Ben Elton in 2009
|Born||Benjamin Charles Elton
3 May 1959
Catford, London, England
|Occupation||comedian, writer, director|
|Children||2 sons, 1 daughter|
Benjamin Charles "Ben" Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English comedian, author, playwright, actor and director. He was a part of London's alternative comedy movement of the 1980s and became a writer on such cult series as The Young Ones and Blackadder, as well as continuing as a stand-up comedian on stage and TV. His performing style in the 1980s was left-wing political satire. Since then he has published thirteen novels and more lately become known for writing the musical We Will Rock You (2002) and Love Never Dies (2010), the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera.
Early life and education
Elton was born in Catford, London, the son of Mary (née Foster), an English teacher, and physicist and educational researcher Professor Lewis Elton. He is the nephew of the historian Sir G. R. Elton. Elton's father is from a German Jewish family and Elton's mother, who was raised in the Church of England, is of English background. Elton grew up in a non-religious home and called himself an atheist.
His first television appearance was a stand-up performance on the BBC1 youth and music programme The Oxford Road Show. His first TV success though was at the age of 23 as co-writer of the television sitcom The Young Ones, in which he occasionally appeared.
In 1983/84 he wrote and appeared in Granada Television's sketch show Alfresco, which was also notable for early appearances by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane. In 1985, Elton produced his first solo script for the BBC with his comedy-drama series Happy Families, starring Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson. Elton appeared in the fifth episode as a liberal prison governor. Shortly afterwards, he reunited Rik Mayall and Edmondson with their Young Ones co-star Nigel Planer for the showbiz send-up sitcom Filthy Rich and Catflap.
In 1985 Elton began his successful writing partnership with Richard Curtis. Together they wrote Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third (in one episode, Elton appeared as a bomb-wielding anarchist) and Blackadder Goes Forth. Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson, was a worldwide hit, winning four BAFTAs and an Emmy.
Elton and Curtis were inspired to write Blackadder Goes Forth upon finding World War I to be a particularly apt subject for a situation comedy. This series, which dealt with greater, darker themes than prior Blackadder episodes, was widely praised for Curtis's and Elton's scripts, in particular the final episode. Before writing the series, the pair read a number of books about the war and found that
|“||all the lead up to the first World War was very funny. All the people coming from communities where they'd never bumped into posh people and all being so gung ho and optimistic. The first hundred pages of any book about the world war are hilarious, then of course everybody dies.||”|
Elton and Curtis also wrote Atkinson's 1986 stage show, The New Review, and Mr. Bean's famous "exam" episode.
Elton became a stand-up comedian primarily to showcase his own writing, but became one of Britain's biggest selling live acts. After a regular slot on Saturday Live — later moved and renamed Friday Night Live — which was seen as a UK version of the US's Saturday Night Live, he became the host of the programme.
In 1990 he starred in his own stand-up comedy and sketch series entitled The Man from Auntie, which had a second series in 1994. (The title plays on The Man from UNCLE; "Auntie" is a nickname for the BBC). In 1989 Elton won the Royal Television Society Writers' Award.
The Ben Elton Show (1998) followed a format similar to that of The Man from Auntie and featured (somewhat incongruously) Ronnie Corbett, a comedian of the "old guard" that the "alternative comedians" of the 1980s were the direct alternative to, as a regular guest. It was Elton's last high-profile network programme in the UK as a stand-up comedian.
In April 2007, Get a Grip, a new show, began broadcasting on ITV1. Featuring a combination of "comic sketches" (similar to those seen on The Ben Elton Show) and staged studio discussion between Elton and 23-year-old Alexa Chung, the show's aim was to "contrast Elton's middle-aged viewpoint with Chung's younger perspective" (although Elton was wholly responsible for the scripts).
In an interview with Third Way Magazine, Elton accused the BBC of allowing jokes about vicars, but not imams. "And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the communities have about provoking the radical elements of Islam".
On 10 October 2010, Elton headlined the first episode of Dave's One Night Stand.
Elton worked on Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth, a live one-hour variety show which debuted on 8 February 2011 on the Nine Network in Australia. Live from Planet Earth was axed by the Nine Network on Wednesday 23 February 2011 after airing three episodes, despite having six episodes commissioned. The show's final airing rated at about 200,000 viewers.
Behind the camera
Elton also wrote and produced The Thin Blue Line, a studio-based sitcom set in a police station, also starring Rowan Atkinson, which ran for two series (in 1995 and 1996). A prime-time family show, its traditional format and characters won it the 1995 British Comedy Award and both the public and professional Jury Awards at Reims.
In 2012 a new sitcom for BBC1 was commissioned written and produced by Elton starring David Haig. Filming for a full six part series of the sitcom, The Wright Way (formerly known as Slings and Arrows) was completed in late February, 2013. It debuted in April 2013 to extremely negative reviews.
Elton co-starred with Adrian Edmondson on a sitcom based on the song "Teenage Kicks" for BBC Radio 2. A television version of Teenage Kicks for ITV has been made; Elton appeared in the pilot but was replaced by Mark Arden when it went to series production.
