Opinion: What Ricky Gervais & Russell Brand Taught Me

Never throw anything away. I was reminded of this when I was watching a BBC2 documentary about journalist Lynn Barber recently. At one point interviewer Alan Yentob and Barber visited the north London home of 91-year-old newspaper archivist Edda Tasiemka. She had footballers in the toilet, film stars under stairs, politicians in the hall. I mean she had cuttings about them. Tasiemka is a legend among journalists of the pre-Google age. She was the first port of call when they were researching a story. Many could not write a word until they had received by bundle of back issues from Tasiemka.

Thinking about saving old newspapers made me think about saving old correspondence too. My trouble is that I am scrupulously tidy. I’m always having purges that would make Stalin seem like a softy. I throw things out in fear that if I didn’t I would turn into one of those people who feature on TV documentaries about extreme, obsessive hoarders. 

As a result I’ve chucked out things that I really regret chucking away. When I was working at Time Out in 1998 I received a personal letter from an aspiring comedian called Ricky Gervais. I still remember it. He was asking me if there was any chance of me reviewing his first TV programme that was going out on Channel 4. It was part of the Comedy Lab series and was called Golden Years. In it he played Clive Meadows, the boss of a video store obsessed with David Bowie (“We’ve got Suffragette City…Slickers 1 & 2"). This was well before The Office, but there was more than a hint of David Brent in his character, who was middle-aged, but desperately to appear cool and down with the kids. 

Anyway, I watched the programme and gave it a good write up. In one very funny scene Clive visits a tribute act agency who have top Queen parody, Right Fred's Dead, on their books. So if you want to blame anyone for Ricky’s world dominance feel free to blame me. Unfortunately, however, the letter ended up filed in the WPB – waste paper basket. 

A couple of years later when I started reviewing comedy for the Evening Standard I got a letter from half of a double act, which again sticks in my mind, but is long gone. The hopeful performer said he had really enjoyed my recent biography of Reeves and Mortimer and if I liked double acts I should check out his duo, Theobald and Brand. He enclosed a cutting from a local paper, probably the Hackney Gazette, which was one of the few bits of coverage they had had at that stage. The letter was from Russell Brand. I thought maybe I’d put this in my Vic & Bob archive, but I keep checking hopefully, and it is definitely not there.

The trouble is you never know what is going to be of historical interest so maybe you have to keep it all. Before I specialised in comedy I wrote about music. In the early 1990s I interviewed the Manic Street Preachers a few times and got to know them a bit. Richy Edwards was always friendly and after one interview in their manager’s flat in West London he handed me some handwritten lyrics and asked me to let him know what I thought of them. I glanced at them when I got home – I remember they referred to the Queen (the real one, not Right Fred's Dead) – but never got back to him. A few years later when Edwards disappeared I tried to find them but had no luck. I expect I scribbled some notes about the interview on the back of them and then cleared them out when the feature was written. 

Of course, sometimes you can be reasonably confident that when you are having a purge you are not throwing out something that may later be of huge historical interest. I remember binning some old DVDs a while back. A couple of them, dating from the pre-YouTube era, were sketch compilations. I remembered the person who sent them hassling me to write something about him. I watched them, didn’t think much of them and lobbed them in the WPB.

The comedian was Harry Deansway. Maybe one day he will be up there with Gervais and Brand and it will be my loss. In the meantime though he hasn't quite set the world on fire and I have nice tidy shelf. So who is the winner?

Hello! Thanks for reading all the way down. I wish I could give you a prize. But BTJ needs your support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.