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This page features articles mentioning Robert Newman. The other pages feature interviews with him and articles written by Robert Newman.

Articles written by Robert Newman
Interviews with Robert Newman

From The Guardian
Saturday, 23 October 1999

Bit of the other

Find proper novels hard work? Then try lit lite, says Julie Burchill, the fiction you can't get your teeth into
Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel 308pp, Little Brown, £14.99

This is the age of Miscellaneous Man; a little bit of this, a little bit of that and Bob's your agent, coining it. Sadly, Miscellaneous Man also tends to be Mediocre Man, and the stand-up, the sit-coms and the novels churned out by a certain type of entertainer prove that Marmite is just about the only thing that benefits from being spread very thin.

One characteristic of the late 90s' popular fiction is the apparent love of the limp and the lite - those girls who want to keep up with the Bridget Joneses and all the boys (even the boys knocking on 50, such as Mr Tony Parsons) playing with their Hornby sets - and the continued commercial spurning of serious novelists such as Shena Mackay, Will Self and MY Self. It makes total sense, then, that Everywuss should wet themselves over David Baddiel's books - the first novel was called, with gut-wrenching predictability, Time For Bed - especially men who are relieved that he writes about sex even worse than they do and women who haven't had an orgasm in ten years and think that they'll be rumbled, à la the Emperor's New Clothes, if they don't snigger along with Dave.

It's sad, really. Baddiel was one half of Newman and Baddiel, the comic duo who in the early part of the decade became the first jokers (not counting the Eurythmics) to fill Wembley Stadium with screaming hormones. Their fortunes since the split tell a tale of our times' tragic predilection for mediocrity over merit. One of them, Robert Newman (my one-time best friend who I fell violently out with four years ago and haven't spoken to since, so obviously I'm not biased) was a breathtakingly beautiful, incandescently sensitive working-class foundling who made it to Cambridge but left after a nervous breakdown; David Baddiel, less glamorously, was a middle-class public schoolboy who went to Cambridge because, well, that's what one does.

As one whose beauty has fled, I won't do much in the way of finger-pointing at Mr Baddiel except to say that when you saw the two of them together, Baddiel didn't look so much like Newman's partner as like his afterbirth, which some short-sighted surgeon had foolishly failed to sever.

Yet Newman's writing career - he wrote two excellent novels, Dependence Day and Manners - has faltered while Baddiel's has thrived. A lot of this can be put down to the public's unswerving love of bad writing. (We are, never forget, the country that made Jeffrey Archer a millionaire for the second time.) Line one, page one, reminds us just how bad Baddiel can be - "Vic fucked her first the day Princess Diana died." Is that first before everyone else fucked her, or first before he fucked everybody else? Why not "Vic first fucked her the day Princess Diana died"? Not, God forbid, that we should be mellifluous or concise. The lads at Loaded might not like it!

And from then on, as the great Victor Lewis-Smith once said of our hero's television show, things go from Baddiel to worrsiel. Predictably, he takes the golf club bore view that the mourning over the death of the Princess of Wales was really rather silly (i.e. female); disgustingly, he uses the word "fascism" to describe the mood of supposedly enforced grief, and on one page he uses it in this context no less than five times. But if what happened in London in the September of 1997 was fascism, what word can we use to describe what happened in Germany in the 1930s? And coming from someone who takes the ineffably stupid, emotional and false-identifying game of football as seriously as Baddiel does ("Thirty years of hurt" indeed!), pleas for emotional continence may well ring a little hollow.

It is hard to convey without resorting to body language of the lowest kind exactly what a sour, snide, and snobbish little book this is. Presenting itself as being almost unbearable frank and honest about "the sex war", it is easily as clichéd and ill-sorted as something that Barbara Cartland could knock up between luncheon and afternoon tea. The only interesting thing about this novel is that it has exactly the same theme as the first; wanting to shag your best friend/brother's wife/girlfriend. I guess if you're a friend of David Baddiel's you've got the message by now; don't leave your wife alone with Mr Baddiel. For myself, I would happily settle for never being left alone with one of his books for the remainder of my lifetime.

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3 August 2000

Tiny Dynamite
2 Hampstead Walk London E3 2JN
t 020 8980 0557 m 07771 930974
e tinydynamite@bowiewonderworld.com

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

Written and directed by Adrian Berry

Camden Peoples Theatre London NW1 August 29 - Sept 16 (Tuesday — Saturday) at 8.00pm Tickets £8/£6 conc Box Office: 020 7916 5878

Love, Death and David Bowie…

Tiny Dynamite presents a play about a young boy obsessed with a living rock legend in this brand new and timely production. Martin is a boy with problems - a dysfunctional family, an illness which nobody understands and a raging obsession with David Bowie. And that’s just the beginning…. Thrust into a world of Britney girls and DJ culture, Martin is out of place and out of time, with only his fantasies to hide behind. But soon the truth will out. With a blistering soundtrack and the voice of comedian Rob Newman as Bowie, the life of the pop fan is dissected in this tale of unnatural teenage wildlife. The production features many Bowie songs, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, Starman, Lady Grinning Soul, Little Wonder, Life on Mars and many more. This is the first production by London-based Tiny Dynamite. 31 year old Adrian Berry has worked in British Theatre for 10 years. This is his first play as both writer and director. For more details and colour/b&w photographs please call 020 8980 0557. Listings Details Production: From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads Venue: Camden Peoples Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 Dates: Aug 29 — Sept 16 at 8pm (performances Tuesday to Saturday) Tickets: £8/£6 concessions Box Office: 020 7916 5878 Nearest tube: Warren Street


Martin is 18 years old and has an eating disorder. We enter the play during a time when he has been admitted to a clinic for his problem, which he refuses to acknowledge. He shares a room with two slightly younger girls who find him very strange. Martin is a huge David Bowie fan — his life revolves around him and his bed is a positive shrine. It becomes apparent that his father has been absent for some time and this obsession with Bowie has been inherited from him. Martin has a strained relationship with his mother and sister, and has just one friend — Simon, who tries (but struggles) to share his obsession.

Martin is in a sense a contemporary Billy Liar - he believes himself to be close to Bowie, constantly writing him letters and having imaginary conversations and meetings, as well as throwing himself into fantasy situations where he believes he is Bowie himself. This leads to some very ‘Dennis Potter-esque’ scenes when the hospital comes alive to the sound of Bowie’s music.

Although tragic, the play is darkly hilarious at times — especially when Martin encounters a straight-talking no-nonsense nurse called Alex who teases him and makes allusions to his sexuality. Alex is erotic, highly educated and seems to have taken her cues from Julie Burchill.

The play ultimately spirals into a tragic situation, but one which ends on an ambiguous yet positive note as Martin discovers a few truths about himself, his family and David Bowie.


* Paula (Martin’s mum): Lynne Austin
* Nancy: Margaret Campbell
* Alex: Laura Churchill
* Martin: Alex Clarke
* Simon: Nick Ingram
* Beverley: Clare Jackson
* Becky: Moshana Khan
* Angie: Katie Lewis
* Writer/Director: Adrian Berry
* Set Design: Katherine Lara
* Lighting Design: Martin Hutchings

About the Company and Production

Tiny Dynamite was born at The Bull Theatre in Barnet, through the Education Programme, Youth Theatres and Theatre Workshop courses. It exists to create a professional platform for new and young actors. The company plans to continue to produce new writing and to tour future work.

About the Writer and director

After training at The Gladstone Theatre in Merseyside, Adrian Berry formed Hull Freetown Theatre - directing national tours of Kiss of the Spider Woman, Havel’s Vanek Plays and a critically acclaimed production of Becket’s Endgame. After spending part of 1993 in Sierra Leone, working with writers, directors and actors in the capital, Adrian developed the Education programme at the Albany Theatre in S.E. London and from 1996 to the present has been Education Manager at The Bull Theatre. This is his first full-length play as both writer and director.

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Read a review of the show here, an interview with the writer here

Excerpt from an interview with the author of the play:

Through the Bull Theatre where Ade is based, he met Rob Newman, (known to most people from the highly acclaimed comedy duo Newman and Baddiel and now a brilliant stand-up comic in his own right) who has recorded a Bowie voice-over for sections of the play where Martin converses with Bowie himself.
"He does a brilliant Bowie impersonation in his act and I phoned him up, thinking 'he won't do it, or he'll want lots of money for it', but he'd been wanting to do something creative with his Bowie impersonation so he jumped at the chance. He showed me about five different ways he could do it, one was a very caricatured way, rather like Phil Cornwell from Stella Street, then he just talked to me in Bowie's voice, pointing out that Bowie can talk about anything, even something very mundane, but make it seem more interesting by the way he says it."

From The Guardian, by Fiachra Gibbons
Saturday, 12 August 2000

Stand up, stand up for politics on the Fringe

Resistance and protest stage a comeback in Edinburgh

For more than a decade it has been a dirty word at the Edinburgh Festival, the one thing that guaranteed box office death. But now politics is back with a vengeance on the Fringe and is putting bums on seats as never before.

