By Ben Pensant
Believe it or not, politics wasn’t my first love. Despite being more clued up than most, my road to becoming the voice of a generation was paved with other passions, most of which are perfectly legal. Chief among those was a love of the arts, in particular performance and literature. Indeed, without the escapist joy of reading and acting I dread to think what my life would have been like under the tyranny of abusive, alcoholic parents.
But while being locked in a damp cupboard under the stairs and forced to live on orange peel and live mice may have broken less precocious children, for me this typical working-class existence was to be my making. Because as well as a life-long hemorrhoid problem, my grim cellar days also gifted me the freedom to dream, to disappear, to spend my summer holidays ploughing through a pile of mouldy paperbacks, scrawling one-man plays in blood on the ceiling, and slicing my tongue to ribbons licking rusty dog food cans.
Still, despite exposing myself to as much culture as possible (in between chewing on burst tennis balls and attempting suicide with a plastic spoon), when I eventually escaped my cider-drenched parents at 16 I opted against pursuing the arts. Instead I retained my integrity by forging a successful career as a recipient of the welfare state, a vocation which still burns bright to this day. Though as it turned out, my natural flare for writing and acting proved vital when deflecting the Job Centre’s fascistic demands for evidence of my attempts to find work and numerous physical disabilities.
In many respects I owe everything to what that grim period gave me, not least the confidence to spend my adult life claiming more benefits than a one-eyed Islamist skag dealer with twelve children and a bad back. But I’ve also gone to great lengths to give something to the community while doing as little as possible and expecting everyone else to pay for it. Which in turn has brought pleasure to countless others, as demonstrated by those joyous afternoons critiquing EastEnders and Jackie Collins to comatose pensioners in the Black Bull, Benton. (I’ll be there from 1pm every day next week if anyone fancies saying ‘hi’ or buying me two pints and a Pepperami.)
All of which informed my exciting decision to start using this platform not just for political activism but also to re-ignite my passion for literature and drama by righting some of the wrongs that have occurred when seminal novels have been mangled for the screen. Utilising my in-depth knowledge, I aim to share this wisdom with my readers, many of whom have no idea how much better Jaws would have been if George Lucozade had cast Benny Hill in the lead role instead of Bill Cosby.
But this isn’t just about analysing poor adaptations. I could talk all day about what David Finchley got wrong when he adapted The Girl With The Pearl Earring but it’d be like shooting apples in a barrel. No, I plan to go deeper. Because often it’s the original texts themselves that are lacking. And similar to the pleasure I take in highlighting the racism of idiot Brexiters, I intend to use this new venture to show failed geniuses such as Seb Larson and F. Murray Fitzgerald exactly where they went wrong. And my goal couldn’t be simpler: to re-shape and re-imagine these fatally flawed pieces for a modern, progressive audience.
But I won’t be producing cheap re-makes or sequels. If you’re expecting Freddy The 13th, forget it. Because during my childhood held captive under the stairs one of the few things that kept me going was Radio 6, particularly long-running sex and sheep saga The Arthurs. Indeed, some of my fondest memories involve shivering in a vomit-stained blanket with my ear glued to the ancient transistor radio, praying I’d make it to the end of the episode before the battery died, I passed out from frostbite or my dad walked in and started kicking imaginary pigeons while leaving a trail of syrupy black piss on the floorboards.
In fact, the only artform that could possibly do justice to my vision is the radio play – a far more esoteric and evocative medium than cinema or TV. By re-creating key scenes from classic novels the correct way, at long last the layman can get a glimpse of what might have been if all of those highly paid screenwriters and directors had a tenth of my talents.
Which brings me to the first novel to be given my unique audio redux treatment: JRR Martin’s little known sci-fi epic, A Song Of Tits And Dragons.
As you’re probably aware, in 2015 this weighty tome was adapted into a cult TV series by HSBC, whereupon it was re-christened Game Of Throne to make the dark drama more palatable to Americans with shit for brains. Needless to say, the title wasn’t the only thing they changed. Because throughout its ten-year run GOT has taken huge liberties with its source material: altering names, locations and bra-sizes while repeatedly disrespecting Martin’s bold vision in order to sate the feral desires of hotdog-scoffing Trump voters from Michigan.
Not that I actually watch the show. I stopped after the pilot episode, sensing it would inevitably sell out as the brainless public latched on to its cynical blend of swords and fanny. Needless to say, I jumped ship immediately once I found out it was no longer only available from ultra-secret streaming services months before broadcast and could now be watched by any beer-swilling knacker with a Skynet subscription.
