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Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin image credit Acorn TV

Jensen as Agatha Raisin  (image credit Acorn TV)

It’s not often that I get to conduct an interview from the comfort of my living room, or for that matter, from anywhere at all. But thanks to my friends at Acorn TV, I was afforded the the wonderful opportunity to speak with Ashley Jensen last week. This Scottish actress is probably best known to American audiences for her work in sitcoms like Extras, Ugly Betty or Catastrophe. She’s also lent her voice to many an animated feature and now can add M.C. Beaton’s PR guru-turned-amateur detective, Agatha Raisin to her CV. We had a lively phone chat that touched on the many and varied stages of her career as a working actress.

We began by discussing how Ashley got her start in acting. While she didn’t get much exposure to drama in school, she joined the National Youth Theatre in London when she was a teenager attending over her summer holidays. After that she went to drama school for three years from ages 18 to 21. Once her training was over,  she “basically started at the bottom doing theater – the type of theater where you drive in a little van, put the set up, do the show, you take the set down, you put it in the van and go to the next gig. Like a bunch of traveling minstrels.”

Gradually Ashley moved on to playing tiny parts on television. “I kinda feel as if I’ve really served my acting apprenticeship. People are asking me how it is being at the helm of a show. To me it was far more terrifying going on and doing my one scene or four lines in a long standing show with a lead actor. That was far more scary than being the lead actor in a show.”

When I asked her if she had ever considered another career, she recalled a drawing she made as a young girl for her mother telling her it was a picture of when she would be an actress on television. Ms. Jensen said there was never any doubt in her mind about acting, but she felt she had to be very single-minded about her choice of career.

“I knew I had to make a living out of it because I didn’t have a trust fund somewhere that could subsidize me if I failed at this thing. I absolutely had to earn a living out of it. People talk about success and they kind of deem success as when you become a bit of a household name and, to be completely honest, I felt like I was a success way before that because I was able to pay my own rent in the chosen profession, in the job that I trained to do. I was like ‘I can’t believe that I’m working in theater which is what I always wanted to do and I was able to pay my way’ and so I figure I was a success years ago.”

Ashley’s breakout role was in the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant follow-up sitcom to The Office. In Extras, she played Ricky’s best friend and fellow TV and film extra, Maggie Jacobs. Many famous celebrities from both sides of the pond guest starred on the show as well. One of those A-list actors was Samuel L. Jackson and Ms. Jensen recalled the reaction to the American movie star as he first arrived on set.

“I’d never met anyone from the movies, from the silver screen- so I was already overwhelmed acting alongside Ricky and along walks Samuel L. Jackson and there was this silence on the set. I’ve never heard silence like I heard silence when Samuel L. Jackson walked on the set. And of course Ricky being Ricky just broke it when I think Samuel L. Jackson bent over and tied his shoelace or something and Ricky shouts “He ties his own shoelaces!” and then the atmosphere changed and everyone was fine.”

“I mean these guys all came on and they did such a great job at playing these heightened versions of themselves and they absolutely loved it. I think they loved coming on and almost slumming it on this BBC TV show where the budget isn’t what Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Samuel L. Jackson are used to.”

 

After her Emmy and BAFTA nominated role in Extras, Ashley took a vacation and found herself on the brink of her next big job playing Betty Suarez’s friend and co-worker Christina McKinney in the Golden Globe award winning sitcom, Ugly Betty.

Ashley-Jensen-in-Ugly-Betty

Jensen with America Ferrrera on Ugly Betty (image courtesy of Silent H, Ventanarosa and Reveille Productions)

 

“I came over literally for a holiday with my husband to do a California road trip and my agent said you may as well see a few people out there and one thing led to the other and before I knew it I was screen testing for various pilots, a couple of which I didn’t get.  Then all of a sudden in rode this little gem of a script and I went ‘This is the one I really want to do!’ This is a story I’d not seen before. It was heightened, it was fun, it was a bit camp and yet it was really honest and dealt with a lot of really human issues. And I thought this is the one I really want to get and, lo and behold, I got it. Of course I signed up for a few years and I moved to America and I lived there for six years.”

