(Credit: Channel 4 / Wikimedia / Far Out)

Before 'The Office', Ricky Gervais created the David Bowie-inspired show 'Golden Years '

Ricky Gervais, one of the finest comedians Britain has ever produced, is widely celebrated for his stand up, writing, acting, directing and, of course, his ability to torch Hollywood’s imperfections while infamously hosting the Golden Gloves. The truth is, Gervais has tried almost every creative output under the sun and first debuted on mainstream television in 1999. For many fans though, this date may arrive a couple of years early considering that most have come to know the comedian after he first appeared as David Brent in The Office in 2001, a role which subsequently catapulted his career. However, this witty comedian first started out on Channel 4’s Comedy Labs, a place in which he co-wrote an episode for a show called Golden Years along with his friend Stephen Merchant, shot in the usual mockumentary style. 

Ricky Gervais is a self-proclaimed fan of the great David Bowie. The latter, who is considered to be the greatest rock star of all time, is also taken as the largest and most significant creative impetus in British rock following The Beatles. Popular for his flamboyant and experimental alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, Bowie never stopped venturing into the unknown, trying to experiment with new kinds of music; his continuous metamorphoses transcended genres with his songs echoing a message of “empathy beyond difference”. Gervais, who considered David Bowie his idol, wore the latter like “a badge of honour”. In an unseen pilot recently discovered by Indie Wire, the footage shows Gervais playing the role of Clive Meadows, a David Bowie-impersonator bestowed with power, known for exploiting it in frivolous and reckless ways. 

Co-founder of the chain of video rental stores, Clive Meadows wants to impersonate his idol David Bowie on national television in ‘Stars In Their Eyes’. Clive dresses up as Bowie’s alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, attempting to work his way into the business at hand. He tries to put forward certain commercial pitches as well as Bowie song title/VHS mash-ups; however, the arrival of his business partner Barry (Nicholas Hutchison) thwarts his ideas, providing a chilly reaction. The next clip cuts to Clive’s interview at his home and the interviewer (Stephen Merchant) questions him about his Bowie impression. Very quickly, however, viewers will be able to distinguish clearly that this clip is not a part of the documentary; instead, it is Clive’s audition tape for the reality show. 

Clive resigns from the company after his business partner Barry does not allow him to incur the cost of limousines or his red wig. However, he retains the office across the hall as well as his secretary. As he hires an agent whose clients largely include celebrity impersonators, his interest in the impersonation of the Starman begins to dwindle, slowly steeping him in disillusionment and anxiety. Clive wants to take control of the situation and invites a Freddie Mercury-impersonator to his office for a “show-off” session. He ends up making derogatory comments towards his secretary, subsequently spanking her while she leaves the room. Soon, he is dropped from the show and then has the secretary’s fuming boyfriend waiting for him. Realising the darkness, despair and uncertainty that lies ahead of him, Clive admits to Barry that his decision to quit the company had been rash and that he would want to come back to the company. 

Although Clive Meadows has been an inspiration during the development of the acclaimed character David Brent in The Office, Golden Years was a commercial failure. Bumpy and amateurish, the show seems “like a demo tape for The Office in which several of the bugs are being worked out”. In truth, Gervais’ character Clive is unlikeable and creepy. His inappropriate behaviour towards women as well as Bowie-inspired hubris robs him of redemption, causing his downfall. While David Brent’s frustration stems from his want for love, Clive’s fails to occur due to his sleazy outlook of life. When he tips a Dolly Parton-impersonator £100 to take a look at her breasts, and later assaults his secretary, the viewers lose their sympathy completely. Odd and egotistic, Clive’s character has an undercurrent of crass humour and delusion, while Brent’s character is ridden with “tragedy and desperation”.

The stock characters in the show have often ushered in direct comparison to the hilarious and whacky Mr Bean. Although it is nearly not as hilarious as The Office, the latter would not have existed without the former, as the magic created by the iconic duo Gervais-Merchant would have been left unexplored. However, Golden Years feels more like a sitcom due to the lack of wobbly camera movements and presence of seamless shots. It is a testament to the evolution of Gervais’ zany humour and the “shock element” in his comedy which can make a silly masterpiece “absolutely bust-a-gut funny”.

See the pilot, below.