Friday, 17 April 2015

Interview - Simon Hickson, Strangeness In Space

ANYONE growing up in the 80s and 90s and who watched Saturday morning TV will no doubt remember Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson.
For more than a decade, Trev and Simon as they were known, were integral parts of BBC1's Going Live! and Live & Kicking shows with their mad, zany and unpredictable world of comedy, music, sketches and silly games.
Indeed their sketches, including The Singing Corner in which they involved unsuspecting special guests, were as legendary as they were hilarious.
Who can forget their encounters with the likes of French & Saunders, Kylie Minogue and Lisa Stansfield in which the celebrities were gently mocked?
Even Paul McCartney was not immune to their improvised skits and was a guest on the show - something that Simon says was "surreal".
"He brought his family with him and they asked us for our autographs - I still can't get over it!" he muses.
And as well as their inimitable brand of humour their popular catchphrase of "swing your pants" became firmly etched in the minds of a generation.
Since those heady days they have continued to work together as writers and performers and are now putting the finishing touches to their latest venture - a free audio podcast.
Strangeness In Space is a comedy sci fi adventure written for both adults and children and features a collection of brilliantly conceived characters including Trev, Simon, Sophie and their robot friend LEMON (Linguistically Enhanced Mobile Operations Network).
Chatting over a coffee in The Archie Parker, the Forest Hill cafe co-owned by his wife Zoe, Simon tells me it is “an indulgence of our comic ideas”.
In the story Trev and Simon play a 1980s styled synth pop duo called Pink Custard. Together with Sophie - "the sensible one" - and LEMON, they find themselves in a damaged rocket which has been knocked off course and is in a distant universe orbiting Planet Mirth.
Every so often they have to go to the planet to get "supplies" and it is while they are there that they have their “crazy” adventures and get into plenty of scrapes.
Along the way they will encounter various characters including the flocking Featherheads, the hairy scary Rhinocerbikers, the sinister Dr Scarfium or even a Space Ghost.
A year in the planning they are now attracting a host of stellar names to the cast list.
"We’ve just got Rufus Hound on board and I’m so excited,” says Simon grinning widely. “He was someone we really wanted to be involved so we are delighted that he said yes.
"He plays Atrocious Knocious who is very keen on motorbikes and likes to give off an image that he’s quite scary. But actually his real name is Steve and he’s quite scared."
As well as Rufus, Doon Mackichan has signed up and will be taking on the role of the narrator. More cast members will be announced in the coming weeks and Simon hopes the intrigue and excitement will encourage others to take part - including his dream guest William Shatner to whom Twitter requests have so far illicted no response.
Each episode will be a stand alone story but how many episodes they record is down to us.
For they are hoping to get the project off the ground and blast off into the hall of podcast fame with a crowdfunding campaign.
When I spoke to Simon, the team behind the project – Simon, Trev, producer Claire Eden and fellow actor Sophie Aldred – had £5,000 left of their £15,000 target to raise before April 26 to get Strangeness in Space off the ground.
But on Monday this week they had smashed that target and have now set their sights on raising another £7,000 to ensure a second episode.
And by the time this is published they may be well on their way to a third.
"The initial target is £15,000 which will pay for the first episode, all the production costs and some of the actors' fees," says Simon.
"Each £7,000 after that will pay for future episodes. We are so close now and we are desperately keen for this to happen so I've been on Twitter a lot to promote it. It's getting very exciting.
"What I really like about these crowdfunding initiatives is that it’s ordinary people who make it happen – so if they like us and it they will support it. If not, well, that’s it.”
As part of the campaign, those who back the project financially can win "perks" such as T shirts, badges and art work plus having a name check on the script or credits.
"We racked our brains to come up with perks to suit all budgets and so they range from pocket money items such as badges to bigger ones such as become a producer on the show," he says.
The idea for the project came about after a university reunion Simon went to last year.
"Trev and I met at Manchester University in the early 80s and last year there was a 30th anniversary reunion," he says. "Trev couldn't make it but Claire and I went along. While we were nursing hangovers at breakfast the following day we started talking about working together again.
“Trouble was we didn't know what! However, later Trev and I talked about it and as we'd done stuff with Sophie before we thought it would be a good idea to mix what she’s known for - Dr Who and sci fi - with what we were known for - silly sketches and characters - and the idea developed from that."
Simon credits Claire with turning their idea into reality.
"She had done an amazing job on another similarly funded series, Minister Of Chance, and without her this wouldn’t have got done,” he says.
“The actual nitty gritty and sorting out of all the Kickstarter stuff was all down to her.”
But why an audio show and not a visual one I ask.
"I would have been keen for a visual but if you do that you need a fortune to make it work – anything between £50,000 and £60,000 which isn’t easy to come by these days," he says.
"And if we took it anywhere else we'd be reliant on someone commissioning it which would take ages. This is actually a great way to get things done and it’s a lot quicker.
"Secondly I’m 52 now and it would look odd as a chap my age doing a comedy show for kids – we had to be realistic!
“Besides we've commissioned artist Lee Sullivan to do the promotional artwork for the project. As part of that he's created these zany animated Trev and Simon characters that look half our age and I have got my hair back!” he laughs.
“Also, I liked the idea of people using their imaginations while listening to it.
"It's nice being our own boss too - we can do what we want with it and be as mad or as silly as we want. Our only limitations are our imaginations."
Now they have the funding for at least the first episode they will get into the studio in the next few weeks and have the podcast available to download in September.
“It’s really exciting and I think as a comedy vehicle it is as endless as our imaginations,” says Simon.
“Down the line if it proved successful I would like to see an animation series. It would also be great to make it into a comic book – it’s got endless possibilities!”

Visit to back the project.

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