Chris Trengove

Writing about writing

Posts Tagged ‘comedy

COMEDY WRITING: THE DIVINE ART

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I’d never claim to be a comedy writer. It’s a hard row to hoe, whose best practitioners are among the finest writers in any genre, but who also suffer from chronic lack of respect – after all, it’s just a laugh, isn’t it? Still, I’ve written plenty of funny stuff in my time, including loads of animation and, with co-writer Peter Lawrence, several well-received comic novels and a bio of Keith Moon (not without laughs.) Equally to the point, I’m a lifelong comedy buff, the sort of person who’ll watch a TV sitcom if he’s familiar with the writer.

In a desperate attempt to hold back the effects of gravity and pizza, I row regularly. Not on the nearby Thames, but in the living room on a Water Rower, with a telly on the wall opposite to stave off tedium. Recently I acquired, via EBay, a collection of ‘classic’ British sitcoms on DVD, originally giveaways with the Daily Mail. Swallowing my natural aversion to the Rothermere product, I settled down, over the course of several weeks, to work my way through some landmark BBC comedy. I was interested to see which series stood the test of time and which didn’t. Were the seventies and eighties the high water mark of British TV comedy? Or would the water cooler shows of those times now seem dated, corny and irredeemably naff?

In some cases, my suspicions were confirmed, in others I was pleasantly surprised. Hancock is still great, due to the genius writing team of Simpson and Galton and the lad from East Cheam himself. Only Fools and Horses is still pretty funny, in spite of some rather iffy of-their-time racial references. One Foot In The Grave stands out for its superb plotting, the ability of writer David Renwick to drop surprise comic bombshells. I still enjoyed Hi De Hi – It Ain’t Half Hot Mum not so much. While comedy often deals in stereotype, Perry and Croft kept just the right side of the line in HDH, but went too far in Hot Mum. (Generally, they’re pitch perfect – witness the perennial appeal of Dad’s Army, still running forty-odd years after it was first shown.)

CHARACTER STUDIES

It’s been said that sitcom only works if everything works – script, cast, production – but watching these old shows made me realise how much good comedy relies on character. Plotting is great, gags are fine, but it’s the characters that reliably make us laugh. That’s usually why catchphrases work – they’re an integral part of the character that says them. Which leads me to Are You Being Served? This is a show that has attracted equal parts praise and opprobrium, both then and now. Does camp character Mr. Humphries present an unacceptable ‘mincing queen’ stereotype, or is he bravely out and proud in an era when the tabloid press routinely referred to gays as ‘poofs’ or worse? I always found the show funny (partly because I’d worked in a store very much like Grace Brothers) and looking back, I realise that again, it was the characters that made the show. The actors went to town on them, and in most cases it was their finest hour. Mollie Sugden was a fine actress with an impressive body of work, but she’ll always be remembered for her versatile and much-loved pussy.

Recently the BBC made a new ep of Are You Being Served?, with the show supposedly updated to the eighties. I tuned in without much hope – in my book, most remakes are pointless exercises – but was pleasantly surprised. I laughed quite a lot, and later, reviewing it in my mind, realized that writer and actors had again concentrated on the characters, sticking as closely as possible to the original template (and props to John ‘Boycey’ Challis here – his Captain Peacock was almost superior to Frank Thornton’s original.)

INTO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

But what of the modern product? Do we have anything these days that stands up to comparison with the so-called ‘golden age’ of the seventies and eighties? Here goes – and I’m aware that comedy is the most subjective of all the art forms, one man’s hilarity being another man’s knuckle-gnawing tedium. First of all, much of the comedy from that era often wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I never found Till Death Us Do Part that funny (and a lot of it is wince-making now, despite writer Johnny Speight’s intention to satirise working-class Toryism rather than celebrate it.) Nor Steptoe and Son, nor The Good Life (although I loved Bob Larbey’s far less successful The Other One.)

