Article – Peter Richardson

Stripped of Talent

What should we expect from the latest movie from a director responsible for so many televisual and filmic travesties? A look at the career of Peter Richardson…

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, December 2004)

After a postponed summer release the intriguing-sounding Churchill: The Hollywood Years – a comic biography of Winston starring Christian Slater in the title role and Neve Campbell as Princess Elizabeth – is finally out this month. Initial reviews are not good: “a post-vindaloo panburner of a film” (for those who like their faecal metaphors) does have a certain ‘straight to video’ ring about it. Okay, there have been plenty of really rotten British films in recent times, so why should our attitude to this be any different? One word: Richardson; two words: Peter Richardson.

The film’s writer and director was part of the original Comic Strip line-up, a collective of the Comedy Store’s best talents who were summoned from their dingy Soho basement by the BBC to become the eternal student scum, The Young Ones. Originally, Richardson was cast as Mike, who was based on a character Richardson had created on stage, along with the parts played by Rik Mayall (obnoxious right-on poet), Adrian Edmondson (violent punk) and Nigel Planer (depressed hippy).

But having a bloody good time filming with his mates was an idea that didn’t appeal to Richardson, who had other, more sinister plans. Mwah ha ha. He decided to go it alone and pursue his dreams of becoming a director and general monolithic comedy führer, something he achieved with the help of an indulgent fledgling Channel 4 in The Comic Strip Presents… These were a series of individual comic playlets of wildly differing quality, which, in hindsight, indulged certain ‘talents’ more than others…

Richardson was fast being seen as someone fiercely determined to get what he wanted, even at the expense of friends’ projects; yet those friends always seemed to forgive him. In the end, the Comic Strip produced far more stinkers than classics (Summer School or Slags come to mind). Then Richardson embarked on the final part of his masterplan: he became a film director. Supergrass (1985) was surprisingly not that bad. The plot was slight – Edmondson plays a moron who convinces the police he’s a turncoat gangster in order to get a free holiday – but most of the performances were very good, particularly Alexei Sayle as a massively sarcastic traffic cop. But there are also moments that only seem to be there to prove to the world how great the director is: the downright weird scene of Robbie Coltrane striding down a stormy pier to the sound of Frankie Goes to Hollywood is as inappropriate as someone paying by cash card in Home and Bargain.

The warning signs were there. For someone making funny films, Richardson wanted to be taken very seriously. His next film, Eat The Rich (1987), was mesmerisingly awful. Probably Richardson’s biggest weaknesses is his belief that anyone could star in his films. Here he mostly dispensed with the Comic Strippers who had made his Supergrass watchable in order to cast a load of no-talents. Eat The Rich stars Lanah (Alan) Pellay, a transsexual with a voice more annoying than Nadia; Fiona Richmond, former porn starlet; Nosher Powell, former wrestler and EastEnd thug; and a whole load of pop stars who make Sting look like a fine actor. Eat The Rich has a nice idea (a restaurant serving the ultimate in nouveau cuisine) but every time the film concentrates on its main characters the whole thing stops dead.

Thanks to the poor performance of Eat The Rich it was four years before Richardson returned to the silver screen. Don’t four years fly when you’re revelling in a Richardson-free land. The Pope Must Die (1991) was a great idea, had the best possible star in Robbie Coltrane, and was utter crap thanks to a terrible script that drowned in mawkishness. What was supposed to be a Catholic-baiting tale of the wrong man being made Pope turned into a vehicle for Coltrane to look uncomfortable whilst caring for a young Italian boy.

Richardson’s career gaffes were far from over: he became one of the people chiefly responsible for re-launching the Carry On films with the hideous Carry On Columbus, which managed to be a final nail in the coffin of that series.

Richardson returned to the small screen, this time staying behind the camera – despite being a far better actor than director – for The Glam Metal Detectives. Again showing his ability to trust actors other people wouldn’t have as extras – who are Mark Caven, Sara Stockbridge and George Yiasoumi? – he provided the BBC (the channel he once rejected) with a regrettably expensive flop.

Since then Richardson has been commendably lying low, only breaking his parole for Stella Street, a very low budget short TV series that definitely suited his meagre talents. Yet he still had ambitions, and an attempt to make a film out of it went ignominiously straight to video. Now, for some odd reason, he has been given money again to make more movies.

Richardson would probably like to be thought as an artist who absolutely refuses to compromise. But perhaps he’s more akin to a sulky brat who refuses to listen to what people tell him, despite the fact that he may not be any good at what he does.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years is out this month. Probably.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

One Response to Article – Peter Richardson

  1. Mark Burden says:

    What a load of old bollocks! Peter Richardson is a fine director and that scene in “Supergrass” is absolutely brilliant! An amazing piece of direction and acting from Robbie Coltrane whi was in alot of danger filming it!!! Whilst Slags wasn’t there best work “Summer school” was yet another classic from The Comic Strip! Also his performances in the Comic Strip were equally excellent!

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