Marvellous. TV study of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin is a feel-good story of our time

October 31, 2014

Marvellous is a brilliantly crafted and acted TV drama drawing on the eventful and engaging life of Neil Baldwin, who earned local fame in the 1990s as the much-loved kit-man and sometime mascot of Stoke City football team.

I nearly didn’t watch Marvellous [BBC 2, September 25th, 2014]. The trailers suggested it would be a Ricky Gervase meets Forrest Gump piece of fantasy about someone overcoming learning difficulties and becoming friends of the good and the great in the land. Fortunately, I discovered my misconception and watched a thoroughly enjoyable production with a remarkable core of fantasy wrapped in reality.

Marvellous: The Drama

The central character Neil Baldwin is played by Toby Jones, and is also played by Neil Baldwin. The Stoke football manager of the time was Lou Macari, who also had a walk-on role as himself and his ‘real’ involvement with the ‘real’ Neil Baldwin

Narrative tricksiness

This narrative tricksiness just about worked, as the story of Nello unfolded in its numerous unexpected encounters with a range of characters from Archbishops to cabinet ministers. The story tells how Neil Baldwin wins the interest and affection of many people he met from all walks of life, and who came to accept Nello’s designation of them as his friends.

As his remarkable network extended, his friends contributed to a wider range of exploits. At Stoke City, the Saturday football crowds chanted his name and cheered his cameo appearances as a mascot or in his clown outfit from an earlier job opportunity. At nearby Keele University, he become an unofficial ambassador and eventually manager of his own student football team.

The secret to Nello’s success

The secret to Nello’s success is easy to guess at, not so easy to pin down. Toby Jones portrayed him as someone blessed with an absence of irony. “I want to become a clown or a football manager” he told his concerned mother. “Perhaps best start as a clown then” she replied, with a little more irony.

I liked the anecdote of the Bible he kept as a sort of autograph book signed by his religious friends. When one cleric was invited to sign he was told “sign it at the back. The front’s for bishops and Archbishops”. And that turned out to be true.

The tale unfolded with various hard-to-believe events that were as much ‘based on a true-life story’ than we had any right to expect. Mostly they were played as evidence to disbelieving friends that Nello was not living in a fantasy world: confirmation of those bishops who signed his Bible at the front; a meal with Tony Benn after introducing himself at The Houses of Parliament; celebrities turning up to support one of his ideas publicising his beloved Stoke City.

Stranger than fiction

Since the broadcast, the news broke that the City of Stoke is to grant the honour of freedom of the city of Stoke on Trent to two distinguished sons of the City. One is its world-cup winning goal keeper Gordon Banks.  The other is Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin,


An Idiot Abroad 2 and Life’s Too Short: ‘No better than a Victorian freak show?’

December 6, 2011

Terence Blacker in The Independent described the BBC comedy Life’s Too Short as “Comedy no better than a Victorian freak show”. The story raises questions about creativity, culture, social identity and thought leadership

Tudor Rickards

I had already written a Not a Review for An Idiot Abroad 2 which is reissued below. My post explored the emerging themes within the comedy of Ricky Gervase and Stephen Merchant. Blacker’s article suggests that its discussion points remain pertinent to their subsequent series Life’s Too Short.

It was hard to avoid information about An Idiot Abroad (second series) showing on Sky2. The programme had received extensive advance advertising on Sky as innovative comedy within a travel-show format. Its co-founder Ricky Gervase had been tireless in his enthusiastic plugging of it on the chat show circuit, supported by. At the time, Gervase and Merchant had become internationally acclaimed for their achievements first in the cultish British TV series The Office, and later in American media ventures of varying degrees of success.

The big idea

The big idea in the Sky programme was that Gervase and his creative partner Steve Merchant had stumbled upon a remarkable non-celebrity whose gnomic observations blew their minds. Said non-celebrity became a challenge, a project to bring to the attention of a wider audience who would share their delight in getting to know him. The title may have been inspired by Mark Twain’s once-famous book An Innocent Abroad which also had its share of disingenuousness built in to its humour.

Or as Sky puts it

The man with the spherical head is back! An Idiot Abroad returns this autumn as Karl attempts to tick things off his bucket list [unfulfilled dreams]…. Having struggled to find much to do since returning from 2010’s adventure – as he likes to put it, “when you’ve been in a programme called An Idiot Abroad, other job offers aren’t going to be flying in, are they?” intrepid misanthrope Karl Pilkington sets off for a second time in September.

As usual, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pull the strings from the comfort of their office, as Karl journeys further from his comfort zone and
encounters more confused locals and cultural differences.

