Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 16, 2011

Brandreth - the sequel

At the recording, while they were testing the mikes Nicholas talked about his Edinburgh show. He then invited each of the others to talk about theirs. Gyles talked about his son Benet Brandreth who is doing a show up here. Gyles said Benet was funnier than him as well as better-looking and Paul piped up with "have we got the right Brandreth here?"

Benet Brandreth is actually a lawyer - his website makes him sound as if he has a very good career in the law. His show here sounds like fun though I don't think I will now get the chance to see it.

We had the Freuds together on the show - is it time for two Brandreths. I must say Benet looks - and I believe sounds - a hell of a lot like Gyles. That would really make Paul's eyes pop.

Here's a nice article about them both from The Telegraph.

Interview: Benet and Gyles Brandreth - That's my boy
By Jackie McGlone

Self-proclaimed ‘cult figure’ Gyles Brandreth has passed on the performance bug to son Benet. Here, the pair tell Jackie McGlone the truth – but perhaps not the whole truth –about this family tradition

WELL, aren't I a lucky lass? Here I am, sitting in the darkened lobby of a smart London hotel, with a brace of Brandreths. It's like having them in stereo - one in each ear, father and son. We're meeting over coffee - which the gallant Gyles insists on paying for - to talk about the fact that the son also rises. For 36-year-old Benet Brandreth is making his Fringe debut this month, with a solo show, The Brandreth Papers. His father Gyles, 63, is a seasoned Edinburgh performer, after disporting himself in many guises, most notably in fishnet stockings and suspenders - a first for a former Conservative government whip. In public, at any rate. In other words - his, in fact - he's "a cult figure".

Seasoned does not begin to describe the rich, fruity tones of Brandreth Senior. If a plum pudding could talk, it would sound like Gyles. Let us take a deep breath and enumerate his many personae listed on his website: "Author, broadcaster, after-dinner speaker, awards ceremony host, entertainer and former MP and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury."

Educated at St Paul's School, London, and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Benet is a mere beginner, a barrister, specialising in intellectual property rights. He's also a prize-winning exponent of the art of rhetoric, "whether it is debating, rabble-rousing, after-dinner speaking or court-room advocacy".

Something in the genes, perhaps? "I guess," responds the dashing, derring-do Benet, who boxed for Cambridge University, where he was vice-president of Footlights (David Mitchell was a contemporary). He's also an expert Filipino knife-fighter and recently completed a course in "accelerated freefall skydiving". He sounds uncannily like his father, of whom he's the spitting image - only more handsomely muscular, but every bit as charming. Indeed, the Brandreth brand is charm, oodles of it oozing out of every pore.

It is the art of rhetoric that Benet, two-times world public speaking champion and rhetoric coach with the Royal Shakespeare Company, deploys in The Brandreth Papers, a tall tale told by a tall, tailored chap, with cut-glass vowels, involving Socratic irony, mind-bending erudition, the curdling of hopes of Hollywood stardom and an epic love life. It is, claims Benet, the only show on the Fringe in which jokes by Cicero will have them rolling in the aisles.

When we convene, Gyles arrives early; Benet is in transit from Chambers. So there's just time for Gyles to tell me how his hopes of making yet another appearance on the Fringe have been dashed. He and his wife, Michele, have just become grandparents for the fifth time - they also have two daughters, Saethryd, a writer, and Aphra, an economist. ("My wife is responsible for their names - Saethryd and Benet are from the writings of the Venerable Bede; Aphra comes from the playwright Aphra Behn," explains Gyles.)

Benet's wife, the multiple award-nominated American actress Kosha Engler (one of lesbian cop Kima's girlfriends in The Wire) has just given birth prematurely to their first child, Cornelius.

I am shown photographs on Benet's phone of this delightful scrap, who is currently smaller than his father's hand. Cue opportunity for Gyles to repeat the story he's already regaled me with. "I was hoping Cornelius would arrive six weeks late, then I could go on for Benet, but it was not to be." Then he adds hastily: "Delighted, of course, that mother and baby are both doing well."

By now Benet's eyebrows are more arch than the Marble. In fact, it's a miracle they are not permanently so because Gyles - who has a very disconcerting way of leaning into your space to address you as if you were at a public meeting - has his son's eyes rolling heavenwards every few minutes. "Do you need me to cosy any further up to you?" asks Gyles. Errr, no thanks.

