Real life: Professional Comedy plots
It was 4:00am, only six people left in the bar at the Metropole Hilton, after a great ‘Hire a Hero’ event. Time to collect my coat from the bands changing room and home. Entering the area upstairs, it had been completely cleared and cleaned. My Anorak was nowhere to be seen. Assuming the cleaners had taken it downstairs or put it in lost property I reported it. I felt sure it had not been stolen, there was nothing of value in it. The next hour was spent with three members of staff searching and questioning employees where it might have been taken. Eventually calling it a night I went home. Returning the next day to the hotel to have another look with a different duty manager and one member of staff, we walked up the stairs to the Oxford Suite and I pointed out the breakaway room where the coat was left, kept walking as the duty manager popped her head in the room, then shouted back ‘was your anorak navy blue’? ‘Yes’ I said. ‘Is this it’? ‘Yes .. where was it’? ‘Hanging on the rail where you said you left it’ came the reply. What embarrassment mixed with bewilderment. Thanking them and making my way home wondering what had happened. The answer lay in an email from John (lead singer), apologising that he had taken the coat thinking it was his engineers. He being told it wasn’t came back to the hotel very early the next morning (no idea whose it was) and instead of handing it in he put it back in the same room where he found it.
I did have to smile and it reminded me of the plot line in the famous ‘pineapple chunks’ scene in the sit-com ‘Porridge’ (staring Ronnie Barker. Writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais).
Those in the comedy profession are often being told funny real-life stories by members of the public, who often think they’re hilarious, believing everyone else should. Most are too personal to appreciate the humour behind them. And do not work as a generic piece of amusement. But just occasionally, and I mean occasionally, there’s comedy gold in those tales.
Many of us will recall Del Boy and Rodney holding out a white sheet ready for a priceless chandelier to fall into it as Del says to Rodders ‘Brace yourself Rodney. Only for the chandelier behind them to hit the floor, smashed to pieces. The scene has been voted one of the funniest moments in sit-com history, yet the tale is true. The writer John Sullivan was told the story by his father who had been one of the men on the team as he watched a real chandelier hit the floor. A young John Sullivan found the story hilarious but not the father who reminded him ‘four men lost their jobs that day’ in tough economic times. Eventually the incident found its way into a ‘Only fools and Horses’ script. Immediately after the episode had gone out John got a call from his Dad – who said ‘Your right, it is funny’ and put down the phone.
There was much tension in filming the scene, as Ray Butt (Producer) of the series could only afford one chandelier, and although a mock-up it was still expensive to make. Therefore, they had to get the shot in one take. The nervous Ray even threatened Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney) to sack him if he corpse and ruined the shot. Thankfully only one take was needed and no cast members were sacked unlike the real workers.
Ronnie Barkers famous ‘Four Candles or ‘Fork Handles’ sketch, was inspired by a letter he received from a couple who ran a hardware shop. They enjoyed the ‘Two Ronnies’ TV programme, and wanted to share some funny things which had occurred in the business. One such incident was when a customer was presented by the owner with four candles – which he had just heard him ask for – but what was actually asked for was fork handles. On another occasion, someone else asked if they stocked garden hoes, that turned out to be a hose, as in watering.
This got the writer inside Ronnie Barker, who often appeared on the script credits as Gerald Wiley thinking. He began dreaming up a dozen or so sound-alikes one might hear in a hardware shop. The rest is they say is comedy history – The sketch went out in 1976 and is frequently in the top three or indeed the top of favourite sketches, even today.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.