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Creator / Ben Elton

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"Comedy will always be central to what I do, it's just an instinct for me, but I am a writer and always have been."

Benjamin Charles Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English writer, director and comedian who co-wrote Blackadder (from its second season onward) with Richard Curtis. He also wrote and produced The Thin Blue Line, co-wrote The Young Ones with Rik Mayall and Lise Meyer, and was solo writer on Filthy Rich & Catflap and the now largely-forgotten sketch show Alfresco. More recently, he created and wrote the sitcom Upstart Crow.

He has also written three West End plays, several "jukebox" musicals including We Will Rock You, and 11 novels.

His published books to date are:

  • Stark (1989)
  • Gridlock (1991)
  • This Other Eden (1993)
  • Popcorn (1996)
  • Blast From the Past (1998)
  • Inconceivable (1999) - adapted into the film Maybe Baby (2000), also written by Elton
  • Dead Famous (2001)
  • High Society (2002)
  • Past Mortem (2004)
  • The First Casualty (2005)
  • Chart Throb (2006)
  • Blind Faith (2007)
  • Meltdown (2009) - Probably his best known novel in America due to One Direction.
  • Two Brothers (2012)
  • Time and Time Again (2014)

He also had a short-lived comedy show in 1998 on The BBC. The opening of each show spoofed BBC 1's hot air balloon ident of the time.

In America, he's probably best known for one line from his 2009 novel Meltdown. "'No!' Jimmy protested." The reason the quote became so popular is because One Direction's Louis Tomlinson read it out of a copy of the book on one of the band's web diaries, and it has become a popular joke with Directioners ever since.