What was it like growing up with a parent as garrulous as Gyles? Surely no one ever got a word in edgeways at the dinner table? "You have not met my clever, witty mother and sisters, who are nothing like as ego-maniacal as my father and myself," declares Benet. "We sat back and listened to the women. We know the meaning of the word respect - we didn't say a word at home. The cat said more," adds Gyles.

So, don't put your son on the stage, Mr Brandreth? "Oh, that's a very good opening line," exclaims Gyles, who is as expert at barbed flattery as his son is with a Filipino knife. "I couldn't agree with you more. Happily, my son is a successful and brilliant barrister and although this is happening on the Edinburgh Fringe, it is nothing to do with me.

"Michele and I have seen the previews - we bought our own tickets. No family discount. It is strange to see your own son perform, although I have seen Benet in school plays where he was excellent and at Cambridge, when he starred in a production of Hamlet before he went off to become a lawyer. Then he announced he was doing this and sent us a flyer.

"We had no idea what to expect. It turns out to be completely unique; it is rip-roaring, rib-tickling, surreal storytelling. I would willingly have paid ten times as much as people will soon be doing in Edinburgh on the black market." (Benet's eyes roll upwards.) Ah, but Gyles, you're biased.

"I hope so," murmurs Benet. "Possibly," his parent concedes. "But I may just be biased against. I did try to talk him out of it. My advice would be, 'Don't put your son on the stage, Mr Brandreth,' but he's put himself on stage and his show is sensational, even if it is not my kind of storytelling. I will shut up now. Thank you and goodnight. Proud father sits back." (Chance would be a fine thing.)

The Brandreth Papers grew out of Benet's work with the RSC. "I'd been coaching the actors in the art of rhetoric and I thought I'd really like to have a go myself, find out whether if, as well as teaching, I could also do it," he reveals.

A friend asked him to take part in the Tall Tales series he stages around London Fringe theatres - "a cross between Armistead Maupin and Lake Wobegon," according to Gyles. "I'd no idea what to do, then I thought, 'I know, I'll tell the most enormous lie, the biggest lie I could think of'," says Benet.

"The best lies are always 99 per cent true; it's the one per cent that is untrue that is astonishing. So I told a story about the time that I went to the British Museum to attend the parade of the acquisition of new objects, in the course of which I saved the life of our Queen. From this grew further appearances at Tall Tales and it was fantastic to be in front of an audience again. The laughter, the tension as a story unfolds. Suddenly, I understood why my father is so addicted to performing."

"May I butt in?" asks Gyles. "What intrigued me is Benet's remark about the big lie; then he tells us of his first story that he rescued the Queen, so I want to know which is the one per cent lie." Benet's lips are sealed, however.

Surely being called to the Bar is pure theatre? "Absolutely," Benet agrees. "When I became a barrister, I remember thinking how much I wanted to be an actor, but they never seem to make any money. I thought about becoming an academic but that seemed dry and dusty, so I became a barrister. You get to do all the performing, you actually get to be an actor but you also get to earn all this fabulous money.

"But my disappointment has been that the judges at the Chancery Division don't laugh at my jokes quite as often as I would like them to. But the mirth aside, I do love the academic aspects of the law, I love explaining abstract aspects of it - the rhetoric, the oratory, the performing."

"May I point out that there is a familial history of storytelling?" asks Gyles. Telling lies? "Just because I was a Member of Parliament there's no need to get that dig in. The interviewer is trying to get in on the act." He proceeds to tell of an ancestor, Dr Benjamin Brandreth, who went to America to sell pills that claimed to cure everything.

A snake-oil salesman? Gyles: "She's sharper than she looks. You are right, but I think they worked as they were homeopathic. He was a pioneer of advertising. He created the billboard and made a fortune. So we come from a long line of storytellers - Dr Brandreth could certainly spin a yarn."

So, interjects Benet, the Brandreths have been telling lies for a living for centuries. "I hope that what makes my show unique, though, is the fact that it's story, it's stand-up - and it's a very big lie."

• The Brandreth Papers is at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28 August. Today 6pm.


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