Is Miles Jupp On Your Guest List?

Publicity photo for Miles Jupp's most recent tour

Miles Jupp excels at many things, but he earns special top marks for his ability to be both an engaging guest and host of comedy panel shows.

There's a lot that could be said for Miles Jupp's talents.

For example, he's a good actor. Yes, you may remember him as Archie the Inventor in the children's TV show Balamory, but he's gone on to play solid supporting roles in many shows and films. In Series 3 of The Thick of It, he was annoyingly good as the annoyingly incompetent John Duggan; he also had parts in Spy and Gary: Tank Commander.

His strongest performance, though, was as the repressed lay reader Nigel in Rev. The interactions between him and star Tom Hollander were tight and well-played, leading to either fits of laughter or tears of sadness (or anger). He's had a few small roles in films such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Jon Stewart's Rosewater, and he's appeared on the stage as well, don't you know. In 2014, he was in Neville's Island, and last year he received good reviews for Rules for Living.

However, this article won't be about Jupp's acting.

His writing is also a subject that could be worth mentioning. He created, wrote, and starred in the radio show In and Out of the Kitchen, a series about the various work and personal kerfuffles that besieged the life of cookery writer Damien Trench. The comedy was both gentle and sharp, and although the television version of the show was not quite as successful, this was frankly due to the fact that the writing was the show's strength -- we didn't actually need to see them on the screen. The smart verbal back and forth between Jupp's Trench and his partner (Justin Edwards) and handyman (Brendan Dempsey) was where the real comedy took place. Jupp also wrote the entertaining Fibber in the Heat, a book about his experience sneaking into the press corps for the English cricket team's 2006 Test series in India.

But I'm not going to be talking about that, either.

Nor will I focus on his stand-up, where he started out and for which he won the So You Think You're Funny? Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year in 2001 and received a Perrier Award Best Newcomer nomination in 2003. And I won't dwell excessively on his poshness, which seems to go hand-in-hand with his stand-up comedy. He does have that air about him, in both his demeanour and voice, and it plays a key role in a lot of his routines:

If you speak the way I do -- you know, properly -- people do make certain judgments about you. If you have a posh accent, a lot of people assume that you must have an easy life. That is not logically the case, let me assure you. Life is not made any easier by the fact that most people you meet already assume you're a bit of a cunt ...

A lot of people hear the way I speak and assume I must be a homosexual. Don't know what the logic is there. I don't know if they assume I've had to learn to enunciate clearly with a mouth full of cocks. I haven't actually, but I do like to think that if push came to shove, I would probably be able to. I don't think that's particularly arrogant.

He's not the only one to play with those assumptions. Fellow comedian Frankie Boyle once introduced Jupp by saying, "He's a comedian who's been on kids' TV, sings in a choir, and looks like that -- the fact that he's not a child molester once lost me a hundred quid."

No, those things won't be the focus here.

Instead I'm going to talk about panel shows.

Panel shows are like comedy Marmite: you either hate them or you will gladly spread them over toast and eat a whole jar for breakfast. I confess I fall into the second camp. I'm happy to remain blissfully ignorant of scripts, retakes, and pre-arranged off-the-cuffs comments. Not all of them work, obviously (case in point: Celebrity Juice), but -- with the right premise, host, and guests -- they're really good fun.

Jupp is always a brilliant guest on panel shows.

Which is probably why he's so frequently invited. He's been a guest on the radio's Dilemma, It's Your Round, So Wrong It's Right, The Unbelievable Truth, and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, on which he hilariously sang an enthusiastic rendition of "The Marrow Song" to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero". On television, he's appeared a number of times on Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You, and has had guest spots on 8 Out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie to You, Room 101, and others.

Part of why he's a good guest is down to his aforementioned talents: he's a clever and funny performer. He's also adaptable: he can be silly or insightful or biting. He engages with the other guests -- obviously the banter between him and his comedian friends flows naturally, but he can bounce well off of anyone, occasionally delivering wicked comebacks or subtle insults (he called Kelly Hoppen MBE a "danger and a menace" who "gets high on forcing children to fight and wrestle" because she used to climb up playground slides the wrong way).