Over the last couple of decades we’ve had the sharp satire of Ab Fab; the game-changing mockumentary style of The Office; the demented and often semi-surreal Father Ted; and the retro homage of Miranda. Which leads us to now. If you were to believe the pundits, TV comedy is currently a desert. I beg to differ. Plebs – writers Basden and Leifer – is sharp, filthy, and crucially, very funny. It’s been largely ignored, perhaps due to its berth on ITV3. Robert Popper’s Friday Night Dinner has got funnier and funnier as the series have progressed (in passing, Mark Heap’s loony neighbour is superb.) Greg Davies’s Man Down is consistently entertaining, and occasionally hilarious.

But to me the current reigning monarch of TV comedy is Sharon Horgan. A few years back Pulling raised the bar for anarchic, female-centric mayhem, and recently Catastrophe confirmed that Horgan has staying power. But with the recently broadcast one-off The Circuit, documenting a dinner party from the deepest abysses of hell, she staked a claim to Mike Leigh territory and established herself as a major comic writing talent.

Denmark has apparently got the happiest population in the world, and it does sound like a nice place to live. But it’s never going to produce a B B King or a Lenny Bruce, or for that matter a Hancock. Too happy, see? By the same token, the UK is full of miserable exploited bastards who are scraping by on fourpence a week and spending tuppence of it getting off their heads. But we’ve always produced great comedy, from music hall stage to the age of the podcast. In my opinion TV sitcom is in rude health, only matched by our reputation for stand-up. Nice to know we lead the world in something.

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Written by Chris Trengove

September 5, 2016 at 5:06 pm

PREFACE TO ‘IT’S YOUR MONEY IN MY POCKET’

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“It’s Your Money In My Pocket, Dear, Not mine In Yours” is – after “Full Moon” – the most consistent seller of all the books that Peter and I have written. Originally published by Quartet, now available on Amazon Kindle, it’s a portrait of a long-lost world, the Soho of the early seventies. Here’s the preface which we added to the Kindle edition, which tells something of the background of the book, and gives an insight into the way publishing was conducted before it became the province of corporate bean-counters:

PREFACE
Even to acknowledge that we were around in the early seventies is something of a giveaway, but Peter and I wrote “It’s Your Money” when we were very young – five to be exact.

We’d just hooked up again after a few years – we were at school together – and discovered that we were both trying to make a living as writers. We decided to pool our talents, and at first concentrated on TV, coming up with a play about football hooligans entitled “Peanut”. It was almost immediately pulled out of the slush pile at London Weekend Television by an astute script editor, the lovely Patricia Larbey, wife of Bob Larbey of “The Good Life” fame. Imagine anything being pulled out of the slush pile these days…

But despite Patricia championing our cause, we didn’t get too far at LWT. We had ideas for two comedy series, about a girl band and a restaurant, but the then programme controller – later a very big TV wheel indeed – told us that the viewing public wouldn’t be interested in either setting. (A couple of years later “Rock Follies” and “Robin’s Nest” both became big hits. Don’t get me started…)

Instead, the LWT powers-that-be put us to work knocking out gags for camp comedian Larry Grayson. Trouble was, the gags couldn’t refer in any way to the star’s obvious and much traded-on homosexuality… which meant that we were stuck with something of a hard row to hoe. What next?

Well, I’d been subsidising my scribbling by working as a stage manager in a Soho strip club. The way it came about was the way jobs often came about in those days – casual word of mouth. A friend of mine met a stripper on holiday, and when they got back she got him a job at a strip joint just off Dean Street. Once he’d been there a while, a second job become available – or rather a second shift, the strip industry’s working day being divided up 12 to 6, 6 to 12. I was sick of being assistant editor of a printing trade magazine, and when he rowed me in, I jumped at the chance.