Asked to reflect on the differences between working in television in the UK and LA, Ashley cited two main factors.

“LA is an industry based on film making and TV program making so there’s not so much of a struggle with the money aspect of it. So if we need to do overtime to get the shots, we’ll do it. Because occasionally sometimes here (UK) we can be a little compromised because they can’t afford to pay overtime.  And we also have this thing called the weather which can affect our filming. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve done with a hot water bottle strapped to my waist, heat pads sewn into my vest and, of course in LA, you don’t have that plus your food is better over there. The craft services are so much better than ours.”

It’s been said an actor’s voice is his/her instrument and Ms. Jensen has made good use of hers, namely as a narrator and voice-over artist. Some of her animated credits include Arthur Christmas, How to Train Your Dragon and Gnomeo & Juliet. I asked how she liked doing this sort of work and she had a very enthusiastic response.

“I love it! You know you think you’re just standing there saying lines but after a four hour session I’m sweating. I kind of get physically involved in it and you’ve got to really think on your feet and think of different ways of saying the line again and again. Yeah, I really like it. It’s almost like you kind of leave your dignity on the doorstep and you’ve gotta just go for it and think no one’s looking at me, apart from the fact that they are actually filming you so they can see how your face moves. It’s fun. It’s kind of like being a child again doing animated films, just doing silly voices and jumping about and being incredibly uninhibited because there’s no space for being inhibited in any way.”

Ms. Jensen also filled me in that she has begun work on Sherlock Gnomes which is the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet. I assume she will reprise her role as Nanette the Frog.

 

Next we discussed her stint as narrator of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, a UK reality medical television program which tries to make common medical issues, especially those that are “embarrassing” understood and to debunk myths surrounding them. I wondered if there had been any conditions that Ashley had come across on the show that stood out as being particularly upsetting, perhaps like this one:

“I did watch the VG and sometimes go ‘Oh, no sorry. I totally missed my cue just watching that there’ but I remember when I was pregnant, I could barely get through an episode without crying. It was just like,  ‘Oh that poor man!'”

But aside from the shock value, Ms. Jensen remarked on the show’s impact on its participants and the larger TV audience as well.

“Viewers emailing in and Twittering in, and doing all that twittery thing that I don’t really do, saying that because of your program I went to the doctor and I found out I have this and my life is so much different, in fact my life has been saved. I mean it was a bit ridiculous sometimes with a nice mix of daft problems but then there were some real conditions where you went ‘Wow, that person’s life has been literally changed because of this program’ and that was great.”

Eventually I got around to the Agatha Raisin portion of the conversation. As with any adaptation of a popular book series, there are always going to be adjustments from page to screen.  First we addressed to obvious physical differences between Ashley and Agatha.

Agatha stands out in appearance if not in cookery (image credit Acorn TV)

Agatha makes an impression in Carsely  (image credit Acorn TV)

“I think I’d read one book before the interview and was thinking – this woman’s older than me, she’s got brown hair, she’s chunkier than me, she’s from Birmingham. Why me? I spoke to the author M.C. Beaton and got her seal of approval (despite) the fact that I look different to what she’d originally envisioned. There’s always going to be somebody that’s not going to be comfortable with how we’ve done it and that’s okay. I thought I can’t let this worry me too much, but the author’s good with it and she’s wonderful. And I’ll tell you there’s more than a little bit of Agatha in there, M.C. Beaton. She has her bright pink lipstick and her flamboyant clothes and she also is Scottish. She’s such a character and she’s such a wonderful woman.”

As for how Ashley approached playing Agatha, she admitted it was more about the essence of the woman than the package.

“She wears her makeup, her structured clothes and her perfect hair almost like her armor against the world. And yet underneath, and we got to see that in the show, behind closed doors she’s had a disastrous love life and a very close relationship with a bottle of wine and she’s a terrible cook and she has a wee cat that she just loves and was actually, in a lot of ways, quite lonely and looking for a bit of warmth. And that was quite nice to play. I think it came across on screen quite well in that you got to see little moments of vulnerability that made the character a wee bit more of a three dimensional character rather than she’s just a bitch.”