Because there’s no better way to scrub the elitist lustre from a piece of high quality drama than broadcasting it in the UK at the same time it airs in the states. What self-respecting TV connoisseur wants to watch something that brings joy to millions instead of a handful of snobs? Gone are the golden days of watching US TV months before everyone else and acting unbearably smug about your new favourite show that no fucker has heard of. Now, thanks to Robert Murdoch, Yoohoo and Kwikflix, most American shows are available immediately to everyone rather than just a small cabal of socially awkward web-savvy virgins.
Sadly, the mid-noughties joy of watching The Choir a year before anyone else is gone for good, and with it our fond memories of the show itself. Because as the western world descends into white supremacy the inherent wrongness of that much-lauded cop show – and others from the so-called ‘golden generation’ – is now painfully obvious. Take the irresponsible way it depicted black communities blighted by drugs and violence as a complex and difficult issue with no easy answers, completely at odds with the Black Lives Matter position which propagates the narrative that evil cops shoot innocent black men and force them to kill each other because of systemic something-or-other. And don’t even get me started on the crudely stereotyped Columbian meth-lords in Breaking Saul.
It’s thanks to this malaise that when it comes to GOT I stand firmly in the ‘not as good as the books’ camp. Not that I’ve read them. I stopped after chapter one as I got the distinct impression they were getting dangerously close to selling out. And by ‘selling out’ I mean it had shifted more than ten copies and expanded its audience to include people who wear shellsuits, eat kebabs and murder their own children.
So we parted ways, though I still fondly recall those halcyon days, in much the same way I’ll always cherish my memories of Nirvana’s early months: writing their logo all over my pencil-case, rocking out to their debut album Ten before it had even been recorded, and setting fire to it after finding out they’d played a gig to over twenty people at Southampton Roadmender’s. Marvellous times and while it was a wrench to withdraw my support after they took the corporate dollar, no-one was more pleased than me when Bert Cocaine clawed back some underground cred by sticking a rifle in his mouth and shooting his face off.
But despite bailing from GOT after one episode I’ll always feel an affinity with the TV series. (And I’d wager I know more about it than most of the people who’ve watched all eight seasons too.) All of which informed my thinking when debating which parts of Martin’s opus could be most improved by my idiosyncratic touch. Would I go for loveable pixie Taiwan Lancaster’s trip to Hadrian’s Wall with rugged hero Peter Snow? How about albino queen Linda Hamilton’s unsuccessful attempts to house-train her pet dinosaurs? Or maybe the dark chapter in which treacherous chimney sweep Alfie Lovejoy gets his knob bitten off by evil prince Michael Bolton?
When it came to promising chapters just crying out to be improved I was spoilt for choice. But in the end I went back to the early stuff (what else?), specifically the seminal sequence that laid the foundation for the entire story. Yes, I’m talking about the perilous trip from north to south enjoyed by King of Westworld Robert Baracus and his effeminate best friend Nev Stark.
This section had it all – drama, humour, and a poorly sketched relationship just dying to be electrified by someone who knows these characters better than the man who created them. And the modern-day parallels were simply too good to resist, from Robert’s boorish, bullying Brexiteer to Nev, the kind, gentle Corbynite. Who, much like Britain, could have saved himself a truckload of bother if only he’d ‘remained’ in Wintersville.
But most of all it was a chance to show what really went on between these two characters as they made that fateful journey west. Friends who’ve heard my piece have observed that it reveals an emotional core to Robert and Nev’s friendship that was sorely missing on page and screen. That’s not for me to say though they’re most definitely correct. I’ve also been told my version chimes beautifully with the intersectional world we now inhabit, easily dwarfing the casually offensive orignal in terms of its grasp of identity politics. No mean feat considering the only two characters are white men who’d stick their dicks in a bacon sandwich if it smiled at them.
To keep the fanboys happy I’ve retained the iconic them tune from the TV show, but other than that this is as original a story as can be written about two characters invented by someone else. You’ll also notice that the accents are somewhat different to the crass cod-Yorkshire found in the TV show. Needless to say, as sole voice actor I was determined to add some authentic northern grit, not least with Nev, whose pitch-perfect burr contrasts sharply with the lacklustre brogue used in the TV show by Sean Penn. I don’t mind admitting this is a direct result of my clever decision to imbue his accent with the laconic charm of Wigan Casino cleaner-cum-guerilla economist Paul Mason. I believe the results speak for themselves.
But enough from me. The time has come to disappear into a magical imaginary world filled with magic and imagination. (As well as rape, incest and child murder.) There’s a little town in the highlands where a brave man from the north is about to make a momentous decision that will echo through this life and the next…
(Recorded, edited and mixed by Don Eggnog)