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Very Old Pretenders

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Jon Aird | 11:39 UK time, Monday, 12 September 2011

From Carl Gorham, creator of cult animation classic Stressed Eric, comes Very Old Pretenders, in which two Jacobite soldiers from 1745 are found alive and well in a cave in Perthshire and have to be integrated into modern society by academic Andrew Merron.

Jack Docherty, Rebecca Front and Gordon Kennedy

Jack Docherty, Rebecca Front and Gordon Kennedy

Writer and Director Carl Gorham writes...

History and being Scottish - I’ve always had a bit of a thing about both of these even though you couldn’t get much more English than me; I'm formal, totally non tactile, born in Brighton and have even been known to say "gosh".

The company behind this series, Absolutely Productions, is, however, predominantly Scottish. Some of my best friends are Scottish (When Scotland got kicked out of the '86 World Cup by Uruguay I was the first on the phone to them, offering genuine sympathy and righteous indignation - see below).

I'm probably the only Englishman who enjoys watching Braveheart and have found myself muttering on more than one occasion “Well you can see their point of view”. I love Edinburgh and the Highlands. I love the mists and the melancholy. I even love the sound of bagpipes.

I've always been a fan of history too. When other kids wanted to be pilots or spacemen, I firmly declared that I was going to be an actor and historian. When I was nine I bullied my mum into knitting me a mock chain-mail suit. I was so obsessed that after a year, when the poor woman, hands bleeding, came to me having just completed the helmet part, all I could think of to say was "Where’s the rest of it?"

At one time I also used to come down to breakfast each day dressed as a different historical character - ranging from Richard The Lion Heart to Wellington. The whole fad spanned several years and only ended when my Charles I execution shirt, which was ripped and covered in tomato ketchup, went a bit 'off' and stank the house out.

When the chance came for to me to combine these two interests in one series, I leapt at it. Very Old Pretenders is about two Scottish soldiers from hundreds of years ago trying to make sense of today’s world, gadgets, and attitudes.

Each week there is a different theme as the Scots are introduced to modern notions of patriotism, speed dating, therapy and finally the world of TV. The fact that the person doing the introductions is an English academic adds a further level of complication.

Though specific in its setting, hopefully the series is also accessible. There are references to broadswords, clans and bonnets but it is, at heart, about loyalty, love, and social embarrassment.

I know everyone says this but the making of the show really was a joy. Jack Docherty and Gordon Kennedy were naturals for the two feisty leads seeing as they have been arguing with each other since school and I've known the wonderful Rebecca Front since University. The only person I hadn't worked with before was David Haig who was fantastic, thoroughly nice and has the best moustache in show business.

Here is a preview from the show:

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And now a word from Producer and actor Gordon Kennedy...

I remember the moment: 1986, coming back to the flat with Jack Docherty, Scotland dumped out of the World Cup again, but this time, more than any other time, WE WAS ROBBED. Appalling Ref, disgustingly filthy Uruguayan team, 0-0.

Out, gone, team at the airport. It was 1am. In the grim darkness of the hallway, heavy with the reek of shattered dreams, a single red light flashed on and off. It was winking at us: come on boys...why don't you listen to the message?

Unsteadily I extended a grimy, beer soaked finger towards the play button...surely a guffawing message from our new English friends...a suitable and deserving repost to us singing the Uber Alles after England got thrashed by Germany in the qualifiers. Something, anything to focus our anger and take our minds off the gaping, vacuous pit of despair before us...

It was Carl..."Hello?...Um, Hi Guys...I just want to say that was a disgrace this evening. You deserved to win, it's terrible, I can't imagine what you must be feeling now...." and so it went on....and on...and on for 20 suffocating minutes.

Nooooooooooooo! Doesn't he understand? Not only had we been dumped out of the World Cup; even more shocking and depressing was the revelation that the ferocious, unyielding sporting rivalry that we had assumed, up until this moment, was mutual between England and Scotland...wasn't.

You Bastard Carl, you cruel, complete and utter, utter Bastard. I can't remember who punched the answer machine first, but flushing it down the loo made us feel no better. One way rivalry: as useful as a commons select committee, as rewarding as a torn up betting slip.

Still I guess we got a sitcom out of it...

Nah, still not worth it.

Listen to Very Old Pretenders Thursday, 11:00pm on Radio 4

Gordon Kennedy and Jack Doherty will be talkinga bout the series on MacAulay and Co Thursday, 10:00am, Radio Scotland.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hello Carl Gorham. As a young boy I used to go to sleep listening to a tape of Gorham & Swift. In my mind I can still hear your wobbly voice say "I am now fully up to date with A Country Practice". That is all.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear EBC staff
    congratulations! Another unfunny, racist programme full of Stottiecliches. How things have not changed since the seventies. The News Quiz players are now just openly insulting on Scottish matters. Just a Minute featured its embarrassing type of Tartan question recently, a standard inclusion whenever they're in Edinburgh. What the Papers Say is a programme that can never be accused of taking a British viewpoint, but in their fifteen minutes from the Festival (why bother?) they made an introductory single-sentence reference to the necessity for 'Scottish papers' to cover another humiliating football defeat by - yes, you guessed - the English. Well then, that's the Lothian Question neatly covered, what's going on in the real world then?
    Taken as a Tartan Package, we can see that it's the best argument for independence since the Thatcher visit in '99. Well done gentlemen, keep up the good work!

    Yours faithfully
    Alexander MacAllister BA(Hons), DipABRSM, RGN (yes, I'm educated and have diplomas and everything!)

    PS Apologies for misspelling of English, only its my fourth language after Guid Scots, Norwegian and French

  • Comment number 3.

    Skipping over the mistermac rant, I too used to listen to Gorham & Swift when (pretty) youn, I still remember you're piano version of Anarchy In The UK as well as the fact that I'd never heard This Charming Man before and therefore thought you'd put loads of effort into recording your catchy theme tune. I'll be sure to check out the next few episodes as I liked this.

  • Comment number 4.

    I strayed across the final episode of "Very Old Pretenders" last night and, if the others were of the same standard, I cannot understand how this series was ever commissioned.

    Nothing wrong with the cast (other than that they agreed to perform this stuff), but the script was just not funny. There were great long rambling sections which didn't appear to even be attempting to deliver any humourous effect (not always easy to distinguish from the bits that were). It just seemed lazy, amateurish and self-indulgent.

    I don't mind that the whole concept has been done to death (from Catweezle to Les Visiteurs); there should still be scope for a decent script to make something of it. But this was unforgivably bad.

  • Comment number 5.

    Enjoyed this series hugely. Great to hear something truly original for a change. Slick production and a hilarious script - with lovely unexpected moments of pathos at the end. Very amusing gentle satire on the modern day University Professor too - would love to hear what he's up to next - so more Carl Gorham please!

  • Comment number 6.

    New to Radio 4 evenings and this was a great listen. Really made me laugh. How about another series?

  • Comment number 7.

    Well Done Carl, I thought it was fab. 11pm is past my bedtime but meant that I had something to look forward to on Iplayer on Fridays. You are a genius. Very funny. More please.

  • Comment number 8.

    A clever combination of humour and social commentary, I look forward to similar discoveries in other parts of the UK - perhaps some of Carl's childhood friends from the 1970s discovered in the cellar of a Brighton nightclub? Room for some cracking moustaches in that script :-)


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