You’re as camp as a Brighton bus queue!” — The Bön Mots of Benidorm

I’ve snob­bishly held out against the sun-damaged charms of ITV’s pack­age hol­i­day sit­com Benidorm, set in the ‘all inclus­ive’ Hotel Solana, for sev­eral series. But the sixth one — which sadly this week pours the sand out of its shoes and packs its bags for another year — had me sur­ren­der­ing to it more legs akimbo than the Solanas’ Mrs Slocombe-esque man­ageress Joyce Temple-Savage for Matthew Kelly.


Created and writ­ten by Derren Litten (co-writer for The Catherine Tate Show), Benidorm is Carry On meets St Trinians meets Are You Being Served? meets Lady Windermere’s Suntan — and gets an ‘all-inclusive’ hangover and runny tummy. A proper char­ac­ter actor ensemble, rather than a vehicle for some jumped-up stand-up’s over­ween­ing ego, and with some lines that glisten like an obese Brit’s back in the Costa Del Sol noon-day sun, it’s very old-fashioned com­edy — which is to say, actu­ally funny instead of just sneery-cringey.

No won­der the crit­ics hate it. (See also that other recent ITV com­edy tri­umph Vicious.) Benidorm is tacky and trashy and stuck in the past but doesn’t mind who knows it, thank you very much.

Kenneth Du Beke
Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley)

Everyone is a cari­ca­ture but instantly recog­nis­able. Well, every­one is a cari­ca­ture except for Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley) the over­weight chain-smoking gay man­ager of the Solana’s salu­bri­ous hairdress­ing salon Blow ‘n’ Go who with his rather ‘young’ and ‘cheery’ styl­ing was mis­taken by Philip Olivier (aka ‘Tinhead’ from Brookside) for a children’s enter­tainer. He’s just doc­u­ment­ary.

Tacky and trashy and trapped in the past it may be, but Benidorm is also often well-written and sharply observed. The whole of epis­ode three (below) is quite bril­liant and takes on a very con­tem­por­ary sub­ject — judgey gay assump­tions about the rela­tion­ship between mas­culin­ity and sexu­al­ity — that most ‘ser­i­ous’ dra­mas wouldn’t dare.

The scene at 21:38 between love­able Liam Conroy (Adam Gillen) , the swishy Tenko and Dynasty fan and hairdresser who has fallen in love with a girl, and his narrow-minded tight-clothed gay boss who knows bet­ter and insists Liam is ‘really gay’ and is going to end up ‘liv­ing a lie’ deserves an Oscar:

Liam: “You need to learn to accept people for who they are! Just because I don’t fit into YOUR ste­reo­type of how a man should be doesn’t give you per­mis­sion to call me names! I am what I am and what I am [swings arm and pirou­ettes, badly] needs no excuses!!”

Likewise Benidorm is what it is and needs no excuses either. And as Liam’s cross-dressing dad Les/Lesley from Wearside would say: “Thank fook for that!”

Oh, and in case you think that Liam’s dilemma could only exist in a silly sit­com and never in real life — have a read of this heart­felt post by the young bal­let dan­cer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp about the way too many gay men treat him because he doesn’t fit into their ste­reo­type of how a man should be.

I Love You, Jim Carrey

Watching the exhil­ar­at­ing ‘l’amour fou’ movie ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ recently I found myself fall­ing in love with Jim Carrey all over again — after sev­eral years of tak­ing him for granted.

So much so I for­got he was there all over again. The role of Steven Russell the gay con-man is one he was born to play. It’s a return to the Jim Carrey of The Cable Guy — his best and most over­looked film until now. But a bit more grown up, slightly less scary, and with Ewan McGregor instead of Matthew Broderick as the object of his swirl­ing atten­tions. I don’t fancy Carrey, and I sus­pect McGregor prob­ably doesn’t either, but Carrey in full-on comic mad­man mode is impossible to say no to.

So I thought I’d post this love let­ter to him orgin­ally pub­lished in the Independent on Sunday back in 2002.

Fears of a Clown

He’s the funny guy fam­ous for his devi­ant comic roles. So what is it about Jim Carrey, asks Mark Simpson, that makes him the per­fect embod­i­ment of American psychosis?

