Today’s Joanna Page: Ready When You Are Mr McGill

Ready When You Are Mr McGill - and you, too, Babs

Today’s Joanna Page is Ready When You Are Mr McGill, a 2003 remake of Jack Rosenthal’s famous 1976 play.

Rosenthal is best known for creating London’s Burning and for writing the first ever episode of Coronation Street as well as famous plays such as Play For Today‘s Bar Mitzvah Boy and P’Tang, Yang, Kipperbang. In Ready When You Are Mr McGill, he turned his attention to television.

The original play, made for Granada, focused on the filming of a single scene of a TV show, in which just about everything can go wrong, does go wrong, and Mr McGill, one of the extras, does everything he can to help out and deliver his all-important line before the end of the day.

ITV, back in 2002/3 when it had a little bit of cash and was using big names to draw in the crowds, decided to remake the play as a one and a half hour movie. Starring Tom Courtenay as Joe McGill, Bill Nighy as the egotistical director, Amanda Holden as herself and Phil Davis as the cameraman, it also featured comedy luminaries including Tamsin Greig, Sally Phillips, Sam Kelly, Stephen Moore and Stephen Mangan.

It more or less followed the original play’s plot, but was updated to cope with modern television politics and production – and changing it to the filming of a cop show instead of a spy show. But to pad it out for an extra half hour runtime, there’s an additional sub-plot about Babs Carter, an actress who’s a bit worried about her nude scene and who does everything she can to get out of it. Playing Babs Carter: Joanna Page.

It’s fair to say the remake is a bit leisurely, particularly as everyone is making their way to the filming. The original is more focused, since it only had the filming of one scene in its fictitious TV show to concentrate on and pretty much everything revolves around that; the addition of the other scene in the remake dilutes that focus, causing the play to jump between locations and people in a way that’s potentially more realistic but makes ruins the play thematically – the natural end being the conclusion of filming.

But thematic ruin doesn’t actually make it bad, although it does mean the joke density has gone down and there are a few additions that really just aren’t that funny (Holden’s discussions with her driver).

However, given that, it’s a pretty good remake. Mostly, it’s the kind of thing that media types will get the most fun from. The updates to cope with modern TV politics – Stephen Moore’s analysis of job swapping at the networks (“He’ll go to ITV1, which will open up BBC2 for her to take and then he’ll go to Five…come on keep up… and then I’ll be controller of BBC1”), the feedback from the David Liddiment-a-like producer and focus groups, and Stephen Mangan’s diary writing during filming for The Guardian – are spot on, although the use of a film crew rather than a DigiBeta/HD crew feels a bit old-fashioned.

However, it has more than a few moments for regular people to enjoy. Indeed, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the play is now more diverse and is more concerned with all the bit players on set and their daily lives, reflecting the expansion of TV filming requirements. So the assistant director (who played a big part in the first play), the costumers, the caterers, the soundman, the cameraman and everyone else gets a look in this time round. But we also get the runner who wants to get his end away with any woman who’ll say yes – none of whom do until he gives up the ghost and asks the one woman who’s wanted him to ask the whole time.

It’s well observed, with most characters having some depth. The acting’s good, if a little obviously comedic in certain cases (Greig and Mangan), although Sally Phillips and Bill Nighy are as delightful as always. Courtenay’s appealing as Mr McGill. And even Amanda Holden comes out of it well.

But it’s really a bit of a gentle comedy. You watch it, you enjoy bits of it and specific characters, and then it’s over. You probably won’t watch it again, but parts of it will linger with you, whenever you watch a TV show – particularly a rubbish TV cop show.

Joanna Page
It’s 2003, so it fits nicely into the sexier period of JP’s career that included Love Actually, From Hell and Making Waves. She doesn’t play a desperately deep character, but she does play probably the most entertaining one.

Our Joanna plays Welsh actress Babs Carter, who’s got to film a nude scene but really doesn’t want to, despite her parents’ best efforts.

She pretends to be ill, but can’t get a sick note.

Joanna Page in Ready When You Are Mr McGill

So as well as eating some dodgy bacon that makes everyone sick:

Joanna Page in Ready When You Are Mr McGill

She tries to make herself ill by standing out in the rain:

Joanna Page in Ready When You Are Mr McGill

But nothing works. Until her parents turn up and her mother accuses her of having a fat backside:

Unfortunately, you can’t get the remake on DVD, although you can get the original as part of a box set called ‘Jack Rosenthal at ITV’. So get that instead – it’s only £15 or so for like a quadrillion of his plays.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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