From Steven Berkoff's Messiah, which depicts Jesus Christ as a revolutionary leader done down by a strikingly Peter Mandelson-like Pilate, and various plays about asylum seekers, led by the acclaimed Bogus Woman, to Peter Searles' blackly comic portrait of Pinochet's birthday in Hey Gringo, politics is all-pervasive.

"You can hardly move on the Fringe for gender politics," said Joyce McMillan, the author and critic. "There's Kate Atkinson's play about sperm banks, Abandonment; Liz Lochhead's Medea; Abi Morgan's Splendour, Achilles and quite a few others too. There hasn't been such a strong political crop in years."

There are even stirrings in the once cynical world of stand-up. Comedian Rob Newman is about to combine his new show, Resistance is Fertile, with a series of lunchtime political lectures advocating direct action. Scott Capurro, an American comedian, has sparked a heated row with a joke about the Holocaust, and another American, Rich Hall, the hot favourite for the Perrier Award, has been lacing his show with pops at the US penal system and the neo-Darwinism that's creeping into politics everywhere. "I don't believe in the criminal gene," he said, "but if there was one, I think they'd find it right next to the out of work one."

Even where you drink this year has become a political statement. Lee Hurst has refused to go into the Assembly Rooms bar, the traditional after show haunt of the comics, because it is sponsored by Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV.

The "green comedy" duo Ciderdelic, who took part in the riot in Parliament square on May Day, have been leading their audience out on to the streets after their show every night to block the traffic, and yesterday they caused disruption on Princes street, Edinburgh's main thoroughfare, by staging a reclaim-the-streets demonstration, attempting to lay a lawn outside McDonald's.

Tomorrow, Sir John Drummond, the former controller of Radio 3, is expected to use the launch of his book, A Life in the Arts, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to lay into government cultural policy.

Nor are politics on the Fringe stages the preserve of the left. Up to 30 people a night have been walking out on the rightwing Australian stand-up Brendon Burns, the self-styled "scourge of the politically correct".

Only in the increasingly creaky International Festival, which starts tomorrow, is politics taking a back seat. Brian McMaster, the director, cut its long-running lecture strand after a speech by the Scottish composer James McMillan last year, claiming that the country was still rife with sectarianism.

David Woods, one half of Ridiculusmus , who have had rave reviews for their hard-hitting absurdist play, Say Nothing, about how little the peace process has changed Northern Ireland, said disil lusionment with New Labour had sparked revival in more political material.

"Like the peace process, Blair came in promising much but very little has been delivered. People had been biting their lips for years before that, and they have felt let down. Artists are always an early barometer of what the people are really thinking. They have begun to question where we are going, and that's why politically-inspired work has been re-emerging. It's only natural, really."

Rob Newman said the reason is more deep-seated. He feels the public have grown jaded of the "culture of irony" that trivialises and dismisses everything as joke fodder. "Satire has no fire in its belly and believes in nothing. But everywhere people are angry, betrayed, working longer hours just to pay their bills and hoping they will never get ill or old or have kids who want to go to university," he said. "Political stand-ups now get the kind of response in places like Barnstaple, Gravesend and Maidstone that five years ago you used to get only in Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester or Sheffield."

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From the Wall Street Journal,by A. Craig Copetas
27 April 2002

A New `Atmosphere' at Hotel du Nord
Crowds Fill French Film Landmark to Hear Jokes on Business

Paris -- Funny business is booming at the Hotel du Nord, of all places. At the site of the classic 1938 French film featuring two lovers who make a suicide pact in depression-era Paris, two businessmen are presenting a very different approach to the global economy's current troubles: comedy.

Don't laugh. The partners who call themselves Beer Necessities -- an Englishman with the unlikely name Karel Beer and the Frenchman James Arch -- see big-time business in corporate executives paying 120 French francs (18.29 euros) a night to snicker at their own misfortune on the site of French cinema's most celebrated suicide agreement.

The white-collar Europeans and Americans packed into this former flophouse on the cobblestone banks of the Canal St. Martin aren't looking for a re-enactment of the Marcel Carne movie's famous scene, in which the sultry actress Arletty immortalized the line "Atmosphere. Atmosphere. Do I look like someone atmospheric?" shortly before her co-star gets shot. But thanks to Arletty and the endangered state of today's global market, life has returned to the creaky landmark, which had been boarded up for over 20 years until Mr. Arch reopened the ground-floor rooms in 1995.

"People are nervous about the future. Allowing them to laugh at their own economic situation vents the tension," Mr. Beer says.
Comedians play every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night in a restaurant above the hotel's old stable. The space is intimate, the drinks are cheap and the specialty is business humor by stand-up comics imported from Britain and the U.S. Each show delivers a hearty dose of irrational exuberance, especially for French film sophisticates. For them, watching a lunatic Anglo jokester prancing around the bar at Hotel du Nord is as unlikely as watching Casablanca and finding Elvis sitting in for Sam at the piano.

When the purists object, Mr. Beer argues that cracking business jokes at the Hotel du Nord is perfectly pitched to the times. He estimates about 15% of the audience is French and eager for chuckles. On some nights the comics play to large groups of French students on field trips to improve their English. "English-language stand-up comedy at the Hotel du Nord is very funny in itself," says the 53-year-old promoter. "This hotel is at the heart of French culture, but everyone in the audience is anxious about their jobs and how to survive the poor economy, just like the characters in the movie."

Dashingly dressed in a suede jacket with a wine-colored scarf around his neck, hotel owner James Arch says the legend of the Hotel du Nord is sturdy enough to survive foreign comedians. "Too bad the same thing can't be said about the building," Mr. Arch adds, brushing a cigarette past his thin black moustache. "The only original thing about this place is the facade." The historic bedrooms were long ago turned into private apartments.

For decades the only visitors were busloads of Japanese tourists stopping to have themselves videotaped screeching "Atmosphere" beneath the postcard-perfect marquee. But that changed in 1995, when Mr. Arch refurbished the lobby bar and the restaurant, where the jokes now go down. "This is real Paris," he says of the hotel. "We did a lot of work to get the place back into shape." Then one night over drinks, the two men decided it would be funny to stage English-language comedy revues.

So while Mr. Arch massages the myth and pours the wine, Mr. Beer sets about luring pranksters to Paris. "Well-known comedians like to come here because it's a unique crowd and they feel safe about experimenting with new material," Mr. Beer explains. The timing couldn't have been better. Big-draw comics like Robert Newman from Britain and Will Durst from the U.S. were expanding their routines to include globalization gags. Mr. Beer claims one of the best one-liners ever dropped on the New Economy was delivered at the Hotel du Nord by the American comedian Rich Hall: "If Bill Gates put all his money under his mattress it would take him 13 years to fall out of bed."

Mr. Arch says visions of the Microsoft boss counting his money back in the U.S. spurred many young French entrepreneurs to fine-tune their English watching the Hotel du Nord comedy sessions. By 1996 the room was hip, and now it continues to attract multinational executives, diplomats and economists. "Our earliest core customers came from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and Anderson Consulting," Mr. Beer says.

For comedian Robert Newman, his three-night gig at the Hotel du Nord allows him to take a pulse on what people find funny about European Union fiscal policy. His routine is peppered with satirical barbs on unintentionally absurd newspaper headlines such as "8,500 Workers Laid Off Due to Surplus Component Shrinking at Cisco Systems" and "Attempts at Western-Style Economy Fail in Africa."

"Joking about business in France, in French, is taboo," says Bruno Amourdedien, an equities trader at Credit Agricole. The French banker says he comes to the Hotel du Nord to have his job pummeled and laugh for a few hours at least about the rash of strikes, private-sector layoffs and dismal state of the franc against other major currencies. During a break in Mr. Newman`s show, Mr. Amourdedien lifts a glass of beer toward the comedian. "What you said about Bretton Woods was really true and funny," he says.

"You don't have to work hard to make Bretton Woods funny," Mr. Newman deadpans on the 1944 international economic powwow in a New Hampshire forest, which created the International Monetary Fund and set the foundation for a global economy. "Grown economists actually went into the woods to find themselves and take tango lessons after dinner. The result was globalization," says Mr. Newman, who honed his economic theories as a student at Cambridge University.

The appeal of business humor has grown dramatically. "Five years ago it was just me making economic jokes," says Mr. Newman. "Now, many of the stand-up comedians who worked politics have turned to economics because audiences the world over know it's the businessmen who are telling the politicians what to do. How companies conduct business is satire writing itself."

Mr. Newman, who says about 70% of his gags are aimed at economic issues, tweaks his material from financial publications and corporate reports. He traveled to anti-globalization rallies in Seattle and Prague to garner gags. "Economic jokes get big laughs," says Mr. Newman, who is certain that nobody really understands stock and bond market listings. He says his audiences range from disgruntled Marxist polytechnic-school students in England to bankers seeking to drown their sorrows.

