Miss­ing Alan B’stard… his cre­ators, Marks and Gran, talk to

As they turn 70, Marks and Gran tell Va­lerie Grove about 40 years of com­edy-writ­ing and the mon­ster they cre­ated for Rik May­all

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Va­lerie Grove

What would Alan B’stard have made of the cur­rent Brexit chaos? Alas, since the death of Rik May­all, who played the in­cor­ri­gi­ble Tory MP in The New States­man from 1987 to 1992, we shall never know. Even though his cre­ators, Lau­rence Marks and Mau­rice Gran, have flirted with re­viv­ing him, they’ve de­cided it’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

‘Tele­vi­sion doesn’t deal in satire any more,’ says Gran. (And no ac­tor would fol­low May­all.)

So we’ll have to make do with B’stard in a box set, to re­mind our­selves how hor­ri­bly close to present-day politics was B’stard’s House of Com­mons – back­stab­bing, self-serv­ing, op­por­tunis­tic, un­prin­ci­pled and vi­cious.

I sat be­twixt Marks (tall and pale) and Gran (short and dark) at an Oldie lunch – they’d come, as read­ers and Arse­nal fans, to hear Tony Adams – and got a dou­ble dose of ‘Lo and Mo’, their email name. Their lives have been en­twined for 44 years, ‘longer than most mar­riages’. Barry Cryer no­ticed that they even share a credit card.

Marks is 70 on 8th De­cem­ber. Gran turns 70 next Oc­to­ber. Ev­ery day, Mo mo­seys over to Lo’s place, Sher­borne House, Glouces­ter­shire, and they work (talk) all morn­ing. ‘Or I chat; he puffs,’ says Gran, as Marks is a pipe man. A break for a posh pub lunch or a game of ten­nis – they share a per­sonal trainer, too – then back to work again. Lo drove me there from the near­est sta­tion in his Merc, num­ber­plate ALOMO.

As we passed the turn­ing to Swin­brook, Ox­ford­shire, where the Mit­fords lie in the church­yard, Marks told me he plans to be buried there, ‘along­side Nancy, Diana and Unity’. Shock! Is this a joke? When Lo and Mo were writ­ing their ex­cel­lent 1998 drama se­ries about Sir Oswald Mosley, the beau­ti­ful Diana de­clined to meet them. So they had no chance to tell her that Lo first met Mo (aged 11) at the Fins­bury Park Jewish Boys’ Club in 1960, ‘when there was a resur­gence of Mosley’s Black­shirts’. Look on Lo’s burial plan as a post­hu­mous snook-cock­ing. We drew up at Marks’s stately pile. ‘Here once lived Lord and Lady Sher­borne, with two chil­dren and 104 staff,’ Marks an­nounced.

The es­tate was be­queathed to the Na­tional Trust by the 7th Lord S, who so hated or­di­nary peo­ple that he had a nearby road low­ered, to oblit­er­ate the sight from his thou­sand-acre park. The vil­lage shop stocks both bel­uga and sevruga caviar, re­flect­ing the pros­per­ity of this cor­ner of Eng­land.

Marks lives in one of five state apart­ments: he says the coun­cil flat where he grew up could be fit­ted twice into the sit­ting room. Here we sit, sur­rounded by paint­ings and books. Its tow­er­ing ma­hogany book­shelves he got half-price, af­ter bet­ting the an­tiques dealer they would fit. Gran and his wife, Carol, live more mod­estly in Chel­tenham. They have two chil­dren; so the child­less Marks – who also owns a place in

Switzer­land – is richer. When Gran ar­rives, cof­fee is served by Marks’s German wife, Brigitte, a for­mer ac­tress. They met in 1984 on the set of Auf Wieder­se­hen, Pet in which she played Dag­mar, the classy woman in the build­ing-site of­fice.

In a world that’s lost Gal­ton and Simpson, and Muir and Nor­den, Marks and Gran be­long to a dwin­dling breed. Their oc­to­ge­nar­ian friends Dick Cle­ment and Ian La Fre­nais (of Por­ridge fame) flour­ish in Cal­i­for­nia.

Their cru­cial en­counter was Marks’s chance meet­ing on a train with Barry Took, co-writer with Marty Feldman of Round the Horne. Could they send him some of their sketches? Took saw at once that they had some­thing, and got them to write rou­tines for Frankie How­erd. There fol­lowed a seam­less suc­ces­sion of sit­coms: Birds of a Feather, Shine on Har­vey Moon, Good­night Sweet­heart.... And then The New States­man. No­body would have pic­tured Rik May­all, the fran­tic Young One, as a Tory MP. But, in 1986, May­all asked Marks and Gran to write him a char­ac­ter ‘with my worst char­ac­ter­is­tics – de­praved, mean, vi­o­lent, cow­ardly, greedy’.