We touched on Mrs. Raisin’s eensy weensy problem with assimilating fully to her newly adopted home of Carsley. Ashley shared that it was a conscious decision that there was to be lots of boldness and color in Agatha’s look to symbolize how she wasn’t conforming to English country life.

“This was who she was and she wasn’t apologizing for it, but I think ultimately she did want to sort of fit in and be part of what was her childhood dream of living in this lovely little cottage. I think she’d had herself a bit of a troubled background, not that we see too much of that because we just see her now, but I think that’s the backstory of who she was which kind of gives the character a wee bit more depth again.”

As for Agatha’s new hobby since moving to the Cotswolds, Ashley discussed what about her character’s personality and experience makes her a good detective.

“I think her PR skills obviously stand her in good stead and the fact, I think, that she just doesn’t take no for an answer. I think she has got this utter confidence in her own ability to get people to do what she wants whether that may be through manipulation or a little bit of fear and intimidation. She kind of manages to muscle her way into situations where I think maybe the policemen, particularly in our series Bill Wong, wouldn’t be able to get himself into. She can be charming when she wants to and flirty when she wants to. She just makes sure she gets her own way really.”

One of the silent characters of Agatha Raisin is the Cotswolds itself. Ms. Jensen confirmed that the show was shot in and around the region including Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

“It was all these shires that are all very close to one another – beautiful little villages that are all sort of nestled in hillsides around this area. It looks so glorious too with the stately homes of which there are many around this area. I mean, it’s so quintessentially English, isn’t it? Hopefully that’s something an American audience can enjoy the charm of. Just looking at that countryside is like a chocolate box. A chocolate box England.”

When it comes to her own retirement in the distant future, I wondered if Ashley would take Agatha’s path or choose another destination.

“Funnily enough I live not far from where we film. I live just outside of Bath in the rolling countryside with bulls and pigs for neighbors. It was a bit of joke really because it’s like ‘Hey I’m living Agatha’s dream!’ Except I have a family – I’ve got a husband and a dog and a child so I’m not quite like Agatha in that way. Yeah, I love it here. It’s just so glorious and it was such a wonderful job because a lot of the locations were very near to where I live and how often does that happen. Not very.”

To end the interview, I engaged Ashley in a conversation about another of her more recent works, the quirky, dystopian film The Lobster which also stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. The story is set in a society where single people are confined to a specially designated hotel and have forty-five days to find suitable mate, or else they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the wild. I wondered if her character, Biscuit Woman, had an animal in mind when she came to the hotel.

“I think I had it in my head it was a bumblebee. I don’t know why but I think I thought she might want to be a bumblebee. Which would be a ridiculous one because they only last for a few days, don’t they? I don’t think she was the brightest of women, Biscuit Woman.”

After viewing the film, I was most impressed with Ashley’s chameleon-like appearance, and admitted it took me a few scenes to recognize her.

Ashley in all her self-described slump-shouldered, ill-fitting bra glory in The Lobster (image credit Film4)

“The director had said he wanted me to cut my hair for it and I was like ‘No listen, seriously, we don’t need to. I know a style that will be brilliant. I’ll just walk in and I’ll look just exactly what you’re asking for.’ I think he was a bit worried I was going to look too attractive. I said, ‘Yorgos (Lanthimos) believe me, I won’t. I won’t look too attractive.’  I got on the set and I had no makeup on and my hair like that and he quietly went up to the makeup woman and had a little word. She came up to me and said ‘Ashley, Yorgos wants you to put on a little makeup.’ And I looked over at Yorgos and said, ‘I told you, I told you.’ He went, ‘You did, you did.’

With that we had to end our call, but Ms. Jensen concluded by saying she was delighted that Agatha Raisin has reached American shores. If you want to check out her performance along with other cast members Katy Wix, Jamie Glover and Mathew Horne, the series is currently streaming on Acorn TV. The pilot movie, The Quiche of Death, premiered on Monday, August 1, 2016, and the eight-episode series 1 became available the following week.

As you probably know the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are officially underway. My family watched the opening ceremonies Friday night and I have to say I found the event a let down compared to the 2012 London spectacle. I mean Gisele Buchchen strutting across the stadium for what seemed like an eternity…or Her Majesty and James Bond parachuting into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium. It’s like they say, the Brits do pomp and pageantry extremely well.

