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Mammy Gets The Snip

Posted 1st August 2016

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Mrs Brown's Boys Live title screen

“Now on BBC One, expect the unexpected – for the first time, Mrs Brown’s Boys goes completely live. Be prepared for strong language and adult humour. Agnes and her family are waiting in the wings – so it’s time to hand over to the director in BBC Scotland…”

— BBC One network continuity announcement into Mrs Brown’s Boys Live, 23rd July 2016

“Alan Carr hosts the comedy Live at the Apollo, now at 11:15. Before that on BBC One, strong language and adult humour, as we catch Agnes live – and on the hop…”

— BBC One network continuity announcement into Mrs Brown’s Boys “Live”, 30th July 2016

Last year, one of my most popular pieces here on Dirty Feed was this analysis of the 2005 live version of Quatermass – specifically, the differences between the original live show, and the edited version now widely available on DVD. Near the end of the piece, I wrote the following:

“Maybe we should be careful not to overstate the originality of the 2005 Quatermass. Sure, the BBC billed it as its first live drama for over 20 years. But looking to other broadcasters, Coronation Street did its first live programme in 2000, five years previously – and looking across to America, ER‘s live episode was in 1997. But still, as the beginning of the BBC’s renewed interest in live drama and comedy – through to EastEnders, Two Pints, Bollywood Carmen Live, and next year’s Mrs. Brown’s Boys live episode – it’s extremely important.”

One the 23rd July, that live Mrs Brown’s Boys episode was transmitted – and a week later on the 30th, we had a repeat. If ever there was a piece which I just had to write, this was it. Did much change between the two broadcasts? And if it did, will the show incur the hell and fury which Quatermass unleashed from these very fingertips?

Let’s take a look. All times given are from the repeat version of the episode, so you can watch along and see where the changes were, even if you haven’t got a copy of the original episode itself. Incidentally, the version now available on iPlayer is the edited repeat version.

Opening (00:00)

Opening of Mrs Brown's Boys in the gallery

The original live broadcast of the episode started with a direct handover from the continuity announcer – and the director in Glasgow responding with “Thank you London!”1 This was snipped, leaving the rest of his line intact: “OK studio, stand by…

One might speculate the reason this was snipped was to make introducing the episode less reliant on a handover from continuity for repeats – and perhaps to make better sense on any DVD or download releases?

Kama Sutra (20:55)

Agnes studies the Kama Sutra

It’s a full twenty minutes before the next change – more than half the length of the programme. (Compare to Quatermass, where I counted thirteen alterations in the same time period.) As Agnes leaves the kitchen to try out the Kama Sutra and Cathy says “OK, boys…”, the original live broadcast cuts away to Agnes in the living room, before quickly cutting back to the kitchen. Clearly this was a simple vision-mixing error, which was removed entirely for the repeat. (They were obviously recording an isolated camera on the kitchen wide shot, so they could drop it back in if needed.)

Pub transition (24:37)

Wide shot of studio

After Brendan has stopped bullying Rory about Mrs. Murphy’s pussy, the live programme cuts away too early to the wide shot transition on Agnes’s line “Rory should drop in on his way down!”. The repeat version adds a shot of Agnes and Cathy at the table whilst she delivers the line, then cuts to the wide shot transition already in progress. Again, no time is lost or gained here – it’s just a matter of where the cut is.

Even on the repeat version, it’s clear that the transition is cued slightly too early, as the music slightly tramples on the line. As the whole section before it was supposed to be a genuine surprise to Rory Cowan, perhaps this section wasn’t rehearsed in the same way as most of the rest of the show, which may explain the cue being slightly off.

Game of Thrones (30:11)

Winnie and Agnes watch Game of Thrones

Picture edits are easy to spot when writing this kind of article; just set the two versions running, sit back, and make a note when the picture is different or goes out-of-sync. Audio edits, however, can be harder to notice. I have no doubt there have been changes to the audio in the repeat version of this which I have entirely failed to spot. (For that matter, I expect there were bags of them in Quatermass, too.)

This fix, however, was an obvious spot. On the original version, as Agnes and Winne are discovered watching Game of Thrones, Brendan’s mic was accidentally faded so the line “Oh, Mark! Hello Mark! We were just flicking there…” is barely audible. This was fixed for the repeat.

A Few Tips (30:34)

Close-up on Agnes

Only the second instance of the show actually being trimmed, rather than a shot change – and even then, it’s just a few frames. After Betty’s line “A few tips?”, the close-up of Agnes is very slightly trimmed to remove the tail end of a crash zoom.

We only have one more edit. Can you believe it, considering the litany of changes Quatermass went through?

Breastfeeding Director (33:56)

The director, again

Ah, this is where we came in. We finish with another trimmed shot of the director. After Agnes’s line “We’ve got a new producer, who’s very young. The director’s up there breastfeeding him now”, we cut to the said director… who is a bit slow at reacting to the joke in the original live show. In the repeat version, a second or so is trimmed so he laughs straight away. Yeah, I know, there’s all kinds of points you could make about the “spontaneity” of the show with this one, but I believe I will postpone. (As much as anything else, sometimes it does take people a second or two to react to jokes.)

And there you have it. I may have missed the odd audio edit here and there, but in terms of picture differences, I believe I’ve caught them all. And it must be said: for a 35 minute show, there’s really not that many at all. Certainly, we’re a million miles away from Quatermass, which managed to make every kind of change to the programme possible, some of them pretty major – including replacing an entire scene. Here we have three minor trims, a couple of camera shots changed, a single audio fix, and that’s pretty much it.

Moreover, there are mistakes in Mrs Brown where they might well have been tempted to drop in footage from the rehearsal or an isolated camera, but they actually didn’t. (In fact, there is precisely no footage dropped in from the rehearsal at all.) Sure, when Conor Moloney fucks up in his scene, it’s an easy decision to keep it as it added additional comedy. (“Do you know what happened there? I got excited and I improvised. I won’t be doing that again!”) But when Pat Shields stumbles over his line in the show’s penultimate scene (“You and me are going home now to go and do some measuring in the bedroom…”), it actually slightly damages the comedy – there’s just no room for any of the characters to improvise to fix it, as they’re bang in the middle of a complex series of double-entendres. It’s to the programme’s credit that they didn’t try and fix this, and merely accepted it as one of those things that happens when you do a show live.

Indeed, we’re nowhere near my level of ire which I held for Quatermass here. True, I’d much rather the repeat of Mrs Brown had just been the original live version of the show with no alterations – and I think there were few enough mistakes that it should have been a completely acceptable decision for all concerned. But unlike Quatermass, the spirit and the vast majority of the cutting of the live show remains intact in the repeat version. They very much didn’t re-edit the whole show – in fact, the programme goes out of its way to keep the majority of it as originally broadcast. That is much to the show’s credit. The whole fun of the show is that it was done live, not constructed in an edit suite – and that spirit essentially survives.

Let’s hope the DVD release manages to stay the same, and there’s no further meddling…

  1. Incidentally, I wonder what the announcers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland made of this? 

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