April 2, 2006.
on the stage of a
disused, half-wrecked theatre at the
back of Alexandra Palace, next to the ice-skating rink,
are two men who look very slightly like the Pet Shop Boys.
They are dressed in one-piece orange body suits and appear
to be attempting a clumsy recreation of the "Can you
forgive her?" video. There is a giant fake ostrich egg
with them, and they are pushed across the dry stage in a
poorly-constructed boat, as cameras film them.
absolute masterpiece," declares Neil Tennant, when they
He is standing halfway back on the theatre
floor, close to the wall where a stack of mannequins have
unceremoniously piled. "It's already fantastic.
That's enough, really:'
The two men onstage wave. The
shorter, in the Chris Lowe role, is Matt Lucas; the
taller, in the Neil Tennant role, is David Walliams. The
idea for the video is, Neil says, that, "They've kidnapped
us and are forcing us to watch Pet Shop Boys: The
Neil and Chris have known Matt and David
- now two of Britain's most famous comedians and actors
because of their show Little Britain
- for many years.
Famously, when they performed the song "Liberation" on Top
Of The Pops in 1993, they got chatting to this tall,
strange man in the front row of the audience between
takes. (Literally remembers well them talking about him
when they went back to their dressing room.) In 1996 when
they went on Ant and Dec's TV show, they were surprised to
find the same man working as a writer on the show - David
Walliams, and from then on they kept bumping into him
around town and became friends. They were later told that
Matt had also been at Top Of The Pops -
enjoyed a separate early fame of his own on the Reeves &
Mortimer spoof quiz show Shooting Stars, and had also
appeared in the video for Fat Les's "Vindaloo". And they
both were regulars at Pet Shop Boys events. David
suggested a while back that they'd like them to be in one
of the Pet Shop Boys videos, and they'd agreed that would
be good, but were still a little surprised to read in The
Sun towards the end of last year that they were going to
be in the next Pet Shop Boys video. Still, says Neil, "We
thought 'I'm with Stupid' would be the song for them,
because it suggested humour. So after they'd announced
that they were doing it, we asked them if they would like
to do it." Once that was agreed, they needed an idea. They
considered having David and Matt play Tony Blair and
George Bush at one point, in keeping with the song's
political satire, but they decided against it. This idea
Matt and David film the scene a couple more
times. As they do so the song that is playing, of course,
is not "Can you forgive
her?" but "I'm with Stupid".
"The important thing when you come to a video shoot," says
Neil, "is: what does the track sound like?" He's pleased.
"The track sounds great." He remarks that he has also just
been told that it is number 9 on the Croatian national
radio chart. "We're doing two Croatian interviews," he
says, "and our first ever Bulgarian interview:'
the car park there is a caravan for Neil, Chris, Matt and
David to relax in between shots and to change clothes.
Chris is yet to arrive, but Neil, David and Matt retire to
discuss pressing issues of the day.
"We saw the Will
Young video today," says Matt. "It's very good."
"What's he done?" asks Neil.
"Blue Pete,<' says Matt.
"He's camping it up a lot' notes David.
"Did you see
the Top Gun one?" says Neil. "I'm astonished how the
record company spend so much money making them an event:'
"I just think they should have gone for a good lace
wig, rather than an acrylic thing," says Matt.
discuss whether it's strange that Will Young should be
recreating Blue Peter eras which he is too young to have
"People often have nostalgia for something
they weren't around for," says David.
"I had an
argument with a friend about whether John Noakes had a
hairy chest," says Neil. "I got the Blue Peter annual, and
there he was, diving into a pool, and he did have a hairy
chest:' He nods. "But we never liked Peter Purves."
"Did you ever go on Jim'll Fix It?" Matt asks him. "Did
anyone want to meet you?"
"No," says Neil, answering
the first question, if not the second.
They are called
back into the theatre. A few minutes later, Chris sweeps
in and takes in the scene.
"There's a lot going on in
here' he says.
