Buerk! The Newsical - Greg Jameson and Tom Bailey interview (exclusive)
Interview by Shanna Schreuder
THE comedy musical Buerk! makes its London debut at the Waterloo’s Network Theatre on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Running for three nights, this tongue-in-cheek show about the newsreader Michael Buerk is set to be a hoot.
To find out more about what the show has in store, we caught up with its creators Greg Jameson and Tom Bailey to ask them some hard-hitting questions.
Q. What is it about Michael Buerk that inspired you to create this newsical?
Greg Jameson: Tom and I evolved our own fantasy world from our very first meeting, and Michael Buerk happened to be one of the celebrities whose life we hijacked, parasitized and trivialised in our imaginations. The show is a fantasy and a comedy that pays affectionate homage to an icon. But old Buerky has had a fascinating life and career. Not only did he break the news to the world about the famine in Ethiopia, but he also inspired Bob Geldof’s Band Aid/Live Aid shenanigans. Not many people know that he invented the Tamagotchi in a moment of inspiration at one of Wincey Willis’ notorious tofu parties.
Q. It’s a fictional story, but, besides the names, what elements are true to life?
Tom Bailey: We started with the idea that Buerk should fall for Moira Stuart and went from there. We knew we had to throw in the whole Live Aid hullaballoo, the Great Storm of 1987, the creation of 999 and the Moral Maze. These were the ingredients for the mulligatawny soup we made in our heads, from which Buerk! The Newsical spewed out. We know the real-life Buerk hasn’t snogged Moira, let alone fathered her child, and that Bob Geldof is from Northern, not Southern Ireland. It’s been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ian McCaskill can’t control the weather and has never even met Robert Mugabe. 90% of the audience know it’s all nonsense. It’s that tricky, possibly litigious, 10% we have to worry about.
Q. You both wrote the songs. Do you work together or do you write the songs separately and come together after?
Greg Jameson: We rarely come together, even after writing great songs. It’s been an odd part of our writing process, because neither of us is particularly musical. Tom can play the kazoo, but I haven’t so much as sniffed an instrument since the Great Storm of 1987; so whereas we work together on the structure of the play and the scene breakdowns, and then later the dialogue – when it came to the songs we took half a dozen each and came up with the lyrics separately.
Tom Bailey: We worked with two of Yorkshire’s top musicians in bringing the songs to life. Allan Stelmach and Mark Kingston are very talented arrangers and composers, though being musicians they eat high-fat foods, take up a lot of space with their equipment and talk about modern bands as if they’re important.
Q. Is this the first project you’ve worked on together?
Tom Bailey: We were in lots of plays when we were both living in Leeds and we wrote and performed a sketch show, An Evening With Geoffrey Palmer. It went down so well (we both managed to have sex after the show; with other people) that we decided to confound our audience with an unlikely theatrical folly. We were pleasantly surprised when we put Buerk! on for the first time and people seemed to really like it.
Greg Jameson: Tom and I share a near-identical sense of humour, which makes for a natural barometer where the jokes are concerned, and for an easy and joyful collaboration.
Q. Will you be creating anymore newsicals? Perhaps set in other decades?
Tom Bailey: Our next project is a Ray Cooney-esque farce about the fight to save Doctor Who when it was cancelled in the 1980s. There won’t be any songs but there’ll be plenty of nudity – all between consenting adults, we should stress! We may do another musical: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s been texting us about an idea he’s had for a big budget extravaganza about Rod Hull and Emu. And Cameron Mackintosh keeps faxing Greg to ask him out ‘for fajitas’.
Q. Greg, you’re in the role of Michael. What characteristics do you share with him? How difficult is it to play a real person?
Greg Jameson: We both look terrifically sexy in C&A polyester grey suits. Also, the Buerk we’ve written is honest, hapless and terrible at robot dancing, which describes me to a tee. Buerk is far braver than I am: he’s been to war zones, dodged bullets, driven a camel through a desert and regularly endures the company of Melanie Phillips on The Moral Maze. Hats off to him. The biggest concern about playing an imagined version of somebody real is that they might take terrible offence. This perhaps isn’t the show for anyone wanting to see a serious biographical piece about Michael Buerk. Read his deliciously salacious autobiography “The Road Taken” for that. Sadly his memoirs were published before he narrated Pineapple Dance Studios. I’m sure a sequel must be in the offing. Maybe he’ll mention our show?
Q. Has Michael seen the show? If yes, then what did he think? If no, then would you want him to see it?
Greg Jameson: Thanks to the world of Twitter, old Buerky is aware that there’s a musical very loosely based on his career. He’s said to be “alarmed”. However, we think Buerk comes out of it very well indeed. We’ve invited him to the premiere and fingers crossed he comes. There’s half a cider on the house in it for him, if he’s reading. I’m sure he’ll be very flattered. He’ll probably laugh his socks off. Or sue us. Maybe both.
Q. Is it important that audience members know what happened in the news during the eighties?
Tom Bailey: Thankfully not. Some Bolivian students came to an early read through (this is true) and we were amazed that they really enjoyed it. And we provide a handy glossary to paper over the cracks in your knowledge. It helps if you know who Thatcher is, so recent events have really helped. Thanks Maggie.
Greg Jameson: Anyone who even vaguely remembers the ’80s will bask in the warm glow of nostalgia. Our version of events isn’t so much Hollywoodized as seen through a child-like lens of imagination.
Q. Do you see this period as the golden age of newsreaders?
Greg Jameson: Put simply: Buerk is the greatest there ever was. He’s the Muhammad Ali of newsreaders. Nowadays, they turn up without a tie and slouch all over their desks and use colloquialisms and drop their trousers for charity: all so undignified. It’s hard to imagine anyone writing a musical about any of the current crop in quarter of a century’s time. So yes, Buerky was the last of the great reporters/journalists/newsreaders. He’s James Bond. He’s Indiana Jones. He’s SuperTed. He’s Buerk!