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Ben Elton
Born 3 May 1959 (1959-05-03) (age 50)
Catford, London, England, UK
Occupation comedian, writer and director
Spouse(s) Sophie Gare
Children Three children
Parents Father: Physicist and educational researcher Lewis Elton

Benjamin Charles "Ben" Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English-born British-Australian comedian, author, playwright and director. He was a leading figure in the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, while more recently he has become known for his work as a novelist.

Contents

Personal life

Elton was born in Catford, London, the son of an English teacher mother and the physicist and educational researcher Lewis Elton. He is the nephew of the historian Sir G. R. Elton. Elton's father is of German Jewish descent and his mother is of English background.[1][2] He studied at Stillness Junior School and Godalming Grammar School in Surrey, South Warwickshire College (Stratford upon Avon) and the University of Manchester. Elton is married to Sophia Gare (an Australian saxophonist) and has three children (two sons and one daughter). He lives in Fremantle, Western Australia and in Sussex, England. [3] Elton has had dual British/Australian citizenship since 2004.[4]

Work

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Television

His first television appearance was a stand-up performance on the BBC1 youth and music programme The Oxford Road Show. His first TV success though was at the age of 23 as co-writer of the television sitcom The Young Ones, in which he occasionally appeared.

In 1983/84 he wrote and appeared in Granada Television's sketch show Alfresco, which was also notable for early appearances by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane. In 1985, Elton produced his first solo script for the BBC with his comedy-drama series Happy Families, starring Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson. Elton appeared in the fifth episode as a liberal prison governor. Shortly afterwards, he reunited Mayall and Edmondson with their Young Ones co-star Nigel Planer for the showbiz send-up sitcom Filthy Rich and Catflap.

In 1985 Elton began his successful writing partnership with Richard Curtis. Together they wrote Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third (in one episode, Elton appeared as a bomb-wielding anarchist) and Blackadder Goes Forth. Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson, was a worldwide hit, winning four BAFTAs and an Emmy.

Elton and Curtis were inspired to write Blackadder Goes Forth upon finding the First World War to be a particularly apt subject for a situation comedy. This series, which dealt with greater, darker themes than prior Blackadder episodes, was widely praised for Curtis's and Elton's scripts, in particular the final episode. Before writing the series, the pair read a number of books about the war and found that

Actually, all the lead up to the first world war was very funny, all the people coming from communities where they'd never bumped into posh people...and all being so gung ho and optimistic...the first hundred pages of any book about the world war are hilarious, then of course everybody dies.[5]

Elton and Curtis also wrote Atkinson's 1986 stage show, The New Review, and Mr Bean's infamous "exam" episode.

Elton became a stand-up comedian primarily to showcase his own writing, but became one of Britain's biggest selling live acts.[6] After a regular slot on Saturday Live — later moved and renamed Friday Night Live — which was seen as a UK version of the USA's Saturday Night Live, he became the host of the programme.

In 1990 he starred in his own stand-up comedy and sketch series entitled The Man from Auntie, which had a second series in 1994. (The title plays on The Man from UNCLE; "Auntie" is a nickname for the BBC). In 1989 Elton won the Royal Television Society Writers' Award.

The Ben Elton Show (1993) followed a format similar to that of The Man from Auntie and featured (somewhat incongruously) Ronnie Corbett, a comedian of the "old guard" that the "alternative comedians" of the 1980s were the direct alternative to, as a regular guest. It was Elton's last high-profile network programme in the UK as a stand-up comedian.

In April 2007, Get a Grip, a new show, began broadcasting on ITV1. Featuring a combination of "comic sketches" (similar to those seen on The Ben Elton Show) and staged studio discussion between Elton and 23-year-old Alexa Chung, the show's aim was to "contrast Elton's middle-aged viewpoint with Chung's younger perspective" (although Elton was wholly responsible for the scripts).

In a 2007 interview with Third Way Magazine, Elton accused the BBC of allowing jokes about vicars, but not imams. "And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the communities have about provoking the radical elements of Islam".[7]

Behind the camera

Elton also wrote and produced The Thin Blue Line, a studio-based sitcom set in a police station, also starring Rowan Atkinson, which ran for two series (in 1995 and 1996). A prime-time family show lacking the edge of his earlier work, its traditional format and characters won it the 1995 British Comedy Award and both the public and professional Jury Awards at Reims.

He also wrote the six-part sitcom Blessed, starring Ardal O'Hanlon, which aired on BBC1 in 2005.

Radio

Elton co-starred with Adrian Edmondson on a sitcom based on the song "Teenage Kicks" for BBC Radio 2. A television version of Teenage Kicks for ITV has been made; Elton appeared in the pilot but was replaced by Mark Arden when it went to series production.

