Interview with Bob Mills
1. Interview with Bob Mills
The original Medinner site had been online for just a few weeks when Bob Mills himself emailed me to say he was pretty chuffed with my work! After firing a few emails back and forth, Bob kindly agreed to let me interview him. "In Bed With Medinner" is clearly a programme he's pretty proud of, and in the following interview he provides some really interesting information on the prog as well as talking about his television work, football, and wanting to be an HGV driver.Hi Bob, thanks for allowing me to interview you! So, at the time of writing, there have been 27490 hits on the website, 8651 videos watched on YouTube (2015 and it's now over 750,000) and over 350 episodes downloaded via the site, all in the first ten weeks. How does it feel to see this mini-revival of Medinner?
Bob: It's great to see the interest that people still have in Medinner, but I'll admit, I'm staggered by the number of hits your site has received. It seems more people are logging on than ever actually watched the show!You've had a pretty varied career in the media, but many people would associate you mainly with Medinner. Is it the bane of your life or something you're proud of?
Bob: I have had a pretty varied career, in a 'nicking a living' sort of way. I've been able to get by, because rather than any one specific talent, I've always been a bit of a Jack of all Trades. There are definitely a large group of people who know me mainly from Medinner, and I'm immensely proud of that. Basically, you need to understand, what Medinner gave me was, the ability to move on and do other things, without the nagging doubt about whether I'd fulfilled my potential on TV, which haunts a lot of performers. You and I both know, that if I'd have hung round on the box for the next 100 years, I'd never have come anywhere near close to matching 'Football/MuggyBoneHead' or 'Pershunchilliallymelba'.How did Medinner start? Was it based on your concept or was it a series offered to you?
Bob: Medinner came about thus; LWT were going to do a series of 6 1 hour shows with Danny Baker, tentatively called 'World In Acton' At the last minute Danny pulled out, and they were left with the slots. I happened to be around the building at the time and pitched my idea for a show where, basically, people came round my house, watched bits of video, listened to music and generally had a laugh. From the first meeting, to the first recording was about a month!'World in Acton'- that's a fantastic name for a programme! Thank god Danny didn't do it though. A month to put the first programmes together must've been crazy though. Was the rushed planning part of the reason that Medinner went through a number of formats, from the longer early programmes with live music through to the 24 minute programmes of series 3 and 4?
Bob: The first two 'pilot' shows were, I think 1 hour. Then the series with the bands followed...Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Heatwave, Gary Numan, Terry Hall. We also used proper actors for the sketches! After that it was a question of budget. No bands, no actors, and just a half hour slot.I remember TV critics saying that Medinner should have been in a prime-time slot. Was there ever any discussion of moving it from its late night slot?
Bob: No. Medinner was always a late night show. It just wouldn't have worked with a sober audience. It's constituency was the drunk, unemployed insomniac, student, loners that understood my passion for the minutia of television.Well, that accurately describes most of the people who have emailed me about the site! (hi people!) Have you ever met anyone who was featured in a clip on Medinner? I'm guessing that there's sure to be a story or two if you have!
Bob: I've met a couple of people who were featured on the show. The lads from the 'Knockers' often pop up, and the Christian guy who found the numbers '666' on the most mundane articles.Not met Jessico then.... I bet that's some relief!
How much of the content of Medinner came directly from your input?
Bob: The way we made the show was that the researchers got together a big box of tapes of shows that they thought looked suitably weird. I then sat for up to 40 hours per show, and watched them, making notes! Most of the other stuff, the books, the magic microwave, the dodgy products, we just made up between us on the day of filming. We also spent a couple of days per series just wandering around London making up 'out and abouts' and 'casualty location man'TV Burp and Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe are two programmes that clearly are influenced by Medinner- TV Burp for the general laughing at the ridiculousness of some programmes, and Screen Wipe for the more indepth dissemination of the nature of television. What do you think of these programmes? There's also the more recent TV Heaven, Telly Hell (C4) which is effectively Medinner but with a guest picking the clips. Have you seen it? Is the concept of a special guest something you ever considered for Medinner?
