Facebook Status Updates We Would Never Make

Or at least Facebook Status Updates we tend not to make.

We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

So wrote Kurt Vonnegut in his novel, Mother Night, in 1966. And Facebook provides us the greatest and easiest opportunities of all to pretend? To pretend to each other, to pretend to ourselves…

Below I propose thirteen life status updates that are less than likely to become Facebook status updates!

  1. Status updated when watching a film-classic, or latest movie adaptation of a major literary work. Status not updated when watching a grainy porno illegally downloaded from a file-sharing site, or the shopping channel again or re-runs of a Soap that was axed in the Seventies.
  2. Status updated when back from an afternoon out with the kids at a museum, art gallery or park. Status not updated when back from traipsing your kids around an out-of-town DIY complex looking for plumbing fittings, shelving brackets and the like.
  3. Status updated with photograph of latest car purchased if brand new, big, sporting, expensive. Status not updated with photograph of latest car purchased if second hand, rundown, a couple hundred bucks of junk – think Big Dick Waving Contest.
  4. Status updated to announce to the world how much you love your soulmate and how wonderful they are and how lucky you are to have met them. Status not updated when you are thinking “what did I ever see in this person and where did it all go wrong…”
  5. Status updated to declare “You are more lovely to me today than the day I first met you”. Status kept quiet when wondering to yourself “You irritate me more with each passing day”.
  6. Status updated to boast – sorry share –  that you had a busy day putting up shelves around your home or undertaking some other DIY project.  Status not updated when you spent your day slobbing about your homestead knocking back beers and watching repeats on the telly with interruptions only to play video games
  7. 6am Status Update – when you have just woken up to announce to all your friends that you have a busy day ahead of you – and by way of just letting them know what an early-bird you are. 6am Status not updated – when just about to go to bed having watched as much night-time telly as your eyes can take and consumed as much pizza and chips as your stomach can take – and by way of not letting them know what an unreconstructed night owl you are.
  8. Status updated when back home late from a night clubbing ‘Had a bit too much to drink tonight, again! LOL!’ – status implied party animal. Status not updated when back home late from a public bar ‘Had a bit too much to drink tonight, again! LOL’ as status now implied desperate alcoholic.
  9. Status updated following an act of uncharacteristic virtue such as giving a pint of blood, having run a half-marathon for Charity, or having spent an afternoon with your last remaining grandparent for the first time in over a year. Status not updated following an all too characteristic act of if not vice then certainly unvirtue!, such as spending the afternoon at the bookies followed by a liquid lunch and a minor altercation with a passer-by on your way home.
  10. Status updated on the rare occasion you have prepared and eaten a meal around the dining table with your family, each of you discussing your day. Status not updated on the more usual occasion of having thrown something in to the microwave to then eat with your family in the lounge with TV on and no word said to each other bar occasional utterances from any quarter of “can we watch something else now?”.
  11. Status updated when the activity genie has got inside of you and something productive has actually been achieved. Status not updated when nothing productive has been achieved following yet another day of procrastination.
  12. Status updated when you realise just how much you have to be grateful for ‘”What a lucky guy/gal I am” etc. Status not updated with “WTF am I doing with my life’.
  13. Status updated to say how pleased you are for one of your friends recently posted achievements. Status most certainly not updated to say how jealous you are if not outright resentful of said friend’s recently posted achievement.

With each status update the tangled web of Facebook weaves our collective deception ever deeper?

Him & Her – The Sleepover

Him & Her The Sleepover EpisodeHim & Her is back on BBC 3. And fans of this bedsit comedy will be glad to hear that very little has changed, indeed almost certainly nothing has changed.

Imagine The Royle Family if Craig Cash’s Dave Best and Caroline Aherne’s Denise Best had left the Royle family home to set up in their own bedsit. Or Ideal without the blood and guts. Or what Mike Leigh would have directed had he gone into TV sit-coms rather than really real realist cinema

And like the Royle Family the outside world is only ever implied, never ventured. And also like the Royle Family this too is no blissful tale of domesticity. The Him and Her characters are more Terry and Julie than Terry and June.

Him & Her is from Big Talk Productions who have established a creative pedigree producing both films (Scott Pilgrim Versus the World and Hot Fuzz among others) and TV – on their current roster alongside Him & Her are Friday Night Dinner, Free Agent and Chickens. Past productions have included the seminal Black Books and Spaced.

