That time I was in SPAMALOT!

Starring as ‘Sir Not Appearing’

Sir Not Appearing!

[click to embiggen]

This past week, thanks to a rather awesome Christmas present from the girlfriend, I was given the chance to appear in a cameo role in the current West End run of Monty Python’s SPAMALOT!





Looking back on it now, a good four days later, I still can’t believe it happened! It’s difficult to communicate (using just the written word) how great the whole thing really was. So it’s a good job I took a load of pictures to help me tell the story!

Part 1. Arriving at the Stage Door
The crew greeted us warmly, and were just super super nice about EVERYTHING. ‘Hey! James is here!’ – ‘Is that the Sir Not Appearing?’ – ‘Yeah!’ – ‘Hey everyone! Our Sir Not Appearing is here!’

I turned up with literally zero knowledge of what I was going to be doing or what my line was (didn’t I mention? It was a speaking part too!) as I was kept in the dark right up until arrival. So this whole ‘Sir Not Appearing’ thing? I had no idea what they meant…

The stage manager met us and explained everything:

There’s a part in the play, around two thirds through the first act, when the narrator, after King Arthur has rounded up his men, reads through the names of the Knights of the Round Table… and the last name he reads is ‘the aptly named ‘Sir-not-appearing-in-this-play’. You come on at that point, you say ‘Sorry!’ and then you leave. Easy! Don’t worry, we’ll be rehearsing at around 730pm, plenty of time!

Any fan of the original Monty Python and the Holy Grail knows that this only a slight variation on the film’s script:

NARRATOR: The wise Sir Bedevere was the first to join King Arthur’s knights, but other illustrious names were soon to follow: Sir Launcelot the Brave; Sir Galahad the Pure; and Sir Robin the Not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Launcelot who had nearly fought the Dragon of Agnnor, who had nearly stood up to the vicious Chicken of Bristol and who had personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill; and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film. Together they formed a band whose names and deeds were to be retold throughout the centuries, the Knights of the Round Table.

Part 2. Costume!


[Note – for reasons that will become clear very shortly, I had to shave off my beard. I look about 12yrs old! ARRGH!]

3. Meet the star!
For this run (initially scheduled for a limited six week run but now, thanks to its popularity, on an indefinite extension) of SPAMALOT! King Arthur is played by the one and only Stephen Tompkinson.

And what a bloody nice bloke he is too.

Me and Stephen Tompkinson

Part of the evening’s plan (aside from being a special guest star (ahem, yes – that’s me)) was to meet Stephen backstage and chat to him about all things Python. Again, something I didn’t know was happening until the night and again, something equally brilliant for me to do!

Things Stephen told me about Spamalot:

  • His daughter, with whom he has watched Monty Python’s Holy Grail several times a year, every years, since she was six years old, was the one to convince him to take the role! ‘You’d make me so proud, Daddy!’ – she said to him. ‘How could I say no to that’ he said. Awww!
  • His rehearsal process was a mere ten days. TEN. DAYS. Mental. Alright that’s a pretty intense ten days, but still – I can’t imagine. Fortunately for Stephen, he is only one of two new additions to the cast (the other being the quite brilliant AJ Casey, as The Lady of the Lake) so the ensemble already in place not only welcomed him with open arms but also supported him every step of the way.
  • The name of the game [on this production at least] is Fun! That’s what the director told Stephen on his first night – ‘Just forget your troubles, get out on that stage and have a riot. The audience want to have fun with you, so just have a ball!’
  • This new [ish] version of the play is a lot more inclusive and open than it was in the Palace and is updated accordingly to very current affairs – songs as well!

What a lovely chap. And there was still so much more to come!

4. Rehearsals

Rehearsing with the SPAMALOT gang :)

Again, another moment for the cast to be warm and welcoming. I got my part right first time, and they all cheered and whooped.. Ha! Just, brilliant.