Bob: I've actually not seen Harry's show, or 'Screen Wipe', but I've been told they are 'Medinner-ish' Then again, there's nothing new under the sun. The same with Heaven/Hell. It's not surprising that this genre has escalated, as audiences become more TV literate. I like to think we were pacesetters!Were there any clips that weren't used on the programme as they were considered to be too 'out there'?
Bob: Of all the 'lost' clips, the one that hurts the most is 'Kenny'. We actually filmed a show using it....a doc about the moodiest kid in the world and his Dad. Then, the day before broadcast we were told we couldn't use it, and had to bodge together some other clips and a couple of sub-standard 'out and abouts'WOW! A lost programme! That does help to explain the random 'best of' episodes that cropped up occasionally too. Aw, how annoying! Any chance of seeing a copy??? (watch this space!)
Was Medinner a good stepping stone into further TV work for you?
Bob: Funnily enough 'Medinner' never really did me any favours career-wise. It made TV bosses very nervous, and meant I was never going to be in the running to host mainstream, primetime shows.Medinner finished, then you wrote 'Bob Martin' for ITV, which starred Michael Barrymore as a TV game show host. Bob Martin was very different to your previous work on Medinner. How did it feel to have a prime-time ITV series? It clearly has similarities to Ricky Gervais' 'Extras'- famous actors playing caricatures of themselves around a core of central fictional characters. Where did the inspiration for the concept come from?
Bob: Bob Martin was a great thing for me, in that it was the first thing I had ever written that got made into a series. It was based largely on my own experiences as the host of Win Lose or Draw. As well as writing the series, I also produced it, so was able to maintain a lot of control. It was, obviously, compared, not always favourably, with 'Larry Saunders'. But I think it can honestly say that it was a forerunner of things like 'The Office' (although that was actually, I think, derived form 'The Fast Show' sketch set in a very similar office).Hmmn, interesting- I'd not thought of it being like 'The Office' I must admit. It's not often you hear of a writer maintaining such control over a project (indeed, that was one of the main storylines of Extras series 2, but anyway...) So, have there been any projects that you have worked on that have not become TV series? Are there any rare pilots that we don't know about?
Bob: For every twenty script proposals that you submit, one, if you are lucky, might make it as far as the treatment stage. Of these, maybe one in five actually gets made. So, the majority of my life is now spend ducking and diving in meetings with production companies, trying to flog ideas for comedies/dramas. As we speak I am working on five different projects, one of which may ever see the light of day.We'd love to hear some of the ideas, especially the ones that do come to fruition. You have become more involved in scriptwriting since Medinner, scoring a considerable hit with Christmas Lights and garnering excellent reviews for Pierrepoint. Is writing the main part of your career now?
Bob: The reason I switched to writing from presenting is quite simple. Shelf Life. Unless you are at the very top of the tree, then you have to accept that a career as a TV host is an ever decreasing circle. The bars and clubs of medialand are full of faves who hosted late night or morning shows, who are hungrily fighting to stay afloat, always one meeting away from the next big break. It can be a soul destroying way to live. I am lucky in that I can earn money in a few different ways. Writing is my favoured one, but I also work the corporate stand-up circuit, conferences, awards ceremonies etc.Speaking of ways of making money... I've seen you on a few Top 100 type clip shows over the last few years. Do these pay really well? Or is the work just too easy to turn down?
Bob: The '100 Greatest' shows are, along with reality TV, a result of accountants taking over the world of telly. Just think about what it costs to make, for instance, and episode of 'Cracker' Well, for that money, you could have 200 hours of '100 Best...' shows. I get involved purely and simply because, well....it's my job. I know a little bit about an enormous range of things, people pay me to talk, hopefully wittily about things, so there you go. Like any plumber, mechanic or decorator, my first thought is to make a living.Yeah, that's absolutely fair enough. You wonder why celebs do the reality TV programmes, but when you read that they get paid five figures for what is effectively a few weeks work, it's understandable. I've always wondered if on the clip shows the talking heads are actually stating their memories or if there's some scripting involved. Do people really remember all of those details about something they saw years ago or are you helped along?