Him & Her Big Talk ProductionsHim & Her is written by Stefan Golaszewski a relative newcomer to TV comedy writing – he did write and star in the 2009 comedy series The Cowards. He studied at Cambridge University and is one of a new generation of Cambridge Footlights (University Dramatic Club). The Cowards started life on the web before moving to radio and then TV. The show was critically acclaimed – it was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA – though I have to confess it escaped my goggle-eyed attention.

His Him & Her creation has lasted longer at least than The Cowards back as it is for a second series.

Him is Steve played by Russell Tovey (who has a large TV CV but most likely if you do know him of late it will be as George in Being Human). Her is Becky played by Sarah Solemani (of Psychoville Emily fame among other parts).

I said that Him and Her is a bit like Royle Family but whereas that tended to be based in the lounge with occasional forays to the kitchen for a Cuppa and choccy biscuit, Him & Her is as likely to see Steve and Becky in the bathroom as any room. And if you think this might be Steve shaving or Becky blow-drying her hair then think again. Think toilet seat up, think toilet seat down – I will say no more.

Him & Her Becky & Steve

Her and Him

Though we never see Steve and Becky leave their bedsit they are never usually left alone for long.

In the most recent episode ‘The Sleepover’ they are visited by Becky’s sister and the sister’s fiancée along with their mother Shelly. Later their neighbour Dan appears.

The Sleepover sees Shelly, played by Camille Coduri, crashed-out on the kitchen floor, whilst the remainder of the uninvited company are readying for shut-eye in the bedroom/living area – the uninvited all being drunk and having missed the last night-bus home.

Steve and Becky allowing them to stayover despite themselves having a ‘big-day the following day and needing to be up early’.  At first I assumed that as the couple were both unemployed that perhaps one of them had a job-interview however we later discover they have rather bought a DVD box-set of the latest series of 24 and want to watch the whole of it in 24 hours! I confess this is something I have done once too and suspect am not alone in doing so?

The Sleepover episode opens with Steve and Becky debating who should retrieve a soaked toilet-roll dropped into the toilet bowl. This is not an unusual scene in Him & Her, rather all too usual! Seconds later Steve is urinating and Becky asks him if he wants any water to drink to which follows his reply another variation on men not being nature’s multi-taskers!

I can’t wee and talk at the same time!

Him & Her The Sleepover Laura

Becky’s sister Laura

Much of the remaining half-hour is spent watching them all trying to get to sleep – in real-time! This they fail to do as sister Laura (played by Kerry Howard) in particular cannot shut up having to share anything on her mind no matter how mundane.

Later they are joined by neighbour Dan (played by Joe Wilkinson) who has first been dumped by his girlfriend, then mugged and hit on the head with a brick and cannot bare the thought of facing his own flat alone.

This pretty much is the story-line, the importance of being idle. Him & Her is comfortable in being boring – Steve and Becky are at ease with their humdrum existence, and the show itself is untroubled by its own banality. It bravely hopes we the viewers will be happy to twiddle our collective thumbs whilst watching its thirty odd meandering minutes and won’t at any point be inclined to reach for the remote.

In one scene where Becky does an impression of Steve’s mother he counters with his impression of her mother which is basically just an opportunity for a character assassination.

‘I’m a silly little bitch, and my husband basically walks all over me, and I’ve got a shit sense of humour and I go to church’!

Him & HerLater we see Steve grumbling to himself in bed with Becky that the zip on their duvet is in his face.

Another conversation follows around ghost-believing Becky and ghost-disbelieving Steve ending with Becky saying:

‘I’ve got a sixth sense for it. All the normal five senses, seeing, hearing, thinking (!) and touch. But I’ve also got ghosts’!

Later Steve discovers from Laura that her mother does not like him leading him to comment ‘that he has never had anyone dislike him before’. Alas and inevitably for him this invites a long list from Laura, her boyfriend Paul (played by Ricky Champ) and Becky herself of people who do not like him!

The Sleepover episode ends with Laura and Paul absconding Steve and Becky’s bed while they had popped out to the kitchen only for Laura to offer the remaining bed-space to her sister Becky saying it will be ‘like when we were children’ leaving Steve evicted from his own bed. Just how is he supposed to be wide awake for twenty-four hours of Jack Bauer if he can’t sleep upon his own mattress the night before!

