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. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Finnemore. (I do not feel we know one another well enough to address on a first name basis)
Congratulations on a great series.
Perguin diplomacy made me laugh so much my eyes were watering and I had to stop driving to compose myself.
Great performances and beautiful writing.

Tealin said...

Ooh, hooray, more 'making-of' posts! Always fascinating, and adds all the more to the re-listens. It seems like, once again, the most unbelievable stuff is what's based on fact – history always delivers. Thank you for sharing those delicious primary documents!

("Hold me tight" in Hindi – definitely to be used in a dangling-from-edifices midnight-raid context, nothing suggesting personal impropriety at all, nope nope)

riflet said...

I appreciate you posting about the creation of this wonderful radio play. I hope we can anticipate more concerning the rest of the Double Acts.

You've created an immensely enjoyable entertainment. Thank you for it.

Katherine said...

Thanks for a terrific series so far. I had wondered if you were still writing them!

Thanks also for this insight into the history and your writing process. What is the significance of the dots in the notebook filled in (or not) with red ink?

For those interested in this historical episode, I also recommend "Punt, PI: Victoria's Voice"

ThePinkLady said...

Dear John

This second series of Double Acts is wonderful - beautifully written, exquisitely plotted, incomparably performed and equally funny, twisty and poignant. Everything we've come to expect from you, and somehow you carry on delivering. Thank you so much. Can't wait for next week's play.


Johanna Green said...

I love "making of" posts! This series is fantastic. Looking forward to next week's episode.

VB said...

I always feel that - perhaps as a side effect of my Britishness - overtly praising something somehow might let my lack of praise seem a tacit indictment of some other thing being less praiseworthy. So, rather than damn by omission; Fairies vs Princesses (too aggressive), F. Ronald Huggerman (one good joke stretched for a week), Email Russian Revolution (too long/annoying sound effect), and all the Pub bits of Kuala Lumpur are the things I dislike. The only ones mind.

Everything else you've ever written is spectacularly brilliant, bordering on almost flashy genius. Unquestionably the finest comedy writer today and getting damn close to Milligan in historical terms. Until now I considered either Treasure Island, or "A thousand strawberry lollies and the Princess of Lichtenstein" to be your masterpieces.

No longer. After nine listens in under a week, every single one as funny, clever, exciting and hummingbird-level beautiful as it was the first listen, Penguin Diplomacy has to be my favourite thing you've ever written.

If Fairies vs Princess is my least favourite and scores a 4/10, with an average bit of your work getting 8 or 9 on any objective scale, then Penguin Diplomacy just edges ahead of Zurich on about 15/10. My highlight has to be the offhand manner Sundergard (sp) describes his time in Java, just as people who've really seen such hideous times would describe them. A lesser writer would have laboriously pointed out the juxtaposition between there and Goodwill Island.

If I could reach through the internet and hug you with thanks, I would.

Unknown said...

Hurrah! The greatest comedy writer working today is BACK! :)
I have loved every episode of the series so far, but particularly loved The Goliath Window. It was gorgeous, in so many ways - many, many thanks!

Margaret Glover said...

This is a wonderful series. I have enjoyed all of them but I thought that Here's What We Do just edged ahead of the pack last night. Can't wait to hear you with the great Mr Palin next week!

Intrigued by the mention of every episode featuring someone who was in CP.
The Queen's Speech - obviously Stephanie Cole
Mercy Dash - Gus Brown was Martin Davenport in Rotterdam.
The Rebel Alliance - ? I can't work this one out. Help!
Penguin Diplomacy - Tom Goodman-Hill, Martin in Newcastle
Here's What We Do - Kieran Hodgson was King Maximilian in Vaduz
The Wroxton Box - obviously that's you.

Cyclic pudding said...

Whole heartedly agree with this. Penguin Diplomacy is utterly perfect as a piece of writing and performance. Not a single breath or word out of place. I have it on an almost continuous loop on iPlayer and every time is as enjoyable the first.

DedeDERdedeh name said...

