The Unregenerate: On Making FANZ

18 08 2008

A line has been drawn. The end of an era. The end of FANZ as we know it. They recently released the last in the series. So, a good time for a retrospective from members of The Unregenerate. Summing up their years of producing the comedy series. And they weren’t shy about answering questions. So much so, I’ve decided to split the interview in two, to be more digestible. Rather than edit too much out. Afterall, we wouldn’t want to miss out on Paul Ebbs’ pants.

The main interview was recorded by the The Unregenerate last month. The questions were also emailed on to two other members, and their answers appended to the transcription.

Those present at the recording were:
Stuart Robinson: Series Creator / Script Editor / Writer / Actor
James Potter: Writer / Actor / Post Prod
Samantha Robinson: Actor
Duncan Wilson: Actor / Designer / Artist
Steve Johnson: Actor

Those who emailed:
Martin Robinson: Actor
John Claydon: Actor / Writer

You can visit the FANZ website for downloads of all their stories here:
http://www.plasticgiraffe.co.uk/fanz.html

Introductions over… on with the questions.
(Be warned – there is some bad language and sexual innuendo.)

>1. Firstly, to ease you in, could you all briefly introduce yourselves, what parts you play and crew positions?
SAM: I play Cindy. The blonde trollop, stupid girl.
STUART: I play Tom, and write loads of stuff, and annoy James – that’s my primary job on FANZ. It’s not something that’s really that black and white because everybody on FANZ actually plays loads of the bit parts as well, which I don’t think should go unrecognised. Especially Duncan [giggles ], he’s been dumped on so many times.
    In the early days we decided that myself and James would do the majority of the writing and the post production. We’d be the techy guys behind it, but, as it turned out I…
SAM: Didn’t know what the fuck you were doing.
STUART: Okay. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. It kinda worked out in some areas but not others, because we’ve all found certain things we’re good at, and not good at in my case, while we’ve been doing this. It’s been quite revealing like that.
DUNCAN: I primarily play the part of Kris Krump, the nemesis of the Camford United Telefantasy Society. I’m sort of like the straight Kenneth Wiliams of FANZ. Voice of the week, and mostly happy with most of the voices I do. Obviously with Stuart’s sketch format of coming up with gags and then jamming them somewhere in the structure of a story, I usually end up playing the part of taxi driver, monk passing by, gentlewoman stroking ferret, and Johnny-cum-lightly – the flamboyant berry boy of Bermondsey.
    I also ended up doing the covers, primarily from The Coach Potatoes of Doom. I can’t remember how it started. I think I did the logo for the first one, and then people realised I could do some stuff.
JAMES: I play Jonathan, and I’ve written some of them, and I do the majority of the post production work, and all the techy stuff. Generally it’s left to me to rescue anything that we can’t be bothered to redo during the recording. Oh, and get annoyed by Stuart.
STEVE: I’m Steve, and I am Graham. Okay, I’ve taken on the role of Graham, and I like Graham as a character. Graham likes men, I like men, and so there’s a marriage between the two.
MARTIN: I played Gary Tapp.
JOHN: Hello I’m Jeff……. Well John Claydon who for the last seven years have been playing Jeff badly. I was also asked to be one of the writers and as such co wrote The Couch Potatoes of Doom, badly.