And reader not once did I even think to reach for my remote.

Him & Her Title Credit

Would I Lie To You? – telling the facts from the fiction

Would I Lie To You? BBC ShowLook closely into my eyes, Larry David Style if you please. And watch my lips. In this review there will be no word of a lie. Trust me!

Would I Lie To You? is one of those TV comedy shows that arrives on our screens without fanfare and will as likely leave them without fanfare and which is none the poorer for it.

Would I Lie To You? is another contribution to the vast BBC Comedy Archive having commenced its tell-tale life back in 2007, and has continued its half-truths and spinning sallies to this its fifth 2011 series.

This is made for radio TV for those who don’t know what a radio is.

The original host was Angus Deayton still, 9 years later, in the wilderness from Have I Got News For You – next year he will be a decade away and do you feel it will be his second coming? TV can be sentimental. We will see. Anyhow Deayton was only two years at the helm of Would I Lie To You but did not this time leave for any sexual transgressions – at least I think not. I am assuming he just got bored with it or wanted a new challenge or a better paying gig, and I digress.

Would I Lie To You? Host Rob Brydon

Current host Rob Brydon

Now it is hosted by Rob Brydon – who himself has hosted a panel show before, well a fictional parodic one – remember Reeling in the Years on Annually Retentive? His role is serious, as serious as comedy should be anyway, and he does resist too his other talent that of impressions, forgiving the one time when he lapsed into Terry Wogan when the recently knighted one was sitting aside him as one of the contestants.

I wonder though if comedians are the ideal profession for Would I Lie To You? The show is a comedy so comedians are naturally on show but are they the best dissemblers? Brydon as noted himself is also an Impressionist and perhaps that is a profession with its art of disguise that is better suited to this show – and perhaps the likes of Steve Coogan and Rory Bremner or even those described ambivalently as mentalists such as Derren Brown and David Blaine would rack up the Would I Lie To You points as prime practitioners of deceit.

Trust – or rather mistrust – is perhaps the candidate quality. Alas we live in times when many high-ranking professions such as politics, law and dare I say it journalism are no longer held in the same reverent-esteem though perhaps that is also rose-tinted spectacles and it was ever thus that those who have occupations and positions close to the seats of power achieved such as much for their scheming and flattery as their own particular talents. Each after all are professions where the power of persuasion is paramount.

Would I Lie To You? Lee Mack

Captain Lee Mack with guests Barry Cryer and Sue Perkins

Unlike Have I Got News For You where politicians are keen to appear as panel contestants as much to show that they have a sense of humour and ‘really are one of us’ – you know of the 99 and not 1% – I cannot see very many of our MP’s queuing up to appear on Would I Lie To You?! Though I guess we could play our own version of ‘Would I Lie To You’ watching Prime Minister’s Questions of a Wednesday afternoon – okay enough easy remarks at the expense of our politicians!

Estate Agents are another profession not known for their veracity and integrity but I am not aware of any famous realtor’s that could be called upon – I don’t think Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop quite count?

Yet another profession of liars where false-hood is not merely practised but is praised and is requisite is poker. And one member of its twilight profession, Victoria Coren, appeared on the show. She afterwards tweeted that she was so focused on doing her poker profession proud by calling out all bluffs on the show that she completely forgot about being witty!

Would I Lie To You? David Mitchell and team

Captain David Mitchell and guests Chris Packham and Mackenzie Crook

The two regular team captains are David Mitchell and Lee Mack …where Mitchell is Rodney Bewes Bob to Mack’s James Bolam Terry. What Ever Happened to the Likely Lad’s? – the show got decommissioned by the BBC in 1974, that is what.  And for those of you too young or not British that was my allusive way of saying there is a slight North South comedy divide in the Would I Lie To You? studio.

The format is simple enough – in fact without having seen the show if you were to take a guess I am pretty sure your first guess would be close to correct – that contestants have to lie to each other and those successful in pulling the wool over the others eyes get awarded points and those whose porkie-pies are not swallowed forfeit a point to the other team.

One slight variance and concession to spending up the budget is an invited guest who is related to one of the team members in some way past or present and who is not famous, where again the other team has to establish which of the other team they are related to by distinguishing the facts from the fictions.

…basically then it is just a parlour game in our collective parlours – does anyone call their living rooms parlours anymore?! – in the same way that Whose Line Is It Anyway? was or Argumental and King Of are.

