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By Sophie Johnson
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2012 Sophie Johnson
All rights reserved.
THE QUEEN OF COMEDY
'Hart, 37, has arrived as the statuesque darling of BBC light entertainment, arguably even its saviour.'
– Dominic Cavendish, The Times
All hail Queen Miranda! A sudden hit in British comedy, she is our sweetheart of light entertainment. At first glance, it seems her success happened overnight. At the 2010 British Comedy Awards, she won a hat-trick (or 'Hart-trick', thanks Daily Mail). The following year she topped it up with another win for Best TV Comedy Actress and secured her place in the comedy spotlight. Before this barrage of awards, most would not have known who Miranda Hart was, let alone recognise her by her first name alone. Now, she is one of our best-loved comedians, slowly nudging herself towards national treasure-dom. Her self-titled sitcom propelled Miranda to fame and into the nation's hearts and has itself achieved cult TV status. The show is based on a persona she developed in her stand-up, an immature singleton who giggles at the word 'bottom'. Her cosy comedy receives ratings of over 4.4 million thanks to furious word-of-mouth and glowing reviews – and her appeal may yet broaden still further.
On why she thinks she has become such a sensation, Miranda has suggested it might have something to do with a British love of failure: 'My aim was to tap into that universal truth that we all feel awkward in life, but hide it to varying degrees. Everyone feels like a dick at some point in their life – probably every day.' But she seems almost oblivious to how successful she has become. Talking to Stylist magazine, she said that she doesn't feel like a role model, or that she has become 'one of the most popular female figures in comedy'. When asked how she felt about suggestions that people are inspired by her comedy, she responded humbly, 'I find it hard to believe really. If it is true, it's amazing.'
Miranda's self-titled sitcom arrived in 2009 during an era when comedy was becoming popular again, taking over the TV listings. A sea change of sorts had begun with Live at the Apollo, which has spun off into Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow: a stand-up comedy vehicle that introduces the nation to acts working the gig circuit around the UK. Panel shows are abundant: if Have I Got News For You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks were once the big boys in town, they've now been joined by Mock The Week, Would I Lie To You?, QI, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Shooting Stars, Celebrity Juice, Ask Rhod Gilbert and many more, all jostling for our attention. Ricky Gervais is in America, spreading the good word of British comedy, and Matt Lucas and David Walliams have become international stars. Miranda is waving the flag for sitcoms, harking back to our tradition of Are You Being Served?, Dad's Army and Keeping Up Appearances.
Her journey to becoming a multi-award-winning comic started with three nominations at the Royal Television Society (RTS) awards in March 2010. She won Best Comedy Performance but in her other categories others took the trophies home – Best Comedy Writer, where her co-writers James Cary and Richard Hurst were co-nominated, was awarded to Iain Morris and Damon Beesley for The Inbetweeners, and Best Scripted Comedy went to single-camera show The Thick of It. Speaking to Davina McCall on Twitter, who she made friends with on the Sport Relief cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, she shrugged, 'Genuinely not bothered about winning. Just lovely to be there. In fact, don't want to win – terrified of speeches!' Speaking in a later interview, she said that she found it a surreal and nerve-racking experience. 'I don't really remember it but I got up and said, "I haven't won a prize since junior high jump in 1980" and I ran off. Everyone kind of went "Oh".'
Soon after the RTS bash, in May 2010, came two BAFTA nominations – Female Performance in a Comedy Role and Situation Comedy. In the end, the accolades went to Rebecca Front and The Thick of It, respectively, but Miranda was just excited to be there. She told one red-carpet interviewer that she had only recently learned of the nominations and couldn't believe her luck, 'I literally can't quite believe it. It's like I'm looking down on myself. It's very, very exciting ... 12-year-old me would be going mental right now ... It's just amazing to be in the company of people I admire.' In the category of best female comedy performance, she was nominated alongside Rebecca Front (from The Thick of It), Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlan (both from Getting On). Miranda imagined an all-girls-together revolution. 'I think it would be rather marvellous if all four nominees could get up together and make some screamy, girlie-based speech. You never know. The joint winners are ...'
Alas, such a spectacle did not arise, and Rebecca Front took the award for her portrayal of Nicola Murray. Front claimed she was staggered, assuming she hadn't won because she was sat in the middle of a row. For the Situation Comedy category, Miranda was contending with Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and The Thick of It. As well as winning this category, The Thick of It team owned the night, with Peter Capaldi taking the prize for Male Performance in a Comedy Role.