"Chris, it looks fantastic," says Neil.
"Well, that's a relief, isn't it?" says Chris.
says how nice North London seemed on his way up here.
"Oooh, satellite navigation was a good buy," he adds.
Matt and David come over to say hello.
"It's very good
of you to do this on your day off," says Chris.
holds out his hand. "Big fan," he says, earnestly.
"Thirty quid is 30 quid," shrugs Matt.
This leads them
to discuss the things people say when you meet them. Neil
mentions that he was recently introduced to the legendary
- or perhaps even notorious - movie impresario Harvey
Weinstein who said, "Loved your work on Crying Game".
"Did you produce that for George?" asks Matt.
nods. "That was the moment when I thought George had got
over the bad review in Smash Hits in 1982. And for a while
he did. But not for long."
"What did you say?" asks
"I said he sounded a bit like David Sylvian,"
says Neil. He explains that it wasn't just that. "I hated
their first album."
When they go back outside, they are
shown something quite remarkable about this Winnebago. In
its boot it has a Smart car.
"We must have that on
tour," says Chris.
Back in the theatre, the Pet
Shop Boys stand
by a stuffed ostrich and watch the
It's quite a production.
"Well, I see
where the money's gone," says Chris. "I've never seen as
many people at work on a video shoot. It's a proper video,
"It's a video video' says Neil. "They're very
good as us. I wonder if they'd like to do Top Of The Pops.
It'd be great if they were us." A pause. "Of course a
certain proportion of people wouldn't realise:'
know we're going to be here till three in the morning,"
"Absolutely," says Neil.
"We can go
ice-skating while we're waiting," says Chris.
Dorrell suggests that they come into town with him and
have lunch at The Ivy.
"We've time for that, and dinner
at The Ivy, probably," says Chris.
But of course they
stay. There's catering here, anyway. Chris orders the
chicken, ham and leek pie, and Neil opts for the soy cod
and stir-fry vegetables.
"This whole area," says
Neil, "reminds me of being at North London Polytechnic. My
girlfriend Caroline lived close to here, on Alexandra Park
In the next scene, Matt stabs the keyboard with
a single finger, but only after David - who is wearing
ugly false teeth - has prompted him with a nudge.
too cruel," laughs Chris.
"We'll have to sue ourselves
for libel," Neil suggests.
"What's great is;' says
Chris, "isn't the orange jumpsuit what people wear in
mental institutions? Or was it on chain gangs?"
Walliams swans over.
"It's a bit of fun, isn't it?" he
says in a camp voice.
"People are going to watch it and
think, 'oooh, Chris has put on weight' ," says Matt.
"Pet Shop Boys Gormiess, the new album," says Neil. "Maybe
that'll be the new video compilation, Gormiess."
Back in the Winnebago, David asks about
touring plans and Neil says, "I was thinking of having a
huge open air gig on the day of the World Cup Final for
people who hate football:' He tells David that the fashion
designer Hedi Slimane has become a fan of Little Britain.
"When Imeethim;' says David,"I just think he's thinking,
'you're not thin enough for my clothes'
asks the video production people if they can send someone
to fetch some chocolate. More specifically, he wants an
Easter Egg: "A proper Easter Egg with chocolate buttons on
the inside." He suggests that maybe they should get a few,
just in case. A runner is sent in the Smart car.
asks a question.
"Do you read your reviews?" he
"Yeah;' says Chris. "I don't go out of my way
They discuss the debates that were had over the
choice of first single from Fundamental. The British
record company had decided that it should be "Minimal",
whereas Neil and Chris had always assumed it would
probably be "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show". It was the
German record company who were immediately keen on "I'm
"What's the last single you had which
crossed over?" asks David.
"'Go West';' says Neil.
Someone comes to take pudding orders. Both Little
Britainers plump for Bakewell tart, Chris selects the
bread and butter pudding, and Neil wants nothing.
