Sunday 2 July 2017

Double Acts - The Queen's Speech

Well, I have finally finished writing this series of Double Acts - only five weeks after they started going out -  and so have time to write something about Double Acts. The first of the series, The Queen's Speech, starring Stephanie Cole and Kerry Godliman, is still available on iPlayer for the next five days.

There really was - and is - a short recording of Queen Victoria speaking, which you can hear here. (Skip straight to 1.19 for the most cleaned up version, but don't expect to able to make out much.) 

And it really was made at the end of a demonstration of a newly invented recording machine - not the  phonograph, but the graphophone. For a full account of this demonstration, and the fate of the wax cylinder afterwards, read Paul Tritton's 'The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria'. In it, you will find that there is a (remote) possibility that another cylinder exists, in which Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India blurts the word 'tomatoes', because someone is pointing at some tomatoes. The grandchildren of the inventor of the graphophone had memories of a different version which they listened to - without much interest - as children. 

Even if it never happened, the idea of a Victorian inventor gravely indicating some tomatoes in the hope of provoking a comment from the Queen seemed like a promising start.

This one was one of the three research-heavy episodes of the series, and a surprising amount of it is true, or based in truth. Victoria really did have what she referred to as 'treats' - performances by conjurors, singers, and even comedians in the afternoons at Balmoral or Osbourne. She really did try to learn Hindustani from her 'Munshi', Abdul Karim; and the phrase she quotes: 'Anda thik ubla nahi hai', meaning (supposedly) 'The egg is not yet boiled' is one of the ones in the pocket-book the Munshi made for her, along with 'The poor boy has a bad pain in his hand', 'The tea is always bad at Osbourne', 'You will miss the Munshi very much' and... 'Hold me tight'. I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation.

Other true bits: Inventors really were a bit at a loss about what possible use a machine that records sound could be, and Mabel's daftest suggestion is lifted straight from the real inventor of the graphophone, Henry Edmonds:

Oh, and Victoria really did both dislike Gladstone, and find him very dull. And perhaps with reason. Here he is writing to her in the year The Queen's Speech is set, trying to say he's glad it didn't rain in Liverpool:

Of course, the moment I began to write Queen Victoria as a character, there was only one actor I wanted to play her. In the first series of Double Acts, producer David and I deliberately chose not to use any of the actors who had appeared in Cabin Pressure (apart from me, obviously), because we wanted it to have a chance to establish itself as its own thing. For the second series, however, we  felt able to abandon that restriction - with great relief - and indeed someone who appeared in C.P. appears in all six episodes. Although one of them is incredibly hard to spot...

So, anyway, we crossed our fingers and asked Stephanie, and thank God she said yes. She's truly wonderful in it. As is Kerry Godliman, one of the very few actors in the world who could hold their own against Stephanie Cole squared by Queen Victoria. Of the shadowy figure who played Gladstone and the Sergeant, though; little is known. I mean, where would I find someone who could do both Victoriana and Shouting...?

A final note on the machine: I am informed that David Tyler, who co-edits the show, as well as producing, directing, and script-editing it (it's basically more his show than mine) never wants to hear another treadle as long as he lives.