Go from a well-paid media job with prospects, to a poorly-paid job involving night work and women who wear tassels? Absolutely. Remember that Harold Wilson – the man who gave the Beatles knighthoods – was still in Downing Street, there was full employment and hippy idealism wasn’t yet dead. Actually, being career-minded was regarded as a bit infra dig, marking you out as a soulless ‘breadhead.’ And crucially, if you didn’t like your job, you could find another in a matter of days. Last resorts were working in Harrods and teaching – the latter, apart from a degree of some sort, requiring no special training then.

Anyway, I was changing lights, operating an ancient Ferrograph tape recorder and heating up a lava lamp to resemble an erect penis, while Peter was knocking out scripts for industrial films – what these days would probably be known as ‘corporate videos’. One evening over a drink I was telling him about my day, which culminated in me having to chuck out a punter who was fondling himself under a bowler hat on his lap. Peter – who had plenty of experience of West End lowlife himself – started to laugh, and said “That’s it! That’s what we do next – we take the lid off strip!”

So we started on the project, at first putting together a film screenplay. We’d got plenty of writing experience by now, and it didn’t take too long, but we quickly found out something that applies now as then – it’s very, very difficult to sell an original screenplay on spec (and we didn’t of course have an agent, nor had it occurred to us to try and get one.)

Long story short, we punted the screenplay around, getting the usual “thanks but no thanks,” and pretty much ended up hitting a brick wall. I guess we might have left it there, but something told us that this was a story worth telling, so we decided to start all over again, this time writing the story in novel form – the book you’ve just downloaded, in fact.

I’ve already implied that things often got done more informally in those days. If you wanted a job on a building site, the chances are the foreman would point you at a wheelbarrow and tell you to get on with it. You didn’t have to fill out an application form and tell him what you aimed to be doing in five years’ time. Nor would he have regaled you with Murphy & Co.’s “mission statement.” So believe me if I say that “It’s Your Money In My Pocket, Dear, Not Mine In Yours” found its way to a publisher via someone Peter met in a pub (he has no recollection of the encounter) who knew someone who knew someone who was starting up a publishing company.

That company turned out to be Quartet, under the aegis of former Panther Books execs William Miller and John Boothe. By modern standards, their taking us on was amazingly straightforward – they called us in, offered us cups of tea and said “we like it and we’re going to publish it.” No wading through layers of minions, no major re-writes… and they even offered a decent advance. (Belated thanks to them – sadly, William died in 2009, after a later career spent largely in Japan.)

And so it was, in 1973, that we found ourselves among the first releases of the new company, which was shortly to achieve a degree of notoriety with the publication of the frank – for then – Joy of Sex. We got a raft of good reviews from papers like The Times and the Manchester Evening News, and even did a radio interview along with the Chairman of the Soho Society. For a nanosecond we thought we had it made when legendary film director Joseph Losey showed an interest.

In the end, Losey passed – although we did get an offer from another, less distinguished, film mogul, who wanted to parcel up options into such small bits, spread over so many years, that we’d have been lucky to afford a packet of Woodbines with each payment. The fact that the address of his company was something like ‘Behind the Lockups, Balls Pond Road’ was also a clue that he was no David Lean in the making.

What the publication of “It’s Your Money” actually led to was one more book, “Engulfed In A Tide Of Filth” (also available on Kindle) before Quartet was taken over, becoming a respected but less radical outfit than the one that Willie and John had set up. There was apparently no room for snarky, smutty comic fiction under the new regime, and our joint book output was put on hold until the publication of our bio of Keith Moon, “Moon The Loon” (“Full Moon” in the US) in 1981. In fact we seem to have been air-brushed, Soviet-style, from Quartet’s official history – the company can apparently find no mention of us or our books in the company’s records.