5. Waiting!


6. Final adjustments
Hat, moustache, beard (yes, that’s right – I shaved my beard so I could wear a fake one, brilliant), mic, and a wish of good luck from the girl.


Before showtime!


7. The show!
Backstage the atmosphere was, how can I put it? Hilarious. Laughter, jokes, and merriment were spewing forth from everyone – and that was before anyone was on stage! It was such a great group of people to be around; they clearly loved their work very, very much and every single person who walked past whilst I was waiting in the wings stopped to wish me luck, before they themselves stepped out in front of 700+ people.

Just lovely, lovely people.

When my cue – ‘and the aptly-named…‘ – came I strutted out on stage and beamed at the audience – ‘…Sir-not-appearing-in-this-play!’

Sir Not Appearing!

In four beats: the knights looked at me, I looked at them, I looked back at the audience, and then came the line:


And the next thing I knew, I was off again – to roars of laughter!

Exit stage right!

The audience’s reaction was great, and I was grinning from ear to ear.

I was [and still am really] utterly dumbfounded that the whole thing took place at all. I can’t believe it. It was just brilliant.

The team backstage told us that the role of ‘Sir Not Appearing’ is usually played by one of the ensemble however they often throw it open to special guest stars such as celebrities and/or comedians who can come on and kill with that role. In other words, for me to get the opportunity to do it was very special indeed.

Just. Wow.

And while I can’t guarantee that I’m going to be in it next time, I can 100% guarantee that seeing this play will make you laugh. A LOT. I laughed like a madman, both backstage during act one and then again when I joined the audience for act two.

Two last things to say before I finish this epic blog post –

First: Go and see Spamalot. Please. It’s AWESOME. Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, and… and the cast just has so much fun. It would be unfair of me to mention the epic corpsing that took place during the Knights that say Ne segment, so I won’t. But I nearly died laughing.

Second: I have to say thank you to my amazing girlfriend, Jen, for managing to swing what is quite easily the Best. Christmas present. Ever. You rock x



Five things on Friday #49

Things of note for the week ending December 7th, 2012

1. The Hawkeye Initiative
There are tons and tons of completely amazing blog posts pointing out the continual (and not to mention completely and utterly sexist) objectifying of strong female comic book characters today but now –  finally – someone seems to have come up with a way to test whether or not the sketch in question is insulting to women or not.

Ready? It’s this simple –

‘If your female character can be replaced by Hawkeye in the same pose without looking silly or stupid, then it’s acceptable and probably non-sexist. If you can’t, then just forget about it.’

So, what we need then is a blog post that collates said efforts…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – The Hawkeye Initiative

An amazing (and hilarious) way to draw attention to a very serious issue.

Good job.

2. McAfee
He’s all over the news (and he got a mention last week too). And, even though the story has developed a lot since it was published, this New York Times piece ‘Hide-and-Seek in Belize‘ is a damn good read.

3. This is not Eros

Piccadilly Circus, London. Home of bright lights, buzzing tourists and this beautiful statue of Eros. Right?


Thanks to awesome Serena, I found out this past week that this isn’t Eros at all. This is in fact Anteros, Eros’ twin. Confused? Yeah, you should be.

Let me *cough* Wikipedia *cough* explain

Anteros is the subject of the Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus, London, where he symbolises the selfless philanthropic love of the Earl of Shaftesbury for the poor.

The memorial is sometimes given the name The Angel of Christian Charity and is popularly mistaken for Eros.

Yeah. I know.



(and TFL aren’t helping much either)

4. Dumb Ways to Die
OK, so this has already been seen 30m times but I’ve only just got to it. Yes, it’s super sweet and super brilliant and hey, even you have seen it already, you should watch it again. Because it is SUPER.

5. Matt Muir wins the internet today
This – lifted from Matt’s brilliant (yet sadly, final) blog post for H+K today [EDIT: post now removed – can’t think why] – is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read all week.

