Take a letter
This article is from 2007.
Ricky Gervais has gone from being part of a failed New Romantic duo to achieving distinction as the first British writer to have scripted a Simpsons episode. Along the way he only went and created one of TV’s finest comic monsters. As he prepares to invade the hearts and wallets of Edinburgh’s comedy lovers, Brian Donaldson takes a 26-step wander through many of the things that we love or hate about Reading’s finest
A is for Ashley Jensen As the slightly daft Maggie, this Dumfries and Galloway gal was arguably the real revelation of Extras. Jensen put in years of having bit parts and small roles on stage and screen to hit the big time with a character who could almost have been described as Brent-like, putting her foot right in it with inadvertent comments which made her sound like she hated black men and the disabled. Jensen has since been snapped up by America to play a Scottish seamstress in Ugly Betty.
Bis for Berkshire The county where Gervais was born. His Reading days don’t sound like the best of times, with his most notable job being in the smoothing-down-metal-table-legs business. Though it was here that he was given his favourite piece of advice when his boss said, ‘no one knows what they are doing.’
C is for CTU A massive fan of 24, he was allowed to potter on set for a day as filming kicked off for series six. Although Gervais is apparently to be seen on the DVD extras, it was his cohort Stephen Merchant who actually got a cameo in the show, sitting at a desk being handed a memo in the opening ten minutes of the series.
D is for David Brent The monster of middle management at Slough paper merchants Wernham Hogg may be best remembered for his outlandish and rather awkward dance routine. But for many, Gervais’ finest moment in the role came when he began to crumble at the news that he was to be made redundant, literally begging to be kept on and proving that one day he will surely appear in an ensemble Dickens BBC drama. Others prefer the moment when he rose up from behind his desk with what looked like Bernie Clifton’s big bird attached to him.
E is for Edinburgh Castle The venue for his one date at this year’s Fringe. He has expressed his fears that he will either be swooped on by owls or get soaked.
F is for Fame The show he is performing at said venue, and which he launched at the beginning of the year at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. He seems to like us, for some reason.
G is for Ghost Town Having made in-roads into the US heartland, thanks initially to BBC America’s showing of The Office, his next Hollywood role is in a Spielberg-produced movie in which he plays a dentist who dies briefly and is then bestowed with the ability to see dead people who ask him to help them contact the living.
H is for Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife Arguably one of Gervais’ greatest triumphs, his main concern about writing an episode of The Simpsons was not making it too rubbish. He needn’t have worried, as his tale of the goateed British social misfit Charles (played by you-know-who) serenading Marge during a Wife Swap-style reality show was glorious and became the most watched episode of the show in the UK since Sky One took the Springfield reins.
I is for iPodge The headline in the Sun which ran when a snapper caught Gervais jogging in the park, while listening to Bowie or his own podcast or something.
J is for Jane Fallon The woman he has been with since university, she has a media career all of her own, having been a producer on This Life and Teachers. Gervais insists they’ve never married because they have enough toasters.
K is for Karl Pilkington His globe-headed radio producer and all-round inspiration, although Gervais does spend much of the time in Pilkington’s company aghast at his philosophical lunacy and childlike ramblings. Among the many keraaaaazy things he’s done in his life were taking his magpie Maggie to school before she unexpectedly flew away, wondering why you never see an old man eating a Twix these days and pondering whether worms have a soul. You can hear all this kind of gear on The Ricky Gervais Show CD set.
L is for Larry David Another massive influence on Gervais and who also happens to have quite a shiny head, but surely a tad more talent than the boy Pilkington. David became a billionaire many times over from his co-creation and writing duties on Seinfeld, though many correctly view Curb Your Enthusiasm as his true masterpiece. In that HBO show, ‘Larry’ goes through his day stumbling Brent-like into one social faux pas after another including trying to hide a golf club in a coffin and tearing the head from a girl’s favourite doll. He was the subject of Gervais’ first Hollywood interview for Channel 4, followed by Christopher Guest and Garry Shandling.