Novels

He has published thirteen novels since 1989, all published by Black Swan (an imprint of Transworld), except for Stark, originally published by Sphere Books, which was made into an Australian TV serial in 1993 starring Elton.

Most of his books deal with significant topics of the time and arguably of the future; from Stark's themes of early environmental awareness to Blind Faith's analysis of today's Facebook culture.

On a publicity tour for Past Mortem in 2004, Elton mused on the high school reunion theme and his own drama college reunion: "We’d had a very happy time all together, so there were no old scores to be settled really, we’d been a pretty happy bunch. And yet one person, who’d been a bit of a golden boy – he certainly went out with a girl I was besotted and unrequitedly in love with – he came up and he said, ‘Why did you come? Was it to show off?’. That really surprised me, that anyone would think that … he came kind of carrying my agenda. It was weird. I hasten to add I didn’t think my life to be more successful than anybody else’s. If you’re happy and honest and fulfilled in what you do, then you’re having a successful life."[8]

Films

Ben Elton had appeared in amateur dramatic productions as a youth, notably as The Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver! [9]

While previously appearing in bit parts in his own TV series, he began his professional film acting career when he starred as CD in Stark, the Australian/BBC TV series adaptation of his novel, released in 1993. This ABC co-production was directed by Nadia Tass and filmed in Australia.

He played Giles to Michael Keaton's Detective Trotter in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Behind the camera

Elton wrote and directed the film adaptation of his novel Inconceivable, which was released under the title Maybe Baby (2000) starring Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson. It was a moderate UK success and was distributed globally.[10] The film was also nominated for a prize at Germany's Emden Film Festival.

Musicals

Elton collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on The Beautiful Game in 2000, writing the book and lyrics (Lloyd Webber wrote the music). The Beautiful Game won the London Critics Circle Award for best new musical. Elton went on to write a number of compilation shows featuring popular songs taken from the back catalogues of pop/rock artists. The first of these was the musical We Will Rock You with music by the rock band Queen. This was successful in London and won the 2003 Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best New Musical. It has since opened in the US, Australia, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Canada. Tonight's the Night, based on the songs of Rod Stewart, opened in November 2003. Elton most recently worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the sequel to his 1986 blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies.

Stage

Elton studied Drama at the University of Manchester and has written three West End plays.

  • Gasping (1990) was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It starred Hugh Laurie and featured the voice of Stephen Fry.
  • Silly Cow (1991) again performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It was written for and starred Dawn French.
  • Popcorn (1996) was adapted for the stage and went on a UK-wide tour. It also toured Australia in a production starring Marcus Graham and Nadine Garner in its Eastern-States seasons. Popcorn won the TMA Barclays Theatre Award for best new play and the Olivier Award for best comedy. The Paris production of Popcorn ran for a year and was nominated for seven Molière Awards.
  • Blast From the Past (1998) was also adapted for the stage and was produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Stand-up comedy

In 1981, when his live act took off, Elton was hired by The Comedy Store in London as its compère.

In 2005 Elton did his first stand-up tour since 1997, touring the UK with "Get a Grip". He toured Australia and New Zealand with the same show in 2006.

Awards

In 2007, Ben Elton was awarded an Honorary Rose for lifetime achievement at the Rose d'Or festival. He was also made a Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, in recognition of the work that he has carried out with students.

Politics

Prior to the 1987 general election (UK), Elton lent his support to Red Wedge by participating in a comedy tour organised by the campaign. [11]

In 1998 Elton was named in a list of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour Party (UK). [12]

Criticism

Toby Young summarises often repeated criticisms when he writes:

Ben Elton. Do you know this guy? He started out as an "alternative" comedian, railing against Thatcherism and the like, and now earns a fortune writing the librettos for truly awful West End musicals. I mean, his name has become a byword for shameless hackery. He's the biggest sell-out of his generation.[13]

Though in an earlier column, Young said that a good deal of the dislike of Elton "is attributable to sour grapes" and concluded that Elton "may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Britain would surely be a poorer place without him."[14]

Elton has also been criticised for writing a musical with Conservative Party supporter Andrew Lloyd Webber. In his defence, Elton has said "if I were to refuse to talk to Tories, I would narrow my social and professional scope considerably. If you judge all your relationships on a person's voting intentions, I think you miss out on the varieties of life." He is also one of the few items to have been put into Room 101 twice: first by Anne Robinson in 2001, and then by Mark Steel.[15][16] In 2009, his ad hominem jibes at Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were deemed by Peter Hitchens to be lacking in "wit, style or substance."[17]

