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Frank Skinner: ‘I’m all for a bit of moral menace’

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Frank Skinner played ukulele at the Queen’s 92nd birthday celebrations in 2018

“The edge of inappropriate is the spiritual home of the best stand-up comedy,” proclaims Frank Skinner in the programme notes for his new West End show, Showbiz.

It’s also, he jokes, “the name of my country house in Gloucestershire”.

The 62-year-old, who has made a pretty good living walking the tightrope of comedic taste, is about to ride the bus (using his over 60s travel card) to London’s Garrick Theatre, as he speaks to the BBC, for the first night of a five-week residency, having road-tested it around the UK last year.

Loosely-based around celebrity anecdotes he’s acquired over the past 25 years working as one of the country’s most cherished comedians, Skinner’s show is littered with poetic and funny filth about his decaying body, lessening libido and late arrival to fatherhood in his mid-50s.

In an era when critics have called “wokeness” – the modern day political correctness – the death knell for comedy, the veteran stand-up still trusts his instincts.

“Sometimes when you start improvising on stage, which I do a fair bit of, obviously you haven’t planned it. But to be honest, it’s not like I’m one of these blokes who is sitting at home pouring it all out and then does a different thing on stage.

“I think the line between me on and off is fairly blurred”.

In other words, if a joke is good enough to tell down the pub, then it’s fit for the stage too.

‘Lightness of touch’

The Royal family, Bruce Forsyth and the ahem, “cursed” Strictly dancers all find themselves on the receiving end of Skinner’s dry wit in the show, which The Guardian said finds the “statesman of stand-up shows” showing “no sign of stiffening”.

“It’s rare to see such fast-thinking wit deployed with such a sense of joy,” added The Times’ Dominic Maxwell.

Skinner declared on-stage during Wednesday’s press night that “a lightness of touch” is required when tackling certain topics (mostly genitalia). He allayed the fears of an apparently worried-looking audience member named Linda that she needn’t worry about an accent he was about to attempt.

“When I started doing comedy,” he adds, “We were very much what was then called ‘alternative comedy’ and the two great centrepieces of that was non-sexist, non-racist.

“That was that was the big thing, which now seems absolutely basic, page one, but then was revolutionary.

“I did mainstream working men’s clubs in Birmingham, and you would not believe the racism, for example, was absolutely the norm [for] friendly middle-aged entertainers.

“We were at the beginning of that and I think we started to expand it. So then you think, ‘Well what about homophobia?'”

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BBC/Avalon TV

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David Baddiel and Skinner presented TV shows Fantasy Football League

While he jokes woke culture means he’ll no longer help attractive young women with their heavy suitcases, Skinner believes the new normal parameters are “a sort of a militaristic approach to kindness”.

“Unless you force people to do stuff, most people won’t do it. So I think you can make a few interesting dramas about sexual predators, but the best way to stop it is to say to people, they’ll lose their job.

“So I’m all for a bit of moral menace, as it were”.

US President Barack Obama recently spoke of his distrust of righteous online trolls, while US comedian Dave Chappelle made a whole stand-up special about cancel culture. Satirist Armando Iannucci said last week he thinks people are “losing the appetite to engage in argument” for fear of causing offence.

“I think it can be annoying at times,” Skinner goes on, “It can empower idiots on occasion, and when it becomes like a parlour game where people sit around saying, ‘Oh, you said that, and you shouldn’t have said that…

“I grew up going to football matches where people threw bananas at black players and we didn’t have to sit around and debate whether it was racist or not. But I think it’s one of the major social advances of the last 60 years.”

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Frank Skinner

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He anchored the TV show Room 101 from 2012-2018, before the BBC bosses put the show in there itself, but still hosts a weekly show on Absolute Radio

He believes that in the age of Twitter, it would be hard for any comedian harbouring suspect personal views to fake it for long anyway.

“I got in one night and my partner said to me, ‘What were you doing in Superdrug?’ And I thought, ‘This is it now, this is East Germany!’

“All my philandering in the past would be impossible in the modern generation”.

Fellow British comedian Ricky Gervais criticised celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards for mere virtue signalling and Skinner would tend to agree, noting “there’s only one thing more embarrassing than the celebrities talking about politics; and that’s politicians talking about anything other than politics”.

‘Best shot’

The working class millionaire confesses to have started preaching from the pulpit himself lately, to an audience of one: Seven-year-old son Buzz.

“The other day I gave a little speech at home about the fact that we shouldn’t see Frozen 2 as girl film, that there’s no such thing as a girl film.

“I don’t know whether I really believe that or not, but I felt it was important to say so!”

Dad and lad recently went on a history-themed trip to Rome, where the Catholic comedian managed to wangle front row tickets for an audience with the Pope at The Vatican. This time through his church connections, not his showbiz ones.

Another family trip saw Skinner make a deal with his partner of 19 years, Cath Mason, not to swear for the first five minutes of his set at Latitude Festival so the youngster could see his old man at work.

