Cult Q & A: SMERSH POD’s John Rain

 John Rain on Dog Man Star, Galton & Simpson, Peter Cook, Twitter and, of course, Smersh Pod.

“I have met some incredible people through Twitter. People that make me laugh until it hurts, people that make me think more than I ever thought possible, and people who make me well-up with their experiences of the World. It’s personally deeply therapeutic as it exercises my mind daily. However it can also be a total Thunderdome of Arseholery – a daily grind of fighting, sniping, ducking and diving – those are the days to just post pictures of Virgin Media Ron.”

John Rain is the host of SMERSH POD, a celebration of Bond films by those who enjoy/hate/aren’t arsed about them that has become a cult podcast since it launched earlier this  year. In SMERSH POD, John examines each film in order (along with sidesteps such as 1967’s Casino Royale, Dalton-starring kitschfest Flash Gordon and Moore turkey Bullseye!) and has a chat about them with a top special guest.

Over the course of the series, guests have included We Are Cult’s Stephen Graham, Doctor Who audio scripter Eddie Robson, scriptwriter and playwright Sarah Phelps, journalist and broadcaster Julia Raeside, Al Murray, comedian Glenn Moore, and football writer James Richardson. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, as someone once sang fifty years ago.

John Rain also wrote last year’s bestselling stocking filler The Little Red Book of Corbyn Jokes with Jason Sinclair, and he tweets regularly as @MrKenShabby.

What were you like at school?

I was shy, and hated attention, but at the same time was always trying to make other people laugh, whether it was through drawing pictures or making up jokes, it was the only way I got through it as my school was pretty grim; a vast horrific looking gothic ex-Masonic thing, long, cold cloisters and cold, white, sterile classrooms with knackered windows, so the only escape I had from it mentally was to try and have fun. I was surrounded by people with whom I felt I had absolutely nothing in common, so it was hard to feel happy there. In many ways it felt like doing time.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an artist. I spent my youth drawing comics like Robert Gillespie in Keep it in the Family, I even went to Marvel workshops, but as soon as I got to Art College and saw that other people were better than me at everything, I realised that it wasn’t going to happen. I then taught myself to play the drums and guitar and spent the Brit Pop years playing/singing in a band called “Sherbet” (later called “Indiana”) with dreams of making it big. We had the A&R men come to gigs, but nothing ever happened – especially after our then manager thought it would be a great idea to send the demo tape to record labels in an envelope full of actual sherbet, the fucking idiot. It was all a waste of time in the end, in the words of Marc Bolan, “Whatever happened to the teenage dream?”

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Get your fucking hair cut, turn up to college occasionally you prick, stop thinking you are fat when you appear to be as thin as a rake, stop singing like Brett Anderson all the time, invest in Apple.

What are your best and worst qualities?

I’m a great team-worker, but also work well on my own – work well with deadlines and have excellent communication skills for the task in hand (like to take the helicopter view on any given project and do some blue-sky thinking). Sexy, GSOH, risk-taker, Gemini, beard, no-dogs.

If anything I am TOO much of a perfectionist (am also a shit).

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Aside from the lobsters and Jayne Mansfield, it was probably doing debt collection over the phone to international customers, all of whom would instantly say they didn’t speak English once they’d found out why I was calling. Soul. Destroying.

Who were your heroes growing up?

My Brother, Rik Mayall, Monty Python, Christopher Reeve, Harrison Ford, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Spike Milligan, Betty Marsden, Kenneth Connor, Peter Sellers, Derek Griffiths, Karen Allen, Kenneth Williams, Sophie Aldred, Morwenna Banks, Reeves and Mortimer, Peter Davison, Bill Hicks, Bernard Butler, Brian Cant, Loz Hardy, Brett Anderson, Luke Haines, Chris Cornell and Peter Cook.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

Ghostwatch. The sheer terror and elaborateness of it has stayed with me for years and years (Pipes was a very cross chap).

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Incredibly.

What was the last film that you watched?

Goldeneye for Smersh Pod. A warming wade into the calm, cool waters of Brosnan.

What film could you watch every day?

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Empire Strikes Back, Blues Brothers or JFK.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

John Williams’ Superman: The Movie or John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I can’t possibly decide which.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson and the baby from Three Men and a Baby for my long planned “threequel”: Three Men and a Big Wedding – it’s been thirty years, it’s easy money, come on Hollywood, pay me to do it.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

Alien Covenant – a turgid slog through broken Alien mythology with no sense, no tension, no characters and no actual progression, just some very nice pictures, too much talk of “fingering”, and dull CGI.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

At this moment in time I am obsessed with Future Games by Fleetwood Mac.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

Dog Man Star by Suede – a deeply important album to 17 year old me, it had everything for the disenchanted youth worried about their place in the World. I dare anyone to play Still Life and not be moved in some way.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

War of the Worlds – HG Wells. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was a child and my Dad used to play the Jeff Wayne record all the time. I used to sit in front of the Hi-Fi and leaf through the amazing pictures in the album. Once I read the book I fell in love with it and it remains my all-time favourite. I have since been to Woking to visit all the sights, which makes it all the more of a tactile experience when reading it.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

A second life, a sort of cultural immortality, a Valhalla of “hang on, this is actually good”. Something EBay revealed to me when it first came out is that there will always be someone somewhere who loves something that everyone thinks was shite. There will always be a “cult audience” for everything. For every Star Wars and Star Trek convention, there will always be On the Buses, The Tripods and Allo Allo conventions; nothing will ever die, and thank the lord for that.