Elton says of criticism towards him "I would have loved a honeymoon period, but I've been irritating journos from the beginning. Originally I was knocked for being too left-wing, and now apparently I've sold out and I'm too right-wing, but all the time I've been being me, and that certainly isn't the person I recognise in anything that's written about me." He denies being anti-establishment though, "I wrote a sitcom for the BBC when I was 21! How the fuck can I be anti-establishment? From the first interview I ever did, I talked about Morecambe and Wise, and every time they wanted me to talk about Lenny Bruce I'd say, 'Yeah, he's fine, but he doesn't make me laugh the way Eric'n'Ernie do." He also points out he was a socialist at a time when "the media was on the whole slavishly worshipping of Thatcher".[18] He said of his political views "I believe in the politics of Clement Attlee. I'm a Welfare State Labour voter."[19]

He parodied himself though in the sketch 'Benny Elton' for Harry Enfield's Television Programme in 1994, which saw him sending up his 'right on' Socialist image as a politically correct spoilsport chasing Page Three models around a park to chastise them and tricking heterosexual couples into becoming gay.[20]

References

  1. ^ Sunday Star Times. "Elton sees stupid future - Entertainment news, gossip & music, movie & book reviews on Stuff.co.nz". Stuff.co.nz. http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/4289797a4501.html. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  2. ^ "no need. | Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (, 2004)". Accessmylibrary.com. 2004-04-17. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-21030291_ITM. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  3. ^ Ben Elton set to call Freo home | The West Australian
  4. ^ Ben Elton to showcase Western Australia | Tourism Western Australia
  5. ^ I Have a Cunning Plan - 20th Anniversary of Blackadder, BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast 23 August 2003. Excerpts available at bbc.co.uk/comedy/blackadder/interviews/
  6. ^ "Brisbane - Ben Elton - Queensland Performing Arts Centre - ourbrisbane.com". ourbrisbane.com<!. http://www.ourbrisbane.com/whatson/events/html/events/1/81818.html. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  7. ^ Positive spin - interview with fellow comedy writer James Cary in Third Way
  8. ^ http://www.stevedow.com.au/default.aspx?id=176
  9. ^ Guardian Unlimited Books - Mystery Man
  10. ^ IMDb: Maybe Baby
  11. ^ "Where will the next generation get its political anthems from?". http://www.labourlist.org/my-generation-red-wedge-paul-richards-weller-bragg. 
  12. ^ "'Luvvies' for Labour". http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/161057.stm. 
  13. ^ The Sound of No Hands Clapping, Toby Young, Da Capo Press 2006, p.212
  14. ^ Toby Young - Ben Elton profile
  15. ^ "Mark Steel". Room 101. 2007-01-26. No. 4, season 11.
  16. ^ Close (2000-05-30). "Ben Elton live on our talkboards | | guardian.co.uk Film". Film.guardian.co.uk. http://film.guardian.co.uk/Feature_Story/feature_story/0,4120,326394,00.html. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  17. ^ Hitchens, Peter (21 November 2009), "Mr Clever Dick should leave this little old lady alone", Daily Mail, http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2009/11/mr-clever-dick-should-leave-this-little-old-lady-alone.html, retrieved 25 November 2009 
  18. ^ I've been irritating journos from the beginning | Sunday Herald
  19. ^ I've been irritating journos from the beginning | Sunday Herald
  20. ^ 05 Television (all broadcast dates are UK unless otherwise stated) (Ben Elton)

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Benjamin Charles Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English comedian, writer and director. Born in Catford, London, he is the son of the physicist and educational researcher Lewis Elton and the nephew of the historian Sir G R Elton.

Contents

Sourced

Stark (1989)

  • No collection of people who are all waiting for the same thing are capable of holding a natural conversation. Even if the thing they are waiting for is only a taxi.
    • "Airport Rescue"
  • The earth only has so much bounty to offer and inventing ever larger and more notional prices for that bounty does not change its real value.
    • "Dinner in Los Angeles"
  • The appropriation of radical thinking by lazy, self-obsessed hippies is a public relations disaster that could cost the earth.
    • "Court, Hippies and Love at First Sight"

Blast From The Past (1995)

  • Things get shaped straight and thin for reasons of aerodynamics. Missiles and skyscrapers are shaped the way they are on the soundest principles of engineering, not as monuments to the dick. In fact, so is the dick. The dick is shaped like a dick because that is the most efficient shape for a dick to be. That's why it's dick shaped. I mean a dick shaped like a table would cause all sorts of practical spatial problems.

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