The A-Z of Ben Elton

As veteran comic and writer returns to the stage with his new show Authentic Stupidity, we’ve given him the A-Z treatment. That’s A sorted at least…

A is for Authentic Stupidity

Breaking his 15 year absence from live comedy in 2019, Ben Elton caught the bug. He’s heading back out on the road once again with his latest routine, Authentic Stupidity, which will see Elton lampoon humanity’s latest existential threat: Artificial Intelligence. Though, he seems more preoccupied with our coping methods: “I reckon our real problem isn’t Artificial Intelligence, it’s good old fashioned Authentic Stupidity!”

B is for Blackadder

Though Ben Elton wasn’t responsible for the creation of Rowan Atkinson’s snivelling and sarcastic Blackadder, he did co-write the second, third, and fourth series of the worldwide hit. The historical anthology sitcom got better and better with each subsequent series, culminating in the final episode of the WW1-set series four, which continues to resonate today. A poignant finale to one of Britain’s most beloved comedies. 

Blackadder II's funniest and rudest put downs 😂 | Blackadder - BBC

C is for Comic Relief

Conceived by comedian Sir Lenny Henry and comedy writer Richard Curtis in response to the Ethiopian famine, Ben Elton has been a major player in Comic Relief since its inaugural live fundraising show at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre in 1986. He maintained a close connection to the Red Nose Day telethon for many years after, even hosting it in 1988. 

D is for Dead Famous

With his seventh novel, Dead Famous, released in 2001, Ben Elton had a thinly veiled dig at the advent of reality television – notably shows like Big Brother. Using the setting as the scene of a whodunnit, the television ratings go through the roof when a contestant gets murdered. He missed a trick however by not making the murderer’s catchphrase: “Do you want another one?”

E is for East Sussex

Bucking the trend of most prominent celebrities during the nineties, Ben Elton relocated from London to East Sussex with his family, as well as maintaining a home in North Fremantle, Australia. He has British/Australian dual citizenship.

Ben Elton opens Friday Night Live on Channel 4

F is for Friday Night Live

Elton had made a name for himself as a comedy writer by 1985, but his break as a television personality came after he featured prominently on Friday Night Live (fka as Saturday Live). The series, which ran for four seasons as well as a few comeback specials, also transformed acts such as Harry Enfield into bonafide stars.

G is for The Great Railway Disaster

Never one to shy away from his political values, Ben Elton hosted The Great Railway Disaster, a show which sees the comedian travel the country on Britain’s railways amid mass cancellations, soaring ticket prices, and dilapidated infrastructure. Making the argument that the privatisation of our railways has been a major failure, it’s hard to argue with him on this one.

H is for Happy Families

With an all-star cast of the best British comedians of the 80s – known as the Comic Strip – in Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Ade Edmondson and Stephen Fry, rural BBC comedy drama Happy Families was the first television show written solely by Elton. Riffing on the 1949 Ealing film Kind Hearts And Coronets, it’s a forgotten gem that needs revisiting.

I is for IVF 

Without IVF, Ben Elton and his wife Sophie Gare wouldn’t have children. After five years of trying for a baby, Gare went on three courses of IVF, the result of which was their twins, Bert and Lottie. The experience inspired his 1999 novel Inconceivable, which Elton adapted into his first film, Maybe Baby, the following year.

J is for The Jam Tarts

Speaking of Ben Elton’s wife, he met Australian saxophonist Sophie Gare in Melbourne in 1986. He was working there and she was touring with her band, The Jam Tarts. Though Elton was in a relationship when they first crossed paths, they got together a year later and eventually married in 1994.

K is for Kenneth Branagh 

In 1993, Ben Elton was cast in his first notable film role as Verges in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Despite only being a supporting member of the cast, he rubbed shoulders with Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves on set.

Comedian Ben Elton talks Brexit and Boris Johnson

L is for Labour Party

Politics and comedy came hand-in-hand throughout the 80s, with comedians of the era generally taking an anti-Thatcher slant. Ben Elton has been a Labour supporter for the most part of his life, and one of the party’s biggest private financial donors. All with the exception of the New Labour period, when Elton plumped for the Green Party instead, before reigniting his allegiance in 2015.

M is for Manchester 

Whilst studying drama at The University of Manchester, Elton befriended fellow budding comedians including Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle, all of who would become frequent collaborators and friends.

N is for Novels

Elton has penned 16 novels since his first, Stark, in 1989. He’s convinced that books are the last bastion of free speech in society today, telling The Times: “If authors aren’t allowed to think themselves into other experiences, then there’s no storytelling, no narrative. That has to be stood up to.”

