Now here’s a man That I have always really admired. I’ve never really understood why he’s got so much stick in later years. The man was and is a groundbreaking and hugely influential stand-up comedian and writer. There’s no point trying to prove me otherwise, I will always defend him! Ben has probably influenced me almost as much as Rik has.
Ben hosting Saturday Live and Friday Night Live, unfortunately sadly past me by. My parents were mainly BBC watchers, plus we had no video recorder at the time. My dad would occasionally watch them and of course Harry Enfield’s loads-a-money character I was aware of through his hit single performed on Top of the Pops. Probably my first real introduction to Ben Elton’s stand up material was through his Man from Auntie TV show. I found Ben a captivating tour de force in his solo show, he talked about all sorts of real life topics, problems and current affairs. To me I felt like I was learning more from him about becoming an adult and the world in general, than I ever did at school!
I’ve always like going to a Car Boot sale. So here, I tracked down some of his earlier stand up shows on cassette, Motormouth and Motorvation. I loved listening to these on my Sony Walkman. As well as these pre-recorded tapes I also made up my own cassettes, recording the Man from Auntie shows direct from the TV so I could also listen to these on the go! Instead of story tapes, I would often go to bed listening to Ben Elton – Not particularly restful I know, but I found great comfort in his humorous way of looking at the world.
Discovering his comedy connection to Rik and Ade, realising he that had also been at Manchester University, well, that only reinforced my love for the man. Indeed, it’s probably thanks to Ben’s prolific writing skills and ability at such a young age, that a cohesive script for The Young Ones was probably taken seriously enough for BBC to make the pilot. Thank goodness the BBC did take that gamble too. He came to the rescue again yet again when he joined Richard Curtis for the re-inventing and writing of Blackadder II. The history of which I’m sure you all know and has also been well documented.
Proof from Ben’s Tour programme, what a prolific writer and driving force he was behind many of our most loved TV shows.
His forgotten gem for me though is and always will be Happy Families. With a stellar cast of so much prominent 1980s comic talent, it was way ahead of its time. I enjoyed watching this very much in the mid 1980’s. but with no video recorder, I only saw it the once, maybe twice as it did get a repeat. Then in 1992 it was shown on a satellite channel (maybe and early version of Gold?). Unfortunately I didn’t have access to this channel, but managed to track down and persuade a college friend of mine to record it for me. She kindly did, but didn’t record the last episode and only caught half of the 5th episode – Grrrr, that was so frustrating! I’ve since also watched it via YouTube, but I believe it’s now been taken down. I do hope one day we will see an official DVD release of this 1980’s gem. Understandably though, there are probably a lot of copyright issues hindering this. It’s a TV series that is like that missing piece of the jig-saw piece in many comedy fans DVD collections!
Around the same time that I went to see French and Saunders live in 1989, Ben Elton was also touring. I knew people who went, but sadly I missed out on that one. However a couple of years later I found a programme from that tour at a car boot sale. Here it is:
Ben on the front cover of the Radio Times and the article inside
Here’s Ben being interviewed by Terry Wogan, not long after he stood in for Wogan and was the interviewer himself. He talks about his up and coming Man from Auntie show, plus reflects on the impact of Blackadder goes Forth.
I finally got to see Ben live in 1993, at Southampton Mayflower. It was only a few weeks before I went to see the Bottom live shows. Ben was a captivating performer that evening and truly deserved his long standing title as a Motormouth. His stand up material just pours out of him. Just like Rik, he too had bags of energy. Rik and Ben toured together quite a bit in the early to mid 80’s – how I wished I had been old enough to see any of those shows, I bet they were electric.
Here’s the ticket and flyer from 1993;
A number of years later for or a surprise 30th birthday present. I was whisked away to Bristol for the weekend to see Ben’s latest stand up show – Get a Grip. Leaving our own daughters who were 1 and 5 at the time to stay with the grandparents. I was now a fully grown farty myself with a family of my own. Ben yet again did not disappoint, now talking about, having children, parenthood… lots of things I could still really relate to having had my children around the same time as him.
In 2017, I was lucky to get audience tickets for the Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture at Broadcasting House in London. Ben Elton was giving the first talk, of what was supposed to be an annual event (disappointingly I’ve not noticed any more of these being made). I took my mum with me, who has always been a big fan of his, and for old times sake we had a trip up to London on the train. Mum has aways admired Ben too. Ben gave a very entertaining and informed talk about the art of the studio audience sitcom. He described the processes involved, explained his loved of the art form and how it really captures an evening of comedic performance really well. We both could have listened to him for ages. It turned out what we saw was effectively a dress rehearsal, before it was recorded in front of a celebrity audience. The red carpet had been laid out, as we were leaving!
2019, sees Ben back on the road and touring again for the first time in approximately 15 years. Of course I’ve got my tickets, and I really cannot wait to see the incredible motormouth live on stage once again…