What are you reading at present?

The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond by Simon Winder – a friend gave it to me as a Birthday present and I am enjoying the mildly bitter journey of realising that deep down we all want to be James Bond, well, I know I do.

You’re an active presence on Twitter, what are the best and worst things about Twitter?

I have met some incredible people through Twitter. People that make me laugh until it hurts, people that make me think more than I ever thought possible, and people who make me well-up with their experiences of the World. It’s personally deeply therapeutic as it exercises my mind daily. However it can also be a total Thunderdome of Arseholery – a daily grind of fighting, sniping, ducking and diving – those are the days to just post pictures of Virgin Media Ron.

Last year you collaborated on The Little Red Book of Corbyn Jokes with Jason Sinclair (“The perfect stocking filler for the bourgeois neoliberal Blairite Red Tory MSM stooge in your life.”). Can you tell us a little about what that was like?

It was a lovely experience to create from day one. It was another positive example of meeting someone fantastic via Twitter and putting heads together to do something fun. Out of the two of us Jason is more of the political persuasion (or certainly was when we started) and it was my first experience of a Twitter account becoming a “viral” thing (I hated typing that so much) – getting in the papers, appearing on Buzzfeed, The Poke etc. It just went crazy for a few weeks. We then thought about making it into a joke book and eventually a publisher was interested. We wrote it very quickly (possibly too quickly if I am honest) and it came and went with very little fanfare – though it did meet with a good deal of resistance and negativity for a few weeks after release (c/o The Thunderdome of Arseholery) so it all ended on a sour note. However it was a lovely learning experience, and once you have been through the mill of getting a book out, you know what to do better next time. It has made Jason and I *better people (*worse).

Earlier this year, you launched SMERSH POD, a new podcast celebrating all the James Bond films, which we featured as our Podcast of the Week back in February. From modest beginnings, SMERSHPOD has become something of a smash hit with a range of pundits queuing up to guest on the series. Is it fair to say its success has exceeded your expectations, and do you have any plans to build on its popularity?

Very much so, I had no idea that anyone would like it or be interested in it; the popularity has knocked me for six to be honest. I wanted to do it for years but had no idea how I would as I knew it would have involved a degree of technical knowledge that is sadly lacking from my shores. Once I’d figured it out and it was up and running I suspected I would get a few people interested, but not the amount I have now, it’s been the highlight of my year and is the most fun I have ever had. I get to watch Bond films (something I have always loved doing anyway) and talk to very cool people about it.

I do have plans to build on it, perhaps offer some MST3K style commentaries via Patreon, that kind of thing, but really I am succession planning for a life after Bond. In fact someone on Twitter just suggested a Michael Caine theme for a post-Bond World which is definitely something I can get behind as there is so much value there, he has made about four million films of varying quality – and if I use the same Smersh rules of there being some kind of connection, it’s a limitless field of operation, so watch this space for that.

Which other writers inspired you over the years?

Peter Cook – love his way with words, the way he could lead you down dark alleys and spring traps, for instance:

Alan Bennett: Who do you think may have perpetrated this awful crime?

Peter Cook: Well, we believe this to be the work of thieves, and I’ll tell you why. The whole pattern is very reminiscent of past robberies where we have found thieves to be involved. The tell-tale loss of property—that’s one of the signs we look for, the snatching away of the money substances—it all points to thieves.

Bennett: So you feel that thieves are responsible?

Cook: Good heavens, no! I feel that thieves are totally irresponsible. They’re a ghastly group of people, snatching away your money, stealing from you . . .

Also a huge fan of Galton and Simpson’s keyhole scriptwriting – constantly putting themselves in really tight spots (The Bedsitter, The Radio Ham, Sunday Afternoon at Home) and getting themselves out with perfect dexterity, they were true geniuses. Also loved Feldman and Took’s Round the Horne work, anything Milligan touched and have a sincere love of Croft and Perry sitcoms, no matter how tired and flabby they are.

What are you up to next?

Next I am carrying on with SMERSH POD (gathering more guests and buying more DVDs off of Amazon) while trying to write a book and finish a sitcom.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life, and how has that person changed your life?

This will sound corny, but I would have to say my wife. I’ve known her for twenty years and she has always been encouraging, supportive, kind and constructive. She keeps me sane and without her I would be nothing (well, less of the nothing I already am).

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

No – I have met a few heroes of late, via Twitter and Smersh, and they have all been absolutely amazing.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

“That doesn’t mean I want you to seduce my parrot!”

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

Weak American Beer.

What are your three favourite cities?

Brighton, London, Berlin.

What do you do to chill out?

Looking on You Tube for gold – no idea how we existed before it.

What element of your work has given you the most personal satisfaction?

Opening the big jiffy bag from the publishers that contained loads of copies of the book I co-wrote, or the really lovely comments I get about SMERSH POD, it never fails to make me smile knowing that other people out there can actually put up with hearing my stupid voice.

What has been the most rewarding project in your career so far – and why?

Definitely SMERSH POD; something I have always wanted to do that is being enjoyed by so many, my lord it is such fun (did I mention that it is fun?).

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

To make a living out of Smersh.

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like our readers to know?

I learnt to play guitar via a Beatles chord book and can still remember the chords to every single Beatle song ever written – it’s kind of my curse.

Thanks you for taking time to talk to We Are Cult!

Thank you for asking me!


 SMERSH POD podcast can be heard here: Smershpod.com

 Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes of SMERSH POD on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/smersh-pod/id1203036677?mt=2

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