Would I Lie To You? Host and captainsThough the purpose of the game is for one team to out-lie the other team rather like other comedy panel-shows such as QI, 8 out of 10 Cats and Have I Got News For You we the audience do not really care about the score or who the victors are (anymore then the teams do themselves). Rather we are hoping to be entertained and informed and frankly we can be outright misinformed as long as we are made to laugh along the way.

And both team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack manage that – either seems to be able to pontificate on any subject under the sun and ring a few jokes out in the process.

Most of the guests tend to be fellow comedians but not all of them. And it is often the non-comedians that prove to be if not especially more mendacious then the comedians the more entertaining. In the most recent series this year Nick Hewer (one of Alan Sugar’s henchmen on The Apprentice) and actor Nigel Havers turned in memorable performances as well as proving to be able liars – well okay I guess a business-man and an actor are two other professions where a little spin and creative fiction are more of a help than a hindrance in your day-to-day. Hmm – are there any other professions left for me to slander?!

My favourite downright liar in the last series was Irish comedian David O’Doherty – as much for the ineptness of his lying as the creative and rambling nature of his tales.

Would I Lie To You? reminds that a big budget does not a TV success make, that with imaginative ideas and creative guests all the change that can be mustered from the production company’s petty cash box is actually all you need.

Women! – plenty slapstick and tickle

Vous les FemmesWomen’s cast includes many women but the two main women are Judith Siboni and Olivia Côte, its lead stars and writers.

Women! currently airing in the Thursday midnight hour on BBC 2 is a French comedy sketch show. It is known in its mother country France as ‘Vous Les Femmes’ which translate as ‘You Women’ though I think ‘Women’ with the exclamation mark is a better title, if not translation.

Along with its night-owl scheduling by the BBC, information available on the show is not exactly forthcoming on their website program page either, merely stating that ‘it is an all female cast written by the stars of the show’. Which itself is not even accurate as there are very definitely males on the show, and some of whom do have speaking parts!

I would have thought that they would want to explain if not promote the show a bit more than that. Still at least they are broadcasting it.

Women! - M6 Web PageMore information though can be found on the French TV channel from whence it came, M6 (Metropole TV) – assuming your French is up to it – or at least that Google Translate is! And I am not quite sure that it is since it is indicating that the show is on its 4 series but 439th episode – surely not – 100 odd episodes per series? Perhaps this is how they do it in France but I am thinking perhaps the site is referring to the number of sketches in total, the sketches lasting as they do anything from mere seconds to several minutes at most.

Women! Vous les femmesThe show was first broadcast on French TV in 2007 and is now in its fourth series. I am presuming the BBC have started us from its beginning but I am not clear.

Being as it is an unusual mix of both slapstick and surreal sketches. Some of the humour is observational, some conceptual. Each of the sketches are segued by striking visual animations themselves humorous. Anyone know who the animators are/is?

The episode reviewed here is the third of the six being shown by the BBC and broadcast Thursday November 3.

One recurrent sketch of this episode and the entire series involve Siboni and Côte doing charades to each other but the items mimed are not the standard TV show, book, movie and song title rather obscure physical or even abstract ones such as ‘A French Teachers Red Pen’, a ‘bulb that’s about to blow’ and a ‘Blow Dry’!

Women! Vous les femmesSome of the sketches are definitely risqué and close to the bone.

One such as a scene on a bus where Côte sits down next to a sleeping male passenger who slumbering slumps on her shoulder, then his hand accidentally rubs against her breast resulting in Côte taking the opportunity to place his hand in her – I will leave you to guess the rest – it’s exactly what your dirty mind is thinking!

Other scenes of a less than maternal nature are mined for comedic effect. Such as Côte seated in a spotless flat revealing her secret to her friend as dipping her heavily swaddled baby in to a warm bowl of soapy water and allowing the baby to then dry off by crawling all over the kitchen and bathroom floors.

Another scene sees an enthusiastic boy with his mother and another admiring mother commenting how magnificent to see such ‘Joie de vivre’ in one so young only for the mum to display not maternal pride but existential ennui commenting that she finds it ‘positively indecent how anyone can display their happiness in a world so shitty’!