So, almost forty years after its original publication, how does “It’s Your Money” stand up? Well, obviously it’s a period piece. It’s set in a world where stereo speakers were a bit of a novelty, computers were confined to James Bond films, and the idea of mobile phones was too wild even for science fiction. Flying cars, yes. Phones you can carry around? Much too far-fetched…

By the same token, Soho was a far cry from being the stamping ground of ad men, designers and video directors that it is today. In those days, not long after the gang wars of the fifties and sixties, it was a proper red light district, chock-full of strip clubs, clip joints, peep shows and business girls. Not to say that anything would happen to you if you took an evening stroll around Old Compton Street or Wardour Street, but you had to keep your wits about you – even if you were bent on legitimate pleasure, heading for Ronnie Scott’s, The Flamingo or any of another half-dozen music hotspots.

The strip joint that “It’s Your Money’s” Le Can-Can is based on was one of the classier establishments – which means to say that it featured sets, costumes, even a choreographer. It’s a tribute to the phlegm of the girls that not only did they have to hurtle back and forth across Soho to slot into the schedules of the clubs – which only employed a few dozen girls between them – they might have to get ‘em off whilst pretending to be Sleeping Beauty, Marie-Antoinette or Titilayo the African Princess and lip-synching to Petula Clark.

The punters didn’t care about any of that, of course, as long as they got an eyeful of what they’d paid to see. Not a huge amount, either – 50p if I remember rightly, and for that you could stay as long as you liked. We had one old gent, ex-army, who’d come in at 12 noon and stay until midnight, sustaining himself with egg sandwiches and leaving his seat only for toilet breaks. I had to sort out a terrible pensioner stand-off when another ancient punter took his place while he was doing his ablutions.

So yes, the book is set in a different, long-vanished world. Almost all of the ‘live show’ strip clubs are gone. For better or ill, Soho is now a lighter, brighter, more bushy-tailed kind of place, where you’d be happy to take your spouse – or your children – for dinner. Inevitably, because it’s a period piece, the book has dated here and there. Writing it now, we’d probably do some things differently, but not too many – and indeed, we’ve taken a more modern perspective on the place and period in our recent film and TV screenplays entitled “Flash Chord.”

All that remains to say is that I hope you enjoy reading “It’s Your Money” as much as Peter and I enjoyed writing it all those years ago. Welcome to Le Can-Can!

Written by Chris Trengove

October 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

EXTRACT FROM ‘THE MAO TSE TUNG WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY STRIPTEASE EMPORIUM’

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We published this last year as a belated sequel to our seventies striptease novel IT’S YOUR MONEY IN MY POCKET, DEAR, NOT MINE IN YOURS – not least because the earlier book continues to sell steadily, and we thought readers deserved to know what happened next! In EMPORIUM, the failing club is taken over by a strippers’ co-operative bankrolled by demented Chinese communist carpenter Chan, and stage manager Jeff, who took time out to try and become a photographer, finds himself back at the club. Here, in one of the more romantic chapters of the book, he takes beautiful star stripper Dolly out for a night on the town…

JEFF HAD BEEN IN THE FOX AND GRAPES SINCE HALF PAST NINE, and was nursing his third Pils.

Calming Chan down, getting him to re-hire everyone, and convincing The Major that the whole Free World wasn’t under immediate threat, at least not by one small Chinese carpenter, had taken him most of the day. He’d had to close the club as well, as all the seating was soaked.  He just hoped it would be dry enough by opening time tomorrow.  On top of all that, he was getting a sneaking suspicion that Chan was up to something – planning more decisive revolutionary action than simply haranguing the girls in the dressing room. Man of the people though he was, he hoped that Chan wasn’t going to destabilize the club’s fragile economy just as it was starting to edge into the black.

So all told he was tired, and slightly pissed, and had he not had a tryst with Dolly, he might well have shot off home, rolled a large one and got an early night. As the club had been closed he hadn’t seen Dolly all day, and he wondered whether she’d show up. She was probably just having him on, he reflected, and tomorrow there’d be some excuse, and he’d have to pretend he knew she wasn’t being serious. But, just in case, he’d nipped round the corner to Austins in Shaftesbury Avenue and treated himself to a new Arrow shirt, pale blue, with button-down collar.