"A night out at the Hotel du Nord helps liven up life in the office," says Mr. Beer, stretched out in a booth beneath a movie poster of the doomed Arletty character. "Especially if they get to work and discover they've lost their jobs."

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Many thanks, as always, to Lynn for this item from her local Evening News

Comedian calls for Perrier boycott

A leading Comedian today called for a boycott on the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival because its sponsors are linked to controversial powdered milk sales in the developing world.

Rob Newman, the former comedy partner of David Baddiel, is backing a campaign against food giant Nestle, which is alleged to have broken rules to market its breastmilk substitutes in the Third World. The award sponsor Perrier is owned by the Swiss multinational, which is in conflict with a powerful group which says breast-feeding should be encouraged instead.

Other celebrities already backing the activist group Baby Milk Action's Campaign include Emma Thompson, Richard E. Grant and pop band Pulp. Mr. Newman says that if comedians refused to compete in the awards, it would increase pressure on the food firm. Mr. Newman's call comes just before his new video, which takes a sardonic look at multinational companies and globalisation is launched this autumn.
Studies have shown that in countries where water is unsafe, a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breast-fed child. The Perrier Award was launched in 1981, the year before the firm was bought by Nestle, and the first award was won by the Cambridge Footlights team which included Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. Steve Coogan, Frank Skinner and the League of Gentlemen are all previous winners. The parent firm has become a target of Baby Milk Action, which claims Nestle is the worst offender among food internationals when it comes to encouraging sales of formula milk to mothers who would be better off breastfeeding. Nestle has a 40% share of the international market in baby formula.

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From The Scotsman, by Sheila Patel
24 July 2001

Comic battles to gag milk powder sponsor

A leading comedian today called for a boycott on a top comedy awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival because its sponsors are linked to controversial powdered milk sales in the developing world.

Rob Newman, the former comedy partner of David Baddiel, is backing a campaign against Nestle which is alleged to have broken rules to market its breastmilk substitutes in the Third World.

The awards sponsor is linked with the Swiss multinational which is in conflict with a powerful group which says breast feeding should be encouraged instead. Other celebrities already backing the activist group Baby Milk Action’s campaign include Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Richard E Grant, pop band Pulp and Ocean Colour Scene.

Newman says that if comedians refused to compete in the awards, it would increase pressure on the food firm.

Mr Newman’s call comes just before his new video which takes a sardonic look at multinational companies and globalisation is launched this Autumn. According to reports, Mr Newman today said: "I would certainly urge comedians at the Festival Fringe to boycott the awards this year because of the involvement of Nestle.

"I regard this as a larger struggle against corporate power."

Studies have shown that in countries where water is unsafe, a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breast-fed child

The Perrier Awards was launched in 1981, the year before the firm was bought by Nestle and the first award was won by the Cambridge Footlights team which included Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry.

Steve Coogan, Frank Skinner and the League of Gentlemen are all previous winners. Rich Hall, an American, was last year’s winner.

The parent company has become a fierce target of Baby Milk Action which claims Nestle is the worst offender among food internationals when it comes to encouraging sales of formula milk to mothers who would be better of breastfeeding. Patti Rundall, the policy officer for Baby Milk Action, said although the focus of their campaign was on baby milk, they were very concerned about bottled water was being promoted in poorer countries when decent piped water was needed.

She said she sympathised with those who felt they ought to take part.

She said: "Its just for those who want to join the boycott, it would be a brilliant way to alert people."

A spokeswoman from Nestle said it was concerned about the message being given out to comedians and that it did not advertise or promote infant formula in developing countries.

She said: "Nestle markets its infant formula product responsibly in line with the World Health Organisation’s code of marketing.

"Many of the allegations made about our behaviour in the developing world are years out of date and have long since been rectified.

"Contrary to common belief, our marketing practices have changed."

The Swiss multinational was exposed as a baby-milk pusher in the developing world in the 1970s in countries like Pakistan and Zimbabwe. The firm has 40 per cent of the international market in baby formula. Its other interests give it massive clout internationally because it offers investment and jobs in poor countries.

When Zimbabwe complained that the company was not sticking to the code of practice, Nestle threatened to close its factory there.

Comedian Miles Jupp, 21, appearing at The Stand said: "If that’s the case (that Nestle own Perrier) then I’m surprised that no-one has called for a boycott before. I’m all for it."

Comedian Bill Dewar, one half of the Useless Guide To Scotland, added: "The world of comedy has become so focussed on awards - the Perrier is one of the main focuses of the Fringe - that I don’t think people will boycott it."

However, his comedy partner Brian Hennigan said: "There are all sorts of reasons to question Perrier as a conduit for new talent and nefarious overseas activities are just another one."

Nestle promotes its infant formula under different names abroad with the most popular being Nan and Lactogen.

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From The Independent, by Louise Jury
24 July 2001

Comedian calls for a boycott on Perrier Awards and 'corporate power'

The prestigious Perrier Awards for comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which have launched the careers of some of Britain's top comics, should be boycotted because the sponsors are linked with food firm Nestlé, the comedian Rob Newman said yesterday. Mr Newman, the former comedy partner of David Baddiel, called on other comedians to boycott the awards because of the controversy surrounding Nestlé's sales of powdered baby milk in the Third World – contending that breastfeeding should be encouraged instead.

Mr Newman is one of a number of celebrities, including Julie Walters, Emma Thompson and Richard E Grant, as well as the pop bands Pulp and Ocean Colour Scene, who are backing the lobbying group Baby Milk Action. The campaign believes that, if comedians refused to compete in the awards, it would increase pressure on the food firm.

Mr Newman, who has a new video out in the autumn which takes a sardonic look at multinational companies and globalisation, said: "I would certainly urge comedians at the festival fringe to boycott the awards this year because of the involvement of Nestlé. I regard this as a larger struggle against corporate power."

The Perrier Awards were launched 20 years ago when the Cambridge Footlights team, including Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, won the honour. Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan and the League of Gentlemen are all previous recipients. Rich Hall, an American, was last year's winner.

Perrier founded the awards in 1981 the year before the company was bought by Nestlé. The parent company has become the target of a fierce campaign by Baby Milk Action, which claims Nestlé is the worst offender among food internationals in terms of encouraging sales of formula milk to mothers who would be better off breastfeeding.

But Patti Rundall, the policy officer for Baby Milk Action, said although the focus of their campaign was on baby milk, they were also concerned about the issue of clean water. She said Nestlé was promoting bottled water in poorer countries where what was needed was decent piped water.

The campaign hopes a boycott of the awards would raise awareness but Ms Rundall added she was aware of the importance of the awards to young comedians. She sympathised with those who felt they ought to take part. "It's just for those who want to join the boycott, it would be a brilliant way to alert people," she said.

A spokeswoman for Nestlé said it was concerned at the message being given to comedians. "Nestlé markets its infant formula product responsibly, in line with the World Health Organisation's code of marketing. Many of the allegations made about our behaviour in the developing world are years out of date and have long since been rectified. Contrary to common belief, our marketing practises have changed."

She added that Nestlé did not advertise or promote infant formula in developing countries.

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From The Independent, by Louise Jury
31 July 2001

Thompson joins comedians' 'boycott' of Perrier Awards

One of the Edinburgh Festival's leading venues is setting up an alternative to the prestigious Perrier Awards for comedy – to be called the Tap Water prize – in protest at the working practices of the mineral water's manufacturer, Nestlé. The Bongo Club's move follows the call by comedian Rob Newman for a boycott of the Perriers because of the controversy surrounding Nestlé's sales of powdered baby milk in the Third World. Actress Emma Thompson, who won the Perrier Award in its first year as a member of the Cambridge Footlights, yesterday joined Mr Newman in asking comedians not to take part. Other former winners include Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan and the League of Gentlemen. "The Perrier Awards should be boycotted by all right-thinking people, because Nestlé has got to be stopped," she said.

Emma Thompson, like Rob Newman, is a supporter of Baby Milk Action, a campaign encouraging breastfeeding instead of using powdered milk. Scottish supporters are already planning to picket the award-winners' ceremony on 25 August. And the Bongo Club, which is operated by a charity and runs a mixed programme of entertainment and comedy, has decided to have no involvement with the Perrier Awards in the Edinburgh Festival which starts this weekend. All comedy performers at the giant venue in New Street have been asked to agree not to accept a Perrier award if their show is nominated. Among those already booked to appear are Jamie Glassman, one of the team behind the Ali G show, Joel Spence and Douglas Frawley, in a show One Night Only, "depicting male identity in crisis at the beginning of the 21st century". John Sinclair, a leading Scottish comedian, appears in Bagpipes and Angels in a show billed as "quality nonsense". Suzanne Merrall, a co-ordinator for the Bongo Club, said details of the alternative Perrier Awards were still being finalised. But although the evening would be light-hearted, she said their point was not. "There is a problem that people don't know Perrier is owned by Nestlé, but as soon as we realised we wanted to do something," she said. Mark Thomas, the comedian and another supporter of Baby Milk Action, may also enter the Tap Water Awards where the winner is likely to receive a tap and runners-up a glass of water. Nestlé has tried to reassure protesters. The giant company has been accused of promoting infant formula in developing countries in breach of the World Health Organisation's code on marketing. "Many of the allegations are years out of date and have long since been rectified," a spokesman said.

