Brian Pern is one of the great comedy creations of recent decades, and we’ve been trying to bring him to the Hall since the programme first aired in 2014, but things kept getting in the way, like the 400 shows in the auditorium each year.
When we saw, though, that Wembley Arena was getting in on the act, and weeks later our Chief Operating Officer revealed himself as a Thotchhead, we decided it was high time we brought Brian to where he truly belongs: Prog Magazine readers’ Venue of the Year (2015 and 2016).
So in February last year, we issued a come and get me plea to writer-director (and comic genius) Rhys Thomas, who responded with the words: ‘perfect for the Brian Pern tribute concert when he dies’, which struck us as an insensitive way to break the news, if oddly prescient of 2016’s unforgiving celeb cull.
By November, it was all set, and with the kind permission of Avalon – whose star act, Russell Howard, was set to embark on a 10-show residency – we booked the recording in for Friday 3 March: a lightning-quick schedule of three hours in the auditorium and another three to shoot green screen talking heads in the Berry Bros Bar.
The day itself was a complete joy, and a fascinating insight into the creative process behind the show: Thomas firing off a succession of inspired new one-liners after each take, Nigel Havers giving an impromptu acting masterclass as he effortlessly shuffled through the moods from hilarious to heartbreaking, and Tony Way springing a piece of self-penned brilliance on the production team, mid-take. All this – and Mike Batt too.
The result is 40 minutes of comic brilliance, but with an undertow of poignancy and melancholy that calls to mind giants of the sitcom world, from Bilko to Blackadder.
Brian Pern: A Tribute is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now