He has published fourteen novels since 1989, all published by Black Swan (an imprint of Transworld), except for Stark, originally published by Sphere Books, which was made into an Australian TV serial in 1993 starring Elton.
- Stark (1989)
- Gridlock (1991), UK No 1
- This Other Eden (1993), UK No 1
- Popcorn (1996), UK No 1 and Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain Gold Dagger Award for fiction
- Blast from the Past (1998), UK Top 5
- Inconceivable (1999), UK Top 5 (later made into a film, see below)
- Dead Famous (2001), UK Top 5
- High Society (2002), UK No 1 and WH Smith's People Choice Fiction Award
- Past Mortem (2004), UK Top 5
- The First Casualty (2005), UK Top 5
- Chart Throb (2006)
- Blind Faith (2007)
- Meltdown (2010)
- Two Brothers (2012)
On a publicity tour for Past Mortem in 2004, Elton mused on the high school reunion theme and his own drama college reunion: "We’d had a very happy time all together, so there were no old scores to be settled really, we’d been a pretty happy bunch. And yet one person, who’d been a bit of a golden boy – he certainly went out with a girl I was besotted and unrequitedly in love with – he came up and he said, ‘Why did you come? Was it to show off?’ That really surprised me, that anyone would think that … he came kind of carrying my agenda. It was weird. I hasten to add I didn’t think my life to be more successful than anybody else’s. If you’re happy and honest and fulfilled in what you do, then you’re having a successful life."
While previously appearing in bit parts in his own TV series, he began his professional film acting career when he starred as CD in Stark, the Australian/BBC TV series adaptation of his novel, released in 1993. This ABC co-production was directed by Nadia Tass and filmed in Australia.
Behind the camera
Elton wrote and directed the film adaptation of his novel Inconceivable, which was released under the title Maybe Baby (2000) starring Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson. It was a moderate UK success and was distributed globally. The film was also nominated for a prize at Germany's Emden Film Festival.
Elton collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on The Beautiful Game in 2000, writing the book and lyrics (Lloyd Webber wrote the music). The Beautiful Game won the London Critics Circle Award for best new musical. Elton went on to write a number of compilation shows featuring popular songs taken from the back catalogues of pop/rock artists. The first of these was the musical We Will Rock You with music by the rock band Queen. Despite unfavourable early critical reaction, this was successful in London and won the 2003 Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best New Musical. It has since opened in the US, Australia, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, and The Netherlands. Elton also directed the 10th Anniversary Arena tour, in 2013.
Elton studied Drama at the University of Manchester and has written three West End plays.
- Gasping (1990) was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It starred Hugh Laurie and featured the voice of Stephen Fry.
- Silly Cow (1991) again performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It was written for and starred Dawn French.
- Popcorn (1996) was adapted for the stage and went on a UK-wide tour. It also toured Australia in a production starring Marcus Graham and Nadine Garner in its Eastern-States seasons. Popcorn won the TMA Barclays Theatre Award for best new play and the Olivier Award for best comedy. The Paris production of Popcorn ran for a year and was nominated for seven Molière Awards.
- Blast From the Past (1998) was also adapted for the stage and was produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
In 1981, when his live act took off, Elton was hired by The Comedy Store as its compère.
He released two albums of stand-up comedy, Motormouth (1987) and Motorvation (1988).
In 2005 Elton did his first stand-up tour since 1997, touring the UK with Get a Grip. He toured Australia and New Zealand with the same show in 2006.
In 2007, Ben Elton was awarded an Honorary Rose for lifetime achievement at the Rose d'Or festival. He was also made a Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, in recognition of the work that he has carried out with students.
Elton is married to Australian saxophonist Sophia Gare, whom he met in 1987, in 1994 and has three children, twins Lottie and Bert and younger son Fred. He has lived in Fremantle, Australia; in East Sussex, England; and London, England. Since 2009, Elton and his family have permanently lived in Fremantle. Elton has held dual British/Australian citizenship since 2004.
In 2006, Toby Young summarized often repeated criticisms of Elton, writing:
|“||Ben Elton. Do you know this guy? He started out as an "alternative" comedian, railing against Thatcherism and the like, and now earns a fortune writing the librettos for truly awful West End musicals. I mean, his name has become a byword for shameless hackery. He's the biggest sell-out of his generation.||”|
Stewart Lee devoted about ten minutes to his dislike of Ben Elton's later work in his 2005 act, "Stand-Up Comedian," and provides a transcript to this material along with footnotes further specifying his complaints in his 2010 book "How I Escaped My Certain Fate". Lee expresses his disappointment about Elton's abandonment of his early 1980s political ideology in favour of commercial work, and his specific hatred of Elton's work on the musical We Will Rock You. The live set included an extended back-and-forth with the audience in which Lee brings them to the comical conclusion that Elton is less liked than Osama bin Laden.
Elton has also been criticised for writing a musical with Conservative Party supporter Andrew Lloyd Webber. In his defence, Elton has said "if I were to refuse to talk to Tories, I would narrow my social and professional scope considerably. If you judge all your relationships on a person's voting intentions, I think you miss out on the varieties of life." He is also one of the few items to have been put into Room 101 twice: first by Anne Robinson in 2001, and then by Mark Steel.