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From The Scotsman,
19 June 2002

Lobby for fairer trade

MUSIC stars and comedians will today join the biggest lobby of the UK parliament in history in support of a change in the rules on international trade. The rock band Radiohead and television comedian Rob Newman were confirmed yesterday as two of the famous names taking part in the massive charity event.

It was rumoured that Bono, the lead singer of U2, would also attend, but the organisers of the event could not confirm it last night.

The organisers, the Trade Justice Movement, said they expect at least 10,000 people, including hundreds of Scots, at Westminster in support of the campaign to have trade rules rewritten to favour the world’s poorest communities.

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From The Independent, by James Morrison
28 April 2002

Authors protest as Nestlé backs Hay festival

Plans for this year's Hay-on-Wye literature festival have been attended by fierce controversy over the involvement of the Nestlé company as a sponsor for the first time.

Former luminaries of the festival, including author Will Self and comedians Rob Newman and Jeremy Hardy, are urging all "self-respecting writers" to boycott June's event.

The anger stems from concern over the tactics Nestlé has allegedly used to promote powdered baby milk in the Third World. Campaigners claim it has endangered infants by undermining attempts to encourage breast-feeding.

The company is paying the organisers a high five-figure sum for the privilege of draping its name over a huge "Smarties geodrome" throughout a week-long children's festival at the gathering.

Their call to arms comes nine months after stars including Newman, Victoria Wood, Emma Thompson and Julie Christie endorsed a similar boycott of the prestigious Perrier Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Festival; Perrier is owned by Nestlé.

Newman said: "By accepting this sponsorship, Hay have made themselves into something no self-respecting writer would want to go to."

Jeremy Hardy, a former Perrier winner and Hay veteran, said: "I would support a boycott and I think other people should do too. Increasingly, everything is sponsored by commercial organisations, most of which have ghastly motives."

Will Self said: "Nestlé is just the pits." And Patti Rundall, of the charity Baby Milk Action, said: "We are especially concerned about the fact that Nestlé are sponsoring the children's festival, and would welcome any boycott."

A spokeswoman for Nestlé, whose Smarties Book Prize for children has run for 17 years, said its marketing of infant formula in the developing world is fully in line with the World Health Organisation code.

Peter Florence, the festival's organiser, said he had approached Nestlé only after consulting aid organisations in Africa. He said: "They are also the largest corporate sponsor of the Red Cross and Red Crescent health initiative on HIV and Aids in Africa."

Comedian and campaigner Mark Thomas, whose Channel 4 series, The Mark Thomas Product, has featured exposés of Nestlé's trading practices, said: "So the Hay-on-Wye festival now knows more than Baby Milk Action and doctors working in the developed world, does it?"

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From Chortle
8 September 2002

Robert Newman has written his third novel

The comedy pin-up turned anti-capitalist campaigner has spent three years working on Fountain At The Centre Of The World.

Research included trips to Mexico, on Welsh trawler boats and to the Harmondsworth detention centre, where Britain holds asylum-seekers.

Some of these travels were filmed by a BBC2 crew for a documentary, Scribbling, about the creative writing process, which will be screened in November.

Newman is also returning to stand-up, and has a 10-week residency at the Soho Theatre starting on October 2.

This live shows - From Caliban to Taliban - tells of 500 years of global terrorism, taking in Wordsworth, Filipino vampires and the US military campaigns in Vietnam and Iraq.

Newman's previous novels are 1994's Dependence Day and 1999's Manners. Further details of his new book are not yet known.

From Chortle
10 February 2003

Newman to tour US ...with his anti-American show

Robert Newman is to take his US-bashing show on tour - to America. The comic will perform his current show From Caliban To The Taliban - 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention in the States towards the end of his year.

His visit will coincide with a book tour to promote his upcoming third novel Fountain At The Centre Of The World.

The comic told the audience at his gig as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival last night he wasn't quite sure why he agreed to do the dates.

"I have a strong will to fail," he said. "It's the voice in the back of your head that pretends to be your friend but tries to ruin your life."

He joked that he might need to make some alterations to the script, which tells of how America has been involved in foreign wars in every year since the 18th century - except 1892.

However, there is also strong liberal market in the US, which propelled Michael Moore's equally anti-American book Stupid White Men to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

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From the Evening News, Thursday, 9 January 2003

Comic's gig will be an Experience

ONE of Britain’s best-known comedians is heading to East Lothian as part of a forthcoming tour of the UK.

Rob Newman, who shot to fame as one half of the Mary Whitehouse Experience with David Baddiel in 1989, will be at the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh next month.

The stand-up comedian, who has written two best-selling books with a third on the way - Fountain at the Centre of the World - will be bringing his latest one-man show, From Caliban to the Taliban, to the Capital theatre on February 26.

Tickets for his new show - described as "the story of a 500-year global terror campaign" - are on sale now from the Brunton Theatre box office on 0131-665 2240.

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From The Guardian,
10 February 2003

Serious side of a funny business

Ben Elton may prefer a kick about with Andrew Lloyd Webber to a bare-fisted ruck with Maggie these days, but William Cook reckons British comics have never been so ready to come over all political

It's an ill wind. Her Majesty's Opposition has imploded, the stock market has gone down the toilet, and Tony Blair is gearing up for a war that nobody else seems to want to be a part of - apart from George Bush Jr, of course. And yet British political comedy has never been in better shape.

Scant consolation? Well, at least it gives us something to laugh about between news bulletins. It may be a Chinese curse to live in an interesting period in history, but it's a blessing for stand-up. Although the newspapers make grim reading, Britain's political comics have never had it quite so good.

Rory Bremner combines mimicry and satire. Mark Thomas combines humour with investigative journalism. Campaigning comedians like Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy write columns in national newspapers. Robert Newman, most famous as a stand-up pin-up ten years ago, is touring the country in a new show called From Caliban To The Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention. And every Tuesday at London's Comedy Store, a topical comedy troupe called the Cutting Edge crack brand new jokes about the news.

The Cutting Edge began in 1990, just before the last Gulf War. The brainchild of journalist-turned-producer John Connor, it was actually a radical reaction to the apolitical stand up that was becoming increasingly popular in the late 1980s - an alternative comedy revival, if you like.

However the Cutting Edge was a revolt against prevailing comic form, as well as content. Instead of trouping on one at a time, to recite carefully rehearsed monologues, this new team worked with - and often against - each other. The punters provided the subject matter. The comics wrote fresh gags to order and heckled one another. The line up has changed countless times (the original bill included future Channel 4 star Mark Thomas - it's subsequently featured BBC stars like Lee Hurst) but during a dozen years, the format has hardly altered.

It's a formula that works best with a big breaking news story, like Diana's death or September 11. When Robert Maxwell died at sea, just a few hours before curtain up, the Cutting Edge did a special show called Maxwell Ahoy.

There are also Cutting Edge specials on election nights. John Major's surprise win in 1992 was especially memorable, and so was the 1997 Labour landslide - but during Blair's first few years in Downing Street, the Cutting Edge seemed to lose a bit of bite. It was still just as funny - sometimes even more so - but a lot of the humour came from the banter between comedians and the audience, or between the comics themselves.

However New Labour's comic honeymoon ended before the last millennium. Since 1999, it's been open season on the people's party - and the humour is far sharper than it was under the Tories. It's a lot subtler, and it has to be, because the targets are more elusive.

Today's comics can't just get away with making misogynistic jokes about Margaret Thatcher, or ranting on about the poll tax. It's also a lot angrier. These comics didn't like the Tories, but then again they never did. Conversely, since most of them are Labour supporters, if they feel let down by Blair & Co, they're twice as pissed off.

"It looks like we're going to war with Iraq again," Martin Coyote tells tonight's Store audience. "The first one was so popular on TV, we decided to shoot a sequel." Nick Wilty says Bush put the oops into troops and took the style out of hostile, but Steve Gribbin goes straight for the jugular. "They did an operation on George Bush's colon," says the deceptively cuddly Scouse comic. "They found Tony Blair's tongue." "We all know Saddam is a brutal dictator," says Ian Stone. "A 13,000 page dossier - that's brutal dictation."