Jeff looked at his watch: ten twenty. He’d give her ten more minutes. He pulled out his tobacco, expertly made a thin roll-up. He took a puff, wondered what to do if she did turn up. Should they stay in The Fox? Typical Soho pub, walls and ceiling darkened by decades of nicotine, a clientele of hardened drinkers, prozzies and clapped-out Bohemians. Not exactly a romantic environment. Maybe he should take her to Ronnie Scott’s. James Moody was on, and he wanted to see him anyway. So even if it was a bust with Dolly, he’d get to hear a good night’s jazz. Then he remembered that a lot of girls hated jazz, and that one date he’d taken to the Bull’s Head at Barnes had dumped him as they left the club.

Ten twenty-five. She obviously wasn’t coming anyway. He shouldn’t have let himself think that she might. I mean, it was ridiculous. She could have any man she wanted. He didn’t even know what she was doing stripping. She was more like a model, better-looking than most of the ones you saw in the papers and magazines. Brighter too, he was starting to realize.

Half past ten. OK, that’s it. Jeff got up, nodded goodnight to the barman and made for the door. As he opened it he was almost bowled over by a blonde tornado:

“Sorry, sorry… oh, Jeff it’s you, you weren’t going, were you?” Jeff grinned weakly. As usual, she looked stunning. “Nah, just going to get a bit of fresh air.”

“Oh good, I ran all the way here. They’re over-running at the Crescent Moon. The stage manager there’s bloody useless.” Dolly took Jeff’s arm and beamed up at him. “Not like you. Pity you’re not doing it so much now.”

Jeff didn’t know what to say. No one had ever complimented him on his stage-managing talents before. “OK… well… how about a drink?” he said lamely. Dolly glanced round the pub, took in the complement of drunks and losers.

“Maybe. Not here though.”

“Well, we could go to the Nellie Dean, or the…”

“Dancing! That’s what we should do. We should go dancing!”

Two hours later Jeff was grooving to Desmond Dekker in Count Suckle’s Q Club. He wasn’t sure how they’d got in, although he knew that when you looked like Dolly you had carte blanche to get into almost any club in London.  And he was with her, so that’s how he must have got in.

Jeff was a decent if unshowy dancer, having in another life been one of Ruislip’s  ‘mod’ contingent, but he hadn’t unveiled his moves for a long time. Since the last party he’d attended with Marigold in fact. In the mid-sixties he used to frequent clubs like The Flamingo and Klook’s Kleek when the great horn bands – Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band – were in the ascendant. But the last time he went to see Zoot Money he was shocked to find that the Big Roll Band had overnight transmogrified into Dantalion’s Chariot, and instead of letting the good times roll, they’d become madmen running through the psychedelic fields. That was when he realised it was all over for his beloved soul and R’n’B, and that going to gigs would now usually involve sitting on the floor and nodding your head to endless guitar solos.

But not here at the Q Club. Desmond was giving it all he’d got:

 

You think I never see you when you jump over de wall

You think I never see you when you accidentally fall

Me said a it mek, mek you pop you bitter gall

I check you out and you’re cold, girl

I dig you out and you’re cold girl

Rock it to me children

Jeff had no idea what the lyrics meant, but he did know that the music was great, and that he felt better than he had in months. Maybe years. And it wasn’t just because he’d had four rum and cokes and, in the gents, smoked some industrial-strength ganja, courtesy of a generous member of Desmond’s band. It was because he was actually enjoying himself – and wow, was Dolly a great dancer! He was surprised, because she didn’t show much of a sense of rhythm in her numbers at the club, but maybe it was because they were so strictly choreographed. And of course she wasn’t so much dancing, as presenting her body for the delectation of a bunch of strangers.

