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Posts Tagged ‘Victoria Wood’

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!

 

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Trollied with Miriam Margoyles image credit Sky 1

Trollied with Miriam Margoyles as a checkout operator
image credit Sky 1

I realize I haven’t talked about things I’ve learned about the UK by watching British TV much lately which, of course, was the whole premise of this blog in the first place. Considering I’ve been doing this for over five years now, it’s inevitable that I would encounter fewer new lessons. Nevertheless I’ve resolved to pay more attention so that I may share these small yet interesting tidbits with you. Because it’s the little things that make up a culture, after all.

This time around I wanted to shine a light on grocery store cashiers. In the US, cashiers stand at their registers while in the UK checkout girls (or guys?) sit at their tills.

 

British customers empty out their trolleys and gather up their shopping after the lot has been has scanned.  In the US, it’s far more likely the cashier (or a teenage employee hired specifically to put your purchases in bags) will take care of this part of the transaction. They may even load up your cart for you.

 

In both countries however, you’re bound to encounter an employee who is new to the job and/or not quite up to speed.

 

I should mention the Aldi caveat. In my American grocery experience, this is the only store I’ve visited where the cashiers sit and the customers pack up their own shopping. Bear in mind Aldi’s is a German company so it makes sense they would emulate the European model.

Why do we Americans force our cashiers to stand for hours on end when they can do their job sitting just as well? I have several theories –

Perhaps it’s our Puritan work ethic.

We recognize swollen feet and aching knees as a sign of a job well done. (As a sufferer of lower back pain, I applaud the more humane treatment of checkout staff by UK grocery retailers.)

If you’re standing, the customer will get the impression they are receiving superior customer service.

Grocery employees in the UK are better unionized.

I really don’t know, but I’m interested in your take, be you British, American or other.

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Coronation Street

As a British soap opera newbie, last week I asked my readers to tell me which long-running serial I should watch. The people (all 31 or you) have spoken and with over 48 percent of the vote, Coronation Street is the victor. In a close second place, almost 42 percent of you cast your ballot for EastEnders. Emmerdale got two votes and one of you said don’t bother watching any at all. Hollyoaks went away empty handed.

While not exactly a clear mandate, I accept the the voters’ will and the challenge to give Corrie a chance. And if I do become obessed and I stop writing about any other telly topic, you only have yourselves to blame.

Look for my thoughts on this new viewing experience in a month or so. In the meantime I’ve already started my research with a this little gem from Victoria Wood. With the help of Julie Walters and Lill Roughley, the comediennes do a clever parody of 1960’s era Coronation Street including some retro spoilers.

 

Another thing I learned…Anne Reid, who currently plays Celia Dawson-Buttershaw in Last Tango in Halifax, (a melodrama in its own right) played the Valerie Barlow mentioned in the sketch.

Thanks to those of you who had your say in my poll! Wish me luck and we’ll talk again when I get back from the Rovers Return.

 

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I don’t often do a straightforward review of a tv series, but I’ve just spent the last week watching the sixteen precious episodes which make up the entire run of the sitcom series, dinnerladies, and I feel the need to express my opinions.

Victoria Wood – creator, sole writer, theme song composer and star of dinnerladies. Overachieve much?

First of all, how was I unaware of Victoria Wood for such a long time? She’s done just about everything a comedic creative-type person can and then some.  She even performs her own humorous songs in her live shows.  I’m doubly surprised she’s never been on my radar since I’ve been a fan of Julie Walters for years but never saw any of their many collaborations.

dinnerladies  takes place in a factory canteen in Northern England. The heart of the show is deputy catering manager, Brenda Furlong (played by Wood).  Bren is dependable, motherly and the slightly frazzled voice of reason among her co-workers. While she has an extensive knowledge of films, her vocabulary choices tend to get a little muddled.  Maybe it’s best I just introduce you to her this way:

 

