The beginner’s guide to Wittertainment

All you need to know about Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Review show...

Hello to Jason.

The term ‘Wittertainment’ was originally coined by a fan of Kermode And Mayo’s Film Review radio show and podcast on BBC Radio 5 Live. Easily mistaken for a nod to Mark and Simon’s sharp and witty banter, the term in fact comes from the continual on-air wittering of the pair. It is truly the bromance of the modern age.

The witterings of film critic and double bass extraordinaire Mark Kermode and radio giant and novelist Simon Mayo are the highlight of this glorious show, a show that they frequently remind listeners is not, in fact, about film at all. Just like Jaws is not about a shark. Confused? Most likely. Allow me to introduce you into the vast, colourful and friendly listenership of the hugely popular radio show that recently won the British Podcast Awards’ ‘Listeners’ Choice’ award, a trophy that Simon frequently reminds Mark on air that they ought to be sharing.

The Church of Wittertainment

Fans of Kermode And Mayo’s Film Review are better known as members of the Church of Wittertainment and the show devotes a great deal of time to catching up with their listenership. Letters from listeners, or rather ‘Wittertainees’, have led to the coining of new Wittertainment slang (Gerrard Butler now goes by ‘Shut Up Butt Wot’ after a listener explained her child’s mishearing of the actor’s name), lively debate around the latest film releases and some funny, fascinating and truly moving stories. Simon’s considerate and empathetic reading of fan letters makes Wittertainment more than a two-man show with a bunch o’ film reviews; it’s a family.

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Emails to the show feature all sorts, from thanking the show for its assistance during an operation or marathon to requesting a small corner of the Church for the practise of one’s own faith, occupation or tendency to be female pipe smoker (apparently it’s a rare thing). Following an architect’s blue print of the ‘Witterthedral’ that was sent in to the show, it is now possible to view the different areas of the Church in its large, W-shaped building, including ‘Clergy Corner’, ‘Humanist Hollow’ and the ‘Transgender Transept’. Fan contributions in 2016 saw the creation of the country of Wittertania complete with (scarily legitimate looking) passports and even a national anthem. A number of emails are also sent in to ask for Mark and Simon’s advice on film and life choices and, more recently, to report WRIs.

What is a WRI, you ask? It is just one of the many acronyms Wittertainment correspondence can contain, the most frequent being:

LTL: long-term listener.STL: short-term listener.FTE: first-time emailer.WRI: a Wittertainment related injury, often the result of a sudden outburst of laughter or Mark suddenly banging his hand on the desk, putting headphone-wearers at considerable risk.AALS: Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome. Have you ever noticed that you have a greater tendency to cry at films whilst on a plane? You’re not alone… and it’s something to do with the cabin pressure.

In the last year, emails from Church members have frequently opened with ‘wassup’: a phrase Simon often begins the podcast with, asking Mark “wassup with your bad self?” Other phrases you are likely to hear in the course of the show include ‘two-d’ and ‘threed’ (a much more efficient, and let’s face it cooler, way of saying 2D and 3D), ‘tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis’ (a sign-off adopted by correspondents after it came to light that the Queen Mother ended all of her wartime letters with this phrase) and, of course, ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs’.

Friends and features of the show

Go to Google and search for Jason Isaacs. Have a look at what appears at the top of the search results page. There you go, proof if ever you needed it that everyone is a fan of Wittertainment. It has become Wittertainment tradition to say ‘hello to’ the famous friends of the show, with Jason taking top billing as he was a schoolmate of Mark’s. Also, like everyone who is a friend of the show, he’s just an all-around top guy. Among the other famous names who receive a ‘hello’ are Stephen Fry, David Morrissey, Tom Hanks, Sanjeev Baskar and more recently the lovely Tom Hiddleston, with some of these film review friends having taken to the microphones when the men themselves are on the cruise (see ‘The Wittertainment Cruise’).

The weekly Wittertainment podcast will always open with some Class A wittering. More often than not, Mark is unaware that Simon – or the eagle-eyed and much loved Producer Robin – has clicked the record button and will ask if the podcast has started, followed by any excuse to bring up The Comsat Angels. In the course of the show, you can expect the ‘Top 10’ (a relatively short and comprehensive overview of the top 10 films at the Box Office and Mark’s opinions of them), a selection of film reviews from Mark interspersed with fan emails and a celebrity interview with Simon. The show is rounded off with Mark’s ‘Film of the Week’, ‘TV Movie of the Week’ and ‘DVD of the Week’, the latter even having its own theme music to which Mark and Simon have taken to chuckling over before fans attempt to guess Mark’s choice. The fun and shenanigans also continues beyond this flagship film review show as Wittertainment has its finger on the pulse with Facebook, Twitter, a “Snaptat” account and even a ‘Wittr’ app. Designed by a dedicated listener, the app and enables listeners to geo-locate fellow Wittertainees all around the globe. Mark and Simon initially stressed that they are not affiliated with this app, before admitting that it fuels their now extremely opulent lifestyles and has brought them wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