A performer playing the role of Britain's Queen Elizabeth parachutes from a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT)

image credit REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

After all the samba dancing and selfie-sticks, the athletes are presumably back to focusing on their respective competitions. Years of training will come down to seconds in the pool or on the track; the scrutiny of judges regarding mechanics and style; or on which team has the better day on the court or pitch.

It occurs to me that, as in most things in life, British comedy offers important lessons that can apply to many aspects of human endeavor. Vital truths lie beyond the laughs and these can benefit anyone striving to excel in sport.

For example, A Bit of Fry and Laurie demonstrate how important it is to start your training with an experienced and reputable coach.

 

One of the major roadblocks to athletic excellence is fear as Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) so adeptly illustrates.

 

The late, great Victoria Wood (it still hurts my heart to say that) bears witness to the absolute necessity for an athlete to have a dedicated and reliable support system.

 

In this sketch Big Train‘s Simon Pegg and Kevin Eldon showcase how working tirelessly to get the little things right can pay big dividends in the end.

 

And finally, don’t despair if your athletic passion isn’t even on the list of sports recognized by the IOC yet. The cast of Not the Nine O’ Clock News encourages you to always keep in fighting form in anticipation of the day when you get to the opportunity to achieve your Olympic dream.

 

Best of luck (and laughter) to all the athletes competing in Rio!

 

Agatha Raisin Series 1, Episode 5: Vicious Vet Sky 1 Ashley Jenson as Agatha Raisin

Agatha Raisin
Series 1, Episode 5: Vicious Vet
Sky 1

Fans of British murder mysteries will be chuffed to hear that streaming service Acorn TV has yet another exclusive U.S. premiere on the way. Hailed by The Times as a fun cross between Bridget Jones and Midsomer Murders  Agatha Raisin is a PR ace turned consulting detective who becomes entangled in mischief, mayhem, and murder when she decides to leave the rat race for early retirement in a small village in the Cotswolds. The pilot movie, the Quiche of Death, premieres on Monday, August 1, 2016, and the eight-episode Series 1 premieres the following week on Monday, August 8, 2016.

You might be wondering whether yet another amateur sleuth series is worth watching so let me introduce you to the force of nature that is Agatha Raisin.

First, Agatha Raisin is the creation of Scottish mystery writer M.C. Beaton. She debuted in the 1992 novel Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death and has appeared in at least one novel every year since. You may also be familiar with another of Beaton’s characters who got his own TV series – Hamish Macbeth.

Agatha is played by Scottish actress Ashley Jensen well known for her sitcom work in Catastrophe, Extras, Ugly Betty and her voice-overs in animated features such as Arthur Christmas, Gnomeo & Juliet and How to Train Your Dragon. Always stylish, Agatha traipses around her adopted village of Carsley in stiletto heels, colorful frocks and meticulously coiffed hair. She doesn’t hold back nor waits to be accepted, but forges ahead full-steam in pursuit of her goals. For one who so desperately wants to fit in, Ms. Raisin apparently can’t disguise her true self to save her life.

How, you may ask, does one who works in the field of shaping public perceptions about celebrities and corporations become a talented crime solver? Agatha has many transferable skills actually including her keen awareness of human nature. She also uses a common PR tool called a mood board to organize her thoughts and look for connections.

Working the Mood Board image credit Sky 1

Working the Mood Board      image credit Sky 1

While Agatha doesn’t make a great first impression on most of her fellow villagers, she’s not without a few allies. Detective Constable Bill Wong (Matt McCooey) is a great help with his police connections and puppy dog crush on Agatha. Ms. Raisin poached cleaner Gemma Simpson (Katy Wix) from a neighbor and they soon become fast friends. Gemma, sometimes reluctantly but always loyally, joins in on Agatha’s unorthodox investigations and is usually the voice of reason. Last but not least is Agatha’s former assistant Roy (Mathew Horne) who does much of the background research and helps her with her brainstorming sessions.

