Tuesday 16 Feb 10
This coming Saturday night at 8.15pm, When Alan Met Stanley will be broadcast on BBC2 in the UK. I am the eponymous Alan of the title, and the Stanley is someone I have admired for as long as I can remember, the truly wonderful Stanley Baxter.
Stanley is famous for his lavish variety shows on British television in which he transformed into characters of both sexes in parodies (and homages) of movies and television, and performed classic sketches like 'Parliamo Glasgow'.
I grew up watching Stanley. His specials were the highlight of any holiday season, and as I have said before, very often I saw his parodies of films and genres of film before I had ever seen the real thing, and so I think he has a lot to do with the warped way I see the world.
Several years ago I took part in a documentary about Stanley, and during my interview I said that I wished he hadn't retired so I could have worked with him. Well, Stanley sent me a postcard thanking me for taking part in the show and also saying that he wished he had worked with me! That postcard was one of my most prized possessions. At the time I had one of those shower curtains with pockets to put things in, and I kept it in one of those pockets so I could look at it every day. Eventually the postcard got wet and moldy, and I had to throw it away. But guess what?! Now I have a whole letter from Stanley that I have framed and hung on my wall!
I met Stanley about a year ago through my friend Ashtar, who is friends with someone who had made yet another documentary about him. One evening Ashtar was at dinner at her friend's house and so was Stanley and my name came up, and he said he'd like to meet me. When Ashtar told me this, I was freaked out. Of course it was a great honour but I was also pretty intimidated to meet someone who I admired so much. The next time I was in London, a dinner was arranged and I met the great man. He was everything I had hoped for: witty, kind, interested and interesting, and, above all, full of great stories that he told with relish.
When I came back to London in September to do I Bought A Blue Car Today at the Vaudeville Theatre, Stanley and I had dinner a deux and I was able to find out more about him and his journey from child actor on radio in Scotland, through the army, Scottish theatre and then variety in the 50s to TV success and eventual icon status. Little did I think that this dinner would be good research for a Tv show, but it was.
The BBC had asked me to do one of their ArtWorks shows in which they get two artists together and just let them blether on (rather like the Into The Night Show I did for German/French TV with Ian Rankin), and I suggested I do it with Stanley. And so last November, the day before I went to Buckingham Palace to get my OBE, we sat down at London Studios on the South Bank (where Stanley had shot his big TV specials) and just chatted. I saw the end product last week and what I like most about it is seeing how much we like each other. We are two Scottish men, from different generations, but who share a common love of having a good natter and a laugh.
Here are some examples of Stanley at his best...