Of course, he still often relies on his poshness as a comedic strategy. He got quite a bit of stick about being out of touch when he was on the music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks; when he couldn't guess the name of a pop song and Noel Fielding said the opposing team knew the answer, Jupp just shook his head dismissively, saying "I'll be honest, that doesn't put any pressure on me -- I'm just not bothered." He's able to use that posh persona to mock and be mocked.

(On a side note: did anyone else find Jupp's feeding Sean Lock spoonfuls of whelks on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown strangely alluring? Or maybe that's just me and I've revealed too much.)

The best thing about Jupp as a panel member is that he really seems to enjoy being there. While other comedians are often just clearly waiting for the chance to deliver their prepared jokes, Jupp listens and responds to what's going on. Sometimes it's simply his genuine smiles and hearty laughter that allow me to believe that it's all just a bit of fun between mates, who've decided to just hang out and be hilarious together for a half hour. Even if the spontaneity is just an illusion, Jupp makes it seem real enough for me.

Jupp has recently moved into the chair's seat on The News Quiz; he took over for Sandi Toksvig in September of last year. It's not the first time he's led a radio panel show; he created and presented It's Not What You Know on BBC Radio 4 in 2011. However, that was just a bit of fun -- guests chose a friend or relative as a partner and then the pairs were questioned on how well they knew each other.

The News Quiz, though, is a different kettle of fish. Considered one of the first satirical panel games and having inspired the TV show Have I Got News for You, it features four guests (usually comedians or journalists) who take a look at the week's news. It first aired in 1977, and its eighty-ninth series (Jupp's second at the helm) began in January of this year.

Before his first episode was broadcast, Jupp admitted it was a big responsibility: "It’s iconic, and that is what is both frightening and exciting. It’s like being told, ‘Here’s this beautiful thing we made -- it’s your turn to hold it, don’t break it.'" (Patrick Foster, "Miles Jupp begins his reign of The News Quiz -- and he's hoping to tweak the guest list", The Radio Times, 18 September 2015). After Jupp's first series, some felt the show had downplayed the comedy aspect, focusing more on the news, but Jupp seems pleased with the changes: "People who talk to me say it feels different, that there is a tonal difference. To them, it sounds as if I am making it my own; that I am pushing things slightly further. There has to be the odd kidney punch" (Harry Wallop, "Miles Jupp: Radio 4 comedy needs the odd 'kidney punch'", The Telegraph, 7 January 2016).

He's a good fit for The News Quiz: although many of the chair's lines are scripted, his delivery works well, and his quick wit means his responses to the guests' answers are smooth. In the episode broadcast on 15 January, as they discussed Cologne's New Year's Eve sex attacks, guest Elis James bemoaned that the problem with the show is that it's "topical and the news is horrendous some weeks ... you know what I like about history? You know how it ended -- you could say 'Okay, that happened' and you could draw a line under it. But the present ... that is horrendous, this is awful."

When he finished, it was clear it was time for the chair to move on, but Jupp let the silence hang before just sighing, "Oh dear." There were plenty of laughs in the episode, but those few moments showed that being able to laugh at the news doesn't make everything all right.

Indeed, Jupp's intelligence allows him to comment on a variety of topics, but he can always joke about his poshness if a pop culture topic takes him out of his comfort zone. Like his stints as a guest, he seems to be having fun on The News Quiz, laughing along with the rest of us.

Whether he's the chair or just a player, Jupp's performances on comedy panel shows have convinced me that he's someone I'd definitely invite to my imaginary ideal dinner party for some interesting conversation and clever quips. If he fancied doing a bit of stand-up, talking about cricket, or bringing along a Champagne & Salmon Box from Fortnum Mason, all the better.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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