Robert Newman's The History of the World Backwards - Annotated Photos
This is Richard "Bill" McCabe (standing) as a Dacian motivational speaker who has come to get me and Anton Lesser, a pair of dopey Britons/Celts to think beyond stone circles.
Bill is the finest comic actor in the land. I literally fell off a log while filming this. In fact Bill was so funny filming this, that he was penalized for it... You see, I had told Bill to improvize as much as he liked in this sketch. But it was a disastrous decision because he was so funny that neither me or Anton could keep a straight face through take after take of Bill's performance. The reason I am scowling at him in this shot is to try and stop from laughing. It didn't work. To try and stop laughing I asked the director to keep telling me how we were running out of time, how the light was failing how behind schedule we were - all the things which usually kept me grim-faced, but none of it worked. Bill's reward for putting in so great a performance was that he had to play his scene to two empty logs where me and Anton should have had been sitting. We weren't there anymore. We had both retreated to a hilltop outside of the 30 metre kill range of Bill's performance. All the camera angles had to be cheated and re-drawn, and then they had to film our reaction shots when Bill was nowhere near.
This is Colin Macfarlane playing a character called Dougie Fredericks - in a story which runs through episode 3 and ends in a song and dance number. He is so real and so absorbed in every role he plays that when you act in a scene with him you lose yourself in it like a game of make-believe when you were a kid.
He has the natural authority and that classy vibe of a Cary Grant or Clark Gable. On and offscreen he has that. He's one of those people that hotel staff automatically call "Sir". Whereas I am one of those people to whom hotel staff say "I must ask you to leave this dining area as it is for residents only."
I am playing a southern judge, at denouement of Dougie Fredericks story - and we are in a recording break. Colin looks a little weary, probably because I have been moaning for half an hour about how my false teeth keep falling out, how I can't be expected to work without proper tooth grout!
Here is Jim Howick in The World's Last Ever TV Advert. I thought this was the impossible sketch to act. (As soon as I wrote it I added to the stage directions in block caps THIS WILL NOT BE PLAYED BY ME) but Jim found a charismatic, nifty way to do it. If this sketch wasn't funny it would be video art and the British entry in the Venice Biennale.
He steals a lot of scenes with his understated performances, leaving me flailing and raving on the edge of screen like a neglected vaudevillian baboon.
But insodoing he had his revenge on me... Jim was on honeymoon in the Seychelles when the rest of us were rehearsing and he learnt lines for loads of sketches which I had cut or given to myself by the time he got back.
...When Su-Lin Looi came to her first casting she said, 'Even if I don't get the part I just want to thank-you for writing a female Chinese character who isn't a waitress in a take-away restaurant...' I was unable to hear the rest of her words over the sound of the script pages I was quickly tearing behind my back.
The mighty Lucy Liemann! Here she is playing the science-mad Duchess of Padua, patron to Galileo and Kepler. She collects antique junk technology from 400 years ago and together the three of them try to work out what this salvage might have been used for back in the 20th and 21st centuries, be it a Sat Nav or a solar panel.
Lucy is a very brave, intelligent actress. Intrepid and game, she would throw herself whole-heartedly into a sketch and push to the back of her mind that small, disquieting voice which whispered "but there doesn't appear to any comedy here at all..." As a result everything she did was very real, and often would create something funny which I'd then claim was what I had intended all along.
She also knows the history of all moisturizers, all cosmetics. The best part of the day on those when we both had a 7am call, was her telling me, as we were driven through the rolling grounds of the Orchard Leigh, how astronauts led to the accidental discovery of Elizabeth Arden's 8-Hour Cream, or the link between injured soldiers and Creme De La Mer.
The BBC enquired whether the series could go on prime time. Since there is no swearing in the whole series, (such a cliché, ducky) we would have easily been able to go on before the watershed... Were it not for a one-second visual gag in this, the Victorian Bedroom, a one broadcast second, however, puts prime-time out of the question!
This is me playing a seventeenth century yokel influenced by johnny rotten, okay crowbar-ing my lydon impression into the show.
It was my last piece of filming in the shoot. When you've done your last bit the Assistant Director declares "Okay, that's a picture wrap for Rob!" Picture wrap, I like that, it makes you feel like you're on the set of an epic production.
Anton Lesser as Einstein
I mean I have never worked with actors before, let alone great ones and I was really impressed.
Sir Anton Lesser is a shaman. Whenever he is in costume he is unrecognizable for a moment. l I have often been around people in costume, wigs and make-up, I am no stranger to the figure coming down the trailer steps of the wardrobe truck, and you usually think, oh there's the actor, that's a good costume. With Anton it's the other way round, I turn around and think - who's that fellow? and then a beat or two later recognize that it is Anton. This would always happen. No matter what the costume, he alters his energy levels or does some dark art and it is always a little creepy at first because this person you thought you knew is someone else altogether.
Unlike with Anton, the rest of the cast and crew took great solace and cheer from the fact that as for myself , no matter what the costume, make-up or wig, Mr Newman the star performer was always exactly the same!