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The Code of Conduct

Whilst Wittertainment is a very inclusive show, there are a few rules. All the best groups have them. For Mark and Simon, there are strict cinema-going rules that can be downloaded and affixed to a feature wall here. Love film but hate the disruptions that ruin the experience? So do Mark and Simon. Encountering a Code of Conduct-abiding screening is such a rare delight and, alas, you cannot claim to be a true member of the Church unless you consistently follow these cinema guidelines. Highlights include not using the cinema as a babysitter, no knitting during a film, no foraging of any kind and TURNING OFF YOUR PHONE. If you would like to see Mark and Simon’s bad selves explain the Code of Conduct in their own words, follow this link. Soft rolls with no filling all around!

Things that Mark and Simon like

For those unfamiliar to the show, Mark Kermode may be best known for his rants. It is true that when Mark hates a film he does not hold back (we all know the Sex And The City 2 and Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 reviews), but his attitude towards film and his overall outlook is very optimistic. He will only unleash his signature Kermodian rants on the most deserving of film subjects and ultimately wants to enjoy what he is about to watch, whether that involves a comedy film passing his ‘6 Laughs Test’ or a drama moving him to tears.

Mark likes Manchester (he went to university there), The Exorcist (his favourite film of all time) and flapping his hands in cinema-induced excitement. Simon likes Warwick (he went to university there), doing creepy voices to scare Mark and putting on a different jumper to transform himself into Peter from Germany (a confession of his childhood alter-ego that was met with much hilarity). The pair are apparently never happier than when they are in possession of a ‘fart gun’: a toy from the film Despicable Me 2 that they can be heard firing at one another whilst giggling “hehehe BOTTOM” in the style of the mischievous yellow Minions. The pair also enjoy chatting about their joint-family holidays and the antics of their spouses; for Mark ‘the good lady professor her indoors’ and for Simon ‘the good lady ceramicist her indoors’.

Mark frequently mentions his other favourite films, including Mary Poppins and Dougal And The Blue Cat as well as a film that he tracked down from his childhood cinema-going experience, Jeremy. Mark wants Simon to see Jeremy. Simon doesn’t fancy seeing Jeremy. The jury is still out as to whether the Good Doctor (a nickname for Mark whose PHD was on horror fiction) has managed to convince Simon to see what, in his view, is a cinematic masterpiece. For Simon, the name Jeremy is met with the same disdain as the long-running and somewhat stale joke about an iPod being referred to as a ‘fruit-based device’. Mark also has a tendency to sigh, or even just pause briefly, before he is about to give a review of a film, something Simon has recognised to be a sign of a negative review on the way. The pair have also become quite adept at signalling when Producer Robin will begin to play a track of birdsong to censor their witterings, something that has happened on the podcast on a few occasions during these tumultuous political times.

The Wittertainment Cruise

How do you get tickets for the cruise? You just get tickets for the cruise. It might be worth explaining that this approach is integral to the Wittertainment philosophy. It’s very simple to do something; you just do it. In this spirit, it is very easy to get the cruise to stop at your port of choice because you just get Mark and Simon to pull the cruise liner over.

For full details of previous guests and embarkation points it is worth consulting the Witterpedia page on the Cruise. For those of you who are completely confused, I don’t want to say that the cruise is not a real event per se, just that you might find it more fun if you use your imagination. When Mark and Simon take their summer holiday and leave us bereft of their on-air company for at least a couple of weeks, fear not, because it means that the Wittertainment Cruise is coming to a port near you! Mark and Simon are very flexible about stop-offs and also promise everyone a go at taking the helm. The cruise is bursting at the seams with Code of Conduct-abiding screenings of the latest flicks, celebrity faces and activities that include quoits, shuffleboard and a limbo competition. Simon is the current reigning limbo champion having defeated the affectionately nicknamed Sir Ken Chuckles Branagh.

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It is little wonder that Wittertainment is such a long-running, astronomical success. Not only do Mark and Simon really know their stuff, they’re very humble and infinitely generous to their listeners. Whilst Kermode And Mayo’s Film Review is theirs, Wittertainment is a community that they built with their listenership. If you love film, you’ll love this radio show and podcast, but chances are you’ll fall for this show anyway. On top of the expert film criticism and all of the shenanigans, Wittertainment has a great deal of heart, and sometimes all you need is to hear Mark’s trademark reassuring phrase: “Everything is going to be alright.”