Women! Vous les femmesOther sketches of a different potty variety are not easily described with a straight face save to say that one involved a care-home for the elderly and one of its elderly woman residents missing her dentures, and another sketch involving Siboni with Côte in diplomatic conversation before the former farting and reprimanding the same region of the body that the missing dentures were found in another elderly man!…

Surreal turns are taken too such as a wedding reception scene with the bridegroom burrowing into his bride’s wedding dress to retrieve her garter only instead to bring back items like a steam-cooker, a goldfish bowl, a man in a motorcycle helmet, a basket ball hoop before finally revealing the garter, itself discovered beneath the gas cooker!

Other sketches are more conventional such as a club scene where Côte is asked by a man if she wants to dance with the expectation she will say no so that he can get her to hold his coat to avoid paying the cloakroom charge – just the sort of proposition we all love!

Other sketches spoof cinema moments such as From Here To Eternity and the Ursula Andress Dr No ocean scene both reprised with an expected irreverent twist.

Yet other sketches are physical slapstick and really have to be seen to be enjoyed – or not depending on your particular penchant for this brand of humour. I myself enjoyed the ‘Too Much Love’ scene. Let us just say that these are women who like to gurn. Try and imagine a more sexy Les Dawson – if that is not too disturbing for you!

Sketch shows such as this are hit and miss by their nature but this show definitely sees the misses hitting more than they miss.

The Ricky Gervais Show – kicking Ducks where the sun don’t shine

The Ricky Gervais Show Title PagePsstt!? Do you want to listen in to a pub-chat? If yes, then bring your own beers and settle down to The Ricky Gervais Show.

The Ricky Gervais Show was initially made for radio, broadcast on XFM, before later making the switch to TV, being commissioned by and broadcast on HBO, and shortly after on British Television courtesy of Channel 4. It is currently re-airing on E4.

It is one of those shows like Seinfeld and Father Ted I could watch on an infinite loop or as easily dip in and out of containing as it does so many standalone comedy gems.

The title is perhaps now a misnomer. The original radio show featured Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant with little broadcast input from Karl Pilkington, its show producer. But over the years his input has increased and now is pivotal and the show could just as well be called the Karl Pilkington Show – if almost certainly not having the same ratings-pulling power.

In any case the show works because of the sum of the Gervais Merchant and Pilkington parts, not due to any one of them left alone.

The Ricky Gervais Show Studio CartoonEach show begins with the three of them sitting in a studio behind a desk as Ricky Gervais introduces all of them to us as we watch each morph into cartoon caricatures of themselves.

And better prepared as cartoon forms to inhabit the surreal fantasy world of their rambling imaginations.

Merchant and Pilkington are captured pretty faithfully if Gervais not quite his spit as having the distinct style and look of Fred Flintstone  – whenever we are shown his wife she too as the uncanny resemblance of Fred’s wife Wilma – I have not seen Ricky Gervais’ wife but I am betting she does not look very much like Wilma Flintstone! The cartoon-style of the entire show is in the spirit of Hanna Barbara if with an audience of adults in mind.

Three people in a studio is a cheap idea for a TV program and just shows you don’t need millions of dollars or even thousands of them to make engaging telly.

The Ricky Gervais Show - bar sceneAs previously suggested The Ricky Gervais Show is like listening into a bar-room conversation – but being teetotal is not a prohibition to appreciating it and certainly you don’t need to be dirty drunk to get the best from it either though a beer or two may better ready your spirits for it.

The subjects are often random and rambling, sometimes making a point, other times pointless, and the pointless subjects being none the poorer for having little purpose.

There is much laughter in the Ricky Gervais Show despite no studio audience present or canned laughter on tap, rather Gervais and Merchant, and Gervais in particular, are often unable to contain their mirth and sometimes even reduced to tears by the statements of Pilkington.

The last episode I dipped into was the Future episode from Series 2 which re-aired Sunday November 6.

Future as you might imagine was their musings and Karl Pilkington’s in particular of how the future might look, in particular the not-too-distant future, toward this century’s end. And their predictions for how the 21st Century might pan out were never going to be as high-minded and rigorously researched as those pondered in the current Channel 4’s science series Brave New World with Stephen Hawking.

The Ricky Gervais Show - Future episodeThe first of which was read out by Gervais from an academic study speculating what the world might be like in 75 years time and considering that androgyny could have become a common-place. And this being the Ricky Gervais show and in particular this being Karl Pilkington this topic is not taken up but completely digressed with him retorting that ‘this isn’t what I’ve heard (!)…I’ve heard that we’re all going to go ugly’! And this because ugliness will need to act as a form of population control – ‘we won’t want to do it with each other as much!’.