>2. When, and more importantly how, did The Unregenerate first form and give birth to FANZ?
SAM: The Unregenerate, as a group, formed way back when, what, 11 years ago now. That was because Stuart was a lonely Doctor Who fan and wanted some friends [stirs up plenty of cruel laughter from everyone ]. So we made a group and put some posters up, and we went to the pub, and some people came.
    As for FANZ, that came quite a few years later, when James was also a member of the group by that time. And Stuart had been into writing and wanted to do some comedy stuff. Came up with the FANZ idea, and then they went off into the sunset holding hands.
STUART: The Unregenerate came about because [gives a somewhat embarrassed giggle ], oh Jesus, this really is sad. The real version of why The Unregenerate came about is a lot sadder than the one you just heard. 1996, we have the TV movie. That’s not exactly what we all wanted. Some people were happy, some people weren’t. But you know, it was in the right ball park. And I think it was late ’96 they had the Beeb’s aunty’s awards for drama, and Eastenders was up against Doctor Who. Now, by this point Doctor Who hasn’t been on the television for what, 7, 8 years, and yet Doctor Who was in there. So they obviously just chucked in there for a laugh. But of course Doctor Who won [he says with a great deal of satisfaction ]
    So I was sitting there outraged going, ‘Grrrrr, Doctor Who should be back on the telly. I’m going to form a group and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to write letters and stuff and things.’ And in 2005 Doctor who is back on telly. Job done. Thank you fandom. [laughs and cheers all round ]
    So anyway, that’s how it was born, and various people turned up and went away, and came back. Like any other fan group. Then we’d reached the point where we were all just turning up there talking bollocks, and it was a bit boring really.
SAM: We needed a focus.
STUART: Yeah, we needed something to direct attention. I thought ‘why don’t we do an audio’, but there’s a million and one audios out there that are Doctor Who fan fiction. Thought there’s no way we can compete with that. Season 27 had just come out. They had, sort of, raised the bar for everybody. What else should we do? The old writer’s maxim was ‘write about what you know’. We know all about how to be Doctor Who fans. And I thought we’ll do it as a comedy coz if we do it as a drama we’ll probably fuck up.
DUNCAN: I joined Unregenerate about 98/99 because some bloke who used to come into the shop I worked in, bought DWM and he’d seen a poster for The Unregenerate, which I think had a picture of Richard E Grant on it. So I turned up with this mate, whose name eludes me other than we called him Squeeky Dave. I stand around being generally quite quiet, and Stuart Robinson is a great guy who listens to one of my jokes, forgets about it for about three months, and writes it in one of his scripts, and goes, ‘This is mine.’
STUART: I never knew you noticed.
DUNCAN: I might look stupid, but I’m not that stupid. Anyway, I was a new fan, and they said ‘we’ve got this website. You must go to this website.’ So I typed in The Unregenerate and got these religious sites. Then I found it and there’s all this stuff about magazines and video nights. ‘I’ve not seen this! What do you guys do?’ Then Stuart said do the audio plays, which I was up for. It just sounded like a lot of fun, and the quality of the scripts were very good – as Colin Baker would say.
JAMES: I can’t really add a lot to that. I joined in ’98 because I’d been at uni in Wales and seen some adverts on UKGold. On teletext for The Unregenerate [there’s uproar and surprise from the rest of the group ]. Yeah, on their Doctor Who pages. I heard they were meeting up in Colchester, which wasn’t far from where I lived, and so I went along. I had to ask at the bar where the Doctor Who fans were. The woman pointed in the corner and said, ‘They’re all over there’ with a disdainful look and a down turned mouth.
STUART: Before it was back in cool.
JAMES: Definitely. It was a very large group and everybody seemed to have a real laugh. And there were two fanzines being produced. I was writing lots of fan fiction at this time, and it was an output for that. Then he had this idea for FANZ.
STEVE: When Paul [Paul Ebbs] and I finished doing Season 27, The Profit of Doom, we decided to peddle our wares in this little fan group based in Colchester. Got some rave reviews from the guys in the group, and then we…
[Stuart calls out as to where these rave reviews came from ]
STEVE: You actually Stuart. [getting back on topic ] And that was it really. We just kept coming back for more. And at a BBQ I remember sneaking upstairs to audition for Graham. It came out very Tim Curry at the time.
MARTIN: I saw an advert at a convention I was attending at the time, and got in touch with Stuart and everything went from there really. As for the inception of Fanz, I had nothing to do with that.
JOHN: I saw an add on a fanzine in 1997, wrote in, turned up and they still haven’t got rid of me. Having been asked to be on the original writing team from day one sitting in huddled secret meetings chipping in the odd thing or two but mostly sitting back and admiring Stuart & James’ brilliance.