Yet in this show the audience pick the topics, and they tend to pick topics which dominate the tabloid papers, which makes the Cutting Edge a fascinating barometer of press and public opinion, for better or worse. Even on the brink of war, most audience suggestions are celebrities: David Beckham (of course), Chris Evans and Dolly Parton. "What's she done?" "She's got big tits."

Most of these comics are pretty political, but they can only work with what they're given. "Is anyone going on the stop the war demo?" asks Stone. No answer. "OK, who's going on the bomb the fuck out of them demo?" he adds.

In the interval the team write new material about current news stories - again, suggested by the audience. This time, there are actually three hard news items (the fire strike, the tube crash and the stock market slump) compared to only one piece of showbiz gossip (Zoe Ball's marital woes) but Stone's irreverent gag about the fire strike shows how the comic climate has changed since the Thatcherite 80s.

The comedy circuit is a broader church today than it was in the anti-Tory years, and it's all the better for it. There are far fewer received opinions now, and a far wider range of attitudes onstage. Ironically, the driest story inspires the funniest one liner. "I'm a bit worried about the Single European Bank," says Coyote, mourning the stock market slump. "Just imagine the queue for the cashpoint."

And as if to redress the celebrity balance, Gribbin finishes off with a satirical song about disgraced TV stars called How The Mighty Are Fallen. After all, it's celebs not politicians who are the big beasts in today's media jungle.

"A lot of us wanted a Labour government," explains Nick Wilty, as the team unwind in the crowded dressing room, straight after the show. "We got what we thought we wanted, and then we realised we'd got the wrong man in charge, sucking up to George Bush."

"With this particular war, people are still trying to find out what the politics are, and a lot of times they get it from alternative comics, as opposed to news bulletins," adds his Cutting Edge teammate, John Fothergill. "They can't make head or tail of what's going on. People don't know which newspaper to choose."

But the Cutting Edge play to a tabloid reading crowd, whose input reflect the tabloids' own agenda. "What they suggest sometimes is very celebrity driven," admits Cutting Edge regular Sean Meo. "That's because if Pamela Anderson has her breasts reduced it's on the front page, and if there's a war in Iraq it's on page two." And the punters turn straight to page three.

Nevertheless, at least today's political comics aren't just preaching to the converted. Maybe that's because, as Gribbin says, "We've all got different points of view." Or maybe it's because, as Fothergill says, "The comedians just aren't up their own arses any more."

Yet either way, they'll keep on ripping the piss out of Bush and Blair's march towards war, even if we go to war, and even if we sustain casualties. "I don't think it'll change that much," says Gribbin. "We'll be carrying on doing the same jokes, because the British people have got a very dark sense of humour." And even if those jokes don't change anything, at least they should make everyone feel a bit better - well, everyone apart from Bush and Blair.

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From Chortle
22 February 2003

Robert Newman has revealed why he would rather be a novelist than a comedian.

However, his latest book was rejected by eight publishers and two agents, making him despair for his ambition.

He said: "Since I was a kid,this is the one ambition that I 've ever had. This is the meaning of my life.

"I do hope I can make a living out of writing books because this is the best job ...just sitting on your arse all day, smoking a fag, drinking some coffee and then making stuff up. Just sort of daydreaming."

His comments come in a new BBC2 show Scribbling, which follows his three-and-a-half year struggle to complete his third novel, The Fountain At The Centre Of The World.

But video diaries and interviews show that a writer's life is not always a happy one

"It 's a race to get the book finished before I run out of money," he says at one point - but he does finally complete the project, which only breeds more anxiety.

"It 's very, very weird sending it off to people," he says. "It just felt like sending my dirty pants. It felt nuts. You don 't know how it will be received."

The book is rejected by two agents and a publisher.

"I can just see it dribbling into the sand really," he despaired. "I wonder at what point I should start to get bitter for the rest of my life. I was 34 when I started this book, I am 38 now, just doing the final edits."

He find an editor who agrees to help him complete the tome, but still the title is rejected by another seven publishers.

Scribbling will be aired on BBC2 on March 10.

Robert Newman is currently on tour with his show From Caliban To The Taliban.

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From The Observer by Stephanie Merritt
Sunday, 23rd February 2003

The world of books

They couldn't make it up

Should celebrities stick to writing memoirs?

Celebrity books usually turn out to be a good investment for publishers (excepting, of course, the unhappily titled Fools Rush In by Anthea Turner), but, until recent years, politicians, pop stars, actors, sports personalities and models confined themselves to writing (or, at least, assisting with writing) diaries, memoirs, exposés and autobiographies; books, essentially, about themselves and the rarefied worlds in which they wined, dined and copulated.

Then, smart publishers realised that the appeal of fiction could be wedded to the shine of celebrity, and a vogue began for novels written by anyone who was not primarily a novelist. You could lay the blame for this, as for so many things, at the feet of Jeffrey Archer, perhaps the first really successful novelist in this country to have a high-profile alternative career (if you don't count Dick Francis or Disraeli), but then politics and fiction have always made happy bedfellows; ditto the legal profession.

But the celebrity novel really came into its own in the 1980s with a sudden flurry of comedians. Stephen Fry, Ben Elton and Hugh Laurie were all 'off the telly' when their first novels were published. Now, it's such an integral step on the career path that every Perrier hopeful either has a book deal or finds himself courted by publishers before he has even said: 'Speed dating - what's that all about then?'

Some comedians' novels have been better than others; a number have proved themselves competent novelists in their own right, while a handful seem to be mystifyingly inept when it comes to putting words into print and would never have found a publisher in a lifetime of trying if they hadn't been off the telly. On the whole, though, as a subgroup of celebrity, it makes sense for comedians to write novels because, unless they're Men in Coats or Johnny Vegas, their day job involves combining words in some kind of coherent order.

Now, though, celebrity fiction has extended its reach to a point of silliness, with models, gardeners and pop stars banging out novelettes because the name will sell. Whether or not they can assemble a sentence or a plot has become a secondary consideration; there will always be an editor to tidy things up and put verbs in the right place. Sophie Dahl's 'novel', recently featured on Radio 4, was a double-whammy for Bloomsbury, since she combined the twin grails of camera-friendliness and a literary name (because everyone knows that, as Martin Amis pointed out in Money, literary talent is handed down the generations like running a pub), and has been surprisingly unsavaged by critics.

But would she, or Alan Titchmarsh or Britney Spears, have had the same reception if they'd announced that they wanted to write an opera, or direct a new version of Lear for the RSC, or make an installation for the Tate out of some dirty knickers and old fag ends? (That last is probably not a good example.) Wouldn't they just have been laughed at?

There is a paradox at work in the modern perception of the novel; it's become the most democratised of all art forms, to the point where you don't need to be able to write to produce one, yet, at the same time, creative writing degrees are being born in numerous universities, implying that novels don't just happen and that writers need not only talent but rigorous training, just like a musician or designer.

It's often claimed that everyone has one novel in them, by which people usually mean that everyone has their own story to tell. This belief, which contains a grain of truth, has led to the recent reversal in publishing, whereby 'ordinary' people now write memoirs about their lives on council estates or factory production lines without the softening gauze of fiction, and celebrities, whose lives have already been consumed through magazines and tabloids, reach instead into the realm of the imagination. (Although in most cases they don't reach very far; Naomi Campbell's novel, Swan, was about a supermodel; Britney Spears's novel featured a teenage girl who wants to be a pop star.)

Don't be mistaken, though; celebrity is not an automatic passport to publication. At the beginning of March, the BBC will screen a two-part documentary, Scribbling, which attempts to anatomise the ineffable craft of novel-writing by following the progress of two very different writers: AS Byatt, a 'proper' novelist from an era when you didn't also need to be a pole-dancer to get published (though there's an interesting mental image), and comedian Rob Newman, who has enjoyed less literary success.

The programme follows Newman, who is dogged by increasing debt, for three-and-a-half years as his third novel is rejected by seven publishers. It's a brave move to allow your failure to be so closely documented; in fact, it's the televisual equivalent of a memoir. Perhaps celebrity stories are coming full circle.

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From Time Out
March 2003
Much thanks to Alicia

Novel Ideas.
Comedian Rob Newman seeks his writer's muse: Everyone's got at least one book in them, so the saying goes.
But aspirations to write a novel will surely curdle after watching tonight's (Monday 10th) 'Scribbling'.
Rob Newman once commanded audiences of thousands for stand up gigs around the country with erstwhile partner David Baddiel. But whereas Baddiel went on to carve a TV career out of the flimsy balsawood of his talent, Newman decided to fashion the oak of his into the written word.
This programme followed Newman through the four year process of writing his third Novel. Despite the critical acclaim for the first two, low sales meant that there was no advance. The programme unravels the solitary and painstaking nature of the endeavour, the nitty gritty of detail, and the overwhelming effort of devising the plot that has Newman moving his desk and computer in a search for inspiration. He covers the hall with blackboard paint so that his chalked ideas are a constant reminder of what still has to be achieved.
Newman is an endearing presence, a bit of a slob around the house but a real human being, and we're rooting for him all the way. He's 34 and chubby when he begins and 38 and haggard by the end. He embarks on stand up engagements and short tours to raise money, but just wants to get back to his computer and write; he even talks about having to sell his flat. In one morning scene, Newman explains that the night before he was sitting at his desk thinking when two men passed his house. 'Rob Newman lives there', said one ' he used to be funny, but he's not anymore.' But Newman proves he still has a sense of humour as he laughs at the thought of being heckled inside his own house.
This two part series (A S Byatt's in the spotlight Tuesday at the same time) - will fascinate writers, artists and everyone in between.