M is for Meet Ricky Gervais The chat show which someone on Channel 4 allowed him to do after spotting his potential on The 11 O’Clock Show. With Bullseye’s Tony Green as his hapless sidekick, Gervais would take a seat in the original studio chairs of some famous folk and ‘interview’ the likes of John Virgo, Jimmy Savile and Michael Winner. It wasn’t very good.
N is for New Romantic Considering that David Brent launched an appalling yet convincingly cheesy pop career once his days at Wernham Hogg were over, it should come as little surprise that Gervais himself had a stunted life in the music business. Being a brief part of the Suede management team is largely credible, but his part in the quite probably dire Seona (pronounced Shawna) Dancing would leave but a tiny, almost indelible stain on the pop world.
O is for Ollie The name of the Siamese cat which his mucka Jonathan Ross gave him during a horribly matey chat show appearance.
P is for Punctuality During his stint as a guest on Room 101, he announced that people being late for any kind of appointment with him were the devil incarnate. Edinburgh Castle attendees will no doubt be keeping a close eye on their watches come 9pm.
Q is for Quebec Despite Gervais’ fairly frequent digs at the French, his father grew up in the famous Canadian province before moving to Britain during the Second World War.
R is for Rubbernecker The name of the show which Gervais led at the Fringe back in 2001, just as The Office was slowly seeping into the public consciousness. You may have heard of the three men who joined him in that troupe: Stephen Merchant, Robin Ince and Jimmy Carr.
S is for Squish In 2005, the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre heard his ad to raise awareness for prostate cancer and took exception to a segment in which a ‘squish’ noise could be heard when a man’s rectum was being examined.
T is for Time Out The Metropolitan listings magazine proudly awarded Gervais the title of funniest Londoner in the world ever. Among those he beat off in the 2005 poll were Armando Iannucci, Ken Livingstone and Viz character Cockney Wanker.
U is for University College London The establishment where he studied biology before moving onto philosophy. Among his connected alumni are Brett Anderson (ex-Suede leader), Chris Martin (Coldplay dude who was rather amusing in an episode of Extras) and author Michèle Roberts (also half-French). Totally unconnected alumni include Mahatma Ghandi, Raymond Briggs and Marie Stopes.
V is for Valiant The name of the animated movie in which Gervais provided his voice for Bugsy, a smelly pigeon who helps the titular bird (‘played’ by Ewan McGregor) join the World War II effort. Also in the cast were John Cleese as Mercury, John Hurt as Felix and Rik Mayall as Cufflingk. Tagline: ‘some pigeons eat crumbs, others make history’.
W is for When the Whistle Blows The name of the crashingly bad sitcom featured in the second series of Extras. ‘Andy Millman’ donned a silly wig and spouted a sillier catchphrase as his soul drifted from his body with each passing episode. Still, he got to meet Robert De Niro at the series’ tense climax.
X is for XfM In 1996, Gervais began a two-year stint at the London radio station where he met Stephen Merchant, before he was made redundant two years later. Shades of The Office there.
Y is for Yobjammer In Gervais’ distinctly fictional kids book, Flanimals, he wrote of a Grundoidian Yobjammer, a miserable looking bit of blue gunk with a purple tongue whose main hobby is using the Puddloflaj (a bemused pink blob) as public transport. Unfortunately, the Yob always falls off and gains serious head injuries on a daily basis. Honestly, where does he get his ideas from?
Z is for Zoo In an interview with the mammary-happy mag, Gervais confessed that The Office was based partly on Casablanca, what with its love triangle thing between Dawn, Tim and Lee. But the biggest influence was This is Spinal Tap: ‘whether you’re in a band or work at ICI, you can relate to it’ reckoned the humble, yet great man.
Ricky Gervais: Fame!, Edinburgh Castle, Castle Hill, 08700 600 100, 26 Aug, 9pm, £37.50.