Now she was dancing with him, swerving back and forth to him, grinning with delight, but somehow also forming part of a group of black girls who were doing their own thing, vying with each other’s moves, bending at the knee and getting so close to the ground that he thought that they too might ‘accidentally fall.’ But they didn’t .

The music – relaxed and tense simultaneously – carried him away, and Desmond went into his final verse:

 

I told you once and I told you twice

Wha’ sweet nanny goat a go run him belly good

Me said a it mek, mek your pop you bitter gall

A it mek, while you accidentally fall

A it mek, hear she cryin’ fe ice water

Right at the end of the song, as the crowd erupted into applause, and Desmond and his sweat-soaked band walked off-stage, Dolly swung into Jeff, pulled his head down and kissed him, deep and long. He responded, holding her close to him, and at that moment realised that this was something, not nothing. She had always been planning to turn up to meet him. The date wasn’t just a whimsy on her part, to be cancelled on an equal whim.

The DJ took over from the band, Many Rivers To Cross following seamlessly on from Desmond’s final notes. Many of the dancers left the floor, the remaining ones coupling up for the dreamy, slow Jimmy Cliff song. Dolly put her arms around Jeff, leant her head on his shoulder and moved slinkily in time to the music. Although she hadn’t been smoking ganja, she’d matched him with the rum and cokes, so was also a little bit tipsy. After a minute she lifted her head and whispered in his ear: “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Jeff was ready to listen to any suggestion from this beautiful girl who seemed, against all the odds, to have taken to him.

“OK, where do you want to go? The Candy Bar? We could get a drink at Gerry’s…”

“Your place,” she said, tickling his ear with the tip of her tongue.

In the cab on the way to Jeff’s flat – suddenly he was the sort of guy who’d call a cab at the drop of a hat – Jeff and Dolly were locked blissfully together. The cabbie checked them out in his rear mirror, but didn’t say anything. Jeff thought he’d detected a ‘look’ when he’d flagged him down outside the Q Club – maybe a ‘white people in black club’ questioning look – but he didn’t care. As long as the cabbie got him back to his place as fast as possible, he didn’t mind if he was Enoch bloody Powell. The cab pulled in outside Jeff’s block, and Jeff paid him, skimping on the tip. Jeff turned away, but the cabbie said:

“Any good then guv?” Expecting some sort of iffy comment, Jeff turned back. “What do you mean?”

“Desmond. Any good? I’m a Toots and the Maytals man meself, but I love that 007 Desmond did. You know, dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail, a shanty town…”

Jeff grinned. “Yeah, he did that… he was great, actually.”

“Nice one. I wouldn’t have minded going meself, but I had a late shift. Anyway, see you guv…”  The cabbie made to head off, but Jeff stopped him, pressed a pound note into his hand. It was a massive tip, and the cabbie’s eyes lit up. “Cheers squire – have a good night!”

Once in the flat, Jeff and Dolly came together like tigers, clawing, scrabbling at each, ripping clothes off too fast, so that they became entangled, harder to remove. But soon they were naked, fell onto the unmade bed, pressed against each other from face to toe. For Jeff it had been a while, and Dolly was so goddamn desirable. He kissed her ravenously, she responded, biting at his neck with sharp little teeth. He ran his hands over her body – such smooth skin! Now totally entwined, Jeff lifted himself up to enter her – and the phone rang.

“Leave it, leave it!” said Dolly urgently, pulling Jeff’s face back down to hers. He left it. But the ringing went on and on. Jeff tried to blank it out, but couldn’t help remembering that last time he’d spoken to his mother she’d said that dad had taken a turn for the worse. Unless it was New Year’s Eve, phone calls in the middle of the night were never good. In his mind guilt wrestled with desire, and guilt won. He picked up the phone.

It was Marigold.

And she was crying.