Bob: As to the mechanics of these shows, I'm sure that a lot of stuff is off the cuff, but obviously people are told in advance what they are going to be talking about. The only shows I have never got involved with are the 'Celebrity reality' shows, for no other reason than I don't really think of myself as a celeb, and, as touch wood, my writing seems to be taking off, don't really need the oxygen of publicity. I don't mean this in a bad way. If you are a 'face' then you need to be seen as often as you can.You mentioned the corporate stand-up gigs. I saw your stand-up show that toured in the late 90s when Medinner was at its most popular. I laughed my backside off! What are your memories of the tour? Any plans for another belated tour?
Bob: The last stand up tour I did, some years ago, was a real blast. Me and Otis Cannelonni, schlepping around the theatres of England. I've not really done the clubs since, just corporates.You're clearly a fan of television. What programmes are unmissable in the Mills house?
Bob: Their tends to be a telly on somewhere here all the time. The rest of my family are quite selective, but I watch anything. US comedies, repeats of Lovejoy, Extreme Makeover....the lot!I've got a Welsh friend who won't watch Medinner because of your gags about the Welsh (and yes, I was surprised that he had a TV too). Is it true that there's more to your Welsh jokes that people realise (ie that your wife is Welsh)?
Bob: Now then....Medinner and the Welsh! Many of the gags in the show were aimed in that direction. As you rightly suggest, there is a reason for that. No, my wife isn't Welsh, but.... all my family are. I was born in a pikey part of Chester (which is why I was able to identify with the 'Shameless' characters). As you may know, the city is right on the border, so women who went into labour were taken to the Maelor Maternity hospital in Flint. All my brothers and sisters are, therefore Welsh by birth. I was premature, and so born at home....in England. Therefore, all those gags were a little private joke between me and my siblings.Brilliant! It's finally explained! Thanks Bob- and please send my sympathy to your family for their birthplace (only joking.)
If you hadn't got into the entertainment industry what do you think you'd be doing now?
Bob: If I hadn't gone into this business, I would undoubtedly have been what I was before I started. A driver. Probably HGV like both my stepdads. Driving is still my favourite pastime. I very rarely stay in hotels if I'm working away as I love driving home at night, even from Manchester or beyond.Is being involved with Leyton Orient the best thing that your career has given you?
Bob: Finally, The Orient. Yes. However proud I am of Pierrepoint or Shameless or any of the other things I will write for telly, nothing compares with the thrill of seeing my page in the O's programme every home game!
Any final comments Bob? Anything to say to the fans reading this interview?
Finally. The great thrill of Medinner is
that, after all these years, people still shout across the street to
me.... 'Oi...Millsy...there should have been a clip on that ladder....the
games f**ked!' No-one else knows what they mean, we smile, give each other
the thumbs up, and move on. It's the closest I'll ever get to being a
So there you go people.
Mr Bob Mills, a man constantly working in television and still able
to keep his integrity! So as we leave Bob to continue his successful
career as a writer, you've got to think- whilst we may miss him
as a presenter, it's good to see he has found a suitable niche for
his talents in the world of entertainment. So rent 'Pierrepoint'
from your local Blockbusters (yeah, things have changed a little since this interview happened), encourage your company to hire him
for your annual corporate do, buy Shameless series 3, and the next
time you see a new comedy/drama programme on TV and you really enjoy it, check
the end credits. It could well be that it's another great comedy
from the legend himself.
So fans, Bob Mills has left the building. It's that time of the night again, he's probably out and about!
Many thanks to Bob Mills for the interview.
2. Email from Dan Clapton
Bob is an amazing guy - never truely appreciated by the public but tv types love him.
Working on the show was strange - it was 10 years ago - think about it
- no email or internet - to find the clips I remember being given a
print out of every show that LWT / Granada had ever made that existed.
Then myself and the other two researchers, Conrad and Tim, would start
to watch them... firstly the ones that we thought were bizarre sounding.
The early days of LWT were interesting - I remember a regional series
that Janet Street Porter made i think called the Sunday Programme or
something. It featured a whole episode on the rise of jeans! One was on
snooker and was the first time we ever saw a young Steve Davis. There were loads
of shows about youth tribes and stuff.
Dan's take on the making of Medinner certainly rings true. There are so many episodes where you think 'how on earth did they get away with that!' and it's kind of sad to know that, as Dan says, there will never be another risk-taking programme like Medinner again. Still, kudos to you all for taking the risks and producing such a funny piece of television history, Dan!