‘You want to be a Con­ser­va­tive back­bencher?’ said Marks. (Marks is a card-car­ry­ing Labour man who voted twice for Cor­byn and, yes, has con­fronted him about anti-semitism.) ‘Rik knew noth­ing about politics, which sur­prised us, but he loved the idea of “Alan Bas­tard”.’

York­shire TV balked at ‘Bas­tard’ – but didn’t mind ‘B’stard’. When pitch­ing, the writ­ers sent in B’stard’s Who’s Who en­try: recre­ations ‘droit du seigneur and crush­ing the poor un­der my heel’. A stu­dio was booked be­fore they’d even writ­ten an episode. (They’d just been to Hol­ly­wood and were hot stuff.)

May­all amazed ev­ery­one: so hand­some, so cute in a suit; such a fine ac­tor. And B’stard took off in­stantly. Ed­wina Cur­rie noted that YCS be­gan ap­ing him: ‘The suits got slicker; the hair longer; the smiles wider.’ Next time a Tory MP was caught cheat­ing on his wife, the Sun head­line read, ‘What a B’stard!’

B’stard’s York­shire con­stituency ‘Hal­tem­price’, then de­funct, is now the seat of David Davis. But it was Michael Portillo, Marks’s lo­cal South­gate MP, who gave them back­ground de­tail, and showed them round the House. ‘A lovely man,’ says Marks – and a gram­mar-school boy, un­like ‘Piers Fletcher-dervish’ (named af­ter a firm of solic­i­tors) who was based on ‘all the dick­heads we’d met who went to pub­lic schools, es­pe­cially Eton’.

Some of B’stard’s more out­ra­geous

vi­o­lence was May­all-in­vented. How heart­lessly we chor­tled to see him kick­ing the Zim­mer frame out of an old lady’s grasp. But there was an out­cry when he tor­tured Fletcher-dervish’s teddy, snip­ping off his ears and set­ting him on fire.

Au­di­ence laugh­ter some­times got so out of con­trol that the warm-up man had to ap­peal for calm. I shan’t for­get the scene where Alan tapped on the door of No 10 late one night. Mar­garet Thatcher’s voice was heard from in­side, whispering, ‘Ce­cil?’. Alan mur­mured, ‘Should I use your back en­trance?’

Or the dark­ened ho­tel room, where his voice was heard ask­ing, ‘How was it for you?’ and get­ting the re­sponse ‘How was what?’ An­other day, Alan was on the phone telling ‘Squidgy’ not to keep on ring­ing him at the of­fice. How did they get away with it? ‘We had very good lawyers,’ says Gran.

In their pre­vi­ous lives, Gran was a civil ser­vant and Marks was a jour­nal­ist on the Sun­day Times. One day in Fe­bru­ary 1975, 26-year-old Lau­rence Marks was sent to cover the Moor­gate tube dis­as­ter which killed 43 peo­ple. A day later, he dis­cov­ered that his fa­ther, Bernard, was among the dead. Harry Evans gave him a year to in­ves­ti­gate what hap­pened, ‘which proved a ther­a­peu­tic ex­er­cise’. Talk­ing to the be­reaved, he be­lieves, ex­or­cised his grief.

When they recorded Desert Is­land Discs (four discs each), Marks was about to have a prostate op­er­a­tion. For his lux­ury, he asked, ‘Can I take my catheter?’ His cho­sen book would be one he’s never read: his diary.

‘Take her into the of­fice,’ said Gran, ‘and scare the s*** out of her.’ I was shown yards of leather­bound vol­umes dat­ing from 1964: at 2,000 words a day, Marks out­strips Tony Benn. Later, he said that, af­ter his death, I could read about my visit on page 10,459.

Lat­est projects in­clude a mu­si­cal of Good­night Sweet­heart, and maybe a trans­gen­der play. They must con­tend with that oldie hazard: com­mis­sion­ing edi­tors younger than you. ‘Teenagers just down from Cam­bridge who tell you how to im­prove your script,’ says Gran.

How I wish we still had B’stard. There haven’t been many laughs in Brexit so far. In 1992, we heard him pro­claim, ‘Eng­land is the great­est coun­try in the world… the na­tion that pro­duced Shake­speare, Dick­ens...’ while Europe was ‘the con­ti­nent that pro­duced Napoleon, Hitler...’

‘If Rik was still with us,’ say Lo and Mo, ‘we’d still be hav­ing fun. We’d be in ec­stasy.’

Tory story: Rik May­all and Mar­sha Fitza­lan as Alan and Sarah B’stard, 2006

Birds of a feather: Gran (left) at Marks’s pile, Sher­borne House

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.