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From the Guardian,
March 2003
Much thanks to Alicia


In 1993, Robert Newman was one half of the successful comedy duo, Newman and Baddiel. He gave it all up to write novels and for the last three years has allowed cameras to catch the self - loathing and frustration which characterise a writer's life. Video diaries and interviews capture the painfully slow process of research, writing, re drafting and selling a novel. Newman's wry, self deprecating commentary is winning - he jokes about bunking off school the day they taught novel writing. Anybody who's ever tried to write will groan with uncomfortable recognition.

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From The Times
8 March 2003

BBC Two, 11.20pm

Any programme about the writing of a novel faces a unique problem: how to convey the excitement of someone sitting for hours in front of a computer screen. But Robert Newman, the comedian turned novelist, does a good job. Over the four years this film was being made, he sits in front of his screen, joking and smoking. Sometimes he shaves, has a haircut or puts on a hat. He switches computers, buys a new desk and sticks notes on the wall. Four years later and heavily in debt, he hands the manuscript over to his agent. “I didn’t dislike it,” she tells him. DC

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From the Daily Telegraph,
March 2003
Much thanks to Alicia

Scribbling: Robert Newman
BBC2 11.20pm March 10th

A gret idea for a documentary: following authors from the early stages of novel writing though to the day of publication. Last year's films about Minette Walters and Geoff Ryman were gems: now two more focus on comedian Robert Newman and, tomorrow, AS Byatt.
Newman's is a great cautionary tale, worth 50 minutes of any aspiring writer's time.
Although he's had two novels out before , he's determined this time to go it alone, write "something about globalisation" and wait until "the end" before looking for a publisher. (one senses some undisclosed history here, but apart from mutterings of the "difficult to work with" type, it never emerges)
As the film opens, Newman comes across as a complete flake, lazing around producing nothing but a stream of inventive displacement activities to avoid actually writing. Strangley though, after watching him struggle through four years and numerous drafts. it's impossible not to admire hi determination and share his relief at the book's completion. Just the tricky question of finding a publisher left.....

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From the Guardian, by Rupert Smith
11 March 2003

Fiction burns

The process of writing, selling and publishing a work of fiction is hideous enough without cameras watching it all; this, however, was what comedian-turned-novelist Robert Newman opted for as he struggled to finish his third novel. Scribbling (BBC2) was an extraordinary piece of TV, filmed over five years and costing about threepence, in which we watched Newman flailing impotently in the web of his literary aspirations. Tiny cameras observed him at his desk, smoking endless fags, drinking coffee, shifting furniture and stumbling through piles of unwashed clothes - his housekeeping was as haphazard as his writing. From May 1999, when the real writing process started, to the end of last year, when he got his final rejection letter from a publisher, Newman lost a lot of weight, got a decent haircut and looked about 10 years younger, so all was not lost.

But in literary terms, this was a rout. Newman started off with only a title (The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd) and a vague theme - globalisation. Upon this gossamer foundation he tried to build an entire novel, and to nobody's surprise it fell through time and time again. The title changed endlessly (at one point it was called The Chancosa Satellites and the Battle of Seattle), the plot remained a mystery and Newman, for all his obsessive planning, never seemed to know what the point was. Commissioned by Channel 4 to report on anti-globalisation demonstrations in Seattle, he relocated much of the action to that city. A trip to Mexico persuaded him that he should have a few chapters there as well. He tried out some material on sparse live audiences, who looked embarrassed as he groped for stories that didn't yet exist.

The final blow came when a reputable agent took the book on, sent it to seven publishers and got seven rejections. It's a horrible experience, through which Newman sailed with a certain amount of dignity ("I wonder at which point I should start to get bitter?"); at the end of the show he was returning to stand-up to fund "independent publication".

Writing is a boring occupation, but Leanne Klein's film managed to be thoroughly absorbing, and for all the right reasons. Of course there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in watching Newman's dreams crumble, but in a more profound way this was a study in self-delusion. Newman started the exercise believing that, if he sat in front of his Mac for long enough, a novel would come out the other end. He gave up his other work, he sat around thinking beautiful thoughts - and then, after years in which nothing had happened, he became frantic. He grabbed at any and every inspiration. Fatally, he turned his creative frustration into a performance for the camera, which, perhaps, gave his false starts an illusion of value. The moral of the story is simple. If you're going to write a book, don't tell anyone about it until the ink is dry on the contract. Then, and only then, can you invite the TV cameras to the launch.

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From The Times,
Tuesday 11th March 2003


If you had any doubts about just how hard it is to create anything fictional that is good enough to persuade another human being to put down his crossword long enough to take notice, then Scribbling (BBC Two) would have banished them. This documentary covers the four years that Robert Newman, once half of a wildly successful comedy duo with David Baddiel, spent struggling to write his third novel.

The irony is that although publishers have been lukewarm about Newman’s new book, they will be grateful to him for advertising just how difficult, tormenting and possibly unsuccessful the business of writing novels can be: this might, in turn, shrink the slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts that fill their postbags. Most people think that they have a novel inside them, even though, in most cases, this would be true only if they had taken a copy of Catch-22 off their bookshelf and eaten it page by page.

Celebrities, in particular, consider novels as part of a career path, alongside television, movies, and product endorsements. Even Naomi Campbell published a novel with her name on the cover.

The difficulty for Newman is that he has the bug badly: “Since I was a kid, this was the one ambition I’ve ever had . . . I do hope I can make a living out of writing books, as this is the best job I’ve ever had: just sitting on your arse all day, smoking a fag, drinking some coffee, and then making stuff up.” Some people are so seriously smitten that there is no known antidote. Possibly not even reading Jeffrey Archer.

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Very great thanks to Beverley for writing this review of the Scribbling documentary for the site:

"SCRIBBLING"- Beverley, Hertfordshire.

Around 1990/91, I heard a radio interview with Robert. He was late ("I'm the man with no brain - the journey took twice as long") but in it he explained that one day he would love to write books -"That's the real thing".

Speed up a decade or so and here he was, totally absorbed in his work, "the real thing".
"Scribbling" was a fascinating and often painful piece of television. If anyone thought novel writing was a straightforward process then seeing Robert's titanic struggle would surely have changed their minds.

Leanne Klein's video diary style was just right for the intense atmosphere in which we saw Robert working for 3 or more years. His honest admissions to camera really highlighted how writing was a labour of love, a necessity even - "I said to mum that I never wanted to do anything else".
Yet there was no self-pity. In debt and publishers showing no interest he ploughed on with rewrites and title changes, optimistic.

Of course the humour was never far away (this was the man who gave us Robert Smith singing "Ernie-the fastest milkman in the West" don't forget) and his ability to laugh at himself was refreshing.

"The Fountain at the centre of the World" so deserves to be a success. Robert's belief in his work, will, I hope, be not only reflected in sales, but how it might influence others to take note of what is really going on around them.

It seems a life time since I first saw Robert in the small comedy clubs. I was there at Wembley too and after that thought we had lost him forever to literature. 10 years later it's great to still see him perform and at last find the "real thing".

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Very great thanks to Lynn for writing this review of the Scribbling documentary for the site:

Review of ‘Scribbling - Robert Newman’ - BBC2, Monday 10th March 2003
by Lynn Gilmour, 21 March 2003

So, you want to be a writer? Well Robert Newman does too. After two moderately successful novels, published on the back of his 90s comedy fame, Newman has not lost his passion for writing, but prospective publishers have lost interest in the man formerly known as Rob. BBC2’s ‘Scribbling’ documentary gave us a unique three-year insight into the daily life of the prospective novelist-at-work. But, as months passed with little progress and our charming but ever more beleaguered hero grew gradually despondent, it was less a tale of ‘the artist as a young man’ and more ‘the seven ages of man’. As Newman said wryly at one stage, “I was 34 when I started this book and I’m now 38. Will I still be sitting here when I’m 52 saying ‘Just a few more rewrites and then I’ll be done’?”

In an honest film, we saw Newman begin writing in 1999 and followed him as he took a verbal work-in-progress on the road a few months later, in order to explain the process of writing to audiences and hopefully to get some feedback and ideas from them in return. The expression ‘he died on his arse’ would be a fair appraisal of this brave, but misguided, experiment. The sight of Newman on stage, utterly lost for words and a totally unresponsive room of blank faces staring uneasily at him was both cringe-worthy and heartbreaking. The tour was abandoned after four dates - and not a moment too soon.

