3rd May 1959 (Age 52)
Benjamin Charles "Ben" Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English comedian, author, playwright and director. He was a leading figure in the British alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, as a writer on such cult series as The Young Ones and Blackadder, as well as also a successful stand-up comedian on stage and TV. He was a high-profile frontman of 1980s left-wing political satire. Since then he has published thirteen novels and more lately become known for writing the musical We Will Rock You (2002) and Love Never Dies (2010), the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. He now plays Rik in the young ones
Elton was born in Catford, London, the son of an English teacher mother and physicist and educational researcher Lewis Elton. He is the nephew of the historian Sir G. R. Elton. Elton's father is of German Jewish descent and his mother is of English background. He studied at Stillness Junior School and Godalming Grammar School in Surrey, South Warwickshire College and the University of Manchester. Elton is married to Sophia Gare (an Australian saxophonist) and has three children (two sons and one daughter). He lives in Fremantle, Western Australia and in East Sussex, England. Elton has had dual British/Australian citizenship since 2004.
He is a Labour Party supporter and was named as a financial donor to the party in 1998.
His first television appearance was a stand-up performance on the BBC1 youth and music programme The Oxford Road Show. His first TV success though was at the age of 23 as co-writer of the television sitcom The Young Ones, in which he occasionally appeared.
In 1983/84 he wrote and appeared in Granada Television's sketch show Alfresco, which was also notable for early appearances by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane. In 1985, Elton produced his first solo script for the BBC with his comedy-drama series Happy Families, starring Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson. Elton appeared in the fifth episode as a liberal prison governor. Shortly afterwards, he reunited Mayall and Edmondson with their Young Ones co-star Nigel Planer for the showbiz send-up sitcom Filthy Rich and Catflap.
In 1985 Elton began his successful writing partnership with Richard Curtis. Together they wrote Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third (in one episode, Elton appeared as a bomb-wielding anarchist) and Blackadder Goes Forth. Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson, was a worldwide hit, winning four BAFTAs and an Emmy.
Elton and Curtis were inspired to write Blackadder Goes Forth upon finding the First World War to be a particularly apt subject for a situation comedy. This series, which dealt with greater, darker themes than prior Blackadder episodes, was widely praised for Curtis's and Elton's scripts, in particular the final episode. Elton and Curtis also wrote Atkinson's 1986 stage show, The New Review, and Mr Bean's infamous "exam" episode.
Elton became a stand-up comedian primarily to showcase his own writing, but became one of Britain's biggest selling live acts. After a regular slot on Saturday Live (UK) — later moved and renamed Friday Night Live — which was seen as a UK version of the US's Saturday Night Live, he became the host of the programme.
In 1990 he starred in his own stand-up comedy and sketch series entitled The Man from Auntie, which had a second series in 1994. (The title plays on The Man from UNCLE; "Auntie" is a nickname for the BBC). In 1989 Elton won the Royal Television Society Writers' Award.
The Ben Elton Show (1998) followed a format similar to that of The Man from Auntie and featured (somewhat incongruously) Ronnie Corbett, a comedian of the "old guard" that the "alternative comedians" of the 1980s were the direct alternative to, as a regular guest. It was Elton's last high-profile network programme in the UK as a stand-up comedian.
In April 2007, Get a Grip, a new show, began broadcasting on ITV1. Featuring a combination of "comic sketches" (similar to those seen on The Ben Elton Show) and staged studio discussion between Elton and 23-year-old Alexa Chung, the show's aim was to "contrast Elton's middle-aged viewpoint with Chung's younger perspective" (although Elton was wholly responsible for the scripts).
In a 2007 interview with Third Way Magazine, Elton accused the BBC of allowing jokes about vicars, but not imams. "And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the communities have about provoking the radical elements of Islam".
On the 10 October 2010 Elton headlined the first episode of Dave's One Night Stand.
Elton worked on Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth, a live one-hour variety show which debuted on 8 February 2011 on the Nine Network in Australia. Live from Planet Earth was axed by the Nine Network on Wednesday 23 February 2011 after airing three episodes, despite having six episodes commissioned. The show's final airing rated at about 200,000 viewers.