As well as his clever use of tropes in the TV series Blackadder and The Thin Blue Line, they can also be found in his novels:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Despite genuinely loving his wife Agnes, Kingsley in The First Casualty has an affair with Nurse Murray while undercover mainly because he's been separated from Agnes for so long (she's planning to divorce him, but Kingsley still personally views it as cheating.)
  • An Aesop: High Society makes points about the harm created by drug prohibition, which is the main character sees more and more of as he campaigns to legalize all drugs.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Geoffrey in Gridlock adopts the nickname "Geoffrey Spasmo", to destigmatise his condition.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Past Mortem has two example.
    • An IRA sympathizer (or possibly an active member) who is being questioned about one murder says that her alibi is attending a fundraiser to buy bullets for British soldiers.
    For a moment Newson was confused, knowing that Mrs. Ahern was a staunch Irish Nationalist. Then he realized that these bullets were not intended to be offered as gifts.
    • A schoolgirl is found dead with a note saying "The bullying killed me in the end." People initially assume that she was a bullying victim who killed herself, but Newson realizes that she was murdered and the note meant that the Serial Killer targeted her for being a bully.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up murder victims in Past Mortem, though Christine, while an Alpha Bitch as a teen and a shallow ditz as an adult is sympathetic and her murder comes across as a Moral Event Horizon for the killer.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Captain Shannon in The First Casualty is a violent, misogynistic, sociopathic rapist and killer without a shred of conscience. He gets away with this partly because he is very handsome and others view him favourably for it.
  • Betty and Veronica: In Past Mortem, where Newson had relationships with Helen (Betty - albeit a rather warped version) and Christine (Veronica), who later reappear in his life as an adult in the run-up to a school reunion. Over the events of the book Christine is murdered by the serial killer, Newson discovers that Helen is chronically depressed and mentally ill, and the story ends with him asking out the Third-Option Love Interest: Natasha, the woman he believes he loved all along.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sandra Dee in Blind Faith.
  • Bittersweet Ending
    • Blind Faith: Trafford is burned as a heretic by the Temple, but he tricks Sandra Dee into triggering an auto-system that will send Humanist emails to thousands of homes. As he shouts "EV LOVE!" ("evolve", backwards - a code word used by the Humanists) he sees people in the crowd nodding and trying to catch his eye, indicating that they received his emails. This gives him hope that the Temple will one day be overthrown.
    • High Society: Peter is convicted, sent to jail, and Angela divorces him. His disillusioned kids are suggested to be on the first steps towards drug abuse. As a result of the media outcry, the King of Thailand refuses to release Sonia, whose lawyers continue to petition for her to be deported on mental health grounds. Tommy finds Jessie (who has just been released from prison) and takes her on the holiday she dreamed of.
    • Blast From the Past: There is a huge scandal over Jack's death and the details of his involvement with Polly, just as he feared; and Polly is left with nothing. Harry contacts her, wanting to know more about her and her relationship with his brother. At the end of the story he comes to visit Polly, and she notices how much he looks like Jack, only that his voice is "kinder, somehow."
    • Stark: Most of the heroes survived, and they're happy to be alive; but the earth is still dying rapidly and there's nothing they can do about it. Those who escaped into space with Stark are desperately lonely and miserable, and there have been a number of murders / suicides, including Sly.
  • Brainless Beauty: Several, often used to deliver an Aesop about shallowness or vanity. A more sympathetic example is Kelly in Dead Famous. Christine Copperfield in Past Mortem is similarly somewhat sympathetic and likewise ends up murdered.
  • Broken Bird: Helen in Past Mortem, Jessie in High Society, to some extent Sally in Dead Famous.
  • Butt-Monkey: Robbo in Meltdown. After he is killed while drink driving, the protagonist Jimmy reflects on how the joke doesn't seem so funny any more ...
  • Camping a Crapper: Kelly in Dead Famous is killed after going to the toilet during the sweatbox task. It emerges that this was a key part of Geraldine and Fogarty's plan; they needed a murder for the sake of publicity, and they knew at least one of the girls would need to go to the toilet.
  • Crapsack World: Blind Faith and This Other Eden are set in this.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: In Gridlock a drunken Sandy, mistakenly thinking he can pass for a woman, dresses in full drag and shows up to Digby's hotel room to blackmail him. Digby immediately sees through him but Sandy gets his dirt anyway because Digby happens to be a closet gay, and outs himself in panic.
  • Creator Thumbprint: His male heroes—CD, Geoffrey, Max, Newsom—tend to be on the short side.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Chloe in High Society. Tommy mentions that almost every children's TV presenter he has met was a drug user, because, he imagines, it is too much stress for them to constantly act perky and cheerful for their audience.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: What kick-starts the plot of Identity Crisis. Inspector Matlock receives huge press backlash and becomes the subject of a nationwide witch-hunt when he states during a press conference that a young female murder victim was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" - meaning that if it weren't her it would likely have been some other unfortunate girl, but the public takes this as victim-blaming. His subsequent efforts to remedy the situation only end up making it worse.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Digby in Gridlock when he learns a newspaper article is going to out him as a homosexual.
    • In Meltdown, Robbo's friends and family suspect his death - ostensibly a road accident - to be this.
    • Sly Moorcock at the end of Stark due to the relentless loneliness of being stuck on the moon with a bunch of people he hates, especially after Rachel abandoned him.
    • Happens to a friend of Leman's daughter in High Society who was gang-raped as a warning to him that his daughter would be next if he doesn't stop backing Peter Paget.
  • During the War: The First Casualty is set during World War I.
  • The Elites Jump Ship: The premise of Stark is that a cabal of Earth's wealthiest people are conspiring to escape Earth, which is dying from global warming and associated ecological catastrophes, and set up a new home on the Moon. They get away with it, but the epilogue shows that, because they really have nothing in common beyond being very rich and very ruthless, they quickly get on each other's nerves when they're cooped up together, and suggests that it's not going to be long before they all kill each other and/or themselves.
  • Embarrassing Ad Gig: He did a routine about how the children of the actress in the Shake&Vac advert reacted to their mother abasing herself in a crappy advert for carpet shampoo. Elton speculated on a houseful of terminally embarrassed offspring shouting, "Mum, we'd rather have starved!" or "You could have done hardcore pornography!" or "What's wrong with prostitution or drug-dealing?" - as any of those would have been preferable, in the eyes of her children, to this.
  • Ethical Slut: Nurse Murray in The First Casualty who, unusually for the time period (WWI) is very sexually liberated and has no problem with sleeping around as long as everything's consensual. It helps that, as a nurse, she knows all about contraception.
  • Expy: Blind Faith didn't do as well as Elton's other books, partly because of criticism that its plot was too heavily borrowed from Nineteen Eighty-Four.
    • Scout and Wayne in Popcorn are obvious Expies of Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers, the entire book being a satire of the moral panic over media violence.
    • Calvin, Beryl and Rodney in Chart Throb are Expies of the real life The X Factor judges.
