Applaud … Now!

We have a red box where we keep tickets and reminders of our London adventure. We opened the box this morning and threw another ticket into it. A ticket that reflected another first for us: being part of the studio audience for a television chat show. What fun!

The show, ITV’s That Sunday Night Show – described as a “round up of the week, casting a wry eye over the past seven day’s events and the week ahead” – is filmed in the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

We got there ridiculously early. Too early. We went away and came back to discover that a queue had begun to form outside the studio, so we joined it. It was VERY cold. After about half an hour, a young woman with a clipboard checked our tickets and gave us two entry stickers and told us to come back to the holding area in about an hour. We came back and queued in the holding area, as instructed and shuffled forwards like a herd of slothful cows, until we came to a stop outside the nether regions of the ITV Studio.

Guys wearing “crew” T-shirts handed out beers to everyone in the holding area. One way to keep a bunch of impatient punters happy, I guess, but maybe it was designed to make the audience loose or, at least, to find the show banter funny! We continued to freeze and stand and freeze and stand.

Eventually we started to shuffle forwards and through a storage area. Any air of superiority I might have been feeling was whiffed away by the sights and smells around us: a calamity of plywood in different lengths and shapes; metal cages filled with boxes and stuff; a forklift; several brooms; more boxes and stuff and wires and bins and buckets and clay models and stuff. We shuffled alongside a huge floaty white curtain and then tadah! There was the studio!

We were ushered into seats and sat in the fourth row, which was the first stepped-up row. I usually end up behind the overly-tall guy with huge curly hair, so I’m glad to report my view of the set was uninterrupted. Curly-haired tall guy was in the row below ours.

A “warm-up guy” came and introduced himself to the studio audience. His job of making us laugh was made easy by what he called a “self-pleasing” audience. Banter flew this way and that from audience members or, as I like to call them, part-time comedians. The lights went down and in walked show host, Adrian Chiles.

He introduced his interesting blend of guest panellists: Russell Kane, comedian; Janet Street-Porter, journalist and broadcaster; and Lord Alan Sugar, multi-millionaire and UK host of The Apprentice.

And so began the filming of the 30 minute-long chat show. It took two hours, with a short break after an hour, and we were impressed with how slick the filming process was. There were a few times when Adrian stumbled over his words, but he just repeated them and the show went on. At the end of the two hours, he did re-takes of about four intros to film clips and it was a wrap. Heavy editing will leave around 20 minutes to be aired between the commercial breaks.

Adrian looks at big and small news items from the past week, comments on them and invites comment from his panellists. It was interesting to see the dynamics between the three guests; Russell Kane is ever the cheeky-chappy naughty comedian, who made faces at the audience and chipped in with funny observations and jokes all the time. I loved that! Janet Street Porter elbowed her opinion in at every opportunity and I found her to be not only heavy-handed but grumpy and negative. Perhaps that’s her brand. Lord Alan Sugar added his no-nonsense opinion with flat, slicing hands. When he speaks, people listen. He said he loves visiting America because at least no-one says to him, “You’re fired.” Clearly he is accosted at every turn by British fans proffering that original line to him.

Russell Kane talked about the immediate feedback he gets as a stand-up comedian and the constant fear that if he doesn’t make his audience laugh, he’s fired. Adrian Chiles said to Lord Sugar,
“You’re funny, Lord Sugar, you know how to make people laugh. Did you ever consider being a comedian?”

His reply made me laugh:
“When I was small, I was walking with my mum. She said to me, ‘You know you’re really funny. I’ve heard that you make your friends laugh at school. Why don’t you become a comedian?’ I said to her, ‘Mum, do you mean going to the working men’s clubs where they throw beer and crisps at you and heckle you?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Mum, if you don’t mind, I think I’d rather become a multi-millionaire.’”