I leave you with this final factoid. Apparently before Agatha moved to Carsley, no one (in living memory anyway) had been murdered in this area of the Cotswolds. Much like Midsomer Murders, one wonders how so many violent crimes can take place in such an idyllic area without seriously depleting the local population. Is Agatha the most potent jinx in England? Or perhaps people had been victims of foul play before but the clueless police (a la Hot Fuzz) thought they were just unfortunate accidents and it took an outsider to see the truth.

Whatever the case, I found Agatha Raisin entertaining. Untimely ends come mostly to unpleasant residents. Agatha’s persistence and inquisitive nature make her a natural investigator; however, what makes her likable is her desire to make a new life, to escape loneliness and to strive to learn the truth whatever the danger. Ashley Jensen described Agatha as a “strong forthright, independent, driven, successful woman, who is both funny and flawed, a real woman of our time” and I’d agree with that.

 

image credit Catholic Herald

image credit Catholic Herald

As I write this the people of the UK are voting on a referendum to remain in or leave the European Union. You may have heard it referred to as the British Exit or Brexit. If you aren’t familiar with the term or were not aware that this momentous decision was nigh, here’s an a look at the arguments on both sides.

 

 

The Scottish referendum to leave or remain in the UK grabbed my interest in 2014 and I’ve kept an eye on UK politics ever since. For the Scottish vote and the 2015 general election I tried to inform myself and even stayed up to watch the streamed results live from my computer.

There was also a very helpful sitcom satire about the general election called Ballot Monkeys which put the party manifestos and public gaffes of the politicians on display in as close to real time as a scripted show could possibly do. This time around the same creators have given us Power Monkeys which attempts to parody the Leave and Remain camps.

I find the show’s decision to include speculation on what Vladimir Putin’s interest in Brexit  might be and a look at Trump’s failed pursuit of the female vote to be unnecessary and unsatisfying. However, I must admit there has been a degree of distraction and fatigue on my part fueled by the bizarreness that dominates the political climate in my own country.  In fact, I find the decision before the British people today to be eerily familiar to the tone of the US’ current divisive presidential race.

Campaign strategies for today’s referendum have included a crowd sourced documentary named simply Brexit: The Movie. It was produced to communicate the filmmaker’s view that the EU is an overly bureaucratic and corrupt institution which doesn’t work in Britain’s best interest.

 

On the other hand, several hundred British celebrities have signed an open letter stating their belief that it is better for Britain to work inside the EU framework than to stand apart and isolated from it.

 

And here is a situation where the two sides clashed in a very public confrontation.  This exchange involved a group of fishermen and, more flagrantly,  two very rich white men – United Kingdom Independence Party kingpin Nigel Farage and Remain advocate and musician Bob Geldof. Not as outrageous as what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth on a daily basis, but peculiar (and probably staged) all the same.

 

In an extreme and tragically related incident, Labour MP and Remain supporter Jo Cox was murdered last week. Thomas Mair who was arrested for the crime reportedly shouted “Put Britain first” while carrying out his attack. He also identified himself as”death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when appearing at his first court hearing. While there is no indication anyone in the Leave camp would ever encourage such an act, it’s obvious the toxic nature of this debate has spilled over into uncharacteristic violence by some agitated/emotionally unstable individuals.

Slain MP Jo Cox

 

i know it’s not my place to persuade anyone how to vote, especially someone in another country. But I do hope that in the privacy of the voting booth, the people of the UK will make their decisions with a clear head and realistic expectations. Be a good example to your cousins across the pond and remember that you can still, in the words of John Oliver, “relentlessly insult Europe, and quietly acknowledge how lost we’d be without it.”

PrisonersWives_CompleteSome months back my friends at Acorn TV sent me a DVD copy of a BBC drama series called Prisoners’ Wives. With only a passing glance at the cover, I dismissed it almost immediately. Face it, any show with “Wives” in the title is either a reality show about polygamy (Sister Wives), a diva fest (The Real Housewives of…) or a poorly done melodrama (Footballers’ Wives). Putting “Prisoners'” in front of the telltale “Wives” didn’t make it any more appealing.