>3. Imagine this scenario… I’m a 32 year old brick layer, never been to a convention, and my favourite Doctor is Colin Baker. Give me the hard sell on FANZ.
SAM: [in a deep sultry voice ] Come on over here big boy. Try it, you might like it.
STUART: [in a somewhat less sultry voice ] If you didn’t like her – try me. [pauses ] You’re a sad fucker with no sense of humour, you wouldn’t like it. Comedy.
DUNCAN: Charmer! I just think it’s a very funny series. If you don’t like it, take the CD out, and the cover, and put something else in you’ve downloaded.
JAMES: Please buy it and save my ego.
STEVE: [in Graham’s most provocative voice ] I’ll show you how to lay a brick darling.
JOHN: A brick layer hmmmm. Fanz is a unique series of Audio Comedy dramas following the off the wall adventures of The C.U.T.S. Situations that any fan can identify with taken that one step beyond. It’s brilliant so listen to it. P.S. don’t tell Mr Baker about the couch gag!

>4. What were your major influences and inspirations? Also with regards to the characters themselves.
SAM: Well, nothing exciting really. I just played myself. [Howls of laughter from everyone else ] I’ll rephrase that then. I used my own voice and read Stuart’s lines. I got into the part. It was easy to play.
DUNCAN: In terms of humour I’m a big fan of Peter Sellars, which is possibly where the voice characteristic stuff comes in. Also a big fan of Morcambe & Wise, Mighty Boosh, and Reeves & Mortimer. As for the art, I love Rolf Harris and Tony Hart. Who are legends. The scripts… I kind of find the character within those. Kris would go towards The Master. I also wanted, although my voice isn’t that good, to make him sound like Christopher Lee. So I had to drink lots and smoke cigars before recording, to make my voice deep and gravelly. Javilian Smyke was fun because that was really high campery.
JAMES: I am Jonathan. Jonathan is me. He’s pathetic, unloved, terrible with women, and obsesses about nothing but Doctor Who. [There are plenty of agreeing chuckles from the others ] It hasn’t occurred to you before, I know. Jonathan started off sounding a bit new labour. He wasn’t supposed to be especially young or weedy. Just very sort of ‘Yar’, that sort of voice. It changed from there [James slips into character ] and now he’s sounding rather pathetic, and, and, won’t someone please love me. Sometime. I wish I had a lady chum. [snaps out of it ] That sort of thing, which has a lovely sort of pathos to it. So it was rather enjoyable to play it that way. Yes, it’s exactly like me.
    You’ll find that most of the FANZ characters have some sort of facets based around the people who play them. Stuart really is that boring. Duncan really is that scary. Stuart wears tank tops. Big stripey tank tops. And you’ve already heard Steve for himself.
STEVE: Basically any night you see me in Soho is probably where Graham comes from. I remember something happening at G-A-Y bar as well, but I’m not gonna mention that. [letting out his distinctive wicked laugh ]
SAM: Shut up!
STUART: Graham’s based on your life. We get that.
STEVE: Well, it’s not just my life is it. [more raucous laughing ] We stop there.
STUART: Anyway, moving on from the G-A-Y bar. I play Tom, and it is drawing on my own experiences. Whereby I’m completely indecisive. I do tend to wear an awful lot of tank tops. It is based on the guy Chris Langham was playing in ‘People Like Us’, and George in ‘Drop The Dead Donkey’. For most of the characters they were basically drawn from people we encountered.
    You had, at the time, the fan who hated everything and you wondered why they were a fan. You had the so called ‘rad’ fan, in Jonathan, who was ‘everything is fabulous’. Everything is Doctor Who. Every little poxy book. Cindy – it’s difficult to see why a girl would be hanging out with that group. So we had her there because she had the hots for somebody, and it was a very safe environment for Cindy to be. Cindy’s quite, on the face of it, a shallow character, but she is quite complex. She won’t go for a relationship she thinks is going to lead anywhere, because that’s too scary. She thinks she’ll fuck it up. So she goes for relationships that are going to go nowhere and collapse. Kate on the other hand. There were an awful lot of girls at the time in Doctor Who fandom who were, ‘women are great, men are bastards.’ You couldn’t say ‘what would you like to drink?’ without getting you’re arse kicked. Graham, well, speaks for itself really. Jeff was initially thought of just to wheel him in every now or then, and say something obscure for a cheap laugh. But as you all know he became a bit more important than that.
    There were things like ‘Drop The Dead Donkey’ which were gang shows. Which as far as I’m concerned, they’re master classes in comedy. How do you get seven or eight actors in one place and give them each space to do something?
MARTIN: I basically saw Gary as a very angry individual who believed the world was against him and he deserved a bit of a break, but underneath I think his heart was in the right [place] even if his brain wasn’t.
JOHN: Having no acting ability it evolved from me trying to sound Jeff’s age, as well as a mentally damaged drug addled ex hippy. This was awful and so Stuart suggested just using my own voice.