The third quartile of popularity....I knew it well.

Anonymous said...

Thought I would look up the definition of 'treadle' and now wonder what on earth 'the cardboard-box machine' might be;
a lever worked by the foot and imparting motion to a machine.
verb: treadle; 3rd person present: treadles; past tense: treadled; past participle: treadled; gerund or present participle: treadling
operate (a machine) with a treadle.
"he was treadling the cardboard-box machine"

Bryan said...

Hello. As well as adding my praise, I wonder if I could ask for a reference for the quote about not having to visit a doctor - I'd like to cite it as an early example of telemedicine...

spud said...

A wonderful series, congratulations.

I work away a lot and so purchase all of your series to enjoy and make my time 'off watch' pass pleasantly. Are you going to release this series on itunes soon?
I think you are an unsung genius of British comedy. Thank you

Lothiriel said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post about the making of The Queen's Speech. I would love to read about the other episodes too, if you ever feel like writing about them as well.

I have to say, as much as I loved the first series of Double Acts, this second series is so incredibly excellent it surpassed all of my previous expectations. Each episode is pure joy for the ears, and I would have a hard time if I was ever asked to pick a favourite amongst them. The writing is so good, and clever, and funny; all the actors were superb in their interpretations, although a special mention goes to Stephanie Cole, who finally got to record that answerphone greeting by Queen Victoria which was mentioned in Rotterdam, and one Mr Finnemore who was ever so brilliant in The Wroxton Box.

Kelsey said...

This is fascinating! And to think my initial reaction to the episode was "I like it, but the premise is a bit farfetched, isn't it?"

I hope there is a similar post about the Wroxton Box. (And all of them, really, but especially Wroxton Box.) I don't know anything about trains but Percy and Alec had such fun I'm keen to learn more. Also, Michael Palin was reference in Mercy Dash, wasn't he? Was that a coincidence?

Philippa Sidle said...

I've come late to the second series of Double Acts, alas - too late for the first two episodes, which had fallen off of iPlayer before I realised they existed! I'll have to buy the official recording when it comes out. However, of the four that are left, they're all brilliant (of course!) but my favourite is the Wroxton Box. I second that I'd like to hear more about that.

Yang Kuo said...

If Fairies vs Princess is my least favourite and scores a 4/10, with an average bit of your work getting 8 or 9 on any objective scale, then Penguin Diplomacy just edges ahead of Zurich on about 15/10. My highlight has to be the offhand manner Sundergard (sp) describes his time in Java,


RLChina said...

Wow, after reading all of that, I can't wait (I am actually waiting, for my pre-ordered DA Series 2 to be downloadable from Audible - it's been like buying myself a Christmas present that I can't open).

After, like some of the others, listening to your brilliance (no Arthur-pun intended) many times, I often come back to you and Simon for favourite bits: Mark and Luke, Lewis and Clarke, Jekyll (sp?) and Hyde, I always crank up the volume when I know the two of you are coming up.

A request in relation to 'makings of' - I'd love to know more about how you stitch together an episode of a radio show - how do the sound effects get mixed with the dialogue, does somebody actually move away from the mike to sound farther away, or is that a sound effect in itself, etc. It all sounds so seamless, but there must be a lot of work involved.


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Harry Campbell said...

I think the correct spelling is "Henry Edmunds".
Just for, you know, the record.

Shaun said...

Wonderful just wonderful, the Wroxton Box is proper work of art, thank you

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Tony said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the series - Penguin Diplomacy especially was a work of comic beauty. Can't wait for you to get back from la belle France so you can tell us a bit more about how they came to be.

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Unknown said...

After his total inability to say penguin on the Graham Norton show, I do hope Cadbury Pringlebatch was one of the penguins in Penquin diplomacy. Enjoyed them all, and there's a fun Punt PI hunting for that second recording of Queen Victoria

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Peter said...

I have to agree with Unknown about Penguin Diplomacy, a near as perfect playlet, and wonderfully acted. And to add that I do hope Unknown regains their memory soon.

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