Then one day as I was sorting through my growing stack of screeners and I gave this series a another look. First I saw there was some pretty fair talent involved including Polly Walker, Iain Glen, Nicola Walker, Anne Reid, Jason Watkins and David Bradley for a start. I also noticed that the series takes place in the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield. Give me a Northern setting and those lovely accents and that’s reason enough to watch in my book. Anyhow, I popped in the first disc and my mind was very quickly changed.

Prisoners’ Wives explores what happens to women – spouses, girlfriends, mothers and daughters – who are dealing with the incarceration of a significant other. This isn’t just about criminals and the bimbo wives who love them. From the first shock of the daunting visiting procedure to the normalization that comes with a long-term sentence, these ladies form an unlikely sorority and reach out to help one another when they can.

Polly Walker plays Francesca Miller, the wife of Paul (Iain Glen) a drug lord and longstanding inmate at the prison. She is a matriarch of sorts for the prisoners’ wives, but when we pick up her story, Frannie’s life is taking quite a drastic turn. Accustomed to the pampered lifestyle of a gangster’s wife, for the first time Mrs. Miller must get a job, try to reconcile with her dad (David Bradley) and take a more critical look at what her husband does for a living even while behind bars.

Polly Walker plays gangster wife Francesca  (image BBC)

Polly Walker plays gangster wife Francesca (image BBC)

 

Pippa Haywood plays a drab, timid and apprehensive widow, Harriet Allison. Her son Gavin (Adam Gillen) whom she grassed up by telling the police he was hiding a gun for a friend is impressionable and angry and Harriet is rather naive about the world he has just entered. Over the course of this hardship, Harriet finds new love and an inner strength she’d lacked since she lost her husband some years ago.

Pippa Haywood plays distraught mother Harriet Allison (image BBC)

Pippa Haywood plays distraught mother Harriet Allison (image BBC)

I must add Pippa’s performance was a revelation to me since I didn’t even recognize her until about three episodes in. Up until this time I knew her only as Joanna Clore, the bitter, abusive and rather slutty HR director on Green Wing. Harriet is Joanna’s polar opposite in every way.

While Francesca and Harriet carry over from the first to the second series, other characters come and go. They are women who love accused murderers and child molesters, convicted drug dealers and petty repeat offenders. Even when their stories are resolved, you understand that these women have journeyed through a very lonely and stressful time in their lives and will be forever changed.

I think the most satisfying part of the show is how each character, those behind bars and those left to pick up the pieces,  eventually take responsibility for the situation in which they find themselves. Choices are made and consequences must be paid. Some turned a blind eye to suspicious activity, others are bound up in co-dependency and a few let others take the blame for their own crimes. We could use more self-awareness and acceptance of reality in this world. In Prisoners’ Wives, it’s a ray of hope after so much chaos and pain.

 

In the end I found this drama to be much more substantial and engaging than I first thought. You come to care about the characters; cursing their misguided mistakes, cheering their progress and sadly nodding in sympathy for the things they can’t change. The complete series is currently available on Acorn TV in the US so give these wives a chance. I think you’ll find them both “real” and “desperate” but not in a soapy, reality way.

Forget the Queen’s birthday. It’s National Tea Day, an occasion to celebrate a hot beverage that inspires very strong feelings across the United Kingdom!

Twitter UK logo

Twitter UK logo

It’s been five years and a few months since I started my Twitter account.   A slow and frustrating process, I’ve learned by trial and error what and how to tweet. I like to think I’ve got a handle on this social media medium by now despite the fact I’ve only amassed 328 followers thus far. It’s definitely a two steps forward one step back sort of proposition.  I don’t know if being on Twitter has driven previously unreachable readers to my blogs, but I have found it to be rewarding as means of communication with all sorts of people.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to published authors about their books. I found @LissaKEvans to be particularly gracious and approachable.

I was sent movie stills for a library screening of Tell Them of Us (@ww1Film) though Twitter contact.

I have voted to rescue talented young people from being eliminated from TV singing competitions. (#VoiceSaveOwen)

Mostly I can discuss British telly and culture in instantaneous and verbally economical exchanges with a subset of people who know who and what I’m talking about. They’re my witty, supportive virtual friends and they include bloggers such as @FrivolousMonsta and @LukeCustardtv.