    • Several characters in Identity Crisis are Expies of controversial political figures in the UK, including Germaine Greer and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
  • Fat Bastard: Barbieheart in Blind Faith, who uses her position as the online moderator for everyone in Trafford's housing complex to bully and exploit the residents. It's suggested that she was given the role of moderator because her size renders her unable to leave the house, so she is perfectly placed to spend the whole day monitoring everyone via screens.
  • Fiery Redhead: Jessie in High Society is a tough-talking teenage girl described as having dark red hair.
  • Funetik Aksent: High Society, ad nauseam.
  • Granola Girl: Polly from Blast From the Past was one as a teenager.
  • His Name Is...: Happens in Past Mortem. Christine Copperfield left a message on Newson's answerphone just before her death, but was interrupted by the arrival of her killer at the door, and hung up so she could talk to them. Her message indicates that the killer is someone she knows; she just never got to say who.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Much of Trafford's motivation in Blind Faith is due to his first child's death from an illness easily preventable by vaccination.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Drives the plot of Inconceivable - Sam and Lucy desperately want a baby, but are continually unsuccessful.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Prince Charles is a major character in Chart Throb, but is never named.
  • Little Miss Badass: Anna Leman in High Society is a 14-year-old martial arts champion. When she's threatened by political enemies of her father, he has her step up her training and taught to kill (although she's given several personal alarms as well.)
  • Lonely Funeral: The medical examiner who did a post-mortem exam on one of the Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up murder victims in Past Mortem attended the man's funeral afterward. He mentions that the only other attendees were five relatives, The Vicar, and a victim of the dead man's Drill Sergeant Nasty behavior who shows up late to pay some Last Disrespects.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Peter in Blast From the Past stalks and terrorises Polly for years, eventually killing a completely innocent neighbour and planning to kill Jack as well, with the intention of raping and kidnapping Polly.
  • Manipulative Editing: Performed by characters in Dead Famous and Chart Throb, both of which satirize reality TV.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: In Identity Crisis, Sammy Hill's murder is a huge news story for weeks on end, mostly because she was a young, beautiful white woman (although partly because Matlock caused a media storm at a press conference about the murder.) This later leads to controversy over the fact that the murder of a young Black woman around the same time barely received a fraction of the news coverage Sammy Hill got.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: A key part of the plot of Inconceivable is that Sam is a writer, and uses his and his wife's struggle to have a baby as inspiration for a movie script.
  • Mystery Meat: In Stark, Sly Moorcock orders a meal of swan, just because it seems like something an insanely rich person would eat. When it's served, he compares its taste to cat, with good reason. In the same novel, the author defines the filling of meat pies as "minced string in gravy", although they still taste delicious.
  • Never My Fault: The core theme of Popcorn, and an attitude held by almost all main characters.
  • New Eden: The basic plot of This Other Eden.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Bruce Delamitri, of Popcorn, has an attitude and a filmography that are strongly reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino, to the point where one of his movies even includes a scene where two gangsters need to get their suits cleaned after killing someone they weren't intended to and getting spattered in blood.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in Stark which has characters named Rachel Kelly and Chrissie Kelly, apparently unrelated.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: One of the past bullying victims In Past Mortem was beaten into a coma by a bully over a minor act of defiance and has spent four years training to be an elite kick-boxer so he can beat the bully to death in revenge. When he finds out that someone else killed the guy first, he lets out a Big "NO!" and says that he'd rather have gone to prison for murder than missed his chance at revenge. When he learns that the murder was a drawn-out Karmic Death, far worse than what he had planned, he cheers up.
  • Only One Name: In Dead Famous, we never find out Trish's surname, or Sergeant Hooper's first name.
  • Political Correctness Is Evil: One of the central themes of Identity Crisis.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Captain Shannon in The First Casualty, Geraldine Hennessy in Dead Famous.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • The victims in Past Mortem all committed various acts of bullying as teenagers, and the one who the detective seems to consider the worst of the bunch (albeit not by much) repeatedly molested and raped a girl when they were both thirteen and also sexually harassed a teenaged employee at his workplace decades later. Another victim led a gang of barbaric bullies who threatened to gang rape a teacher if she tried to keep them from beating up and sexually harassing their classmates.
    • In High Society, a teenage friend of Barry Leman's daughter is gang-raped (and subsequently commits suicide) as a warning to him to stop supporting Peter Paget's campaign for legalisation of drugs. The book doesn't shy away from describing exactly how horrific this is.
    • In The First Casualty, despite Shannon repeatedly displaying horrific actions, his attempt to rape a young girl (which Kingsley narrowly prevents) is still presented as one of the worst things he's done.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Most of the cast of Meltdown begin like this, until the recession hits and they are left with nothing.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Identity Crisis has the message that excessive political correctness and "cancel culture" will lead to mass murders as "false flags" by an enemy state.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Peter in Blast From the Past, Carlisle in Dead Famous.
  • Sub-Par Supremacist: Stark features a Basement-Dweller skinhead thug who believes in the supremacy of the White race. The omniscient narrator expresses amazement that looking into the mirror every day hasn't snapped him out of that belief.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: A literal example in Meltdown. Jimmy and Monica donate £1 million to asylum seekers and then can't afford new shoes for their children.
  • Tomato Surprise: In Time and Time Again the hero is sent from 2024 to 1914 to prevent World War I. Toward the end readers learn why it's never referred to by number, but occasionally called "The Great War". In their timeline it was the only world war, but it lasted twice longer.
  • Torches and Pitchforks:
    • The world of Blind Faith has all laws passed by mob assent, and the Temple enforces its rule partly by whipping up the public into frenzied mobs against any perceived transgression.
    • High Society has an incident where a family whose child died after accidentally eating his sister's Ecstasy pills is attacked by an angry mob; Peter Paget uses the subsequent press attention to publicise his campaign to legalise all drugs in the UK.
  • Unable to Cry: In Blind Faith, where child death is rampant due to vaccination being outlawed, a colleague in Trafford's office is ostracised because she is unable to cry over the death of her baby son. Trafford seems to understand that this reaction doesn't mean she grieves any less than everyone else.
  • War Is Hell: Pretty much First Casualty, Two Brothers, and Time and Time Again in a nutshell.
  • Woman Scorned:
    • In High Society, Paget has an affair with the rather unhinged Samantha, who becomes very vindictive when he tries to end the relationshp.
    • Rupert trades in his wife for a younger, prettier model fairly on during Meltdown. When he loses all his money, the now ex-wife gets revenge by suing him for the full settlement he promised her at the time of the divorce, and wins.
  • Worthy Opponent: Sam Turk does this with Deborah twice during the climactic scene of Gridlock. Both times she throws it back in his face, and justifiably so.