The star, who suffered a bad bout of pneumonia in late 2018 (“it’s great for the cheekbones!”), says he’s giving the late dad thing his “best shot”, mindful of how many younger men have made mess of it.

“If I’d have had kids in my 20s it would have been nightmarish”.

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Frank – whose real name is Christopher Collins – alongside long-term girlfriend Cath Mason

Skinner was in his 30s when he decided to give stand-up a shot, while working as an English lecturer, and he soon found himself winning the coveted Perrier Award at Edinburg Fringe Festival in 1991.

In the 1990s he became a household name, flying the flag for the (slightly) more intellectual end of lad culture alongside David Baddiel on the cult TV show Fantasy Football League, en route to getting his own chat show.

The teetotaller admits he used to live it up when he first got famous but says the effects soon wore off, and as a result he now has few actual showbiz friends as a result.

For this he blames his “lack of Class A drugs credentials” during an era of mass hedonism in British pop culture.

Although he didn’t fully large it up like the Gallagher brothers he did have similar chart success thanks to the England Euro 96 football anthem Three Lions, which he wrote with Baddiel and Lightning seed Ian Broudie (both of whom stepped out to see their old pal perform this week).

As his beloved England made it to the 2018 World Cup Semi-Finals, the song broke a chart record by returning to the top for a fourth time. Sadly though it broke another one soon after, by becoming fastest-falling number one of all-time, dropping to number 97 after Gareth Southgate’s men were knocked-out by Croatia.

Through bleary eyes, Skinner – who thinks England’s Euro 2020 forwards look “deadly” – was at least equipped to see the funny side.

“It’s beautiful that it was by 96 places. Couldn’t be better.”

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Getty Images

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Three Lions was written by Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel

Frank Skinner’s stand-up show Showbiz runs at London’s Garrick Theatre until 15 February

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Michael Medwin: Shoestring actor dies aged 96

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Michael Medwin in Shoestring

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Medwin’s screen career spanned seven decades

British actor Michael Medwin has died in hospital in Bournemouth at the age of 96.

Best known for playing radio station boss Don Satchley in TV’s Shoestring, he was a prolific supporting player who appeared in films with Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Albert Finney.

Alongside Finney, he also produced such films as Lindsay Anderson’s If…., O Lucky Man! and Charlie Bubbles.

Born in London in 1923, he was made an OBE for services to drama in 2005.

Theatre producer David Pugh, with whom Medwin produced plays for three decades, was among the first to mark his passing.

Medwin, who trained at the Italia Conti stage school in London, made his film debut as a radio operator in 1946’s Piccadilly Incident.

In the six decades that followed, he appeared in such films as A Hill in Korea, Doctor at Large, Carry On Nurse and The Longest Day.

Often cast as cockney spivs at the start of his career, he moved on to authority figures like the doctor who treats Connery’s James Bond in 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

He also played the nephew of Albert Finney’s title character in Scrooge, despite being 12 years Finney’s senior.

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Medwin appeared alongside Trevor Eve in 21 episodes of Shoestring

As Don Satchley, Medwin would occasionally find himself at odds with Trevor Eve’s phone-in private investigator Eddie Shoestring.

Based in the West Country, the BBC TV series ran for two series spanning 21 episodes between 1979 and 1980.

“Acting was something I wanted to do, and by good fortune I found I could do it quite well,” he told The List in 2009.

The previous year he made one of his final screen appearances as a speechmaker who extols the virtues of Keira Knightley’s title character in The Duchess.

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Clive Cussler: Dirk Pitt novels author dies aged 88

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Cussler wrote more than 80 books in total during his lifetime

Clive Cussler, the US author of the popular Dirk Pitt novels, has died at the age of 88.

He wrote 25 books in the adventure series, including Sahara and Raise the Titanic, and sold more than 100 million copies of his novels in total.

Writing on Twitter, Cussler’s wife said: “It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that my husband Clive passed away [on] Monday.

“It has been a privilege to share in his life.”

She added: “I want to thank you, his fans and friends, for all the support. He was the kindest most gentle man I ever met. I know, his adventures will continue.”

The cause of his death has not been confirmed.

‘Soft spot in my heart’

Cussler’s 1992 thriller Sahara was adapted for the big screen in a 2005 film starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

The writer, whose books have been published in more than 40 languages, was married to Barbara Knight for nearly 50 years until her death in 2003, and they had three children, Teri, Dirk, and Dayna.

He later married Janet Horvath. His son Dirk, named after the character, co-wrote his final three novels.

“Dirk will always have a soft spot in my heart because he started if off,” Cussler said in an interview with Working Mother in 2013.

“I hope readers see Pitt as a normal, average guy who is down to earth. He likes the Air Force, tequila, and an occasional cigar.

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“I used myself as a model for Dirk. We are both 6’3″, have green eyes, and at that time were the same weight and the same age.”