(Independent On Sunday 19 May 2002)

Whenever I finally con­fess to my friends that I’m a Jim Carrey fan I almost always get the same reac­tion. “Oh, I see,” they say, look­ing me up and down as if really see­ing me for the first time. “Yes, well, I can’t stand him, I’m afraid.” Then they pull a slightly sour expres­sion as if I’d far­ted and explain: “You see, It’s the…” “…gurn­ing” I say, com­plet­ing their sen­tence. “I know. That’s exactly what I like about him.” Clutching for some middle ground they then offer: “I quite liked him in The Truman Show, though”. It’s at this point that I quickly change the subject.

It’s all a case of mis­taken iden­tity: they see a vul­gar spas­ming idiot where I see a god of com­edy… who is a vul­gar, spas­ming idiot. Hence people who don’t like Jim Carrey will prob­ably like his new movie The Majestic. Like The Truman Show (1998), it is played straight(faced), and very com­pet­ently. People who like Jim Carrey, how­ever, will pull their lower lip over their fore­head in frustration.

Appropriately enough, the film is about mis­taken iden­tity. Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a Hollywood B-movie scriptwriter who is caught up in the Anti-Red para­noia the 1950s and sacked by his stu­dio and black­lis­ted as a Commie. Of course, Carrey isn’t really a Commie but just “a horny guy” who was try­ing to get into the pants of a girl at col­lege who happened to be a Commie. But the cold war­ri­ors see what they want to see and Carrey is threatened with a subpoena.

So he gets drunk, crashes his car and suf­fers amne­sia, stag­ger­ing into small­town America where he is mis­taken for someone more inter­est­ing again – Luke Trimble, a young Marine who failed to return from the Second World War. The still-grieving town, hav­ing lost sev­eral sons, has a form of mass hys­teria: benign and heal­ing where the McCarthyite vari­ety is malign and divis­ive, and every­one believes he is Trimble, even Luke’s father and his former girl­friend. Carrey/Appleton, still with no idea who he is, decides that he might as well be who they want him to be.

However, there’s another case of mis­taken iden­tity in this movie: Jim Carrey has clearly mis­taken him­self for Jimmy Stewart. Carrey makes a pass­able Stewart, but why on earth should someone who is the unnat­ural love-child of Dionysus and Jerry Lewis want to be Jimmy Stewart? Besides, Stewart isn’t even dead – Tom Hanks, after all, is still with us.

Mr Carrey, who has just turned 40, is ranked num­ber five in Hollywood’s “star power” rat­ings – which effect­ively meas­ures whether we see what we want to see when we look at a screen actor. At 98.46 he comes behind Mr Cruise, Mr Hanks and Ms Roberts who all score a “per­fect” 100, and Mr Gibson at 98.68. Although he is already one of the most fam­ous and wealth­i­est men in America (and recently announced this by buy­ing his own $30 mil­lion jet), Mr Carrey would very much like to close that 1.54 point gap and be a per­fect 100. Hence the Jimmy Stewart preoccupation.

Carrey’s suc­cess of course has come largely through his mani­acal, edgy, inspired, disturbed/disturbing – and gurn­ing – per­form­ances in films such as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994), and Liar, Liar (1997). He even almost suc­ceeded in res­cuing the rub­ber cod­piece melt­down that was Batman Forever (1995), with his tox­ic­ally camp inter­pret­a­tion of The Riddler. Alas, Carrey’s ambi­tions are “big­ger” than such roles allow. He wants to be mis­taken for that truly freaky thing: a well-rounded, redeemed human-being. Frankly, his green-furred mis­an­thropic Grinch (The Grinch, 2000) was a more sym­path­etic char­ac­ter than that.

Carrey seems to be a curi­ous, furi­ous ten­sion between a crav­ing for revenge and ador­a­tion. From a Canadian blue-collar trailer park fam­ily with a sickly, hys­ter­ical mother and a manic-depressive father, he tried to please and dis­tract in equal meas­ure. He wrote him­self a cheque for $15 mil­lion when he was start­ing out in the 1980s. (In a curi­ously ambi­val­ent ges­ture, he placed the cheque in his father’s coffin). Having suc­ceeded, he sur­passed fel­low Hollywood comedi­ans such as Steve Martin, Mike Myers and William Shatner – like them, he is a Canadian whose job it is to be mis­taken for an American.