The Ricky Gervais Show - Karl GoogledPilkington then continues on how we have changed physically over time and how this will likely develop with parts of our body becoming like our appendix, redundant! Giving as an example our little fingers ‘who don’t do much compared with our other fingers’ and this being the boozy logic of a pub another body part is not offered up as a redundant example but the chat changes track with Merchant then suggesting that in the future we will become ever more integrated with technology (which does actually mirror a prediction in the first episode of Brave New World regarding remote mind control but I digress!) giving the example of a chip in our head to allow us to access the world wide web directly, or more specifically the human mind home page Google!

This then leads Pilkington to make the metaphysical point of whether we will any longer be us  – where would we end and Google begin…but we did not linger on this sobering thought long instead moving on to BBC Quiz Show University Challenge and how Pilkington in awe of how much knowledge these Degree students have and how in order to try and get at least one question correct he answers ‘Egg’ for each! And that rather than even trying to answer the questions asked by quizmaster Jeremy Paxman he instead tries to predict which of the university students will answer the next question correctly! As said this is the conversational logic flow of alcohol accept they are in a studio with tea or coffee the only liquid available!

The Ricky Gervais Show - Evolution of PantsNext up is Satellite Navigation and how poorer our lives will be now we can never got lost on our travels! Pilkington asking whether Columbus would have found America if he had had access to GPS, based on the reasoning that ‘he only found it because he got lost’!

The show then moves onto Pilkington being asked to make some predictions for the future. As this was Pilkington I knew only to expect anything – and I was not disappointed. The screen-shot at the foot of this post lists his entire ‘Top Five’ and I will merely focus on three of his fevered imaginings.

HIs first one was that trousers would stop being made! His rationale being that ‘kids today are wearing trousers ever closer to around their their ankles’! So naturally we will come to a time when we just won’t bother wearing them anymore.

His second prediction was that we are all going to get (physically) weaker. The basis for this being that ‘they used to say an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ but now we are recommended five fruits per day. This is an observation that may not resonate outside of the United Kingdom!

His final conjecture was that there will be more letters in the alphabet. This because we are running out of words (!), then citing ‘Bozwellox’ (and no this word is not made up but a recent addition to Shampoo!) as an example of desperation for a plausible sounding new word.

Finally Merchant asked Pilkington what he would do if he discovered this was the final day on earth, not just for him but the whole of humankind. Merchant himself first reflected that he may smash up a bar and darkly that  he might even murder a person as there would be no repercussions and it would be both his and the victim’s final day on earth. Gervais commented that he would still be depriving that person’s final eight or so hours on earth before looking to Pilkington for what he would do. Pilkington pauses.

‘I’ve always wanted to kick a duck up its arse’!The Ricky Gervais Show The Future

Holy Flying Circus – The Resurrection of The Life of Brian

Holy Flying CircusHoly Flying Circus explores the controversy surrounding the 1979 film The Life Of Brian. Explores not as some dry academic documentary but in the inspired spirit and fantastical imagination of its film’s creators, Monty Python.

That is not to say this ninety minute drama, from production companies Talkback Thames and Hillbilly Films and Television currently airing on BBC 4, is completely surreal and irreverent. There are moments when it veers – if briefly – on to the straight and narrow – and serious points get made. Freedom of speech is both no laughing matter and very much grist to the comedy mill.

And this is comically and tragically what Holy Flying Circus is about.

Holy Flying Circus follows the period following the release of Life of Brian – its critical and public reception – especially in the Python’s home country of Britain (well leaving aside Minnesotan Terry Gilliam).

The Life of BrianAnd for those of you have not heard of let alone seen The Life Of Brian, BBC 4 were showing this too – so that we can discover or remind ourselves, as the case may be, what all the fuss was about.

Briefly Life of Brian is based on the Life of Jesus where Brian is mistaken for Jesus. And the film then pursues the mishaps following this mistaken supernatural identity. So a satire of the Christian Religion, not of its figurehead Jesus, and what could possibly go wrong? Who could possibly be offended?!

The film was classified by the British Board of Film Classification as AA (which meant those 14 years of age and older could view the film), and not the adult classification of the time X as many were expecting. However the last say on film distribution in the UK is with its Local Councils and thirty-nine of them re-classified it  to the  then adult (18 and over) X and in many cases imposed an outright ban.