“There is a client we have, whose name shall remain nameless, who produces biscuits – you will agree, a fine and noble profession. As part of our work for said client, we were required at one point this summer to work with other agencies in that hideous parody of friendly collaboration that is the ‘loop team’ (you will doubtless have experienced this; various agencies sitting around a table, smiling at each other with the dead-eyed sincerity of sharks or insurance salesman, nodding and making vacuous promises to ‘work collaboratively’ whilst simultaneously imagining violating each and every one of their competitors with a splintered fencepost) in order to promote a NEW THING. The process of promoting said NEW THING would involve the collaborative production of a DECK (why? WHY? WHY DO YOU ALL USE THIS BLOODY WORD?????? Is it because it makes it sound more important or interesting than ‘73 slides of powerpoint that MEANS NOTHING’??? And, as a tangential aside, Powerpoint – WHY? Why do you all persist in taking a medium that was designed primarily for the communication of visual information and not for extensive prose and then MAKING US WRITE BLOODY ESSAYS ON THE SODDING THING???? If it’s more than 100 words of copy, USE WORD. There’s a clue in the name. Christ’s sake) which was to be compiled by us with input from all of our other agency FRIENDS. Fine. Great.

So we receive submissions from other people, and start to look at them. And then this happens. I chance upon a slide which has very obviously taken ‘inspiration’ from the raft of interactive advertising that our industry has become so enamoured with this year – you know the sort of thing I mean; bus stop ads that either smell nice, or dispense free samples; that type of idea. That’s ok. There’s no such thing as a new idea, etc etc etc. I look at the slide. On it is drawn (very nicely, I must say – the agency’s art department was really rather good, so credit to them for that at the very least) a bus stop, with in clear view the advert on the inside panel. Clearly visible is the brand logo (nice and big!), a video screen, and a small, letterbox-type slot. The only other thing on the slide were the following words, and it was these that pretty much pushed me over the professional edge:

“Insert Biscuit To Receive Content”

Let me read that back to you one more time. “INSERT BISCUIT TO RECEIVE CONTENT”. Now, let’s just break down exactly the process that this one line of prose and a (very competent) illustration seem to be suggesting might take place:

  • Consumer prepares to leave house in morning to go to work; consumer grabs biscuit product to snack on to abate feelings of gnawing hunger and existential inadequacy that can often afflict one in the hours before 9am.
  • Consumer walks, whistling, on their path to work
  • Consumer passes bus stop
  • Consumer stops, thinking “Hm, well, you know what? I might be quite hungry, but there’s a video screen on that bus stop that looks like it might offer me the opportunity to watch 30-seconds of poorly made branded ‘content’ [read – advertising] if I give it a biscuit. Hunger be damned!
  • Consumer inserts biscuit
  • Consumer receives content
  • Consumer cries, bitterly, as they realise what they have just done and the sort of awful, dystopian, Blade Runner gone wrong nightmare that they are living through


And for that reason, I’m out.”

This is just one excerpt from Matt’s post today and the whole thing is amazing.


And what’s worse, it’s all completely true too.

Matt’s just finished at Hill & Knowlton so, aside from following him at once, one of you should probably go hire him or something.

EDIT 2: The post has been taken down but fortunately for you lot, Google cached it]


Bonuses this week are this piece about Twitter and its [dangerous] contributions to continuous partial attention; the honest trailer for Dark Knight Rises is hilarious; and ‘How a video game saved my life‘ is both moving and inspiring in equal measure.


Whatley out.

Touching Switzerland


Love you, London x

This past Saturday, My Switzerland invited a few lucky bloggers to head into Londontown and ‘experience Switzerland’.

(if you were following on Twitter, that’s what all the #swisswinter buzz was about)

But how does one experience Switzerland in England’s capital? Simple.