The discussion moves on to the faults of the contemporary
"Oliver!;' says Neil, by way of contrast,
"every song is between excellence and genius. But when we
went to see Les Mis is 1986 or 1987 we hated it. We left
after 20 minutes. And we left because it was crap."
Then they talk about the photos in this week's tabloids
purporting to be of Whitney Houston's private crack den.
"It was so sad, those pictures;' says Chris.
was horrible," Neil agrees.
"It was so untidy," says
David and Matt go to film an interview about
Neil and Chris for the forthcoming Channel 4 documentary.
"We're going to go and slag you off;' David assures them.
"How long have you been together?" Matt asks.
"Twenty-five years;' says Neil.
"I might add ten years
to that;' says Matt.
"You don't mind, do you?"
As they walk across the car park, David shouts back,
"Don't eat all the Easter Eggs when they come."
has calamitously lost his mobile phone in the week by
leaving it in a taxi - losing not just numbers but loads
of song ideas - and asks to go through Chris's phone
address book to copy out some numbers. Patiently, he
begins to do so. "That's a good trio, isn't it?" he
mutters when he reaches the Ds. "David Furnish, David
Walker, David Walliams..." (Later Neil will tell David of
how, over Christmas, his phone was stolen temporarily by
his nieces specifically because they wanted to find David
Walliams phone number.)
In the theatre, Literally
walks by just as David and Matt are finishing their TV
..... the greatest pop act of the last
twenty years," says David.
Matt pauses. "Almost as good
as Erasure." As he gets up he starts singing~ from
"Electricity"~ "it's the greatest show with the best
Back in the Winnebago Matt tells them what
he has just said.
"You bitch' says Neil.
that ouC' says Chris.
They need to change now into
their yellow (Matt) and blue (David) "Go West" jumpsuits,
though for a while David wanders between costumes in his
black underwear. "Just wandering around in my pants,
slightly enjoying it' he says.
"Yours is more comfy
than mine," says Matt, once the outfits are eventually on.
"Mine's all sticky."
As everyone walks out into the
open air, a fan rushes up, breathless at the sight of Matt
"What are you doing?" he asks.
filming a pop video for them," says Matt, gesturing at
Neil and Chris.
"Erasure," David explains.
Matt's mother now turns up, along with a
called Boyd Hilton who usually works for Heat magazine but
is currently writing a book about David and Matt and has
been following them on their mammoth Little Britain tour.
Matt asks his mother about the idea Neil has just
suggested which the Pet Shop Boys came up with in the
studio the other day
- doing a World Cup record sung by
all the Little Britain characters to the tune of "Go
West"~ its chorus being the football chant "we're shit and
we know we are". (They thought of it because they'd read
in a tabloid that Matt and David were planning to do a
World Cup song with them though, like so many things in
such tabloids, this turns out to be another random
"Is it too rude?" Matt asks his mother.
"Is 'shit' too rude?" echoes David. "It's a shame, but
yeah," says Matt's mother.
"It'd be better doing
'two-nil to the Arsenal'. That'd be much better. Why does
it have to be when they're doing badly? Why can't it be
when they're doing well?"
"You wrote that," Matt
points out to Neil and Chris, talking about the specific
melody on their version of "Go West". "The Village People
sang a different tune." He sings the two versions.
we?" asks Neil. "I only listened to it once."
discuss the surprising use of a swearword in the real
non-radio version of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful".
(When Matt's mother says the word in question, Matt looks
shocked and says that he has never heard her say it
"We've never had a swearword in a song, I
don't think$' says Neil. "One, Chris won't let me."
Matt asks about the swearing in Sex Pistols songs - Neil
is able to quote the relevant texts in detail - and David
mentions Philip Larkin and starts quoting some of his less
"It's incredible," he says, of the
poetry rather than the obscenities.