As Robert took on the role of news reporter for Channel 4, at the Seattle anti-capitalism protests, he also re-found his enthusiasm for the book and came home with a new lease of life. He also went on a research trip to Mexico and again found ideas flowing freely away from the pressures of his desk and computer. But once back in his flat, his mind, full of ideas though it was, grew muddled and he found himself unable to get a grip, literally, of where he wanted his story to go. The film showed a man so passionate about his subject matter that he found it almost impossible to capture it on paper.

When he says “This is the best job in the world. Sitting drinking coffee and making up stories”, you know he is only semi-serious. He is burning with ideas but utterly restless. The film dispelled the myth of the ‘art’ of writing, revealing the process to be one of hard slog. Newman even began to question whether he could do it and wondered how long he could remain un-embittered. Would he end up having to admit defeat and “go to work in a books hop’?

Determined to solider on, he tired rearranging the house, in order to improve his working area. He surrounded himself with positive icons, including a little ceramic hippo he’d made aged 7. This filled him with hope that he did have creative abilities. A later effort at making a dinosaur was less attractive because, as Newman said, “When teachers told you how to do things, it sapped the creativity and they became less real”. In an attempt to retain his original thoughts, we had blackboard paint put on the walls, his bedroom being turned into his study, piles of clothes on the floor, not to mention several new hairstyles, weight fluctuations, clean Rob, shabby-chic Rob, and three different computers. The last of these was a shiny red i-Mac on which Newman discovered the joys of word count, which he religiously began to check after every burst of writing. Ah the neuroses of the at-home worker! Mind you, with a severe shortage of cash and a large tab he was unable to pay at his local shop, Newman was better to stay indoors. But even there he wasn’t free of interruption as he recounts two guys returning home post-pub; “That’s Rob Newman’s house there. He used to be funny”. As Newman said; “I even get heckled in my own home”. He laughed, but it surely rankled to be reminded of your former success when you are trying to reveal the real you.

By September 2001 he had completed his first draft and sent it out to friends to get comments. His manager Martine was fair and honest and although clearly hard for Newman to have an outside voice ‘invading’ his ideas, her comments sent him back to the drawing board. By November Newman was ‘in pieces’, haggling over individual words and being watched over and encouraged by his lovely cat, who seemed utterly bemused. As January sees him being rejected by countless literary agents and the money really running out, hints of bitterness creep in to Newman’s thoughts. In this fickle world, once your fame lessens, it becomes harder to establish yourself. But Rob kept smiling through this crisis of confidence. eventually finding a literary agent seemed like a high point, but as Newman sat listening to her critique his work it reminded us of his hippo and the dinosaur, with a teacher figure sapping the passion from his heartfelt work. Yet even she was unable to interest any publishers. Was our story set to have a very bad ending? Not so fast.

After numerous title changes, the new book was christened “The Fountain at the Centre of the World” and Rob did find a publisher, albeit small operations in the US and UK. But it will be out in the Autumn. Rob meanwhile had devised a new show and gone back to the stand-up circuit. His show ‘From Caliban to the Taliban’ is currently doing very well and is set for an Edinburgh Fringe appearance later in 2003.

So our hero kept his sanity and his flat, which he’d been in danger of having to sell-off to stay afloat. This fascinating literary epic did reach a satisfactory resolution, sort of ‘David and Goliath-esque’ though it was. ‘Scribbling’ also revealed the heart of Robert Newman and this is what made it so compelling.

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From The Guardian by Claire Armitstead
Monday, 30th June 2003

Read again

What could Jane Austen and Rob Newman possibly have in common?
Only that they've both managed to turn literature into must-watch TV.

What happens when you mate television with the novel? The temptation is to assume that you end up with the equivalent of the transgenic mouse, or the pig with a jellyfish snout. After all, one medium is all pictures and the other is all words. Words look dull; pictures read dim. Put them together and you can only have an aberration of nature, unappealing and quite possibly bad for one's health.

Television's answer has been to avoid full intercourse wherever possible. Either you opt for talking heads, where the novel itself becomes secondary to the drama of disagreement (think Germaine Greer and Tom Paulin spitting at each other in Late Review). Or you call in Andrew Davies - there are few longueurs in 19th-century literature that can't be disguised by a heaving bosom or a coach and four cantering down a cobbled street.

Fiction confronts television with a very different set of problems from non-fiction, which may explain why it has had no Simon Schama, no Robert Winston to fight its corner: except through dramatisation, it can't be demonstrated, illustrated in the same broadly populist way. But there are signs that this may be starting to change in interesting ways. In the last few months, we have been invited to peek into the intimate writing lives of a successful novelist, AS Byatt, and a less successful one, Rob Newman; we have been shown how Jane Austen's appearance - and by extension our perception of her - has been mediated through the descriptions of her contemporaries (television was used brilliantly, here, in forensic reconstructions from eye-witness accounts).

The biggest and brashest manifestation of the changing fortunes of literature on television is the BBC's The Big Read, which has employed the great British voting public in the task of selecting the nation's 100 most popular novels, and has since begun subjecting those novels to televised trial by jury (last Thursday Brideshead Revisited trounced The Great Gatsby; this week, it's Ulysses v Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist).

This could be dismissed as a vulgar exercise, marketing in disguise. We all know that Jane Austen will probably win, when the campaign reaches its finale in the autumn, but not before facing a strong challenge from Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings (so strong, in fact, that the rules have had to be tweaked to prevent us from appearing to be a nation of infant fantasists).

You only have to look at the areas where this formula has been applied before - the BBC's Great Britons, Channel 4's 100 Greatest Movie Stars - to realise that the results will always be eccentric, skewed by fashion or pockets of fanaticism or historical accident. The Battle of the Books, which is being screened through the summer on BBC4, has been getting a pretty meagre online vote (just under 900 for Alice in Wonderland v Harry Potter). But The Bookseller - house magazine of the publishing industry - has been tracking the impact of The Big Read on book sales over the last few weeks with more impressive results. In the first four weeks after the launch of The Big Read in April, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera all quadrupled their sales. So, people who watch television read books.

The good thing about The Big Read is its acknowledgment that, far from being a solitary activity, reading is most enjoyable when it is shared. Hence the popularity of reading groups, and hence also the huge impact of Oprah Winfrey's book choices on reading habits - and book sales - in the US. Here is a television celebrity endorsing books for mass readership on primetime television. Whatever one thinks of Oprah's choices, she fuses television and the novel in a way that is dynamic for both of them. An Oprah recommendation guarantees sales of hundreds of thousands. And, ironically, it wasn't lack of interest among viewers that briefly killed off the book club, rather Oprah's decision that there weren't any good books left to recommend. She has since recanted and started it again, concentrating on classic authors rather than new ones.

So why has there never been an Oprah on British television? Is it that we are too timid or too snobbish, or simply that Richard and Judy don't read? It is probably a bit of all those things. The Big Read at least represents a step forward in that it is a sustained campaign, involving a range of channels.

But literature on television would be in a poor state if The Big Read was all there was. From July 12, Channel 4 takes the bold step of running a four-part series tracing the history of the novel at 8pm on Saturday night, where it will go head to head with such Saturday-night delights as Casualty and The Vault. Tracking the novel from the 18th to the 21st century, the series examines how it is that this unwieldy form should have survived and thrived despite repeated attempts to pronounce it dead.

With advice from the Oxford professor John Carey, the producers have pared away the literature of three centuries to what they see as its key figures. They make no apologies for this partial, monolithic approach, which reduces postwar American literature, for example, to a relay of Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. There will doubtless be endless arguments about the inclusions and exclusions, but as long as viewers are engaged enough to have those arguments, the programme will have done its job.

The Story of the Novel is chalk to The Big Read's cheese: it is austere, polemical, put together in a way that is entirely attentive to the qualities of individual novels. Its most striking feature is the way in which it trusts the writing to dramatise itself. The case for key texts is illustrated by passages of prose spoken direct to camera by a procession of fine, and thoughtfully chosen and posed, actors.

Imogen Stubbs shines through an extract of DH Lawrence's The Rainbow; Ray Fearon, side-lit in profile like a crescent moon, intones Ralph Ellison's extraordinary lines on invisibility. David Morrissey, slumped in a puddle of ashtrays and paper, inducts us into the "baroque, pseudo-American style" of the essentially English Martin Amis.

In one sense The Story of the Novel is classic Reithian television: it comes with an unfashionable mission to instruct and educate. Where it is entirely its own beast is in its acknowledgment of the sophisticated relationship between television and its viewers, whom it also does the honour of presuming to be readers. One can only hope that the ratings stand up.