Elton says of criticism towards him "I would have loved a honeymoon period, but I've been irritating journos from the beginning. Originally I was knocked for being too left-wing, and now apparently I've sold out and I'm too right-wing, but all the time I've been being me, and that certainly isn't the person I recognise in anything that's written about me." He denies being anti-establishment though, "I wrote a sitcom for the BBC when I was 21! How the fuck can I be anti-establishment? From the first interview I ever did, I talked about Morecambe and Wise, and every time they wanted me to talk about Lenny Bruce I'd say, 'Yeah, he's fine, but he doesn't make me laugh the way Eric'n'Ernie do." He also points out he was a socialist at a time when "the media was on the whole slavishly worshipping of Thatcher". He said of his political views "I believe in the politics of Clement Attlee. I'm a Welfare State Labour voter."
He parodied himself though in the sketch 'Benny Elton' for Harry Enfield's Television Programme in 1994, which saw him sending up his 'right on' Socialist image as a politically correct spoilsport chasing Page Three models around a park to chastise them and tricking heterosexual couples into becoming gay.
- Kennedy, Maev (10 January 2012). "Picasso, Cocteau and Chagall paintings to be exhibited at Lightbox in Woking". The Guardian (London).
- World authors, 1995–2000 – Mari Rich, Olivia J. Smith, Clifford Thompson – Google Books. Books.google.ca. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
- Star Times. "Elton sees stupid future – Entertainment news, gossip & music, movie & book reviews on Stuff.co.nz". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- "no need. | Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (, 2004)". Accessmylibrary.com. 2004-04-17. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- "Brothers divided for the most extreme reasons". This is Lincolnshire. 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
- Chris Tryhorn (2 April 2008). "BBC 'scared' of Islam jokes, says Elton". theguardian.com. Retrieved 5 March 2014. "Elton described himself as an atheist but said he was in favour of God defined as "the mystery of the universe"."
- I Have a Cunning Plan – 20th Anniversary of Blackadder, BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast, 23 August 2003. BBC
- "Brisbane - Ben Elton - Queensland Performing Arts Centre - Ourbrisbane.com". Ourbrisbane.com. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- Cary, James. "Positive spin". Third Way.
- Quinn, Karl: Turning back the clock for old-style TV variety, The Age, 8 February 2011.
- "Elton's live comedy show dies after three episodes". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2011-02-24.
- "Nine axes Elton's comedy show – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". ABCnet.au. Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- "New sitcom from Ben Elton". TV Tonight. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
- Patrick Munn (5 January 2013). "Kacey Ainsworth, Rufus Jones & Michael Falzon Cast In BBC One’s Ben Elton Sitcom". Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- Cole, Tom. "Ben Elton's The Wright Way rubs critics up the wrong way". Radio Times. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Sherwin, Adam (24 April 2013). "Ben Elton mauled by critics after getting BBC sitcom The Wright Way badly wrong". The Independent. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- "Steve Dow, Journalist". Stevedow.com.au. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Stephanie Merritt. Guardian Unlimited Books – Mystery Man. Books.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Willis, Andrew (2004). Film stars: Hollywood and beyond. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-7190-5645-4.
- IMDb: Maybe Baby
- Alan Bird (17 May 2002). "We Will Rock You". West End Review. Londontheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Erin James (8 July 2012). "We Will Rock You revival set to tour Australia, arena style". AussieTheatre.com. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Wake, Jacqueline (6 July 2000). "Face of the day: Ben Elton". The Herald Scotland.
- Frank Pilkington. (1997.) "It's a date; Ben Elton", Sunday Mail, Glasgow, Scotland.
- "Ben Elton set to call Freo home | The West Australian". Au.news.yahoo.com. 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Sherwin, Adam (24 April 2013). "Ben Elton mauled by critics after getting BBC sitcom The Wright Way badly wrong". The Independent.
- "Ben Elton to showcase Western Australia | Tourism Western Australia". Web.archive.org. 2006-11-14. Archived from the original on 2006-11-14. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Gray, Marianne (24 May 2000). "Ben's tussle with baby blues". London Evening Standard.
- "Where will the next generation get its political anthems from?". Labour List.
- "'Luvvies' for Labour". BBC News. 1998-08-30. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
- The Sound of No Hands Clapping, Toby Young, Da Capo Press 2006, p.212
- How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Stewart Lee, Faber & Faber Ltd., 2010
- "Mark Steel". Room 101. Season 11. Episode 4. 2007-01-26.
- Close (2000-05-30). "Ben Elton live on our talkboards | | guardian.co.uk Film". London: Film.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- "I've been irritating journos from the beginning". Sunday Herald. August 2011.
- Stas Bekman: stas (at) stason.org (1989-03-05). "05 Television (all broadcast dates are UK unless otherwise stated) (Ben Elton)". Stason.org. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Ben Elton at the Internet Movie Database
- theartsdesk Q&A: Ben Elton (9 October 2010)
- Interview with Andrew Denton on ABC TV Australia
- Ben Elton Knows The Truth
- BBC Comedy Guide – Ben Elton