Behind the cameraEdit
Elton also wrote and produced The Thin Blue Line, a studio-based sitcom set in a police station, also starring Rowan Atkinson, which ran for two series (in 1995 and 1996). A prime-time family show, its traditional format and characters won it the 1995 British Comedy Award and both the public and professional Jury Awards at Reims.
Elton co-starred with Adrian Edmondson on a sitcom based on the song "Teenage Kicks" for BBC Radio 2. A television version of Teenage Kicks for ITV has been made; Elton appeared in the pilot but was replaced by Mark Arden when it went to series production.
He has published thirteen novels since 1989, all published by Black Swan (an imprint of Transworld), except for Stark, originally published by Sphere Books, which was made into an Australian TV serial in 1993 starring Elton.
- Stark (1989)
- Gridlock (1991), UK No 1
- This Other Eden (1993), UK No 1
- Popcorn (1996), UK No 1 and Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain Gold Dagger Award for fiction
- Blast from the Past (1998), UK Top 5
- Inconceivable (1999), UK Top 5 (later made into a film, see below)
- Dead Famous (2001), UK Top 5
- High Society (2002), UK No 1 and WH Smith's People Choice Fiction Award
- Past Mortem (2004), UK Top 5
- The First Casualty (2005), UK Top 5
- Chart Throb (2006)
- Blind Faith (2007)
- Meltdown (2010)
On a publicity tour for Past Mortem in 2004, Elton mused on the high school reunion theme and his own drama college reunion: "We’d had a very happy time all together, so there were no old scores to be settled really, we’d been a pretty happy bunch. And yet one person, who’d been a bit of a golden boy – he certainly went out with a girl I was besotted and unrequitedly in love with – he came up and he said, ‘Why did you come? Was it to show off?’. That really surprised me, that anyone would think that … he came kind of carrying my agenda. It was weird. I hasten to add I didn’t think my life to be more successful than anybody else’s. If you’re happy and honest and fulfilled in what you do, then you’re having a successful life."
While previously appearing in bit parts in his own TV series, he began his professional film acting career when he starred as CD in Stark, the Australian/BBC TV series adaptation of his novel, released in 1993. This ABC co-production was directed by Nadia Tass and filmed in Australia.
Behind the camera Edit
Elton wrote and directed the film adaptation of his novel Inconceivable, which was released under the title Maybe Baby (2000) starring Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson. It was a moderate UK success and was distributed globally. The film was also nominated for a prize at Germany's Emden Film Festival.
Elton collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on The Beautiful Game in 2000, writing the book and lyrics (Lloyd Webber wrote the music). The Beautiful Game won the London Critics Circle Award for best new musical. Elton went on to write a number of compilation shows featuring popular songs taken from the back catalogues of pop/rock artists. The first of these was the musical We Will Rock You with music by the rock band Queen. This was successful in London and won the 2003 Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best New Musical. It has since opened in the US, Australia, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, and The Netherlands. Tonight's the Night, based on the songs of Rod Stewart, opened in November 2003. Elton most recently worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the sequel to his 1986 blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies.
- Gasping (1990) was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It starred Hugh Laurie and featured the voice of Stephen Fry.
- Silly Cow (1991) again performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. It was written for and starred Dawn French.
- Popcorn (1996) was adapted for the stage and went on a UK-wide tour. It also toured Australia in a production starring Marcus Graham and Nadine Garner in its Eastern-States seasons. Popcorn won the TMA Barclays Theatre Award for best new play and the Olivier Award for best comedy. The Paris production of Popcorn ran for a year and was nominated for seven Molière Awards.
- Blast From the Past (1998) was also adapted for the stage and was produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Stand-up comedy Edit
In 1981, when his live act took off, Elton was hired by The Comedy Store as its compère.
He released two albums of stand-up comedy, Motormouth (1987) and Motorvation (1988).
In 2007, Ben Elton was awarded an Honorary Rose for lifetime achievement at the Rose d'Or festival. He was also made a Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, in recognition of the work that he has carried out with students.
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