Ben Elton

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Benjamin Charles Elton (born May 3, 1959) is an English comedian and writer. Born in Catford, London to a Jewish immigrant family of academics (he is the son of the educational researcher Lewis Elton and the nephew of the historian G. R. Elton), he studied at Godalming Grammar School and the University of Manchester. He became a stand-up comedian and comedy writer shortly after leaving university in 1980, and was a central figure in the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s. He has also achieved success writing musicals.

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TV

In 1980 he wrote and appeared in Granada Television's sketch show Alfresco, which was also notable for early appearances by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane but which received poor ratings. He also performed and hosted the BBC comedy show The Oxford Roadshow which again was not well-received. However, his live act took off when, after a series of storming performances, he was hired by The Comedy Store in London as its compere, and more TV work followed as a result.

His first major TV success was as co-writer of the television sitcom The Young Ones. Conceived by Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer, Elton was brought in by Mayall to piece scripts and jokes together. Elton occasionally appeared in the show in bit-parts.

In 1985, Elton became the youngest sole scriptwriter for the BBC when his idyllic comedy-drama series Happy Families, starring Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson, was aired. Elton appeared in the fifth episode as a liberal prison governor. Shortly afterwards, he reunited Mayall and Edmondson with their Young Ones co-star Nigel Planer for the showbiz send-up sitcom Filthy, Rich and Catflap which was not well received at the time.

Elton's reputation as the hottest new comic writer led to a call from Richard Curtis who was looking for a second opinion before writing the second series of Blackadder, the first series of which had been disliked by BBC bosses. Elton answered the plea and duly injected more cynicism into the main character, played by Rowan Atkinson, and created more of a disdainful relationship between Blackadder and servant Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson. The three series he co-wrote (set in Elizabethan, Regency and First World War eras) were a huge success and remain arguably his most widely admired TV work.

Elton's writing plaudits were not being matched by those he received as a stand-up performer. He had become a regular turn on Saturday Live — later moved and renamed Friday Night Live — which was seen as a UK version of Saturday Night Live. He later became the host of the programme, which involved Elton performing a series of topical routines, often with the intent of using his known left wing sympathies to attack the Conservative government of the time and especially the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (or "Thatch", as he called her). The more right wing sections of the British press started to scorn him, and the image of Elton with his long hair, red 'Buggles glasses and - most famously - his midnight blue, sparkly suit became one of the most endearing of the late 1980s in the UK.

In 1990 he starred in his own stand-up comedy and sketch series entitled The Man from Auntie, which had a second series in 1994. (The title plays on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; "Auntie" is a nickname for the BBC).

A similar format was used for The Ben Elton Show which aired in 1998. This show seemed to mark the beginning of his decline in the spotlight with an incongruous regular guest being Ronnie Corbett - a comedian of the very same 'old-guard' the 'Alternative Comedians' of the 80s existed as the alternative to. His most recent television sitcom was The Thin Blue Line, set in a police station and also starring Atkinson in a show littered with stereotyped characters and thin-on-the ground with the edgier humour for which he was known. This programme ran for two series (1995, 1996). Though never leaving the public eye, Elton's writing and performing credits for TV since The Thin Blue Line have been limited - most probably because of a loss of favour from his original audience. He has appeared on occasional talk shows, but mainly to plug projects in the theatre or in paperback, or to appear 'down' with the kids - most notably (and embarrasingly) on the Richard Blackwood show in 1999.

Perhaps the final nail (in the public perception at least) to his TV career was in 2001 when the notable British journalist and presenter Anne Robinson metaphorically put him 'into Room 101' on the TV show of the same name. Anne argued that Ben should be sent to the room "for being a total and utter hyprocrite and going back on everything he stood for in the 80s and 90s".

Novels

Prolific and ambitious, he began writing novels and plays, including Stark (1989, made into a TV film in 1993 in which Elton starred); Gridlock (1991); This Other Eden (1993); Popcorn (1996); Blast From the Past (1998); the semi-autobiographic Inconceivable (later turned into a film); Dead Famous (2001), a variation on the classical whodunit of the 1930s and 1940s set around a reality TV series akin to Big Brother; High Society (2002), a novel exploring the social consequences of drug illegality in Britain, Past Mortem (2004), a whodunit examining the motivations behind those who connect with old schoolfriends via the web site Friends Reunited, and The First Casualty another whodunnit based around a murder in the First World War trenches.

Films

Ben Elton starred as CD in the Australian/BBC TV film adaptation of his novel Stark, released in 1993.

He made a brief appearance alongside Michael Keaton in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Behind the camera, Elton wrote and directed the film adaptation of his novel Inconceivable, which movie was released under the title Maybe Baby (2000). The film was nominated for a prize at the Dutch "Emden Film Festival," but did not win.

Musicals

More recently, he has embarked on a career in musical theatre, co-writing The Beautiful Game with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and then the rock musicals We Will Rock You with music by Queen and Tonight's the Night with music by Rod Stewart.

Stage

Gasping (1990) was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It starred Hugh Laurie and featured the voice of Stephen Fry. Silly Cow (1991) again performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It was written for and starred Dawn French. Popcorn (1996) was adapted for the stage and went on a UK-wide tour starring Emma Noble, John Major's former daughter-in-law. It also toured Australia in a production starring Marcus Graham and Nadine Garner in its Eastern-States seasons. Blast From the Past (1998) was also adapted for the stage and was produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse but was not well-received.

Recently

As of 2004 Ben Elton splits his time between semi-permanent bases in Notting Hill in London and Fremantle, Western Australia. Elton became an Australian citizen in 2004 and now enjoys dual citizenship of the UK and Australia. His wife, Sophie Gare, is a saxophonist in an all-girl band called The Boom Babies.

In 2005 Ben did his first stand-up tour since 1997, touring the country with "Get a Grip".

Ben is a writer for the 2005 TV show "Blessed".

External links

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