After the BAFTAs, Miranda had time for a quick dress change before heading off with her 'telly mum', Patricia Hodge, to the Monte Carlo TV Festival in Monaco a few days later, where they were both nominated for Best Comedy Actress. But Miranda's big night was to come early next year. The British Comedy Awards 2010 were on their way and Miranda was up for four gongs – Best Comedy Actress, the People's Choice Award (for the King or Queen of Comedy), Best New British TV Comedy and Best Sitcom. The ceremony was held at the Indigo2 at The O2 Arena and was broadcast for the first time on Channel 4, formerly shown on ITV. Prior to the event, talk was all around regular host Jonathan Ross, who returned in 2009.
After the row over prank calls he made with Russell Brand, now commonly known as Sachsgate, Wossy announced that he would not be presenting the 2008 show and Angus Deayton took his place as host. Apart from this and the inaugural ceremony (presented by Michael Parkinson), Ross has hosted every ceremony. Every year, there is anticipation about the show, the host and the controversy he has brought with him. In 2006, he made a joke about Heather Mills and her prosthetic leg and was heavily criticised by the press. A year later, he wound up news journalists by suggesting he was worth 'a thousand BBC journalists', just as many redundancies were being made. This year, Jonathan and the show had a new home, a channel with a reputation for being more lenient towards 'challenging' comedy. After all, this was the channel that stood up for Frankie Boyle when he made a sexual joke about Katie Price's disabled son Harvey. The show has become legendary for creating memorable moments, including Julian Clary's famous comment about Norman Lamont in 1993. The format was being revamped for Channel 4, with the new award, the People's Choice, returning after an incident in 2005, where Ant and Dec were given the award, when it should have gone to Catherine Tate. This led to an Ofcom fine of £80,000 and, after further investigation around the British television phone-in scandal in 2007, led to a record fine of £5.675 million. Channel 4 was happy to pick up the show and brought back the phone vote, which was carefully overseen by the Electoral Reform Services.
The night was a big success for the organisers and, of course, the winners. The British Comedy Guide website, who were live blogging the occasion, confirmed that Jonathan Ross was on form, 'The customary Jonathan Ross speech is proving as popular in the room as always. Digs at Horne and Corden, Gervais and Carr have already been ticked off.' He also described Simon Amstell's acting as 'so wooden Ray Mears tried to make a canoe out of him'. But it's all part of the spirit of the night, as Dara O'Briain, who presented Michael McIntyre with the gong for Best Male TV Comic, says, 'These are the most openly bitchy awards ceremony because, frankly, we just don't mind! This is Jonathan's front room.' And he can take it as well. Russell Brand's recorded video message for winning Outstanding Contribution to Comedy teased him about the Sachsgate scandal: 'Jonathan, you're a father figure, what were you thinking?'
Other winners of the night included Jo Brand, Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Charlie Brooker for Newswipe, Kayvan Novak, Horrible Histories, John Bishop, Samantha Spiro, Harry Hill, Would I Lie To You? and Peter Capaldi. The lifetime achievement award went to Roy Clarke OBE, creator of Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearances, a fine moment for lovers of the traditional sitcom. The Inbetweeners won Best Sitcom, which Miranda was also nominated for. But the highlight of the evening, the woman of the match, was Miranda Hart.
Even as Jonathan Ross was telling viewers about the nominations for the People's Choice Award, and explaining how to vote, she had the support of the room. The British Comedy Guide website wrote at the time: 'Sounds like Miranda will be a very popular winner for the People's Choice Award; the only cheer we noticed from the auditorium.'
Even before the event, a critic for the Telegraph wrote up who they thought should win in each category: 'This will go to a public vote, so it should be a straight fight between McIntyre and Hart. Whichever of them wins, it'll be a victory for gentle, friendly, uncynical comedy. I'd take McIntyre, although it would be nice to see empress of slapstick Hart lift the award, not least because she'd almost certainly drop it on her foot, mug to camera then fall over.'
As the evening built up, all signs pointed to victory for Miranda. First she won Best New TV Comedy for Miranda, as, although series two had just finished airing, the first series broadcast in November 2009 was eligible. Later, she picked up Best Female Comedy Actress, presented to her by Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran. As she accepted the award from the 1980s icon, real-life Miranda blurred with her sitcom alter ego as she flirted with him, 'Yes, I will go back to your hotel! Thank you very much, wow! Actually, not really, you're OK.'
Now, Miranda relaxed. Being up against Michael McIntyre, Ant and Dec, Harry Hill and David Mitchell, she didn't much fancy her chances. But when David Tennant opened the envelope, he gleefully announced, 'The winner of the People's Choice Award is ... it's Miranda Hart!'
Her face showed her genuine astonishment as she staggered to the stage to make another dreaded speech: 'From Louie Spence to Simon Le Bon to David Tennant! Erm, this is a joke, right? Because Michael McIntyre and Ant and Dec are like proper famous and stuff, come on! I genuinely don't know what to say. I mean, terrified of the thought of getting up – I just spat! I just actually spat! ... I'm really so overwhelmed, as you can see, I'm making a total tit of myself. Thank you so much to everyone who voted. That's all I can say, really. Thank you.'
