Arts: Still likely after all these years

Clement and La Frenais have done their Porridge. Now they're taking on the rock band.

The fictional rock band in the poignantly bittersweet new comedy film Still Crazy pass the time by asking each other to cite bands whose names are also parts of the body. You know - Little Feat, one point; Blood, Sweat and Tears, the jackpot. But there's an even better Trivial Pursuit- type question. Which television writers have also directed Bob Dylan and George Harrison? Answer: the writers of Still Crazy, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

It was a revelation that took me by surprise when I met them on one of their rare visits to London from Los Angeles, where they first went in 1974 to do an American series of Porridge, and where they now live a couple of streets from each other.

"We directed a music video for the Traveling Wilburys, so both of us have directed Dylan once," says Clement. "It's a little-known facet of our career."

In the light of their new film, you might suppose them to be rock stars manques. It turns out that Ian really is one (as you might guess, from his jet-black, Dylanesque curls, sharp if dishevelled blue suit and quickfire, friendly enthusiasm) whereas Clement is a rock manager manque, as evidenced by his more languid approach, cheery, well fed, Tim Rice blond looks and far more casual attire. Both expats are tanned; both married Americans; neither looks remotely 59, as they both are. La Frenais is short and hirsute and speaks with a Geordie accent; Clement is tall, clean-shaven and very Home Counties. But although they look and sound like the North- South divide, they think alike.

"Musicians tend to be very tolerant and very funny as a race," says Clement. "I envy their ability to speak a language without words, and communicate with each other and have such fun. When we directed The Traveling Wilburys, they had guitars in their hands all day and they never stopped, er..." "...fiddling," says La Frenais helpfully.

They regularly finish and embellish each other's sentences, a by-product of working together for 36 years, and even now clocking up a five-and- a-half-day week in each other's company.

"Yes, fiddling," agrees Clement, "and you just saw the joy they got out of making music."

Still Crazy has the interplay of affection, emotion and comic one-liners that is their hallmark: the insights into men together, the reflections of what might have been, the unfulfilled dreams. The dialogue captures character in a few phrases, with gags that hold the times up to such perfect ridicule that they have you throwing your head back in laughter.

It's all there in any episode of The Likely Lads, Porridge or Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, all of which have been enjoying TV reruns, a tribute to the timelessness and sheer class of their vintage material. Now it's the turn of the rock band Strange Fruit, with their rivalries, alcoholism and thwarted dreams. Few can equal their studies of men together. But they don't seem to do women.

"It's a valid comment," says Clement. "We tried to make Karen [the former groupie turned manager, played with an ethereal allure by Juliet Aubrey] an important part, to balance the testosterone. We do write the male group well. It's obviously easier to do that, but you try to stretch yourself..."

"No, it is very male-oriented," interrupts La Frenais. It's a rare disagreement, so rare that Gay News once attempted an analysis of the pair, which still amuses them.

They were introduced by a friend in a pub in 1962. Clement was a trainee in the BBC's African Service and La Frenais a "trainee in nothing". They wrote a sketch for Clement to use on his director's course and Michael Peacock, the first controller of BBC2, asked whether they thought there was a series in it. Which was how The Likely Lads began.

The series made their reputation, although they were always a little uneasy about being classed as light entertainment. They wanted to write versions of what they had seen in black-and-white Sixties movies about the North. They still think of their work as dramas, and ticked me off when I referred to Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as a sitcom.

TV, however, holds little attraction now. La Frenais is disappointed by the tone of most present-day television. "From game shows to comedies. Taking the piss out of people. Facetious," he says.

And the demise of their early-Nineties series Full Stretch, after six low-ratings episodes, still rankles. "If Auf Wiedersehen, Pet had been made now," says La Frenais, "they would have cancelled that after six. It only got 7 or 8 million viewers."

They got the idea for Still Crazy following a conversation that Ian had with Alan Price about the reunion tour of The Animals. "He said that after five minutes in the dressing-room with that lot, he knew why they broke up in the first place."

Whereas a band experiences break-ups, rivalries and bitterness, scriptwriters, it seems, have no such problems. "Absolutely not," says Clement. "We have gone our separate ways from time to time, but it was a leave of absence. We're very grateful for the relationship because we both feel we're better than the sum of the two parts. And we're still having fun."

"Perhaps it's different from bands because there's only two of us," says La Frenais. "I don't know; maybe there was a terrible break-up between Peter and Gordon, Simon and Garfunkel..."

"Hang on," interrupts Clement, "Simon and Garfunkel did break up."

"It's easier to reconcile differences when there's two of you than when there's five or six of you," says La Frenais. "There are always tensions, mostly to do with aims and egos, desires and frustrations. Of course, we've both realised for a long time that most of what we want to do is shared; it's a common pursuit. It's been reinforced over the years and it's too late now to break up."

Twosomes don't always mesh. The real-life Likely Lads - James Bolam and Rodney Bewes - did not get on well.

"Ah, well, those are actors," explains Clement. "They're forced together, and from day one Bolam was always rejecting the idea of being part of a team. He didn't want to be Eric Morecambe to Rodney's Ernie Wise."

The new movie, directed by Brian Gibson, has a marvellous cast, including Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail, Stephen Rea, Hans Matheson and an exceptional performance from Bill Nighy as a shambolic, insecure, recovering alcoholic.

"There are such layers in Bill's performance," says Clement. "And the bonus is that he really sings all the songs."

The pair's next project is also based among rock legends, this time mixing fact with fiction. They have written a screenplay based around the late Keith Moon, as seen through the eyes of his driver. But The Who's Roger Daltrey has objected. He has his own Moon project in preparation and believes that the Clement/La Frenais script is not dark enough.

There has been a confrontational meeting, and the pair told Daltrey that they're going ahead. It all seems, a little eerily, as if though it could have come straight out of Still Crazy.

`Still Crazy' opens on Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project