Tag Archives: Ian McKellen

Vicious fun with McKellen and Jacobi on PBS

Ian McKellen and Derek Jaobi

Sirs Ian McKerlen and Derek Jacobi star as devoted but bickering partners of nearly 50 years in the new Britcom ‘Vicious,’ premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates.


Two knights of the British theater, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, cut loose as a bickering elderly gay couple in Vicious, a new half-hour Britcom premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates (check local listings).
Created by an American, former Will & Grace executive producer Greg Janetti, the farcical comedy (which originally had the working title Vicious Old Queens) follows fading actor Freddie Thornhill (McKellen) and his partner of 48 years, Stuart Bixby (Jacobi), who share an overstuffed, overdecorated two-level London flat with their 20-year-old dog, Balthazar. The series opens on the day of a funeral for Clive St. Clair, who worshipfully adored Freddie from afar and carried a lifelong torch for him – at least, according to Freddie. Joining Freddie and Stuart for the wake is their best friend of several decades, Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour, The History Boys), but all three of them immediately become distracted by the arrival of a new neighbor in the apartment building: Ash Weston (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), a very handsome working-class lad of indeterminate amorous inclinations.
When Stuart ponders whether Ash is gay or straight, Freddie immediately promises to solve the mystery.
“After all, I did spend a year playing the detective in The Mousetrap,” he tells Stuart, referencing the venerable Agatha Christie play that has been running continuously in London since 1952.
“Oh, please,” Stuart snaps back. “Our POSTMAN has been in The Mousetrap.
Although it is set in the present, in general tone and broad performance style Vicious is a throwback to such vintage Britcoms of the ‘70s as Are You Being Served? In fact, one episode features Stuart earning some extra cash by working in the men’s section of a department store, and I half expected Mr. Humphries to pop into the scene with his characteristic “I’m free!”
Yet while Mr. Humphries’ off-camera personal life was a matter of sniggering speculation in that bygone sitcom, the loving yet fractious relationship between Stuart and Freddie is very much at the heart of Vicious. These two cranky old gents may get on each other’s nerves, but they also share a long history that stretches back to a time when things were not at all easy for men like themselves.
“The point of those old-fashioned sitcoms was that to be gay was, in itself, funny and that you laughed at the characters rather than with them,” says McKellen, who, like Jacobi, is gay in real life as well. “This is not true of (Vicious), and I don’t think Derek and I would have wanted to be involved in this script if it were old-fashioned in that sense. We don’t get laughs as Freddie and Stuart because we are gay, but because we are the people we are. … It’s just two real men surviving with all the problems that many, many people have.”
Filmed before a live studio audience, Vicious just wants to make you laugh, and it’s a treat to watch these two stage titans setting aside any traces of dignity to achieve that end. McKellen in particular is absolutely hilarious. Watch for an episode in which Freddie auditions to play a character who has a single line on Downton Abbey. He has just barely received the thrilling news that he got the job when Ash turns up at the door to announce that, despite his complete lack of experience, he has just been hired for a part in an independent film.
Watching McKellen react to that news is a master class in comedy acting, as Freddie, completely numb, at first thinks he must have misheard, then struggles in vain to process this impossible development and finally chokes back the bitter jealousy he is feeling. The actor does all of this wordlessly, too. It’s an absolutely brilliant moment.
Vicious was an runaway smash when it ran in the UK, where it already has been picked up for a second season. Meanwhile, don’t miss this chance for the next few weeks to watch McKellen and Jacobi as you’ve never seen them before.
'Vicious' on PBS

Frances de la Tour and Iwan Rheon (back row) co-star in ‘Vicious’ with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS

PBS’ glorious Dave Clark Five special is a must-see

The Dave Clark Five

Lead vocalist/keyboardist Mike Smith, guitarist Lenny Davidson, drummer Dave Clark, bassist Rick Huxley and saxophonist Denis Payton (from left) made up The Dave Clark Five during the band’s ’60s heyday.


The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, a lively and music-packed two-hour Great Performances special premiering tonight on PBS, reminds us that three, not two, truly great British bands came out of the vibrant ’60s music scene.
Everyone remembers The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, of course, but a generation or two of American music lovers may not remember The Dave Clark Five, a group that had a phenomenal international run from 1964 to 1970 and powerfully influenced some of today’s leading musical artists, including Bruce Springsteen.
During their heyday, the band actually rivaled The Beatles in terms of both popularity and professional credibility, as fans debated the merits of the former’s so-called “Tottenham Sound” vs. the latter band’s well-known “Mersey Beat.” The Dave Clark Five may have been more clean-cut and conventionally handsome – especially drummer Clark and his frontman vocalist, Mike Smith – but as Springsteen and others note during the special, there was a power and a raw edge to their performances that neither of the other two superbands could match.
“It was just a much bigger sound than either the Stones or The Beatles,” Springsteen says.
Clark originally formed the group, comprised of gym buddies from the Tottenham community in North London, just as a fun way to earn some pocket money. The band quickly gained a following during their appearances at a London club, and shot to superstardom in 1964 after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Although The Beatles had appeared on Sullivan’s show a few weeks earlier, The Dave Clark Five eventually would rack up a record-breaking 18 appearances on that hit variety series, and they embarked on a major U.S. tour in May 1964, before either The Beatles or the Stones, packing huge arenas everywhere they went. Their celebrity fans included Lucille Ball (who filmed a TV special with them), Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
When they weren’t touring, the band was in the studio, cranking out a series of best-selling albums and hit singles such as “Glad All Over,” “Because,” “I Like It Like That,” “Catch Us If You Can” and “Over and Over.” For a time The Dave Clark Five was even more successful in the U.S. than in their native Britain, until the group, exhausted, decided to suspend touring in 1967 and work exclusively from the U.K. After selling 100 million records, The Dave Clark Five disbanded in 1970.
The PBS special includes extensive performance footage from The Dave Clark Five’s appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, much of it not seen in decades, as well as home movies by members of the group. There are also newly filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Van Zandt, Gene Simmons, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick, as well as fans Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Ian McKellen, among others.
A major highlight, however, is extensive footage from Tom Hank’s eloquent and ardent tribute to the band when they belatedly were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. By then, two of its members, the charismatic Smith and saxophonist Denis Payton, had died, but bass player Rick Huxley and guitarist Lenny Davidson joined Clark on stage to accept the prestigious honor before a cheering crowd.
Clark himself wrote, produced and directed The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, which amounts to a nostalgic valentine to the four bandmates he clearly cherished, as well as reminding us of the great music this band produced. If you lived through their glory days, as I did, this special is an unforgettable time capsule. If you don’t remember The Dave Clark Five, it will be a revelation.
As always, be sure to check your local TV listings to confirm when this special is airing in your local market.
Tom Hanks and Dave Clark

Tonight’s special includes extensive footage from fan and friend Tom Hanks’ (left) eloquent tribute to The Dave Clark Five during the band’s 2008 installation into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.