Karl’s adventures

The result is part travel show, part improvisational art. Carl gets to visit touristy places and comment in ways which are more touristy than the accepted tourist show genre. Individual scenes make great U-tube materials: Carl on a camel; Carl and the not so great wall of China; Carl reacting to the non- Mancunian cultures of a tribe whose members worship Prince Philip; Carl in space. [Only one of the above is made up by me].

Carl Pilkington and the making of celebrity

Carl Pilkington was taken up by Gervase and Merchant after working together on a professional assignment. They related to him as a person of unusual quirky personality and saw the potential for celebrity-making. Their undoubted creative talents, so acclaimed in The Office, are evident in the structuring of this project. It shares part of its success with that of celebrity shows and the complex dynamics of social identity including vicarious enjoyment in both the success and the humiliation of ordinary people.

Carl Pilkington is presented as someone who has celebrity thrust upon him. It the background, the programme supplies the ingredients of humiliation and bullying of an ordinary bloke. The structure is neatly summed up in the blurb above. There’s a big brother somewhere operating in comfort as fools and horses prance for their entertainment.

Creativity trumps cruelty

Creativity trumps cruelty. There are various psychological defences to protect social identity. It is uncool to object to a bit of light-hearted fun. The charge of political correctness gone mad can be wheeled out. And Ricky Gervais can continue to plug this and his next project which involves yet more light-hearted fun involving a gifted artist, Warwick Davies, who becomes the chosen one to benefit from the Gervase treatment. The focal characteristic of the artist in question is indicated in the title “Life’s too short”

Footnote

The issue is far from unambiguous, but you would not think so from the maedia treatment. Warwick Davis makes the ethical case for the programme by noting that critics of the programmes “just don’t get it”.


An Idiot Abroad 2 : Not a Review

September 26, 2011


An Idiot Abroad had begun its second series on Sky 2 TV before I had overcome my aversion to its title and pre-publicity. Its back story raises disturbing questions about creativity, social identity and thought leadership

It was hard to avoid information about An Idiot Abroad (second series) showing on Sky2 TV. The programme had received extensive advance advertising on Sky as innovative comedy within a travel-show format. Its co-founder Ricky Gervase had been tireless in his enthusiastic plugging of it on the chat show circuit. Gervase and collaborator Steve Merchant had become internationally acclaimed for their achievements first in the cultish British TV series The Office, and later in American media ventures.

The big idea

The big idea in the Sky programme was that Gervase and Merchant had stumbled upon a remarkable non-celebrity whose gnomic observations blew their minds. Said non-celebrity became a challenge, a project to bring to the attention of a wider audience who would share their delight in getting to know him. The title may have been inspired by Mark Twain’s once-famous book An Innocent Abroad which also had its share of disingenuousness built in to its humour.

The idiot Abroad, as Sky puts it:

The man with the spherical head is back! An Idiot Abroad returns this autumn as Karl attempts to tick things off his bucket list [unfulfilled dreams]…. Having struggled to find much to do since returning from 2010’s adventure – as he likes to put it, “when you’ve been in a programme called An Idiot Abroad, other job offers aren’t going to be flying in, are they?” intrepid misanthrope Karl Pilkington sets off for a second time in September. As usual, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pull the strings from the comfort of their office, as Karl journeys further from his comfort zone and encounters more confused locals and cultural differences.

Karl’s adventures

The result is an imaginative programme which is part travel show, part improvisational art. Carl gets to visit touristy places and comment in ways which are more touristy than the accepted genre. Individual scenes make great U-tube materials: Carl on a camel; Carl and the not so great wall of China; Carl reacting to the non-Mancunian culture of a tribe whose members worship Prince Philip; Carl in space [I might have made up that one].

Carl Pilkington and the making of celebrity

Carl Pilkington was taken up by Gervase and Merchant after working together on a professional assignment. They related to him as a person of unusual quirky personality and saw the potential for celebrity-making. Their undoubted creative talents, so acclaimed in The Office, are evident in the structuring of this project. It shares part of its success with that of celebrity shows and the complex dynamics of social identity including vicarious enjoyment in both the success and the humiliation of ordinary people.

Carl is presented as someone who has celebrity thrust upon him. It the background, the programme supplies the ingredients of humiliation and bullying of an ordinary bloke. The structure is neatly summed up in the blurb above. There’s a big brother somewhere operating in comfort as fools and horses prance for their entertainment.

Creativity trumps cruelty

There are various psychological defences to protect social identity. Creativity trumps cruelty. Art transcends moral values. It is uncool to object to a bit of light-hearted fun. The charge of political correctness gone mad can be wheeled out. And Ricky Gervais can continue to plug this and his next project. It seems this will involves yet more light-hearted fun involving a gifted artist who becomes the chosen one to benefit from the Gervase celebrity makeover treatment. Parallels with shows orchestrated by ringmasters such as Simon Cowell are clear.