Laugh­ing with the sit­com kings

MARKS AND GRAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN NATHAN

THERE IS some­thing of the dou­ble act about com­edy writ­ers Lau­rence Marks and Mau­rice Gran. And it is un­der­stand­able con­sid­er­ing that they have writ­ten some of the best loved, long­est run­ning sit­coms on Bri­tish TV, in­clud­ing Birds of a Feather, now re­ceiv­ing a new lease of life on ITV.

But be­fore the re­vival of Birds, Marks and Gran had par­tially given up on tele­vi­sion. Ex­ec­u­tives were turn­ing to a younger gen­er­a­tion of com­edy writ­ers. So the vet­er­ans turned to the stage, for which they have pro­duced two jukebox mu­si­cals — the Olivier-nom­i­nated Dream­boats and Pet­ti­coats and its miniskirted se­quel Dream­boats and Miniskirts — and, via ra­dio, the plays Von Ribben­trop’s Watch and their lat­est, Love Me Do. A love story set in Lon­don dur­ing the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis, its the­atri­cal open­ing is at Wat­ford Palace next month.

“You re­alise it’s about the first thing we’ve done that hasn’t got any Jews in it,” says Gran, mind­ful of who he is be­ing in­ter­viewed by. You’re still Jews though, I say. “Ap­par­ently,” he replies.

“We had this de­bate last Thurs­day,” says Marks, who de­scribes his lin­eage as rab­bini­cal. “My sis­ter Shirley asked us if we still felt Jewish. We were sit­ting in Stan­more eat­ing salt beef at the time.”

To­day there is no salt beef on view. We are in the can­teen at the ITV premises on Lon­don’s South Bank. Marks has with him a pile of scripts printed on pink pa­per. They are for the new se­ries of Birds of a Feather, whi c h b e g i n s s h o o t i n g i n Oc­to­ber and will start on ITV just be­fore Christ­mas.

They are a com­ple­men­tary yet con­tra­dic­tory pair. Marks is pale and long, Gran is tanned and round. Marks is mea­sured and thought­ful, the fast-talk­ing Gran has a jit­tery im­pa­tience about him. He is also the more cau­tious of the two when it comes to ex­press­ing sat­is­fac­tion that they are not only back on tele­vi­sion, but re­spon­si­ble for ITV’s big­gest com­edy hit in decades. For in­clud­ing the re­peat show­ings, the new Birds of a Feather is pulling in au­di­ences of up to 12 mil­lion.

Cru­cially the show has kept its core char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Les­ley Joseph as Dorien, a role that Lo and Mo, as the writ­ers are known in the biz, based on the Jewish fe­male denizens of a Finch­ley ten­nis club. “Ex­pen­sive hair, nails, track­suits and rac­quets — and more in­ter­ested in the ten­nis coaches than the ten­nis,” says Gran.

A third of its view­ing fig­ure would con­sti­tute a hit th­ese days. At BBC1, which re­port­edly only of­fered the show a Christ­mas spe­cial, con­troller Danny Co­hen must be kick­ing him­self.

Yet it is only a few years since the Marks and Gran story was look­ing very dif­fer­ent. “We had closed our pro­duc­tion com­pany and were per­ceived as re­tired,” Gran re­calls.

Pitch­ing to a younger gen­er­a­tion of ex­ec­u­tives, who were minded to turn to a younger gen­er­a­tion of com­edy writ­ers, had be­come no fun at all.

“You get to the stage where you think you just don’t want to go through this non­sense any more,” Gran says. “But

PHOTO: MAX LA­COMBE

PHOTO: ITV

Fun­ny­oldgame:Lau­rence Mark­sandMau­riceGran and( be­low) Birds of a Feather stars Les­ley Joseph, Pauline Quirke­andLin­daRob­son

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