inspiration for part of my blog title. Good to find another fan.

I have a delightful letter that Arthur sent me in which he refers to some of the semi-fictional characters he wrote about. I wish now that I'd become a regular correspondent as he clearly loved writing and receiving letters.
What a terrific blog he could have written.
I occasionally use one of his characteristic phrases and will now know that at least one person will recognise them.
One day I'll write a blog post about him.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Weedlet said...

I really enjoyed your content on Sharon Stoneand will be back very frequently! I actually have my own Sharon Stone Exposed blog with all kinds of stuff in it. You�re welcome to com by.


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