So it’s per­haps no coin­cid­ence that in most of his films he seems to have “iden­tity issues” – dark­ness, dis­in­teg­ra­tion and exhil­ar­at­ing release is always just a few facial tics away. In The Mask, appro­pri­ately enough the film which brought him to the widest pub­lic atten­tion, he plays a mild-mannered nerd who dis­cov­ers a mask which imbues its wearer with the spirit of the Norse god of mis­chief. In Liar, Liar he’s a law­yer beat­ing him­self up to stop him­self from telling the truth. In Me Myself and Irene (2000), he plays a mild-mannered nerdy cop who keeps flip­ping into a devi­ant Mr Hyde personality

And then there is the The Cable Guy (1996), in which he plays a nerdy cable installer who wants nice Matthew Broderick to be his best buddy and flips over into a com­pel­ling psy­chosis when Matthew dis­ap­points him. Of all Carrey’s movies, The Cable Guy is the one which comes closest to the truth of his screen per­sona and also per­haps the truth of the best com­edy – that it is about des­per­a­tion and dark­ness. Carrey is like the Id mon­ster in Forbidden Planet on the ram­page and with a lisp. He turns in one of the most ori­ginal per­form­ances ever seen in a movie – and most reck­less, given that this was his first $20 mil­lion role.

So when the crit­ics pas­ted it and audi­ences used to his “alrighty!” slap­stick hated it, Carrey and his entour­age pan­icked and scrambled to make sure that his future pro­jects would not expose so much of his dark side: that people would see what they wanted to see, instead of the rage of Caliban in the mir­ror. Ironically, even a schmaltzy non-comedy film like The Majestic requires the know­ledge of the dark, Satanic Carrey to sus­tain our interest in his every­guy per­form­ance. The gurn­ing lies underneath.

Carrey is a man clearly pos­sessed by voices – the trashy voices of American pop cul­ture we all hear inside our heads: Captain Kirk, John Wayne, Bugs Bunny, Elvis, Lucille Ball. He’s a latter-day “Legion”, the Biblical mad­man of Gadarene who spoke in a hun­dred voices, whose evil spir­its were exor­cised by Christ (and who, evicted, promptly com­mand­eered a herd of swine and drove them squeal­ing over a cliff into the sea). Unfortunately, given his “heal­ing” tend­en­cies in his straight movies, Carrey also some­times seems to think he’s Christ too. (In his next movie, Bruce Almighty, he is set to play God.)

Actually, Carrey is someone much more import­ant than God: he is America. At least in terms of his con­tra­dic­tions: hysterical/professional, needy/maniacal, narcissistic/high-minded, base/aspirational, idealistic/hypocritical, cynical/sentimental, amnesiac/media-addicted. In The Majestic Carrey’s char­ac­ter recalls a movie plot but still can’t remem­ber who he is: “You mean you can remem­ber movies but not your own life?” says Laurie Holden. “That’s ter­rible!” Maybe, but it’s not so unusual.

Like The Truman Show, The Majestic ends with Carrey’s char­ac­ter renoun­cing the inau­thenti­city of fame for “real life”. Fortunately for us, the real Jim Carrey is never likely to make that choice.

Single White Misanthrope

Mark Simpson on the hell of other people’s crumbs in your mar­gar­ine tub


FLATSHARE OFFERED: Easygoing bloke with GSOH seeks busi­ness trav­el­ler who needs place to keep spare tooth­brush. No pets, no friends, no con­ver­sa­tion. Paranoid intro­verts who keep them­selves to them­selves and are actu­ally invis­ible wel­come. Rent depend­ent on how much oxy­gen you use.

Rooming with people is rubbish.

Contrary to the pro­pa­ganda put out by shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘This Life’ roomates are not trendy or clever. Roomates are a social disease.

Sartre, you see, was wrong: Hell isn’t other people. Hell is other people’s crumbs in your mar­gar­ine tub.

As a spe­cies roomates insist on doing irrit­at­ing, thought­less, selfish, anti-social, psy­cho things—like using the bath­room and cook­ing. They switch lights on and off—click, click, click, click—irritating you and wear­ing out the con­tacts in the switches. And they have the effrontery to encour­age people to send their per­sonal mail to your address, lit­ter­ing your doormat.