He added: “The only differences are that he is better with the girls and he has aged about 10 years while I have aged about 50.”

  • Cussler brands adaptation ‘silly’
  • Movie makers in film ‘flop’ fight

After selling the Sahara story to the billionaire Philip Anschutz, Cussler later sued, telling a US court in 2007 Hollywood “tore the heart out” of the book.

The movie grossed $119 million (£92.1m) worldwide but was still considered a box-office failure as it failed to recoup its own filmmaking costs.

The novelist said the company broke its contract by changing the story without his consent.

“I thought it was just awful,” he said of the film, adding that he considered the re-written dialogue to be silly.

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Cussler, pictured in 1977, was born in Illinois

One his earlier works, Raise the Titanic! was also made into a movie in 1980. The film, starring Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, and Sir Alec Guinness, proved to be a similar flop.

Cussler wrote more than 80 books in total, including the Isaac Bell Adventures and Fargo Adventures series.

Known as an expert in shipwrecks, Cussler founded the non-profit National Underwater and Marine Agency.

His non-fiction book Sea Hunters was so extensive in its underwater knowledge the Maritime College in the State of New York gave him a doctorate.


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Why Bob Iger’s long goodbye to Disney is a very big deal

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Bob Iger with 'Mickey Mouse' in 2017Image copyright
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Disney under Iger has been anything but a Mickey Mouse outfit

The news that Disney boss Bob Iger is stepping down as the company’s CEO has taken the movie world by surprise.

Since becoming chief executive in 2005, Iger led the company through several blockbuster acquisitions and the launch of the Disney+ streaming service.

Viewed by many to be the most powerful man in Hollywood, Iger had previously announced plans to retire only to push back his departure date.

Iger will remain Disney’s executive chairman until the end of 2021.

In a statement, the company said Iger would direct its “creative endeavours” while ensuring “a smooth and successful transition”.

Bob Chapek, who joined Disney in 1993 and previously ran the company’s parks and products division, has been appointed the company’s new CEO.

  • Disney boss Bob Iger steps down as chief executive

During Iger’s tenure as CEO, Disney took over animation studio Pixar, comic book company Marvel, Star Wars originator LucasFilm and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

These acquisitions, combined with the launch of Disney+, amusement park openings and other factors, saw the company’s market value increase five-fold.

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Disney

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Disney+ launches in the UK on 24 March

Of the 20 highest-grossing films of the 2010s, 13 were Disney releases. Three of these titles made more than $2 billion (£1.54 billion) worldwide.

The most lucrative of the three, superhero blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, overtook 2009’s Avatar in July 2019 to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

  • Avengers overtakes Avatar at all-time box office

Last year Iger published a memoir, titled The Ride of a Lifetime, in which he wrote about the lessons he had learned from his 15 years as Disney CEO.

While promoting his book he gave his only UK interview to BBC media editor Amol Rajan, during which he reflected on his experiences and accomplishments.

“It would be nice to know that it’s going to turn out as well as it has, because I probably would have been just a little bit more relaxed,” he mused when asked what advice he would offer his younger self.

“But then again if I had been a little bit more relaxed, I probably wouldn’t have worked as hard and it might not have turned out. So because you can’t go back and do it over in anyway, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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Media captionBob Iger says he’s proud of his achievements at Disney

The 69-year-old also expressed pride about the number of jobs he said had been created at the Disney company during his time as CEO.

“I’m proud of our efforts for our employees – for cast members as we call them – around the world. Of which there are now about 230,000,” he said.

“There are tens of thousands more of them today, by the way, than they were when I got the job. So we’ve created a huge number of jobs. And for hourly workers.

“I am proud of their compensation. I’m proud of the benefits that we’ve bestowed upon them. I’m proud of the opportunities we’ve created for them.

“There’s been huge upward mobility in our company by the very people that start at the bottom – I’m one of them – and enable themselves to not only work their way up, but to work their way up and to earn more.”

In other departments, however, Iger did concede mistakes had been made.

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Iger oversaw Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm in 2012

“I have said publicly that I think we made and released too many Star Wars films over a short period of time,” he told Amol Rajan.

“I have not said that they were disappointing in any way. I’ve not said that I’m disappointed in their performance.

“I just think that there’s something so special about a Star Wars film, and less is more.

“The nice thing about Star Wars is the future is unlimited in terms of the places we can go, the stories we can tell and the characters we can introduce people to,” Iger said during a subsequent visit to the UK for the European premiere of the most recent Star Wars film.

Last December’s event also saw him reveal that his favourite character from the long-running sci-fi film saga was Chewbacca the Wookiee.

“I’ve always been a ‘Chewie’ fan,” he told the BBC’s Colin Paterson. “I don’t understand a word he’s saying, but he always makes me laugh.”

No doubt Iger’s departure would have seen the character utter one of his trademark mournful moans.

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