1. You go make (and eat) a TON of chocolates

—- I want to eat you #swisswinter So maybe I did #swisswinter It's all getting a bit... medical #swisswinter

—- CHOCOLATE   #swisswinter Chocolate. Cocktails. #swisswinter SEXUAL #swisswinter

2. You go drink mojitos in A BAR MADE OF ICE

Ice, yeah? #swisswinterIce bar #nofilter

With some gorgeous food thrown in to boot –

3. And then you go ice-skating

Obviously, I was ice-skating so I only managed to get this image of my feet –

Swish #swisswinter

Oh yeah that – and the AMAZING PHOTO that heads this post too.

Seriously, ice skating at sunset outside the Natural History Museum really was quite magical (and I spent most of the time whizzing around on my own just beaming to myself at how awesome it was).

A gorgeous and lovely day was had by all. Not only did I get to ‘experience’ Switzerland, but I also got to meet some ace fellow bloggers along the way.

Big love to Jamie, Julie, Jai’me, Andrea and Krystelle; all of whom were just great company for a somewhat sugar-crazed (read: tired and hungover) Whatley…

And why did we do all of this lovely stuff?

Well, throughout the rest of November, Switzerland Tourism are planting five blocks of ice in and around London each representing a different Swiss ski region.

EDIT: The first one went live at Canary Wharf this morning.

Each block of ice has within it 75 ‘swag cards’ on which are printed unique codes that can be exchanged for prizes ranging from Swiss Army Knives all the way through to seven night holidays – many many prizes, there are indeed.

More information can be found on the ice drops over on the ‘Reach out + Touch It’ website, in the meantime – I’m off to look at booking a trip to Switzerland.

I really am. Apparently there’s a SNOW TRAIN these days.



Wi-Fi on the Underground

How much will you pay for it?

Nokia N9: Empty Underground

Now that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games are nearly gone, and summer too is following suit, Virgin Media’s free Wi-Fi on the underground promotion will also be coming to a close.

Since the beginning of July, commuters, tourists and Olympic-goers alike have been able to log on, albeit intermittently (it’s on the platforms, not in the tunnels), by simply handing over a name and an email address… However, as Virgin have always said, it’s only free ‘for the summer‘.

Now, being British, summer part one ended at some point in June. Part two has just arrived (after a rainy intermission) and I doubt the Wi-Fi will match the same timeline.

So here’s the big question: how much will it cost when the summer is gone?


My gut says £5pcm.

My heart says it will be FREE to all existing Virgin Media subscribers.

My head says I’d probably £10pcm (but only with a guaranteed coverage increase of 50% of stations by 2013).


Twitter tells me that not everyone will or wants to pay for it. As in, they don’t actually want it. Yeah, there is that.


What do you think?


[update 2] 

Virgin have just confirmed that the WiFi service will remain free for the rest of 2012. Win.


Creative print advertising on the tube shocker. 2012 edition.


While the above ad isn’t as inventive (or as contextually aware) as the awesome Limitless Clear Pill ads from early last year, the above ad for the new Total Recall film (yes, another re-make) the similarities between the two still shine through – and I like it.

Let’s start with the basics: the above ad is not for Total Recall. No no. It is for the entirely fictional company [from the film] ‘Rekall‘.

Using real world reference points for what is a very futuristic film is a touch of genius, I love it. There are two main variants on the ad, one puts you as a football star and the other gifts you women and a yacht.


“Tell us your fantasy,” the ad says “We’ll make it real*”
– the asterisk is used to perfection

Rekall Tube Ads

Why else does this work?

1. Title [or lack thereof]
If you slap ‘Total Recall’ on anything the first question that’d pop into anyone’s head is ‘Where’s Arnie?’. The original film is such an iconic sci-fi of its generation; it’s cheesy as hell and some of its Paul-Verhoeven-directed moments are stalwarts of early 90s pop-culture. Getting over that is not easy. So just ignore it! If we don’t mention the original, we won’t get the Schwarzenegger mind pop! Win!

 2. They make it REAL
As I mentioned, it uses real world fantasies to bring the message home and to pique commuters’ interest. I love the idea of fictional companies advertising fictional products from the films that they feature in and communicating this in the way – making it real, if you will – works perfectly.