"It's all so bleak'
David mentions that he recently gave a
friend some Philip Larkin poetry, and also some Bob Dylan
lyrics with particular songs marked:
"You're A Big Girl Now", "Love Sick", "Make You Feel My
Love". This prompts Chris to recall the trip he and Neil
made to see Bob Dylan at the Brixton Academy late last
year. "He sings on one note," Chris complains. "But I
think we stayed longer than we thought we would. He's very
David asks Neil about the outfit he
wore at the Brits - a new Dior affair from the forthcoming
season's collection - and offers a very firm opinion about
neckwear. He thinks that there should be bow ties and real
ties, but nothing in between. Neil disagrees. "I like the
fact that it looks like a puritan preacher thing. Because
bow ties always look a bit waiter-y."
Then he mentions
the protests during Condeleeza Rice's visit to northern
England, and they discuss how muted such protests are
these days. Neil notes how much the political environment
has changed since he was a student in the seventies, when
even the Labour party was considered some kind of
right-wing sell-out. "When I was at North London Poly, if
you voted Labour you were considered a Nazi." He says that
if someone had spoken to him in 1976 he would have seemed
as though he fitted in with that kind of world view. "At
the same time I used to read Evelyn Waugh's books," he
says. "That was just a completely different part of my
Boyd Hilton asks what people thought of the
April Fool's story in The Guardian, making-believe at
great length that Chris Martin had signed up to support
David Cameron's Conservative party.
"I know someone who
believed it," says Neil. (Chris says nothing now, though
earlier he had been laughing about it.). "I put our new
album cover art on our website, not realising it was April
1st," says Neil, "and in the comments they said, 'Come on,
it's obviously a joke, it's April 1st."'
Matt and David
argue about whose orange shoes are whose - they both get
slightly insistent, even though the next shot is a
"That's how groups break up," Neil notes.
"It isn't over the royalties, it's over the plimsolls."
Matt and David are soon back, the shot done.
whizzing through the scenes now, aren't we?" says Chris.
"Are you getting fed up?" Neil asks them.
"No, no, no,
not at all' says David. "We just don't want to be here too
"We don't start getting filmed until you
finish," Neil points out.
"Our first video shoot
lasted... what time?" asks Chris.
"That's illegal," Matt points out.
asks whether they have got lots of unreleased songs they
can put on a boxed set in due course. They shake their
heads. Pretty much everything has been used in their
"We could always write some," Chris
suggests. Some unreleased 1985 songs, some unreleased 1988
songs, and so on.
"I love the idea of that;' says Neil.
"Do some with Stephen Hague, some with Bobby
Back in the theatre, Matt and David are told that they
have one more shot.
"Are they nearly done?" worries
Chris. "They're going to miss the dinner."
probably not as much of a priority for them as it is for
you, Chris' says Neil.
At ten minutes past eight, the
crew applaud. Matt and David are finished.
of the video crew runs up to David. "A slightly bizarre
request," he says. "I need to take a photo of the back of
David acquiesces. "I get that a lot,"
(Presumably, it's for continuity purposes.)
"I wish we'd been in it with you somehow," says David.
(They have filmed no scenes together, though it will
appear as though they are communicating with each other in
the video.) "I'd have liked to have interacted with you."
"Next video," says Neil.
"'Numb'?" suggests David.
"We shouldn't really do 'Numb' as a comedy single, should
we?" wonders Chris.
"'Numb' would be a good second
single," says David.
"I like 'A Little Respect' ," says
"That nearly went over my head," says Neil,
projecting a slight edge into his voice. "But it didn't."
The Little Britain stars leave, the lamb curry
and the Pet Shop Boys discuss fund-raising scandals in
"They're all a let down, the lot
of them;' says Neil. "That's what bugs me."
passes, and there is no sign of them being called to film
their shot. A man from the video eventually comes to visit
"You're not going to need us for a long
time;' says Chris.
"I don't think so," he says,
"That wasn't a question;' Neil explains to
him, "that was a statement."
They watch a bit of
Frasier on the TV and discuss the pros and cons of Zane
Lowe, then flick over to VH2. The programme is called The
Nation's Greatest Lyricist.