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From This Is Southampton
Tuesday, 1st July 2003

PC: political comedy

COMEDY fans who think of Robert Newman as nothing more than a long-haired fop who does little more than lark about with David Baddiel on The Mary Whitehouse Experience will have another think coming this week.

Not only has the long hair been shorn to be replaced by a decidedly more grown-up look, but Rob's comedy has grown up too.

His new show, From Caliban to the Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention, tells the story of a 500-year global terror campaign waged with goodwill to all.

It starts with a 1609 Bermuda shipwreck and takes us through government spies to Filipino vampires.

The story has a `happy ending', in the United States' good works in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Somalia, Chile, Afghanistan and Iraq which, says Robert with perhaps the smallest touch of irony, have made the world safe for democracy and given us that optimism about the future which we all enjoy so much today.

Robert is an anti-globalisation campaigner and reported from Seattle for Channel 4 throughout the World Trade Organisation protests.

He went to Prague for the IMF/World Bank protests and was involved in the campaign against the Terrorism Bill.

At last year's Alternative Labour Party Conference he spoke alongside Susan George and George Monbiot. He also writes for a national newspaper and for the underground and radical anti-capitalist media.

Robert Newman's show From Caliban to the Taliban, 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention is on at the Theatre Royal Winchester on Thursday. Performance: 8pm. Tickets: £12. Box office: 01962 840440.

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From The American Prospect by Suzanne Charlé
Monday, 8th March 2004

Write On
Novelist Robert Newman has already taken the United Kingdom by storm. Now he's bringing his act to the United States.

Set in Mexico, England, and culminating in Seattle during the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests of 1999, Robert Newman's novel The Fountain at the Center of the World has already sold out its first printing in the United Kingdom (it has just been published in the United States).

It's easy to see why: Newman has written a big, generous book, filling canisters with facts and philosophy from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Greg Palast, Susan George, and Bill Hicks, then igniting them with keen observations of everyday life in Mexican villages where international factories suck up all the water till the fountains only ffffrrrrrzzzz, in border jails, and on police-lined streets. Finally, he hurls them at the shock troops of globalization. The troops and everyone else -- Radical Cheerleaders and TV correspondents, National Guardsmen and international activists -- are blanketed in a cloud of truth-and-laughing gas that stings, burns, and, yes, brings tears.

Newman, 39, has recently started a five-week tour of the United States and Canada, which will culminate on April 3 at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. Slim, with a nervous energy, James Dean haircut, thin-lapel jacket over denim shirt, chalk-stripe pants ending in work boots, Newman almost fits in among the young Brooklynites browsing Sunday brunch possibilities at a Thai restaurant where we're seated.

His book has just received a rave review in The New York Times Book Review ("it reads like what you'd get if Tom Wolfe clambered inside the head of Noam Chomsky"), but at a Thai restaurant, Newman bows his head with disarming modesty, admiring the patina of the 1940s Formica, and begs off the comparison. He doesn't deny Chomsky, whom he cites with the ease of a post doc and the wit of poet, but balks at the comparison to Wolfe. "You don't care about his characters," he says.

Fountain, on the other hand, is populated with people we do care about, animating a Dickensian plot. Chano Salgado blows up a toxic-waste pipeline that's poisoning the farmland in northeastern Mexico. Chased by the new zone commander, he's on the run when his long-lost brother, Evan, who was adopted as a baby by well-to-do Brits after the boys' parents died, comes looking for him, hoping for transplants to cure a rare disease from which he's suffering. Chano's son, 14-year-old Daniel Ortega (named for the famed Sandanista), is also searching for him. He hitches a ride on a fishing boat (named the Jennifer Lopez), determined to find his patrimony. And that's just the first 40 pages. The rest of the book is about loss and hope, and is informed by Tolstoy and "Three Men in a Boat," George Eliot, and the newspaper of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, Voces de la Frontera.

Unlike the surefooted standard-bearers of many left-of-center books, Newman's heroes stumble over the complexities of life. Chano, who "had optimism of the intellect and pessimism of the will," slips across the border and, posing as his brother, "speaks to power" at an issue-management conference. The assembled captains of commerce only laugh, and he goes down in flames, just as Mr. Brooke did in Middlemarch. (Comments Newman, "As Chomsky would say, they were preaching to the wrong audience.") The setback, however, doesn't stop him from searching for -- and meeting, briefly -- his son in the tear-gassed streets of Seattle, only to be clubbed and hauled off by a Robocop, a globalization update on Hollywood's soft-focus finish.

Newman has an innate sympathy for the human condition that even extends to Evan, the workaholic flack who excels at laying "Astroturf, helping set up fake grassroots organizations, such as the Clean Air Working Group (coal companies against the US Clean Air Act)" and revels in the belief that "it is easier and less costly to change the way people think about reality than to change reality." Evan first developed a disdain for democracy when he starred a first in history, earning his college's highest academic award at Cambridge, where "the purpose of such an education was to prepare the money by teaching it the folly of social change."

Newman -- also educated at Cambridge and, like his character Evan, also adopted, but by a working-class family -- clearly rejects such a worldview. Indeed, he saves his most pointed barbs for leaders. Bill Clinton appears in a cameo at the Four Seasons Hotel telling "the cameras of the world's biggest media corporations: I wanna hear the views of those protesters. Outside … there was a fifty-block No Protest Zone … martial law declared and troops and tanks on the streets." Then there's AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, whose "bald tortoise head" pokes out of the "carapace … of his ceremonial trade-union suit" as he reads a statement that sounds like solidarity with the protesters even as it sells them out.

The mainstream press comes off even worse, suffering from a new strain of hemophilia that wiped out much of Europe's royalty. "The mental hemophiliac can never synthesize Fact A with Fact B," Newman writes. "It is the sine qua non qualification for the political news class."

Newman goes on "reading holidays" and remembers what he reads with an uncanny clarity, weaving the disparate facts together. (He's planning on reading a lot during his tour of the United States. Because of carbon emissions and their link to tax-free jet fuel and climate change, he only takes flights when he has to cross the Atlantic; he'll thus be riding on trains, sometimes 36 hours at a stretch.)

Newman also is an avid researcher: He hired a tutor for a year and a half to learn Spanish so that he could talk directly with people on his trips to Mexico and Central America; he went out on a Welsh trawler; he roamed the streets and the empty corridors of the convention hall at the WTO protests in Seattle, reporting for the BBC. "They gave me a ticket," he says. "They didn't think anything was going to happen. "

In the U.K. in early 1990s, Newman was hailed as the standup-up comic's equivalent to Mick Jagger. Then he disappeared from public view to write novels. It took him a long time to find a publisher for Fountain, but even the rejections -- five-page, single-spaced screeds about the book's politics -- eventually supported Newman's democratic, leaderless worldview. As his U.S. publisher, Richard Nash of Soft Skull Press, puts it, "If the big corporate publishers didn't act like big corporate publishers, we'd never have gotten Rob's book."

Just for the record, Newman is implacably opposed to capitalism and would like to see it replaced with participatory democracy, "its old arch-rival," which proponents of globalization try to co-opt and declare their own. To underscore globalism's anti-democratic nature, he cites the director of the Washington Center of Strategic and International Studies: "In the final analysis," the director said, "what really matters is how effectively the surrender of governments to the global market is carried out."

Nonetheless, he's hopeful, saying, "In the past 10 years there's been broad, direct-action movements including nonaffiliated people around the world, from Mexico to Bangalore, breaking from the old organized left and focusing on getting things done -- and doing them by themselves."

The U'wa Indians of Colombia, for instance, got multinational corporations to stop clear-cutting their ancestral lands in the Amazon when they threatened mass suicide. On a larger scale, Newman looks to coalitions like the World Social Forum that are searching for new structures of national and international democracy.

Although Newman wants to focus on writing now ("stand-up comedy is a young man's game") and working on the side with groups like Reclaim the Streets, Indymedia, and People's Global Action, he still goes on tour, most recently in Europe in a one-man show called "From Caliban to the Taliban: Five Hundred Years of Humanitarian Intervention."

At the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Newman reads sections from his book and mixes them with segments from his show, allowing how some Americans might not share his views. He conjures up one who, in a nasal twang, rages about the Vietnamese who have moved into the neighborhood. "We just don't think it's right that they come here and expect to live," the irate citizen complains. "We don't go over to Vietnam and take their jobs and land from them!"

Newman stops, face screwed up, eyes wide in disbelief; his shoulders hollowing in as his arms out stretch in wonder and dismay. "WHAT CAN YOU SAY???" he asks, and then, in rapid-fire sequence, details the political and economic machinations of U.S. foreign policy that so benefited the Vietnamese that doctors became refugees forced to work as day laborers and live next to uneducated rednecks.

Mark Twain once said, "The human race has only one effective weapon, and that is laughter." Now, thanks to Robert Newman, we are well armed.

Suzanne Charlé is a New York-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, and other publications. She is also co-editor of a book about Indonesia under Suharto, which will be published later this year.

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