Written by Chris Trengove

September 24, 2014 at 11:29 am

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

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Looking back on book sales figures for the last year or so, I notice something of a trend: although sales are spread fairly evenly between the US and the UK, with a smattering from the rest of the English-speaking world, it’s noticeable that US readers lean towards our steampunk/fantasy output (the FRANKENSTEIN VIGILANTE series) and UK readers seem to have a preference for horror and smutty comedy (our HORROR series and LONDON CHRONICLES.) There are clearly plenty of cultural differences between the US and the UK (US goes in for religion, we go in for binge drinking, just for starters) but I’m intrigued by this trend. Anyone got any ideas?

Written by Chris Trengove

August 13, 2014 at 10:27 am

MORE COMIC STRIP…

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If you’ve ever wondered whether the sayings of Chairman Mao could be enacted by a platoon of strippers dancing to the tune of ‘Climb Every Mountain’, this is the book for you.

THE MAO TSE TUNG WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY STRIPTEASE EMPORIUM is the belated sequel to Peter and my successful Soho novel IT’S YOUR MONEY IN MY POCKET, DEAR, NOT MINE IN YOURS and the third book in our ‘London Chronicles’ series.

Set in 1974, it follows directly on from Book Two in the series, UP THE PICTURES (the re-released, re-titled ENGULFED IN A TIDE OF FILTH) and takes up the story of Le Can-Can strip club after former stage manager Jeff returns to his duties having failed to make it as a photographer. The trouble is, soon after he returns, the club’s fearsome owner Enrico retires to champion ramblers’ rights in the Cotswolds, and aging choreographer Honor decides to throw in her lot with her wealthy boyfriend, leaving the club heading steadily for the rocks. The answer? A workers’ buy-out, bankrolled by unlikely financier Chan, the club’s irascible Chinese carpenter, who has amassed a fortune by eating nothing but boiled rice for twenty years. Needless to say, it’s never going to be plain sailing for a business run by a co-operative of strippers, headed up by a swivel-eyed Maoist with anger management and linguistic problems.

As the Manchester Evening News said about IT’S YOUR MONEY, EMPORIUM is ‘not for puritan readers.’ As The Times also said about MONEY, it’s ‘a book defying classification,’ containing a similar mix of riotous farce, surreal filth, touching romance and dodgy dealings, this time with added murder and mayhem. Full of seventies atmosphere, firmly set in pre-clean-up Soho, THE MAO TSE TUNG WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY STRIPTEASE EMPORIUM can be read either as the third book in the ‘London Chronicles,’ or as a direct sequel to IT’S YOUR MONEY. Next in the series, FLASH CHORD, will be published in early 2014.

Written by Chris Trengove

August 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm

NEW BOOK ON THE WAY…

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Peter and I are well advanced on a follow-up to IT’S YOUR MONEY IN MY POCKET, DEAR, NOT MINE IN YOURS (which continues to sell steadily on Kindle.) Entitled THE MAO TSE TUNG WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY STRIPTEASE EMPORIUM, it continues the story of seventies Soho strip club Le Can-Can after Chan the communist carpenter bankrolls a workers’ takeover (the clue is in the title!) Watch this space…

Written by Chris Trengove

March 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

A THREATENING BROWN TIDE…

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The second of two books written with Peter Lawrence and published by Quartet, ENGULFED IN A TIDE OF FILTH was described on its original dust jacket as “a technicolor nightmare of red revolution, black liberation, blue photographs and the ever-threatening brown tide.” It’s now available on Amazon Kindle, with a new preface by Peter Lawrence, reproduced here:

PREFACE

In the preface to our first book, ‘It’s Your Money In My Pocket, Dear, Not Mine In Yours,’ Chris wrote that times were very different then – that you didn’t need to write a Mission Statement to get a job as a hod carrier to a gang of wild Irish brickies. And as to getting published, I think Quartet, contacted via that proverbial man in the pub, was the first place we sent the MS. So I suppose that we thought getting ‘Engulfed In A Tide Of Filth’ published would be equally pain free.