How could it be better?

First and foremost the ad doesn’t work as hard as the Limitless efforts from March 2011. The two call to actions (one web, one Twitter) are semi-usable in our new kind-of-online London Underground BUT I don’t think its strong enough to warrant an online only response. There’s no recognition that you’re without mobile signal, and for that REKALL lose points.

Overall though, it’s a good effort and hey, I’m blogging about it!

Grade: B+
Better than most, but still room for improvement.



  • The website is actually ace (up until you realise the Facebook bits don’t work).
  • Apologies for the blurry photos; it’s really hard to take photos on the tube without looking like a complete weirdo.
  • Finally, it turns out the new film isn’t actually that good either.  Damn.

We love you, Jessica Ennis

You beautiful, beautiful woman.

You make us proud to British, and we love you for it.




Five things on Friday #31

Things of note for the week ending August 3rd, 2012

1. The London Underdogs
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well” 
– Pierre de Coubertin. Father of the Modern Olympic Games, speaking at the London 1908 Closing Ceremony.

And it is with that gorgeous quote that the spirit of The London Underdogs is built upon. Yeah, that’s right – let’s hear it for the Olympic Underdogs!

Here we are, at the mid-point of the two week extravaganza, and if you’re still yet to go (but have tickets to spend next week), get your posters from The London Underdogs.

Seriously, they’re awesome –

The London Underdogs

The London Underdogs

As the website says:

“We Brits love a good Underdog. The wild cards. The fighters. Those have-a-go heroes who haven’t a hope. We’ve never heard of them, we don’t know what they look like, and their fans are few and far between. But we cheer them all the same.

So join us, and together, we can show the world that it’s definitely about the taking part.”

Well done my friends, very well done indeed.


2. Cellophane Art: WIN

I absolutely love this artwork and have no idea why something like this has never been done before. ‘Cellograff‘, as its referred to by its creators, is French in origin, but universal in its appeal. I love it. I think you might too.

3. Blackpool’s Dune Grass
What is it? Have you seen it? Never heard of it? Watch this…

Blackpool’s latest addition to their pleasure beach takes the shape of these rather quite enchanting blades of ‘dune grass’. Conceived and created by the geniuses at Freestate, these kinetic sculptures have been in the works for several years and it’s actually quite lovely to see them at last, living and breathing in the real world – where they belong.

Super regular readers may recognise them from an earlier video… say, back in 2009?

I’m saying nothing.


4. Age-verified Following on Twitter
Earlier this week (or maybe the week before, I don’t remember), I was followed by the beer brand, Tsing Tao – Huzzah!

I quite like Tsing Tao and drink it fairly regularly, so a follow back was in order… but then, when I did, I got an auto direct message response.

Sidenote: auto direct messages suck. They’re spammy, impersonal and generally a one way ticket to an auto unfollow.

But this one was different, this one wasn’t asking me to subscribe to someone’s blog or to check out something else this new follower had done, no – this one asked me to confirm my age.

– I have not seen that before.

While this could be seen as merely a hoop-jumping exercise that alcohol brands go through to meet certain regulatory requirements (there’s no credit card details or anything that actually verifies a thing; I could be 17 and lie about my age), it does please me to know that these rules are actually being adhered to.

I’m not sure how long Twitter has made this feature available to brands, but I really like that it’s out there and I really like that Tsing Tao is doing things properly.

A cricket clap for for all of you.

5. (Fake) Injuries up your social status
This is old but apparently, back in 2009, it was fashionable in Beirut to sport your very own nose-job bandage. This trend was born out of the rise of the nose job in Lebanon and, given their expense, pretending to have had one implies that you have $1,000 to throw around on plastic surgery. Incredible.

Bonuses this week: as it’s that time of year, then it’s worth re-watching Monty Python’s Silly Olympics; More Olympics-based chatter from Herdmeister but this time focusing on what the event actually reveals about us, as human beings; and this map of the internet is awesome too.


Whatley out.