>5. Why the Camford United Tele-Fantasy Society?
SAM: Erm, because you [Stuart] wanted to use the word c*** but then couldn’t. So you changed it slightly.
STUART: It was a one joke thing. So, er…
JOHN: Originally it would have been Colchester United Tele-Fantasy Society after the town where The Unregenerate is based but I said this sounded like the local football team. Suggesting instead Camford as the opposite halves of Oxbridge and to the best of my knowledge a totally fictional name.

>6. In the beginning, did anyone have experience making audio plays? How did the first recording session go?
SAM: No, and badly. It took us absolutely hours and hours. It took us weeks. And the next morning. And it was hot. It just took ages and ages, and now we’ve got it down to like two hours.
STUART: No absolutely not. I think James was probably the only one who did have experience doing something.
DUNCAN: I did not have any audio experience. I remember lots of different stuff about it because I’d had a car accident, and I had to have some Vaseline because my steering column had gone into my kneecap. I had a blood soaked copy of the script that had been signed by Paul Cornell. I remember us having the microphone dangling from the light. I think we had a stocking tied round the top. I was still trying for the part of Kris. Martin wanted to be Kris and played it like Peter Miles.
    The first recording session was just fun. I remember standing behind the door of Stuart’s house and pretending I was behind a window.
JAMES: Because we couldn’t do post production.
DUNCAN: I actually had to stand behind glass.
STUART: We put you in the porch.
JAMES: I had done post production and radio work at university, so I did have some sort of idea of what I was doing. With the equipment we had – one single microphone hanging from the ceiling, which is why there’s a high amount of hiss. I wince now every time I listen to it. We had to rotate, so that everybody stood under the mic and said their bit, then stood back when it was somebody else. It did go on for a very long time. And yes, we did things like shutting Duncan in the porch, which was very entertaining. There’s some of that on the bloopers I think.
STEVE: As part of another group that was drafted in. [jeering from the back of ‘you would say that’ ‘what experience have you got’ ] I was part of FANZ from the beginning. Don’t you give me that load of old bollocks. Season 27 were honorary members of The Unregenerate. So piss off. So yes, plenty of audio experience at the time. Was I in the first one? I remember. I missed the first day and I came for the second day. I just remember getting terribly drunk; probably being horrendously embarrassing.
    It’s a load of fun. It didn’t matter how much experience anyone had. It wasn’t about coming to the table and saying ‘we know we’re doing a top notch professional job.’ It’s just gonna make everyone laugh. We’re gonna have a lot of fun doing it.
MARTIN: This was my first venture into audio acting, the only acting experience I had was on the stage in am/dram productions. For me it went well but as it was our first most of us were pretty nervous.
JOHN: Steve Johnson had been fulfilling everyone’s dream of playing The Doctor for Season 27 with Paul Ebbs and performing many of the other aspects producing their excellent plays. Otherwise I think we were audio virgins. It took all of an afternoon and evening and went relatively slowly considering the pace developed for the later recordings.