We had been flattered by some good reviews; and already interviewed several times, forced to stare at each other blankly one memorable moment when asked if we would agree that our writing was rather tasteless. I can’t say I was surprised by the comment but I still had no real answer. Several older readers – men and women my current age, probably – had dismissed us as pornographers. My first responses had been to ask if these amateur critics had ever read Guy De Maupassant but when that drew a blank was reduced to explaining to one outraged wife that the book described a club and a life that her high-earning stockbroking husband probably indulged in on a weekly basis.

That such a mild narrative, by current standards, created substantial waves of outrage was a constant surprise but in the end I fell back on the satisfaction that we must have done something right to either piss people off to the point of apoplexy or make them laugh to that same medical condition.

But to return to the submission of ‘Engulfed,’ when we were summoned by William and John, it was a bit of a shock to have them present us with a list of scenes which they felt were questionable. Notable among them was the mistaking of a scooter’s spare tyre for a motorway café doughnut and, likewise, the unnoticed substitution of a quart of oil for a large coffee. Fortunately, even as our publishers were querying the ‘realism’ of the scene, they were crying with laughter – and so we passed that crucial test: if it’s funny, that’s all that matters. And we still feel that way, regardless of the waves of political correctness which threaten to engulf us all.

I can’t say that we were lionized but we did attend a number of publishers’ soirees at which some now very famous names pontificated and did their best to qualify for Private Eye’s Pseuds’ Corner, despite the fact that William and John were quite removed from that kind of pretentiousness. However, it was enough to put us off and we declined all further invitations to Soho literary pubs. Boredom was probably the most telling factor but, looking back, I realize that we should have stuck it out, and rowed as vigorously as everyone else in that sea of London literati. Who knows, we may have become the Beaumont and Fletcher of the age – instead of which we sidestepped into advertising, which paid much better and was almost entirely – but not quite – lacking in pomposity.

A couple of years of that and we made another sideways leap into TV animation, working for a New Yorker who started out as Mr. Charm and ended as a costive prat. I can only think he was jealous of the fun we were having and, in particular, of Chris’s astonishing musical and lyrical talents.

Fun really is the key for us. When we were writing the first book, my wife of the time asked me if we ever did any work. Of course, I replied indignantly. Why do you ask? Because all you seem to do is laugh, was her answer – and she was right. For us, writing is a passion and we take it seriously – but it isn’t an excruciating, navel-gazing, brain-cudgelling exercise whose miseries are to be shared with that great cadre of authors and screenwriters for whom the process seems to be a cross between therapy and some kind of obscure dating game.

We really love what we do and are astonishingly lucky to have made a decent living at it for so long. Speaking for myself, I know I have a tendency to write too ‘heavy.’ My anger – particularly at the vacuity of politics and the sheer greed of super-capitalism – spills over and I begin to lecture. Then Chris will read the excessive words and suggest that we apply the ‘Ow’s yer father?’ filter – a device too obscure to describe here, but one which usually forces me to see that what should be funny, or moving, or frightening – or otherwise emotionally involving – has, in fact, become a polemic.

‘Engulfed,’ with its potentially serious political and social undertones, could so easily have become an angry spiel. Instead it’s a wild ride through extremism, in which we tried to make our points – whatever they were – through absurdity and laughter. Shockingly, some of our inventions which then seemed unthinkable – a black man joining an extreme right wing party, for example – have come true.

I hope you enjoy the read. And if you don’t, give thanks for the fact that our next MS was the most revolting, obscene and fundamentally accurate take on the music business. It was titled ‘All Time Record Gross’ and I’m sure that it would have been too much even for Quartet. Fortunately for them, Chris and I somehow managed to lose the draft before submission. I don’t recall how or why but no doubt it had some connection to laughing too hard…

Peter Lawrence, July 2011

Written by Chris Trengove

October 8, 2011 at 11:49 am