The Weekend's TV: Believe: the Eddie Izzard Story, Sat, BBC2
Little Crackers, Sun, Sky 1

Eddie's glorious leaps of faith

It seems we have Weekend Watchdog to thank for Believe: the Eddie Izzard Story.

Sarah Townsend's intriguing film about the comedian began with a snippy and ill-informed report on the consumer programme, which accused him of recycling material from an old tour. Virtually every minute of the film that followed might have been designed to prove that taking easy shortcuts is the very last thing that Izzard would do. Hurt by the suggestion that he was short-changing his fans, he took a break from stand-up to concentrate on acting; this film both recorded his preparation for his comeback tour and explained how he went from comic no-hoper to the kind of star who can sell out Wembley Arena.

What really wounded Izzard about the charge of recycling was that he'd never made any secret of his working process, which involves ever-wilder excursions from the previous shows. It's a process of evolution, which means that by the end of a tour the material he's using will be completely different to the show he started with. This time round though, sensitive about any suggestion that he was building on old foundations, he effectively began with a pre-tour, popping up in tiny venues in places like Frome to slowly lick the new show into shape. And in between doing that he reminisced about his past, and revisited places that had been important to him.

"Living here was the best part of my life," he said, looking around the Northern Ireland house he'd lived in as a small child. "After that it all went crap." The reason for that was the death of his mother from cancer, after which he and his brother were consigned to a school in Eastbourne, where Izzard rapidly absorbed the most crucial lesson the English boarding system delivers: that it's probably safer to repress the emotions. "I thought, 'Crying equals losing in arguments'. So I didn't cry from then on." Instead, in a classic displacement for the unhappy and vulnerable, he showed off a lot. And when Izzard saw Monty Python he decided to make it big in comedy.

That isn't the sort of thing you're supposed to be able to decide for yourself, but the fascination of Townsend's film lay in its evidence that Izzard – apparently the most insouciantly natural of comedians – had conjured himself into existence by sheer force of will. His phrase for it was "personal nepotism". If no one else would give him a break, he would do it for himself. So, though he could be described as an overnight success, after a single charity gig that really made his name, years of obscurity had led up to that night – on the cobbles of Covent Garden, where he learned to work a crowd round to his way of thinking, and in the rash of comedy clubs that sprang up in London in the Eighties. Izzard would come back to his flat from compering open-mike spots and plot his progress on a map of London, colour-coding what material worked where.

He'd also learned something crucial earlier, after an escapology act went humiliatingly wrong in Covent Garden piazza. "If you think you cannot get out you will not be able to get out," a colleague told him. "You have to believe you can get out." He now seems almost addicted to performance risk; when he felt in control of stand-up he went off to Paris to do his act in a language he could barely speak. It was a disaster, so he plugged away at that, too, and now he can even make Frenchmen laugh. "Why do you want to be a so-so actor when you're a brilliant comedian?" someone asked, just after he'd added that to his to-do list. "Well, once I was a so-so comedian," he replied.

It might all strike you as ruthless – if it wasn't for the man behind it. After one gig in America, a weeping woman dressed as a bee came to the stage door to thank Izzard for bringing her through a recent medical ordeal; she'd been reciting one of his routines as she was wheeled out of the operating room. He reached out and gave her a big hug – which isn't something you can imagine Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle doing. And there's a humanising need behind his drive, too. Towards the end of the film, Townsend filmed him shortly after he'd read some old letters his mother had written, expressing her concern for the boys she knew she was about to leave behind: "Everything I do in life is about trying to get her back," Izzard said with tears in his eyes. Personally, I didn't think we needed "Mama Can You See Me Now" on the soundtrack as Izzard opened at Wembley to press the point home. We got it already. But that misjudgement aside, this was a film that began as a fan's DVD extra and steadily deepened into something far more substantial and moving.

Oddly, a premature maternal loss also featured in The Giddy Kipper – Victoria Wood's contribution to Little Crackers, Sky's season of short festive dramas, which she'd introduced by saying, "It is – in a lot of ways – my childhood." In fact, Wood's mother didn't die when she was a child, so this account of a solitary little girl excluded from the Sunday school treat by a vindictive teacher can't have been directly autobiographical. It included a lovely moment of fantasy, when winter dark transformed into daylight and the central character found herself briefly reunited with her mother. Touching enough anytime, but particularly poignant if you'd seen Believe.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power