Besides the fact that it’s a funny program which, in a perfect world, all sitcoms should be, here are the reasons I was so taken with this series:

1. It has a top-notch ensemble.

Ah, those floral overall uniforms…

The dinnerladies themselves – bickering, middle-aged pals Dolly and Jean; dim but sweet Anita; and less-than-hardworking smart mouth, Twinkle are the core cast members, of course. However every recurring character gets a chance to step forward and be a part of the canteen’s colorful world.  Phillipa, the well-intentioned human resources director, is always a bit too disorganized to really be of any help. Handyman Stan, that oft declared son of a desert rat, is fiercely dedicated to flexible parking, toaster repair and his friends.  Tony, the catering manager, is in the unenviable position of being the lone male in a kitchen full of female hormones.  I suspect the only thing that keeps him coming in to work is his feelings for his deputy.  Even Norman, the bread delivery man has a back story; he’s agoraphobic which apparently resulted from falling off a diving board in Guernsey.

And then there’s scene stealer, Petula Gordino…

Bren’s nymphomanic mother, Petula, played by Julie Walters, only three years Victoria Wood’s senior.

Bren’s mother is a surreal character who habitually blows into the canteen unannounced spouting delusional stories of her connections to celebrities and her high-flying lifestyle. For example, “As Gerard Depardieu said to me that day in Douville, ‘What’s the point in having a big nose if you can’t jam a banana up it?'” Of course the life in Petula’s mind is in sharp contrast to her obvious bag lady existence, living in a caravan and constantly pestering Bren for money and other favors.

2. It’s touching

Despite the overall witty writing and humorously flawed characters, serious topics are broached. As the series progresses, we find that, despite her outwardly pleasant and positive attitude, Bren has had a difficult life. Her mother abandoned her at a young age leaving her to be raised in care. Throughout much of the series, Tony is battling cancer. Several characters lose a parent.  Other somber topics include company downsizing, divorce, domestic violence and unintended pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong, humor is at the forefront of dinnerladies but these real problems let the audience in on a tender side to characters who might otherwise be seen as caricatures.

3. It has a great love story to root for

Bren and Tony fancy one another but seem to be constantly dancing around the subject.  He treats her like a mate so when he actually suggests going out, she doesn’t know that he’s sincere.  On the other hand, Bren, whom everyone else goes to for advice, lacks the confidence or self-esteem to undertake a romantic relationship head on.  There are many false starts between these two and when I was on the verge of giving up hope, Ms. Wood allowed her characters a bit of happiness.  It takes a talented writer to know how far to push your audience in order to get the most satisfaction from a storyline yet not drive them away…and I was just about there, Victoria.

4. It really made me pay attention

I normally make a habit of turning on subtitles whenever they’re available. It helps verify that I am following the flow of conversation and catching any slang terms of which I may still be ignorant. With dinnerladies, I had to  watch series one on YouTube and series 2 on a region 2 dvd set, neither of which had closed captions. This show takes place in the Manchester area, setting of many a quality English tv program, so my ear is attuned to the variations of this regional accent.  Nonetheless, I found I had to listen very closely to Twinkle and, at times Bren, in order to catch what they were saying.

In addition, a majority of the jokes from this series rely on pop culture references. While I try to keep on top of these things, I still don’t know every game show presenter, news personality and variety performer that lives in the psyche of UK audiences. For a small country, they sure have a large proportion of famous people.  Maybe if I subscribed to the Daily Mail I’d be more up-to-date on my minor British celebrities.

Typical Daily Mail front page; however I already knew who Lenny Henry and Dawn French were.

But instead of letting these dialect and cultural differences put me off, I took them as a challenge.  Google, my remote control rewind button and all my powers of concentration kept me in good stead and I’m glad I stuck with the show because I really believe it’s an example of the best in British comedy telly.

In case you didn’t pick up on my enthusiasm, I would give dinnerladies two thumbs up, 5 stars and fresh tomatoes.  In other words, I thought it was good.

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