Bookmark and Share

Friday 4th July 2003

I was reading the review of the Rod Hull documentary in the Standard. I missed the show but it was clear that Rod had had many demons and regrets and that his own success was frustrating for him. I'd got that impression when I met him. In fact he'd done our Fist of Fun show because we had specifically asked for him and not the bird. It's sad that his success became like a failure to him. By all accounts there was a lot of regrets in his life. Show business is a cruel mistress
It got me thinking about the second series of TMWRNJ.
We had written a load of sketches featuring the false Rod Hull character (brilliantly played by Kevin Eldon) and filmed quite a few of them in the run up to the series. The basic idea was that each week the false Rod Hull would go out and about to do some kind of task, the reward for completion of which would be a bowl of jelly. However due to his insistence that he was Rod Hull and that both of his arms were definitely real he would end up getting into difficulty and each week the hubris of the strange man would result in his death.
The first one was set in a swimming pool, and Rod Hull ended up drowning and being dragged to the side of the pool where a life-guard noticed his actual real arm concealed beneath his jacket. "But he had two arms all along," she said, "Why didn't he just use his real arm?"
To which her colleague replied "I don't know. I just don't know," and the camera lingered over the bedraggled form of this strange delusional man with his chin hanging off and his false arm by his side. (I don't think it's worth explaining all the reasons for this to the uninitiated. Just wait for tomorrow's entry.)
I really loved the madness of this creation (much of which came about accidentally), he was always one of the most popular Lee and Herring characters and I think these new sketches could have been a big hit. Humour, sadness, madness and futility all rolled into one. For the effort he went to he could have bought as much jelly as he wanted. But you know, I'm not sure if the jelly was as important as being seen as being Rod Hull. It was an odd choice of a man to emulate too, especially in light of some of the stuff that was in the documentary about the actual real Rod Hull. I suppose the sketch worked on a lot of levels, though luckily the main level was that it was funny having a screeching man with a pretend arm who liked jelly.
Anyway, as we were in the studio rehearsing for the first show of the second series, someone came in and called the producer and director over.There was a hushed and serious conversation, conducted with some gravity and then the rest of us were informed that news was coming through that the real Rod Hull had fallen off a roof and died.
Shamefully (as I had met and mostly liked the man) my first thought was "Oh shit, we won't be able to do the sketches." That's how wrapped up in a production you can get. I instantly then thought "Oh shit, Rod Hull is dead." But it was an odd moment.
As the show was low budget there was some discussion as to whether we could show the sketches anyway (maybe not in the first week), but Stew and me reasonably argued that an item about Rod Hull thinking he can do something a bit dangerous and then it resulting in his own death might be seen in a different way now that that had essentially happened to the real Rod Hull.
Also shamefully it did strike me that adjusting a TV aerial would have been a great scenario for the false Rod Hull.
So the sketches never got shown, which was a pity, but in the grand scheme of things not all that bad.
Tonight it struck me how much worse things would have been if the show had started a couple of weeks earlier and two of these sketches had already been out and then the accident had occurred. How would we have coped with that on the show? How spooky would it have been to have life imitating art (well stupid comedy sketches)?
I also wondered what had become of all the footage we shot. As Kev had done such a fantastic job (I just remember spending the days of filming these sketches with tears rolling down my face and uncontrollably imitating the ridiculous man) it would be great just to put the stuff up on a website somewhere. Enough time has passed to make the content inoffensive and to be honest it wasn't as if the character really had that much to do with Rod Hull anyway. It was a portrait of obsession and madness more than anything.
Of course doubtless everything has been put in a big burning bin by the BBC. I wish we'd been on the ball enough just to get a copy of the swimming pool skit which was the only one that got edited, but we had more on our mind at the time.
Having had all these thoughts I walked through Soho on my way to meet a pal for a drink singing (in my head mostly, hopefully, but I may have done it out loud a bit) the theme tune we'd recorded for the item.
SINGER He's Rod Hull.
ROD I AM Rod Hull
SINGER I never said you weren't.
ROD That's good cos I am.
SINGER He's out and about with his two real arms
ROD And what is more I am Rod Hull. Where's my jelly!?

I chuckled to myself and ran through it again and again. It's a good song which manages to get much across in a very limited amount of words. I just love the fact that him having two arms is specified.
After a bit I felt a bit stupid and self-conscious for enjoying something that I had written so much, so long after the event.
I got to the French House and ordered a beer. The man next to me in the bar said, "Are you from Lee and Perrins?"
"Pardon," I said, giving the fella a chance to think and regroup.
"Are you one of the blokes from Lee and Perrins."
"It was Lee and Herring," I corrected failing to hide my slight annoyance as I had intended.
"Oh yeah, sorry," he said.

Show business is a cruel mistress.

(To see the scripts for these sketches visit - personally I would have liked to see the arguments at the end of each sketch develop during the series to become more philosophical, but apart from that the skits are quite good!)

Bookmark and Share

Buy my new book/ebook/audiobook "Would You Rather?" (get stickers and a signed bookplate from gfs. Also available as a very different audiobook with the brilliant Stevie Martin
Help us make more podcasts by becoming a badger You get loads of extras if you do.