"Marc!" exclaims Neil upon
seeing Marc Bolan.
"Or is it Goldfrapp?" wonders Chris.
They watch on.
"How come our nation's greatest
lyricist, sitting in this room, is not nominated?" wonders
He sits in the make-up chair.
Tony Blair is going to resign before 'I'm with Stupid'
comes out;' worries Neil. "Just like we were terrified
Margaret Thatcher was going to lose the 1987 election just
before Actually came out, ruining our album about
Thatcherism, even while voting Labour."
that they've just recorded over 50 ringtones.
mind they're the best ringtones ever done."
written three of them;' says Chris. (Three brand new
pieces of music, he
means, rather than based on
"The 'I'm with Stupid' one, just with
brass, it's brilliant - it's so annoying," says Neil. "It
could give you a nervous breakdown."
"Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2" comes on the TV and Chris
insists on changing channel.
"Neil, it's your video;'
he says. "You like this, don't you?"
"Oh, I love it'
says Neil. It is Blink 182's video for "All The Small
Things". "This is when they were good. I love it when they
do the Backstreet Boys."
"I don't like this type of
music though," Chris objects. "It sounds like Busted."
The waiting continues.
"This is what happens when you
make a film, isn't it?" says Neil. "You stay in the
Winnebago and you get cosy and slightly hysterical and you
get a slightly sleazy feeling because you've had make-up
on all day..."
They are supposed to be tied up and
bound with ropes: David and Matt's prisoners. Worrying
about that might pass the time.
"I might suffer
from claustrophobia," says Chris. "Have you thought of
"Yes," he says. "I'm already assuming I
Chris laughs. "After all this, we won't be
able to do it."
Neil sighs. "Oh, it's been a long day,
"It has;' Chris agrees. "I feel like we've
been here for days."
"It's always tiring, doing
nothing," Neil points out.
At ten minutes past ten they
are told, not for the first time, they must wait 15
"They said that over 15 minutes ago,"
Chris objects. "I'm leaving soon:' He answers a phone
call. "We're still here... No, we haven't done anything
yet... I reckon we'll be here till
queries Neil. "More like midnight."
through the channels some more until eventually - much
more than 15 minutes later - they are called to the set.
puts on his top hat and checks himself in the
mirror. "You know what this hat is?" he realises. "It's
Marc Bolan on the cover of The Slider."
their seats, and ropes are coiled around them - as loosely
as possibly whilst still trying to give the impression
that they are tightly-bound and completely constricted.
The director tries to convince them that they should react
in various animated ways to their predicament, but their
intuition is otherwise.
"I sort of think the Pet
Shop Boys, being captured, would be indifferent;' says
Neil. "We'd be nonchalant."
The director asks whether,
when asked, "Did you enjoy the show?", they can look at
each other and offer a reaction.
Neil looks at Chris.
"That would be acting, wouldn't it?" he says, as though
there may be little they disapprove of more. "We can try
It's decided that after they look at each other,
Neil will yawn. The first time they do it, he yawns
exactly as he does in real life - the same kind of real
yawn seen on the Actually sleeve.
"Smaller yawn next
time;' instructs the director.
"Is that not a small
yawn?" Neil wonders. He does it a few times, and they
still suggest the yawn could be reduced. He tries to
accommodate them. Between takes he gives another huge,
real yawn of his own and sings to himself some Kraftwerk:
"we're showroom dummies..."
"We give a lot, don't we?"
They want to try something else, so
now Neil reacts by kind of shrugging with his face as he
tips his head.
"I hope they don't feel they have to
keep us here to justify the cost;' says Chris.
wrapped by 1130pm, after a long day's hanging around and
maybe 40 minutes on set.
"I notice we don't get a round
of applause;' says Chris. He's not too serious. "That
wasn't too bad, was it?" he says in the Winnebago as he
grabs one of the spare Easter Eggs to take home. "Can't
wait to see it, actually."