Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 21 November 2019


Top of the Folklore Thursday, pop-pickers! 

How fortuitous that today's theme is FILM & TV (Well, and books – here's a great book you might enjoy, and want to buy copious copies for everyone you've ever met: XMAS IS COMING!), because, as those of you who have been paying some attention will know, the Tales Of Britain storyteller Brother Bernard's alter-ego Jem Roberts is the official chronicler of some of our greatest TV shows of all time, including Blackadder, A Bit of Fry & Laurie and (well, it was on TV) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! Feel free to buy a copy of any of the above below...

But also, as we made clear on our very first blog all those years ago, TV is a major inspiration for our book, and our very approach to storytelling – as indeed, TV should be for almost any worthwhile narreative-based art, there is no greater medium for telling stories. 

We surely have to pay emotional homage first of all to Jim Henson's original THE STORYTELLER, starring John Hurt as the rascally weaver of plots, accompanied by his snarky, ballsy dog, Dog. The magic summoned up by those nine half-hours represents the absolute pinnacle of the cosy, bewitching power of TV storytelling, unbeaten even by Jackanory, and partly thanks to the development of the late Anthony Minghella...

Of course, tragically, now Disney owns every scrap of Jim Henson's creations, over the great man's dead body, they are intending to reboot the series in what will inevitably be a CG-packed, hollow Disney way... though at a push, if Ben Whishaw were hired to play a younger Storyteller, we might just be able to buy that. John Hurt is as irreplaceable as Jim Henson, but Whishaw has this odd echo of Hurt's greatness, so who knows...?

On the other hand, this man truly is 100% impossible to replace, and his crazy, mind-blowing, eerie storytelling TV show Grim Tales was even more crucial to our whole ethos with Tales of Britain:

Dear Rik, whose loss we will never begin to comprehend. The year he died, we were making active attempts to talk to his management about the idea of him reviving his Grim Tales persona to become the original Brother Bernard for any TV format we managed to get off the ground. These Grimm stories were adapted by a different Anthony, Horowitz, but that was largely irrelevant, because the show's success was 90% down to the irrepressible spirit of RIK and his wild ability to make the audience breathless with laughter, and turn on a die to pure sadness in the next instance. The self-important stuffiness which defines 99% of folklore writing is a key reason why we launched Tales Of Britain in the first place, nobody seemed to be having any FUN with it – and witrh Rik in charge, it was impossible not to have fun. How we miss him.

Nobody will ever rival Rik's ability to spin a yarn, although we have cited other key influences – Tales of Britain is dedicated to Python Terry Jones, author of magical fairytales brought to TV by the legendary Neil Innes (supporter, incidentally, of the next book from the Tales of Britain author, FAB FOOLS), plus the enthusiastic location storytelling of Tony Robinson in shows like Odysseus also taught us more than a thing or two about grabbing an audience and not letting go until 'THE END'. But if anybody was our dream TV Brother Bernard, it was RIK.

That said, there is still a gorgeous autumnal BBC1 Sunday teatime-style show waiting to be made here, and we have no shame in sharing our rough format pitch with you now. We showed Stephen Fry a few years ago, but have a feeling he won't be pitching it to his company Sprout any time soon, so here it is. Some might say it's madness to put something like this online, but we have no TV production companies knocking on our door, so why keep it hidden away?

OI, TV EXECS, TALES OF BRITAIN IS PERFECT TELLY! And don't go swiping the idea, it's all in the retelling... Give us a shout any time, and we'll see what we can work out...

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