O is for Olivia Newton-John

Quite bizarrely, the late Grease and ‘Physical’ pop superstar Olivia Newton-John is Ben Elton’s third cousin, although they’ve never actually met. “Is it alright that I fancied the hell out of her?” he later confessed.

P is for Phantom Of The Opera

Joining forces with The Phantom Of The Opera mastermind Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton co-wrote the stage phenomenon’s sequel, Love Never Dies, in 2010, which was loosely based on Frederick Forsyth’s 1999 novel, The Phantom Of Manhattan. He was criticised by some for collaborating with life-long Conservative voter Webber at the time, and in his defence, Elton responded: “If I were to refuse to talk to Tories, I would narrow my social and professional scope considerably. If you judge all your relationships on a person’s voting intentions, I think you miss out on the varieties of life.”

We Will Rock You | 2023 West End Trailer

Q is for Queen

Though an idea for a musical based on Queen’s music was floating around for years, it didn’t come to fruition until Brian May and Roger Taylor approached Ben Elton. Using the dystopian sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix as inspiration, Elton and Queen’s surviving members created the jukebox musical We Will Rock You. Though it took a while to find its feet, it’s now become a West End (and worldwide) favourite, with May and Taylor themselves often joining the cast on stage.

R is for Room 101 

Elton can lay claim to being nominated three times on television comedy series Room 101 – the only person to achieve the feat. If you can call it that. He was first consigned to the vault by Anne Robinson in 2001, secondly by comedian Mark Steel, and thirdly by Stewart Lee who sardonically branded Elton “as ranking lower ethically than Osama bin Laden”. All is fair in love and war – and comedy.

S is for Socialism

“I believe in the politics of Clement Attlee. I’m a Welfare State Labour voter,” Ben Elton said of his political views. Though his politics have often put a target on his back, accused of being too left-wing or even too right-wing at numerous points in his career, Elton took the piss out of his own public image in 1994 by appearing in Harry Enfield And Chums as “Benny Elton”, a PC spoilsport who lambasts Page 3 models and heterosexual couples for not being gay.

T is for The Thin Blue Line

Rowan Atkinson reunited with Ben Elton for The Thin Blue Line in 1995, a comedy that parodied police procedurals across its two series. In 2003, it was voted as the 34th Best British Sitcom. That’s some accolade!

The Comedy of Hamlet | Upstart Crow | BBC Comedy Greats

U is for Upstart Crow

William Shakespeare has always been a prominent influence on Ben Elton and his work, and became the main focus of his period sitcom Upstart Crow, which starred David Mitchell as the playwright and poet. The parody of Shakespeare’s day-to-day life proved to be so popular, Elton later developed it into a stage play, which was critically revered as a return to form for the veteran comedy writer.

V is for Views

Elton isn’t one to reserve his opinions to just his comedy or writing. In 2023, the Blackadder writer appeared on BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg and came under fire for calling Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a “mendacious narcissistic sociopath”. He responded to the criticism by saying if that is “the worst he gets he should read some of my reviews”.

W is for West End

Taking television comedy writing, stand-up comedy, musicals, and writing books in his stride, Ben Elton has also penned five West End plays: GaspingSilly CowPopcornBlast From The Past and, as previously mentioned, The Upstart Crow.

X is for X Factor

Further reiterating his disdain for reality television, The X Factor became the subject of Elton’s derision in his 2006 novel Chart Throbs. The book says that by the year 2050, everybody will be either a pop star or star of their own reality TV programme. With the advent of social media in the years since, there’s an element of truth in his prediction.

University Challenge - The Young Ones. Remastered [HD]

Y is for The Young Ones

Rowdy and raucous student comedy The Young Ones gave Ben Elton his first meaningful taste of success, having co-written the popular sitcom which starred his peers in Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle, as well as musical guests in Motörhead, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Damned, and Madness. Even today, the anarchic series still packs a surrealist punch (especially the University Challenge sequence, starring Elton as Kendal Mintcake).

Z is for Gen Z

Wading into the culture wars as a proponent of free speech – like most anti-establishment comedians of his generation – Ben Elton compared modern “wokeness” to Chairman Mao’s communist China. Accusing Gen Z as being all about “making rules”, Elton told Radio Times that there was “a whiff of Maoism in the air, the whiff of cultural revolution. There is now a new way of thinking – and you will be required to think it.”

Ben Elton starts his new UK and Ireland tour, Authentic Stupidity, in September. Find tickets here.