Toward setting the record straight the Python stars of the film were reluctantly persuaded to appear on a discussion program on the BBC called ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, though John Cleese himself initially was opposed arguing the film should be allowed to speak for itself.

It was then agreed that it would be the initially recalcitrant and combative John Cleese that would appear alongside the ever-reasonable and accommodating Michael Palin (who in the shows words ‘is even self-deprecating about being self-deprecating’!)- a sort of bad cop, good cop rationale – that would represent the half-dozen Pythons on the debate show.

Holy Flying Circus - Friday Night Saturday Morning

Friday Night Saturday Morning scene

This debate would be hosted by Tim Rice (himself the subject of a similar if more minor controversy for writing and staging in 1971 the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar). Representing those opposed to it would be writer and born again Catholic Malcolm Muggeridge and the then Bishop of Southwark Mervyn Stockwood.

The debate itself did not go as many might have anticipated – without giving it all away it was Palin who proved to be more combative than Cleese and the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge more pugilistic than the Python pair.

And The Life of Brian itself despite showing in British cinema, well in some of them at least, it was not until 1995 that British Television felt brave enough to air it.

Here we are in 2011 and would a film satirising the beliefs and practices of a major religion be met now with greater tolerance if not complete magnanimity?

It would certainly depend on what part of the world such a film was being shown in. A better question might be would a film satirising the belief’s and practices of the established religion of a particular country be shown without censure and rancour?

Paradoxically perhaps in the UK I think a film satirising Christianity would be tolerated whereas a film satirising Islam would not be.

Holy Flying CircusConsider in Holy Flying Circus that God has a part and that this part is played by secular saint Stephen Fry. But would Mr Fry have been so comfortable playing Allah? Would the writer of the show Tony Roche have had Ben Crispin playing the prophet Mohammed as he had him playing Jesus? In both cases I doubt it.

With the controversy following The Life of Brian the writing Pythons were keen to state that it was the practices of the believers of Christianity that were being satirized not the beliefs itself. But can you really successfully satirize like this without also satirising the beliefs themselves?

Religion is privileging its beliefs? Any secular beliefs are open to full and frank debate and exploration – neither the beliefs or the author/s of those beliefs are off limits. But with religion we are saying that some aspects of the debate are off limit. Or rather those that have those beliefs are saying this. More specifically it is Established Religion that sets itself up as being beyond criticism. Less mainstream and orthodox religions are as liable to be lambasted and ridiculed as any secular belief.

Holy Flying Circus

The Pythons portrayed

The question is why do those who do not share the beliefs feel the need to be so circumspect? The fear of hearing the ultimate censuring word ‘blasphemy’?

We should respect each others rights to believe whatever the hell we want but that is not the same as saying we should respect whatever the hell it is each of us believes?!

Holy Flying Circus itself does not pull these philosophical punches – it opens with a figure on the desert plains suspiciously like Jesus advising that none of what follows actually happened, ‘that it is largely made up. Like The Bible’ and the show proceeds in this irreverent spirit till its conclusion ninety-minutes later with Michael Palin appearing in Heaven – or at least its ante-chamber – and saying to Stephen Fry that ‘he is not sure that he believes in him anymore’ God, that is!

The three main protagonists of the showing of The Life of Brian in Holy F$%ing Circus include a Andrew Thorogood, played by the ubiquitous Mark Heap, and one accomplice with Tourette’s Syndrome and another with a Stutter – the comedy here writes itself!

Some of the portrayals of the original cast are eerily reminiscent. John Cleese in particular played by Darren Boyd captures not just the physical demeanour of Cleese (if through a Basil Fawlty filter!) but also his very spirit. The portrayal of Michael Palin by Charles Edwards and Eric Idle by Steven Punt are similarly compelling.

Comedy like freedom of speech is a serious business but as you would hope Holy Flying Circus when not provoking and stimulating does not forget to divert us, entertain us, and well, makes us laugh out loud.

And we are warned when watching at the outset that Holy Flying Circus like The Life of Brian contains very strong language and adult humour, but that if we are okay with that then we can go ahead and watch, freely and untroubled, unlike until very recently we could with The Life Of Brian.

That I guess is some progress.

Holy Flying Circus