We were interested to notice a “Lord Sugar lookalike” in the audience. He queued just ahead of us and, unlike the rest of us punters, was dressed formally in a suit. I thought there might be some interest in the fact that Lord Sugar’s doppelganger sat among the rowdy rabble. Not a peep. It made me think of that song, “I took my harp to the party and nobody asked me to play. So I took the damned thing away.”

The show was packed. Adrian had three studio guests who ran the gauntlet of the panel’s comments and questions and unimpressed-ness. The guests included Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), Terry Green, the voice of the UK Post Office queuing system (I felt sorry for him as the panellists ate him up, comment by comment) and Heston Blumenthal (celebrity chef and owner of The Fat Duck restaurant in London).

Heston has recently opened another restaurant in London known as Dinner by Heston, where he serves medieval food and focuses on the history of English food. He served Adrian and the panellists each a wooden platter adorned with what looked like a mandarin and two slices of toasted ciabatta. The mandarin was in fact a perfectly disguised chicken parfait, which all of the panellists – bar Lord Sugar – partook of and enjoyed. Lord Sugar ungraciously, I thought, declined to eat it as he said he was unimpressed by fancy food and preferred the fare he grew up with. Clearly that footage will land on the cutting room floor.

So, two hours, two “warm-up guy” sessions, a bunch of Russell guffaws and delightful Adrianisms later, we shuffled out of the studio and once more into the freezing London night. We’ll watch the programme tomorrow night for sure – maybe we’ll just hear ourselves laugh. Another first and another ticket in our red box.

Sunshine signing off for today!


I’m not quite as old as Corrie

Today marks the beginning of the 50th birthday week for a huge British institution. Its official birthday is December 9, but this whole week will see drama-filled episodes, celebratory quiz shows, live action from the set and a whole lot of partying. Happy birthday, Coronation Street!

It’s been so heart-warming to see the place that Corrie appears to hold in the nation that is gripped with frost and snow, spending cuts and student riots, spy allegations and leaked documents, a beleaguered coalition government and a failed bid to host the 2018 Football World Cup. In the midst of all of this doom and gloom, the soapie that is Coronation Street continues to intrigue with its familiar, topical storyline and cast of well-loved local actors.

I’ve not watched this soapie, but I know many people who do and they love it. The celebrity campaign running on host television channel, ITV, bears further testimony to its viewership of 12 million faithfuls: stars of stage and screen talk about how Corrie has been a familiar and well-loved part of British life over the last half-century.

I understand that Coronation Street has been among the most financially lucrative programmes on commercial television in the UK and, on 17 September 2010, it became the world’s longest-running TV soap opera currently in production. Cadbury’s provided advertising support from 1996 until 2007 and I remember some years ago seeing the chocolate model of the famous street at Cadbury World, the chocolate factory’s museum in Bourneville, Birmingham.

In my teenage years, living in Zimbabwe, we became hooked on the South African soapie, The Villagers. Our Sunday evenings revolved around the exploits of the funny, gossipy and delightful characters that populated the fictitious mining village of the title. I’m not too sure how long The Villagers ran, but its successor,“Isidingo”, premiered in July 1998. With daily episodes, it continues through to today, covering topical issues and fording controversy and scandal with entertaining relevance. My parents number among their huge fan base, and they can’t bear to miss an episode ever.

Some of my friends I worked with in Cape Town were hooked on American soapies, and their evenings just weren’t the same without All My Children, Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara and a clear favourite, fondly known as The Bold. (The Bold and the Beautiful.) One of my friends told me that when she caught a mini-bus taxi home, if she had not been safely delivered to her door by 5.30, she would jump out of the taxi wherever it was at 5.30 and run into the nearest house to watch The Bold. Everyone in her neighbourhood felt the same way, so unexpected visitors were always welcome.

So here in London, I watch with a twinge of envy as the nation cheers on its well-loved soap opera and cast of cherished, household characters. Many happy returns, Corrie! I look forward to being your age.

Sunshine signing off for today!