But if the fan girl in me is honest, I have to admit the possibility of celebrity contact is what brings me back to check my feed time and again. I follow mostly British comedians and other creative types because, above all, I want my Twitter life to be more sparkling and clever than my real one. While one can never be certain, it’s painfully obvious in some cases that the feed isn’t maintained by the actual celebrity. Some like the tweets of Noel Fielding (@noelfielding11) are obviously being generated by the man himself. Besides all the photos he’s sharing from his North American tour, who else would say something like this?

In a way, Twitter has become, for me, a sort of metaphysical autograph book if you will. What follows are examples of some of my close encounters with luminaries across the sea.

Chris O’Dowd aka @BigBoyler – Mr. O’Dowd follows me on Twitter which, in my universe anyhow, is a huge deal. I’m not sure how it happened, but my best explanation is that I was reading a tweet by Chris followed by the resulting replies when I came upon a spoiler for a movie O’Dowd was featured in called Calvary. I called the guy out for ruining the ending before people in the US had seen it and next thing I know, I get notified that Chris is following me! I like to think he liked my chutzpah, but he probably was trying to make up for the rogue tweeter’s faux pas. No matter, since then I’ve had no interactions with the lanky Irishman whatsoever, but at least he’s stayed around silently in the shadows, reading my tweets and smiling.

Chris O'Dowd twitter

 

Brenda Blethyn aka @BrendaBlethyn – More exciting than having this amazing actress follow me on Twitter (which she does) is the fact that I got to conduct a phone interview with her last year. When I tweeted about my experience, she kindly acknowledged our meeting. A classy lady and a judging by her tweets, an avid theater and arts supporter to boot.

Brenda Blethyn twitter

Count Arthur Strong aka @Arthur_Strong – I’ve had the great fortune to have several exchanges with Arthur (or the actor who created him, Steve Delaney). His tweets make and his sitcom make me laugh like nothing else. We’ve discussed trouser fires, show rankings and his  aversion to Game of Thrones. But my favorite was the very Arthurian answer he came up with below.

Count Arthur Strong twitter

Miranda Hart aka @mermhart- I never could have imagined I’d ever achieve Twitter communion with one of my British comedy idols, but it finally happened about a year ago. And just so you know, I kept my promise and went to see Spy in the theater. No lie, Miranda was in it quite a lot.

Miranda Hart twitter

 

Chetna Makan aka @chetnamakan- I have had likes and brief replies from several GBBO contestants including Richard Burr, Iain Watters and Luis Troyano. But I’ve found Chetna to be the most responsive of the former TV baking show contestants. She responds promptly and her appreciation of your interest and support feels so genuine.

Chetna Twitter

Reece Shearsmith aka @ReeceShearsmith- Now with Mr. Shearsmith I had to work a bit harder. I’d been tweeting complimentary remarks about his work in hopes of getting him to acknowledge my presence. Finally I pestered him for info about the upcoming series of Inside No. 9…and he took the bait!

Reece Shearsmith twitter

Others have retweeted and liked some of my input, most recently the two fine gentlemen you see pictured below. Each notification brings with it a little thrill that someone whose work I value has taken a moment to affirm my wish to connect with them.                                                        

Eddie Marsan @eddiemarsan

Eddie Marsan @eddiemarsan

     

Greg McHugh @gregjmchugh

 

In fact my very first celebrity “favorite” (now designated as “likes”) came from Russell Tovey aka @russelltovey. At that time I thanked him for his small but meaningful gesture which he then proceeded to “like” as well.

Russell Tovey twitter

 

I still have others in my sights including the aforementioned Noel Fielding, Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell and Sarah Millican to name a few. Just to clarify, I will not resort to the out and out plea for them to follow me because it’s my birthday or something. It’s annoying and requires no real thought. I will earn my tweets the hard way – with ingenuity, perseverance and maybe just a bit of old fashioned flattery. I can only imagine those hard earned tweets will be the sweetest of them all.

I’d really enjoy hearing who is in your Twitter “autograph book” or about your experiences in general. If you don’t follow me currently and would like to, you can remedy that by clicking the Follow button to your right under Telly Quotes and Other Tweetables!

 

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