August 29, 2008


By Julian Hall; Larry Ryan; Rhoda Koenig

Secrets of well-judged laughter

After four years of criticising the choices of the Perrier and now if.comedy award panel as an outsider, I was happy to be asked to be a judge for the 2007 and 2008 awards and crown the Edinburgh Fringe's best comedian. As judges, we field the same questions over and over, the answers to which are: we see an average of four to five shows a day; no, we never get jaded as long as it's good; and yes, we have vehement disagreements.

Judging comedy ultimately comes down to instinct and belly laughs but within that there has to be taken into consideration the difference in styles. This year the consistent whimsy of winner David O'Doherty contrasted with the high-octane mania of Rhod Gilbert. Questions are asked of the delivery, style and structure of a show as well as a sense of the "gpm", gags per minute. A clumsy ending or too many lulls can make or break an otherwise excellent show.

All shortlisted shows on the main list are seen twice and a second viewing can be the key for the floating voter. I felt Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunholer's show was much stronger the second time round. With a total of 10 people on the panel (a mix of critics, public competition winners and TV and radio producers and commissioners) the second viewings can throw up some surprises.

I have to admit to being a bit floored by seeing my favourites for 2007 and 2008 (Andrew Maxwell and Gilbert respectively) lose a hard-fought battle. The only consolation is that the shortlists for both years were strong and the eventual winners had much to commend them. Whoever wins the panel hopes that they will be an ambassador for comedy and that the significance of the award lasts long after the hangover of the awards party.

Julian Hall

A Diana film we won't see

Among the guests at the Flat Lake Festival in Co Monaghan last weekend was Keith Allen. His brother Kevin, a film director, is a co- organiser of the event. Between stints manning the bar Keith discussed his latest project, a documentary examining the inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al Fayed.

Allen had intended screening a rough cut of the film, called There Are Dark Forces, but got cold feet about showing a work-in- progress.

"It's not about whether they were murdered, it's about a conspiracy that absolutely took place during the inquest," Allen told the audience. He said the film shows discrepancies between what the press reported and what actually happened; how the media and the Royal family colluded to make "Al Fayed look like an idiot, a mad man, when he was a grieving father ... It's about a man who lost his son and is not satisfied about what he has found," he said.

Allen added that he illegally filmed inside the court, claiming it provided the opportunity to contrast footage of the BBC's Nicholas Witchell at one moment asleep in court and the next broadcasting what happened while he snoozed.

Yet he admitted the film might only be seen in America - after a screening for English lawyers he was told it would need 87 changes before release here. Allen showed rough footage of the film's final scene: it features Dodi's mausoleum in the grounds of Fayed's home and concludes with Fayed setting alight a 15ft Royal Warrant that was awarded to Harrods. According to Allen, Al Fayed declared, "They murdered my son. I blow up their warrant."

Larry Ryan

To the BFI, post-haste

Back when the post office was good at delivering mail, it did other things well, too. From 1933 to 1940 the shorts produced by the GPO Film Unit portrayed the work of the communications industry with wit, charm, and artistry. Seventy-five years on, they are a record of a vanished or greatly altered Britain as well. The BFI is showing a selection which includes the haunting Night Mail (1936), with script by WH Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

Rhoda Koenig

Southbank Centre, London SE1 (, 18 to 30 September, then touring

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