>7. In The Five Directors of Doom there are a number of notable guest stars (not least the inimitable Rupert Booth). How did that come about? Were they happy with their very colourful new personas?
STUART: That came about in an interesting way. We were trying to get some sort of advertising space in DWM, and the editor at the time, Clayton Hickman, met him down the Fitzroy Tavern, and he said, although subsequently I found out he was lying. He said ‘yes absolutely, if you can get some sort of Doctor Who connection in there.’ So as time went on, scripts went on, we devised the Five Directors. It was originally supposed to be about all of them trying to direct this fan film.
    By the time we got Dancing Queens and Maltese Video out, when we went to the Fitzroy Tavern talking to people about it. They were all saying ‘yeah. I’ve heard that. That’s really good.’ And so, with an ear to what Clayton had said about a Doctor Who connection, I started saying to people, ‘Well, okay, how would you like to be in one?’ The one that sticks in my mind is Jason Haigh Ellery. Me and Steve were in the Fitz, we were talking to Jason, and Steve said ‘by the way did you know Stuart does FANZ’, because I’m very backward about coming forward – or was in those days. Jason said, ‘oh that’s fabulous’ So I just went, ‘would you like to be in one? We’ve got one coming up which has a space for you.’ And he said ‘Yes. Absolutely no worries’ And me and Steve walked outside in a very controlled way, casually walking out chatting. Got outside, and screamed like girls. Could not believe that. Rob Shearman went much the same way. Alistair Lock. Rupert… he’s just a fag hag basically. If you give him a packet of fags he’ll do anything. [laughs] And you can print me on that.
DUNCAN: We were very lucky to have Marky D.
STUART: Oh yes. Mark Donovan, who was most recently seen in the cinema in ‘In Bruges’.
DUNCAN: What I remember about it – being jealous.
STUART: We couldn’t believe our luck. These people were coming down to do stuff in one of our plays. We still had microphones hanging from ceilings with stockings over the front as spit guards. And we couldn’t get everybody down on the same day. It was regrettable.
JOHN: With the exception of Mark Donovan all of them recorded separately to regular cast recordings. The severe case of the highly contagious but ultra rare Riboflavin Virus may have put them off or perhaps it’s just that even Big Finish don’t work on Sunday’s.
JAMES: Five Directors was also the first play where we really started pushing out with the hardware. We used Steve’s mixing desk, and we had at least two mics. At the very least we weren’t going to be embarrassed by asking these people to talk into a sock wrapped round a microphone.
[Call from the back of – ‘I think Rob would have liked that’.]
JAMES: Rob would have liked anything. Rob was great. Alistair Lock was great. And Jason Haigh Ellery, bless him, really did do his best, and was very good.
STUART: [I was] very conscious writing the script that these people really don’t have to do this, and it’s very easy to upset people because you’re doing this larger than life depiction of them. So each day I sent them their scenes, and asked ‘are you happy with this?’, and they didn’t care. If you’ve listened to Five Directors, Jason Haigh Ellery’s bits really do take the piss out of Jason Haigh Ellery, and he was absolutely fine with it. I can’t believe what we did to him and Rob Shearman.

>8. Samantha, how about a rendition of that peasant/servant accent you do so well?
(click to play)

And on that saucy cliffhanger we call a close to the first half of the interview. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of this interview coming soon. Featuring – whale-boy, Sylvester McCoy, and the alternate universes of FANZ.

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One response

18 08 2008
James Potter

Good grief!

I have to say an entertaining read – and I’m in it! 😉

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