She was still in shock the morning after, saying on Twitter, 'Very amusing dream last night that I met Simon Le Bon and spat on stage at the comedy awards'.
In the aftermath of the British Comedy Awards, there was only one person taking the headlines. Miranda Hart, the lady who walked away with three trophies, appeared on almost every chat show available – they all wanted her. Speaking to Alan Carr on his TV chat show, Chatty Man, she said she was still buzzing and couldn't quite believe it. He suggested that Simon Le Bon had been flirting with her too and she joked, 'Well, you know, he's only human.' She went on to confess an embarrassing moment she had on stage: 'I kind of held on to him for a bit too long ... I gave him a hug and I could feel him slightly trying to withdraw, but I wouldn't let him go. And I was like, I'm doing this for too long, and it's on telly. Even then I couldn't quite let go.' Alan asked how she celebrated her victorious evening, imagining – as we might too – a night of champagne and revelry. In fact, she admitted that she and the cast went back to her house for a cup of tea and to enjoy the contacts of their goodie bags, 'within which was, literally, three packets of crisps and a pint glass that you might get at an Esso garage in the 80s. And then, a Creme Egg'. A cup of tea and a Creme Egg at home with her sitcom family – how quaint.
Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley spoke to Miranda on ITV's Daybreak, and congratulated her on her hat trick. Chiles said of the Comedy Awards, 'I mean that's a tough gig actually, isn't it? Because you've got to be funny. I mean, if you won a comedy award, you've got to stand there and be funny, otherwise they might confiscate it.'
Miranda wasn't sure she managed that as, in her words, she just 'spat and dribbled and embraced Simon Le Bon for a bit too long'. After time to regroup and find the right words, Miranda left a message for her fans on her website: 'Thank you to everyone who voted for me at the Comedy Awards. If you saw the show you will have seen how embarrassingly speechless I was to get the People's Choice Awards. I am such a fan of Harry Hill, David Mitchell, Michael McIntyre and Ant and Dec – they are all amazing entertainers. So to be considered amongst them, let alone win, was a genuine shock. A big fat thank you for your support. You have made someone whose dream it was to get into comedy very happy. I am apparently now officially called the Queen of Comedy, so no eye contact please, only speak when you are spoken to and back out of the room. Thank you subjects.'
So why was Miranda so surprised at winning? People were talking about her at water coolers around the country, she was getting big viewing figures, and journalists were singing her praises. But Miranda was so worried about reading something negative that she avoided reviews and wasn't aware of the glowing write-ups she was given. Despite the fact the Christmas special attracted 4.4 million viewers, she couldn't quite get her head around it: 'I thought they'd got that wrong. I suppose because you sort of hear these figures, but it's very hard to get a tangible sense of it being popular because it's just sort of numbers. And I haven't done a tour recently, I haven't been out and about so I haven't really got a true sense of it. I think that's why I was particularly shocked by the People's Choice Award.'
But this wasn't the end of the acclaim for Miranda and her series. March 2011 saw the RTS Awards, where she received two nominations to the previous year's three. On this occasion, she won both categories: Best Scripted Comedy and Best Comedy Performance. Miranda was very excited to have won but, as it says on her website: 'The highlight of the night was winning a dare to ask Ant and Dec for a bottle of champagne because the BBC aren't allowed to buy champagne for their tables. Ant and Dec were kind enough to oblige!'
In June 2011, the lady of light entertainment was awarded extra cool points when she was given Best Comedy Actress of the Year by Glamour Magazine. 'I thought I had won Most Glamorous Woman of the Year, so I am a little disappointed, but I'll take it', she commented.
Surely by now, this darling of light entertainment must be bombarded on the street, hounded by fans and unable to go about her daily life? Not quite. Approaching the broadcast of the second series, Miranda had been busy writing, rewriting, rehearsing and recording the show, so didn't notice much difference. On his BBC chat show, Graham Norton suggested, 'You were a working comic and you've guested on other people's shows, but now this show ... presumably it's taken you to a whole different level of fame.'
She replied that she does occasionally get recognised on the street, but then proceeded to tell how, recently in the waiting room at her doctor's, the nurse called out her name, 'Miranda Hart', and she heard someone say, 'Ooh! Do you think it's her off the telly?' After looking up to check, the lady concluded, 'Oh, no it's not.'
Online, however, is a different story – Miranda has a legion of fans. There are numerous blogs dedicated to the comedian, where admirers post screenshots of their favourite moments in the show, funny clips, and fan videos of her character and Gary set to love songs.
Excerpted from Miranda Hart by Sophie Johnson. Copyright © 2012 Sophie Johnson. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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