I’ve even had roomates who actu­ally invite their friends around and sit drink­ing cof­fee and laugh­ing in the sit­ting room, behav­ing for all the world as if they actu­ally lived here! As if they didn’t know that the only reason you allowed them to pay half the rent and use the spare set of keys was to change the bin-liners and make the place look occu­pied when you’re out.

Of course, you also get the occa­sional out­right basket-case. One loony ex-roomie of mine used to smile and say ‘Hello’ whenever he ran into me. Creepy or what? Sometimes he’d fol­low me into the kit­chen, freak­ing me out by ask­ing me scary, lead­ing ques­tions like, ‘So, how was your day?’ or ‘Turned out nice again, hasn’t it?’

He las­ted less than a week and he would have gone sooner if I hadn’t made allow­ances for the fact that he was from the country.

Even when they real­ise that you’re not inter­ested in idle chit-chat they don’t give up. They’ll try and get chummy another way. One bloke would leave cheery notes out­side my bed­room door which I, of course, never replied to. Blackmail shouldn’t be dig­ni­fied with a response. Another used to try and bribe me by leav­ing Post-It notes on food she’d bought, say­ing things like ‘Eat Me!’. But these attempts at being ingra­ti­at­ing just grate. Of course I’m going to eat their food. It’s in my fridge.

You try vet­ting them at the inter­view stage, but it never really seems to work. People just lie. You know the ones: “Oh, I work very long hours and I’m see­ing some­body who lives in Bristol — I’m hardly ever here.” Then, of course, you catch them sneak­ing in one week­day night sev­eral minutes before mid­night. Or they try to tell you that just because their part­ner went and died in a car acci­dent they won’t be vis­it­ing them any more. People are so unreliable.

There’s noth­ing for it, you’ve got to be hard. Anyone who’s ever had a flat-mate will know that it’s so easy to be taken for a ride. When you real­ise you’ve been had you feel so stu­pid and fool­ish, you could kick your­self, or rock back­wards and for­wards, your knees drawn up into your chest, moan­ing and mut­ter­ing in the corner of your room with the lights turned off for a week or so. It’s a fright­en­ing world. There are so many kooky people out there who want to move in take over your life and move your col­lec­tion of glass cof­fee tables a whole inch out of alignment.

The worst thing about roomates is that they make you feel like you’re the one with the prob­lem. They go run­ning around telling every­body that you’re impossible to live with, or a fruit-cake, just because you asked them to buy and label their own toi­let seat. Really, some people have no concept of hygeine at all.

Or grat­it­ude. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried explain­ing to people that the Calor gas camp­ing stove and basin of water in their bed­room are top of the range mod­els and that no one could ask for more. They also never seem to grasp why their door has bolts on the outside.

I once thought I’d found the ideal roomate. One of those corpses in cryo­genic sus­pen­sion. We were very happy together for a while, but in the end it didn’t work out. We had too many rows about the noise and astro­nomic elec­tri­city bills his frozen nitro­gen pump was causing.

Getting rid of the roomate infest­a­tion once they’ve settled can be very tricky. Especially without com­mu­nic­at­ing with them. So you have to resort to indir­ect meth­ods. A kip­per under their bed often con­veys a help­ful hint, as does the old horse’s-head-at-the-foot-of-the-bed trick. But I gen­er­ally find that walk­ing into their bed­room naked in the middle of the night, arms out­stretched, moan­ing, ‘BRAINS!! I NEED BRAINS!!’ is most effect­ive. Come to think of it, just walk­ing into their bed­room naked usu­ally does the trick.

Why haven’t I done the sens­ible thing and got a place by myself? Well, I sup­pose that, if I’m hon­est, I have to admit that in spite of everything I’m a bit sen­ti­mental and I sorta like hav­ing some­body around to avoid. See, I’m a People Person and I think I’d be a bit lonely if I lived by myself.

I mean, what would I do on a wet Thursday after­noon if I didn’t have a roomate’s under­wear drawer to rum­mage about in?


(Originally appeared in Attitude, 1996 & col­lec­ted in Sex Terror)